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Orca Network plans trip south for gray whales

Whidbey Island residents Barbara Arnoldson, Linda LaMay and Jan Shaughnessy, front, touch gray whales in 2010 in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, Mexico. Orca Network is planning a trip, the group’s major fundraiser, in 2013.  - Contributed photo
Whidbey Island residents Barbara Arnoldson, Linda LaMay and Jan Shaughnessy, front, touch gray whales in 2010 in San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, Mexico. Orca Network is planning a trip, the group’s major fundraiser, in 2013.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Whidbey Island whale lovers may have a chance to travel with local experts to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, Mexico, next spring to witness what many have come to consider a gray whale phenomenon.

One of the known locations where the species gives birth, the lagoon is bustling with activity during early spring. But what makes the area famous is the unusually friendly behavior exhibited by a small percentage of the gentle giants.

When gray whales come to Puget Sound to feed at other times of the year, they tend to be focused and standoffish, said Susan Berta, a founding member of Greenbank-based Orca Network.

Yet, in the lagoon, a small percentage of the marine giants also exhibit unusually friendly behavior, approaching research and tour boats and even letting people inside touch them.

“It’s anyone’s guess why they do this,” said Susan Berta, a founding member of Orca Network. “It makes me feel that they are reaching out to us.”

For many it’s a changing experience. Lyla Snover, a Coupeville resident, went on the trip with her husband Phil in 2010 and called it “moving.”

“I’ve always thought gray whales are wonderful, wonderful creatures,” she said. “But being able to kiss one on the nose is really awesome.”

Up until last year, the excursion has been an annual fundraiser for the Whidbey marine mammal advocacy group. By partnering with Baja Ecotours at Campo Cortez, Orca Network receives $500 from each ticket when it brings 18 people.

The money provides funding for the group’s sighting network and other educational programs. The trip planned for this year, however, was scrubbed due to a lack of participants.

Berta said they have five confirmed attendees so far, but need the full 18 in order to green light the trip.

Along with whale watching, Campo Cortez naturalists and boat crews share their knowledge of the Baja Biosphere Reserve. Participants also learn about intertidal and plant life of the area.

Cost of the trip, which begins in San Diego, Calif., is $2,700 per person. It includes a Mexico Tourist card and Biosphere Reserve fees, as well as transportation from San Diego to Campo Cortez, Baja, meals, lodging and whale watching twice daily.

The deadline to sign up is Jan. 1.

“In these economic times, fundraisers such as this provide much-needed income for Orca Network to continue to provide our programs and services to help collect data on the endangered Southern Resident orcas, gray whales and other marine mammal species in the Pacific Northwest,” Berta said.

For more information, visit www.orcanetwork.org/news/2013bajatrip.html or call Orca Network at 360-678-3451.

 

 

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