Friday, April 4, 2008

Blow, hump and tail

Right, sounds like a typical Friday night in college. But actually, those were the bywords we were given today as we kept an eye out for gray whales in Puget Sound. Michelle's mom Freda is in town, visiting from New Orleans, and we took her this morning for a four-hour whale-watching tour out of Everett, 45 minutes or so north of here.

When we got to the dock -- with only a minute to spare thanks to some unusually heavy traffic in Seattle -- we were greeted by a nice young woman in a dark green and black Gore-Tex jacket. Her intro was the Northwest equivalent of a SoCal restaurant server's:

"Hello, I'm Kate and I'll be your naturalist today!"

OK then, let's go!

Our tour boat, the Island Explorer 3, puttered around the shores of Whidbey, Hat and Camano islands for a couple of hours with Kate, on a loudspeaker, masking the absence of any whales by pointing out some seabirds -- her favorite is the double-crested cormorant -- and a few very cool California Sea Lions, including one that we saw chomping into a salmon he had just caught. Very Mutual of Omaha-y.

This sightseeing company, Island Adventures, guarantees that you'll see a whale on the tour, though, and Captain Mike seemed none to eager to give in without a hit. Finally he said he had received word that some grays were 10-15 minutes from our location, and he opened the throttle.

When we got there, sure enough, a group of three of these massive animals were surfacing frequently -- first a plume of vapor and water, followed by a good long view of its humped, barnacled back as it rolled through the water and then, once or twice, a glimpse of its tail, or fluke. We were close enough to hear them exhale and to smell their rank breath. Pretty spectacular, really.

We had to laugh at Kate, though, who was really into her job and couldn't contain her enthusiasm for the whales. At one point she was describing how remarkably aware they are of their own enormous bodies -- 45 feet long, as much as 3,000 pounds -- "and remember," she said, "they're living in a three-dimensional world while ours is only two-dimensional."

My stomach begs to differ; it's getting more 3-D every day.

Michelle took some great pictures of the whales, and I'm sure she'll post some soon. I just wanted to give a quick report with a couple of snapshots.

Chilly out there, though not as cold as either of the baseball games I attended this week. It was a very fun day, and as we said we were glad we had Freda here as a "tourist" to entertain. We'd never have taken the trip today on our own.


freda said...

thanks M&M, it was great and I'm glad you enjoyed it too.

Anonymous said...

Guys - This is too kewl! I always wanted to go whale watching (thought I'd have to go up to Alaska ... wrong!) now I can say I have (through you).

I'm taking Mark's advice and slowin' down - well maybe just a little - with a trip to the Grand Canyon in late April (something else I always wanted to do).

I'll share my pix with you:)

Love these posts!

Cousin Rick

mich said...

Rick -- I'm so glad to hear you're slowing down, even a little. I hope it sticks!

Mark, this is one of the best all-time heds and leads on your blog.

Mark said...

Thanks Rick, it's great to hear from you.

We'll be passing by the Grand Canyon at about the same time you'll be there -- late April or early May -- but I don't think we're stopping on this leg of the trip. Maybe later.

Hope to catch up with you and the rest of the Mahers in New Jersey though.

And please do send pics!

Jim Thomsen said...

Isn't there a new state law mandating that whale-watching boats stay 300 yards away from whales?

And what's the deal with Hat Island? Is it a private island or something?

Mark said...

Man, I'm an idiot. Gray whales weigh 36 tons, according to Wikipedia. I was thinking of their tongues, which Naturalist Kate informed us weigh 1,000 to 3,000 pounds.


Jim, welcome to our little under-reported blog and thanks for the comments. Yes, you're right, Hat Island is a private island, accessible by private ferry financed by the residents. "Hat" is an informal name, we were told. The island has another name, Gedney, which I gather isn't used much. More info about the Hat here.

You're also right about a restriction on whale-watching boats, but we were told the limit is 100 yards, which Captain Mike maintained at all times.