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The Science of Gray Whales

The migration of gray whales is one of the longest of any mammal, covering up to 12,000 miles round-trip. Every spring a handful of gray whales make their way to Possession Sound to feast on ghost shrimp. This is their cetacean story.

If you visit the shores of Possession Sound between the months of March and May, you may be able to spot a gray whale. Which many not seem that remarkable at first -- after all, whales live in the seas, don’t they? 

What is remarkable is that these whales have travelled several thousands of miles to be here in the waters of Snohomish County, to feast on ghost shrimp at the mouth of the Snohomish River, where freshwater mixes with the briny sea. 

The gray whale is known for one of the longest annual migrations of any mammal, traveling a circuitous route up to 12,000 miles each year between its breeding grounds in Mexico and feeding grounds in Alaska. Along the way a handful of whales will make an annual detour into Puget Sound to feed. 

Gray whales generally migrate in small groups, known as pods, and follow specific routes and landmarks during their migration. They are known for their slow and deliberate swimming, and often travel close to the shore to avoid rough currents and unfavorable weather conditions. 

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So, how to see a whale?  

Frankly, your best bet is to sign up for a whale watching cruise – many of which guarantee a whale sighting. If you don’t see a whale, they let you ride out subsequent trips for free until you see one. 

Modern whale watching ships are fast and quiet. The captains kill the boats as soon as a whale is spotted so as to not disturb the gentle giants. Still, many folks believe that it’s unethical to get anywhere near gray whales due to underwater noise pollution. And that’s a valid concern. If your conscience says to leave them be, then leave them be – no harm no foul. 

So, if you are a sea kayaker, you can always set out into Possession Sound. OR, you may be able to glimpse gray whales from the shore at Kayak Point County Park or any public Port Susan beach. 

If you’d prefer to leave these migratory giants alone altogether, but still want to learn more about them you can always visit the Imagine Children’s Museum in downtown Everett. Yes, it’s a kid's museum, so if you’re not a parent or travelling with young'uns, it may not be for you. But the museum has actual whale bones and a whale skull, as well as a life-size replica and interactive displays that chart gray whale migrations, feeding habits, and more. It’s a pretty great deal for the STEM set.  

In any case you don’t need a whale watching excuse to visit the coast of the Salish Sea in spring. It can be a bit chilly, but there’s plenty of waterside recreation, places to eat, and culture to experience. 

Come see for yourself. And have a whale-y good time while you’re at it!


The Imagine Children's Museum is where engaging STEM activities come to life!

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Time to cruise the coastline on the Salish Sea.

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Managing Editor
Richard Porter
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