It began in 2008 with a lost Orca named Springer. Separated from her pod, Springer was starving and swimming close to shore. A group, led by Donna Sandstrom, came together to reunite Springer with her pod, and that effort led to a discussion about whale watching boats and increased traffic on our marine highways. Sandstrom founded The Whale Trail, a series of sites along the West Coast that offer excellent viewing of whales from shore. Since 2008, the Whale Trail has gained partnerships with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, NOAA Fisheries, the Seattle Aquarium, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and The Whale Museum.

The sites have to meet certain thresholds to be included in the map. Among the requirements are: a reasonably good chance of seeing a whale from that viewpoint at some point during the year; public accessibility; and a place for educational facilities.

In Snohomish County, Jetty Island and Lighthouse Marine Park are both on the Whale Trail. Gray Whales are often seen from Jetty Island in the spring, and Orcas come through in the fall. Whidbey Island’s Coupeville is also on the list, as is Langley, WA. Gray Whales can be seen from March to the end of May, and Orcas are most likely to be seen from May to October. Harbor seals, otters, and other marine mammals are also seen in the same areas.

On their website (whaletrail.org), the Whale Trail organizers recommend specific techniques for spotting whales: scan your eyes from left to right; look for boats, especially if they are stopped; watch for spouts and blows, the exhalations of water whales make when surfacing; watch for tail flukes; and watch for jumping or flopping in the water.

Watching whales from shore respects their space in the water, their habitat, and ensures that their food sources are safer. Enjoy seeing them from these vantage points—all you need is a pair of binoculars and some walking shoes.