Killer whales, also known as orcas, are not really a whale at all but are members – the largest, fastest and most powerful members, in fact – of the dolphin family. They are called “killer whales” because they are skillful and effective hunters.
You can’t mistake them. Orcas are easily identified by their exceptionally distinctive jet-black bodies and white patches. They are usually over the eyes, under the jaw, or on the belly and extending onto their sides. The tail fins stick up out of the water as they swim close to the surface.
This magnificent sea mammal can measure from 23 to 32 feet in length – basically the size of a bus –and weigh up to six tons.
While they are very big, seeing them is not guaranteed because they tend to split their lives between feeding and breeding grounds. Your best bet will be to go to places where they live for months at a time. If you are in North America, the islands at the northern tip of Washington are a fairly safe option.
Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands in the northwestern corner of the state. Locals refer to the horseshoe-shaped isle as “the gem of the San Juans,” according to Visit San Juans, because of the stunning combination of picturesque shoreline, the highest mountain in the islands, and a handful of charming hamlets.