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Humpback shows up in Hood Canal, then disappears

January 31st, 2012 by cdunagan

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.
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A humpback whale made a rare appearance in Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay at the end of last week, then mysteriously disappeared from sight.

A humpback whale was sighted Friday in Dabob Bay by researchers Connie and JD Gallant.
Photo by Connie Gallant

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.

The humpback whale spotted in Dabob Bay disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived.
Photo by Connie Gallant

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12 Responses to “Humpback shows up in Hood Canal, then disappears”

  1. ArcticLight Says:

    What a beautiful animal!

  2. cdunagan Says:

    The humpback may not have disappeared after all. I received an e-mail from Barbara Clark who lives near the Great Bend of Hood Canal on the Kitsap Peninsula. She reports on a possible sighting Monday.

    “Apparently, my husband, Jim, saw the humpback whale on Monday morning about 10 or 10:30. It (or them) appeared twice about a fourth of the way out in the canal just north of The Great Bend (a little south of Hoodsport).

    “It seemed to be moving toward the Hoodsport side. Jim wasn’t sure what he was seeing … hoped it was a killer whale but saw no white on it.. The first time it spouted (more like “a spray”) and the tail came up; the second time, a few minutes later, he saw the spray and then the back, which seemed to be quite dark in color. He said the tail looked just like the photo in The Sun. The second time it had moved closer to the opposite shore.

    “We looked all morning but didn’t see it again. The wind was blowing and the water was very rough, with white caps, so it was hard to focus on anything.”

    Based on that report, the humpback whale could be anywhere in Hood Canal … or gone. With the weather improving, maybe we’ll get more sightings.

  3. Brad Says:

    We live across from Hoodsport on the east shore. Haven’t seen this humpback whale.
    I have seen Orcas in the past and an old timer told me about Blackfish (Orcas) in the old days (probably the 30s). He also told me about a Basking Shark that was caught in the Canal and on display in a netted enclosure at the Old Aquarium (next to the old lighthouse motel) in Hoodsport.
    I have never seen Dalls porpoises this far down.
    I wonder if the Hood Canal floating bridge has reduced the number of whales that venture down here?

  4. George Says:

    Was fishing today and saw the whale right off Oak Head. Incredible sight.

  5. Melanie Says:

    we saw them Sat 2/4/12 am east of Alderbrook and west of Twana St Park it appeared that there may have been a pod of 7or 8 as we could see shadows in the water from above Isaw one spout and then it breeched

  6. Nina Grandy Says:

    I was out on my water bike at 4:15 PM today,Monday, Feb. 6th, and heard a loud spouting sound. I saw what very well might have been the humpback whale(s) previously seen. The whale appeared to be near the middle of the canal, approximately 1-1/2 miles from the southern boundary of the Bangor base; it was traveling north, and I spotted it once again in front of King’s point. The tail appeared looked similar to the one published in the Sun.

  7. cdunagan Says:

    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.

  8. Connie Gallant Says:

    News of the humpback whale being spotted still in Hood Canal is troublesome, for that could mean it is lost and attempting to find its way out. It really should be with its pod heading to calving grounds. Perhaps a “rescue/escort out of Hood Canal effort” could be mounted with the help of the US Navy, Coast Guard, and other groups?

    If anyone spots it again and can take a photo, I suggest sending it to Chris Dunagan, with the time/date and location.

  9. Rob Says:

    The humpback is definitely still around. I was with a group of scuba divers at Sund Rock (just north of Hoodsport) on Sunday 2/19 and we spotted it during our surface interval around 11-11:30am. It was very close to shore and surfaced twice as it headed south. We got a good look at its back and tail flukes as it appeared to dive just off the point. I’m 95% sure it was a young humpback; I’d guess maybe 20 ft or so. It was close enough to shore that I think we would have had a good chance of seeing it if we had done our first dive along the south wall an hour later than we did.

  10. cdunagan Says:

    Thanks, Rob. If you or anyone has photographs of the whale, I would like to post them and pass them along to researchers, who may be able to identify the animal.

    Someone told me this morning that he saw a good photograph of the humpback. The person who took the picture didn’t want to share it with anyone, because he didn’t want a bunch of people coming to Hood Canal.

    That’s not likely to be a problem, because the whale has not stayed in one place long enough for people to find it easily. But I do understand the sentiment.

  11. Rob Says:

    I wish I would have had the chance! The whale only surfaced twice briefly and I didn’t have my camera in-hand. I don’t recall seeing anyone else with a camera out either.

    Too bad because it really was cool witnessing such a rare visitor!

  12. Daniel Says:

    I was in Lilliwaup and saw what appeared to be one or two humpbacks around 10:00 Sunday morning 2/19 as well. Unfortunately, they were too far away to get a good picture and were not in a playful mood so we only so we only saw their backs. Thought they were grey whales at first because of the size and have never heard of humpbacks in the Canal. Was an amazing stroke of luck to be able to see it! If you find a good picture I would love to see it.

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