Where To Watch Whales In Westport and The Olympic Coast?


Westport, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, may not have the same allure for whale-watchers as the nearby San Juan Islands, Puget Sound, or the Salish Sea, but it does have its share of whales passing by.

Olympic National Park landscapes

Westport is located south of the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Olympic National Park. Westport is located on the South side of the entrance to Grays Harbor, on a peninsula.

Overview

Main Species

Dall’s porpoise, gray whale, harbor porpoise, humpback whale, Pacific white-sided dolphin.

Killer whale breaching (Orcinus orca), Alaska, Southeast Alaska

Occasional Species

Fin whale, killer whale, minke whale, Northern right whale dolphin, Risso’s dolphin, sperm whale,

Other Marine Mammals

Californian sea lion, harbor seal, Northern fur seal, Steller sea lion.

Main Locations

Westport. Ocean Shores – North Jetty, Westport observation tower, North Head lighthouse, Lewis and Clark interpretive center.

When To Go

The best time to visit to spot gray whales is from early March to late May. If you want to view whales from land, then the best time is from March to October.

During March, April, and May, gray whales pass by on their way to their summer feeding grounds, which are in the Arctic.

Gray whales also pass by Westport on their way back from the Arctic to their breeding grounds.

The breeding grounds are in Baja California, and the migration southward is not as good for seeing the whales. The whales are further offshore and traveling faster to get to their breeding grounds.

There are some excellent boat trips from Westport, although these are not strictly to see marine mammals. These boat trips are pelagic trips for birdwatchers.

However, the two types of animals overlap very well in these areas, and whales and dolphins can often be seen on these day trips. Whale-watching boats will usually take you offshore a few miles.

The pelagic trips head from Grays Canyon, 40 miles away from Grays Harbor. Here, the area is on the edge of the continental shelf and is rich with marine mammals.

A wild Pacific Risso’s dolphin

Dall’s porpoises, gray whales, harbor porpoises, humpback whales, killer whales, Northern right whale dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins have all been sited in this area.

For information on where else you can see whales in North America, I have written this guide.

Can I View Whales and Dolphins From Land on the Olympic Coast?

Cape Alava

Cape Alava is located in Olympic National Park and the Ozette Indian Reservation. A 3.5-mile hike will take you to the Cape. Gray whales can be seen in late spring and summer. Orcas can be seen throughout the year. 

Cape Disappointment State Park

The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center is a great place to see whales, as the building stands on the cliffs high up in Cape Disappointment State Park.  

Ilwaco, USA October 12, 2011: Cape Disappointment Lighthouse on bluff above crashing wave Surf waves lighthouse bluff

The North Head lighthouse is also a good place to spot whales.

Cape Flattery

Cape Flattery is a 3.5-mile hike to the Cape from the car park. Cape Flattery overlooks the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Tatoosh Island.  

Gray whales can be seen from the lookout platform, as well as some orcas.

At Makah Marina, sea lions can often be seen hauled out on the docks, and if you are lucky, you may spot a transient orca.

Destruction Island Viewpoint

The viewpoint for Destruction Island is located near Ruby Beach. As part of the Quillayute Needles National Wildlife Refuge and also the Washington Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, the viewpoint is an ideal place to see a variety of wildlife.

Gray whales, orcas, and Steller sea lions can be seen from the viewpoint. 

Grays Harbor

Although boat trips are available, gray whales can sometimes be seen in Grays Harbor. Up to 40 gray whales can sometimes be seen in the area, with whales sometimes entering the harbor.

Kalaloch

Sunset near Kalaloch Beach of the North Central Washington Coast.

From the sandy beach, it is possible to see orcas, gray whales, and also humpback whales.

La Push

In April, the Quileute Nation hosts their annual ‘Welcoming of the Whales Ceremony’ with La Push a popular place to see whales.  

These are good places to see Dall’s porpoises, harbor porpoises, humpback whales, killer whales, minke whales, and Pacific white-sided dolphins.

Sunset beach at La Push, Washington

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary

The Olympic Coast National Marine sanctuary stretches 65 miles down the coast and is a great place to see marine mammals. The Sanctuary also extends between 25-50 miles out to sea.  

The Sanctuary includes a lot of the continental shelf and some vast submarine canyons, with 24 different species sighted.  

The Olympic Coast Discovery Center is part of the Marine Sanctuary.

Humpback whales, orcas, and gray whales may be seen.

Shi Shi Beach

My favorite beach on the West Coast, Shi Shi Beach, is a beautiful destination with rock formations and tide pools.

Gray whales, orcas and humpback whales may be seen on occasion.

Rugged Beach with rock formations and abundant sea life

South Beach

South Beach, near Kalaloch, is part of the Olympic National Park.

Orcas and gray whales have bee spotted in the area.

Want to know more information on why whales come close to the shore? I have written an article which you can find here.

Which Whales am I Likely To See?

Dall’s Porpoise

The Dall’s porpoise is a swift swimmer, rarely breaching from the water, but will bow-ride with whale-watching boats. 

The Dall’s porpoise weighs between 300-400 lbs and grows from 5.6-7.9ft (1.7-2.4m). 

Dall’s porpoise can be recognized by its stock shape. Some get them confused with killer whales as they have black and white markings.  

One way of distinguishing them from orcas is that they have a white edge to their dorsal fin.

Gray Whale

Gray whale grows between 46-49 ft (11-15m) and reaching up to a massive 40 tons. 

You can see gray whales feeding on schooling fish, crabs, amphipods, and mysids. 

Gray whales are curious, frequently approaching whale-watching boats. They are excellent to watch as they have had lots of activity at the surface of the water.

There are many places you can watch gray whales in North America. I have written this guide to help you spot them.

Humpback Whale

The humpback whale grows up to 56 ft (17m) with a weight of between 28-45 tons. 

They are inquisitive whales approaching whale-watching boats.

They are very active at the surface, breaching, lob tailing, spy hopping, and flipper-slapping.

Ever wondered what the predators of a humpback whale are? You can find out in this article I have written here.

Harbor Porpoise

The harbor porpoise is a relatively small, marine mammal, and is a relative to the dolphins. They measure up to 1.9 m and weighs from 61 to 76 kg. 

When whale-watching, look for a dark gray on top and a much whiter gray on the underbody. 

The harbor porpoise can be seen eating fish, octopuses, and squids. 

Harbor porpoises like to swim in shallow bodies of water and even frequents inland water bodies, like rivers and estuaries.

 Pacific White-sided Dolphin

The Pacific white-sided dolphin grows from 7.5-8.2ft (2.3-2.5m) with weights up to 440 lbs. 

They can be recognized by a pattern of gray and black along the flank with dark flippers and flukes. They have a lighter underside, with a white lower jaw.

Fin Whale

The fin whale is a large whale growing up to 88 ft (27m), although slightly smaller around the Olympic Coast region. They reach a weight of 34-100 tons. They are the second-largest living animal on Earth after the blue whale.

Fin whales have a color on their heads that is different on both sides and is a good way to recognize them. 

Minke Whale

Minke whale

The minke whale grows up to 30 ft (9m) and weighs up to 10 tons. 

They can be seen feeding on krill, crustaceans, and small schooling fish.

They are the smallest and most abundant of the rorqual whales. They can be recognized by their pointed heads.  

The subspecies around the Olympic Coast is the North Pacific minke whale.

Sperm Whale

The sperm whale grows up to 52 ft (16m) with a weight of up to 50 tons. 

Sperm whales have a dark gray-body with a square head. They can be recognized by the lack of a dorsal fin and a slit-like blowhole.

Sperm whales can often be seen lying motionless at the surface of the water.

Whales sometimes slap the water with their tails. To find out why they do this, I wrote an article. You can read it here.

Risso’s Dolphin

Risso’s dolphin is easy to differentiate from other dolphins. They are heavily scarred on their flanks and have a large head with an indistinct beak.

Risso’s Dolphin

Risso’s dolphins are various colors, ranging from light white to dark gray. They are a large species of dolphin growing from 12.5-13.5 ft (3.8-4.1m) and weighing from 660-1,100 lb,

Northern Right Whale Dolphin

The Northern right whale dolphin is a large species of dolphin, measuring up to 10.2ft (3.1m), but with a weight of only 250 lb. 

They can be distinguished from other dolphins in the area by the lack of a dorsal fin.

The Northern right whale dolphin is black with a lighter white underside. 

Steller Sea Lion

The Steller sea lion is also known as the Northern sea lion. They are the largest species of eared seal.

The sea lions measure up to 2.9 meters in length and weighing up to 350 kg.

Steller sea lions spend most of their time in the water.

Californian Sea Lion

The California sea lion is an eared seal native to the western part of North America. 

Males are larger than females, with males weighing up to 350 kilograms, while females weigh up to 100 kilograms. 

Sea lion

The Californian sea lion can be found laid out on sandy or rocky beaches.

Harbor Seal

The harbor seal is also known as the common seal. Their color is brownish gray with light or dark spots, with a lighter color on the underbody. 

Harbor seals measure up to 1.85m, weighing up to 168 kg. They are usually found on beaches, rocks and glacier ice.

If you would like to know how to prepare for a whale watching trip, I have written an article. You can find the article here.

References

Bernhard Grzimek, Schlager, N., Olendorf, D. and American (2003). Grzimek’s animal life encyclopedia. Detroit: Gale.

Carwardine, M. (2010). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Dorling Kindersley.

Carwardine, M. (2017). Mark Carwardine’s guide to whale watching in North America : USA, Canada, Mexico, where to go, what to see. London: Bloomsbury.

Hadoram Shirihai, Jarrett, B., Graeme Cresswell and Kirwan, G.M. (2019). Whales, dolphins and seals : a field guide to the marine mammals of the world. London: Bloomsbury Wildlife.

Martin, T. (1990). The illustrated encyclopedia of whales and dolphins. Hodder.

Nowak, R.M. and Walker, E.P. (1991). Walker’s mammals of the world. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Perrin, W.F., Würsig, B.G. and J  G  M Thewissen (2002). Encyclopedia of marine mammals. San Diego: Academic Press.

Richard John Harrison and Bryden, M.M. (1990). Whales, dolphins and porpoises. London: Merehurst.

Williams, H. (1988). Whale nation. London: Cape.

Wilson, D.E. (1999). The Smithsonian book of North American mammals. Washington: Smithsonian Inst. Press.

May, J. (1990). The Greenpeace book of dolphins. London: Century.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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