Whale & Wildlife Watching
On your San Juan Islands vacation, be prepared for a wealth of wildlife possibilities. You may hear an orca whale blow as it plies its native waters, or a bald eagle calling to its mate. You may spot a red fox or a black-tailed deer and her fawn slipping into the woods, or marvel at the brilliant orange of a Rufous Hummingbird buzzing around your bed and breakfast's garden, or at a convention of Steller sea lions lolling on a rock.
Most of the whales seen in the San Juan Islands are orcas—three pods, the “Southern Residents”—are typically in the area from mid-April to early October, but your best chance to see them is from late May through mid-October. Some transient orcas are seen seen year round. You have a great variety of whale watch boat tours to choose from.
On your whale watch tour, you may see not just orca whales, but different species as well: gray, minke, and humpback whales also visit these waters. Not to mention seals, porpoises, sea lions, otters, bald eagles, and numerous seabirds. And you’ll pick up a whole new whale-related vocabulary—spyhops, breaches, and single and double tail lobs. On some whale watch tours, you’ll hear via hydrophone the whales calling to one another. Most boats have an onboard naturalist to explain what you’re seeing.
Local whale watch operators adhere closely to state and federal guidelines developed to ensure the whales’ behavior and life cycles aren’t disturbed. Our “Southern Residents” are endangered and protected by state and federal law, and there is a strong local culture of respect for the whales. Boats must not approach closer than 200 yards—but that’s plenty close enough when you’re looking at a 30-foot mammal.
You can also visit Lime Kiln Point State Park (aka “Whale Watch Park”) on San Juan Island. The Friends of the Lime Kiln Society (FOLKS) offer many free services, including an informative interpretive center, lighthouse, intertidal and park-wide tours, and fun special events during the tourist season.