Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)
Instead we saw these:
In fact, we not only saw them, we smelled them...and learned why one of the common nicknames of the Minke is "stinky Minke". Ewwwww.
Captain Carl of the Island Explorer 3 greeted us at the dock on the first bright sunny day we've had in weeks.
IE3 is moored in Everett during the fall/winter/early spring where she is closer to the grey whales feeding grounds. In mid-spring, she moves to Anacortes for the summer, in hopes of being able to see more minke whales.
The local orca pods (we have three "local" pods, known as J pod, K pod, and L pod) travel throughout the Puget Sound, so there's no way to pinpointing a place where they hang out--they hang out everywhere, and you just have to be in the right place at the right time to find them! When Jim and I went whale-watching a few years ago with his family, we were lucky enough to see a Superpod, which is the killer whale equivalent of a "barn dance"! All three resident pods gathered together to show off their outfits and their dance moves, and they entertained us (and each other) for more than an hour.
However, the tour company very correctly points out that the only way to be sure of seeing orcas is to visit Sea World. (Their whales are penned up, and can't leave the tanks.)
On this trip, we had a wildlife viewing before the crew even cast off lines from the dock:
As we pulled away from the dock, we could see the local Marine Spill Response boats, clean and ready for action. The larger boats in the fleet appear to be reconfigured fishing boats, but the smaller skiffs look like they were designed especially for the work of corralling uncooperative petroleum. Some equipment and experts are on their way to the Gulf of Mexico right now, but the company keeps running drills and practice sessions to ensure that the responders here in the Swamp are still prepared for emergencies at this end of the world.
Passing the breakwater, Jim took this great picture of a seagull working on his suntan.
That wood probably feels really warm and cozy in the sunshine.
On the Anacortes side of Guemes Channel, we saw the Trident Seafood cannery. If you've ever had a fish sandwich from Burger King or Wendy's, it probably came from this plant.
This area used to be crammed with canneries, but most are abandoned or used for other purposes now.
One of the Washington State Ferries travels between Anacortes and the San Juan Islands. The WSF is the 2nd largest ferry system in the world. (The largest ferry system is British Columbia Ferry Services, just over the Canadian border to the north)
As we head into the Sound, little islands surround us. It was the first sunny Saturday in a long time here in the Swamplands, so there were plenty of pleasure boats out on the water.
We were less than 30 minutes out of port when we spotted another marine mammal:
Harbor seals aren't shy at all, but this one was headed for a nap on the warm rocks at the south end of Colville Island.
Seals are very cute up close, but from a distance I think the hauled-out seals on the rocks look like a clump of banana slugs!
We saw harbor porpoises all day, but they don't hold still very well for photos. Ah, well.
We made our way out to Hein Bank, where the water is quite shallow and there was a lot of bird activity on the surface of the water.
Birds on top of the water can indicate the formation of a "bait ball", which is a large ball-shaped school of fish beneath the water. Fish ball up when they are chased--by whales!
Finally, we saw one!
If you have trouble spotting the fin in the water, don't feel bad. They are hard to see, and even harder to catch on film! This minke whale surfaced several times, and rolled around a bit so almost everyone got a chance to see his lovely dorsel fin.
The captain wanted to make sure we got the full sensory experience of minke whales, so he came out of the pilot house and drove the boat from one of the three stations on deck.
Finally, we started hearing people in the stern of the boat groaning. Then the groans got closer and then all of us in the bow of the boat could smell it too:
Coming back into the harbor.
Willy had a great time on the whale watching cruise with his friend Don, courtesy of tickets purchased by his Grandpa Richard. (Richard doesn't pose for photos on the bow of the boat, because he thinks he's a grumpy old bear. We will all pretend to believe him, right? Right.)
The theme for the library's summer reading program this year is "Make a Splash at the library". In January, the animator who produces our promo videos called library headquarters and asked if there were any librarians on staff who could dress up as a pirate.