Wildlife of the Pacific Northwest
The Pacific Northwest is home to a vast array of wildlife. The diverse ecosystems range from snow-covered mountain ranges to rocky coastlines. The highlight for most visitors are the orcas, humpbacks, minke whales, and gray whales, but whales are only the start! We always aim to share as much wildlife as possible with our guests.
The diversity of the Salish Sea is second to none.
The Salish Sea is an incredibly diverse ecosystem, home to 38 species of mammal, 172 species of bird, 253 species of fish, and more than 3,000 species of invertebrate. Each one of our tours is unique in its route and the wildlife we encounter - you'll never have the same experience twice. We're always on the search for as much wildlife as possible each and every day.
Each day and every experience is completely unique and unpredictable! The beauty of these waters is that no two tours are the same, and we’re seeing different wildlife each and every tour. Check out below to see the common types of wildlife that can be spotted on the tour, and be sure to see what we’ve seen on the water by checking out our whale report!
The San Juan Islands have one of the largest concentrations of harbor porpoise anywhere on the west coast. They travel in groups and are often found feeding in current lines. They surface and disappear quickly. Porpoise are more blunt and stocky than their sleek dolphin cousins. Harbor porpoise are constantly fishing, they have been recorded consuming 500 small baitfish in an hour, up to 3,000 in a day!
Harbor seals are year-round residents in the Salish Sea. They often pop their little heads up out of the water as we cruise through the waterways. During low tide we see them hauled out in groups along the rocky shoreline. Harbor seals are quite agile in the water, but unfortunately appear very clumsy on land. Sometimes we encounter a harbor seal enjoying its lunch at the surface. They hunt a variety of prey, but they occasionally become prey themselves. Harbor seals are a favorite food of transient killer whales.
Steller Sea Lion
Steller sea lions are a massive pinniped that can be spotted on any of our tours throughout the year. They are commonly seen hauled out on rocks, warming up their bodies. These haul out locations are where fights can break out. These loud exchanges of grunts and growls as well as watching their enormous bodies clash in a brawl is exhilarating. The eastern Pacific stock of Steller sea lions was taken off the Endangered Species List in October 2013 and continues to increase about 3% a year.
The majestic bald eagle is a year-round resident in the Salish Sea. With a wingspan up to 8 feet, seeing a bald eagle effortlessly soar high in sky is breathtaking. The population was once down to just 417 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states. This decrease was due to the use of the chemical DDT which weakened their eggshells. They were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and DDT was banned. The population soon began to rebound and they were taken off the listing on August 8, 2007. Currently the San Juan Islands are home to at least 125 nesting pairs of bald eagles, plus juvenile and migratory birds. This is one of the highest densities of breeding eagles in the lower 48 states.
The alcid family are web-footed diving birds with short legs and they use their wings to “fly” under the water. This family of birds includes the common murre, rhinoceros auklet, marbled murrelet, tufted puffin and pigeon guillemot. The common murre is the deepest diving bird we have in the area, documented to have reached 590’ in depth! The rhinoceros auklet grows a “horn” on their beak in the spring and falls off in the autumn. The marbled murrelet, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, nests in old growth trees (older than 200 years). Tufted puffins are a life list bird for many of our guests and we have the opportunity to spot these rare birds in the Salish Sea during the summer months. Pigeon guillemots are easily identified by their bright red feet, matching mouth and white wing patches.
There are three species of cormorants that call the waters of the Salish Sea home: Brandt’s, pelagic and double-crested. Cormorants are not a waterproof diving bird and they are often seen perched on rocks with their wings spread, drying out. All three species are permanent residents in our area. Double-crested cormorants have a dark brown body with an orange beak. Pelagic cormorants are the smallest species and they have a black plumage with a glossy iridescent green and violet-bronze on the body and violet-purple on the neck. Brandt’s cormorants have a black body and neck and a dark bill with a hooked tip.
Learn more about the area’s wildlife and scenery.
The waters surrounding our three departure locations offer some of the most diverse whale and wildlife viewing on the west coast. Onboard each of our tours, an experienced naturalist helps identify all of the whales, wildlife, and rich history that this area holds
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See what we've seen on the water. There's a detailed account from every tour since 2003!