See Whales With PSE – Help the Center for Whale Research

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Puget Sound Express is proud to support the work of the Center for Whale Research, located in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. The Center for Whale Research is dedicated to the study and conservation of the Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orca) population in the Pacific Northwest.

Led by biologist Ken Balcomb, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has conducted an annual photo-identification study of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population that frequents the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia. A nearly four decade effort, these studies have provided unprecedented baseline information on population dynamics and demography, social structure, and individual life histories.

CWR’s work is critical to ensure the survival of the Southern Resident population. When the Southern Residents were listed as endangered in Canada in 2001 and in the United States in 2005, recovery plans were drafted to address the issues currently affecting their survival. These recovery plans listed four main threats to the survival of this species:

  1. Reduced quantity and quality of prey (Chinook/King/Spring salmon)
  2. High environmental levels of persistent biochemicals, such as PCB’s and flame retardants, that have known harmful effects on marine mammals (eg. immune system repression and reproductive system dysfunction)
  3. Sound and disturbance from vessel traffic and shipping
  4. Potential oil spills

When you go whale watching with Puget Sound Express, you can help support CWR’s work. At checkout, simply select the “Support Orca Research” option, and we’ll send $2 for every order to the Center for Whale Research.

PSE Lunchs Provided by The Courtyard Cafe

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On our four hour cruises, we offer a range of scrumptious, homemade lunches from our friends at the Courtyard Cafe in Port Townsend. Will and Heidi are two of the nicest folks you’ll ever hope to meet, and their love of food makes their breakfasts and lunches a PSE crew favorite!

As a family business ourselves, we like partnering with the Coutyard, because they are a family business as well – literally – watch out for their 7 & 8 year old watching from the stairs or their 14 year old bussing tables on the weekend! Their motto is “Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends” We love it.

p.s. you can pick your lunches as you go through the check out process online. Turkey, Ham, Veggie – even PB&J for the kids!

Whale Watching in HD

Now that Puget Sound Express has expanded to three boats, offering whale watching in Port Townsend AND Seattle/Edmonds – we decided it was high time to get some new video footage out into the world! Enjoy…

Fourth Baby for Endangered Puget Sound Orcas!

Photo Credit: Jeanne Hyde courtesy of Center for Whale Reseasrch
Photo Credit: Jeanne Hyde courtesy of Center for Whale Research

By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) – The endangered population of killer whales that spend time in Washington state waters is experiencing a baby boom with a fourth baby orca documented this winter. The newborn was spotted Monday by whale-watching crews and a naturalist in the waters of British Columbia, according to the Pacific Whale Watch Association, which represents 29 whale-watching operators in Washington and British Columbia. The orca was swimming with other members of the J-pod, one of three families of orcas that are protected in Washington and Canada.

Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research on Friday Harbor, confirmed the birth to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The center keeps the official census of endangered southern resident killer whales for the federal government. The birth brings the population to 81, still dangerously low. Listed as endangered in 2005, the whales are struggling because of pollution, lack of food and other reasons.

“This one looked quite plump and healthy,” said Balcomb, who reviewed photographs of the newborn. “We’re getting there. We wish all these babies well. They look good.” While he and others hailed the birth of four baby orcas since December, they cautioned that the survival rate for babies is about 50 percent. “Given where we were four months ago, it’s certainly the trend we’re hoping for,” Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said Tuesday. “It’s still far too early to think we’re out of the woods yet,” said Hanson, who studies the orcas.

Michael Harris, executive director with the Pacific Whale Watch Association, said, “Who doesn’t love baby orcas, right?” But he, too, urged measured optimism. “We’re going to keep a careful watch on these babies and our fingers crossed,” he added.

The newest orca was spotted Monday swimming with a calf that was born in December and a female whale. Another calf was born to the J-pod in early February, while a calf in the L-pod was observed in late February.

Balcomb said he thinks the baby’s mother could be J-16, the female whale it was swimming with Monday. But it may be some time before the relationships are sorted out, he added.

A Terrific Season of Gray Whales

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[NOTE: 2015 GRAY WHALE TOURS ARE NOW COMPLETE]

Each spring, majestic gray whales migrate from the southern waters north to Alaska. In March and April they pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, providing an excellent opportunity to visit and learn about these whales.

In 2015, the great whales returned – and we had a grand time hanging out with them.

Gray whales are baleen whales that migrate between feeding and breeding grounds each year. They reach nearly 50 feet in length and live between 55 and 70 years! The gray whale has a dark slate-gray color and is covered by characteristic gray-white patterns, scars left by parasites which drop off in its cold feeding grounds. They have two blowholes on top of their head, which can create a distinctive V-shaped blow.

The annual gray whale migration from the Baja Peninsula to the Bering Sea is a challenging, 10,000 mile journey for these great creatures. The area around Everett, Camano Island, and Whidbey Island is popular with the grays due to the robust shrimp population. We’re fortunate that the whales make a detour from their off-shore journey to join us in March and April to feed and build up their fat stores for the remainder of their journey to Alaska.

Two of the most recognizable gray whales are named “Patches” and “Dubknuck”. Along with other whales, we look forward to seeing them return to the waters off of Whidbey Island each year. Patches had a run-in last year with some transient orcas, which he was lucky to escape from. Transient orcas – as opposed to our Southern Resident orcas (which feed mostly on salmon) – eat pretty much anything. So it was a tense few hours out on the water while we watched the chase. Ultimately, Patches escaped – but that is life among whales in the wild!

The grays are back on the move – and we look forward to seeing them again in 2016.

What Happens When Orcas Reach Menopause

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Our friends at the Center for Whale Research, and the University of Exeter, the University of York have just published results after examining 35 years’ worth of observational data from our Southern Resident Pod of orcas. After looking at more than 3 decades’ worth of photographs capturing whales on the move, they noticed an interesting pattern: post-menopausal orca females, the oldest in the group, typically swam at the front and directed the pod’s movements.

Why is that the case? Smithsonian Magazine has the whole story and we strongly encourage you to read the entire article (the study results were published in the journal Current Biology).

However, the upshot is that “with age, comes wisdom!”

Orca females stop reproducing at around 50 years old, which is also the age when most male orcas are nearing the ends of their lives. Many post-menopausal females still have another 40 years to go, however.

“One way post-reproductive females may boost the survival of their kin is through the transfer of ecological knowledge,” says Lauren Brent of the University of Exeter. “The value gained from the wisdom of elders can help explain why female killer whales and humans continue to live long after they have stopped reproducing.”

So far from retiring, orca females that are past their child-bearing years go on to become group leaders with valuable survival skills!

Another Baby Orca in J-Pod!

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Newborn J51 with her mother J19 off San Juan Island. Photo: Dave Ellifrit, The Center for Whale Research.

Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) crews are reporting the sighting of another new calf among the endangered Southern Resident Community of orcas – confirmed tonight by Ken Balcomb and The Center for Whale Research. With the recent inclusion by NOAA Fisheries of the captive orca Lolita, in Miami Seaquarium, the population now stands at 80 individuals.

“This is about the best Valentine’s Day present you can imagine,” explains Michael Harris, Executive Director of the PWWA, which represents 32 operators in Washington and BC. “We always try to be cautiously optimistic when he hear about babies, as wild orcas have a high rate of infant mortality. About half don’t make it through their first year. But still, this is wonderful news. J-Pod continues to do all it can to help bring this population back.”

The Center reports that after spending the past two weeks near the west entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, J-Pod finally returned to the interior Salish Sea waters, a brand new calf in tow. Center researcher Dave Ellifrit and naturalist Jeanne Hyde first heard the whales on the Lime Kiln hydrophone this morning, and then embarked on the Center‘s research vessel Chimo while Balcomb watched from shore and managed communications.

Tonight they confirmed a calf that they estimate to be about one week old. The presumed mother is 36-year-old J19. Her 10-year-old daughter, J41, was also in attendance. Both were reported “swimming protectively” on either side of the baby, which The Center says appears healthy. It will be designated J51.

This brings the number of J-Pod whales to 26, making it the most viable pod in the population. K-Pod has 19 individuals, and L-Pod has 34.

2015: New Tours & Whales Are On The Way

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Welcome to 2015! This is our family’s 30th anniversary of taking folks out into the waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea to visit orcas, humpback, whales, seabirds, and more. We’re very excited to announce that all of our tours  – including our new Seattle/Edmonds Whale Watching Tour are available for reservation – take a look below to find the trip that best suits your plans, be sure to plan and book your trip today!

Gray Whale photo by Merrill GoshoGray Whale Tours

Each spring, migrating gray whales pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound, providing an excellent opportunity to visit and learn about these amazing mammals. We run half-day whale tours March 15-April 30, 2014 to see the grays. This tour is a guaranteed whale watching experience.

3 Day Audubon Birdwatching Cruise

The Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society and Puget Sound Express invite you to take part in an amazing three-day birdwatching and wildlife cruise in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, April 12-14, 2015.

Tour Naturalist Bob Boekelheide (formerly Director of the Dungeness River Audubon Center) will be pointing out all the birds for us. In addition to wildlife and bird watching, we will visit and stay overnight at the historic Roche Harbor Resort, tour fascinating sites on San Juan Island, as well as Deception Pass near Whidbey Island.

eagles-smith-island3-Day San Juan Islands Wildlife Cruises

Join Puget Sound Express May 7-9, 2015 and October 5-7, 2015 for exciting 3 day cruises through the San Juan Islands in Washington State. Selected by National Geographic as one of the World’s Top 3 destinations, the waters around the San Juan Islands are home to orcas (killer whales), minke whales, gray whales, humpback whales, stellar sea lions, porpoise, otters, and a dizzying array of seabirds.

Seattle/Edmonds Whale Watching Tour (NEW!)

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See the majesty and beauty of orcas and humpback whales with Puget Sound Express’ new Seattle Watching Tours out of Edmonds! Ride the Chilkat, our high speed foilcat, at speeds over 40 mph to the San Juan Islands. This is the fastest whale watching boat in the Northwest, and when you combine that with three generations of dedication and experience connecting Seattle visitors with the great outdoors – we guarantee you’ll see whales or your next trip is free! Tours begin May 23, 2015. We leave at 9:30am and return at 2pm In July and August, we add a 2:30pm departure that returns at 7pm.

Port Townsend Four Hour Whale Watching Tour

Hello OrcaThe perfect trip for visitors and travelers with a busy schedule! Departing in the morning, our fast and comfortable 40-seat Red Head seeks out orcas, minkes, humpbacks, and gray whales to give you a guaranteed whale watching experience in the San Juan Islands.

Trips run May – October, 2014, and feature an on-board naturalist. If the whales are “singing,” you’ll be able to hear them with our hydrophone.

Port Townsend – San Juan Island Whale Watching Tour

San Juan Islands photo by Robert Demar PhotographyOur signature tour, this daylong cruise on the Glacier Spirit combines orca watching with an on-board naturalist, and a tour of the beautiful San Juan Islands. We visit the popular town of Friday Harbor for shopping, island cuisine, and sightseeing.

This San Juan Islands trip is also the official passenger ferry route between Port Townsend and San Juan Island, and in addition to seeing killer whales, we often see minke whales, Stellar and California sea lions and Dall’s porpoises.

Protection Island Bird Migration Cruises

Bird MigrationProduced in partnership with the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, our three-hour Spring and Fall Bird Migration Cruises coincide with annual migrations of  loons, phalaropes, mergansers, merlins, bald eagles, oystercatchers, harlequin ducks, murrelets, auklets, and more.

Naturalists from the Marine Science Center serve as on-board interpreters and provide commentary on local birds, mammals, geology, history and weather.

From Our Family to Yours: Thank You!

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2014 was an outstanding year on the water. Our family has been taking folks just like you out on the water for nearly 30 years. It has been – and continues to be – a privilege to have you join us on our Olympic Peninsula whale watching tours.

Our family wishes you all the best over the holiday season, and throughout the coming year.

Stay tuned for information on our 2015 tours!

Celebrate the Season with Seattle Christmas Cruises

Join Puget Sound Express for the Seattle Christmas Ship Parade! Each year, Argosy Harbor Tours dresses up their main tour boat, The Spirit of Seattle with Christmas lights and a live choir that sings carols to everyone around the vessel. During the trip many other boats, also in Christmas lights, join the parade and sing along with the choir.

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On these nights we board the Glacier Spirit and travel to Seattle. We choose dates that are the most popular, so that you are sure to get a good show. Along the way, we enjoy some warm soup with fresh baked bread while enjoying Christmas carols and great company. Once in Seattle, we join the Parade by the waterfront soaking up the sights and sounds of the choir singing from the ‘Christmas Ship.’

Cost for each trip is $85 per person. To reserve a seat, please call us at 360-385-5288, or click below to reserve online.

  • December 13, 2014 Seattle Christmas Ship Parade (complete)
    Depart from Port Townsend, cruise to Elliot Bay and the Great Wheel on the Seattle Waterfront.
  • December 16, 2014 Seattle Christmas Ship Parade (complete)
      Depart from PORT LUDLOW, Cruise through the Lake Union ship canal and Golden Gardens.
  • December 20, 2014 Seattle Christmas Ship Parade. (complete)
      Depart from Port Townsend, cruise through the Lake Union ship canal to Kirkland and Madison Park.
  • December 23, 2014 Seattle Christmas Ship Parade. (complete)
      Depart from Port Townsend. This is the grand finale and one of the most dramatic settings with Lake Union and the Seattle skyline in the background.