I have a love and passion for wildlife. As a child I loved going to the zoo and even as a student I tried to visit the local zoological park of every town I went to. Years have passed and I have been to Africa, Asia, Australia and South America to watch ‘real’ wildlife in its natural settings. Since then I try to avoid caged animals and rather wait for the precious and rare moments of seeing animals in the wild.
When I went to Seattle in July this year, I was happy to learn that my visit would fall right into Orca season. There are several options if you visit Seattle and want to go on a whale watching tour. You can either book a day trip with Clipper Vacations and depart directly from Seattle downtown. Or you can drive up further north and hop on one of the boats of Island Adventures which we ended up doing. Between April and October boats leave from Anacortes to the San Juan Islands for the world’s best opportunity to see wild Orca whales.
I have done a few dolphin and whale watching tours before but somehow I came completely unprepared to this one. The end result: frost bitten hands, bad food, no good close-ups of the whales and the intention to prepare better next time. To enjoy your trip to the fullest, here are a few tips on how to prepare for a Seattle Whale Watching tour.
How to prepare for a Whale Watching Tour
1. Pack warm clothes
Even when it’s 30°C/86 F on land, bring a warm sweater, a jacket, a scarf and even gloves with you. We had the most perfect day with warm weather and blue sky but once we reached the open water it became unpleasantly cold. As the whole trip lasted a rough 6 hours you can imagine that my body and hands were frozen to death. At the end I couldn’t even feel my fingers pressing the camera trigger anymore. It was that bad.
2. Bring a telephoto lens
On my previous whale watching trips the boats (which were also much smaller than the ones of Island Adventures) would get nearer to the whales. In the States you are not allowed to get closer than 200 yards, which is great for the whales and basically sufficient to get a good view of the whales. However if you want a real nice close-up image that you can show off on your Facebook page, you need to bring a telephoto lens. Everything else will result in a whale that is too far away and pictures will be blurry if you zoom in as both the boat and the whale are usually moving.
3. Prepare some healthy food
I should have known better but I was hoping that Island Adventures would offer some kind of healthy food on board, like a fresh sandwich or some fruits. Ohh, I was so wrong. They had potato chips and microwaved burgers and hot dogs and expensive water. So next time you go on a whale watching tour, do expect the worst in terms of food and take a few snacks and easy meals (fruits, granola bars, sandwiches, salads) to ward off the hunger.
4. Bring plenty of water
Understandably, a whale watching tour is not like a visit to the supermarket where you get a range of cheap food and drinks. Water on board can be expensive but you don’t want to miss out on hydration only because you hesitate to afford it. So bring several bottles of water and you should be fine.
5. Take a sturdy hat, sunglasses and sun protection
It is easy to underestimate the sun (even when it’s cloudy) on the open water. I am not solely talking about sunburn but you want your head covered from the direct sunlight and wind as well as your eyes shielded against the glare.
6. Check the timing
As we didn’t want to wake too early in the morning we decided to go on the 3 p.m. tour. Considering that the whole trip on the boat lasted until 9 p.m. we got back to Anacortes harbor after sunset. Needless to say, watching the sunset from the water was a wonderful experience. However we still had the 2 hours drive to Seattle in front of us. Every one of us was extremely exhausted and tried hard to keep our driver entertained and awake. In restrospect we should have taken the 11 a.m. tour and return back to Seattle during daylight hours.
7. Leave some time for exploring
Without doubt the whale watching tour was the highlight of the day. On the other side you should not dismiss the beauty of the surrounding and nearby attractions. Before starting the official tour we did a little detour to the south of Fidalgo Island which is a beautiful place covered in northwest forest and has a number of freshwater lakes and stunning bays. We also took an hour to explore Anacortes, which is a small town that has great coffee and cakes to offer.