Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Spotting whales

For all the years we've lived here seeing an orca is always exciting. Add to that the sightings of a beluga whale earlier this month and then a humpback whale just this week and I'm bumping my Rainy Day Fun post till next week—since the rain isn't going anywhere—and finishing this one. 

I've been fortunate over the years to see orcas from the shore, off a boat and from a kayak but my favorite memory of all is the first time my kids saw them. We had heard whales were passing by and drove down to the Emma Schmitz Overlook on Beach Drive. We were welcomed by The Whale Trail volunteers answering questions and sharing binoculars to help with spotting whales. A great adventure in so many ways!

I didn't know much about The Whale Trail organization other than having seen their blue and white signs—with pictures and descriptions of the marine life that you might see offshore—at some of our beachfront parks. So I started researching and made a note to do a post in the fall when resident orcas, that are following the salmon, start to be seen in West Seattle and here we are. 

While volunteer events like the one we attended years ago aren't currently happening, the founder of The Whale Trail organization Donna Sandstrom has recently launched a book for middle readers (ages 8-12) based on her personal experience rescuing an baby orca—Orca Rescue! The True Story of an Orphaned Orca named Springer. This experience was the beginnings of the organization that now spans from British Columbia to California. We couldn't make the book signing event the other weekend but I did chat with her over email and hope to meet up in person so I can learn even more about this incredible organization. 

Until then, here's what I do know so you can have fun spotting whales with your kiddos too. 

Who's here and when:
  • Fall/Winter: Resident orcas, usually J and K pods as they follow the salmon
  • Spring: Gray whales
  • Anytime: Bigg's/Transient orcas (which hunt marine mammals), harbor seals and river otters
  • Rarely seen: Humpback whales—If you didn't see Monday's story on the WS Blog about the one just off Beach Drive check it out here along with the story about a beluga whale spotted in early October. 
We usually hear about whale activity via the West Seattle Blog but I've also listed two websites below under "Resources" that both have social media accounts where folks will post sightings.

Where to go:
  • Alki Beach
    2701 Alki Avenue SW
    Whale Trail Sign: Just east of the Alki Bathhouse, facing north
    For detail about this site go here
  • Charles Richey Viewpoint
    Beach Drive SW & 63rd Ave SW
    Whale Trail Sign: Near the intersection of 63rd Ave SW and Beach Drive SW
    For detail about this site go here.
  • Emma Schmitz Overlook
    4503 Beach Drive SW
    Whale Trail Sign: Northern end of the park at the top of a set of stairs.
    For detail about this site go here.
  • Lincoln Park
    8603 Fauntleroy Way SW
    Whale Trail Sign: Point Williams Point (west of Colman Pool)
    For detail about this site go here.
    Parking: Two lots (South and North). You'll then have to walk down to the path along the water.
  • Vashon Island
    If you're up for an "off-island" adventure to an actual island Point Robinson is an official Whale Trail site with a sign similar to all the spots in West Seattle. However, we prefer to go to the less crowded Maury Island Marine Park. It's a bit of a walk down to the beach but there's a hill that's perfect to watch from. Last winter we had it all to ourselves as we watched the whales go by.
Here's a Google map I created of the spots in West Seattle listed above, all have Whale Trail signs.

Added July 2022: For places outside West Seattle, check out this story I wrote for Seattle's Child. It was inspired by this post and includes spots all around Puget Sound.

What to bring:
  • Binoculars are great if you have them.
  • Before you go, check out the Viewing Guide on The Whale Trail website for helpful tips for where and how to spot marine life.
  • Rain gear (if needed), water and snacks.
  • The Whale Trail
    Amazing resource for where to go, what you'll see, information about the organization, how to volunteer and more. Based in West Seattle but spans from British Columbia to California

  • The Orca Network
    Another resource I just discovered for orca info and activity based out of Whidbey Island.