Langley is set to host its biggest visitors of the year at the annual Welcome the Whales Parade and Festival this weekend.
In its 15th year, the event celebrates a group of gray whales, dubbed North Puget Sounders, who dally awhile in Whidbey and Camano Islands’ waters, scarfing up ghost shrimp before continuing on their 12,000 mile-long journey to the Arctic from Mexico.
Started in 2004, the weekend event combines fun and education to “raise awareness that we have these wonderful whales come and stay with us a few months each spring,” said Susan Berta, founder of Orca Network. It sponsors the event along with the Langley Chamber of Commerce.
“The festival has expanded a bit but has remained a small home-town type of event,” Berta said, “focused on kids and families and celebrating our local whales.”
According to research by John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research, in the early 1990s, the gray whales found an untapped reservoir of ghost shrimp living in mud flats around Whidbey and Camano Islands. They’ve faithfully returned to dine on the buffet every spring, and like clockwork, show up starting March 1 and stay through May.
Whales of all kinds are being spotted in the waters of Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound these days, including some from the resident orca pods, known as J,K,L residing in the Salish Sea.
“It was whale soup out there this weekend,” Berta joked. “Lots of gray whales, J pod, a humpback and two pods of transient orcas, all in our local waters Sunday.”
Humpback whales, 25 to 40 feet in length and weighing 40 to 50 tons, are increasingly being seen in Washington inside waters after being nearly decimated by whaling operations in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. Sunday morning, one surprised some ferry riders and others near the Edmonds ferry terminal.
“We saw it just in the opening to the breakwater off of Anthony’s in Edmonds,” Lisa Ann Harbison Anderson posted on the Orca Network Facebook page. “I screamed in the restaurant, freaking out my kids.”
The Welcome the Whales festival kicks off 11 a.m. Saturday morning with costume-making and children’s activities at Langley Methodist Church.
Mary Jo Adams, a volunteer with the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, will have microscopes set up to look at little critters, including some whale lice collected from the young juvenile gray whale that recently washed ashore on West Beach.
The 1:30 p.m. parade is always a color kaleidoscope of orcas, gray whales, mermaids and other creatures of the sea. It’s followed by a musical celebration at the Langley Waterfront. At 3 p.m., presentations by John Calambokidis and Russ Holmes of Cascadia Research are scheduled.
Sunday, people are encouraged to join a beach clean-up from 10 a.m. to noon and to check out the relocated Langley Whale Center to meet Sue Coccia, an Edmonds-based artist who designed this year’s festival poster. A laminated identification guide of North Puget Sound gray whales produced by Cascadia Research and Orca Network is new this year and costs $25 at Langley Whale Center.
The festival concludes 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. Must be purchased in advance on Orca Network website: www.OrcaNetwork.org