Whales of San Juan Islands and Salish Sea

There is so much wildlife to be spotted when kayaking the San Juan Islands, but baleen whales stand out, largely due to their enormous size. Interestingly enough, while these gentle giants are the largest animals on the planet, they feed solely on some of the tiniest creatures around like baitfish, worms, and plankton.

This is because baleen whales actually don’t have any teeth. Rather, they rely on rows of baleen in their mouth to act as a filter to suck in their relatively tiny prey. There are four species of baleen whales that may occasionally stop by the San Juan Islands. Here is a little primer on each type of baleen whale you may come across on an unforgettable San Juan Islands kayak tour.

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are one of the larger baleen whales in the world. These whales will travel an average of 16 - 20,000 miles a year as they migrate north to feed and south to calve and breed. A male humpback whale will produce a melodic sing-song like noise during the breeding season. They actually only eat during two seasons a year, spring and fall, and then live off their accumulated blubber fat during the summer and winter months while they remain in tropical waters.

These majestic giants can mostly be spotted in the spring and fall around the San Juan Islands, but are also occasionally sighted during the summer months as well.

Gray Whales

Gray whales are most recognizable for their distinctly mottled looking skin, which is often scarred and blotchy. They can often be spotted near shore since they feed by plowing through the mud nose first to dig up tasty grub like mud shrimp, amphipods, and worms. These whales can occasionally be spotted during the spring months where they may stop to feed just off the San Juan Islands.

Minke Whales

These types of whales are amongst the smallest kind of baleen whales, reaching lengths of about 28 feet in maturity. The American coastal population of common or Northern minkes in the Pacific has been heavily threatened by Japanese whaling, and only about 600-1000 individuals remain in these waters. 


A few of these whales will generally take up residence off the coast of the San Juan Islands during the spring, fall and summer months when they graze off of sand lance as their primary form of sustenance. It is a real thrill to catch these beautiful beasts lunging through the water to trap their prey.

Fin Whales

Despite their enormous size, these beauties stand out for their sleek speed and grace. They are also known for their unique coloring, as they have one white jaw and one black one to help make targeted hunting easier.  These are rarely spotted around the San Juan Islands, largely due to the fact that their population has dwindled as a result of commercial whaling practices. However, as their numbers around coastal Washington gradually recover, they may appear on rare occasions. 


While baleen whale sightings aren’t typically the focus of a San Juan Kayak Expeditions Tour, they can occasionally be a thrilling bonus, so it is always a good idea to bone up on your basic San Juan baleen whale knowledge beforehand. One thing is for sure though: our one-of-a-kind kayak tours offer up an unforgettable experience that is fantastic for the body, but even better for the spirit. Are you ready to become one with nature on a whole new level? Come check us out today to find out more.

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