Pete Hanke here. My wife Sherri and I have been operating whale watching tours with Puget Sound Express for more than 35 years, and in that time we have always endeavored to make your trip a lasting memory. In 1981, I started with my dad, Pete Sr., providing week-long sailing adventures in the Pacific Northwest aboard the 80ft schooner, Alcyone. Over the years, we moved from sailboats to powerboats, but always made sure the whale watching experience and the vessels were first rate. To that end, we continue to operate what we feel is the best whale watching company in the Pacific Northwest.
You will often find my wife Sherri in the office answering questions and solving problems. Don’t tell anyone, but she is definitely the brains behind the operation. Although she has threatened many times to get her own ‘Captains License,’ Sherri actually prefers the beach to the water and, truth be known, would probably rather be taking her horse out for a spin than a boat. Actually, the funny thing about us is that both Sherri and I grew up on farms driving tractors. How that translates into a whale watching business is still being researched.
Besides the two of us, we are blessed to have two adult children working along side us, taking a larger role in running the business. Christopher, who manages our vessels, graduated from college with a degree in Physics Engineering. Sarah, who how runs the business and crew operations, graduated with a degree in Business Management. Sherri and I are so very proud of them.
And even after all these years, the Hanke grandparents still play active roles ashore and on the water. Truly a blessing.
So it really is a family whale watch operation, and that aspect alone is something we take pride in, and love to share with you, our customers.
But our family also extends to the amazing and talented people who captain our boats, naturalize the wildlife, answer the phones, and maintain our boats. These professionals share our same commitment to excellent customer service, as well as a spirit of service and mindfulness towards our area’s wildlife and ecology.
Originally from: Walnut Creek, CA
When did you start at PSE: In 2020, helping out on weekends!
Why whale watching: It has been a passion since I was six years old – every year for my birthday I’d ask to go whale watching because that’s the one thing I wanted to do more than anything else! Being out on the water and experiencing wildlife is my happy place.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: I remember printing out Southern Resident identification photos as a kid, admiring all the unique differences between the whales on the guide and trying to memorize them. J1, Ruffles stood out to me with his unique dorsal fin, and I hoped to see him one day. Well, when I was 10 my family moved to the Pacific Northwest and went whale watching (on Glacier Spirit!) and we came across a superpod of Southern Residents. One of the first whales I got to see was a close pass from J1! I couldn’t believe it, it was a dream come true! I treasure those memories of seeing a wild orca for the first time, and am so grateful to have spent that time with Ruffles while he was still with us.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: I absolutely love wildlife photography. It started back in 2011 when I first got experience using a DSLR camera as an intern for Cascadia Research. It was a thrill to be able to capture high-quality images to use for identification, and I quickly used this newfound skill to start photographing birds and other mammals. Now, bird photography is one of my favorite hobbies, it’s an exciting challenge that helps hone my identification skills, and there is nothing quite like getting that thrill of photographing a bird I’ve not seen before!
Originally from: Kentucky is where I grew up and attended college.
When did you start for PSE: Officially, my first year was in 2005 on a part time basis, but in 2016 I switched to more of a full-time.
Why whale watching? Because whales are awesome. I have been a wildlife fan my whole life, and ever since I was a kid whales were right up there with the likes of tigers, lions, leopards, and cheetahs. Growing up all those animals seemed so exotic, and now its amazing to be able to see the whales on a daily basis!
Your favorite whale or whale experience: That’s a tough question because I’ve had so many great experiences with whales over the years, but my first experience with killer whales was definitely one of the best because it was so new. It was during a kayak trip where I circumnavigating the San Juan Islands with two of my best travel buddies. During the 8-9 day adventure we spent 2 days on the west side of San Juan Island kayaking with J-pod orcas. During those two days I had a big male orca turn around and swim right towards me and then under my kayak! My heart was in my throat.
We camped right next to the water and in the still of the night I could hear the loud exhalation blows of J-pod as they swam towards us in the distance. I woke up my two friends and we watched all of J-pod swim right by us in a tight group (probably sleeping) lit up by the full moon reflecting off the water! It was magic and that image is etched in my mind forever. After that trip I knew I needed to spend more time with the orcas, and it eventually led to more kayak trips photographing the whales and becoming a naturalist.
What do you enjoy outside of work: Fishing has been one of my passions ever since I was about 10-11 years old. I like fishing for just about any fish that fights hard, but salmon, steelhead, and smallmouth bass are some of my favorites. I especially love fishing on rivers and streams with my drift boat or a canoe and camping at the water’s edge along the way. The more remote the better!
Wildlife art and photography is also a passion of mine that I’ve been making a living at ever since I was in college! It doesn’t seem much like work when you can make a living at the stuff you do for fun! I feel very lucky. Traveling to see wildlife around the world has been a big part of that passion and I’ve visited Africa, India, South America, Alaska, and Costa Rica on long wildlife adventures. You can see my work at www.bartrulon.com.
Originally from: Born in Kirkland, WA; lived in Alaska; raised in Port Townsend.
When did you start at PSE: 2016.
Why whale watching: At the time I just wanted to be working on the water again. I also love wildlife so it works out.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: Pretty big fan of Two Spot, and the T65As – they have always been pretty good to me.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: More boating – it seems to be my happy place.
Originally from: Chimacum, WA
When did you start at PSE: I started at PSE in 2002. Growing up I used to go out with my dad when he was driving the boat and watch for whales/help out on-board. Therefore at a young age I started working and helping the crew and naturalist out in the galley.
Why whale watching: Following in the family footsteps! My parents did tell my sister and myself to go work for other companies and business after college to see if this is what we wanted to do. After a couple years I quickly came back to what I loved and was familiar with.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: When I was young, we would often see resident orcas thriving. Drifting with them was a memorable experience
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Spending time outside of work with my wife and kids. I also enjoy dirt bike riding!
Originally from: Quilcene, WA
When did you start at PSE: April of 2015
Why whale watching: It is a wonderful way to spend time with wildlife and work with my best friends.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: The time I saw a humpback whale fighting a strong current under Deception pass bridge and start breaching while directly under the bridge. That kind of stuff sticks with you.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Cooking. We were raised in a cooking household with parents that encouraged us to play in the kitchen and have fun with it.
Originally from: Annapolis, MD
When did you start at PSE: Spring of 2022
Why whale watching: I moved to Washington in 2019 and the very first thing I did upon arriving was book a whale watch tour. After that tour I was hooked. Every holiday and every birthday since, I have gone out whale watching just to catch a glimpse and celebrate these amazing creatures.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: In 2021 I finally caught a glimpse of the infamous J pod. I went all the way to Bainbridge Island, as there had been sightings in between Bainbridge and Seattle on this particular day. With my binoculars in tow, I scanned for about 30 minutes but could not find them. Using Orca Network as my guide, J pod finally rounded a corner, and I was able to see them breaching in front of a massive sailboat. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had here in Washington.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Anything on the water! In my spare time I enjoy being out working on local freshwater streams helping monitor salmonid outmigration. Something that directly impacts our Southern Residents. I love being able to identify different salmonids throughout their different life stages, and how our freshwater and marine environments are so closely tied together.
Originally from: Milford, Delaware
When did you start at PSE: Spring 2019
Why whale watching: Got into whale watching on a whim applying to a naturalist job in Hawai’i. Fell in love with the whales but stayed in the industry to watch people experience whale watching for the first time.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: My favorite whale watching experience is a three way tie: witnessing two competing male humpbacks chest bump each other completely out of the water in Hawai’i. Seeing an orca family hunt a baby humpback in Alaska. Most recently, I’ve been lucky enough to be aboard the only boat on scene with a group of southern resident orcas on a glassy calm evening. Most people on board that day had never seen a killer whale, let alone the most endangered eco type and it was just a very serene and special experience.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: My current hobby is raising and training my not-so-little puppy, Peach, who we adopted in October 2021. If I’m not playing with Peach, I’m playing music or board games with my friends and family which are hobbies I’ve had for almost my whole life.
Originally from: Edmonds, WA
When did you start at PSE: Spring of 2019.
Why whale watching: I chose whale watching (maybe it chose me) because I have always had a passion for marine life and love to share it with others. Working for PSE and getting the opportunity to spend my days out on the water, observing whales and other marine life have been some of the most memorable days of my life. There is something so special about whales, massive and beautiful in size but so unique and relatable, you never know what you might see when out whale watching, and it’s safe to say no two days are the same. Each day I get to go whale watching is another one of the best days I have ever had.
Your favorite whale or whale experience? My favorite whale watching experience is probably watching a humpback whale named Two Spot. If you ever get the opportunity to see this whale you will understand what I am saying. This humpback whale has the most personality I have ever seen. He has emotion and you can see it. You literally feel connected with him on a level you can’t even explain. Watching him you get this feeling that he is enjoying the time with you just as much as you are with him.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: I enjoy absolutely anything and everything under the sun, from mountain tops hiking or the ocean floor scuba diving. You can count me in. I have been this way my whole life and would say I’m addicted to adventuring, especially if it includes the ocean.
Originally from: Woodinville, WA
When did you start at PSE: May 2022
Why whale watching: Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have been lucky enough to have whales swimming just miles from me in their natural habitat. To be able to share these whales and what makes them special as well as educate on their importance to history of the PNW each day is a truly amazing gift.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: For most of my childhood, my grandmother lived in Hawaii which gave me the most amazing childhood filled with watching Humpback’s (my clear favorite) from her condo. Year after year, I was be able to watch these whales play, breach and give birth in front of my own eyes and it continues to make me fall in love with these beautiful animals. A favorite memory is a tie between diving down into the ocean to hear their songs traveling throughout the islands and watching a female humpback be pursued by a group of male humpbacks for hours, lunging, breaching and competing for her attention.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Being outside and staying active is so important to me so when I’m not in school, volunteering at the aquarium or on the boat, you can often find me skiing, camping, running, biking or wandering along my local beach! My week’s are filled with exploring around Seattle with my friends and family, enjoying some downtime and drawing with my cat Moony, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen.
Originally from: Ridgefield, WA
When did you start at PSE: August 2016.
Why whale watching: I’ve been fascinated by whales for as long as I can remember. I saw my first wild whales in the San Juan Islands when I was just 4 years old and I’ve been hooked ever since! I’ve known since that day that I wanted to learn all I can about the amazing wildlife of the Salish Sea and share that knowledge with others!
Your favorite whale or whale experience: My favorite whale is resident orca K36 Yoda! There was a naming contest to decide her nickname when she was little and my suggestion was the one that was chosen! I remember seeing her for the first time as a newborn calf and it’s been amazing watching her grow into a spunky and energetic teenager over the years. I love watching her play with her little brother K42 Kelp, they’re always so rambunctious!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: I have many hobbies, but my favorite is drawing. I especially enjoy drawing marine wildlife and birds and it’s also something I’ve been doing since I was little. Before I became interested in wildlife photography, I would try to draw or sketch my wildlife encounters so I wouldn’t forget them. That’s also how I learned to memorize orca saddle patches, sketching them on paper helped me familiarize myself with the details unique to each individual.
Originally from: Salt Lake City, Utah
When did you start: June 1, 2022
Why whale watching: I have been enraptured by the ocean since a toddler. There is a video of me when I was 6 where I was explaining to my mom that when I grew up I wanted to be “a person who studies the animals in the ocean and the sea”. Growing up in Utah, I sought every opportunity to connect with ocean and ocean-life, driving to a second high school to take a marine biology class and working at our local aquarium. I then had the opportunity to move to Seattle and complete a degree at the UW in ‘Aquatic and Fishery Sciences’ and ‘Marine Biology’ where I loved every minute of it and took every opportunity to be on a boat that I could. Being able to work in the whale watching industry combines my passion for the ocean and its life with the enjoyment I get in involving people in environmental education and conservation. It’s a fantastic opportunity that I am grateful to be a part of and I understand while some people choose to make this their career.
Favorite whale watching experience: Back in 2019 I was training to be a naturalist for the 2020 season with Western Prince from San Juan Island. We found one of the Bigg’s families (mom with two sons and mom’s sister/aunt?). They were a bit far out and dove. The lead naturalist was explaining the distance rules we keep around whales as we were putting along then the family popped up right in front of the boat, so we had to cut the engine. They stayed near us for a while where I was able to get some great photos, even on my iPhone camera. The family had just eaten so they then lounged around near the surface and we were able to stay and watch them for a solid hour before the captain had us move on to the wildlife around Spieden Island where a young humpback took us by surprise and also surfaced close to the boat.
What I enjoy outside of work is: Hiking, horse back riding, boxing, ballroom/swing dancing, soccer, and just whatever adventures I can find.
Originally from: Chimacum, WA
When did you start at PSE: I started at PSE in April of 2018.
Why whale watching: I spent my summers on a boat in the BC Gulf Islands where seeing different marine life, including whales, was a common occurrence but the excitement never faded. Some of my favorite memories are sitting on the bow of my grandparents’ boat watching orcas. As the years passed and life got busy spending summers on the boat became less frequent. By working at a whale watching company, I’m able to have the same enjoyment of watching whales as I did growing up and share that experience with the public.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: My favorite encounter with whales was this past August (2020). We came across a pod of Transient Orcas just south of Seattle. They were very active, leaping out of the water, and even mugged the boat! We were the only boat on scene so it was as if it was a private show they were putting on just for us.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: When I’m not working I enjoy spending my time outside. A couple of my hobbies include rock climbing that I started a few years ago and horseback riding which I have been doing my whole life.
Originally from: born in Martinsburg, WV. Raised in Salem, Oregon.
When did you start at PSE: May 2022
Why whale watching: I saw Keiko in the Free Willy movie when I was 2 and that was it for me. I grew up being able to volunteer in programs like “Whale Watching Spoken Here” and as a youth volunteer at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, I loved connecting people with the things I loved.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: Keiko from the “Free Willy” movies will always hold a special place in my heart, and while I never got to see him in person he is the one responsible for me loving whales and the ocean as much as I do. As for an experience, I haven’t had a bad day on the water yet!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Art, photography and hiking are really high up there for me, as well as being with friends and family (bonus points if it’s while exploring or near the water!).
Originally from: I am originally from Longview, WA, a town that is on the Columbia River and six feet below sea level even though it is eighty miles upstream.
When did you start at PSE: I started working for PSE in 2018 after moving from Orcas Island with my wife.
Why whale watching: I have always been drawn to the water and have a deep love for it and the animals within it. After I had cruised through the San Juan Islands, I felt the immense beauty and power of the water coursing around them.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: One of my favorite whale experiences was with a young Orca from J pod. His name was Nerko and he was a two year old full of exuberance. This was back when the residents had plenty to eat, so they would often engage with some of the boats after they were full. We would shut down our engines and drift quietly watching the pods socialize and feed. Nerko would swim over to our boat just under the surface so you could see his whole body. Once he got to the stern, he would roll on his side, swim parallel along the hull and wave his pectoral fin at the guests along the rail!! (The pectoral fin is near the head and is similar to our arm and hand)
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Our hobbies all seem to involve something with water. We often talk about hiking in the mountains, but more often end up on a beach. We also have two kayaks, two stand up paddle boards and a 14 foot sailboat, so there is a pretty easy way to access anything that has liquid on or around it. To our credit, we have been known to go bike riding, snowshoeing and skiing.
Originally from: Sunnyside WA
When did you start at PSE: I started PSE in 1985, by purchasing a small charter fishing and diving company called Calm Sea Charters.
Why whale watching: I ran a 42′ boat called the Calm Sea out of Point Hudson and we would do fishing and diving charters. On some of the diving charters we would see whales which would be very exciting for the divers. While running this business, dad and I were trying to start a passenger ferry from Seattle to Port Townsend and Friday Harbor. After several years we decided to bring Red Head from Port Angeles and begin day trips to Friday Harbor, as a scheduled run. Along the way we would see whales and decided it would be fun to add that as part of the trip. There were two other companies doing whale watching at the time.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: My favorite whale would be J1 Ruffles who died in 2010 at the age of 59 which is old for an adult male whale. We watched a birthing ceremony once where female killer whales tried to nurse a dead harbor porpoise fetus to life. Probably spent 45 minutes working on it with all the southern residents logging in position and watching.
Several great memories would be 1) Being the support boat for the movie “Hunt for Red October” when they were shooting it in Port Angeles, 2) Being the emergency ferry from Orcas landing to Shaw after the Elwah took out the Orcas ferry dock and 3) Being the emergency ferry from Port Townsend to Coupeville after the state condemned all the Klickitat ferry boats in the middle of winter. We routinely drove Glacier Spirit in 30 to 40 kt storms making that crossing and never missed one scheduled run over a two month stretch.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: I love to fly airplanes which started when I was a kid flying with my dad.
Originally from: Charlotte, NC
When did you start at PSE: May 2022
Why whale watching: Animals have been my passion since I was a little kid. I grew up riding horses, worked at a raptor rehabilitation center in college, and handled snakes and alligators as a state park employee in Arkansas. So when my husband and I moved to Port Angeles in spring 2019, I looked for job that would put me closest to this region’s coolest wildlife…whales!
Your favorite whale or whale experience: It was a foggy August day in 2020 when I was working for Island Adventures, and the only whale we had seen in 3 hours was a VERY sneaky lone humpback in the middle of a fog bank. We only got a few quick glances before he disappeared. As we headed back toward the dock slightly defeated, who should we stumble across, but a large group of Bigg’s killer whales, right near the entrance to Port Angeles harbor! We had two well-known families there, the T65As and the T137s. After a few minutes on scene, they turned toward us. We quickly shut off the engines, and all of a sudden two of the group swam directly under the stern and popped up right at the bow, surprising everyone at both ends of the boat! After that, the young ones in the pod started playing around, tail lobbing, cartwheeling and swimming upside down. It was an incredible encounter, and a good reminder of why we never stop searching until we get back on dry land.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Birding! One of the favorite things is to visit a new place, and find birds I’ve never seen before. And while I would not consider myself anything of a photographer, I do take a lot of bird pictures and hope to get better with practice. In addition, I got really into houseplants and gardening over the last couple years (as did many of us) by working at a local garden center during the pandemic. I also love walking Ediz Hook with my dog, Molly (seen here!).
Originally from: Chimacum, WA
When did you start at PSE: 2001, However I grew up going out with my dad on the full day whale watch to Friday Harbor. When I was really young I used to take naps on the downstairs bunks across from the restroom on the Glacier Spirit.
Why whale watching: Part of the family business 🙂 My folks did encourage my brother Christopher and I to go work for other businesses after college and we both did and then wanted to come back and be a part of the business our folks started.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: When I was young, watching resident orcas was my favorite experience. J1 Ruffles – who is now deceased – was my favorite whale. Today I enjoy a regular humpback, known in the community as “Two Spot.” This whale is SO unique and personable. Some jaw dropping personal, memorable experiences have happened with this animal.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Riding horses, kayaking on the Hood Canal, hiking in the Olympics and playing with my dog Riley (you’ll often see her in the office with us).
Originally from: Born in Beaverton, OR, — Now in Mill Creek, WA
When did you start at PSE: April of 2022!
Why whale watching: Ever since I was a little girl I always knew I wanted to work with marine life in some shape or form. I remember watching Free Willy as a child and falling in love. I knew then I wanted to do something, or anything with the ocean and or with whales. Orca’s have been a favorite of mine since as long as I can remember. So working on the PSE was a no brainer for me.
Your favorite whale or whale experience: I remember when I was about 15 or 16. I was out on the San Juan Islands with my family in a little ten foot boat. A whole pod of killer whales came up to us. With our engine stopped we just stood there, there must have been at least 4 of them. They swam under our boat and around it. I remember at one point they got so close I could see their eyes in the water. It’s an experience I’ll never forget and cherish forever.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: I’m a mom to a little four year old girl who takes up most of my time, she’s my adventure buddy for sure. We like to spend a lot of our time along the beaches on nice days. Taking trips out to Whidbey when we can. Playing in the sand. My family is so important to me. So it’s really great that I get to share the same hobbies and interests as my kiddo. She’s just as curious about the ocean like her mom!
Originally from: Seattle, WA
When did you start at PSE: Before it was created, 😊. The name came from a trip to Palm Springs in the 80s. The City of Palm Springs had a marketing campaign: ” PS I love you” so, I thought “Pete and Sherri,” then “Puget Sound” etc..
Your favorite whale or whale experience: Not quite whales, but in the 80s it was the plethora of rabbits on San Juan Island and our guests’ favorite tour.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Spending time at the lake, a tradition that started with my Dad.
Originally from: Port Townsend, WA
Originally from: Edmonds, WA
When did you start with PSE: December 2020
Why whale watching: After 12 years commercial fishing in Alaska I’ve seen many whales. It never ever gets old and I love sharing the experience with others!
Favorite whale watching experience: Although I’ve seen whales in Alaska my whale watching experience grew onboard with PSE. We followed a hunt among a pod of transit orcas. It was incredible to witness, but seeing the matriarch orcas take a true rest after the hunt resonated so much with me. I was moved and could relate!
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Sport fishing, I love fishing the saltwater and am trying to learn river fishing tactics. Also enjoy camping and primitive survival skills. So much fun!
Originally from: Edmonds, WA
When did you start with PSE: I started working at Puget Sound Express (PSE) in the spring of 2018 as an intern working with Cascadia Reaearch collecting data on gray whales feeding behaviors. Once I finished my internship and graduated from Western Washington University I started to work as crew! Then worked my way up to naturalist and looking at maybe driving boats one day
Why whale watching: The reason I love whale watching is of course seeing the whales and all the amazing wildlife in the area. I also enjoy never knowing what the next day will bring. As much as I love great whale days I also love stormy rough days – things get pretty exciting.
Favorite whale watching experience: My favorite whale experience would have to be when I saw some transient orcas chasing a minke whale. They were all porpoising and swimming at about 18 knots. Don’t worry – the orcas gave up and the minke got away.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Outside of work I scuba dive, paddle board, rock climb, hike and the list goes on. I am also a protected species observer which is a lot like whale watching, I go out on ships offshore and help protect our marine mammals!
Originally from: Chimacum, WA
When did you start at PSE: On my birthday in 2012.
Why whale watching: I had graduated college and wasn’t in a hurry to figure out what I wanted to do after, so when Pete and Sherri offered me a job, I took it. And I never left!
Favorite whale or whale experience: I’m not sure i have a particular favorite whale but one of the best times I can remember on a tour was sitting on the rooftop of the Redhead with Christopher L. watching humpback whales try to fly.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work: Riding dirt bikes with Christopher H.