Gray whales visit Puget Sound every winter and spring while heading toward their summer feeding grounds in the rich waters of the Alaskan arctic.
They're regularly seen around Snohomish and Island counties as they fuel up on sand shrimp and other feed to make the long trip from their birthing grounds in Baja, where they typically don't eat.
Now a variety of whale species are heading back through Washington for their return trip to their winter homes in Hawaii, Mexico and Central America.
"These massive, spectacular creatures -- once hunted out in local waters -- are resurfacing in unheard-of numbers here, increasingly taking an inside passage through local waterways as they make their way south," said Michael Harris of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.
Once hunted near extinction, whales dwindled in number.
"But whaling went away and gradually the whales came back," Harris said. "Now they're all over."
Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective estimates that about 1,600 humpback whales feed off the west coast of North America, including as many as 500 off Washington and British Columbia.
Several types of whales are seen in the fall around the San Juan Islands and in the waters off Victoria, B.C. They are mostly humpbacks, minkes and a few gray whales, along with pods of killer whales, which are here year-round.
The whales typically don't come as far into the Sound during fall as they do during the spring migration.
Magen Jensen of Island Adventure Cruises in Anacortes said she prefers the fall whaling watching trips. "It's the best time to go for photos," she said. "Traveling through the San Juans is really gorgeous."
In the spring, Island operates trips out of Everett and Anacortes. In fall, only the trips out of Anacortes are available.
Whales typically pass by Washington and Victoria in October and November, so if you're interested in a trip there are only a few weeks left. Island Adventures offers whale watching trips on Saturdays only in November.
Since days can be pretty foggy in fall, the trips are weather-permitting.
Island Adventures: Five- to six-hour trips in the San Juan Islands each Saturday in November.
Cost: $99 for adults, $89 for members of the military and seniors older than 65, $49 for children ages 3 to 12, and free for those 2 and younger. If you don't see a whale, you get another trip for free.
Contact info: Call 800-465-4604; go to www.island-adventures.com; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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