These photos are from my ill-fated whale watching cruise out of Seattle. I should have known what kind of day it was going to be when my 8 a.m. seaplane flight to San Juan Island was delayed for an hour because of fog. The delay meant that I would no longer have time to eat breakfast at a nice restaurant in Friday Harbor, so I walked down the street to grab a quick egg sandwich at Starbucks. When I returned to the marina I learned that the flight would be further delayed until at least 11 a.m., meaning that I would now have no time at all to enjoy Friday Harbor before the cruise. On top of that there was a chance the flight would be canceled altogether. At this point they offered me a refund of both the airfare and cruise, and I really wish I had taken them up on it and just spent the day exploring more of Seattle.
Instead, I decided to wait it out because I did not want to regret passing on the opportunity to see killer whales in the wild (the company claimed to spot orcas on 98% of their cruises). With two more hours to kill I decided to make the long walk back to my hotel room for a while. When I returned, the weather had finally cleared and we were off. The seaplane ride itself was cool. The pilot offered to let one of us sit in the cockpit with him. I thought it would have been a neat thing to do as the only solo passenger on the flight, but one of the other men beat me to it.
So we landed in Friday Harbor and pretty much had to rush to the meeting area. The cruise started off well—we spotted a humpback right away and I had high hopes—but that single whale was about all we would see. The rest of the 3.5-hour cruise involved brief glimpses of a couple of porpoises and a seal, an extended period of time spent looking at some wildlife on islands, numerous returns to following the same humpback whale, and long stretches just riding around looking at nothing. We never came within a sniff of a killer whale, despite them being spotted off the islands on the previous day by some of my fellow passengers. So much for that 98% success rate–I guess we were the unlucky 2%.
Essentially, when factoring in the seaplane airfare, it ended up being the most expensive 3.5-hour harbor cruise ever, and you could see it on the faces of my fellow passengers. After a while most of them just stopped looking for marine life, opting instead for the warmth of the cabin, their faces painted with looks of dejection. And that was that.
I’m not writing this to find fault with the tour operators, which is why I am not using their names; I’m just recounting my experience. I understand that the seaplane company could not control the weather, and that the cruise company could not control the presence of wildlife, but that does not lessen the disappointment, and this whale watching cruise was the worst I’d ever taken in terms of sightings. It just felt like a wasted day. It was one of the only nice weather days in Seattle during my stay and I spent it in waiting rooms, planes, and freezing boats with very little to show for it. By the time I returned back to Seattle that evening, I was too tired to do much of anything else after waking up at 5 a.m. to make my pre-flight check-in.
I think this experience has turned me off of whale watching cruises for good. I’ve only been on one really good cruise and that was the first one I ever embarked on about 20 years ago in Maine. That particular trip out of Bar Harbor featured wall-to-wall whales, dolphins, and other marine wildlife, which obviously spoiled me because every cruise I’ve taken in the years since has been comparatively disappointing.
Anyway, despite the lack of sightings I ended up taking around 250 photos. Whittling them down to the few I’m sharing here was quite a chore (I’d hate to think how many photos I would have shot if there had actually been whales on this trip!). In the end, I managed to get a few nice shots of the humpback whale and some of the island wildlife.
Click on any photo to open a gallery.