One of the best ways to soak up Whatcom County is with San Juan Cruises. Spend the day exploring Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands on one of their whale watching or wine, beer and dinner cruises this summer and fall.
San Juan Cruises has limited capacity to ensure social distancing and has implemented a number of pandemic safety measures to ensure the safety of the crew and passengers. San Juan Cruises’ pandemic protocols include contactless check-in, social distancing and mask-wearing by staff and guests while inside on the vessels. The lunch buffet has been replaced by guests serving food to passengers one table at a time, from behind plastic screens to ensure everyone’s safety.
The trips are as exciting as ever too, with lots of wildlife sightings, fascinating information about the islands’ history and geology and loads of sightings of whale pods, seals, sea lions, porpoises and birdlife this time of year. “We see orcas 97% of the time,” said Drew Schmidt, a captain with San Juan Cruises. “It’s pretty rare when we don’t see whales.”If your whale watching trip is a bust, passengers will receive a “bummer card.” This card has no expiration date and is good for 50% off your next whale watching adventure.
We cruised out of the Port of Bellingham for San Juan Cruise’sWhale Watching Lunch Cruise on a balmy August morning with 27 passengers on board the Victoria Star. In non-pandemic times the Star could accommodate over 100 guests.
It was a calm day in the San Juans with the ocean still and flat, perfect for sightseeing. We entered Rosario Strait, a major shipping lane for roughly 500-to-600 oil tankers per year, and passed Orcas Island, the largest in the San Juan archipelago.
On rocky outcroppings, we slowed to look at the 2,500 lb sea lions newly arrived from Alaska. They were sharing the rocks with harbor seals, basking in the sunshine as we sat down for a lunch of lasagna and Caesar salad.
In his 12 years with the company, Captain Jeff Drovdahl has been witness to some extraordinary orca sightings. A couple of weeks ago he saw a group of transient orcas moving between the whale watching boats, curious about the vessels and their occupants.
Even with regulations preventing boats from being within 200 yards to an orca whale, guests can still have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “One time we had whales breach next to the boat and our guests were showered in whale snot,” said Drovdahl.
This year Orca J-35, also known as Tahlequah, is pregnant again. Tahlequah received national coverage and sparked worldwide concern after losing her baby two years ago.
“We’re all nervously excited, holding our breath to see what happens,” Drovdahl said.
It’s an unusual year because the pandemic has closed the waters between Canada and the United States, so San Juan Cruises is not permitted to cross the water boundary to pursue whale sightings on the Canadian side.
During this time, due to the COVID-19 shutdown, the waters between Canada and the United States are closed. San Juan cruises has been unable to cross the water boundary but they continue to work with Canadian boats to track the whales and share their whereabouts.
As we cruised back into Bellingham Bay, I realized how lucky I am to have all these incredible sights in my backyard. There’s something special about exploring San Juan Archipelago and being able to spend the day on the water. If you have a trip planned to Bellingham or Whatcom County soon, make sure you book a day with San Juan Cruises.
For information and reservations visit whales.com or call (360) 738-8099.