The Whale Museum on San Juan Island

Whale Museum in Friday Harbor
Friday Harbor Whale Museum

Few things are more thrilling than seeing an orca in the wild — except, perhaps, protecting them. Protection comes in all forms at Friday Harbor’s Whale Museum. Visitors are introduced to orcas, invited to learn about their habitat, and encouraged to participate in the preservation of these gentle giants. 

Founded in 1979, the museum is located on First Street. It’s just one block above the Friday Harbor Marina in downtown Friday Harbor. This year-round activity is housed in the historic Odd Fellows Hall. Constructed in 1982, the two-story wood structure served as a hub for the community’s social life.

Events ranged from graduations and community plays to basketball games and dances. Today, the creaky wood structure offers a series of self-guided exhibits, educational outreach programs, whale research space, and more. The museum is located above the Friday Harbor Marina and just over a mile from the Friday Harbor Airport.

Whale Museum Parking Lot
Entrance to the Whale Museum

Protecting the Southern Resident Orcas 

While the museum supports the preservation of all marine wildlife, it’s particularly dedicated to the Southern Resident Orcas. Museum tours and lectures are thoughtfully designed to promote engagement, especially among young children. Exhibits range from beautiful art displays and old-school phone booths to immersive sound installations and orca skeletons.

A Unique Whale Watching Opportunity 

The museum’s primary home offers a land-based whale watching opportunity from a small porthole window on the harbor-facing wall. Binoculars are available. But fair warning, orcas rarely make their way into the harbor.

For a better chance to see orcas in the wild, head to Lime Kiln State Park. Unofficially dubbed ‘Whale Watch Park,’ it’s one of the best land-based whale watching destinations in the world. It’s often used by Whale Museum researchers, with the best viewing times from mid-May to mid-October.

Whale watching window at the Whale Museum

Don’t Skip the Whale Museum’s Gift Shop 

Looking for a more tangible and personal way to show your support? Sales from the museum’s gift shop support both conservation and education efforts. So too do proceeds from the Orca Adoption Program.

Adopting an orca is a great way to support orca preservation financially. It is also a good way to stay engaged with the preservation efforts, as the adoption program includes regular updates about ‘your’ orca.

Whale Museum FAQs

Is There Really a Whale Skeleton on Display?

Yep! The museum is home to several different skeletons. Among those remains on display are two gray whale skeletons — one that hangs from the ceiling, and another that can be put together like a giant puzzle on the floor.

Additionally, the remains of two former members of the Southern Resident population are on display. These beloved orcas include L8, a large male that washed ashore in 1977, and L112 (fondly known as Sooke).

Whale skeleton at the Whale Museum

Where Else Can You View Orcas in the Town of Friday Harbor?

Whale watching in the town of Friday Harbor doesn’t tend to be the most successful venture. However, there are a host of highly rated whale watching tours that depart from the Friday Harbor Marina. Among the top picks is San Juan Safaris. They are an active member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) and follow all guidelines for respectful and safe wildlife viewing.

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Fox Kits. Photo by Iandewar Photography.
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