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Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands

Whale watching on San Juan Island is a year-round activity, though the whales are here more regularly from March – November. The prevalence of the whales depends on migration patterns for Humpbacks, and on food source for the Orcas. At one time, the Orcas were seen only during July and August, and Humpback sightings were rare. Recently, salmon conservation has increased, some of Washington’s dams are being removed, and the food supply is strong. There was a recent report of nine different humpbacks on a winter whale watching trip!

The ability to witness the Orcas and Humpback Whales in their natural habitat is an experience of a lifetime. Islanders love these huge animals and keep close tabs on them through social media. We are as proud of the newborn Orca calves as if they were relatives, and in a sense, they are: Orcas and Humpbacks have been feeding, playing, and swimming in our waters for centuries.

Whale Watching on San Juan Island – the best place to see Orca whales in the wild

We partner with several outfitters that offer charters from Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor. Our concierge will help match you with the perfect operator and make sure your spot is reserved whether you are looking for a small boat experience, adventure trip on a zodiac-style vessel, or a more spacious and comfortable vessel. We book the trip on your behalf with our preferred operators and have vouchers awaiting your arrival at check-in. All these companies have experienced naturalists on board. Our partners include San Juan Safaris, San Juan Outfitters, Western Prince Cruises, San Juan Excursions, and Maya’s Legacy Charters. Many of the whale watch operators have hydrophones on board through which you can listen to the Orcas communicating.

orca breeching the water

You can often enjoy shore-based whale watching on San Juan Island on the west side at Lime Kiln Point State Park. At Lime Kiln State Park you can watch the whales feed and play by the only shore-based whale watching park in the world. Because of their feeding patterns, the Southern Resident Killer Whales are seen on the west side of San Juan Island. Orca whales, porpoises, seals, dolphins, and eagles are often sighted on these shorelines during the spring and summer months. There is also a hydrophone at the lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park. Enjoy the hiking trails to lookout points; see the displays describing the abundant sea life; walk the high bank trail to Lime Kiln Lighthouse, which was maintained by lighthouse keepers from 1919 to 1962 to guide ships through the Haro Straits; it is now fully automated. Bring a picnic lunch and stay awhile!

The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor is a short walk from the Inns and offers an excellent primer on whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem. Their interactive and hands-on displays are learning opportunities for the entire family. You will learn about the orca’s matriarchal society and the sub pods, J, K and L (the Orcas who make up the Southern Resident Killer Whale population). You will soon be talking about Superpods, saddle marks, and salmon travel patterns. Children dress as their favorite marine mammals.

Tail of a whale visible above the water line
people in orange waterproof suits sitting on benches on a boat
Four people standing on the deck of a small whale watching boat
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lighthouse at a rocky shorline with evergree trees at back

Recognized by Travel + Leisure Magazine

We have been recognized by Travel + Leisure Magazine as the best place to stay when visiting Friday Harbor and San Juan Island.

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