Whales have always been fascinating creatures to me. And I think what makes them so fascinating is not just that they’re some of the largest mammals living on our earth, but that they aren’t seen often, let alone up close.
Boats docked in Edmonds Marina Photo: Erin Craft
That said, when I was asked to participate in a whale watching tour with Puget Sound Express, I couldn’t refuse. So I, along with a few other Visit Seattle staff members, made my way about 20 minutes north to the Port of Edmonds for a morning excursion. Upon arrival, we met up with Pete, Sherri, Sarah, and Christopher Hanke—the family that owns and operates all Puget Sound Express tours.
Fun fact: The Hanke family has been operating whale watching tours with Puget Sound Express for 30 years. And they don’t plan on stopping any time soon!
The new M.V. Saratoga docked in the marina Photo: Erin Craft
Gorgeous mountain views from the outdoor seating area Photo: Erin Craft
From there, the family led us to their newest whale-watching vessel, the MV Saratoga. Boy, was she beautiful—and big! Fixed with 149 seats, this catamaran was designed specifically with guests, whales and the environment in mind. You can sit inside on comfortable cushioned seats while sipping on coffee and savoring a slice of Sherri’s world-famous blueberry buckle (I swear it’s magic in your mouth), or you can enjoy the wind in your face from the outdoor seating on the deck.
Fun fact: Sherri now includes the recipe to her blueberry buckle in the Puget Sound Express tour program—a tasty souvenir you’ll treasure for years!
As you leave the port, prep yourself for an impressive sight, especially on a clear, sunny day. Gaze upon a panoramic view of Puget Sound with snow-capped mountains in the background as you cruise toward the San Juan Islands at roughly 40 knots (nearly 50 mph). If you’re lucky, you may even catch a ferry on the move for a quintessential Pacific Northwest photo (new phone background: check!).
Ferry passing the Edmonds marina with a beautiful, mountainous backdrop. Photo: Erin Craft
What I love most about this tour is that the Hanke family knows these whales like the back of their hands and treats them with respect–they never get too close unless the whales choose to approach the boat. The family can spot whales from afar and when one comes into sight, you’ll quickly hear a voice over the intercom. As you watch these magnificent creatures, you’re taught about the nature of the animals and how they differ from others of their kind. A good portion of the whales Puget Sound Express sees returns year after year, so many have individual names and a unique history in the area. They’re often distinguished by the different markings on their flukes (aka their tails), as no two are the same!
If you didn’t know, there are a number of whale species that can be found in the Pacific Northwest, including the transient orca, humpback whale, gray whale, and minke whale. While on our tour, we came across two gray whales—Shackleton and Earhart. These two whales are some of the only in the area that are continuously seen together. We admired the pair as they cleared their blowholes about 3-4 times before diving down to the bottom of the ocean, showing off their flukes in the process. While on the ocean floor, gray whales fish for delicious krill.
Earhart’s fluke in the air, preparing to dive down to the ocean floor. Photo: Erin Craft
One of the whales clearing its blowhole. Photo: Erin Craft
Fun fact: Did you know that whale blowholes are very similar to human nostrils? When they come to the surface, whales will exchange nearly 90 percent of their lung capacity—and with great force! Air can leave the blowhole at nearly 200 mph, whereas air leaving a human’s nose during a sneeze travels at roughly 100 mph.
It’s a unique opportunity to see whales in their natural habitat. You get a glimpse into just how impressive in size they truly are, while simultaneously learning about the species. We watched and followed the two gray whales for about an hour before heading back to the port, but I felt as though I could stay out there for hours.
Gray whale resting at the water’s surface Photo: Erin Craft
Although whales are the main focus of most Puget Sound Express tours, the Pacific Northwest is teeming with aquatic life. So, even if you don’t have the opportunity to see whales—but it’s very likely you will—you’re sure to see other marine life, including seals, puffins, eagles, and more! Bird watching tours and multi-day tours are also available in addition to the popular whale watching tours.
All in all, if you’re trying to decide whether or not to book a whale watching tour with Puget Sound Express, ask yourself three things:
- Do you want to see whales up close and in their natural habitat?
- Do you want brag-worthy photos and lasting memories?
- Do you want to eat insanely delicious cake?
If you answered “yes” to all three of those questions, then don’t wait any longer! Plan your tour with Puget Sound Express and have an experience you won’t soon forget.