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Langley gets ready for a whale of a festive Saturday

Langley aerial photographer Veronica von Allworden snapped these gray whales swimming recently in Saratoga Passage off Langley.   - Veronica von Allworden photo
Langley aerial photographer Veronica von Allworden snapped these gray whales swimming recently in Saratoga Passage off Langley.
— image credit: Veronica von Allworden photo

If you think whale schmoozing is dramatic around here, you should try it off Baja.

“They’re a lot like my Labrador,” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network. “They stick their noses up on the boat and beg to be petted. The mothers and calves particularly vied for our attention.”

Garrett and Susan Berta, of Greenbank, co-founders of the local whale-tracking group, will share photos and stories from their recent four-day trip to San Ignacio Lagoon off Baja, Calif. as part of Langley’s sixth annual Welcome the Whales Day.

The festivities, sponsored by Orca Network and the Langley Chamber of Commerce, run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 18 and will feature a parade, events, activities for all ages, music, presentations, fun, food, T-shirts and “Gary,” a 20-foot-long gray whale puppet.

The event celebrates the annual migration of gray whales from Mexico, where they mate and have their calves, to their feeding grounds in Canada. Every year, the whales linger for a lunch or two of ghost shrimp in Saratoga Passage, providing an aquatic show easily seen from the city.

“Whales are pretty amazing animals and we’re so lucky to have them right here off the seawall,” said Sherry Mays, executive director of the chamber of commerce. “Some people will never spy a whale in their lifetimes. They feed here like our beloved pets.”

“I love the fact that no matter how many times people have seen whales, there is still excitement each time,” she added.

Garrett said the whales, weighing as much as 36 tons, showed up ahead of schedule off Langley this year, with the first being spotted in late February. He said nine returnees have been identified so far, and one newcomer.

“This year has been an outstanding year for whale spotting,” Mays said. “Maybe it’s the fact that we have the whale bell and it alerts us all to the whales passing by.”

The city’s new whale bell at First and Anthes has been sounding each arrival. The bell was the combined effort of the city, the chamber of commerce, Langley metal sculptor Tim Leonard and Whidbey High School senior Michael Scullin, who organized the whole thing for a school and Eagle Scout project.

The bell will be officially dedicated at 2 p.m. on Saturday at Seawall Park, followed by music to honor the whales.

Garrett and Berta recently escorted a group of 18 to Baja to watch the whales in their mating grounds.

It was their third such trip. Garrett said as many as 1,000 whales pass through Baja, and that their group observed as many as 10 to 20 at a time at extremely close range.

“Up here, you see them from a greater distance, and they’re always rolling around and are busy eating,” Garrett said, adding with a sigh: “It’s also illegal here to get within 100 yards of them.”

He said it hasn’t been confirmed that the Langley whales come from Baja, “but in all likelihood, some of them do, yeah.”

Meanwhile, a bird’s-eye view of the Saratoga Passage whale action will be provided by Langley photographer Veronica von Allworden, who will share her aerial photos and talk about whales; their size, migration routes, diets, parasites, predators and other details.

Von Allworden is an aerial and marine photographer who has lived on South Whidbey for 24 years, the past eight in Langley. She routinely flies over the region in her small plane, photographing real estate and other assignments.

“It’s great to watch them feed,” she said of the whales. “When you’re above them in an airplane, you really see them circle around, roll on their sides, suck in big amounts of sand and flush it through their beleens. It’s amazing.”

The free whale presentations will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Langley United Methodist Church, at Third and Anthes streets. Von Allworden will go first, followed by Garrett and Berta.

Welcome the Whales Day begins at 10 a.m., with hands-on educational displays, costume making and children’s activities in the church’s fellowship hall.

Staging for the “Critter Parade” begins at 12:45 p.m. in the parking lot at Cascade and Sixth Street. It features “Gary” the gray-whale puppet, a popular parade fixture.

Everyone is invited to strut his or her fur, fins and feathers, Mays said.

The parade begins at 1:30 p.m., and proceeds downhill on Cascade and First Streets, ending at Langley Waterfront Park for music and celebration, with perhaps a gray whale or two swimming nearby.

The event will also feature a neighborhood potluck hosted by the city of Langley from noon to 1:15 p.m. at the former fire station on Second Street.

Berta said volunteers are needed to oversee and assist in costume-making, posting flyers on parked cars before the parade, helping with set-up and take-down, and to tote “Gary” and the other large parade critters.

Environmental organizations are also invited to bring displays, and local businesses are urged to create whale-related window displays, she said.

This year, Welcome the Whales Day will be combined with the Bayview Earth Day celebration on Sunday, April 19 for a combined “Earth & Ocean Weekend” of family activities. For more information on Earth Day, visit www.goosefoot.org.

The long-range forecast from the National Weather Service calls for partly cloudy with highs in the mid- 60s for the weekend.

Garrett isn’t bothered.

“We’re looking forward to a beautiful day,” he said.

For information about Welcome the Whales Day, visit www. orcanetwork.org/news/events.html or www.visitlangley.com, or call Orca Network at 360-678-3451 or visit info@orcanetwork.org, or call the Langley Chamber of Commerce at 221-6765.

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