It is almost obligatory, but it is so cool to celebrate the fact that the whales are back! Actually, Whidbey is rarely without whales, which is also nice to know; but spring is the time when the migrating gray whales stop by to dine during their annual trip from Mexico to Alaska. Whidbey Island is their version of a roadside diner. It is a good time to watch the water, and an even better time to know where to look.
Knowing where to find where to look is easy. When in doubt, visit Orca Network‘s various social media portals, or go more direct and visit their web site, or go even more direct and get on their notifications list.
Subscribing to Orca Network is revealing. Without it, a person could watch for whales and never see one, except by chance. Even with the updates it is possible to miss them because whales move, but the odds of seeing something are much higher. ‘Something’ is appropriate because there’s more down there than most folks realize.
Take your pick of the two most common favorites: gray whales or orcas. Orcas are easier to spot because their tall dorsal fins are obvious from miles away (especially if you use binoculars.) Grey whales, however, come close enough to shore to feed that people can walk through their feeding pits after the whales and the tides have receded.
But scroll through Orca Net’s site and realize there are whales you may have never heard of: Minke, Humpback, and Bigg’s. Scroll through the archives and catch references to other species that wander through, maybe to feed, maybe out of curiosity. The Network also tracks seals, sea lions, and elephant seals. Basically, if it is a marine mammal in Whidbey’s waters, they’ll track it.
Their efforts are impressive when you consider that researchers use their free service, and their free service was begun for fun. Think back to before the internet when a bunch of islanders would call each other when they spotted a whale. Nothing formal or official, just for fun. Then add email and web sites and social media, and it becomes a resource that marine biologists can access from anywhere in the world. An added bonus are the hydrophones so people can listen to them, too.
Watch a TV (or whatever you’re streaming on) show and it gets more interesting when you get to know the characters. Many of them are named. Photos help identify them, which makes it easier to track them. This gets personal as babies are celebrated. Deaths are honored. As for drama, the varieties of whales add it by their very nature. Some whales leave other whales alone, but Orcas are also called Killer Whales. The various local groups, J, K, L pods, tend to stick to simple diets. One eats salmon. Another eats seals. The transients, the Killer Whales that are more likely to roam, may be the ones that will attack gray whales and others. It’s natural.
Usually the sight of any kind of whale is dramatic enough. Orcas with their big fins far off, grays near the shore, but barely breaking the surface as they cruise from feeding field to feeding field – hugging the shallows where the Orcas are harder times finding them. One treat is to be riding a ferry and finding your commute changed as it slows to let the whales swim by. There are strict rules about distancing, even in the water. Whale watching, no extra charge.
The biggest event on land is in the spring, the Welcome the Whales parade (April 23 for 2022.) There’s a parade and basically a party. Being in spring, don’t be surprised if the weather is a bit wet. Being wet doesn’t dissuade the whales, though. That’s their element. It can feel scripted, but it does happen that the whales will come by during the seaside ceremony. File that under ‘Things You Can’t Make Up’, and ‘Your Friends May Never Believe It.’ Can’t make it that day? No worries. The Whale Center in Langley can be easier to find and visit. And if you’re really lucky, maybe you can see a whale and Ring The Bell. (They’ll explain that part.)