I arrived in Seattle late at night and checked into my Airbnb in Capitol Hill. The next morning, I met up with an old friend from middle school. We had a delicious brunch at a place called Glo’s Cafe in Capitol Hill (you know it’s good when there’s a line out front), and walked around at Pike’s Place for a little while before I had to head to the whale watching tour I’d booked.
The whale watching tour is one of the first things I booked when planning this trip. My very first obsession (if you know me, you know there have been many) was with the movie Free Willy. I was in the first grade when it came out and instantly became enamored with all things whales. I read every book about whales in the children’s section of the library. Incidentally, this is the year I graduated to reading grown up books because I absolutely needed to know everything I could and that’s where I could find more reading material.
I’d been whale watching as a kid in Cape Cod, but I’ve never see Orcas in the wild. You wouldn’t be wrong in saying this was about to be the culmination of a lifelong dream of mine. Normally the tour would have taken us out west to the San Juan islands, but there were reports of some transient Orcas right near Seattle so they took us there instead.
A bit of Orca background–there are three resident pods (family groups) that come back to the San Juan islands every summer. Transient Orcas are usually found in smaller groups than residents, and roam further distances. Transients are actually genetically different from the resident pods, even though they look similar to the untrained eye.
After about 45 minutes of searching, we finally found them. A family of five–a mother and her four children. The naturalist on board was able to identify the mother based on her markings, and it turns out she’s only a year older than me! Kind of crazy to think this animal and I have been on this planet for almost the same amount of time.
Legally vessels must stay 100 yards away from Orcas due to their vulnerability, so for much of the day we were observing them from quite a distance. Then, after not seeing them for a few minutes, they suddenly surfaced incredibly close to our boat!
It was such a treat! There may be rules against boats getting too close to the whales, but there’s nothing stopping the whales from swimming closer to a stopped boat!
It turns out we were incredibly lucky that day. The resident pods in the San Juan Islands had gone too far west and we wouldn’t have been able to see any Orcas had we traveled where the tour normally goes. Another tour that launches closer to the San Juans actually came all the way down to Seattle to see them!
They also gave us quite a nice backdrop when they swam south, with downtown Seattle in the distance.
Eventually they swam too far south for us to follow, so we finally parted ways. We headed back north towards our launch point of Edmonds, where the crew had just heard reports that two Humpback whales had been sighted.
On the way there we spotted this adorable little harbor seal (you might need to squint a little to see him) just floating out there, seemingly curious about us.
And what luck! We came across the Humpbacks and watched them from a distance as they fed. Diving deep and resurfacing every few minutes.
I arrived back to my Airbnb just as the sun was setting (after having a nice chat with the shuttle bus driver, who ended up hailing only 20 minutes away from me in NJ!) I remembered that the listing said there was a rooftop deck with views of the city so I hightailed it to the roof, with my dinner in tow, for the perfect ending to my day in Seattle.