Written by Elah
on Jul 16, 2019

San Juan Island Whale Watching Season Update – The Best There Has Been

San Juan Island Whale Watching Season Update – The Best There Has Been

We’ve been having spectacular sightings here at Western Prince, located right in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, just 90 miles from Seattle.  With multiple whale watching tours departing from Friday Harbor daily, we strive to make every trip the best possible.  The simple trick is that as captains and naturalists, we’re just as excited heading out onto the water each and every day as our guests.  Whether you’re just taking a day trip from Seattle or enjoying all that San Juan Island has to offer over a multi-night stay, we guarantee that coming out with us will be an unforgettable experience. 

Harbor Seals

We’re right in the middle of our summer season and the wildlife has been stunning.  If you’re a sucker for baby animals (like all of us at Western Prince), now is the time to book your tour!  Our adorable harbor seals are starting to have their pups.  We’re just starting to see these cute creatures getting a lift from mom as they glide through the surface of the water, their small heads bobbing along behind their mother’s back.

Bald Eagles

This is also a great time to spot bald eagle chicks.  Here in Washington, we have the largest population of bald eagles in the lower 48 states, and summertime is a unique viewing experience.  We love to check up on some of our favorite nests, which mature bald eagles return to each year, to spot chicks just getting their bearings and getting ready to take their first flight. 

Bigg’s Killer Whales (marine-mammal feeding)

This season continues to be a record one for us in a number of ways. Consistent whale sightings are likely to make this the best season on record, but in a different way than previous seasons. Primarily because we’re seeing more marine mammal feeding killer whales than ever.  Although the Salish Sea has been part of the home range for this eco-type of killer whales for generations,  their numbers have been booming recently due to an increase in their food supply.  These killer whales feed on different types of marine mammals including harbor seals, harbor porpoise, sea lions and even large baleen whales.  In recent years we’ve seen an increase in harbor seals, their main prey.   These killer whales reliably come into our waters looking for a buffet and the Salish Sea has delivered. Marine Mammal feeding killer whales continue to have healthy babies, increasing their population by about five percent every year.  Our guests have thoroughly enjoyed watching newborn and young calves swimming in the mother’s slipstream trying to keep up.  It’s been such a joy to watch these families thrive and grow, getting to know them more each time we venture out on the water.  We continue to see them on the vast majority of our trips.


Endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales

On the flip side, the population of Southern Resident Killer Whales continues to be listed as endangered.  This eco-type of killer whales only eats fish, primarily chinook salmon and salmon stocks in this region have been decimated over the years.  They face new challenges in our ever-changing world.  They’re now coming into our waters less often, and recently they were out beyond our range for over two months, which is unprecedented for these animals during this time of year. 

These whales are a huge part of the Salish Sea community, as much as the people who call these islands home.  We were overjoyed when they were finally seen off of San Juan Island last week, with a new baby in tow, a tiny black and orange ray of hope for a population that continues to dwindle in numbers.  They played in our kelp bed forests and foraged for hard to find fish before heading back out into the open Pacific Ocean searching for food.  We continue to eagerly await their return every time they leave us.

As we’ve observed with the marine mammal feeding killer whales it all comes down to prey availability.  Even though we may not be seeing the Southern Residents, we love sharing their unique history with our guests.  We strongly believe that education leads to compassion which, in turn, leads to conservation. 

Humpback Whales

Nowhere is a change of mindset more tangibly visible than with our Humpback whale sightings.  Fifteen years ago we were seeing Humpback whales appear a couple of times a season.  Now, in 2019, we see them a few times a week!  These whales have returned to the Salish Sea in force, some of the females even bringing with them their newborn calves. 

These beautiful behemoths were hunted for years, sought after for their blubber, meat, and baleen for products to sell and oil to burn.  They finally received protection in the ’80s and over time their population has managed to rebound.  Where we used to harpoon them, we’re now content to sit at a distance and simply watch them breathe.  They are some of our favorite creatures to introduce to guests. 

Humpback whale flukes can grow to be fifteen feet from tip to tip, propelling them through a roughly 6,000 mile migration every year, and they’ve chosen the Salish Sea as part of that journey.  We’re so lucky we get to see these creatures on many of our trips and we never take it for granted. 

Gray Whales

Our Gray whale sightings have been a unique treat as well.  They’ve stayed in our surrounding area longer than in years past.  It’s been a joy to watch these bottom feeders seek out food on the seafloor, admiring their heart-shaped blow as they cruise through the Salish Sea.

Minke whales

We continue to have excellent Minke whale sightings, too!  These baleen whales zig and zag in unpredictable patterns when they surface and make for some of the most interactive wildlife tours around.

Our passion is sharing our beautiful ecosystem with everyone, whether it be our neighbors in Seattle or those traveling across the world to view whales in the wild. We’re home to thirty mammal species, 170 different bird species, 260 types of fish and more than 3,000 species of marine invertebrates.  Everything is connected and you never know what you’re going to see on your adventure.  What we do know, is that it’ll be a trip of a lifetime. 

Written by Elah
on Jul 16, 2019

San Juan Island Whale Watching Season Update – The Best There Has Been

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