What is Soundwatch?

Soundwatch Boater Education Program was created by The Whale Museum in 1993 with the mission of preventing vessel disturbance to killer whales and other marine life in the Salish Sea.

Soundwatch crew and volunteers conduct research, monitoring, and outreach every day on the water during the summer season, educating boaters on the best practices for watching whales in the wild. When Soundwatch sees recreational vessel activity that could potentially disrupt or harm the whales, the crew approaches the vessel to explain the regulations and guidelines, and distribute the Be Whale Wise Guidelines brochure. These guidelines were created in conjunction with many partners including Cetus Society’s Straitwatch Program, U.S. and Canadian state and 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 collects data on vessel & whale behavior under a NOAA National Marine Fisheries permit. The data collected helps inform state and federal regulations and best practices around marine wildlife.

Soundwatch Boater Education

Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands

View Be Whale Wise guidelines 

Whale watching in the San Juan Islands is a large industry in both private and commercial sectors. An estimated 500,000 people engage in whale watching activities annually within the trans-boundary waters of Washington and British Columbia.

Whale watching provides an opportunity to appreciate and learn more about marine wildlife. By increasing awareness of marine ecosystems, whale watching can encourage and inspire people to become stewards of the natural environment.

However, it is extremely important to ensure that whale watching activities do not disturb wildlife and their ability to live normal, healthy lives. Whale watchers must abide by state and federal regulations, and should observe best practices outlined the Be Whale Wise guidelines.

How to Get Involved

Soundwatch is primarily an educational program and has no enforcement power. However, repeat or flagrant violations of the regulations and guidelines may be reported by anyone using the Be Whale Wise Report Violations page. Reports can also be submitted directly to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service or to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which may impose substantial fines. 


  • Soundwatch has reopened its volunteer program! View details here.


  • Internships for the upcoming season are posted here. (Internship positions have been filled for the 2024 season)

Soundwatch Outreach

Soundwatch conducts education and outreach on the state and federal regulations as well as the Be Whale Wise guidelines. Use links below to access downloadable Brochures and Posters.

Be Whale Wise Brochure

Be Whale Wise Poster

How is Soundwatch funded?

Make a Donation

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


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


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?