Whale-watching has become a big business on the San Juans, particularly during June and July. Expect to pay around $50 for a three-hour trip.
The Puget Sound’s resident pods of orca whales love the San Juans about as much as the tourists do. Their prime salmon hunting grounds are right around San Juan Island on Haro Strait, and it would be a shame to take a trip to the island without trying to spot these black-and-white beauties as they swim through their natural habitat.
There are dozens of whale-watch tours and charters available. The best ones will provide a knowledgeable biologist or naturalist as a guide and should operate by the Pacific Whale Watch Association guidelines, namely keeping at least 100 yards distance between the boat and the whales. Most services charge around $69 for a four-hour tour.
One highly regarded service is Maya’s Whale Watch Charters (360/378-7996, www.mayaswhalewatch.biz), run by the lovable Captain Jim Maya, a funny and knowledgeable guy whose clients rave about his tours.
If you've always wondered what whales sound like when they're talking to each other, climb aboard the Odyssey, a whale ship outfitted with a special underwater hydrophone to pick up the whales’ chattering. Run by the folks at San Juan Excursions (800/809-4253, www.watchwhales.com,), the Odyssey takes off from Friday Harbor for four-hour whale-watching trips. This outfit also distinguishes itself with a whale-sighting guarantee—if you don't spot an orca, the next trip is on them.
San Juan Safaris (360/378-1323 or 800/450-6858, www.sanjuansafaris.com) is another recommended company that also offers hydrophones, but it operates smaller boats with a more intimate guide experience.
© Ericka Chickowski from Moon Washington, 8th edition