Quileute to welcome returning gray whales with morning ceremony today at First Beach

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

NOTE: “Today” and “tonight” refer to Friday, April 11.



LAPUSH — The gray whales are back.

The spring migration of gray whales from their breeding and birthing waters in Baja California, Mexico, to rich feeding grounds in Alaska's Bering Sea brings them along the North Olympic Peninsula's Pacific coast, with some into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Whales can be spotted on shores throughout the region, according to The Whale Trail, a nonprofit group that tracks a network of viewing sites.

The group's website at www.thewhaletrail.org lists sites on the North Olympic Peninsula where whales may be spotted. They are:

■ The Cape Flattery viewpoint near Neah Bay.

■ Cape Alava, Shi Shi Beach, Kalaloch and South Beach in Olympic National Park.

■ First Beach in LaPush.

■ Rialto Beach in Mora, near LaPush.

■ Destruction Island.

■ Snow Creek, Shipwreck Point, Sekui Overlook, Salt Creek Recreation Area and Freshwater Bay County Park on state Highway 112.

■ Port Angeles Harbor.

■ Off the coast of Port Townsend.

But whales can be spotted off just about any beach or bluff along U.S. Highway 101 south of Forks, Highway 112 and Puget Sound.

Ceremony today

They also may grace today's Quileute whale-welcoming ceremony.

The ceremony, which will be at 10 a.m. at First Beach in LaPush, is in honor of the 20,000 to 30,000 gray whales that pass by the Quileute tribal home from early April through much of May.

Gray whales and orcas have been seen off LaPush beaches during past ceremonies.

At today's seventh annual Welcoming the Whales ceremony, Quileute Tribal School students will perform traditional dances in honor of the beasts.

The Quileute once were whale hunters but no longer are.

On whale hunts, they used 36-foot-long canoes with six paddlers each, including a harpooner.

Seal-skin balloons were tied to long cedar rope to keep the whales from diving underwater after they were harpooned.

Whale-watching tours

Gray whales also can be seen on the other side of the Peninsula.

Puget Sound Express in Port Townsend is offering gray whale-watching tours starting at 10 a.m. daily through April 30.

Tours are “guaranteed,” meaning that any person who doesn't see a whale will be offered a voucher good for another tour, according to www.pugetsoundexpress.com.

The company offers orca-watching tours beginning in May. For more information, visit the website or phone 360-385-5288.

Gray whales can grow longer than 50 feet and weigh as much as 36 tons, according to The Whale Trail.

A newborn calf can weigh 1,100 to 1,500 pounds and is about 15 feet long.

Tricky to spot

Despite their massive size, gray whales can be tricky to spot in the ocean, especially when the water is rough, so binoculars are recommended.

The easiest way to locate a gray whale is to watch for the waterspout, which is 10 to 12 feet high for an adult and distinctly heart- or V-shaped.

Gray whales reach maturity at 8 years old and can grow until age 40. The oldest confirmed gray whale was 77 years old.

Humpback whale waterspouts are lower and rounded, while blue whales, occasionally spotted off the coast during the gray whales' spring migration, blow a taller and narrower spout.

The Eastern North Pacific population of gray whales was listed as an endangered species in 1970.

Their numbers had been reduced from more than 70,000 to about 12,000 after centuries of hunting.

The numbers recovered, and the gray whale was removed from the U.S. List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife in 1994, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.

________

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: April 11. 2014 12:46AM
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