Monday, December 26, 2011

Orcas! Starboard!

Was it a pod, a pair, or only one?  All I know is that when the captain of the ferry boat I was taking between Seattle and Bremerton, said over the loudspeaker, “Orcas starboard”, I thought the ferry was going to roll onto its side.  

Whale watching in the Puget Sound, and all along the Washington and Oregon coasts for that matter, is a common activity.  Whales, usually gray whales, travel the Pacific Coast in their bi-annual migrations between Baja and Alaska providing tourists and locals alike the opportunity to “see a whale”, the largest mammal on the planet. 

Gray Whale
As a Oregon coast local, I know that actually “seeing” a whale is pretty rare even though there are numerous “Whale Watching Stations” and “Whale Watching Week Activities” (December 26-31, 2011 is the next one) throughout the year designed to give the tourist (and local whale watching guides) the thrill of “finding Waldo” in the vast reaches of the Pacific Ocean.  Usually the very fortunate whale watcher is lucky to see a whale spout—a plume of air rising from the surf.   

Intrepid whale watch guides in those dedicated whale watching centers dutifully and faithfully “count” the whales on a daily basis.  These people are sometimes more fortunate than the tourist in “seeing” a whale.  They may actually see the hump as the whale surfaces briefly to breathe, or once in a very great while, they may see the tail or wonder of wonders, they may have the thrill of seeing a whale breach.   Of course these are the sightings one might expect from the safe reaches of the shoreline.
Breaching whale!  Amazing!

There are opportunities to get closer to these giants, though.  Many companies offer whale watching cruises and tours in boats large and small.  Tours that take you where the whales might be on a given day for that up-close and personal encounter.

Or, there are always the ferries playing their way back and forth across Puget Sound.  Maybe that is really the best way not to just “see the whales”, but see the resident Orca whales of that part of the world.  An amazing sight whether you are a local or a tourist from afar!  “Orcas starboard!”

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