UPDATE, Feb. 18
The humpback whale in Hood Canal may still be around. I received an e-mail from Barbara Clark, who spotted the whale yesterday (Friday) about 1:50 p.m. Both she and her husband Jim saw it this time, in the very same spot that Jim noticed it on Jan. 30 — specifically, just north of the Great Bend of Hood Canal toward the eastern shore.
Susan Berta of Orca Network told me that someone else saw the whale in southern Hood Canal about the same time.
These latest sightings only reinforce the mystery of the
humpback whale that must still be swimming around Hood Canal but
not making itself very obvious.
A humpback whale made a rare appearance in Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay at the end of last week, then mysteriously disappeared from sight.
As far as I can tell, Connie and JD Gallant, who were doing research on the bay Friday afternoon, were among the very few to see the humpback, or possibly two of them.
It makes you wonder how often large whales, such as humpbacks, come into Hood Canal without anyone seeing them, or at least reporting them.
“I was so thrilled,” Connie told me this morning as she described the encounter.
JD was motoring their 40-foot research vessel, the Sea Turtle, near Broadspit in the northern part of the estuary when he spotted one or more whales surfacing. JD stopped the boat, pulled up the water-testing meter, and yelled, “Whales off the port bow!”
Connie, who was below deck inputting data into a computer, ran up and began shooting photos. JD told Connie he believed there were two whales, but Connie only saw one.
Personally, I can’t remember anyone reporting humpbacks in Hood Canal. I phoned several folks I know who live on the canal, and nobody seems to recall ever seeing humpbacks. It is quite a different situation when one talks about visits to Hood Canal by gray whales or killer whales, which I’ve reported through the years.
My most memorable experience was in 2005, when a group of six transient killer whales spent more than five months swimming up and down the shorelines of Hood Canal, feasting on seals and sea lions whenever they got a chance. Those orcas stayed so long I thought they might make the canal their permanent home.
John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research told me that he has a general recollection of a humpback showing up in Hood Canal years ago, but he could not locate any written reports of the sightings. If someone was able to snap a picture of the underside of the fluke (tail) of a humpback, John said he might be able to identify the whale from a photographic catalog of humpbacks on the West Coast.
John tells me that a January sighting of a humpback whale is unusual, because most of the population is now on the breeding grounds near the Hawaiian Islands or else off the coast of Mexico. A few humpbacks are always around, he said, but it is worrisome when any animal shows up in a place where it is not expected.
Historically, one population of humpbacks spent the winters in the inland waters of northern Washington and southern British Columbia, but they were largely wiped out by commercial whalers, he said.
The West Coast population of humpbacks has been growing at about 7.5 percent a year since the early 1990s, according to Calambokidis. The general population now stands at about 2,000 animals, compared to about 500 more than 20 years ago.
As for the recent humpback sighting, I would like to get a report from anyone who may have seen this whale (or two) in Hood Canal or from anyone who may have seen one in the past.
Connie said the whale or whales that she observed Friday appeared to be “frolicking” — that is leaping out of the water, twisting and turning. She said they seemed to be about the size or her boat, about 40 feet long. That would make it a fairly young humpback.
The encounter lasted about 15 minutes, then the whales seemed to disappear, she said.
“We hung around for about an hour,” she said, “but they didn’t surface again.”
Connie and JD, who operate Greenfleet Monitoring Expeditions, have been collecting water-quality data — including information on dissolved oxygen — from Quilcene and Dabob bays.