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Whale Watching FAQ
THE WHALES & WHALE WATCHING
Q: What is the best month to see the whales?
Peak season is considered the summer months of mid-June through early September. During this time, we see whales (orcas, humpbacks, greys and/or minkes) on over 90% of our tours. There are whales here year round, but much less predictably outside of those summer months.
Q: Do you guarantee whale sightings?
While we do not guarantee whale sightings on our tours, 20 years of sightings data shows that we do have a 90% chance of seeing whales during the peak months of June – September. As industry leaders, we are key members of a proprietary sightings network known as the Pacific Whale Watch Association. Our network of communication on the water paired with experiential knowledge makes for very successful trips, in terms of whale sightings. And we are uniquely positioned on San Juan Island to be able to reach reported whale and wildlife sightings throughout the region.
While some larger companies offer whale guarantees, they often fall short on follow through by providing a rain check for a future trip. We focus on the quality of our guest experience and encourage guests to "not put all your eggs in one basket", meaning sign up for two trips to increase your odds. We provide discounted packages for these guests. You will have a great experience with our local naturalists and captains with a one-on-one educational experience found nowhere else in the San Juan Islands.
Q: How do you know where to find the whales?
San Juan Safaris belongs to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, a network of researchers and captains all in communication about what they are seeing. This network includes spotters on land, out on the water and sometimes in the air. Our captains also have their own network of friends they rely on for tips about where the whales are on any given day. Combined, these networks give us our high percentage of sightings.
Q: Where do we go?
Wherever the whales are! Sometimes that might be out towards eastern Vancouver Island, or down to the very south end of the San Juan Islands, or even north to the Canadian Gulf Islands. Occasionally, the orcas are not around San Juan Island, but you can depend on this: they go wherever they want to go, and can easily cover 100 miles in a day.
Q: What is the best time of day to see the whales?
No time of day is better than another. We suggest you go when it fits into your schedule best!
Q: What about sunset trips?
We are one of the few whale watch & wildlife tour operators that offers a sunset tour. Memorial Day through late August we offer whale watching at sunset. At this time of year in the Pacific Northwest the sun does not set until approximately 9:30 p.m. and it stays light until 10 p.m. The sunsets are romantic and breathtaking. And many restaurants stay open late in the summer to accommodate an after-cruise meal. Read why the sunset tour is a staff and guest favorite!
Q: What are we likely to see besides orca whales?
The Salish Sea ecosystem is rich with wildlife. Each tour is unique, but other common animal encounters include lots of marine birds, harbor seals, sea lions, river otters, and porpoises. Plus many of our tours encounter humpback and/or minke whales. Read our Guide to Wildlife in the San Juan Islands for an overview of our marine creatures.
Q: Why don't you offer whale watch and wildlife tours in December and January?
While whales and wildlife call the waters around San Juan Island home all year around, the weather in December and January can be unpredictable with high winds and cold temperatures. The unpredictable weather does not allow us to regularly operate high quality and comfortable whale watch and wildlife tours.
Q: Where do you depart from?
Our vessels depart from Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. Read about how to get here and taking the WA State Ferry here.
Q: What do I need to bring to go whale watching?
See our list.
Q: Is there a bathroom?
Yes! All of our vessels have a marine restroom on board. Even our Adventure Vessel, Kestrel!
Q: What is the age limit on your vessel?
We take any age. Families with children 7 years and younger can book whale watch tours aboard the Classic Vessel, Sea Lion and Osprey. We will ask parents of children under 2 years of age to stay in our windowed, heated cabin or use a "wear on" baby carrier for safety reasons. Children ages 8 years and up are permitted on our Adventure Vessel, Kestrel. Are you whale watching with kids? Read our Top 10 Tips for having a great whale watch tour experience with your children!
Q: Will your vessel accommodate a person in a wheelchair?
We can accommodate the person but not the wheelchair. Due to safety considerations we cannot place a wheelchair on our boat because all seats must be anchored to the boat itself. If the person can stand, walk up two steps on the outside of boat, then one on the inside, we will do our best to pre-board them. Please let us know when booking so that we can plan ahead.
Q: How long are your whale watching trips?
All of our excursions are approximately 3-4 hours. If necessary, our Classic Vessel Sea Lion can travel up to 50 miles roundtrip and our Adventure Vessel up to 70 miles roundtrip, we can almost always get to the whales, spend time with them and the other wildlife, and get back within that time frame.
Q: What is the schedule for the whale watching tours?
Check out our Whale Watching Tour Schedule.
Q: Can I make a reservation online?
Yes! Make your reservation here.
Q: What is your Cancellation Policy?
No shows are charged full price. See our complete cancellation policy for additional details.
Q: Should I charter an entire boat?
For certain types of events, such as family reunions, team building. wedding parties, etc. chartering the entire vessel is ideal because your group will have the entire vessel to yourselves. With a large group it might even be less expensive than individual boarding passes. Read more about our custom charters and private tours here.
Q: Do you take school groups, Scouts and kids clubs?
We sure do! We love to teach kids about the whales, wildlife and the ecosystems here in the islands, and what they can do to help protect these resources. We are known as the large group specialists.
Q: What is required to book the whole boat?
A 50% non-refundable deposit at time of booking; the balance is due 30 days prior to the charter.