Whale watching on San Juan Island is a year round activity. 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 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 Southern Resident Killer Whales (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 whether you are looking for a small boat experience, adventure trip on a zodiac style vessel or a larger more spacious and comfortable vessel, perfect for families or on days when we experience a bit of northwest sunshine. 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 Island Whale and Wildlife Tours, San Juan Excursions, and Maya’s Legacy Charters. Many of the whale watch operators have hydrophones on board where you can listen to the Orcas communicating. Let our concierge service make your reservations to ensure a spot for you.
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 light house 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 orcas matriarchal society and the subpods, 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 mammal.