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culture shock

culture shock photoDEEP BLUE SOUND
By Allyson Marrs

Lurking just beneath the water's surface are beasts that easily dwarf us puny humans. They outweigh us by thousands of pounds, and in a tiny flick of their tails, they have more power than we could ever imagine.

Whales are possibly the most beloved creatures of the sea. Quite simply, they're beautiful, and their size and smarts strike up a sense of wonderment in their observers.

Because we live on a coast, we live by these majestic mammals.

Two popular day cruises in the area offer whale (and wildlife) enthusiasts the opportunity to watch these impressive creatures in their natural habitats. Here, you won't find an orca doing tricks through hoops or playing patty-cake with a trainer, but you could see a pod in search of food, or a mother breaching to capture a seal to feed her family.

The most convenient option for whale watching leaves from downtown Seattle. Clipper Vacations ( chugs to the San Juan Islands on a two- and-a-half-hour search for the animals. Guests are also afforded the opportunity to wander around Friday Harbor for more than two hours.

Their season picks back up May 18, and there's a 93 percent success rate for whale sightings.

The other popular option is with Island Adventures (, which leaves from Anacortes—90 minutes from Bellevue—for most of its tours.

culture shock photoHowever, its gray whale watching season runs from March 2-April 30, and this tour leaves from Everett. More than 20,000 gray whales migrate north from our coast, and they feed near Whidbey Island. Most of the gray whales seen during this trip are old friends from past seasons, and there's a 99.5 percent success rate of sightings.

The orca tours run from mid-May to September and are five to six hours. Sometimes, tours even make it into Canada if word of a whale spotting has been passed around the radio.

In Seattle, there are more familiar fins, with resident orcas that have been studied for 30 years. There are three resident pods, about 90 whales, that the Island Adventures usually stumbles across.

You won't find the water overrun with a bunch of other whale spotters, but there is some help. Island Adventures is in constant communication with other boats—sometimes helicopters too—to make sure they don't miss any whale sightings. There's no sonar in place, so finding the animals is a team effort—from captain to the littlest tourist.

Because of the surrounding area, this is also a wildlife cruise of sorts. Guests often see harbor seals, sea lions, Dall's and harbor porpoises, bald eagles and many other types of sea birds.

Island Adventure tours are guaranteed, so if you don't see a whale, you'll get a free opportunity to try again. Its humpback, orca and minke season runs from October to November.

Prices vary depending on the season, ages and the number in your party. Visit both company websites for more detailed information.

As someone who's been on the Island Adventures tour, I can advise that you'll have to make a choice between a camera, binoculars or the naked eye. My advice: choose your eyes, and don't miss the opportunity by fumbling with gadgets. If the whales are too far, opt for the binoculars, but trying to snap a photo will only waste precious time. You'll want to see the giant Monstro before it swallows you and Geppetto.


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