April 14th, 2012 – Whidbey Island, Washington
I went on a Gray Whale watching cruise to Whidbey Island to see the whales on part of their annual migration from Baja, Mexico up the coast to Alaska. There is one group of around 12 whales though that return to this area each year and stay for the season, even though most go up to Alaska, these ones have learnt they can get the same food here without having to go so far.
The Gray Whale feeds on various bottom dwelling crustaceans and krill. It filters out the sea water and sediment through the baleen in its mouth (like bristles, baleen is made out of Keratin, the same substance as found in human fingernails and hair). The Gray Whale can be up to 15 metres or 50 feet long and weigh up to 35 tonnes. They do not have a dorsal fin, so there is not much of the whale visible above the water line when they surface for air.
The cruise took us along the coast North from Seattle, through the Possession Sound past Everett and into the Saratoga Passage before arriving in the nice little seaside town of Coupeville on the central part of Whidbey Island for lunch and sightseeing before returning to Seattle late in the afternoon.
On the way up to Coupeville we came across the first whale “Patch” in the Possession Sound just off Everett (southern part of Whidbey Island). This whale is quite famous as 2 years ago he fended off the attack of multiple transient Killer Whales with only minor injuries. He remains a very healthy and lucky whale today!
Then cruising through the Saratoga Passage we came across 3 more whales. 2 were swimming side by side for a while. The whales were mostly only just visible on the surface, never really sticking their head out of the water to take a look at us, but occasionally they would “fluke” their tail out of the water before diving deep to feed.
A 2 hour stopover in Coupeville was a great break in this nice little seaside town. Apart from a quick look around I made the most of the delicious food on offer including a bowl of chilli with cornbread and some triple berry pie. Yum!
On the way back in the afternoon we came across Gray Whale “No. 22” in Possession Sound who was surfacing from the water very close to the boat! This was quite exciting as he gave everyone a bit of a fright coming to the surface and exhaling with a big burst of water spray! A fantastic experience but I have to tell you whale breath does not smell too good (they do feed on the bottom of the sea)!
So all up I saw 5 Gray Whales which is apparently a very good day of sightings at they normally see only 2-3 on a typical cruise. With each sighting we never knew where they going to pop up, the Naturalist on board was explaining the typical behaviour of the whales, how long they stayed on the surface, how long they stayed under water, the typical feeding pattern they follow and so forth, but these whales were not following normally patterns of staying under water to feed and were very random!
That makes up 4 types of whales I have now seen in the wild with the others being:
1. Southern Right Whales off the coast of Hermanus, South Africa in 2004;
2. Humpback Whales off the coast of Sydney, Australia in 2007;
3. Killer Whales (Orca) off the San Juan Islands, Washington in 2011.
One day I hope to see in the wild Beluga Whales, Blue Whales and the Whale Shark.