Encountering wildlife is a given on a daily basis in Western Washington. And I’m not even thinking of birds or butterflies or fish. What is stunning to somebody who grew up in the suburbs of a city with a greater population than Seattle is to run into deer grazing in front yards. Or into seals popping their heads out of the water when I’m walking on a beach.
But the most exciting encounters I have had so far (apart from bears in the Mt. Rainier massif or on the Olympic Peninsula) are those with whales in Puget Sound. You may know by now that my husband and I sometimes go out on the boat. It’s a very small one; every wake of a bigger boat sends it into a frenzied dance on the surface. And I sometimes cling to the sides not to tumble from my seat. Now imagine the wake of a whale. Not an orca (we’ve seen those only one time in the San Juan Islands). But those huge gray whales.
They are out there in Puget Sound. The very first time I saw one was about ten years ago near McNeil Island’s Hyde Point. The first thing I noticed was the typical jet from a spout. I couldn’t believe it. But it spouted once more, and then my husband switched off the motor to let the gray giant know we’d not approach. One never should anyway. It was a majestic experience to see and hear the breathing alone.
The second time we saw one was near Fairhaven some years ago. This time, the whale swam towards us. I held my breath when I watched it go around our boat very carefully. What if it didn’t know that we were boaters and it upset our vessel?! But the whale kept down, never even disturbing us with a wake, and only surfaced some 50 yards farther off to breathe. I keep thinking that it was a curious whale with a kind mind.
Last weekend, we went crabbing off Point Defiance. We were just enjoying a sandwich in between putting in and pulling out our trap when we saw the people at the boathouse dock point at something in total excitement. A few moments later and just about 15 or 20 yards away from our boat’s bow the surface of the water broke, and the huge body of a gray whale became visible. As it was gliding under again and disappeared in the direction of Owen Beach, our boat was shaken by the waves.
Of course, I never have a camera handy when we encounter whales. It’s Murphy’s law, apparently. It makes me aware that how much in life we may be able to plan, we can’t plan the whales of our time. They just happen.