Langley Marina is suddenly in the commercial whale watching business.
The M/V Mystic Sea arrived Friday to begin setting up for its start of business Saturday, May 9. Anyone can buy a ticket and go in search of gray whales in the deep waters of Saratoga Passage.
Langley has made the gray whale the centerpiece of a celebration for a number of years. The only thing missing was the opportunity for everyone interested to view a gray whale in its natural state.
This year’s Welcome the Whales Day in downtown Langley is Saturday, April 20. Along with the usual — or rather unusual — parade, there will be a keynote presentation by Dr. Sue Moore, from NOAA Fisheries.
The fact that the Mystic Sea will be operating that day is a huge plus, because the general public will actually have the opportunity to see gray whales in the wild.
Langley is lucky to be located so close to the sea that, generally, very early in the morning, gray whales can not only be seen but heard. As they spout the sound reaches as far as Second Street. Their feeding habits are fascinating as they wriggle in the bottom of the passage, sending up a cloud of sand from which they filter out sand shrimp and other edibles through their baleen.
Fascinating photographs exist showing a series of whale-shaped holes in the sand at low tide, depicting where the grays had been dining.
A certain number of resident gray whales returns to Puget Sound each spring, breaking off from the hundreds or thousands moving from California to Alaska for the summer. Why these few make a detour into Puget Sound is a mystery. If the others also knew of the tasty treats called sand shrimp or ghost shrimp, Saratoga Passage could be filled with gray whales. Perhaps we could walk to Camano Island on their backs. Cool, but environmentally speaking it would no doubt be a disaster.
We should be satisfied with the handful of resident grays that visit each spring, enjoy their company and study their habits. Once hunted to near extinction, the gray whale population has boomed, helping local economies from California to Oregon and Washington as whale watching tours increase.
Langley, at last, is getting a piece of the action.
Happy Whale Day.