OLYMPIA - A gray whale paid a visit to lower Budd Inlet Monday, milling around in the middle of the channel for much of the day.
Several residents reported seeing the whale from land, including Lisa Schlender, office manager and researcher at Cascadia Research, an Olympia-based whale research group.
“It appeared to be a little skinny, but was active,” Schlender said via e-mail. “It surfaced several times, arching nice and high and allowing for ID photos.”
The gray whale is not one of the regular grays known to frequent north and central Puget Sound in the spring and summer, veering off from the main population that travels from their winter breeding grounds in Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Olympian
Other grays stray into Puget Sound each year, including some whales in poor physical condition.
It is not unusual for an occasional gray whale to venture into South Sound in the spring. Often they are malnourished and sickly juveniles. It is also not unusual for the South Sound visitors to perish and wash ashore, as was the case with a juvenile gray whale that washed ashore last April. Examination of the carcass revealed a severe lung infection, according to Cascadia researchers.
The whale photo will be compared to Cascadia’s extensive catalog of gray whale photos to see if it can be identified, Schlender said.
The Budd Inlet visitor appears to be larger than a juvenile, said Jessie Huggins, stranding coordinator for the nonprofit Cascadia Research.
It is likely that the whale spotted Monday is the same whale seen and reported to Cascadia by two kayakers in Dana Passage on Sunday, Huggins suggested.
The gray whale gets its name from its mottled gray skin. They are some 15 feet at birth, growing to more than 40 feet and more than 30 tons at maturity. They live to be approximately 50 years old, according to a gray whale fact sheet prepared by Orca Network,
Gray whales were hunted to near extinction by the early 1900s, but the eastern North Pacific gray whale population has bounced back in recent years to more than 20,000 individuals, whale scientists say.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444