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Orca Network announces arrival of gray whales
The “Saratoga” gray whales have returned to Whidbey and Camano island waters for their annual three-month feeding foray in Puget Sound.
Whidbey-based Orca Network’s whale sighting network received its first report of a North Puget Sound gray whale on Feb. 28 in the water off Langley. Additional sightings over the past few weeks confirmed the presence of eight of the 10 to 12 individual gray whales that frequent the area each spring.
Cascadia Research of Olympia has studied this population of Puget Sound gray whales for decades, identifying individuals by the markings on the underside of their flukes, as well as by the patterns of barnacles, scars, and markings on their backs. One whale named “Patch,” or number 49, was first identified by Cascadia in Whidbey waters in 1991 and is a favorite of many local whale watchers. He is easily identifiable by the large white patch on his right side, as well as white patches on the underside of his flukes.
This small group of resident gray whales typically arrives in the region in early March and stays through the end of May or early June, feeding on ghost shrimp along the sand and mud shores of Saratoga Passage between Camano and Whidbey islands and in Possession Sound.
Orca Network’s whale sighting network has followed the travels of these gray whales, as well as orcas and other whales in the region, for decades. The group recently opened the Langley Whale Center on Second Street and Anthes Avenue, one block up from Whale Bell Park.
The Langley Whale Center features displays and videos about gray whales, orcas and the many other marine mammals of the Salish Sea. Also on display are marine mammal bones and specimens collected and prepared by Orca Network’s Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, to help visitors understand the anatomy and natural history of the marine mammals who share the island waters.