Whale watching cruises that depart from Bellingham, Washington are the northernmost such launches in the Continental United States. Bellingham is only about ten miles from the Canadian border, and in fact the city is frequented by Canadian tourists looking for cheaper consumer goods. More relevant for our purposes, Bellingham is also right on the coast of Washington, and the town’s port, and the Fairhaven Cruise Terminal in particular, is an ideal departure point for whale watching cruises around the San Juan Islands. Below we outline the whale watching opportunities available to residents and visitors of Bellingham, providing you with a guide for finding the right cruise to book.
Like other whale watching cruises in the San Juan Islands, one of the major draws of the trips that depart from Bellingham is that you can see killer whales, which generally aren’t the focus of whale watching cruises because of their relative elusiveness. (They don’t avoid detection or anything, but they aren’t as easy to spot as, say, the thousands of gray whales that migrate along the pacific coast each year, which are a major focus of whale watching cruises in California.) A few pods (groups) of killer whales live in the San Juan Islands area, and others pass through the area looking for food. Minke whales can also be spotted in the area, as can migrating gray whales and humpback whales that decide to dip into the Salish Sea before continuing on their journey. And apart from whales, a number of other forms of marine life are frequently spotted, like sea lions, porpoise, and seals.
There are only two companies that offer dedicated whale watching cruises out of Bellingham – San Juan Cruises, of the enviable URL whales.com, and Island Mariner – and both companies offer tours that will be fairly similar. (As always, you can spot whales on any boat you take into the waters off the coast of Bellingham, so some charter companies will boast of their whale sightings, even though their operations are not aimed at spotting whales.) First and most obviously, both companies are looking for the same animals in the same area, so there is inevitable overlap in what they are offering. Moreover, both companies offer all-day cruises, from mid-morning to early evening, although San Juan Cruises’ sailings are generally about 90 minutes longer. (Since they last all day, you’ll likely want to eat on board, and San Juan Cruises offers a free Northwest King salmon and chicken lunch. Island Mariner also serves food – both snacks and regular meals – but at an extra cost.) And finally, both companies operate more or less during the same time of year – May to early fall – although San Juan Island appears to call it a season a little earlier, in September rather than October, when Island Mariner stops offering whale watching cruises.
One potential difference is the price of each companies’ cruises, as Island Mariner emphasizes their low prices, and on their FAQ page they scream that “ABSOLUTELY NO ONE BEATS OUR PRICES.” Strangely, though, these prices are nowhere to be found on their page, and at present there are no ticket reservations to be made online. This is bizarre – if you are going to make your prices the cornerstone of your marketing efforts, they ought to be listed so that they can be compared with other listed prices. In any case, San Juan Cruises’ tours cost about $99 for an adult ticket, and we would be surprised if Island Mariner’s prices were radically different. We have written about whale watching cruises from dozens of cities, and the prices across companies in any given place tend to be quite similar, barring some sort of promotion, which are always worth looking out for.
So, to sum everything up, if you want to go whale watching in Bellingham, there are two companies you can book with, and they both offer more or less the same thing. Since Island Mariner’s emphatic claims of offering the cheapest cruises cannot be substantiated, we can’t say which company offers the better value, but there is a good chance the prices are fairly similar. For more general information, check our guide to whale watching in Washington.