Orca pod makes Christmas Day visit to Penn Cove

Orcas come up for air in Penn Cove on Thursday

Coupeville residents got a Christmas Day surprise when a pod of orcas swam into Penn Cove and stayed awhile last Thursday.

Anywhere from five to seven transient orcas were spotted and word traveled fast through social media as a crowd of people gathered on the Coupeville Wharf and gazed.

Among them were Lynda and Mitch Richards, who run the Lovejoy Inn on Eighth Street and experienced their first sighting in 17 years.

“To have it come on Christmas made it special,” Lynda Richards said. “My husband in particular has been orca ‘hunting’ for years. He was most excited.”

The months of October, November and December are the best time to see resident orcas around Whidbey Island as they feed on salmon returning to area rivers, said Howard Garrett, co-director of the Freeland-based Orca Network.

Garrett said he believed the transient orcas in Penn Cove were from the T46 pod that has been spotted for months in Puget Sound.

He said orcas are seen only about once a year in Penn Cove, though they were also were seen in the cove Christmas Eve and another larger pod, believed to be resident orcas, were spotted in Admiralty Inlet Friday morning.

“We’re surrounded,” said Susan Berta, also of Orca Network.

Yet, seeing them in Penn Cove was a special treat for many Coupeville residents.

“I’ve lived here three years and I’ve missed them every time except this year,” said Bonnie Gretz of Coupeville.

The orcas arrived in the early afternoon and stayed nearly three hours, Gretz said.

She said she thought she saw seven orcas, including two males and a calf.

“It was wonderful,” she said. “Last year, I got to see them on New Year’s Day at Fort Casey. It was a nice start to the year.”

Like Gretz, Lynda Richards got the news of the orcas in the cove through social media.

“We were having a late lunch and I just happened to be on Facebook for a minute,” Richards said. “I read, ‘Orcas in Penn Cove right now.’ I was like, ‘Whoa!’ We went down to the wharf.”