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Friday, 01 November 2019

Fins, Forests and Ferries: A Visit to the Salish Sea - Page 2

Written by Jim Chamberlain
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Friday Harbor came into view nestled in a beautiful bay reflecting the morning sunshine. A float plane glided into a landing ahead of us and coasted up to its dock as we nudged gently into the ferry landing on San Juan Island, I headed north from the town after leaving the “Yakima”, on the eastern roadway that led to my first stop on the island, Roche Harbor.

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Roche Harbor wasn’t always the beautiful azure bay sheltered by rocky headlands that is the haven for pleasure boats and yachts it is today. It was first a lime producing company town founded in the 1880s. The Hotel de Haro was in built in 1886 to accommodate the influx of workers and businessmen. It still is operating today along the shoreline amid the newly constructed houses of this gentrified boating hub on the north shore of the island. I enjoyed lunch at the dockside restaurant and marveled at the variety and size of the cabin cruisers and yachts that crowded the docks of the bay.

I continued by exploration by heading along the west side roadway to one of the best-known spots to see killer whales from the shore. Lime Kiln State Park takes its name from its former industrial history. It sits on the western shore guarded by a picturesque lighthouse among the red and orange madrone trees. Killer whales had been seen off the shore a few days before but were scarce during my visit. After my fruitless vigil for the whales I drove thru the farmlands of the lower island to wander the streets of Friday Harbor before catching my ferry for my return to Anacortes in the early evening.

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Friday Harbor is a very walkable town dotted with stores and restaurants. It also is the county seat for San Juan county and boasts a world-famous Whale Museum where you can learn about the island’s most famous residents, the Orcas of J, K, and L pods. I chose an outside seat on the upper deck of Friday’s Crab House and sipped a microbrew and dipped manila clams in drawn butter as I watched activity in the harbor. I saw my ferry arrive and walked back to my car parked nearby in the ferry loading area. I could have spent another day exploring this island, but I was going whale watching the next day for the elusive Orcas of the Salish Sea.

Whale Watching and Sea Kayaking are two of the most popular activities in the Salish Sea. Whale Watching boats depart from all over the area but the ones from Anacortes and Friday Harbor always seem to find whales. Many of these tour companies guarantee a whale sighting during the summer or you get a free trip. I chose Anacortes for my excursion as you don’t need to take a ferry to get to your tour boat.

I spend the afternoon scanning the waters for the black and white cetaceans, but they did not make an appearance. I did see a barnacle covered gray whale, some very cute harbor seals, dolphins, and a majestic bald eagle. I also had the bonus of cruising thru Deception Pass as my tour boat headed home to Anacortes. The resident pods of Killer Whales are very endangered, and their numbers have been declining due to lack of the prime food source, the Pacific Salmon. Hence, they wander over a wider area in the search for these fish instead of sticking to their home waters in the San Juan Islands. I have seen them on previous trips, so I wasn’t as disappointed as some on board. However, while the killer whales have been scarcer there have been more humpback, minke, and gray whale sightings in the northern Salish Sea than in past years so the whale sighting guarantee is still in effect on most tours.

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There are very few places where you can see so many types of cetaceans that is one reason that makes the Salish Sea so popular. The Salish Sea offers the visitor a variety of wonderful experiences: beautiful parks, timber covered islands, quaint seaside towns, and abundant wildlife. I enjoyed my visit to this picturesque area of Washington State and if you're a wildlife lover I think you will too.


©Jim Chamberlain

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Last modified on Thursday, 31 October 2019

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