Puget Sound Express launches 5th season of Edmonds-based whale watching

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The mouth-watering smell of fresh-baked blueberry buckle filled the main cabin of the Saratoga on Thursday morning as a crew of local dignitaries and well-wishers climbed aboard to help the Hanke family launch the 2019 whale watching season in style.

“This will be our fifth season operating out of Edmonds,” said Sherri Hanke, known to family and crew as “boss woman.”

While relative newcomers to Edmonds, three generations of the Hanke family have been operating water-based tours on Puget Sound for more than 30 years, mostly out of Port Townsend. A family-run operation from the start, Puget Sound Express treats all customers like guests in their home, offering up hot coffee and fresh-baked blueberry buckle — Grandma’s secret recipe — to all. And it’s fine to ask for seconds.

“It was a big decision for us to come over to Edmonds and begin offering whale watching excursions here,” said Sherri Hanke. “We started with the Chilkat, our 60-passenger boat, and welcomed more than 6,000 Edmonds customers that first season.”

And the customers kept coming, drawn by the friendly atmosphere, the Hanke’s uncanny ability to find whales on almost every trip and, of course, Grandma’s blueberry buckle.

“Things were going so well that we began to think about a larger boat,” Hanke explained.  “But it would mean a huge investment, and a big commitment to Edmonds. We discussed it as a family and all sat down at the dinner table one night to put it to a vote, yes or no, on slips of paper. The decision was unanimous!”

That decision resulted in the Saratoga.

Brand new in 2018, the luxurious Saratoga brings whale watching to a whole new level.  She rides on a twin catamaran semi-planing hull. When underway, an articulated hydrofoil takes over, allowing the boat to fly over the water at 35 knots (40 mph). State-of-the-art soundproofing reduces noise both topside and underwater, and the wrap-around viewing deck, restrooms and galley make for a comfortable whale-watching experience.

Adding the Saratoga to the fleet meant more tours, and the public just kept coming. The 2018 season drew a record 20,000 customers to Edmonds.

 

“It sure feels like we’re on a roll,” said Sherri.  “We love it here in Edmonds, and are so happy to bring first-class whale watching to the community.”

You can learn more about whale watching with the Hanke family and make your reservations for the 2019 season at the Puget Sound Express website.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

3 Replies to “Puget Sound Express launches 5th season of Edmonds-based whale watching”

  1. It would be helpful to know how the captain and crew of The Saratoga feel about current (and future) regulations about how close whale-watching boats are allowed to position themselves to whales. While it is exhilarating to see whales in the Puget Sound, it has become clear that boats hovering nearby are stressful to these marine mammals. Resident orcas are already stressed with the diminishing supply of their food source —- chinook salmon —- and water pollution. We are all a little responsible for the health of the whales in our waters; how does The Saratoga manage best practices in its whale-watching tours?

    Thank you.

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    1. Sarah Hanke from Puget Sound Express asked me to post this response on her behalf:

      Thank you for your concern and comment regarding our region’s whales. As a family business, we share your passion and concern for these whales and have worked with many organizations to ensure their safety as best we can. With 34 years on the water and as founding members of Pacific Whale Watch Association, we were among the first to establish and honor safe-viewing guidelines, which include go-slow zones, and minimum distancing and position. Scientists are largely in agreement that the primary noise challenges for whales are commercial shipping and ferries. However, in the interest of doing all we can, we purchased and designed the boats we use in Edmonds to be propeller-less catamarans, which are much quieter underwater. Most importantly, experts who have spent their lives studying these whales have found that when it comes to protecting the whales, the primary focus needs to be on the lack of salmon and how we can help improve salmon habitat. So while we completely support the distance guidelines proposed by our state Legislature, we are also heartened that the primary issue for the Southern Residents – the lack of salmon – is also being addressed. Salmon habitat and survivability, as well as issues such as pollution, will all take sustained effort, and we are working with non-profit and government agencies to support that work. We greatly appreciate your concern and comment. If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out to our family at [email protected]. -Sarah Hanke, Puget Sound Express

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