Olympic Peninsula Whale Tales & Whale Tails
A local whale enthusiast recently reawakened our fascination with whales by explaining just how amazing the OP is for whale watching. It’s truly the best spot in the northwest to watch a variety of whales. Seeing these wondrous and mysterious creatures from shore or boat is a memorable, bucket-worthy experience with bragging rights!
Gray Whale off Cape Flattery
Gray whales are our day-by-day whale on the shores along the Strait and outer coast. They hug the coastline all the way from Mexico on their way north. A genetically distinct band will peel off from the main route heading to Alaska and turn right into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Here, they feed and forage in the near shore kelp beds and along the sandy bottom during the summer season, or if they are not calving, perhaps all year.
Humpback whales spend the winter months near Hawaii (who doesn’t like that idea?) where they have their young and then head for the Pacific Northwest and northern waters. Again, a distinct group stays near the outer coast of the Olympic Peninsula and in the Strait of Juan de Fuca all summer and into the fall. We don’t see Humpbacks as often from shore because they need deeper water where small fish and krill are found.
A breaching orca. Photo courtesy of NOAA Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
And then there are the Orcas, of which we have a lot of information. There are three resident pods in Puget Sound. The J, K and L pods are individually named and have generated lots of data, and several lines of plush toys adored by children of all ages. These resident orcas are social and use echo location and sound to locate their favorite food – salmon! One of our favorite foods, too! In addition, transient orcas come through the region in smaller family groups. These silent hunters seek seals for their meals
The minke whales are a very fast, smaller whale that not much is known about – yet. We do know that they breathe three to five times at short intervals before they “deep dive” for two to 20 minutes. The deep dives are preceded by a pronounced arching of the whales’ backs. Maximum swimming speed is estimated at about 24 miles per hour.
Whale Trail Kiosk at Freshwater Bay
The Olympic Peninsula is a key player in The Whale Trail, (whaletrail.org) with 15 sites designated as most likely to view whales from shore. NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (olympiccoast.noaa.gov) includes 2400 square nautical miles and 135 miles of wilderness coastline off the Pacific Coast. Here, the whales can be seen migrating freely in protected waters. The Makahs are an ancient whaling society, as are most coastal tribes. The Makah Cultural and Resource Center in Neah Bay (makah.com) has excellent interpretations of the importance of the whale to their culture. The Quileute People host an annual Welcoming the Whales Ceremony. The exact date fluctuates so plan on visiting in late March to early April for this event. It was held on April 11 in 2014. (quileutenation.org)
READY TO GO?
- Take a whale watching charter into the San Juan Islands from Port Townsend to see the resident orcas all summer, with trips to see gray whales and the visiting orcas, too. (pugetsoundexpress.com).
- In the spring, the migration is fun to watch off the coast, particularly at LaPush where the grays tarry and feed with their young.
- Cape Flattery is a hot spot to watch the grays, and other sea mammals.
- In August 2014, Port Angeles will welcome an established whale watching company offering daily tours to see humpback whales in the Strait. Visit pawhalewatch.com to find out more about Port Angeles Whale Watching.
- It is not unusual to see whales and sea mammals from the Coho Ferry between Port Angeles and Victoria, Canada. (cohoferry.com)
Kinetic Skulpture Race in Port Townsend
Whale vertebrae sculpture, Port Angeles
Oh, and you can look for representation of whales on land or made by hand, too. The OP has many cultural assets in public art celebrating our affection for whales!
Embrace, absorb and share the Olympic Peninsula Whale experience!