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Gray whales arrive early to Whidbey Island

Hikers exploring the bluff trail at Ebey’s Landing enjoyed an unexpected treat last weekend. They saw a couple of gray whales feeding about 150-feet off Perego’s Lagoon in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

Orca Network founder Howard Garrett said the organization received four to five reports the afternoon of Feb. 20 that one or possibly two gray whales were feeding in the waters near the popular hiking trail.

A group of six to 12 grays makes a yearly voyage to Whidbey Island, where they feed off the ghost shrimp and other critters buried in the sandy mud of Saratoga Passage. He said the same group of gray whales appears around Whidbey Island each year. They are fixture off the shores between Penn Cove and Possession Point. They typically arrive in Saratoga Passage between March and stay until June; however, they have made longer visits in recent years.

“It’s kind of phenomenal because it’s really early,” Garrett said of the whales’ return in 2010.

He said the area around Ebey’s Landing is an excellent place to view gray and orca whales. They often travel west from Ebey’s Landing to feed. Another popular area to view gray whales is around Langley looking toward Hat Island.

Meanwhile, there is a new addition to the orca population in the Salish Sea, which includes Puget Sound. Garrett said the Center for Whale research reported a baby orca calf was reported off the east side of Vancouver Island. He added that since the beginning of 2009, seven orca calves have been born and they’re all doing well. He theorized there may be a correlation between the positive birth rate and the number of salmon returning to rivers and hatcheries. He noted there has been an increase in the number of eligible adult orca males in Puget Sound in the last four-to-five years.

A celebration of the gray whales’ return will take place Saturday, April 24 in Langley. “Welcome the Whales Day” includes a parade down Langley’s Main Street. Garrett noted the city also has a whale bell that people can ring when the beloved marine mammals are visible.

Whidbey Island’s Orca Network relies on people’s observations to track the whales as they migrate through Puget Sound waters. If you see a whale please, report it to the Orca Network at 678-6768, or online at www.orcanetwork.org.

Community Events, April 2014

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