Whale watching in the San Juan Islands has become a multi-million dollar industry in recent years. The Whale Museum estimates that, annually, more than 500,000 people go whale watching on commercial whale-watch boats in the transboundary waters of Washington and British Columbia. Another 3,000-8,000 watch whales each year from private boats.
Whale watching in the San Juans provides people with an opportunity to gain knowledge and appreciate killer whales and the abundance of other marine wildlife in this region.. As more people become aware of the importance of the marine ecosystems on this planet, increasing numbers of them will work to help preserve it.
However, it is extremely important that the large numbers of humans who watch whales and other marine wildlife don't disrupt the animals' environment or their ability to live normal, healthy lives. (For more information on environmental impacts facing the orcas, visit our Issues page.)
The Whale Museum recommends interested watchers "Look Before They Book." Look for members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association who follow and promote the Washington State Vessel Law and the Be Whale Wise Guidelines as well as employ professional marine naturalists. Land-based whale watching is another terrific way to experience this marine environment. There are many places along the westside of San Juan Island that provide adequate parking and trails so that you can enjoy watching whales and other marine life from shore. Notable spots include: Lime Kiln Point State Park (Whale Watch Park), the Westside Scenic Preserve, San Juan County Park, American Camp, and South Beach.
Click here to download the new "Watching Whales in the Wilds of the San Juan Islands" brochure!
The Soundwatch Boater Education Program
The Whale Museum created the Soundwatch Boater Education Program in 1993 to educate pleasure boaters on the least intrusive ways to watch whales in the wild. On the water throughout the summer, Soundwatch crews and volunteers monitor boater activity near whales.
Soundwatch approaches all private boaters in the vicinity of killer whales to courteously explain the most current laws and Be Whale Wise guidelines while also providing boaters with brochures that they can keep on board their vessel. The Be Whale Wise Guidelines were created in conjunction with the U.S. and Canadian federal governments and the international Pacific Whale Watch Association to assist boaters in viewing marine wildlife with minimal impact to the animals. (In June 2008, vessel regulations were passed in the State of Washington.)
In addition to providing shore-based and on-the-water education to boaters, Soundwatch also monitors all vessels watching whales for compliance with guidelines and laws pertaining to killer whales, other marine mammals and regional marine protected areas.
Soundwatch is primarily an educational program and has no enforcement power. However, repeat or flagrant violations of the guidelines may be reported by anyone to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service or to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which may impose substantial fines.
Report incidents of harassment of whales or other marine mammals:
|Marine mammals are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972. Human activities in the vicinity of marine mammals can result in a variety of impacts ranging from no observable change in behavior to actual physical harm. Examples of behavior by disturbed or harassed animals can include (but are not limited to):