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The month of May kicks off the peak of orca-sighting season, a time when land lovers float out to experience the enchantment of killer whales and avoid the temptation to shamelessly reference freeing Willy. As the captain's log reads, 90% of Western Princes's tours encounter orcas, and 100% of orcas are absolutely adorable when imagined with a bowler hat on their head. Additional sightings of porpoises, harbor seals, sea lions, and bald eagles are common along with occasional celebrated guest appearances by minke whales, lush gray whales, and paparazzi-swarmed humpback whales.
#1 Spring St.
At age 5, second-generation islander Johannes and his father paddled along San Juan Island, their kayaks crossing paths with troops of orca whales. This foray ignited the young adventurer’s twin passions for kayaking and stewardship. Now, Johannes’ team of outdoor enthusiasts deftly navigates the waters surrounding San Juan Island, imparting knowledge of marine wildlife to paddlers. Guides not only skim the region’s waterways, but lead expeditions across the islands during multiday tours. Groups may paddle along remote islands in search of seabirds and lost tugboat captains, and then hop on bicycles to pedal down rural back roads dotted with lavender and alpaca farms.
Snug Harbor Marina Resort, 1997 Mitchell Bay Rd.
A tiny ripple glides along the smooth-as-glass water, alerting captain Pete to the fact that he and his passengers are about to have company. Sure enough, within seconds a group of glossy black fins breaks through the sea in a silent, synchronized ballet. A native Washingtonian who has spent his entire life on the water, captain Pete opened San Juan Excursions to grant guests the chance to go head-to-head with nature in moments such as these. As marine naturalists certified by the Whale Museum’s Naturalist Training Program, captain Pete’s crew of passionate guides—including his wife Erin—takes to the peaceful waters of the Puget Sound to entertain boatloads of guests with informative facts about area wildlife witnessed during excursions.
The team’s passion for nature informs its low-impact approach to whale and wildlife watching, which is exemplified in the Odyssey, the company's tour boat. Originally a U.S. Navy search-and-rescue vessel forged in 1941, the craft is fueled by biodiesel when possible and maintains a low propeller RPM to minimize the Bono moans it releases into the water column. Though San Juan Excursions specializes in whale watching, it also sends adventurers forth to explore the waters on their own steam during sea-kayak tours.
#2 Spring St. Landing
Since 1931, more than three million visitors have walked down the docks of Sewell's Marina, stepped into a boat, and floated through the islands and inlets of Howe Sound. The marina's vessels have proffered spectacular glimpses into nature, such as the plunging waters of Shannon Falls and the wild blacksmiths that gallop across Anvil Island Cliffs.
Sewell's Marina's current trips tread the line between education and adventure. Their crews pilot vessels on fishing charters and aquatic thrills such as a Sea Quest scavenger hunts. Sea Safari tours send boats speeding alongside cliffs and into the habitats of seals, bald eagles, and marine birds. Even with boat rentals, Sewell's crew still guides customers, giving dockside instruction on how to operate speedboats and politely ask harbour seals for directions.
6409 Bay St.
When the producers of Free Willy 2: The Adventure Home were casting for the roles of coastal marine patrollers, they didn't look to the scores of hopeful actors in Hollywood, opting instead to find boating professionals with real experience. Their search led them to Orcas Island Eclipse Charters founders Dan and Denise Wilk, whose extensive knowledge of aquatic wildlife made them a serendipitous choice for sharing the camera with Hollywood's most famous orca.
Aboard their 56-foot vessel, Dan and Denise continue to share the passion that led them to the big screen in the first place. Their enthusiasm shines through to passengers while they guide tours into the habitats of killer whales and harbor seals. Occasionally, expert guides direct passengers to look up from the water to spot deer on nearby land or bald eagles soaring through the sky above. When asked how they happen upon so many natural specimens on their trips, Dan and Denise would tell you they don't leave their tours up to chance, coordinating excursions with a whale-watching service that pinpoints where the underwater mammals are feeding.
8368 Orcas Rd.
As any triumphant team of athletes can tell you, winning is exhilarating. At Sportball, though, instructors focus on the quieter joys of athletics: improving motor skills and life skills. Their noncompetitive instruction—aimed at babies all the way up through tweens—covers eight popular sports, ranging from soccer and volleyball to hockey and golf. With age-appropriate, child-sized equipment, they help youth develop balance, strength, and coordination. They also nurture the self-confidence that will one day be needed on the soccer field where each grown kid will take the bar exam.
770 Vernon Ave.
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