How to See Whales in the Seattle Area Without Taking a Whale Watching Tour!

The Pacific Northwest, particularly around Seattle and Tacoma, offers some of the most breathtaking opportunities to witness whales in their natural habitat. While traditional whale watching tours are popular, there are numerous spots around the Puget Sound where you can catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures from the shore, or heck, even from a ferry boat on to your next destination! Whether you're interested in orcas, baleen whales, or humpbacks, this guide will help you plan your own whale watching adventure in hopes of spotting some of our favorite residents in and around the Seattle area!


How to See Whales in the Seattle Area Without Taking a Whale Watching Tour!


Learning More About the Whales of the Puget Sound

Before diving into where to see them, let's get familiar with the types of whales commonly found in the waters around Seattle:

1. Orca Whales

Orca whales, also known as killer whales, are iconic residents of the Puget Sound. They are known for their striking black and white colors and are highly social and curious animals, often seen traveling in family groups called pods. The Puget Sound is home to three distinct groups of orcas: the Southern Residents, the Northern Residents, and transient orcas, sometimes just called Biggs. The Southern Resident orcas, in particular, are famously known for their frequent appearances around the Seattle/Tacoma area.

The Southern Residents are fish-eating and are endangered. The Biggs/Transient orcas are mammal eating. They really like the seals in the water!

2.Baleen Whales

Baleen whales are characterized by their baleen plates, which they use to filter small fish and plankton from the water. Species commonly sighted in the Puget Sound include Gray whales during their migration, Minke whales, and occasionally, Blue whales. These whales are often seen feeding in the deeper waters of the Sound.

Minke whales are 25-35 feet long and have a curved dorsal fin. Gray whales are about 45 feet long and don't have a dorsal fin. 

3. Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are known for their acrobatic displays such as breaching and tail slapping. While they are more commonly associated with coastal waters farther north, they can occasionally be spotted in the Puget Sound during their migrations.

Humpback whales are 40-50 feet long and have a small irregular shaped dorsal.

whale watching in the puget sound

Where to See Whales Around Seattle

The Orca Network created this incredible map. 
The blue stars are accessible or drive up view points
The yellow stars are walk or hike or possibly a long drive to the view point

Using the Orca Network for Up-to-Date Information

The Orca Network is a valuable resource for anyone interested in whale watching around the Puget Sound. Founded in 2001, this nonprofit organization provides real-time updates on whale sightings, conservation news, and educational resources. Here's how you can utilize the Orca Network:

Sightings Reports: Check their website or subscribe to their email list for recent sightings and updates on whale movements. The most up-to-date information comes from their very active Facebook group with more than 200K followers!

Education: Learn more about the whales that inhabit the Puget Sound, their behavior, and conservation efforts through the Orca Network's educational materials. They often host events in the area as well.

Get Involved: The Orca Network also provides opportunities to get involved in conservation efforts and volunteer activities aimed at protecting whales and their habitats. 


The Puget Sound and its surrounding areas offer several prime locations where you can observe whales from the shore:

1. Seattle Waterfront

The Seattle waterfront, particularly around Alki Beach and West Seattle, offers stunning views of the Puget Sound and occasional sightings of orcas especially during salmon runs in the summer and fall.

2. Edmonds Underwater Park

Located north of Seattle, Edmonds Underwater Park provides a great vantage point for whale watching. the park overlooks deep waters where baleen whales are occasionally spotted during their migrations.

3. Mulkilteo Lighthouse Park

Mukilteo Lighthouse Park is another excellent spot to see whales, particularly during the spring and summer months when Gray whales migrate through this area. You may also spot them if you are on the Clinton/Mukilteo ferry coming or going to Whidbey Island.

4. Fox Island Bridge

Fox Island Bridge, located near Tacoma, offers panoramic views of the water and is a popular spot for watching orcas, especially the Southern Resident pods as they move through the South Sound.

5. Lime Kiln Point State Park {San Juan Islands}

For a day trip from Seattle, consider visiting Lime Kiln Point State Park on San Juan Island. This park is renowned as one of the best places in the world to see orcas from land, thanks to its strategic location along their migratory routes. There is a hydrophone at this location and you often have "whale" experts showing up here, happy to share their knowledge and love of these wild animals.

If you haven't visited the San Juan Islands book a trip now!
Summer in the San Juan Islands
Fall Dog-Friendly Fun in the San Juan Islands

6. Hood Canal

Hood Canal, a fjord-like inlet stretching from the Kitsap Peninsula to the Olympic Peninsula, often has visits from orcas and other whales. Places like Dosewallips State Park offer good viewpoints.

A few more...
I've spotted whales from the local Washington State Ferry multiple times! Find out more!
Three Must Visit Islands in the Seattle Area!
Camano Island has whales they call "Puget Sounders" that roll and eat the ghost shrimp in the waters from late February to early June. 
Visiting Camano Island
We've also gotten lucky out on the boat not far from the shores in Gig Harbor, while at the same time, people were getting quite a show from the Fox Island Bridge too!
There are several coastal locations that have bells to ring that will alert others nearby to whales in the water.

whales in the puget sound

A Local's Experience to Seeing Whales in the Wild

I love seeing animals in their natural habitat and I've been fortunate in the two decades that I've lived here to have some pretty incredible encounters! Here are a few things I look for and do if I want to increase my chances of seeing whales.

1. Check the Orca Network Facebook Group

This Facebook group is updated and monitored frequently. There are near-daily posts of sightings and people are very helpful in the group to give updates.

By following the group, I started to learn more about their behavior and activity and started being able to identify patterns. They are still wild animals, but in doing this, it made my wildlife sightings more frequent.

2. Remember They are Wild

Whales are wild and unpredictable! You can't assume you are going to see whales in the wild. When you do, it's a real treat!

3. Listen

The times I've seen whales unexpectedly from the shore it's because I've heard them first before I saw them. The distinct blow hole sound is something you can hear from a distance sometimes before you ever see them in the water.

4. Watch

With the Biggs orcas feasting on seals, it's not uncommon for the seals to retreat as close to the shore and rocky edges as they can if they hear the whales. Watching seal behavior often gives you a glimpse whale behavior.

Whale watching in the Seattle area offers a unique opportunity to connect with nature and witness these incredible creatures in their natural environment. Whether you choose to explore the Seattle waterfront, venture to the San Juan Islands, or visit the Hood Canal area, there are plenty of options for observing orcas, baleen whales, and humpbacks without booking a whale watching tour. By following resources like the Orca Network, you can stay informed about the recent sightings and help with their conservation. Plan your next adventure and increase your odds of seeing these guys in the wild!

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