Time to Hit the Water: Whale Watching Abounds in Puget Sound This Summer

The Pacific Northwest is full of bespoke surprises. It’s as if Mother Nature looked around and said, “You know what, this is pretty incredible, but let’s throw these folks some interesting curve balls. You know, just to spice things up.” Thus:

  • Our beautiful Cascade Mountain Range is chock-full of volcanoes (20 of the “major” variety to be exact, five of which reside in Washington, including Mt. Rainier, a mere two-hour drive from Seattle and worth the trip)
  • The eastern half of our state—a “high desert” environment—enjoys up to 300 days of sunshine a year (Seattle clocks in at 164, which is why we here at Inn at the Market get so excited for sun-lovers to pay us a visit come summertime)
  • The waterways around the Emerald City host a special set of visitors every year—transient (or “Bigg’s”) orca whales, Southern Resident orca whales, and humpback, minke, and gray whales.


That’s right, Puget Sound is a haven for whales, and they’re commonly seen between May and October. So now is a prime time to book a stay at Inn at the Market and enjoy one of our area’s most unique summer activities—whale watching!

But first, we’ll break this whole thing down for you.

The inland waterways shared between Washington and British Columbia—including Puget Sound—are known as the Salish Sea. Cold, nutrient-rich waters are constantly moving and mixing with the tides, creating vibrant habitat for thousands of species of birds, invertebrates, fish, and mammals.

That means—unlike many whale-watching destinations where viewing seasons last just a few months—the Salish Sea is home to a variety of whales all year long. As seasons change, so too do the whales you’re most likely to encounter.

Transient (“Bigg’s”) orca whales are most often seen in small pods throughout a Salish Sea spring. Southern Resident orcas have a smaller, more defined travel range, spending four to seven months in local waters in large family groups of 20-40 whales. Humpback’s are quickly becoming more frequent visitors to the Pacific Northwest and definitely favor the May-October timeframe, while Minke whales prefer our area’s milder temperatures in the summer. Last but not least, gray whales detour into Puget Sound between March and May to take a break during their offshore journey to Mexico.

So what’s the best way to catch an exciting glimpse of our sea-born mammalian friends? Maybe witness the smack of an orca’s pectoral fin against the salty brine in an ebullient greeting, watch a gray whale surface to breathe, or stare as a humpback breaches, spins, and crashes down in a thunderous spray?

FRS Clipper (a 200-passenger, high-speed catamaran) offers a half day whale watching tour that departs and returns from downtown Seattle at Pier 69 on the waterfront (.9 miles from Inn at the Market to be exact…a five-minute drive, or 15-minute walk). The tour spans 4-6 hours depending on sighting locations, and features a naturalist to guide and educate guests, as well as locally sourced food and beverages.

For those seeking adventure even closer to the surface, Sea Quest Kayak tours the sheltered waters of the San Juan Islands just north of Seattle (where Orcas love to play). Kayak trips are guided by biologists, environmental scientists, and naturalists who can tell you about the lives of these amazing animals.

Puget Sound Express fits right in the middle, offering half-day tours departing from Edmonds, a short drive north from downtown Seattle.  They utilize a variety of vessels, including catamarans, propeller-less foilcats, and traditional boats that seat as few as 40 people.

So what are you waiting for? Summer is here, as are Mother Nature’s plethora of local bespoke surprises, including whales playing in our inland waters. If you have any questions, contact us at Inn at the Market today. We’re happy to help, and hope to see you soon!