In which we leave "dry" land for the day, and there are also some Pirates

We left port in Anacortes on Saturday, searching for these:

Killer Whale (Orcinus orca)

and hoping for glimpses of these:

Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

Instead we saw these:

Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

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.

Here's how the day went:

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:

We watched as a mature bald eagle dove down to the water and grabbed a fish. Then apparently the world's dumbest cormorant grabbed the fish away from the the eagle dropped the fish and grabbed the cormorant instead!

This picture (below) is blurry because Jim was shooting over my shoulder and got a lovely shot of my purple hat in addition to a wonderful picture of the eagle throwing cormorant feathers everywhere as he dined.
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:
Minke whale breath STINKS!
Captain Carl laughed and said that some days when the whales are difficult to find, some of the crew will stop looking and start sniffing in order to locate them.
Yep. I could see how that might work.
On the way back to the docks, we had another brief minke whale sighting (no photos, sorry). While we were treading water north of Smith Island with everyone peering eagerly over the sides, we spotted three of these:
Tufted puffins! They look more like stuffed animals than real birds, except when they turn their butts up and then dive down deeeeeep.

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.)

Jim and I stood up there for a photo. We must have been going through Guemes Channel when the picture was taken, rather than while we were travelling at speed, because we aren't all bundled up in the photo. The wind from the moving boat is cold!
I liked the sign on the pilot house window:

Back at Haiku Farm, the non-seaworthy family members were happy to see we'd gotten home in time to feed dinner and watch the sunset.
And now for some completely unrelated nautical silliness:

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.
"Um, yeah!" said my friend at headquarters. "I have just the librarian for the job."
WARNING: This video is completely silly.


  1. What a cool whale watching trip! And that video was the cutest goofiest thing I've seen in a long time. Pirate Booty by Deb Loon, indeed!

  2. Awww! If we only lived closer! Or weren't moving farther away soon...

    My son watched your video and loved it! He loves pirates and reading and reading about pirates! Our motto here at home is "books are our friends". My elementary school librarian told me that when I was in kindergarten and I've always taken it to heart.

    Whale watching looks like so much fun! Never did it when I lived in WA or AK. Maybe some day...

  3. Hi,
    I run the Facebook for Marion County Public Library FL. I also really love pirates. That being said, it should be no surprise that I have the intention of celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day in every way possible. I would really love to use your pirate librarian image on our Facebook. Would that be acceptable? PS I don't enjoy poetry, but if it's necessary, I could send you this request in pirate language?
    Thanks again!!


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