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Gray whales cruise into Saratoga Passage

A gray whale pops out of the water March 7 near Langley.  - Photo courtesy of Veronica von Allworden
A gray whale pops out of the water March 7 near Langley.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Veronica von Allworden

Spring time means warmer weather, festivals and the annual return of gray whales to Saratoga Passage between Whidbey and Camano islands.

The gray whales are making their annual trek from California to Alaska. Each year, several stop in the passage to feed on sand shrimp.

Susan Berta with the Greenbank-based Orca Network said five gray whales have been confirmed in the waters around Whidbey Island. Three gray whales are hanging around East Point swimming toward Camano Head, and two others are frequenting the Langley area.

Berta said the first reports of gray whales started trickling in at the end of January and the first confirmed report happened in mid-February, which is the earliest confirmed sighting of gray whales in the years she’s been tracking them.

“It will be interesting to see if they start extending their stay,” Berta said, adding that the several of them stayed until mid-June last year.

Typically the gray whales migrate from California and can be seen in Saratoga Passage from March through May. They feed on sand shrimp, also known as ghost shrimp, found in the sandy and muddy shores of Saratoga Passage, according to information provided by Orca Network. The whales often feed close to shore. The pectoral fins and fluke tips can often be seen above the water’s surface when they are feeding.

The top of high bluffs provide an ideal vantage point of whales as they feed in the shallow intertidal areas. Whale spouts can be seen as the giant mammals travel or feed in deeper waters and their flukes are exposed whenever they take a deep dive, according to the Orca Network. The sound of them exhaling can be heard in Langley on a quiet morning.

The Mystic Sea is again offering gray whale tours from the Coupeville Wharf beginning Friday, March 27, which is the weekend of the Whidbey Island Marathon.

Mystic Sea Owner Monte Hughes is starting a little later this year than in previous years. He is taking extra time to work on the Mystic Sea. The boat recently provided ferry service on the Keystone route. He said the Mystic Sea ferried a little less than 13,000 people across Admiralty Inlet while the regular boat was undergoing maintenance.

Because he’s “guaranteeing” passengers will view gray whales on each tour this year, he also wants to wait until more arrive.

“I’d imagine in a week or two they’d be here in full force,” Hughes said. He will offer tours Thursday through Sunday leaving the Coupeville Wharf at 11 a.m. For more information or to make a reservation, contact 1-800-308-9837.

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