West Seattle, Washington
(Video by Rick R)
That’s reader video of a gray whale seen off Brace Point this morning – likely the same whale that was moving slowly through the center of Puget Sound last Saturday. As Robin Lindsey of the Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network reported, authorities went out to assess that whale’s health on Saturday, but they have yet to make a statement on what they found. This time of year, gray whales still in Puget Sound might be ailing and/or hungry. One died off north Vashon last month. The reader who sent the video and photo this morning said the whale was heading slowly north toward the Fauntleroy ferry dock at the time.
We have since heard from someone who saw it off Lincoln Park. Updates if and when we get them – and if you are out on the water, remember that you have to stay at least 100 yards away.
11:29 AM: Thanks to everyone who has texted and e-mailed about this, including Delfino Muñoz, who sent the photo above: A gray whale is in the middle of Puget Sound between West Seattle and Vashon Island and may be in trouble. Those who have watched it from afar and up close say it hasn’t moved much for some time. We looked through binoculars from the south end of Emma Schmitz Overlook and also noted that it was fairly stationary. We know it’s been reported to the local marine-mammal stranding network, Seal Sitters (206-905-SEAL), and to the state. Gray-whale sightings in Puget Sound aren’t rare, but this time of year, some that don’t make it back out to the open ocean for the annual Pacific Coast migration may be lingering because they are ill or undernourished. Earlier this month, one such gray whale was first seen in the Ballard Locks and then found dead between north Vashon and Fauntleroy. We’ll update if we find out anything more about the whale that’s out there right now.
2:43 PM UPDATE: Just got an update from Robin @ Seal Sitters, that those keeping an eye on the whale might see a boat closer to it than boats are supposed to be – researchers from Fish and Wildlife and Cascadia Research Collective are headed out to try to assess the whale’s condition and make sure it’s not entangled. WSB’s Christopher Boffoli got this view from Beach Drive, though the whale is much closer to the other side:
Christopher reported the whale is definitely blowing regularly, though not moving much. Robin also says they’ve advised the Coast Guard about the whale, since it’s in the shipping lanes and they want cargo ships to know to steer clear – Christopher photographed one passing:
We’ll continue to update when more information’s available.
Earlier this week, we mentioned today’s departure of the Clipper 70s racing yachts, just in case they were going to be visible from West Seattle shores. @KANtext saw the story and tweeted this today:
— KANtext (@KANtext) April 28, 2016
And James Tilley caught a surface view from the Water Taxi:
The race’s next leg is Panama-bound.
Thanks to the WSB reader who tipped us to this recently – we can’t find the original message so can’t credit by name but we did finally get a chance to look up the source info: This Thursday, if you have a view of Elliott Bay toward downtown, you’ll get to see the Clipper 70s racing yachts parading, and then presenting an ocean-racing exhibition, before they head out to the next leg of their round-the-world race. Boaters are invited to join in. That’s set for 1-5 pm Thursday (April 28th) – full details here.
P.S. If you’re interested in touring the yachts before they go, you can do that at Bell Harbor Marina on the downtown waterfront, until 7 pm today and again 11 am-7 pm one last time tomorrow.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 1:28 PM: Thanks to the tipster who let us know that the 236-foot superyacht Albatross is sailing north on the Duwamish River right now, after leaving Delta Marine. We don’t know if it’s heading all the way into Elliott Bay, nor whether this is a shakedown cruise or journeying toward delivery to its owner, but if you’re among the many WSB readers who like to know about unusual boat sightings off our shores, here’s your heads-up. MarineTraffic.com shows it approaching the 1st Avenue South Bridge as we hit “publish” on this note (1:28 pm).
2:05 PM: We’re watching from Jack Block Park. It’s now headed NW in Elliott Bay.
3:01 PM: MT now shows it moored in Magnolia’s Smith Cove. We’ve added our photos taken from Jack Block as Albatross (worth $80 million per this page) crossed the bay.
Thanks to Chris Frankovich for the photo: That’s the USAV General Brehon B. Somervell, aka LSV-3, based in Tacoma, heading north past West Seattle’s western shores this morning. The ship is assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve‘s 805th Transportation Detachment. We don’t know where it’s headed, but as of right now, MarineTraffic.com shows it passing Whidbey Island.
Now that we all know April 29th is the date the tunneling machine is set to start going under the Alaskan Way Viaduct – closing it precautionarily for “about two weeks” – that date will be top-of-mind for a while. Something else that’s big for the city also starts two weeks from today: This year’s cruise-ship season. The first ship on the schedule, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam, will be here that day. But it’s docking at Magnolia’s Pier 91, not the Viaduct-side Pier 66. According to a Port of Seattle fact sheet, this year’s season will bring the most passengers ever – just under 960,000. The 203 ship dockings aren’t a record, though; that number peaked in 2010, with 223. Last ship on the Seattle schedule this year will be the Star Princess, on October 21st.
The photo and info are from Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters – who deal with more than seals:
With the recent media buzz about the gray whale who wandered into the Ballard Locks, Seal Sitters thought it was a good opportunity to discuss the timely manner in which all whale (and other cetacean) sightings should be reported to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Unless a whale is deemed in danger (such as entangled or stranded), all reports including species and as precise a location as possible, should be emailed promptly to Orca Network – email@example.com.
For whales that are indeed in trouble – or in an area where we would prefer they not be, such as in the Duwamish River or Ballard Locks, please immediately contact the NOAA West Coast MMSN hotline at 866-767-6114 with as precise a location as possible.
Seal Sitters requests that if a whale is sighted along the shoreline of West Seattle, please contact the Seal Sitters Hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL) and then email Orca Network. This will potentially enable our first responders to obtain an identification photograph of the whale. Databases are kept by researchers of all whales and identification helps monitor the health of the species.
I have provided a photograph to help for identification purposes showing the distinct profile of a surfacing gray whale, with its trademark mottled gray skin and “knuckles” along the ridge of the lower back. Humpbacks and other whales have a dorsal fin.
Read more on the Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog website.
P.S. And after making the official reports mentioned above, please consider letting us know, too, as whale sightings are news! 206-293-6302 text or voice, 24/7.
Join us for this rare Seattle appearance by renowned whale researcher Bruce Mate. Bruce will demonstrate how his teams use satellite-monitored radio tags to identify critical habitats and migration routes of endangered whales to protect them. His talk will focus on western and ENP gray whales, right whales, and contemporary issues for blue whales during the last few years of warm water as examples.
Bruce Mate is the Director and Endowed Chair of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, and founder of Oregon’s Whale Watching Spoken Here program.
Bruce’s talk is hosted by The Whale Trail, and co-sponsored by Seal Sitters and the American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter. Celebrate Earth Day by learning about whales!
Tickets are $10 ($5 for kids under 12) – available now at brownpapertickets.com.
Ferry commuters are one step closer to a more reliable system as Washington State Ferries celebrates a major milestone for the Chimacum, the fleet’s third Olympic Class vessel. The Chimacum’s 1,110 ton superstructure, which took 18 months to construct at Nichols Brothers Boat Builders on Whidbey Island, will transit to Seattle tonight, Wednesday, April 6.
The announcement continues after the jump: Read More
Near West Seattle’s Seacrest Pier, the underwater zone known as Cove 2 is cleaner thanks to an effort led last weekend by 17-year-old Tanner O’Donnell, as part of his senior project for Nathan Hale High School. Our area’s best-known clean-water activist, “Diver Laura” James, worked with him and, along with her “dive buddy” Lamont Granquist, got some of the efforts on video (see for yourself above, and hear from Tanner in the clip).
If you follow Diver Laura on Twitter and/or Periscope, you know there was also an experimental live stream for a while – so watch for more of that in the future. Laura also shares these words of thanks, for “… Larry McLean for doing the honors of being our PADI Project AWARE Foundation Sponsor; Jan Shaw, the best beach-mom of all; and THE HUGEST of thanks to Tanner (and his Mom) for caring so much about our shared waters, and letting me be a part of this project… We should all care so much. As he says, ‘we’re citizens of the earth’.”
Thanks to Jim Bodoia for the underwater photo and video we’re sharing as a Sunday afternoon “extra.”
He explains, “I was lucky enough to run into a couple of Pacific Wolf Eels off Alki, not too far from our Liberty Statue … We call them ‘eels’ but they’re actually very long fish (Anarrhichthys ocellatus). I’m fairly certain that the tan one [seen in the video] is a young female. At first she just poked her head out and then she joined me for a swim. The blue one [top photo] is a bit older and didn’t want to come out and play.” Learn more about wolf eels via the Seattle Aquarium website.
9:54 AM: Thanks to Lynn Hall for the photo of the megaship CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin in the murky distance, as seen from Alki as it sailed out of Elliott Bay about an hour ago, after its daylong visit to Harbor Island, biggest cargo ship ever to visit here (or any other U.S. port). According to the posted itinerary, it’s headed for Xiamen, China. When will – or will – it return here? Too soon to say.
Our coverage of Monday’s visit is here, with additions including a Puget Sound Pilot‘s time-lapse video from the bridge as it entered Elliott Bay.
P.S. As discussed in Monday comments and explained here – CMA CGM stands for Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement, the name with which the company was founded in 1978, and Compagnie Générale Maritime, with which it merged in 1996.
2:15 PM: Thanks to Don Brubeck for a closer view of the Benjamin Franklin’s departure:
The BF is currently west of Port Angeles and approaching the entrance/exit of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
6:49 PM: That Port of Oakland photo from last week resembles what the view will be at Harbor Island’s Terminal 18 around sunset tomorrow – if the sun cooperates (it might). As mentioned here Thursday, the megaship CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin arrives here tomorrow morning, set to dock at T-18 around 7 am, spending one night here and leaving at 8 am Tuesday. With the capacity of 18,000 containers, it’s the biggest cargo ship to visit the U.S. This size of ship is the reason the Port of Seattle wants to expand Terminal 5. Right now, the Benjamin Franklin is approaching the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to MarineTraffic.com; it’s expected in Port Angeles around 3 am to pick up the Puget Sound Pilots who will guide it into Puget Sound, reports the Peninsula Daily News.
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE, 6:19 AM: The ship is just passing north Kitsap County right now – you can track it here.
After so much relatively good news for Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whales over the past year or so, some sad news tonight: Their newest calf is missing and presumed dead, the Center for Whale Research announced tonight:
“After an extended encounter with all members of J-pod on February 25, 2016, Center for Whale Research reluctantly announces that the newest member, designated J55, is missing and presumed dead,” said senior scientist Kenneth Balcomb.
J55 was first documented by NOAA Fisheries killer whale researchers on January 18, 2016, in Puget Sound. While exact maternity was never established, the calf was documented swimming in close proximity to both J14 (estimated to be 42 years old) and her daughter J37, a 15 year old mother of one (J49 born in 2012). It is also possible that J55 was the first offspring of J40, a 12 year old, and the youngest daughter of J14.
Prior to February 26, members of the federally endangered Southern Resident killer whales were last seen by Center for Whale Research (CWR) affiliates on January 19, 2016 when Mark Malleson encountered some members of J-pod in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and was able to photo-document fourteen of the whales (including members of the J14 matriline) despite the fact that the pod was widely dispersed across the strait and in less than optimal sea conditions.
“While J55 was not photographed on that day, it is the Center for Whale Research’s policy to wait to announce the loss of an individual whale until a thorough survey of the entire pod can be undertaken, yesterday provided that opportunity,” said CWR Research Director, Dr. Deborah Giles.
“Although the loss of any calf is a blow to the Southern Resident killer whales and a setback to the struggling population, it is not entirely surprising that one of the ‘baby boom’ calves did not survive its first few months; as many as 50% of newborn calves do not survive their first year. Nevertheless, the loss of this calf underscores the need to recover the whales’ primary prey base – Chinook salmon – if the Southern Resident population of whales is to survive and thrive,” said Giles.
The Port of Oakland recorded that time-lapse video this morning as the 1,300-foot-long CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin arrived. It’s gained a lot of attention as the biggest cargo ship ever to call in North America, and it’s due to arrive here next Monday morning (February 29th). After stopping in Long Beach – where it was inaugurated last Friday – the Benjamin Franklin arrived in Oakland this morning; Port of Seattle spokesperson Peter McGraw says it’s due at Terminal 18 on Harbor Island around 7 am Monday, and will leave the next day, Tuesday (March 1st), at 8 am. No public events are planned during its stay, but the media’s been invited to a ceremony including the mayor and port reps; we plan to be there.
P.S. Other stats – besides the ship being more than twice as long as the 605-foot Space Needle is tall – it’s 177 feet wide and 197 feet high (roughly equal to a 20-story building), with its tallest antenna topping out at 230 feet.
More than a few people have asked us this: Why are multiple cargo ships visible at anchor across the Sound, off Manchester, almost continuously? It was a common sight during last year’s dispute at the Port of Seattle, but nothing like that is happening now. When we asked the Port, they pointed us to the U.S. Coast Guard, which manages the anchorages there. And with the help of the 13th District Public Affairs team, we have the answer.
Chief Petty Officer Randy Hale explains that the area is known as Yukon Harbor, and it was designated as an anchorage area in the 1970s; with Bainbridge to the north, Blake and Vashon Islands to the south, it has protection from our area’s sometimes-brutal windstorms. It wasn’t used much until the Port dispute a year-plus ago, but now, the reasons you’re seeing more ships there this winter are multiple: For one, CPO Hale says, “Smith Cove West anchorage [off Magnolia] is closed seasonally (winter months) – this reduced the amount of available anchorages in Elliott Bay.” That, CPO Hale says, is coupled with an increase in port activity overall (we’re checking back with the Port of Seattle about this – most of the anchored ships are waiting to get to Terminal 86). And finally, a side benefit: “On a good note, the utilization of Yukon Harbor Vessel Traffic Service Puget Sound has experienced a significant decrease in the amount of reported anchored vessels dragging anchor, reducing the risk of damage to our beautiful waters.” Overall, this is expected to continue: “It will likely be utilized more frequently than what residents are historically accustomed to seeing.”
When the Kitsap Sun answered a similar question in 2012, its story noted that it was rare to see more than one at a time. Lately, anecdotally, our checks have shown three there almost continuously – including right now, as shown on MarineTraffic.com.
If you’re looking across the Sound to this area, you might also see ships that are docked west of Yukon Harbor, at Manchester, which is a U.S. Navy fuel depot – such as this one we reported on in 2014.
Two wildlife sightings just in via text (206-293-6302 any time):
-Whale spotted off Alki about an hour ago – not an orca – the texter thought it might have been a gray whale; Orca Network had word of a humpback off Manchester (right across the Sound) early today. Here’s a handy guide to species ID, from The Whale Trail.
-Coyote strolling the sidewalk “on 48th between the intersection of Beach Drive and Lincoln Park Way and Graham.”
If you notice a state ferry off West Seattle making unusual maneuvers, and/or with notable law-enforcement presence, this is likely what it’s about. Just received from Kyle Moore of the State Patrol:
Today, the Washington State Patrol is conducting drills on the Washington State Ferries vessel Hyak. This drill will also involve the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bainbridge Island Police Department and the Seattle Police Department.
The drills will occur between the hours of 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. between Bainbridge and Seattle. No passengers will be aboard the ferry during the exercise. The Hyak will be out-of-service during these drills. Regular ferry traffic will not be impacted by the drill.
The public may notice a large law enforcement presence aboard the ferry and should be aware this is just a drill.
MarineTraffic.com shows the Hyak (here’s what it looks like) still in Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge right now, so it hasn’t headed this way yet.
2:30 PM: Just got this report via text, and the Orca Network has a report too – orcas in Elliott Bay, likely closer to downtown than West Seattle. Let us know if you see them!
4:08 PM: We had no luck but Amy Shuster sent the photo we’ve just added, taken from the Bainbridge ferry – thank you!
We’re using that photo with permission of NOAA Fisheries–West Coast, which just reported late today that its researchers found another baby with J-Pod in Puget Sound: “Using photos taken by the researchers, the Center for Whale Research confirmed this is a new calf, designated J55. The calf was in close proximity to both J14 and J37, so we don’t know who the mother is just yet, and it may take a few encounters before we know. The calf seems to be just a few days old and in good condition.” NOAA had sad news too – what appeared to be a dead newborn calf spotted with J31, a 20-year-old female they say “has never successfully calved … It is estimated that at least 50% of calves do not reach their first birthday, so unfortunately this sad event is not unusual.” Before J55, the last orca-baby announcement was five weeks ago, when we got word of J54. This one is the ninth calf for the Southern Resident Killer Whales in a little more than a year.
Thanks to Don Brubeck for the photos from Jack Block Park this morning, where the high tide at 9:39 this morning was 12.7 feet, close to the peak of this week’s “king tides,” the highest this winter (they peaked at 12.9 feet Wednesday-Friday mornings).
The state Ecology Department is continuing to study king tides and welcomes photos – either hashtagged via social media, or via the upload tool on this page.