Seattle Culture

Whale Watching is Extremely Popular

New study pinpoints visitors, dollars in Washington state

By Rob Smith February 20, 2024

A Pacific Whale Watch Association vessel views Bigg's killer whales from a safe distance.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2024 issue of Seattle magazine.

Most people look out at Puget Sound and see its natural beauty. They notice the scattered islands along the horizon, and Washington state’s fleet of 21 ferry vessels.

Add whales to the mix. 

A study for the Pacific Whale Watch Association by Martin Associates finds that whale watching expeditions in Washington state create $119.1 million in economic value and support 1,125 jobs.

Sixteen of the 30 members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association are based in Washington state. Those companies accommodate about 167,000 whale watching guests each year. Of those, roughly 75% are tourists. For 31%, the primary purpose of their visit revolves around a whale watching tour. 

“We’ve long known that the Salish Sea has some of the best whale watching in the world, but it’s great to see our reputation as a leading whale watch destination validated by the numbers,” says Erin Gless, Pacific Whale Watch Association executive director.

Whale watching expeditions depart from 13 locations around the state. Peak whale watching season is May through September.

Throw in British Columbia, and the overall economic impact skyrockets to $216.9 million and 400,000 guests.

“When we’re on the water, our primary focus is on education and conservation, hopefully inspiring guests along the way,” Gless says. “This economic study shows that whale watching is not just a fun and educational activity that can help whales, but it is an important part of Washington’s overall economy.”

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