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Gray whale arrives early

A gray whale has been spotted off South Whidbey more than a month ahead of schedule.

“They seem to be coming earlier and staying later,” Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the mammal monitoring organization based in Greenbank, said this week.

Garrett said that a kayaker in the ferry lanes at the south end of Saratoga Passage between Clinton and Mukilteo reported the latest gray sighting in the early afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 16.

“He said he was paddling in calm, quiet water when there was an explosive exhale and the gray whale blasted out of the water about 50 feet in front of him,” Garrett said. “That’s about the length of the whale.

“He said the whale surfaced a couple of times, then submerged and never appeared again,” Garrett added.

Garrett said he believes the same whale was sighted in Saratoga Passage from the Edgecliff area of Langley earlier that same afternoon. Since then, a gray whale was seen off Port Susan. And on Jan. 9, a gray whale was spotted off West Seattle.

“It appears to be going to the usual feeding locations, which indicates its one of our regulars,” Garrett said. He said a group of 10 or 12 gray whales annually visits the area.

Garrett said gray whales usually move south this time of year, but this one appears to be heading north, which may indicate “a major deviation” in their migratory pattern.

He said grays typically arrive in the area in late February or March, and the early arrivals may indicate that their food supply off Baja, Calif. may be dwindling due to warming water temperatures.

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