Community

Beach Watchers to host fundraising whale-watching cruise

The gray whales are back in Saratoga Passage off the coast of Whidbey Island.  - Photo courtesy of the Orca Network
The gray whales are back in Saratoga Passage off the coast of Whidbey Island.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Orca Network

The gray whales have returned to the waters around Whidbey and Camano islands, and islanders can get a chance at a close-up view during a whale-watching cruise later this month.

The trip is a fundraiser for the WSU-Island County Beach Watchers program, and will be the only one of its kind to leave from Whidbey during the gray whale season. The three-hour cruise through Saratoga Passage leaves from the Langley marina at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, April 16.

Gray whales are annual visitors from March until early June, feeding on ghost shrimp in the sandy, muddy shallows of Camano and Whidbey islands from Langley to Coupeville.

According to the Orca Network’s whale sighting system reports, the first sighting of a north Puget Sound gray whale this year was on March 3. Since then, there have been reports of sightings of some of the 10 to 12 gray whales that visit Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound each spring.

The annual spring visit of gray whales provides an excellent opportunity to view whales from the shorelines of Island County or from the Clinton/Mukilteo ferries, much to the delight of residents and visitors. The whales often feed close to shore by turning on their sides and sucking up huge mouthfuls of sand filled with ghost shrimp, then straining it out through their baleen plates, swallowing the invertebrates and pushing mud and water back out, leaving plumes of mud trailing through the water. Their pectoral fins and fluke tips can often be seen above the surface of the water while they are feeding, and from a bluff top, islanders can often get a great view of the entire whale as it feeds in the shallow intertidal area.

Gray whale spouts can also often be seen while they are traveling or feeding in deeper waters, with their flukes exposed whenever they take a deep dive.

The 10 to 12 “regulars” who show up each year are often accompanied by a number of other whales who are not regulars.

In greater Puget Sound, from 12 to 50 grays are sighted each year. Along the Pacific Coast is a population of 250 gray whales known as the Pacific Northwest feeding aggregation (or seasonal residents). These whales can be found along the coast of Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The cruise from the Langley marina costs $75 per person and includes appetizers and beverages; naturalists will also be onboard to share information about whales and other sea life.

To learn more about gray whales, visit the Orca Network’s gray whale website page at orcanetwork.org/nathist/graywhales.html.

To report a whale sighting, call the Orca Network at 1-866-ORCANET or e-mail info@orcanetwork.org.

The official Welcome the Whales Day is Saturday, April 23 with a parade and other events in downtown Langley, including children’s activities, costume-making, displays, music and presentations.

The festival is part of Whidbey’s Earth and Ocean Week, beginning with Earth Day at Bayview on Saturday, April 16.

 

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