Cascadia Research conducts monthly surveys for marine mammals off the Washington outer coast as part of a collaborative project with Scripps Institute of Oceanography. On January 13, 2009, during the course of one of our surveys, we encountered a blue whale in the vicinity of Grays Harbor Canyon. While we are still trying to track down the last confirmed sighting in Washington State, this likely represents one of the first confirmed sightings since hunting this species was banned in US waters in 1966. Although the population of blue whales off California is among the few worldwide that is recovering with protection, these whales were once abundant in as far north as British Columbia and Alaska, but have been slow to return to these areas. Identification photos of the whale (below) are being compared against a catalog of about 2,000 blue whales from the eastern North Pacific maintained by Cascadia Research to see if the whale has been documented in any other regions.
Several fin whales were also seen in the same area, representing only the second sighting of fin whales over the course of over four years of these surveys. In addition, several groups of southbound migrating gray whales were encountered, as well as Dall’s and harbor porpoise, northern fur seals and a Steller sea lion.
A team attempted to return to the area where the whales were sighted (approximately 40nm due west of Gray Harbor) on Thursday, January 15th to look for additional animals, with the goal of collecting more photographs, collecting tissue samples for genetic analyses, and deploying satellite tags to track the movements of individuals, however they were forced to abort the survey due to high winds. Another survey will be attempted as soon as conditions permit.
Additional information on the objectives and results of our surveys in this area, please see the following report: 2006 Progress Report on Acoustic and Visual Monitoring for Cetaceans along the Outer Washington Coast.