A close look at the long history of whale watching in Puget Sound, New York and the efforts made by businesses to preserve these once-coveted gems. In November, 2021, Washington’s iconic southern killer whales, also known as the Puget Sound whales, were put on the state’s endangered species list. They are considered a threatened species due to overfishing and their decline in population. Seeing them up close is an amazing experience, and for many people, seeing these amazing creatures up close is one of the most unforgettable experiences of their life.
Most people know that whales and dolphins visit the Sound each year, but little is known about what is going on beneath the surface of Puget Sound. There, curious fisherman often encounter whales, dolphins and sometimes even salmon. Several years ago, in August 2021, two fishermen experienced a truly remarkable encounter while being watched by two humpback whales from shore. The fishermen were traveling alone in a small boat behind a group of humpback whales. One of the fishermen shouted out to the whales to come and see him; instantly, the whales came into the water and began to play with the line.
Scientists have been studying the Puget Sound for years, trying to find out more about these unique marine mammals. Researchers believe that the Puget Sound whales are the same species as the pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins found off the shores of Washington State. There are several theories about the relationships between these species of marine mammals. One of the most compelling theories links these humpback whales and the puget sound whales. This theory believes that the whales frequent the same areas in Puget Sound each year and use the same feeding grounds – the puget sound.
Whales do eat primarily meat, but they will eat any type of food they can find in the wild, including berries, algae, insects, fish and other marine mammals. However, they are scavengers. They will also eat shipwrecks, wood, rocks and other objects in the ocean. If this is true, then the puget sound whales could be following the walrus from Alaska and judging from their tracks, are returning to the Puget Sound each year to feast upon the walrus and other marine mammals.
In the last few years, there has been increasing evidence linking Puget Sound whales with the famous Orca, one of the world’s most famous cephalopods. There have been many documented encounters over the years with Puget Sound killer whales. One of these was videotaped by a resident of Washington State. This video led to the first ever detailed study of the behavior of Puget Sound killer whales in their natural habitat. Several people that have watched the Puget Sound whales have described them as being extremely curious and active, but also look like they are trying to find something.
On Friday Harbor Island, about twenty miles off the coast of western Washington State, a team of researchers led by marine scientists have been conducting routine whale watching when they came across a pod of two to three Puget Sound whales. Researchers estimate that the pod of whales may contain up to twenty-two whales. These whales are migrating to their winter feeding grounds in the Pacific Ocean. This is the first documented sighting of this much-visited area in several years. A citizen scientist team has been invited to document the whales’ journey and return to the area in the summer for a survey of the feeding areas.