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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 29 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 35
Clipper Vacations Killer Whale Watching Daytrip in the San Juan Islands an exceptional treat
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Clipper Vacations Killer Whale Watching Daytrip in the San Juan Islands an exceptional treat

by Victor Bogatko - SGN Contributing Writer

CLIPPER VACATIONS
WHALE WATCHING DAYTRIP
Through September 28


Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, whale watching in the famed San Juan Islands has always seemed like an exciting backyard excursion. To my surprise and delight, it proved to be an even more spectacular adventure that is seemingly worlds apart from life here in Seattle.

Conveniently departing from downtown Seattle, the San Juan Islands Whale and Sealife Search Day Trip begins bright and early with a Victoria Clipper cruise through Puget Sound. As the summer sun burns away the morning fog, wildlife enthusiasts are treated with their first glimpses of Puget Sound's stunning coastline, soaring bluffs, picturesque towns, and abundant wildlife. Any early morning grogginess is lifted immediately as the region's stunning beauty is revealed - and did I mention coffee refills are free?



Heading north through the Salish Sea (the body of water encompassing Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca), the tour sails along the eastern shores of Whidbey Island for miles before passing through the shallow turquoise waters of Skagit Bay, where the wildlife really makes a prolific debut.

And don't worry about always being on the lookout for sightings! The very friendly and very knowledgeable naturalist will be sure to point out anything you might miss. Our naturalist Renee Ramirez seemed to have a sixth sense about spotting anything well before anyone else. On top of being your eyes and ears when you're not paying attention, your naturalist will inform you of the region's unique history, geology, environment, wildlife, and anything else you may be curious about. Renee's dedication and passion for wildlife was very evident as she interacted with cruisers and answered endless questions throughout the trip without missing a beat.



Just around the corner from Skagit Bay is scenic Deception Pass, where harbor seals can be seen basking in the morning sun and bald eagles and other birds fly overhead with breathtaking scenery all around. On the other side of the pass is what seems like another chapter into another world, with nothing but the open Strait of Juan de Fuca in front of you and the grassland shores of Lopez Island to the north. The region's unique climate, created by the Olympic Mountains to the southwest, becomes evident in the dramatically different vegetation that is exposed beyond Deception Pass. Instead of the cold, moss-covered, soggy forests, you find invitingly warm Madrona forests and golden prairie-like grasslands covering the San Juan Islands.

Winding through spectacular views of Lopez Island to the right (or the starboard side), and San Juan Island to the left (or the port side), the cruise finally makes its way to Friday Harbor for a short stop before embarking on the most important leg of the journey. And before you know it, your naturalist spots whales in the distance and passengers flock to the bow of the vessel in disbelief. And to everyone's amazement there is a pod of killer whales! Success at last!

The experience is truly mesmerizing! Four to eight ton apex predators roaming the seas for prey like a pack of wolves right before your very eyes. It is truly an amazing sight that will leave you in wonder at their beauty, in amazement at their enormity, and in terror of their power.

For nearly half an hour, Orca lovers are marveled and humbled by the whales in their natural environment and though staying longer is tempting, the cruise must make its way back to Friday Harbor for some island adventure.

Friday Harbor is a quaint little town that is probably the cleanest city you will ever visit. Small shops and restaurants line the harbor, with local specialties like the Pelindaba lavender shop and Herb's Tavern within walking distance. There's something for everyone here. Dining is reasonably priced and the food is delicious, with fresh seafood all around. Two hours pass comfortably before embarking on the last leg of the journey - an afternoon cruise back to Seattle.



The journey back takes a different route than the way up, this time heading south on Whidbey Island's west side. The sun is warm and the breeze on the third deck is refreshing, while the views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound are breathtaking in the afternoon sun. Stellar sea lions, the largest of all sea lions, are spotted on a couple of small rocky islands, and the captain stops the Clipper for a few minutes for some primetime viewing of these massive creatures.

Heading into Seattle are spectacular views of the Emerald City itself, at which point you have made friends with everyone else on board and seen more than you would ever imagine seeing on a day trip. According to the crew, whale sightings this year are an incredible 95 percent so the pod is sure to put on a show for you before the season is over in late September.



While there are many things I enjoyed about this day adventure, I can honestly say that it far exceeded my expectations. Not only for the show put on by the killer whales, but also because of the crew, who were very accommodating and patient with a senior citizen group that joined us on our trip, making the trip an all-around wonderful experience.

A few things worth mentioning that will better prepare you for the trip:

Give yourself plenty of time in the morning to board the Clipper - it leaves at 7:45 a.m. sharp!

Bring a jacket, a hat, and warmer clothing, as it is often chilly and windy in the morning.

And don't forget your credit card, if you don't want to go hungry on board, as cash is not accepted, though the crew appreciates a cash tip at the end of the cruise.

Besides that, GO HAVE AN END-OF-SUMMER ADVENTURE, before it's over!

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