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Orca surfacing near seal and cormorants in the San Juan Islands (Pacific Northwest wildlife images)

Pacific Northwest Wildlife & Plants

Over 400 islands dot the 7,000 square miles of the winding, reaching Salish Sea. This interwoven marine system connects inlets, channels, and fjords. The moisture-rich, moderate climate heartily nurtures the regionʼs flora and fauna. More than 100 species of birds nest in towering trees, boggy marshes, and coastal nooks and crannies; and numerous marine mammals live in or migrate seasonally to these waters.

Join the eagles, seabirds, woodpeckers, and nearly 40 mammal species exploring windswept beaches, pastoral island meadows, and massive old-growth forests along these dramatic coastlines. Here are some highlights of wildlife viewing in Washington State, plus colorful Pacific Northwest flora you're likely to see. 

Pacific Northwest Animals & Birds

  • Spotted and snowy owls
  • Bald and Golden eagles
  • Pileated woodpecker
  • Rufous hummingbird
  • Great Blue Heron and Canada goose
  • Seabirds, including cormorant
  • Bear
  • Olympic marmot
  • Red fox
  • Black-tailed deer (pictured)
  • Mountain goat
Black-tailed deer in the San Juan Islands (Pacific Northwest wildlife images)


Pacific Northwest Marine Animals

  • Orca
  • Sea lion (pictured)
  • Harbor seal
  • Sea and river otters
  • Dallʼs porpoise
  • Dolphin
  • Gray whale
  • Giant Pacific octopus
  • Pink, purple, and orange sea stars
  • Sea urchin and sea anemone
  • Gumboot chiton
  • Pacific salmon
Sea lions hauled out in the San Juan Islands (Pacific Northwest wildlife images)


Pacific Northwest Plants & Flowers

  • Douglas fir
  • Western red cedar
  • Grand fir
  • Rhododendron
  • Dogwood
  • Sword fern
  • Red flowering currant
  • Trillium
  • Salal (pictured)
  • Wildflowers: columbine, bleeding heart, camas, glacier lily, avalanche lily, Olympic daisy
  • Salmonberry, thimbleberry, huckleberry
Salal flowers along the coast of Protection Island (Pacific Northwest plants images)

Chart showing when to see orcas and other wildlife in the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound

When can you see orcas in the San Juan Islands? This area is a top destination for seeing orcas, also called killer whales, in the wild. The Southern Resident killer whales, which eat mainly fish, generally frequent the inshore waters of the Salish Sea between April and November. In years when they don't find abundant salmon there, they spend much of the season in the Pacific Ocean instead, looking for more food. 

“Transient” orcas (a.k.a. Bigg's killer whales) hunt marine mammals like seals and sea lions. They roam the Pacific coast widely and can be seen in the San Juans any time of year. Shy minke whales and swift Dall's porpoises can also be spotted from the deck year-round. 

Many of Washington State's wild animals startle easily but will hang around longer in the presence of visitors who are quiet and still—gently paddling a kayak or hiking through the woods in a small group. Explore the adventure activities that bring you closer to nature on a Pacific Northwest UnCruise.