Even though we’ve gone on several whale and dolphin watching trips my six-year-old daughter has never seen a whale. We have literally seen whales in the Puget Sound and around the San Juan Islands dozens of times but she is always “too busy” doing something else when one breaches.
If you’re not like my six-year-old, going whale watching around Seattle can be a rewarding way to spend a day on the water.
You can see whales in Seattle waters with the help of a whale viewing trip organizer or simply being in a whale-spotting location like the San Juan Islands when the temperature is right (like in May).
Pro-Tip: It would be best to have a pair of binoculars on your whale-watching adventure as up-close encounters that you see in advertising pictures are incredibly rare.
In this article, you will learn how to prepare for a whale viewing trip in Seattle, which locations are ideal for whale watching, and what you need to do before embarking on this adventure. Let’s start with the first thing you must do: have the right expectations.
Setting Your Seattle Whale-Watching Expectations
The easiest way to avoid disappointment on your whale-watching trip is to set your expectations in line with reality.
You are likely to encounter certain whales in temperate times of the year and may spot a transient whale at any time of the year. The latter requires more luck, and if you go whale watching during the winter, you might as well add another activity to your day’s “to-do” list. That way, you won’t be disappointed if you do not encounter a whale.
Another vital expectation to manage is the size of the whale. Whales have become famous for their size thanks to Moby Dick and the coverage of sperm whales and blue whales. However, the whales you’ll spot in Seattle aren’t blue whales or close to the larger whales in size.
What you will see will look like a gigantic version of a dolphin. Orcas are among the largest whales you can spot in Seattle waters, but since they are at a distance, your binoculars might not do justice to their 16-foot average length.
If you are lucky there is also the possibility of seeing humpbacks, gray whales, minke whales, and more.
Preparations for Whale Watching in Seattle
One of the best ways to get the most out of your whale watching experience is to make it effortless.
In this section, we will explore three ways to make your whale-watching experience memorable. None of these are mandatory, so take only what serves you.
Get a Pair of Binoculars
The first thing you should do before you go whale watching is to have a fine pair of binoculars.
Most common-use binoculars can help you notice far-off whales. Ideally, your binoculars would be specialized for hunting and long-range target viewing. This is the only way to get a detailed look at the whales.
Baigish binoculars are prism-lensed binoculars that can help you get up close with whales and marine mammals in Seattle. This model has a 367 ft. range with a wide lens, metal frame, and a waterproof formulation.
In other words, it can be safely taken on a boat or a pier without the fear of a sudden splash or fog affecting its visibility and operation. With 800+ reviews and ratings, the global collective average of this product is 4.3 out of 5 stars. Its night-vision is rated 4.7 stars, which is relevant since the activity is pretty close to water, humidity, and fog.
Join a Whale-Watching Trip
Once you have high-powered binoculars, you need to be at the right spot at the right time. Whalewatching trips and networks in Seattle have the experience that can shorten your learning curve.
If you have kids who want to watch whales, then you really cannot afford to return home without having seen one. Joining a whale-watching organization’s event improves the odds of whale spotting.
Some popular whale-watching trips in Seattle include:
- San Juan Cruises
- San Juan Safaris
- Puget Sound Express
- Clipper Vacations
- Island Adventures Whale Watching
There are two main types of whale watching trips:
- Island Whale Watching – These are mostly based in the San Juan Islands as these islands are the most well-positioned geographically to watch whales from land.
- Cruise Whale Watching – These trips include a cruise adventure, which is a fun fallback in case one doesn’t encounter whales. The benefit of cruise whale watching is that you can get closer to the whales on the water than on land.
Book at the Right Time
The best way to ensure satisfaction in a whale watching adventure is to time it properly.
The best time to watch whales in Seattle is closer to summer when salmon is most active. May to September is when whales are so active that they can be spotted even on accident. By October, you have to be more intentional with your whale-spotting.
As waters get colder post-October, whales start becoming harder to spot. Getting on an organized whale-watching tour/trip between May and September almost guarantees that you will witness Orcas in their glory.
Visit the Right Spot
Some people dislike organized trips because of their cookie-cutter nature. Others want to save money. From introversion to budget, there are many reasons one might not want to join a specialized whale-watching tour.
You already know that whales are common in Seattle waters from May to September. If you don’t want to join an organized tour and want to solo your whale-watching adventure for any reason, all you need to know is where to be.
Where Can You Watch Whales in Seattle?
You can watch whales in Seattle from San Juan islands, Alki Beach shore, Haines Wharf Park, Rosehill Community Center, Golden Gardens Park-Meadow Point, and almost any water-view location from the West Seattle Coast.
There are many spots from which you can view whales. But the comfy sites have high enough altitude to look past vessels and the proper seating. Again, this is where specialist knowledge is far more helpful than trial and error.
Do I Need to Join a Whale-watching Trip to Watch Whales in Seattle?
You do not need to join a whale-watching trip to watch whales in Seattle or figure out where to view whales in the region. Orcas become a common sight in Seattle waters from May to September. And there are maps that can help you spot the best location to watch whales in Washington.
To watch whales in Seattle without a trip, you need to follow these steps:
- Make time during the right time – Make sure your Seattle whale-viewing trip is scheduled between May and September.
- Check out the Orca Network’s whale watching map – This map features over 168 locations, including private establishments, where you can watch Orcas from in Washington. Many of these are in Seattle.
- Prepare a shortlist – Given that there are over 168 spots to watch whales and orcas. You might want to zone in a few. For instance, you can strike out all private establishments.
- Cross-reference location with google maps – Before you commit to a single spot, it is advisable to check the reviews of a location on Google Maps. If you’re not a Seattle resident, you might also want to see a few pictures before arriving at a selected spot.
You can see whales off the coast of west Seattle, provided whales are in the visible pacific waters during your visit. Time your visit after may and before October to maximize your odds of encountering an orca.