Record file — People walk up Second Street from Anthes Avenue for the annual Welcome the Whales Parade in Langley on April 18, 2015. The parade will return to Langley on April 8.

Langley preps for annual Welcome the Whales Parade and Festival

Whales might not swing by Langley next weekend, but people dressed like them will.

The annual Welcome the Whales Parade and Festival, sponsored by the Orca Network and the Langley Chamber of Commerce, is set for April 8-9. Organizers hope the event will coincide with the arrival of gray whales, who have found Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound as hotbeds for their feeding season.

The festival will include hands-on educational displays, costume making, children’s activities, a parade, a keynote speaker and a beach cleanup. The event is also one of several events under the umbrella of Whidbey Earth and Ocean Month organized by the Whidbey Earth and Ocean committee that includes includes Greening Congregations of Whidbey Island, Island County Public Health Department, Orca Network, Whidbey ECO Network and Whidbey Custom Events.

Susan Berta, co-founder of the Orca Network and festival organizer, said a small group of gray whales has regularly returned to Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound areas since the early 1990s. According to research by John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, the whales found an untapped reservoir of ghost shrimp and have continued to utilize it ever since. Because whales typically feed when daylight hours become longer, their arrival is predictable. It’s also cause for celebration due to it being a unique group that visits Whidbey Island.

“These were just smart or lucky whales that somehow stumbled across this ghost shrimp buffet,” Berta said. “The shrimp are all gone in Puget Sound and it’s just in our area. It’s like they don’t tell very many others. They’re keeping it a secret. It’s really amazing.”

The festivities begin at 11 a.m. on Saturday with hands-on educational displays, costume making and children’s activities at the Langley United Methodist Church on Anthes Avenue. Attendees can look through microscopes at underwater critters or craft orca fin hats, origami whales and a plethora of other costumes. Kids can also check out and borrow costumes to wear in the parade.

The “Whale and Critter Parade” begins at 1:30 p.m. at the U.S. Bank parking lot on Second and Anthes and ends at Whale Bell Park on First Street. At the parade’s conclusion, there will be a blessing for the whales, music and celebration on the beach while attendees watch for gray whales in Saratoga Passage.

Goosefoot’s Director of Programs Marian Myszkowski said the parade often leads to fun and creative costumes, which fits the overall vibe of the parade and celebration.

“There’s always a great mermaid or two,” Myszkowski said.

Myszkowski also felt that the parade and festival has been a perfect fit for Whidbey Earth and Ocean Month since 2009 when the two events came together.

“I think they do a great job at bringing all ages into what they’re doing, both with the parade and the educational activities,” Myszkowski said.

At 3 p.m. at the Langley United Methodist Church, keynote Joel Reynolds will talk about his role in protecting a gray whale birthing lagoon and World Heritage Site at Laguna San Ignacio in Baja California.

The Langley Whale Center will be open throughout the festival with activities and displays about gray whales.

New to the festival this year is a cleanup of Langley’s shores from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 9. The cleanup, which is part of Empty the Tanks’ Global Beach Cleanup Day, was added to this year’s festival to lessen the amount of garbage and plastics that present “huge” problems for whales and marine life, Berta said.

“It feels good to be able to help and physically do something,” Berta said. “It makes a difference.”

The event will conclude Sunday afternoon with an Orca Network fundraising cruise aboard the Mystic Sea whale watch boat from 3 to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $75, which includes appetizers and beverages, and must be purchased in advance on Orca Network’s website at http://shop.orcanetwork.org/product_p/mystic%20ww.htm.