How to Go Whale Watching in Washington (for Free!)

Whale watching doesn't need to cost a fortune or take an entire day. Learn to utilize technology and enjoy a variety of whales from a vantage point on the shore!

By: Josh Hollandsworth + Save to a List

I recently moved to Washington from Florida on a whim. Normally, my life is a little more planned out than moving across the country without first having a job lined up, but this move needed to happen. I can honestly say that moving to Washington state has been one of the greatest decisions that I have ever made.

I love the outdoor, and being constantly surrounded by snow-capped mountains, rain forests, and a plethora of wildlife that I had never seen before solidified my decision to relocate. Speaking of wildlife, whale watching was one activity that I became immediately interested in when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. I saved up some money and purchased a ticket on a sightseeing tour boat that was based about an hour and a half from my home in Tacoma. The whale watching tour was an adventure of its own and we ended up seeing three humpback whales for about 45 mins. To be honest, I left that boat feeling a little bit disappointed. I loved seeing those enormous animals up close, but I wanted more! Let me say that I am not downplaying the whale watching boat tour experience! Some people have incredibly different experiences and get to see the whales do all sorts of acrobatics. I, however, personally felt that I overpaid for an experience that didn't last very long.

For those that don't know about whale watching laws, you can't just pilot your boat right next to a whale to get the ultimate picture of a breaching whale and get a mouthful of saltwater from its splash. There are laws that prohibit boaters from entering a prescribed zone around the whale, and the Coast Guard WILL enforce these laws (check out the laws here Be Whale Wise!). So, what can you do if you don't own a boat and don't want to spend a lot of money to go on a whale watching tour? The answer: utilize technology.

What do I mean by utilizing technology to go whale watching? Well, most people own a smart phone and have a presence on social media...these are the only two things you need to find out where the whales are going to be. I stumbled upon a Facebook network that actively reports sightings of whales in the Puget Sound. The group I found, called The Orca Network, is managed by a non-profit organization that promotes whale safety and preservation of the habitats that the whales need to prosper. By simply following this group, I was able to see the notifications stating that a pod of Orcas were making their way up the Puget Sound only 5 minutes from where I live. There are actually several groups that track the local sightings of whales in the Puget Sound, but I found the one that works the best for me. I haven't done my research on other geographic regions, but I'm sure there are networks like this all over the coastal U.S. 

In total, I have seen whales on 4-5 separate occasions over the past month, so this tracking system works! I can live my life and wait until the network posts where the last whale was sighted in real time. For instance, just yesterday, I was able to grab my binoculars and head outside to see a humpback whale in the distance because a notification was posted that a whale was in my area. Pretty neat, huh?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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