While there is no shortage of blockbuster films to see these days, there’s no grander spectacle than the beauty of nature itself. And when it comes to the marvels of nature, few can match the majesty of whales, the largest oceanic mammals on the planet.
Luckily, you can go whale watching all Summer long and into the Fall in San Juan Islands, a stunning island community in Washington State. It is known as one of the best places to see whales, as it is home to at least 84 orcas. (In fact, another orca was born just this summer.)
Of course, there are a few things you need to know to make the most of such a trip. Below are some top tips worth knowing:
Book a Reputable Ship Operator
The first thing you should do is book your trip with a trusted local company. Ideally, it should offer personalized service, so your trip can have a more intimate vibe. Calling and talking to their staff will reveal a lot. Some operators offer special deals where you can charter a boat just for your family for an even more intimate and memorable whale-watching experience. One in particular offers a day-long whale and wildlife adventure on a restored 80-foot sailing schooner called Spike Africa. All professional operators in the area are familiar with wildlife guidelines in order to ensure the safety of the orcas during the trip.
Dress for the Weather
While the San Juan Islands lie in a rain shadow provided by Vancouver Island and boast of a tempered climate year round. But, do note that temperatures out at sea are usually 10-15 degrees cooler than on land. What’s more, rain showers are not uncommon during the Spring and, Fall. Hence, be sure to bring layers of appropriate clothes so you can keep comfortable during your whale-watching adventure. A sturdy water-proof windbreak with a hood is perfect. Sturdy rubber-soled shoes are much preferred than summer sandles while out on the water.
Take Medicines for Seasickness
If you have motion sickness, it’s better to be safe than sorry. After all, the craft will be swaying with the ocean’s waves, and this may trigger a bout of seasickness for some passengers. The good news is that seasickness medication is readily available in convenience and drug stores around the San Juan Islands, so be sure to take some before heading out to sea. Also, get the non-drowsy variant so you won’t feel sleepy aboard the ship. If you are only mildly affected by motion sickness, consider bringing along a few ginger snap cookies. There’s something about ginger that seems to calm a shipboard tummy.
Prepare to Take Photos
Seeing a whale frolicking in the ocean is an unforgettable sight indeed, so make sure to capture it for posterity by bringing along a real camera. If possible, bring a zoom lens so you can capture intimate details even from afar. One must take into account that boats are requied to maintain a certain distance to avoid disturbing the whales. Likewise, make sure that your memory card has plenty of space and that you have a spare card in your bag for safety. Having an extra battery also ensures that your camera won’t die in the middle of an incredible trip.
Arrive for the Trip Early
While an operator will gladly spare a few minutes to accommodate latecomers who stay in touch with them, they operate on a tight schedule and may depart without you. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to see whales in the wild by hitting the snooze button one too many times. Besides, the earlier you arrive, the more relaxed you’ll be on the ship.
Keep an Open Mind
And now for a caveat: while the San Juan Islands has many orcas living in its waters, no cruise operator can actually guarantee a sighting during any one particular trip. Some operators “guarantee whales”. What that means is that if no whales are seen, the will issue a free pass for another sailing. But, that requires returning another day, which may not fit into your schedule. Whales are wild animals. But, experienced crews keep close track of the orca’s whereabouts and even share amongst themselves that priveleged information. But, even if no orca is sighted, there is plenty to appreciate, from the beautiful scenery, to the camaraderie on the ship—and sightings of many other creatures, such as dolphin, porpoise, seals, eagle and much more.
A whale-watching adventure is an unforgettable experience that everyone should have at least once in their lives. If you’re looking to enjoy such a trip, give local operators like Schooners North a call.