In the San Juan Islands, massive marine mammals are studied and monitored by the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, a museum that teaches tourists the importance of protecting the oceans and keeping the endangered orcas alive. They perform extensive research to keep track of each whale that swims through the Salish Sea.
An orca pod can contain a dozen to several dozen individual whales, and there are three active pods (J, K, and L) that can be seen often in the San Juan Islands. Interestingly enough, the locals and the nonprofit groups who work together to protect these creatures can easily identify the pods by their markings and other behaviors. As a matter of fact, they lovingly denote many of the whale with both a code number and a name. Orcas average life-span is around 50 years old. There are orcas in the pods who are less than two years old. A whale in J-pod, affectionately named “Granny” recently passed away was estimated to be over 100-years old.
Responsible Whale Watching
Along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Whale Museum imposes strict regulations to be followed by tour guides and visitors who want to go whale watching in the San Juan Islands. Vessels are never authorized to charge up to a whale in the open water.
A general rule is to stay at least 200 yards away from the whale pods. The key here is to minimize environmental impact, avoiding harassment for the whales, and at the same time educating the public to be more aware and responsible.
Keeping the Whales Away from Stress
The constant influx of shipping vessels towards the San Juan Islands can have an impact on the behavior and growth of the whales. The Whale Museum advises the public not to steer their boats along the path of whales as they swim.
At the same time, even when whales are several hundred yards away, it’s important to keep noise at a minimum, and this includes cutting the engine and not using loud voices while aboard. If a whale feels harassed, it may suddenly change directions as it swims, or even move faster across the surface, possibly endangering itself and nearby boats in the area.
Calling on the Public to Help
If you want to help the cause, you can make a donation to the Whale Museum to further support their conservation efforts. You and your family may also adopt a whale and help ensure its survival in the wild. The museum will send you regular updates and occasional new photos about “your whale.” For further information about these exciting and educational whale watching tours, you can consult with the private charter specialists. They can schedule a special excursion for your group, and they can also educate you on everything you need to know about these marine wonders.
Be Whale Wise, BeWhaleWise.org
San Juan Island’s Whale Watcher, SeattleMet.com
Whale Watching in the San Juans, WhaleMuseum.org