Humpback whale has lingered off Vashon for two weeks

A humpback whale, a rare visitor to central Puget Sound, has been spotted several times off the shores of Vashon since its arrival on May 12, according to Anne Stateler with the Vashon Hydrophone Project.

Humpbacks, which were hunted to near extinction and today remain listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act, sometimes feed in Washington as they head to Alaska where they spend their summers.

“But to have one hanging around is special,” Stateler said.

The last humpback to visit the Vashon area was in 2004 when a juvenile showed up and lingered for nearly a month, Stateler said. Since the 1990s, she said, humpbacks — whose numbers are increasing — have been straying into Puget Sound on occasion. The baleen whale is likely feeding on herring or other small fish, she said.

“I suspect our whale is making a pit stop on its way to Alaska,” she said.

Stateler said she’s curious to know if this spring’s visitor is the same one that visited four years ago. But no one has yet to get a good look at the underside of its tail flukes, which would enable Stateler and other whale experts to identify it.

The whale has mostly been spotted along the southern tip of Vashon, between the Island and Gig Harbor, and thus has garnered the nickname Dalco, for Dalco Passage. Those who live near there say they’ve seen it several times.

“When you see an animal out there like it used to be in the olden days, it makes you stop what you’re doing,” said Joe Silagi who lives on Pohl Road on the southern tip of Vashon. “You call your friends and say, ‘Oh my god, there’s a whale out there.’ People just stop what they’re doing and run to the edge of the bluff.”

Silagi said he’s seen the whale maybe 20 times in the last two weeks. “You can hear this thing blowing out in the water,” he said.

Adding to the thrill of the whale is the fact that a black bear has also been spotted in his neighborhood in the last few days.

“It’s been within 80 feet of our house. My neighbors have seen it. We have pictures from neighbors on the other side who have seen it. It’s all around us,” Silagi said.

Stateler said it’s important that people give the whale a wide berth while it’s here, as it needs to feed as much as possible to continue its migration up to Alaska.

“The nicest thing we can do for this whale is to give him or her lots and lots of room,” Stateler said.

The Vashon Hydrophone Project, founded by Stateler, is a research effort that uses underwater recordings of whale vocalizations to learn more about the mammals’ lives, habits and communication patterns.

— Leslie Brown

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