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 trans-boundary 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.

Click here to read The Whale Museum's comment letter regarding WDFW's commercial whale watch licensing program rules.

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 has currently suspended our volunteer program due to COVID-19 restrictions. We expect to resume normal operations once it is safe to do so.


Soundwatch Outreach

2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference Poster: Vessel trends and boater education in trans-boundary Southern Resident killer whale (Orcinus orca) critical habitat

Be Whale Wise Brochure

Be Whale Wise Poster

Click here for more information on Federal Regulations and Marine Wildlife Guidelines

How is Soundwatch funded?

Make a Donation

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.



Epimeletic behaviour in a Southern Resident Killer Whale

Soundwatch: Eighteen years of monitoring whale watch vessel activities in the Salish Sea

Reducing Disturbance from Vessels to Southern Resident Killer Whales: Assessing the Effectiveness of the 2011 Federal Regulations in Advancing Recovery Goals

Want to get involved, stay informed and be engaged?