Whale Watching


orca killer whales san juan islands kayakingSpring and Summer find the San Juan Islands home to pods of orca (killer) whales and solitary, baleen minke whales. Many of our two, three, four day and five-day expeditions spend one and one half to two days traversing pathways where orcas are most frequently found as they hunt schools of migrating salmon.  Our Whales Ho! Full Day tour paddles in whale habitat for an entire afternoon, while our Whales Ho! Half-Day tour spends three hours in prime killer whale territory! Paddling with San Juan Kayak Expeditions gives you the best odds of sea kayaking with orcas in the wild!

Sea kayaking with orca whales can be an awe-inspiring experience of a lifetime.  With weights between 5 and 9 tons and lengths of 25 to 30 feet, observing orca “killer” whales from a kayak is an unforgettable event.  Since orca are social creatures, they can be found in groups of three to 25 and more.  Their breathing sounds and underwater vocalizations make paddling with orcas an audio as well as visual extravaganza.   Past expeditions have witnessed orcas spy-hopping, breaching, lobtailing, hunting or sleeping (I know it sounds funny, but watching whales sleep is one of the most amazing things you will ever witness)!  Come join us for a sea kayaking with orca whale wildlife encounter that you will remember forever!

Humpback whales are making a dramatic comeback is island waters in recent years and sightings have become common!  These gentle, baleen giants are 50 feet in length and up to 60 tons and are a joy to behold.  With exciting pec fin slaps, tail lobs and air-borne flukes, humpbacks are a dramatic addition to our ocean fauna!

paddle orca whales kayak sea san juansWhile observing whales our groups follow Sound Watch and NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service)  guidelines.  For more information on whales, please go to our Whales FAQ page or Orca Network.

In addition, our two, three, four and five-day trips traverse a popular humpback whale habitat and minke whale feeding grounds and explore channels inhabited by Dall’s and harbor porpoise. Other wildlife you may see:

  • Common to occasional sightings: humpback whales, minke whales, stellar sea lions, harbor seals, mink, raccoon, deer, big-horned sheep (imported), Sitka deer (imported), prong-horned antelope (imported) and red-tailed fox.
  • Occasional to rare sightings: California sea lions,  gray whales, elephant seals.
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kayaking orca whales killer whales san juan islands

“After all the other wildlife we’d seen on the trip, the orcas were icing on the cake! The memories of their glistening backs, the metallic ‘whoosh’ of their breathing, the newborn calf will be with me forever.  Thanks to you, Tim, we had a front row seat in the bull kelp!  Your knowledge of the whales and their habits made it so that we had the best of all vantage points!  Your expertise gave all of us the experience of a lifetime!  Thank you.”

Linda Ewing
Chebeague Island, ME