The Coastal Wildlife Cruise The West Rock


Boarding the West Rock

Enjoy a high speed boat ride in search of black bears, eagles, seals, sea lions, porpoise, orca and humpback whales.  In early summer before the salmon arrive wildlife is on the move. Bears come out of the forest to forage on beach grass and dig for clams.  Whales, seals, porpoise, sea lions and eagles follow schools of herring and needlefish.  This tour is designed to give you an opportunity to see a variety of wildlife from a unique, high speed boat specially designed for viewing wildlife.   Although bear viewing is the primary objective of this tour, approximately thirty minutes is allocated to viewing eagles, seals, and whales which are often sighted enroute to and from the bear viewing area. Tour duration is approximately  3.25 hours.

Group size is limited to 13

The Coastal Wildlife Cruise is provided aboard a 34 foot boat named the West Rock. The West Rock is powered by three 225 hp. outboard engines, has covered seating for 13 persons and a comfortable restroom.

Specifically designed for wildlife tours, the West Rock has side windows which can be rolled up when it's not raining and a large front deck for viewing wildlife up close.

The "Girls Next Door" on one of our bear tours.
Bear Country

The boat ride to bear country takes about 45 minutes. The bears live in the woods but frequently come out on the beach to forage on beach grass, dig for clams and turn over rocks where they find small crabs.

When we arrive in bear country we will slow down some distance from shore to scan the beach with binoculars. With binoculars the bears are often first seen from over a mile away.

Sow with cubs

This gives us the best chance to spot a bear before it sees or hears us. Once a bear is spotted we begin our approach and try to get as close as possible.

If we don't see a bear right away we will begin cruising close to the shoreline watching for Sitka blacktail deer, mink, otter, seals bald eagles and waterfowl. Many times a bear will be spotted close by as we turn a bend or enter a small bay or channel.

Getting as close as we can
A beautiful Sitka blacktail deer. Sitka blacktail deed often congregate on smaller islands to escape from wolves.
Sometimes the eagles are more interesting than the bears


It is important for everyone to be very quiet and to limit their movement as we scout the shoreliine. The bears cannot see very well but they do have good ears and will spook if they hear voices or sense sudden movements. As you can see from these photographs it is possible for us to get very close to the bears.

Yearlings digging for clams

All of the bear pictures on this page were taken by the captain as he was manuevering the boat on tour. You can imagine how much better your pictures might be without having to worry about steering the boat!

Younger bears are very curious and seem to like having their picture taken. Older bears and sows with cubs are more cautious but if we're quiet we can get close to them too.

This little guy like to have his picture taken.

As you scroll down this page you can see that the shoreline is very rugged and the bears are never very far from the woods. They can disappear and reappear with just a few steps.

After emerging from hibernation in April and early May they are very hungry. There is more food on the beach and that's why they are there.

Everyone got  great pictures of this one.


Later in the summer when the salmon arrive bears congregate at the stream mouths waiting for the salmon to begin spawning. Then we begin our other tour called the Neets Bay Bear Cruise. Until then the Coastal Wildlife Cruise is the best way to see bears in their natural habitat.


What are you lookin at?
Porpoise like to play in front of the boat.

On the way to and from bear country we keep an eye out for Dall porpoise, Orca whales (also known as killer whales), humpback whales, and sea lions.

Dall porpoise can be very playful and will often swim rapidly toward the boat and then swim back and forth across the bow of the boat for a few minutes. Because they swim so fast getting the perfect snapshot of porpoise as they energe from the water is a real challenge.

A male orca with one of his mates.

We never know when we might encounter a pod of Orcas. They roam many miles every day and seem to move back and forth between areas north and south of Ketchikan once or twice a week from May through early July.

In doing so they frequently pass through Tongass Narrows right in front of town.

A big male killer whale.
A pod of orcas cruising through town.

Orcas feed on salmon and other marine mammals, including seals, sea lions and baby humpback whales. Orcas have no fear of boats and will take salmon right off your hook.

Humpback whales are also common. Although the primary feeding area for most humpbacks is out in more open water, there are typically 3 or 4 which spend the summer quite close to Ketchikan. They can dive for up to 15 minutes so we often pass over them without even knowing they're there.

Orcas have no fear of boats.
Harbor seals have many color variations which help them blend in with their surroundings. Seals like to hang out among the rocks.

Harbor seals gather in large groups among the rocks and reefs where they are safe from bears and have a chance to escape the Orcas when they swim by.

We always stop for pictures of harbor seals on the Coastal Wildlife Cruise. We see quite a few sea lions, too, like the ones to the left. Sea lions are much larger than seals and can be very aggresive.


Bald eagles are plentiful in the Ketchikan area. They soar overhead and perch in the trees looking for fish. When one of them catches a fish they all gather round.

Of course, bald eagles are not really bald. They develop their characteristic white head feathers when they are 4-5 years old.

Immature bald eagles, like the one on the right, blend in very well with the tree branches and rocky beaches.

Because they are protected, the eagles do not fear us. We are usually able to get quite close to them.

There are more than 40 eagle's nests within a few miles of Ketchikan.

Young bald eagles really blend in.  They don't have white head feathers until they're 4 or 5 years old.
There are more than 40 eagles nests within a few miles of Ketchikan.
Enjoying the sun.


Many people ask what kind of weather and time of day is best for seeing a bear?

We have seen bears in all weather conditions and at all times during the day. Bears do like sunshine and don't mind the rain and do not tend to be very early risers.


Many bears have white patches on their chests.


However, hunting activity can cause older bears and sows with cubs to be cautious and spend more time out on the shoreline later in the evening as it begins to get dark. Still, they must eat and will come out for short times throughout the day.


Grazing on beach grass.


Whether we see a bear on any given tour is mainly a matter of good timing. There are periods of several days when we see bears more often in the morning and less in the afternoon and vice-versa.


This was a pretty big bear.

Bears are creatures of habit and have their own personalities. As they come out of hibernation, we will see particular individual bears for a few days in a row at fairly regular times but then they will move out of the area and be replaced by different bears with different habits.

A face off.


Also, bears come out and go back into the woods for a nap several times a day. There are certainly times when they are out just before we get there or just after we leave.


Although we cannot guarantee you will see a bear, we know where and how to find them and we do see one or more bears on about 70% of our Coastal Wildlife Cruises.

Note: We provide long raincoats but please dress warm as the boat is not heated.

The first bear we saw one year.



Looking forward to seeing you!

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