This was a tough call because there are other fantastic places to see orcas, especially San Juan Island in Washington State, the summertime home to three pods of Southern Resident Killer whales, who pass along the island’s west side several times a day.
But 250 miles to the northwest, on the upper reaches of Vancouver Island, is Johnstone Strait, a narrow ribbon of seawater separating the island from the mainland. Its forests, fiords, coves and islets are surrounded by snow-capped granite peaks. Here, Northern Resident killer whales prowl the icy waters—there are more pods and far more whales than in the south.
In the summer, they can be seen almost daily, from the shore, on a kayak, or on a boat tour out of Port McNeil or tiny, photogenic Telegraph Cove. If you have read Death at SeaWorld, you’ll recognize tour operators Jim Borrowman of Orcella Expeditions and Bill Mackay of Mackay Whale Watching, who both took me out on the strait.
Ask them to visit West Cracroft Island, where Naomi Rose, chief protagonist in my book, spent five summers studying the Northern Residents. It is uninhabited and right on the main killer whale expressway. The area is a bit hard to reach, though the drive up Vancouver Island is unforgettable. Kenmore Air, meanwhile, offers direct seaplane flights from Seattle and Kenmore Lake, WA. It is not the cheapest place to visit, though camping and some affordable motels are available.
To me, it’s worth it. And it beats the hell out of SeaWorld.