By Libby Martucci For HBJ
For a short window every spring, Island Adventures Whale Watching takes on passengers at the Port of Everett to see one of the world’s great migrations.
More than 20,000 gray whales make an annual trek from Mexico to their feeding grounds in the Arctic.
From early March until early May, those gray whales pass along the Washington coast.
Some of those whales venture into Port Gardner Bay.
“The same 11 to 12 gray whales come here each year and feed on the ghost shrimp right off of Hat Island and River Delta,” said Carl Williams, captain of Island Adventure’s Island Explorer 3.
The three-hour tour from Everett also takes passengers to Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage.
Fares for the Everett tours cost from $40 to $70.
The Anacortes-based company, which has been in business since 1996, later in the year runs tours from its homeport and also from Port Angeles.
Earlier this spring, Deborah Prihoda, a resident of Texas, was visiting her son in Seattle when she boarded the 101-foot Island Explorer 3, which can carry 149 passengers.
“Whale-watching is on my bucket list,” Prihoda said.
She said the boat was surprisingly comfortable.
“I didn’t know what to expect but it’s very smooth. And they would warn you if we were going across any wakes. The fresh air was cool and very nice. It was wonderful, a beautiful day,” Prihoda said.
Unfortunately, Prihoda didn’t fulfill her bucket list on this day.
They didn’t see any whales on this particular tour.
“They said we got fluked. But they told us we get a free trip until we do see whales so the next time I get to come up I will be taking a tour again,” said Prihoda.
This company’s success rate for whale sightings is 97 to 98 percent year-round so they are confident in their guarantee to give passengers free tours if they don’t see any whales.
“Those days where you don’t see whales are rare,” said Williams.
On this tour, naturalist Michael Colahan told passengers about wildlife and other sights.
“On many trips, we will see harbor seals, California and stellar sea lions, bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, and a lot of migratory birds like Caspian terns … and grebes,” Colahan said.
All crewmembers aboard the tours are competent and educated in many areas and can comfortably answer questions from guests.
“It was good to have them aboard to talk about all the different things we were looking at. They even took extra time to circle around to give everyone a chance to see what they were talking about,” said Prihoda.
Every passenger that takes a tour with Island Adventures gets a wildlife-viewing guide so they are able to refer to the material for identifying animals and taking the education home with them.
“Education is the key, that’s what we enjoy the most,” Colahan said.
Also on board the vessel passengers are given an interactive slide show presentation of various animals from the region.
Northwest weather can be unpredictable but this family-owned business doesn’t let that deter them from sharing this whale-watching adventure with their guests. “The best thing about this company is that we go in all weather,” Williams said.
Passengers are advised to dress warmly but there are plenty of options to warm up if needed.
The ships all have a full galley that serves everything from hot cocoa to shredded pork sandwiches.
All guests are allowed to bring on any food and drink they would like just as long as they dispose of all trash afterward.
Owner Shane Aggergaard said for him and his wife Jennifer, “starting Island Adventures was never about the money.
“It was about creating the best whale-watching program anywhere.”
The company that has 10 full time employees, and up to 30 during the peak of summer, “We’ll gross over $3 million dollars in the 2014 season,” Aggergaard said.
When asked why they do this, Aggergaard answered, “I think at first, for myself as well as many of our staff members, it was a true passion to experience a huge diversity of marine wildlife in its natural habitat.
“As the years go on, it is now a passion to share these experiences with people from around the world.”
And people from around the world did go on this tour.
Captain Williams did a roll call at the beginning of the trip to see where people had traveled.
The places included, the Netherlands, Russia, Germany, France, India along with several from other states including North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Texas.
To get a full list of tours and more info about Island Adventures visit www.island-adventures.com.