Quileute welcome return of whales in ceremony
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Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News
Quileute tribal dancers perform during the welcoming of the whales ceremony Wednesday at LaPush. The event took place near the mouth of the Quillayute River. James Island is in the background.
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Willy Hatch, left, and Bryce King of LaPush prepare to deliver salmon to the ocean at the mouth of the Quillayute River as an offering to the whales. Photo by Lonnie Archibald/for Peninsula Daily News.

By Paige Dickerson
Peninsula Daily News

TO SEE GRAY WHALES as they migrate up the Pacific Coast, one can stand on a beach or take a whale-watching tour.

The Quileute Oceanside Resort and Pacific Coast Charters offer whale-watching tours through May — which is traditionally the end of the migration, said Nathan LaPlante, resort manager.

The tours are $70 per person and are at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., he said.

A special package of $250 includes two tickets and an overnight stay at the resort, LaPlante said.

Although the tour focuses on spotting gray whales, occasionally orcas are seen as well, he added.

First Beach and Second Beach in LaPush and the beaches at Neah Bay are among the best spots to see the grays during the migration.

An easy way to spot whales from the beach is to scan the water looking for spouts.

A whale's exhalation creates steam that looks like a spout of water in the distance.

Whales tend to be most active near the beaches during the morning, according to the Quileute Oceanside Resort.

For more information or to book a reservation on a whale-watching boat, phone 360-374-5267.

Peninsula Daily News
LAPUSH — When the Quileute tribe sang and danced a welcome to whales at a special ceremony this week, a pod of orcas showed up — almost as if on cue.

The Wednesday ceremony, scheduled to mark the spring migration of gray whales, also celebrated all whales, an important element in Quileute culture.

The celebration honored the annual mid-April return of gray whales as they migrate from their winter birthing grounds in Baja California, Mexico, to summer habitat in Alaska's Bering Sea, passing by LaPush.

Traditional stories of whales were told by Chris Morganroth III, and dances and songs in honor of whales were performed at the morning ceremony.

“We very humbly honor our kin, the whale,” Chairwoman Bonita Cleveland said.

“The whale ceremony was dedicated to Leon Strom and the late Sonny Woodruff,” she added.

“It was their dream and vision that this tradition be carried on, and it was a great success.”

The traditional ceremony, once practiced annually, had not been practiced for about 70 years. It was revived four years ago at the prodding of many tribal leaders, including Woodruff and Strom, the tribe said.

When Strom jump-started the ceremony four years ago, he spoke of it as a way to pass down the stories and traditions of the tribe to the next generation.

Woodruff died Sept. 26, 2009. He was instrumental in reviving not only the Whale Welcoming Ceremony, but also the annual Tribal Canoe Journeys and other tribal traditions.

Surprise guests

Wednesday was the second time in three years that a pod of orcas (killer whales) made an appearance at the ceremony.

Two years ago, the ceremony also was attended by orcas, the tribe said.

“They have offered us their wealth in giving us spirituality, being part of our ceremonies and giving of themselves to nurture our body,” a Tribal Council resolution said. “We now proclaim this day and its events a day of honoring our kin the whale.

“We will now begin the day with events that uplifts our spiritual relationship with the grays, orcas and other whales as they return, live and swim to bless our waters and enhance us with good fortune throughout the year.”

Paying tribute

The resolution commemorates the day to “all Quileute people and coastal tribes as we pay tribute to all the past families who have been part of the ‘Whale Culture.'”

Gray whales can weigh up to 40 tons and grow as long as 45 feet.

Mother whales with calves often can be seen rolling just beyond the surf, while the males don't get as close to the shore.

Mother whales usually begin to show up in early to mid-April. Other whales may be seen a little earlier.

Gray whales feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, taking in mouthfuls of sediment and sieving through it for their prey.

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Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at paige.dickerson@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 21. 2011 11:01PM
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