EDITORIAL: It's whale time on Whidbey

The spring arrival of gray whales to Whidbey Island is an event that’s never gotten its due, but that’s about to change this year.

The island’s network of volunteer whale watchers spotted the first gray whale of 2004 earlier this month — a pair seen escorting the Clinton--Mukilteo ferry.

While gray whales aren’t as exotic or colorful as orca whales, they’re an endearing species that are fascinating to watch and even listen to. They can be heard snorting and huffing from hundreds of feet away, and their water spouts are a memorable sight.

It’s amazing, actually, that in the 21st century islanders can still enjoy gray whales as they stop into Puget Sound on their annual migration between California and Alaska. At one time they were endangered, but federal protection has brought them back to a healthy population. They love our ghost shrimp, particularly, and the dents they make in the sand can sometimes be seen at extreme low tide.

It’s too bad, however, that so few island residents actually get to see the whales. We need an even better way to spread the word. Phone calls should be made to schools, which can dispatch a busload of students when the whales are in Saratoga Passage. No child should graduate from the island’s high schools without having seen a gray whale in the wild.

This year the gray whale is getting some long-deserved attention on Saturday, April 17, when Orca Network hosts the first of what hopefully will become an annual event in Langley. The whales deserve a little fanfare when they arrive, which is what Welcome Whales Day will provide. The least the whales can do is show up that day to signal their appreciation.

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