Spring brings many wonderful changes to Whidbey Island including joyful, pink apple blossoms, but our biggest and most impressive spring event is the arrival of the gray whales, which are passing through the Puget Sound and the Salish Sea on their annual migration from Baja to the Bering Sea.
Gray whales are baleen whales that migrate between feeding and breeding grounds each year, a challenging 14,000 mile journey. The waters around Whidbey Island are popular with grays due to the robust shrimp population and we are fortunate to be able to host their brief visit as they store up fat for the rest of their journey northward.
Grays reach nearly 50 feet in length and live between 55 and 70 years. The gray whale has a dark, slate-gray color and is covered by characteristic gray-white patterns, which are scars left by parasites. They have two blowholes on top of their head, which can create a distinctive V-shaped blow.
We also have local celebrity whales and larger nature events happening in the Puget Sound.
An annual visiting pod of gray whales affectionately termed “Sounder whales”, with an individual fondly named Little Patch, may have been spared from the Unusual Mortality Event of 2019, that took the lives of more than 200 gray whales last year. Little Patch has returned in 2020 with at least three other Sounders and all were recently seen near Whidbey Island. It is suspected that this group may have a feeding strategy that helps them survive tough migration conditions. Read more in this article from The Seattle Times.
In 2019, there was an unusual event for our area with transient orcas attacking a gray whale. You can read more here in this Whidbey News-Times article.
We all want to support the health of our magestic whale friends and a great way to get more information on the whales is to visit our Langley Whale Center. Orca Network’s Langley Whale Center celebrates and shares information about the lives of gray whales, orcas and other marine mammals of the Salish Sea.
It’s easy to pop in during your visit to Langley and get up to date information on the current whale population. You’ll find interesting exhibits and an opportunity to touch bones and pelts of local sea animals. Children are welcome; they have a children’s area and a nature themed gift shop. I have always found the docents to be engaged and eager to answer my questions and I always leave with a better understanding of our complex underwater world that surrounds Whidbey Island.
It’s also fun to watch Orca Network Facebook Page to see photos and up to date sighting information.
If you see a whale you can call the hotline: (866) ORCANET (672-2638) or, if you are in Langley, you get the fun of ringing the famed Langley Whale Bell.
There is so much to learn about whales, and here are a few activities you can do during your visit to get closer to them:
- Puget Sound Express whale watching tours depart from Langley in the spring.
- Deception Pass Tours offer spring whale watching out of Oak Harbor.
- Welcome the Whales Parade and Whale Watching in Langley: April 18-19, 2020
- Langley Whale Center to visit with educated docents and learn about our local whale pods.
- Whidbey Island Kayaking opens up again when the weather gets warmer (March-ish) and, while you have no guarantees, it is possible to see a whale during your paddle.
- You’ll be surprised what you can see from your 20 minute ferry ride. Keep your eyes open!
- Visit any seaside park, go for a walk or set up a picnic and keep an eye out. Use this Map from the Orca Network to help you find park locations. For gray whales in the spring, it is recommended to stay on the east side of the island such as Langley (part of the Whale Trail) and Possession State park, complete with picnic tables.
Wishing you luck on encountering this wonderful creature!