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I’d always wanted to do a whale tour.
As we were planning this trip, we were hoping we somewhere along the way, we could squeeze in some whale-watching. When a co-worker told me about San Juan Island, I knew this should be the place to take the tour. I’d never heard about San Juan, Washington, before, but the more I read about this special place, the more I knew we had to check it out. My only regret about San Juan is that we didn’t spend the night there. If you are planning to visit, I would certainly recommend at least one night on the island. We just didn’t realize how much time we’d want to spend there.
Also, we initially booked a much smaller tour with another outfitter. It would’ve been a tour with a maximum of eight guests. When that tour guide told us he had to rebook us with someone else, I was a little disappointed. We ended up rebooking with a much larger tour with San Juan Safaris. I won’t lie; I was worried that we wouldn’t have the personal experience that I was hoping for with a small tour group. Maybe a larger boat would mean we wouldn’t be able to see as well. Boy, I couldn’t have been more wrong. San Juan Safaris gave us an exceptional experience, and I don’t think we could’ve had a more amazing tour!
Getting to San Juan Island From Seattle
Simply getting to San Juan Island was quite the ordeal for these Midwestern land-locked tourists. As we planned, we realized that we wanted our car on San Juan Island, so that meant driving our car onto a ferry and sailing to the island.
It’s recommended that you reserve your ferry time weeks in advance, and there are only certain times the ferry is available. You can get information about ferry times and the process by clicking here.
I will write more about this process later, but this is another reason I would suggest staying a night at Friday Harbor on San Juan. You will not feel like you’re trying to cram everything in and still get a good ferry time, arriving or leaving.
Also, Seattle is about an hour away from Anacortes, the point at which you take your car on the ferry to San Juan from the mainland. If you’re staying in Seattle, this adds to the planning.
Arriving at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island
We arrived at Friday Harbor around 9:30 a.m. Above, you can see the ferry pulling away; it was the first time we’d ever taken our our car on a ferry, so the experience was completely new for us. Our whale tour was scheduled to start at 1:00 p.m. So, after we drove off the ferry, we thought we’d take a look around Friday Harbor and check out the Whale Museum. We found some parking over by the Whale Museum, so we started there.
The Whale Museum
This small museum is the perfect introduction before your whale tour. It’s a great place to learn about orcas and other whales in general.
You can also learn about the orca pods that make the San Juan Islands their home.
Friday Harbor is also an adorable area to explore.
We didn’t have a lot of time to explore Friday Harbor, so this is another reason I’d suggest staying at least a night if you’re planning on a whale tour. The tour, though awesome, takes a lot of time out of your day. We decided to have some snacks before the tour, including some ice cream. I would’ve loved to have time for lunch or dinner in Friday Harbor.
The Whale Tour: San Juan Safaris
It can be a little tricky to find San Juan Safaris, at least it was for us. The picture above shows that the door faces the side, so as you can see, we didn’t see it right away. We checked in here, and then we were to line up where the boat would dock.
For our tour, we lined up on this pier. At some point, you want to go downstairs so you can be at the level you need to get on the boat. People lined up from a couple of directions, and the closer to the front of a line you were, the sooner you could board. This may be important to you if you have a place you’d prefer to sit.
While we waited, we were greeted by a jellyfish under the pier.
Soon, our boat arrived, and the crew prepared for us to board.
Our boat, The Osprey, was perfect for whale watching!
We opted to sit on the outside of the upper deck. There is covered seating, too.
Our tour was in July, so I’d suggest preparing for any type of temperature or weather. Jackets were nice when the boat was in motion. The breeze was chilly, but the sun was warm. When the boat stopped for long periods, we could take off our jackets. Also, don’t forget the sunscreen! You may not feel warm, but if you move outside of the covered seating, you’re definitely in the sun.
We brought water and a few snacks with us, but really we just used the water. Definitely bring the water!
You are able to move around the boat to get better views depending on where the wildlife is spotted. Also, realize there are laws about how close the boat can get to wildlife. We don’t want to endanger or disturb them.
The Whale Tour Begins
Soon, we were off!
We were pretty lucky on our whale tour because the crew was aware of a sighting of a pod really nearby. We’d barely gotten away from the harbor when the whales were first spotted. Needless to say, we were pretty excited!
Though it’s not guaranteed that you’ll see whales, the odds are pretty great. I’d share some of the initial whale pictures, but they are pretty far away. As the tour continued, we were able to get much closer, and eventually, the whales came up to us!
Also, the scenery in the area is absolutely gorgeous! Just exploring the waters around the island is a treat. Here is our view of Mount Baker.
The Whales Make Their Close-Up
We followed the pod for a while (at a distance). Eventually, our captain stopped the boat because the he realized the orcas were coming closer to us! We had okay pictures with our cell phone, and I did get a video. But our best pictures were taken with our Nikon D3400, Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G VR DX AF-P ED Zoom-Nikkor Lens.
The crew explained at one point that the orcas where hunting. You could tell by the way they were in certain formations.
This pod had older females, a “teenager” male, and a baby. The male would swim away from the others, but the crew said that he was probably helping with the hunt.
Here is a video of the whales and the hunt.
The whales continued to get closer. We just sat in the boat and watched it all unfold.
We’ll remember this tour forever!
Soon, it was time to head back. The whale tour lasts between three and four hours. We did circle around an island, and as we did, we saw a bald eagle. Most of our time was spent watching the whales, which was exactly what we were hoping for. We had an amazing experience, and we know we were probably pretty lucky to get a close-up view. Keep in mind the whales are wild animals, and they’re going to do whatever they want to do, so you never know what your experience will be. I wish you lots of luck in seeing the orcas if you’re planning your whale tour!