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- $49.50 for an all-day Port Townsend and San Juan Island whale-watching tour ($103.50 value)
For the company’s signature tour off Port Townsend—one of only three Victorian Seaports on the national register— sightseers board the Glacier Spirit at 9 a.m. to travel between the San Juan Islands and into a pristine marine habitat. An onboard naturalist narrates the ocean-bound adventure, dishing out facts about Washington’s pristine Olympic Peninsula and San Juan Islands, as well as the area’s 88 resident orcas, composing three pods known as the Southern Residents. These orcas eat only salmon, as opposed to a varied diet like other orcas, and are a rare and protected subgroup for that reason. This year, the Southern Residents experienced a baby boom, with 8 orca calves joining the group.
Then, the boat docks at Friday Harbor, where passengers can browse local shops, learn more about orcas at the town’s whale museum, or lower mouth anchors into ocean cuisine such as clam chowder. Finally, the ship leaves harbor in search for more marine wildlife—including sea lions and humpbacks—before arriving back at Port Townsend by approximately 5 p.m. Tours begin May 7.
Puget Sound Express
For the Hanke family, it seems like Puget Sound Express has always been part of their lives. Raised in the Puget Sound his entire life, Pete Hanke honed his seafaring abilities alongside his father, Pete Sr. Together, the two started leading weeklong sailing adventures across the Pacific Northwest in 1981 and eventually started whale tours. Today, the business still remains a family affair, with grandparents, children, and grandchildren working side by side. Sherri Hanke, Pete’s wife, feels this is the company's biggest feature. "We have three generations of captains, so there is a wealth of knowledge there."
In addition to their family members, Puget Sound Express's crew is well acquainted with the area's menagerie of whales, which naturalists can identify based on their markings and slick leather jackets. Tours also pass into the habitats of other wildlife, often spotting humpbacks, sea birds, and bald eagles. The Hankes' most popular voyage tours the San Juan Islands, pausing at the fishing village of Friday Harbor. According to Sherri, this region is well known for its weather. "We refer to it as the Blue Hole, because it is like this circle of sunlight. It could be raining in Seattle and extremely sunny here."
The Hankes take adventure-seekers out on the M.V. Glacier Spirit, a modern, 70-seat vessel with open-air viewing decks and large windows allowing sightseers unencumbered views. Additionally, an on-board hydrophone listens in on whales' vocalizations to see which songs are currently stuck in their heads.