For the third year in a row, the gray whale known as Little Patch has preceded his pod in passing through the waters around Whidbey Island.
Orca Network Whale Sighting Network staff member Rachel Haight spotted the Puget Sound regular feeding between Sandy Point and the Langley Marina Dec. 12. If past years are an indication, most of the rest of his pod won’t arrive until mid-February or early March next year.
Little Patch’s behavior is probably due to an unusual mortality event ongoing among gray whales. Beginning in 2018, gray whales have been dying or becoming emaciated during migration due to lack of food.
That Little Patch has been arriving so early to the Whidbey Basin shows that he is skipping the southern portion of the southbound migration, according to whale sighting network coordinator Alisa Lemire Brooks.
The decision to stay up north to feed is a smart one, Lemire Brooks said; it may even be helping Little Patch survive the unusual mortality event.
“We’re all very happy that he’s made this decision,” she said.
Little Patch was spotted with another gray whale, CRC2440, feeding off Sandy Point Dec. 14. The latter, 2440, was first documented near Victoria in mid-January, then made its way to the Whidbey area and hasn’t left since. CRC2440 has been documented at least once a month in the waters around Whidbey Island all year.
It’s unusual for a whale to stay over in the area so long, Lemire Brooks said. Like Little Patch, 2440’s behavior is likely a result of the unusual mortality event.
She encouraged boaters to be “whale wise.” Grays around Whidbey feed close to marinas and aren’t as surface active as other whales like humpbacks.
“It’s always helpful to have a general awareness that we have gray whales around feeding outside marinas,” she said.