Whales are a common, but always exciting, sight in the San Juan Islands. Some live in the area year-round, such as our Resident Orcas or the more elusive Transient Orcas. Many others, including Humpback whales, simply pass through during their long yearly migrations between their summer feeding grounds in the north, and their winter breeding grounds near the Equator. Lucky charter guests may have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of one of these passers-by as they make their way through the Salish Sea.
A few decades ago, due to competition with commercial fisheries as well as the expansion of new methods used by fisheries to catch fish, humpback whale populations in the North Pacific were drastically reduced. In addition to being effective at catching fish, and hence improving the profits of the fisheries, many other marine mammals, including Humpback whales, were caught as bycatch. Bycatch is any marine species that is caught unintentionally while fishing for target species. Conservation efforts began in the 1980’s and, although still considered endangered in the United States, their population has made an encouraging recovery and now consists of around 20,000 individuals in the North Pacific alone!
San Juan Sailing and Yachting guests have the best chance of spotting a humpback during a spring or fall charter when they are close to the end or the beginning of their migrations. If you are hoping to see one of these gentle giants during your charter, bookmark the Orca Network “Sightings” page, which is run by a non-profit organization that collects whale sightings in the Salish Sea and posts them in real-time. Also, make sure to be Whale-Wise when encountering any marine mammals in the wild! An article from Seattle PI, written last spring, explains that more and more humpbacks are returning to the San Juan Islands each year.
Humpback whales are relatively easy to identify. They are dark grey in color with some patches of white on their fins, and may even have barnacles growing on their skin. They are absolutely massive, reaching lengths of 60 feet or more. Their most identifying characteristic, however, is their zeal for aerobatics. Their enthusiastic breaching can be heard, seen, and enjoyed all from the comfort of your San Juan Sailing and Yachting charter boat!