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Hot Tubbing and Whale Watching

For days we soaked in hot water from our stilted deck overlooking the Pacific coastline scanning for dorsal fins.

The purpose of our Pacific Northwest adventure was solely to see wild orcas swimming free. We made every effort to improve our chances for spotting these marine mammals, including splurging and booking a rental house right on the water. That way, we could casually keep our eyes peeled for any whale-like ripples from the perfect oceanside vantage point. However, there was one variable we had to consider when booking our wild getaway…

Looking for whales from our private hot tub.
Looking for whales from our private hot tub.

Lance is a bit of an “indoor cat” when it comes to chilly weather. The likelihood of me getting him to sit outside on a nippy September day was slim at best. But Lance had a brilliant idea – find a waterfront property with a “whale watch ready” HOT TUB! What a genius plan! We’d dip into the piping hot water as we scanned the frigid coastline for whales. To our surprise, we discovered that hot tubs with panoramic coastal views are a relatively common concept on San Juan Island. We found a house that was (relatively) in our budget while serving us an unobstructed view of the Pacific orca playground. Jackpot!

When we arrived, we barely took the chance to throw our bags down before we were sliding open the glass door to the deck. From that moment on, our eyes didn’t leave the water the entire trip. It was a serious mission – we HAD to see wild orcas! All we needed at that point was a pair of soaking wet binoculars and the camera within reach – we were set to spyhop our heads just above the steamy surface! My poor eyeballs got sore from racing left to right and right to left hoping for the glimpse of a towering dorsal fin cutting the surface. I had to repeatedly rub my eyes to prevent any mirage that might trick me into seeing an entire pod of orcas breaching right outside our tub.

Whale watching from a private hot tub
The view from the warm water of our private hot tub.

Successful Whale Watching

After five days of subjecting our poor bodies to the chemically pumped water, we ended with a total of ZERO whales spotted from our submerged station. Thankfully we prepared for this possible outcome and had booked a whale watching excursion. With the help of Ken, an experienced San Juan naturalist, we were lucky enough to see over THIRTY orcas from all three southern resident pods. We nearly had the boat to ourselves, just one other couple toured with us for the three-hour-long excursion. I highly recommend Ken’s tour company, Spirit of Orca. He hosted quite the adventure whale watching through the Pacific paradise of San Juan. Most importantly, he understood how to ethically watch the pods and strictly adhered to the highest guidelines of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

Two river otters on the water's edge on San Juan Island
Pair of river otters foraging on the rocky shore right outside our rental home.

Tips for Hot Tub Whale Watching

  • There are few things more exhilarating than waiting in anticipation for spotting wildlife. No matter if you’re looking for a hummingbird in your backyard or a massive marine mammal, you find your heart beating faster in excitement as you await the perfect sighting. What better way to enjoy that sensation than to literally soak it all in from a hot tub!
  • While our success rate for orcas was 0% from the hot tub, we did observe incredible wildlife from our soaking vantage point. Our favorites were a pair of river otters scampering the shore for snacks, numerous solitary harbor seals floating by, and a post-card-perfect bald eagle perched right at deck height.
  • If sweeping ocean views fill your soul, then the Pacific Northwest should be calling your name! From our hot viewing station, I can confidently say that we invested our time well and fully enjoyed the picturesque landscape of the San Juan Islands.

Sure, our hot tub whale watching adventures weren’t 100% successful but regardless, I would recommend the experience 110%!

San Juan Island River Otter Pacific Northwest
River otter foraging on the rocky shore right outside our rental home.

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