Washington State Ferries

Washington State Ferries operates the largest ferry fleet in the United States, carrying over 23 million passengers to 20 different ports of call throughout the Sound. From Tacoma to Sidney, B.C., the ferries provide a tremendous opportunity to view marine wildlife.

They are the only boat-based viewing platforms on The Whale Trail. Look for The Whale Trail signs on each ferry, and at the ferry terminals!

Where the Whales Are

The animals you might see from a ferry depend on the route you are on and the time of year.

  • During the summer, the southern resident orcas (J, K and L pods) might be seen from the San Juan Island ferries, and sometimes from the Anacortes terminal.
  • From October to February, the southern residents are often spotted in central Puget Sound, following salmon runs. You might see them from the Coupeville, Edmonds, Bainbridge, Bremerton and Vashon ferries.
  • Transient (marine-mammal eating) orcas may show up at any time of year. Their travel patterns are less predictable, but they have been increasingly seen in Puget Sound over the last few years.
  • Gray whales feed near Whidbey Island from March to May. Watch from them on the Mukilteo/Clinton ferry.
  • Seals and sea lions are common throughout the Sound, and might be seen on any crossing.¬†Dall's porpoise and harbor porpoise are also often seen.

Did you know?

  • If you see an orca or other whale, let the ferry personnel know! The captain will likely announce it so the other passengers can see them too.

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  1. Bob Dewater : 02 May 2013 4:38PM

    Is there a place or Telephone number with information about where Orcas are being seen? I’ll be in Friday harbor in June.

    • donna : 05 May 2013 1:56PM

      For now the best place to check for “real-time” sightings is Orca Network’s Facebook page, where people often post recent sightings. On San Juan Island, check in with The Whale Museum to see if the whales have been around. When you are on the island, the best place to see them from shore is on the west side of the island – Westside Land Preserve, Lime Kiln State Park, and San Juan County Park; or on the southwest from San Juan National Historic Park. At Lime Kiln, researchers keep daily track of the whales’ passages and post the most recent sightings on a white board near the Lighthouse. Good luck! Come back and post some pictures of what you see :)

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The Whale Trail

Address / Contact

2100 Ferry Terminal Road

Anacortes, WA 98221
1.888.808.7977
wsfinfo@wsdot.wa.gov
Washington State Ferries

Whale Trail Features

All ferry routes are on The Whale Trail

Marine Mammals Commonly Seen Here

Marine Mammals Occasionally Seen Here

Marine Mammals Rarely Seen Here

Travel Tips

Traveling on a ferry? Bring your binoculars!


The San Juan Island route is part of the San Juan Scenic Byway.

The Whale Trail is a nonprofit organization in partnership with
Partners NOAA Seattle Aquarium People for Puget Sound Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife The Whale Museum National Marine Sanctuaries