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San Juan Islands, WA

Bioluminescence & Moonlight Kayak Tours San Juan Island

Rated 4.7 / 5 (437 Reviews)
Duration
3 hours
Group Size
All Group Sizes
Age Range
All Ages
Activity level
Beginner Friendly
Most People Book
Every Day
DEPARTURES
Every Evening

Our Bioluminescence Kayak Tours offer you a chance to enjoy some of the finest light shows that nature provides! Beneath our kayaks, the fertile waters of the San Juan Islands support plankton that produces sparkling lights. And in the sky above, our rain-shadow shields away clouds to create the clearest nights anywhere in western Washington.

What Is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a biological light display that produces no heat. It is created by special protein, and enzyme combinations found that evolved in organisms ranging from fungi to fish. Some glow continuously, while others can carefully control their light in unique displays.

In the sea, most bioluminescence is produced by plankton – organisms that drift on the currents. These include pulsating “jellyfish,” clusters of salps, and even masses of mating marine worms! But the vast majority are microscopic dinoflagellates that photosynthesize sunlight for energy during the day. By night they release sparkles of light when disturbed by the movements of fish, seals, kayaks, and waves.

Why Does Bioluminescence Exist?

One theory for why bioluminescence occurs is called “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend hypothesis.” Here’s how it works: by releasing light when a predator moves in, they have a chance of illuminating a different target to get eaten. Or the predator itself could be illuminated and be eaten by a larger one! Jellies may use their light to attract prey light moths to a candle. Others, such as nerius worms, use their glow to attract mates – very sexy!

Is Bioluminescence the Same Thing as Phosphorescence?

Bioluminescence is a strictly biological phenomenon. Phosphorescence also produces no heat but differs by releasing light absorbed by a chemical process. The reason you may hear some people use the wrong term is that soldiers in World War II saw light in the sea of the same color as their phosphor tracer bullets. Not knowing any biology, they mistakenly called it “phosphorescence,” and the improper name stuck for decades afterward.

How do I Choose a Date for My Bioluminescence Kayak Trip in Friday Harbor?

Bioluminescence and the lunar cycle have a strong relationship. A bright full moon will make the glowing organisms seem dimmer. Oppositely, a dark new moon will allow the full glory of bioluminescent organisms to shine! The “in-between” phases of the lunar cycle offer moderate displays. To increase your chances of seeing a good bioluminescence display on your kayak trip with Sea Quest, use the lunar calendar on this page and select a date with a darker moon. If you must pick a date with a partial moon, go when the moon is in the “third quarter” of the cycle. This is when the moon is waning (getting smaller) and rises later at night. The “first-quarter” moon is waxing (getting larger) and rises well before the sun sets.

What Dates are Best for Bioluminescence Kayak Tours on San Juan Island?

June, July and August are best due to plentiful sunlight and warmer surface waters. But there is still the potential of seeing displays in late spring and early fall.

What Lunar Phases are Best for Star-Gazing & Bioluminescence?

  • March 15-27
  • April 13-26
  • May 12-25
  • June 10-24
  • July 10-23
  • August 8-22
  • September 6-21
  • October 6-20

What Lunar Phases Best are for Romantic Moonlight Kayak Tours?

  • March 4-10
  • April 3-9
  • May 2-8
  • June 1-7 + 30
  • July 1-6 + 29-31
  • August 1-4 + 28-31
  • September 1-3 + 26-30
  • October 1-2 + 25-31

Trip Details for The Bioluminescence Kayak Tour from San Juan Island

  • Schedule: Bioluminescent Kayak Tour offered daily
  • Trip Fee: $129 per person plus 8.3% state tax & $10 government launch fee. On rare dates, the fee is $149 due to limited resources, and this will be noted in the online reservation system.
  • Meeting Place: Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. Look for our van and kayak trailer in the traffic circle adjacent to the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal.
  • Meeting Time: Bioluminescence kayak trips usually begin at sunset. Note that the trip start times in our reservation system vary with seasonal daylight hours. Our online reservation system will indicate the exact meeting time if you enter a specific date. If the times don’t work for you, we may be able to change them to meet your needs so feel free to ask!
  • Itinerary: Our shuttle van takes you to the launch beach. The drive takes between 5 to 25 minutes. We provide a one hour kayak lesson on the beach. This lesson familiarizes everyone with the basic skills before we launch the sea kayaks in the dark. We then explore for about 1½ hours, covering 1 to 2 miles during the kayak adventure. We will paddle at a leisurely pace in search of good areas. If we find a rich spot we will float there to soak in the experience and look for the glowing outlines of fish of and seals. Remember to bring a headlamp or flashlight but turn it off to enjoy the bioluminescence!
  • Finish Time & Place: Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal; 3 hours after we pick you up.
  • Total Time: Approximately 3 hours from meeting your guides to finish. Be aware that our weather, winds or currents can occasionally delay us!

WHY CHOOSE SEA QUEST FOR YOUR BIOLUMINESCENCE KAYAK TOUR ON SAN JUAN ISLAND?


  • Highest safety standards for any company operating kayak tours at night!
  • Best location for kayaking with bioluminescence near Seattle.
  • A magical experience you won’t forget any time soon!
  • Highest quality equipment of any kayak bioluminescence tour in Friday Harbor.

Ready to Start Your Adventure?

Accommodations


Accommodations in Friday Harbor are numerous and diverse. To have the most flexibility, book your stay as far in advance as possible. Options include:

We highly recommend the Earthbox Inn and Spa – 360-378-4000

Getting Here


Travel to San Juan Island and Friday Harbor from Seattle, WA is very easy. Drive, transit or taxi 1.5 hours north to Anacortes, WA.

how to get to San Juan Island and Friday harbor Washington State mapFrom the Anacortes Ferry Terminal, enjoy a ferry ride to Friday Harbor, the main town on San Juan Island.

How to get from Anacortes to San Juan Island using the Washington State Ferry Friday Harbor is centrally located, close to accommodations, activities and the Ferry Terminal.

Gear List


We provide the following:

Sea kayaks, all related sea kayaking trip gear, safety equipment, transportation to and from Friday Harbor and the launch beach, instruction and expert guides.

What you need to bring:

Suitable clothing and footwear for the beach, water bottle, HEADLAMP. Bring a warm sweater and rain jacket if windy or rainy. Click prepare for a San Juan Islands kayak tour for some tips.

Maps & Routes


Please Note:

Bioluminescence cannot be guaranteed. It can be suppressed by heavy winds or clouds that day. Views of the moon and stars may be obstructed by clouds, although these are rare July-September.

Our tours end well after dark. Make sure you book accommodations ahead of time for after your tour. The ferry system usually doesn’t run late enough to leave the island after your tour.

Reviews


Frequently Asked Questions


Is it safe to kayak at night?

Yes! Even though we are paddling in the dark, kayaking at night with Sea Quest Kayak Tours is still incredibly safe. We make sure everyone brings or is provided with headlamps so we can stay in visual communication at all time. Furthermore, our guides are able to navigate because they are familiar with the shorelines of the area and stay within a protected bay. Even in very dimly lit conditions they will ensure you stay with the group and enjoy the bioluminescence.

What can I expect to see on a bioluminesence kayak tour?

Our kayak tours are always different with a diversity of visual display seen on our tours. Sometimes the bioluminescence is so thick it appears like a magic glowing carpet on the surface of the water. At other times through the year bioluminescence simply sparkles fantastically in lower densities.

In addition to bioluminescence we will sometimes see the following creatures glowing in the water:

  • dock shrimp
  • jelly fish
  • ctenophores
  • porpoise
  • seals
  • and even orca whales!

What Is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is a biological light display that produces no heat. It is created by special protein and enzyme combinations found that evolved in organisms ranging from fungi to fish. Some glow continuously while others can carefully control their light in unique displays.

In the sea, most bioluminescence is produced by plankton – organisms that drift on the currents. These include pulsating “jellyfish”, clusters of salps, and even masses of mating marine worms! But the vast majority are microscopic dinoflagellates that photosynthesize sunlight for energy during the day. By night they release sparkles of light when disturbed by the movements of fish, seals, kayaks and waves.

Why Does Bioluminescence Exist?

One theory for why bioluminescence occurs is called “The Enemy of my Enemy is My Friend hypothesis”. Here’s how it works: by releasing light when a predator moves in, they have a chance of illuminating a different target to get eaten. Or the predator itself could be illuminated and be eaten by a larger one! Jellies may use their light to attract prey light moths to a candle. Others, such as nerius worms use their glow to attract mates – very sexy!

Is Bioluminescence the Same Thing as Phosphorescence?

Bioluminescence is a strictly biological phenomenon. Phosphorescence also produces no heat, but differs by releasing light that was absorbed by a chemical process. The reason you may hear some people use the wrong term is because soldiers in World War II saw light in the sea of the same color as their phosphor tracer bullets. Not knowing any biology, they mistakenly called it “phosphorescence” and the improper name stuck for decades afterwards.

How do I Choose a Date for My Bioluminescence Kayak Trip in Friday Harbor?

Bioluminescence and the lunar cycle have a strong relationship. A bright full moon will make the glowing organisms seem dimmer. Oppositely, a dark new moon will allow the full glory of bioluminescent organisms to shine! The “in-between” phases of the lunar cycle offer moderate displays. To increase your chances of seeing a good bioluminescence display on your kayak trip with Sea Quest, use the lunar calendar below and select a date with a darker moon. If you must pick a date with a partial moon, go when the moon is in the “third-quarter” of the cycle. This is when the moon is waning (getting smaller) and rises later at night. The “first-quarter” moon is waxing (getting larger) and rises well before the sun sets.

What are the best dates for Bioluminescence Kayak Tours on San Juan Island?

June, July and August are best due to plentiful sunlight and warmer surface waters. But there is still the potential of seeing displays in late spring and early fall.

Best dates for star-gazing and bioluminescence:

  • March 15-27
  • April 13-26
  • May 12-25
  • June 10-24
  • July 10-23
  • August 8-22
  • September 6-21
  • October 6-20

Best dates for romantic moonlight kayak tours:

  • March 4-10
  • April 3-9
  • May 2-8
  • June 1-7 + 30
  • July 1-6 + 29-31
  • August 1-4 + 28-31
  • September 1-3 + 26-30
  • October 1-2 + 25-31

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