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Langley welcomes whales/tourists with new center

Fred Lundahl presents a framed photo of a gray whale spyhopping. - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Fred Lundahl presents a framed photo of a gray whale spyhopping.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Hoping to boost tourism, Langley leaders have plans to lure people to town with a new whale-watching center.

At the Langley City Council meeting Monday, Fred Lundahl said a lease has been signed and $5,000 doled out to pay for startup costs. The center, essentially a museum for Puget Sound whales, will be located on the corner of Second Street and Anthes Avenue in the building — owned by former mayor Paul Samuelson — that houses the Langley Main Street Association.

The organization provided the seed money for the new whale center in the hopes of bringing people into Langley, adding yet another draw for the Village by the Sea.

“We think it’s going to attract a lot of people to town,” Lundahl said. “It will do a lot for economic revitalization in the town.”

Creating a whale museum has been an idea for a few months. It was spawned from the Langley Main Street Association, of which Lundahl is a member. Lundahl and others with the association looked at another whale tourism hotbed for a template: Friday Harbor.

“We learned that the whale museum in Friday Harbor is the single most visited spot in San Juan County,” he said. “About 60 percent of the people that come as visitors to Friday Harbor come to do whale-related activities. We realized we are a lot closer to the Seattle Metropolitan Area than they are, and we have whales you can see from the wine bars and the taverns.”

That’s no exaggeration either. The group’s planned promotional image is a photo by Jill Hein of a gray whale spyhopping just off the beach near Sandy Point, much to the delight of a handful of people about 20 feet away.

The key was getting local whale experts Susan Berta and Howard Garrett of the Orca Network into the fold. They operate the whale advocacy group out of their Freeland home, taking calls and emails about whale sightings whenever people see a pod of orcas or gray whales.

“The time had come,” Garrett said of expanding the network’s reach. “We have a need for more help, but we don’t have room for more help here. This will not only be a whale interpretation center, it will also be a satellite office of Orca Network where volunteers can help us get things done.”

Now, the network has a place to spread their message in Langley — home of the Whale Parade, Whale Bell Park and the whale-watching vessel Mystic Sea.

The Langley Whale Center offers free admission. Inside, it will feature displays on whale history, and the entryway will be an 18-foot blue whale jawbone on loan from Monty Hughes, owner of the Mystic Sea.

“You can actually walk under this jawbone like an archway,” Lundahl said.

There will also be a suspended harbor porpoise skeleton, whale baleen, teeth and bone for visitors to examine and, as Lundahl said, “things for people to touch and feel.”

 

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