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Five Whales You Can See in Seattle

SPONSORED — You may think that whale watching happens only to weathered sea workers fishing in frigid waters, or tourists on an Alaskan cruise.

But you don’t have to sail the wild shores of Alaska—or be Captain Ahab—to spot a whale. In fact, the Salish Sea near Seattle is home to an incredibly diverse whale population.

Here are five whale breeds you can spot on a whale-watching tour:

Orcas

If you grew up hearing about Shamu in Sea World, then you have a good idea of what a Seattle-area orca looks like. There are two species of orcas who spend time near Seattle: the Bigg’s orcas, (AKA transient orcas), and Southern Resident orcas.

Bigg’s orcas eat marine mammals such as sea lions, dolphins and even small whales. They typically travel in small groups, usually two to six animals, and can be found anywhere from southern California to the Arctic circle. These are the orcas most commonly seen in the Salish Sea.

The Southern Resident orcas are comprised of three families – J, K, and L pods, staying close to their mothers for life. The Southern Residents are the only orca population listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. However, the CWR spotted a newborn orca in Puget Sound in January.

Humpback whales

Humpback whales have a distinctive body shape, with long pectoral fins and knobby heads. Adult humpback whales can grow up to 52 feet long and weigh nearly 40 tons. They mostly eat krill and small fish, and were nearly hunted into extinction until commercial whaling was banned in 1996. Their population has rebounded, however, and local whale watchers are thrilled to have them back in the neighborhood.

Gray whales

Gray whales are named for their dark slate-gray color, and they have two blowholes on top of their heads. This makes their water spout come up in a heart shape, which makes them easier for a novice whale-watcher to spot. Every spring, a small group of gray whales migrating north to Alaska turns east into Washington’s inland waters. Their nickname? Sounders.

Minke whales

These whales are smaller than their cousins, the humpback and gray whales, clocking in at 33 feet long and weighing 10 tons. They also tend to be more elusive. Minke whales have a dark gray back and white undersides, with a distinctive white patch or band across their pectoral fins.

Fin whales

These are more recent visitors to the Salish Sea, and are also known as finback or razorback whales. Fin whales are extremely fast and can swim at a sustained 23 miles per hour. They can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour, which earned them the nickname “the greyhounds of the sea” by American naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews in 1916.

In 2015, Puget Sound Express reported a sighting of a fin whale, their first in nearly 25 years of operation.

Puget Sound Express is a family-run whale watching operation, running boat tours around Puget Sound for the last 30 years. It offers half-day or multi-day whale watching tours, coordinated by a family who delights in sharing their passion with visitors.

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