Whales on the Olympic Coast in Washington
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 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.
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.
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.