Puget Sound Express
Whale Watching Delight
Puget Sound Express Checks Off Every Bucket List
Once upon a time 40 some-odd years ago, Puget Sound whale sightings were as common as Starbucks. For locals riding Capt. Pete Hanke’s passenger ferry to and from Port Townsend and Friday Harbor, they were just part of the scenery. “Oh, yeah, there’s an orca, that’s cool…no big deal,” daughter Sarah recalls.
Sarah’s the sales director for her family’s Puget Sound Express whale watching business. She grew up on the water, witnessing the remarkable evolution of orcas from the everyday to the extraordinary, because of a little 1993 movie called, “Free Willy.”
Free Willy, filmed in the nearby San Juan Islands, changed everything. Everyone wanted to see an orca then.
Her dad answered the call, offering full-day whale watching tours on his boat 34 years ago, stopping for lunch in Friday Harbor. He expanded to Edmonds in the summer of 2014, with half-days. Those have become the most popular for the family business, three generations in.
“We’re able to leave from Edmonds, get to Victoria, the San Juan Islands, or even stay in the Puget Sound and back, in half a day,” Sarah says. “That opened up the Seattle and Snohomish areas, the whole region. It really became widely popular, very quick. You can leave right from your home, go out for four hours, and come right back. We’re the only business that does that.”
When the weather warms up, business booms — with a growing number of locals and visitors clamoring for a glimpse of those sea-dwelling movie stars.
The Salish Sea is teeming with all kinds of sea life: resident and transient orcas, minkes, humpbacks, grays, porpoises, sea lions, puffins, and more.
“This area is the capital of the world for whale watching, because of the diversity of wildlife that we have. You can go out any day and see four different species of whales. There aren’t a lot of places in the world where you can do that. Even wildlife in the area has changed from when I grew up on the water. Take humpbacks for example. Probably in the last 10 years, we’ve gone from one or two humpbacks to a population of 50 to 100, who are always starting to bring in their calves.”
PSE’s naturalists and boat captains serve as both tour operator and steward. It’s why they can offer their famous whale-watching guarantee. If you don’t see whales, you can come back and try again for free.
Seeing your first whale is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the ultimate bucket list. Sarah Hanke and her PSE family live for that moment.
For someone who’s nervous, never been on the water before, sees a whale for the very first time, and they’re crying, that pulls on your heart. We get to provide that kind of memory for guests that’ll last forever.
Puget Sound Express | 459 Admiral Way, Edmonds
360-385-5288 | pugetsoundexpress.com