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San Juans visitors, locals can stay connected to nature through apps

For residents and visitors wondering how to unwind among the tranquil nature of the San Juan Islands, don’t worry – there’s an app for that.

In fact, there are several apps, or applications, that can be downloaded to smartphones, tablets or other devices to help people enjoy the natural settings and wildlife of the islands.


Last month, the Center for Whale Research staff launched their own app, which includes how to identify the Southern resident killer whales that call the waters around the San Juans home for part of the year. The center’s staff has administered the official count of Southern resident killer whales, twice a year, since 1976.

Questions to identify passing orcas include whether there are notches on dorsal fins and whether the saddle patch, the area behind those dorsal fins, are more black or white.

In addition to identifying Southern resident killer whales, the app also includes information on orcas’ diets and their lifelong connections with their families, as well as images center staff and volunteers have gathered of the orcas over the last 42 years. Download the app for free at Google Play or Apple App Store by searching “Center for Whale Research.” 


The San Juan Islands Insider app helps users find accommodations and attractions on Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw Islands. On San Juan, for instance, local attractions include South Beach, American Camp and the chamber of commerce, with directions to each from the user’s location. According to the app, the San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce is “the place to start” trips and to pick up items such as maps and brochures. When visiting locations, users receive awards that can be used for such perks as discounts or free items at local establishments.

Tim Fry, of Lopez, won third place with the San Juan Islands Insider app in a 2016 business competition through the county’s economic development council. Fry said the app has been downloaded roughly 10,000 times, with about 71 percent of users originating from more than 50 miles from the islands.

“The best use of apps are when they perform a specific function that isn’t easily done with a mobile website,” said Fry. “In the case of San Juan Islands Insider, that specific function is allowing people to earn and redeem points at local businesses.”

Download the app for free on Google Play or the Apple App Store by searching for “San Juan Islands Insider.”

Public land

Last May, Lincoln Bormann, director of the San Juan County Land Bank, explained that a local consortium of conservation land management organizations had been discussing utilizing another app for the San Juans. The app, called Discover Nature, has been used by organizations such a U.S. national wildlife refuges and can include trail maps and interpretive information.

Although draft results of a recent county visitor’s study showed that most come to the islands to be with nature, Bormann said staying connected during island visits for brief intervals will help tourists, overall. The Discover Nature app, he said, could help visitors easily navigate the islands, as well as understand rules, like those against feeding wildlife.

“This would address some critical needs in that many visitors arrive without knowing much about what’s in our parks and natural areas,” said Bormann, “[like] where to go [and] what there might be to see or learn about.”

Bormann said the group has yet to make a decision on utilizing the app.


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