When people think of whale watching in the Pacific Northwest their minds often flash to the antics of orcas, also known as killer whales. These black and white whales may be the region’s most popular marine mammal but they certainly are not the only ones to grace the waters of Puget Sound. Grey whales (Eschrichtius Robustus) are massive migratory whales weighing up to 35 tons and reaching a length of 40 feet. These gentle titans of the sea make their way from their mating and calving lagoons of Baja California, Mexico up far past the waters of Alaska into the frigid Arctic which serves as their primary feeding ground. The grey whale’s 10,000-12,000 miles of migration is the longest of any mammal. On their way north, ten to twelve grey whales nicknamed “Sounders” spend about a month snacking on the plentiful ghost shrimp that surround Whidbey Island. That snapshot of thirty or so days is upon us now.
Clipper Vacations (2701 Alaskan Way, Pier 69, Seattle, WA 98021) sits just below the Space Needle in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. They offer specialized grey whale watching excursions, providing eager locals and tourists alike a rare opportunity into the existence of these magnificent animals.
Clipper Vacations operates a passenger catamaran that can comfortably accommodate whale watchers on the outside viewing platform of the boat as well as individuals who would rather stay on the interior. Everyone has a seat on the inside for the entirety of the trip so as to provide comfort while traveling before the epic whale watching experience.
After boarding Clipper’s catamaran, you will have time to get situated, grab a snack, coffee, or even beer or wine, before the knowledgeable naturalist begins to inform you on the area and animals that abound the Salish Sea. The boat initially heads up Puget Sound past Bainbridge Island and the Kitsap Peninsula before veering east betwixt Camano and Whidbey Island. The latter is the home of the quaint town of Langley where you can spend your two-hour pitstop lunching on local seafood or shopping local wares offered at the numerous boutiques and art establishments. Before you dock at Langley in your afternoon, you will have the opportunity to capture the picturesque offerings of the grey whales.
Grey whales are baleen whales which means they do not have typical teeth, rather a plate that is based at their gum-line that fringes out like bristles on a broom. This allows the whales to strain through enormous amounts of water to filter out the food back into their bodies. Grey whales lack a dorsal fin but are adorned with barnacles and other parasites that give their appearance a speckled and rough exterior. The whales often breach and breathe out a heart-shaped blow. Spotting a slowly dissipating heart’s return to the water is the easiest way to spot a grey whale in Washington. Once a grey whale has been spotted, the catamaran will circle around to the whale’s side to safely allow the whale to swim, dive, and even offer a slap of their tail.
The grey whale watching season begins in the end of March when the migrating giants make their way into Puget Sound. Through April 22, Clipper Vacations offers weekend whale watching excursions with guaranteed sightings. Book your seats for April 14, 15, 20, 21 or 22 as soon as possible as availability is limited and seats often sell out. The excursion is an all-day event that leaves Seattle at 9 a.m. and returns after the whale watching and short stay in Langley at 4 p.m. Tickets are only $65.
Reservations can be made by calling 206-443-2560 or visiting Clipper Vacation’s website at www.clippervacations.com/seattle-day-trips/seattle-gray-whale-watching.