July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:18 PM
"Entertaining the whales is engagingMy brother and his wife visited us from Wyoming last week, so Joan and I took them on a search for whales.There are no whales in the Puget Sound waterways right now, of course theyre off chasing the five or six salmon who managed to escape the commercial fishing nets, the tribal fisheries and the hungry sports fishery earlier in the year. Still, looking for them is a good excuse to tour some of the key things that make the Northwest what it is.Things like: A shortage of salmon.Our trek started on Bellingham Bay, on a stiff gray Sunday morning marked by scudding clouds and a brisk wind.Welcome to the Northwest: Its cold here.A trip through the San Juan Islands brings you repetitive views of rocky outcrops and calm waters, dotted with rich peoples houses and rich peoples yachts.Quirky human stories make the flora and fauna interesting. Take Towhead Island, for example. Its a little boulder of a rock that juts up near Orcas Island, just big enough to host a little knot of trees on its crest. A guy from Bellevue bought it a few years back. He apparently didnt have enough cash to buy a real island, so he settled for the middle-class discount version.Anyway, he cheerfully built a dock on little Towheads side, and plopped a tiny cabin into the middle of its trees just in time to watch an eagle build a nest in the midst of his newfound digs. Fish & Wildlife caught wind of the nest, and that was the end of our heros plan to live on Towhead Island.Welcome to the Northwest, where nature has a sense of humor.Through the course of a week, our whale search took us through Saratoga Passage, down to Seattle, and all the way to Victoria, B.C.Plenty of diverse cultures. Plenty of stunning vistas. Plenty of fresh sea mist, but still no leviathans of the deep.That is, until the last day of my brothers visit, and his next-to-last stint on the water.About two miles into the Strait of Juan de Fuca aboard the Black Ball ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles, I caught sight of a dark shape rising from the swells off the starboard bow. A plume of water 20 feet high spouted from its blowhole.No one else seemed to notice. That was fine by me nature watching is best when its at least semi-private. But I had my tour-guide job to attend to, so I nudged my wife and asked her to tell my brother that we had spotted a whale.She spun around and bellowed into the crowded passenger deck: Whale!Three-hundred people swarmed to the glassed-in railing, nearly swamping the ship. The whales, Im sure, couldnt have been more entertained.David Fisher is editor of the News-Times."