San Juan Safaris San Juan Outdoors Whale Watching
San Juan Safaris San Juan Outdoors Whale Watching

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Whale Watching for Father's Day

My Dad was born in Seattle. He grew up here and enthusiastically does all the outdoorsy things you are supposed to do as a Washingtonian, hiking, skiing, camping, fishing. He wears shorts in January and doesn’t own an umbrella. He loves the ocean and us three kids and, until very recently, he had never seen an Orca whale from up close.

Whale Watching Friday Harbor Washington

We decided to change that last Father’s Day, when we took him on a Whale Watch Tour with the San Juan Safaris in Friday Harbor.

We met San Juan Safaris’ tour guide by a big totem pole at the waterfront, our backpacks brimming with delicious sandwiches, fruit, chocolate and drinks, hats, sweaters, and binoculars. The sun was shining. We were so excited.

Our entire group walked down the docks together and climbed onto the Sea Lion, which had a big, glassed in cabin, lots of outdoor benches, and much to my older sister’s delight, a bathroom. My little sister was not delighted to have to wear a life vest because she is under 12. We motored out of the harbor and went full speed south. My Dad had been nagging all morning about bringing extra clothes and now I understood. It was so cold when the boat was in motion. We sat in the bow, my teeth chattered and I could not feel my hands.  Kevin, one of the whale watch guides, brought us warm blankets, as he explained our surroundings.

whale watching San Juan Island

He said that there were Transients out there today.  Transients are orcas not belonging to the Southern Resident Killer Whales, who call the Salish Sea their home. Transients travel in smaller groups and are therefore sometimes easier to miss. After a while we saw some other boats with their engines off, a good indicator that whales are there. Boats are supposed to not come closer than 200 yards when they encounter whales and to cut their engines.

Dad took the binoculars and scanned the calm sea, looking like a sailor. I could almost feel my fingers again, when I heard something, sounding like a truck coming. It was an orca breaching and exchanging the air out its blowhole. There were four or five of them and a baby. The baby was yellow and only six feet long. I learned that orcas belong to the dolphin family, not the whale family. I thought that was odd.

I looked over at Dad and saw that he had tears in his eyes. He saw me, wiped them real quick and said it was just the wind.