Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands

Whale watching in the San Juan Islands has become a $40-50 million industry in recent years. The Whale Museum estimates that annually more than 500,000 people go whale watching on commercial and/or private vessels in the transboundary waters of Washington and British Columbia. 

Whale watching provides people with an opportunity to learn about and appreciate marine wildlife. As more people become aware of the importance of the marine ecosystems on this planet, increasing numbers of them will work to help preserve it.

However, it is extremely important that the large numbers of humans who watch whales and other marine animals in the wild don't disrupt the animals' environment and ability to live normal, healthy lives.

What does Soundwatch do?

Soundwatch Boater Education

Soundwatch Boater Education Program was created by The Whale Museum in 1993. It's mission is to prevent vessel disturbance to killer whales and other marine wildlife in the Central Salish Sea.

Since then, the Soundwatch crew and volunteers have been on the water every day during the summer educating recreational boaters on the least intrusive ways to watch whales in the wild and monitoring all vessel activity near the whales. 

When Soundwatch sees recreational vessel activity that could potentially disrupt or harm the whales, the crew approaches the vessel, courteously explains the rules and hands them the Be Whale Wise Guidelines brochure. The guidelines were created in conjunction with many partners, including the U.S. and Canadian federal governments and the international Pacific Whale Watch Association to assist boaters in viewing marine wildlife with minimal impact to the animals. Soundwatch also monitors regional marine protected areas and opportunistically collects data on vessel & whale behavior. 

Click here for FAQ's on boating with whales.


Additionally, Soundwatch coordinates the Kayak Education and Leadership Program (KELP). KELP educators teach commercial and private kayakers about marine stewardship and promote the Responsible Kayaker Code, helping to reduce disturbances to marine wildlife by irresponsible boating practices.

How To Get Involved

Soundwatch is primarily an educational program and has no enforcement power. However, repeat or flagrant violations of the guidelines may be reported by anyone to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service or to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which may impose substantial fines. 


  • Soundwatch welcomes volunteers to help out on the boat throughout the summer. If you're interested in helping out on the Soundwatch boat in 2016, please email soundwatch@whalemuseum.org for more information.
  • Commit to at least 12 weeks between May and September
  • Be able to work approximately 35-40 hours per week, Mon-Sun
  • Perform a variety of tasks both in the field on the boat and in an office setting
  • Have strong sense of responsibility, work ethic and attention to detail 
  • Produce high quality research efforts and exhibit strong interpersonal skills
  • Field days: Interns must be able to spend many hours on the water sometimes in extreme seasonal conditions. Field days typically exceed eight hours and occur at least three or four times a week.

Internship is located in Friday Harbor, Washington. This is an unpaid position and Interns are responsible for their own housing and transportation. Once accepted, TWM staff will be able to assist Interns in suggesting suitable housing options and locations.

Applicant requirements: At least 18 years of age, physically fit (able to lift 40 lbs), must be able to swim, not easily susceptible to seasickness, and familiar with database spreadsheets. Preference will be given to undergraduates or recent graduates in the marine or wildlife sciences. Interns will need a valid US passport or an enhanced driver's license, CPR/First Aid certification. A state boater license/or equivalent safe boating card, not required, but is encouraged..  

HOW TO APPLY FOR INTERNSHIP POSITION: Please send a letter of interest, a resume, and contact information for three references. Be sure to include what dates you can start/end. 

Applications accepted until March 1, 2016. Decisions will be made by April 1, 2016.

Please send application materials to:
ATTN Elizabeth Seely, Soundwatch Coordinator
The Whale Museum, P.O. Box 945, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250
Or email (preferred) to: soundwatch@whalemuseum.org

How is Soundwatch funded?

Funding for Soundwatch comes out of The Whale Museum's general operating budget, through federal & state contracts/grants, and private contributions. You can help support our efforts by making a donation, adopting an orca or becoming a museum member.



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