Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Encountering the majestic cetaceans in the Puget Sound offers a unique glimpse into nature’s wonders.

Orcas, also known as killer whales, are a commonly sighted species in these waters. They captivate onlookers with their striking black-and-white patterns and dynamic behaviors. Watching these powerful creatures glide through the water is a mesmerizing experience for anyone fortunate enough to witness it.

Besides orcas, the gray whale is another prominent resident of the Puget Sound. These gentle giants undertake long migrations and can often be seen feeding and playing near the shore. Their sheer size and peaceful demeanor make them a favorite among whale watchers.

Humpback whales occasionally grace the Puget Sound with their presence. Known for their acrobatic breaches and distinctive tail flukes, these whales bring a sense of excitement to any sighting. Spotting a humpback can be a highlight of any adventure on the Puget Sound, adding to the diverse encounters one can have with these magnificent marine mammals.

Types of Cetaceans in the Puget Sound

Puget Sound is home to a variety of cetaceans, including orcas, minke whales, harbor porpoises, gray whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, and humpback whales. Each species has unique characteristics and habits that make them fascinating to observe.

Want to see them in person? Here is a map of the Orca Network Whale Sighting Viewpoints in Washington.


Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Orcas, often called killer whales, are top predators in the Puget Sound. They are known for their striking black-and-white coloration.

There are two main types in the region: resident orcas, which primarily eat fish, and transient orcas, which hunt marine mammals.

Resident orcas live in pods and have complex social structures. Transients typically travel in smaller groups. Orcas use echolocation to hunt and communicate, making them highly intelligent and social animals.

Minke Whales

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales in the Puget Sound.

These whales are elusive and often spotted alone or in small groups. They can reach lengths of up to 35 feet and are recognizable by their pointed heads and streamlined bodies.

Minkes feed on small schooling fish and krill. They are fast swimmers and known for their agility in the water. Despite their speed, they are quite difficult to observe closely.

Harbor Porpoise

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Harbor porpoises are small cetaceans that inhabit Puget Sound. They are distinguishable by their robust bodies and blunt snouts.

Typically reaching about 5 to 6 feet, they are one of the smallest marine mammals in the area. Harbor porpoises are shy and elusive, often seen in shallow coastal waters.

They feed on small fish and invertebrates. These porpoises are usually solitary or in small groups, making sightings relatively infrequent.

Gray Whales

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Gray whales often migrate through the Puget Sound, particularly during their long journeys between feeding grounds in the Arctic and breeding grounds in Mexico.

These whales are known for their mottled gray color and lack of a dorsal fin. They can grow up to 49 feet and are often spotted feeding in shallow waters.

Gray whales have a unique feeding technique called “bottom feeding,” where they scoop up sediment to filter out small organisms.

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Pacific white-sided dolphins are energetic and playful cetaceans found in the Puget Sound.

They have distinctive black-and-white patterns and are known for their acrobatic displays. These dolphins are highly social and often seen in large pods, sometimes mixed with other species.

They feed on squid and small fish and use echolocation to navigate and hunt. Their lively nature makes them a favorite among wildlife watchers.

Dall’s Porpoise

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Dall’s porpoises are notable for their striking black-and-white coloration and robust, torpedo-shaped bodies.

They are among the fastest swimmers in the Puget Sound, reaching speeds of up to 55 km/h (34 mph). These porpoises are often seen riding the bow waves of boats.

They feed on small fish and squid, typically hunting in small groups. Their speed and distinctive appearance make them relatively easy to identify.

Humpback Whales

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Humpback whales are occasional visitors to the Puget Sound.

They are renowned for their impressive size, reaching up to 60 feet in length. These whales have long pectoral fins and a knobby head.

Humpbacks are famous for their complex songs and breaching behavior. They feed on krill and small fish using a technique called bubble net feeding. Humpback sightings are a highlight for whale watchers due to their dramatic surface behaviors.

Long-Beaked Dolphin

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

The sighting of a long-beaked common dolphin in Puget Sound is considered rare and unusual. However, there have been reports of such an occurrence.

The long-beaked common dolphin is more commonly found in tropical and warm-temperate waters around the world, so a sighting in the cooler, more temperate waters of the Puget Sound is unexpected.

They are known for their distinctive coloring, with a dark grey or black back, light grey sides, and a creamy white belly. They also have a long, slender beak and a prominent, dark stripe running from their eye to their flipper.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Meet 9 Types of Cetaceans You May Spot in the Puget Sound

Bottlenose dolphins are highly intelligent marine mammals known for their playful behavior and distinctive curved mouths, which give them their name. They are commonly found in warm and temperate waters around the world, often inhabiting coastal areas, bays, and estuaries.

They are social animals, often traveling in groups called pods, and they are known for their acrobatic displays, including leaping out of the water and riding the bow waves of boats.

The Bottlenose Dolphin is another rare sight for the Puget Sound, as they typically live in warmer waters. Sightings have been documented by The Cascadia Research Collective.

Whale Watching Guidelines

Whale watching in the Puget Sound is a magical experience, but it’s important to respect these majestic creatures. Following responsible practices and understanding the regulations helps in preserving their natural habitat.

Responsible Practices

Whales are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, and as a result, many boats are required to maintain a respectful distance. The regulated distance for most species is 100 yards, while for Bigg’s (transient) orcas, it is 200 yards, and for the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, it is 300 yards.

Regulations and Fines

The state has specific regulations to protect the whale population.

Vessels should also avoid intercepting the path of the whales. Violating these laws can lead to hefty fines, varying in severity.

Repeat offenders face even stricter consequences, including possible boat impoundment. Motorized watercraft are required to maintain a specific distance from the whales. Airplanes and drones also have restrictions.

Ensuring compliance with these rules not only safeguards the whales but also enhances the overall whale-watching experience for everyone.

About the author

My name is April, and I’m a Seattle-based writer, traveler, and foodie. I started this travel guide blog to share my passion for Seattle with fellow travelers and locals alike.

Whether you’re looking for the best coffee shops, the trendiest restaurants, or the most scenic hiking trails, I’ve got you covered.

When I’m not writing or exploring Seattle, you can find me watching movies with my husband, reading, or gardening with my dog in the backyard.

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