Searching for Killer Whales in the San Juan Islands

When Drew and I visited San Juan Island 14 years ago with friends, I learned that orcas cruised by the island at times, especially in the summer when the salmon run is at its peak. I knew right then and there that we had to come back and kayak with the orcas one day. You know – like how they did on the Discovery Channel. Well, that day came this past July when we spent a week in Washington. I decided to book 2 nights on San Juan Island so we could kayak in the Haro Strait (on the western shore of SJI) where resident orcas spent much of their time. To be in the water with these majestic creatures was going to be a dream come true (among many dreams)!

To get to San Juan Island, you drive north from Seattle to Anacortes and then take a ferry over to San Juan Island. Of course, we got there right as the ferry was leaving, so we had a short wait in Anacortes before the next one arrived. No biggie – it gave us some time to wander around this cute little town. One thing we noticed that was huge here (no pun intended) was Bigfoot, aka Sasquatch. I guess he and his clan (there’s more than one right?) live up in the Pac Northwest, but apparently they love Anacortes – and books!

This cool piece of art was on top of a truck.

Just passin’ time…

We found a great spot for lunch.

It’s about an hour ferry ride to Friday Harbor (on San Juan Island) if you book the straight shot with no stops at other islands. We made it over and checked into our awesome hotel The Island Inn. The view from our room…aaaaaaahhh….

After settling in, we took a quick drive to the western shore to see if we could spot any whales.

This was our first time seeing round bales of hay. Kinda neat!

We didn’t see any whales, but had a great sunset though.

Next day, we decided to rent bikes and bike to Lime Kiln State Park, the it spot for whale watching on the island.


Little did we know, it was a LOT of uphill, and 18.5 miles to get there! We were totally unprepared and our weak asses decided to turn around after, oh, about 4 miles. Following one of my favorite mottos, “know thyself”, we knew ourselves and knew that this was not for us. At least not that day. Eight hilly miles was plenty as this next image clearly shows. =)

After our reality check, we headed back to town to rent mopeds instead.

Susie’s Mopeds is the place to go & we ended up opting for this super cool scooter coupe instead…yeah baby. It was the best way for me to take pics and video while Drew drove. I’m sure all the island residents LOVE it when tourists rent these things & go really slow on the roads.

If you have all day, you can ride around the whole island and explore.

Me, trying to make it up the boulder in less than 10 seconds to beat the camera timer. There’s no other decent explanation for that pose.

Embracing the nerdiness of our ride!

Our second stop was at Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Pelindaba means “place of great gatherings” in Zulu – incorporating the founder’s idea of great gatherings of people and crops.


I’m thinking of sending this one off to Hurley. 😉



After getting our fill of lavender, we stopped by Lime Kiln State Park to look for whales again. First thing we spotted was this little guy – a harbor seal.


Keeping our eyes open, we finally saw a whale! Not a killer whale, but a minke whale. How’d we know it was a minke from just seeing the top? Well if you must know, on our spare time, we’re Pacific Northwest whale researchers. Ok, not really. We overheard this old lady who looked like a regular whale watcher and San Juan resident tell her friends it was a minke whale. Yes, we’re eavesdroppers, but hey, we learned something from it!

Later that evening, we embarked on our sunset kayak trip in hopes of finding one of the 3 resident orca pods in the area, named J, K, and L pods, otherwise known as “The Southern Residents”. These resident orcas eat mainly salmon, unlike some of the transient orca pods that feed on mammals such as seals. For more info on the orcas around San Juan Island, click here.


Unfortunately, no luck with the orca pods. I guess it’s a bit hard when you’re kayaking to cover a great distance – and you kind of need that in this huge body of water if you want a higher chance of spotting these guys. Next time, I think we’ll book a charter boat ride. Ah well…it was still a beautiful kayaking trip, especially with the sun setting over the water.

We did find a huge purple sea star though!



On our last morning, we had a most delicious brunch at San Juan Island Cheese. It’s great to see a restaurant, in a heavy tourist area, care about the quality of their food. It’s not all like that in Friday Harbor, but San Juan Island Cheese is definitely worth a visit – maybe even more than once, when you’re on the island.



Til next time…Happy Travels to you!

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