West Seattle, Washington
Seagoing sights this morning:
SS PACIFIC TRACKER HEADS OUT: Thanks to Huck for that photo – after almost a week docked in West Seattle, the missile-defense-radar ship SS Pacific Tracker headed out this morning. Here’s our report on its arrival last weekend. The info on MarineTraffic.com doesn’t list a destination.
USNS BENAVIDEZ TO BREMERTON: Thanks to Greg for that photo – visible from West Seattle on its way to Bremerton this morning was the USNS Benavidez, a Military Sealift Command ship that serves as a “dry cargo surge sealift carrier.”
ORIGINAL REPORT, 9:19 PM SATURDAY: Remember six years ago, when the bulbous SBX was a floating fixture here for a few months? Tonight, another missile-defense radar vessel is visiting West Seattle – the SS Pacific Tracker. It and the SBX are both featured in this 2014 roundup of “The Wild Radar Ships That Make Missile Defense Possible.” Thanks to Paul Nicholson for today’s tip and photo; the Northwest Seaport Alliance schedule shows the Pacific Tracker scheduled to be in port in Seattle until Monday; MarineTraffic.com shows it berthed right now at Terminal 5. MT also shows it came here from Honolulu; it and another missile-defense ship were reported to be there last month “after participating in a first-of-its-kind test intercept of an intercontinental ballistic missile target high over the Pacific on May 30.”
MONDAY UPDATE: Port spokesperson Peter McGraw tells us it’ll be here about a week: “It’s taking on some provisions for the crew, fuel and water. It may have some light maintenance performed, as well.”
Thanks for the text – transient orcas are reported to be headed this way, southbound past West Point on the other side of Elliott Bay. Let us know if you see them!
From Alisa with Orca Network, word of orcas headed this way: “At 10:40 am there are approximately five Bigg’s/Transient orcas now grouped, in Bainbridge Island/Seattle ferry lanes, east side of the channel heading southbound slowly, sometimes stalling, skirting mid-Elliott Bay.” And she stresses that they are “going on long down times” – but still, if you have the chance to grab your binoculars and go look, you might see whales. Let us know if you do!
(USCGC Mellon in 2014 Seafair Parade of Ships, courtesy of Greg)
Continuing our look ahead to some of what’s coming up this summer – since the Seafair website just mentions August 1st through 6th as Fleet Week, without other specifics, we asked about the Parade of Ships, usually a popular sight as the visiting military ships “parade” past West Seattle. Seafair spokesperson Emily Cantrell tells WSB the date is Wednesday, August 2nd, and beyond that, no details yet. So if you’re interested, you can at least set your calendar.
P.S. Seafair’s biggest West Seattle event, the Pirates Landing, is at Alki on July 8th, one week from tomorrow … more on that soon!
John e-mailed a few minutes ago to report a sighting of humpback whales headed south, south of Alki Point. Let us know if you see them!
Thanks to Gary Jones for the photo of the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, seen off Alki Point today. Gary says the ship is a “Martha L. Black-class light icebreaker and tender from the Canadian Coast Guard, named after a former Canadian Prime Minister.” We haven’t yet found what it’s doing here, but it’s homeported in Victoria, B.C., so it’s not too far away from home.
8:27 PM: Thanks for the texts and photos – we started the day with a humpback whale sighting report and 14 hours later, we’re getting more reports, with the whale reportedly in view right now off Alki, around 63rd SW. The photo above, with the whale’s fluke in view, was texted earlier this evening. With the night’s community meetings over, we’re off to see if we can finally get a firsthand glimpse ourselves!
Sunset whale-watching on Alki. pic.twitter.com/wjXCuxNCNL
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) June 7, 2017
9:13 PM No firsthand whale sightings but we did find Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail – she said two humpbacks had been swimming back and forth but just swam out of view.
10:43 PM: Adding the photos above and below, from Kersti Muul, who watched the two humpbacks through the day – the photos are from the Me-Kwa-Mooks area.
Kersti says it was a “great day for shore-based whale watching!”
ADDED 6:40 AM WEDNESDAY: Jim and Vanessa both report at least one humpback back in view this morning, off Alki and Beach Drive. More later!
ORIGINAL REPORT, 5:53 AM: Andrew reports a humpback off Alki this morning – spotted near 57th SW [map], “and it looked like it was heading toward the Bay.” One was seen off Fauntleroy Monday morning and evening, as reported here (with video added last night).
6:26 PM: See comments for other later sightings – and right now we have e-mail of a sighting northbound off Beach Drive, Cormorant Cove most recently.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 11:36 AM: Thanks to the texter who reports a humpback whale about 100 yards off the Fauntleroy ferry dock. We don’t know yet if it’s the same humpback reported in Elliott Bay on Sunday – Orca Network confirmed the ID on that one (BCX1251) and also is reporting this morning’s sighting.
ADDED 9 PM: Thanks to John Schuh for video of the humpback slapping its tail, repeatedly! Also note the comment below saying the whale – or, another humpback – was seen again tonight.
Yesterday an aircraft carrier, today a submarine. Thanks to those who sent photos of the sub sighting earlier this afternoon; Josh Farley from the Kitsap Sun tweeted that it’s the USS Nebraska, leaving Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility. This page with U.S. Navy photos and info says the Nebraska is leaving “after completing an extended major maintenance period, to include an engineered refueling overhaul.”
Thanks to Sheattland for tweeting photos of the USS Nimitz (CVN 68), seen from West Seattle, as it headed out of Rich Passage, leaving Bremerton for an expected six-month deployment. It has sailed past us several times in recent months – most recently in late April – for shorter training/certification trips in preparation for this deployment. It’s headed to the western Pacific, where two other carriers and their strike groups already are.
Two months ago, we reported on a house barged away from a lot on the south end of Beach Drive SW whose owners are building a new home. We mentioned that the tip about the move came from local journalist Jenny Cunningham, a former TV-news co-worker of ours who was working on an in-depth story about it for Seattle Channel. Above, you can watch Jenny’s story. And there’s a followup: In the story, you’ll meet the house’s new owner, who, when Jenny interviewed her, was hoping to move it to Poulsbo. We checked with Tawny Davis at house-moving company Nickel Bros, which has been storing the house along the Duwamish River in the meantime. She tells us the move is still on, tentatively set for June 20th – so if you see a house atop a barge passing West Seattle shores on that date, it’s probably this one!
Our hotline (206-293-6302) rang this afternoon – someone wondering who to call about a dead porpoise. In West Seattle, if it’s a stranded (dead or alive) marine mammal, you call Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network, we replied – 206-905-SEAL. We just found out what happened later, with local wildlife advocate Kersti Muul sending photos and this report:
This evening there was a washed-up female harbor porpoise on the beach at low tide just South of the Lighthouse…. Initial rudimentary scans appear to reveal some issue with birthing perhaps. She was so beautiful, practically flawless and beautifully designed by nature…. I photographed her for evidence of transient orca interference but found none.
Seal Sitters was there with her and a group of us helped carry her to a private driveway where she was to be picked up for necropsy by Cascadia Research Collective.
As noted by NOAA last year, harbor porpoises had dwindled in Puget Sound until a big comeback in recent years
Thanks for the great photos sent this weekend! Here are a half-dozen more:
That’s Paul Walchenbach‘s aerial view of Alki during Sunday afternoon’s low tide. (Yes, the drone was operated from outside the park.) Next, from Guy and Joy Smith near Alki Point:
They explained, “For the last several days at Alki Point, large groups of sea lions have been feeding on schools of either smelt or herring. The seagulls get in on the action too. We’ve lived here for 23 years and have never noticed this before.” (Ed and Terry also mentioned the unusual sea lion activity.)
Matthew Saporito photographed a Great Blue Heron at Constellation Park:
A few miles away, Max Szyszkowski caught the beauty of the bay and downtown from Duwamish Head:
Another bird sighting – a pelagic cormorant photographed by Bruce Easter:
And from Jim Borrow, a busy sunset:
Thanks again – firstname.lastname@example.org is the best way to get us photos – and we have more in queue!
P.S. We mentioned earlier that May will have a round of tides even lower than the ones these past few days – they start on Thursday, May 25, and will continue through Memorial Day.
7:15 PM: Thanks to Jason, who’s been updating us on southbound orcas that might make it to West Seattle before dusk – newest update, they’re passing Golden Gardens Park (west of Ballard). Let us know if you see them!
7:33 PM: Another update – they’re reported to be crossing the mouth of Elliott Bay.
7:50 PM: In view from Alki (per another texter).
9:51 AM: Photo added – thanks to David Hutchinson for the view of an orca passing the north end of Constellation Park around 8 pm.
12:36 PM: Thanks to the texter who just let us know that local orca fans are tracking two groups of transient orcas headed this way (northbound) – one along the east side of Vashon, one along the west side. According to Orca Network commenters, they could be in view off West Seattle’s west shore before too long. Please let us know if you see them! Comment, or text/call 206-293-6302 – thanks!
2:07 PM: Texter says whales are visible now from Lowman Beach!
2:37 PM: And now a text that two males are passing Alki Point.
We featured some photos of Saturday’s orca visit while they were in the area – and tonight, we have more photos, this time courtesy of Kersti Muul. She explains that her photos show “T102 and his Mama T101 passing by Alki Point Lighthouse yesterday, heading south at 2:15 PM.”
Kersti told us, “They were breathtakingly close and stunning in the bright sun. There were dozens of people on shore screaming and hooting and hollering. It made me cry to see the community so enthralled by these whales. As a volunteer, my favorite thing is when someone sees them for the first time, and having a part in that process as someone once did for me. It NEVER gets old.”
Kersti also shared two photos of the research boat with Mark and Maya Sears “to show you just how LARGE these guys are. In this (next) photo it is T100E in the front and T100C in the rear.”
The transient orcas are a completely different population from the residents. One big difference – their diet includes smaller marine mammals such as seals and sea lions, while the residents subsist almost entirely on fish, primarily salmon.
P.S. One more reminder for everyone interested in whales – The Whale Trail‘s next event, featuring researcher John Calambokidis talking about the increase in humpback and gray whales in Puget Sound, is Thursday at 7 pm at the Dakota Place Park Building; tickets are available here.
2:02 PM: Just got two texts reporting orcas passing West Seattle! Both say the whales are transient orcas, southbound in the Alki Point vicinity.
2:45 PM: In the comment section, an update from Herongrrrl: “Closer to Lincoln Park” right now.
3:23 PM: Just added photos by Gary Jones from Alki/Alki Point vicinity earlier. (Orca Network says that’s a research boat with them, in the second photo.) Gary also sent this one with “harbor porpoises going the other way”:
3:55 PM: As of a few minutes ago, commenter SS says, they’re south of West Seattle and still headed SB.
6:20 PM: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail shares info about the visitors in this comment. (By the way, The Whale Trail’s next event is coming up Thursday at the Dakota Place Park Building – find out about the increase in humpbacks and grays in Puget Sound!)
7:28 PM: Chris Frankovich says the orcas are headed back northbound, and shares this photo:
Chris says this shows them off The Arroyos.
They’re the whales we talk about the most, but orcas are not the only whales in our waters – increasingly, humpbacks and grays are turning up in Puget Sound too. Sometimes as beautiful sights – sometimes as tragedies, as with the humpback death south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock last August. Among the researchers and experts who came to the scene was John Calambokidis. One week from tonight, he’ll be the guest speaker presented by The Whale Trail in the historic building at Dakota Place Park (4303 California SW). Here’s the announcement:
“The New Giants of the Salish Sea: Humpback and Gray Whales Discover Our Waters”
Presentation by John Calambokidis
Thursday, April 20, 7:00 – 8:30 pm.
New research reveals insights into the return of two magnificent whales to the Salish Sea and the mysteries of their lives. Humpback whales who once roamed these waters hundreds of years ago have returned in spectacular numbers. See some of the new research documenting this return, why it has occurred and some of the implications.
Gray whales migrate along the Washington coast and some feed in outer coast waters but one intrepid group, nicknamed the Sounders, has discovered a highly profitable but very risky feeding strategy in northern Puget Sound. New research and underwater video taken by the whales themselves reveals their incredible feeding strategy from a unique perspective.
Join researcher John Calambokidis, a founder of Cascadia Research Collective who has studied large whales for over 30 years both in our waters and throughout the eastern North Pacific.
Buy tickets now to reserve your seat. And hurry! This will likely sell out.
About the Speaker
John Calambokidis is a Senior Research Biologist and one of the founders of Cascadia Research Collective, a non-profit research organization formed in 1979 based in Olympia, Washington. He periodically serves as an Adjunct Faculty at the Evergreen State College teaching a course on marine mammals. His primary interests are the biology of marine mammals and the impacts of humans.
John has served as Project Director of over 200 projects. He has authored two books on marine mammals (on blue whales and a guide to marine mammals) as well as more than 150 publications in scientific journals and technical reports. He has conducted studies on a variety of marine mammals in the North Pacific from Central America to Alaska. He serves as Project Manager of the Southern California Behavioral Response Study and has directed long-term research on the status, movements, and underwater behavior of blue, humpback, and gray whales. Some of his recent research has included attaching tags to whales with suction cups to examine their feeding behavior and vocalizations.
John’s work has been covered on shows by National Geographic, Discovery Channel, BBC, and others. In 2012 he received the American Cetacean Society’s John Heyning Award for Lifetime Achievement in Marine Mammal Science.
Tickets are available online – $10 general, $5 for kids under 12 – buy yours here.
8:33 AM: Thanks to Kersti Muul for the first tip – orcas are back in central Puget Sound today! As Orca Network commenters also are chronicling, they were seen by ferry riders – including state ferries and the Vashon Water Taxi – headed for Rich Passage, the waterway to and from Bremerton – but they could just as easily head back this way, so we’re publishing this heads-up. Let us know if you saw/see them!
1:28 PM: The orcas have spent the past few hours delighting fans in Kitsap waters – here’s a photo gallery on KitsapSun.com.
While we work on some more news stories this Sunday, another unique look at West Seattle, offshore – this time, the newest 360-degree underwater video shared by “Diver Laura” James. She focuses on what are known as the I-Beams, off Seacrest.