SPONSORED — If you’re from the Pacific Northwest, you already know that this little neck of the woods is famous for a lot of reasons: from birthing the grunge movement to making great coffee to setting a backdrop for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to fall in love. But what you might not know about Seattle is that it happens to be the best place in the nation to see whales — lots and lots of whales.
Sure, other coastal areas of the country see their share of these large, water-living mammals, but what makes the Pacific Northwest so unique is the number and variety of whales that migrate around our shores. In Seattle, you can see whales year-round, but summer, by far, is the best season to see the largest and most diverse numbers of whales. In the coming months you’ll have the opportunity to marvel at any of the following species:
Southern resident orcas
Also known as “killer whales,” these black-and-white beauties are long-term residents of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, any southern resident orcas you see are members of extended families, comprised of three pods: J, K and L pods. Weighing in at about 7 ½ tons and about 28 feet in length, these powerful animals can swim up to 30 miles per hour. The southern resident orcas like to feast on salmon, so the Seattle region suits them just fine.
Transient orcas, on the other hand, like to dine on mammals. Also called Bigg’s orcas, these animals enjoy a smorgasbord of harbor seals, minke whales and sea lions. What makes these whales so breathtaking to view is their spirited behavior. It’s not uncommon to witness an orca breaching (jumping out from the water) to celebrate a kill. Transient orcas travel widely, but the rebounding sea lion and seal populations in the Salish Sea are keeping these whales close to Seattle.
You might recall the unique shape of a humpback whale from your elementary school days, but seeing one of these massive animals in person is quite an experience. Luckily for members of the Pacific Northwest community, that experience is available now, as humpbacks make their yearly migration through the Pacific Northwest waters.
These gigantic animals, weighing in at 40 tons and ranging in length from 39 to 52 feet, were nearly extinct just a few decades ago. Now, thanks to a ban on commercial whaling, these beautiful whales are back in the neighborhood for us to observe.
You’ll recognize a gray whale from the distinctive heart-shaped blow they leave on the surface of the water. With two blowholes on the top of their head, it’s easy to spot a gray whale as it makes its yearly migration from the southern waters near Baja north to Alaska. While most grays simply pass through Pacific Northwest waters on their way to Alaska, a small group of gray whales nicknamed “Sounders” often turn east into Washington’s inland waters during the spring northern migration. Weighing more than 40 tons and up to 49 feet in length, sighting a gray whale is an incredible experience.
Fin and minke whales
Fast and slender, fin whales are newly seen in the Pacific Northwest waters. The second-largest of the baleen whales, these long (up to 65 feet) animals can weigh more than 50 tons. Puget Sound Express made its first sighting of a fin whale in 2015, and is excited to find more in coming seasons.
The minke whale, however, is the smallest baleen whale and often very elusive. Sighting a minke is a rare and thrilling opportunity — one which you might experience if you happen to catch one on its yearly migration from polar feeding grounds to equatorial waters.
If any of the whales listed here surprise you, it’s time to learn a little more about the local residents — and visitors — of the Pacific Northwest waters. Puget Sound Express offers guaranteed whale-watching tours from Seattle’s northern suburb of Edmonds, giving customers a thrilling experience that is unique every time.