Whales on the Olympic Coast in Washington

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Washington State's Pacific coast, Puget Sound, and the neighboring San Juan Islands are home to both resident whales and are a route for migrating whales. Take a whale watching cruise, ride the ferry, or watch whales right from the shore.

Gray Whales

Breaching Gray Whale

Gray whales are frequently seen close to shore feeding along shallow, muddy shorelines. To identify this type of whale, look for gray or white patches and barnacles on its skin. The patches are a result of barnacles parasites that attach themselves and eventually fall off.

Gray whales migrate from Canada down to Mexico so they have two seasons for viewing - one on their way south and one on their way north. Migrating whales often stop in Puget Sound on their way. The best chance of seeing gray whales is in March through May when the migration peaks. Some gray whales live in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (northern edge of Olympic National Park) year-round. Occasionally you will see them feeding on bottom sediments at the mouths of the Hoh and Quillayute rivers in the summer.


Orca Killer Whale in the Northwest Pacific

Orcas aren't really whales, they're large dolphins, but their size makes people associate them with whales. There are three types of orcas in the Olympic Park area. Resident orcas love to eat Chinook salmon and visit the same feeding grounds each year. Transient orcas eat marine animals and have a wide range of travel. Offshore orcas also eat marine animals but stay in the open ocean.

The best place to reliably see orcas near Olympic National Park is in the waters surrounding the San Juan Islands from May through September. Many orca-watching tours depart from Anacortes, Port Angeles, and Seattle.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whale breaking the water at sunset

Humpbacks have dark backs and white undersides with large fins. The humpback whale is making a slow comeback since the practice of whaling (hunting whales) decimated the population in the early 1900s. The best place to reliably see humpback whales near Olympic National Park is at the western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, including Neah Bay and La Push with prime viewing times from June through November.


Humpback whale breaking the water at sunset

Whale Watching at Olympic National Park

Whale watching cruises are one way to spot large marine mammals, but there are also many locations near the park where you can watch right from the shore.

Sea Otter

Sea Otters on the Olympic Coast

These lovable marine mammals can be found on the Pacific coast from Alaska to northern California, including Olympic National Park.

Breaching gray whale

6 Wild Animals for your Olympic National Park Watch List

Look for these animals as you explore Olympic National Park including elk, whales, eagle plus three more.

Sea stacks on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park

Pacific Coast in Olympic National Park

The park’s wild coastline features both easy-access beaches and remote wilderness. Camp on the beaches year-round.

Viewing platform over the Salmon Cascades along the Sol Duc River

Watch Salmon Swim Upstream in Olympic National Park

Watch salmon ascend the Sol Duc River in late summer and fall at this roadside overlook in the Sol Valley.

Sea stacks on Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park

Sea Stacks on Olympic National Park's Coast

Iconic rock posts and arches jutting up from the sand along the Washington coast are what define the national park's beaches. Here's where to see them.

Sea Star Ochre at Olympic National Park

Explore Tide Pools at Olympic National Park's Coast

During low tides, the Pacific Ocean retreats from the beaches and exposes pools of water in rocky crevices that team with sea life.

Storm waves on the Pacific Ocean at the beach

Winter Storm Watching on Olympic Coast

73 miles of coastline turn into a wave crashing show in the winter. From Nov through Feb, storms coming in from the Pacific have wind gusts up to 60 mph.

Mountain goat on a rocky ledge. Photo by John Williams

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