West Seattle, Washington
10:52 AM: Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail sends word of orcas in the area – southbound. More to come – we’re headed for the shore to see if anyone’s caught view of them here.
11:17 AM: Just found Donna on the west end of the Alki Beach Park promenade. She says they’re not in view yet.
Thanks to Bob Spears for the photo of an unusual scene Friday off Alki. He explained, “Five seals hung out just offshore for over an hour and frequently appeared to be doing a water ballet with their heads, a single fin, and their tails out of the water. Fun to watch and with their barking they attached quite a crowd of people on the beach.” The behavior is known as “rafting,” most often seen among California sea lions, and sometimes people mistake it for a sign of distress – the Seal Sitters website has a good explanation here.
Thanks to Doug for the photo – a submarine has just passed West Seattle, heading back to Naval Base Kitsap. It’s been 13 days since one was seen headed the other way; no way to tell if it’s the same one, since the sub itself doesn’t show up on trackers like MarineTraffic.com (though at least one escort tug is showing there).
Diver Laura‘s been out again testing apparel and equipment off our shore, and this video is of note not only as a reminder that the stormwater from our streets and roofs ends up in Puget Sound … but also for the fish that were hanging out with her by the outfall. “Hordes of shiner perch,” she explains. “They’ve been like that for a couple weeks, hanging out in droves.”
8:41 AM: Thanks for the tips – orcas are reported to be in the area again today. The person who called said they’re closer to the Vashon/Blake side, across from Fauntleroy; Jason points us to an Orca Network sighting thread with reports that they’re spread out and not necessarily heading in one direction. So if you’re on-peninsula and interested, take your binoculars over to the west-facing shore and have a look! (They were seen Sunday morning in Elliott Bay, as reported here, but the weather was a little murky for optimal viewing.)
9:06 AM: Thanks to Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail for this update – it’s a large group and they’re heading north, visible from the Alki area currently.
9:24 AM: Just got a report that a ferry going between Bremerton and Seattle has stopped so the orcas can pass!
9:36 AM: Just added (the top) photo from Gary Jones in the Alki Point area. Meantime, our texter says the ferry is moving again. (206-293-6302 any time, text or voice, that’s our breaking-news hotline, and whale sightings are always news!)
11:31 AM: Gary sent more photos that we’ve added to this story, including one showing the Bremerton ferry riders (aboard M/V Walla Walla) whale-watching as mentioned.
— shannon (@seapaddler) November 14, 2016
4:19 PM: Thanks to Shannon for the heads-up via Twitter. The aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68), which returned to Bremerton 10 days ago after almost a month away, is on its way out of Rich Passage right now – just a note for ship-watchers.
4:43 PM: Caught a glimpse from the west end of Alki Beach Park. It’s headed northbound fast.
5:22 PM: Added the photo we took (via long lens) from the promenade.
8 AM: The weather’s a little murky but if you’re near the water – keep watch for whales. Todd reports a northbound sighting just now, Alki area, headed toward Magnolia.
8:03 AM: Just after posting that, we got a text with another report and more details:
7:30 am-7:50 am, orcas seen between the west end of Alki Beach promenade and Alki Point. Adult and adolescent, possibly one more. Initially 50-100 yards from shore, gradually moving away from shore toward Magnolia, then diagonally toward Pier 91/Queen Anne.Exhibited what I would describe as feeding behavior – circling and roiling the water.
3:11 PM: Thanks to Aaron for the texted tip – whale sighting, northbound, between Blake Island and Alki Point, likely a humpback.
Thanks to the texter who sent that photo a few minutes ago. It’s the USS Nimitz, headed back to Bremerton after leaving October 5th for sea trials and flight certification following a quarter-billion dollars of work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. The Navy announced last December that even after that work, the Nimitz will remain homeported in Bremerton at least three more years.
12:40 PM: Thanks to the texter who pointed out that Orca Network spotters are seeing orcas heading this way – southbound from Discovery Park on the north side of Elliott Bay as of a little while ago. So if you can, watch for them from West Seattle shores, and please let us know if you see them; we won’t be able to check for a while.
P.S. Our most-recent whale report involved humpbacks passing by on Saturday – if you only saw the early version, we have since added an awesome photo.
1:33 PM: Another texter says they’re visible from Constellation Park right now.
2:01 PM: Thanks to Gary Jones for photos from Alki Point!
2:54 PM: They’ve passed Fauntleroy, according to comment updates; you’re advised to watch for Mark Sears’s small research boat. From up here on the hillside, we’re seeing seiners apparently chasing the same salmon as the orcas.
3:48 PM: If you’re out watching for the orcas, you might see another type of whale too – one commenter mentions a southbound humpback, while an e-mail tip mentions what looked like a northbound gray headed toward the lighthouse a little while ago. (If you’re not sure what you’re seeing, here’s the ID guide on West Seattle-based The Whale Trail‘s site.)
4:56 PM: Now headed northbound, says Susan in comments.
ADDED MONDAY NIGHT: Thanks to Monica Zaborac for two more photos of the orcas that visited today!
Runners, walkers, and bikers stopped along Alki for a while this morning to try to figure out what Martin Garthwaite and Alex Miller were doing in that human-powered watercraft going back and forth along the boardwalk seawall. They weren’t rowing, and they weren’t pedaling. They were using the fishBOOT, which “swims like a marine mammal,” as its inventor Garthwaite explained, and as could be seen once it was out of the water – one moving part, a flexible hull, and “a big flipper”:
The fishBOOT is a means to an end – call it a small fish in a big project. Garthwaite is using it to research the principles behind what he calls the fishBOAT. That would be an unmanned vessel – a waterborne drone – with many possible uses and benefits including using less fuel. He explained some of it to us as he and Miller came back to the beach:
Miller has his own track record with unmanned watercraft, as a member of a team we’ve reported on here before, AMNO & CO, award-winning ROV competitors. He said the difference between that work and this project involves many factors, from water flow to math. We hope to follow up on where this project goes!
3:20 PM: Thanks to Monica Zaborac for the tip and photo – two humpback whales are in the area again! She saw them from a ferry near Southworth, just west of Vashon Island; at least one Orca Network commenter says they’re visible from here (take your binoculars).
ADDED EARLY SUNDAY: Meg McDonald of Wild Northwest Beauty Photography caught one of the humpbacks breaching in Colvos Passage along the west side of Vashon Island; her image is added above.
12:03 PM: Thanks for the text – orcas are reported in the area! Southbound and possibly along or near West Seattle shores by now, according to Orca Network spotters, who say these are Southern Resident Killer Whales. Let us know if you see them!
12:24 PM: Another texter says they’re off Alki. We’re en route to look.
12:39 PM: Not seeing any unassisted from the Alki Point vicinity but some hardy spotters are out looking. Take binoculars.
12:55 PM: Just heard from Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales. He says some are visible in the Vashon ferry lane, one here, two there, southbound, but not close to the WS side.
1:54 PM: From above Lincoln Park, we’re seeing a few headed along the north end of Vashon, continuing SB.
2:07 PM: And we just received a call from someone seeing more pass by Constellation Park. Thanks – 206-293-6302 voice or text, any time!
Thanks to Gary Jones for the photos, taken around 5:15 pm from Alki Point, as these whales headed southbound:
Looked to Gary, and to us, like humpback whales, and the Orca Network Facebook page also mentions a sighting of what were described as humpbacks about the same time. As we learned from researchers during coverage of the August 7th humpback stranding in Fauntleroy, their population has been increasing dramatically along the West Coast, and sightings have as a result become more common in Puget Sound. Here’s the one-page ID guide from The Whale Trail.
10:28 AM: For water-watchers: Longtime WSB’er MIWS (Mike) tips us that the small private ferry serving Herron Island in the South Sound, Charlie Wells, will be passing West Seattle a bit later this morning. It’s headed to drydock in Ballard and as of this writing MarineTraffic.com shows it northbound in Colvos Passage between west Vashon and east South Kitsap, so it’s likely to come into view near Blake Island before too long. If you happen to get a photo, please share – we might not get down to the water in time. (Here’s a 2013 Flickr pic.)
12:47 PM: Thanks to Greg for the photo we’ve added above!
Two vessel-traffic notes:
USNS WALLY SCHIRRA: Thanks to Greg for sending that photo, right after we spotted the USNS Wally Schirra passing West Seattle, as shown on MarineTraffic.com. It appeared to be headed for the Manchester Fuel Depot. The ship, named for the astronaut, is a cargo ship that’s part of the Military Sealift Command. The seven-year-old, 689-foot ship is homeported in San Diego.
We noticed that ship while researching part of this:
HANJIN UPDATE: A month and a half after the Hanjin bankruptcy filing, one Hanjin ship is anchored off Manchester, while another one is en route to pick up empty containers. The Hanjin Marine is visible from West Seattle if you look west of here, north of Blake Island. Meantime, this Thursday (October 13th), the Hanjin Seattle is scheduled to dock at Terminal 46 downtown, and, according to the Northwest Seaport Alliance, tentatively scheduled to load 1,000 empty containers. The Wall Street Journal reported today that T-46 is one of two West Coast docks – along with a pier in Long Beach, California – that is accepting empty Hanjin containers.
No, it wasn’t another state-ferry breakdown – Washington State Ferries has had some trouble recently, but the M/V Kaleetan‘s tow was NOT part of it. WSF tells WSB that the 49-year-old Kaleetan was towed to Vigor on Harbor Island for maintenance work that’s scheduled to last about a month. (It’s been on the fleet schedule for a while, too.) Thanks to Gary Jones (whose photo is above) and Lynn Hall for sending pics – we’re always up for checking into unusual sightings at sea, email@example.com or (if on your phone) text 206-293-6302.
New from “Diver Laura” James – a 360-degree view of what divers know as the “Alki Junkyard,” off the west end of public Alki shoreline (64th SW).
Laura says, “This was shot with ambient light in the 50’ range; the only lights were on my dive buddy Lamont’s camera. So you can see it’s really quite bright down there during the day (lots of ambient light unless a really heavy plankton bloom), and the diver lights primarily serve to restore the colors (red goes away first, due to the way water absorbs light).”
If you haven’t viewed this type of video before – provided it’s compatible with your browser, you should be able to click “play” and then click the video, using your cursor to “drag” it around, to see above, below, in front, behind … 360 degrees.
P.S. If you follow Diver Laura on Twitter/Periscope, you just might catch her “live” underwater – she’s done a few tests in the past few days.
7:54 AM: No other details, but we just got a call reporting whales visible, northbound, in the Lincoln Park area. Off to check.
8:24 AM: See Krista’s comment for details on what she saw and called in (THANK YOU! 206-293-6302 is our voice/text 24-7 hotline). We’re down along Beach Drive to see if we can spot them. No luck so far, but the water’s pretty choppy.
8:38 AM: Scott e-mailed to say they were visible off north tip of Blake Island – closer to West Seattle side – as of about 10 minutes ago. We’re on the lookout now from the Constellation Park shore.
8:42 AM: They’re passing Constellation Park right now!
8:48 AM: Just out of view from Constellation unless there are far-behind stragglers – passing Alki Point.
9 AM: Now on the west end of Alki Beach Park – where the watchers include Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail, who tells us these are Southern Resident Killer Whales making their autumn salmon-seeking return – J Pod, to be specific. They’re now heading north across the Bainbridge ferry lanes and not likely to be visible from here much longer. We’re adding a phone photo we took from Constellation, hoping someone will have a better one to share (firstname.lastname@example.org) later.
9:43 AM: Thanks to those who are sending photos! We’ve replaced our aforementioned blurry phone photo with much-better contributed shots.
2:32 PM: Thanks to Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail for the tip: She says orcas are in the area right now, between Blake Island and Vashon Island, headed south as of her call at 2:28 pm. They’re closer to the other side, so you need good binoculars to see them, but if you’d rather watch whales than football, get over to Beach Drive and points south! She says they’re believed to be transients, not the Southern Residents.
2:52 PM: We can see them from Upper Fauntleroy – heading southbound along Vashon’s east shore, just south of the ferry lane. Moving fast, and quickly out of our peek view; definitely closer to Vashon than this side.
Within a few months, you’ll see the next new Washington State Ferries vessel, M/V Chimacum, out on sea trials, now that it’s been christened. That happened in a ceremony this morning at Vigor on Harbor Island. Here’s the WSF announcement:
Sunny skies and a shiny new Washington state ferry graced Vigor’s Harbor Island Shipyard in Seattle today as the Washington State Department of Transportation christened Chimacum, the fleet’s third Olympic Class vessel.
In a traditional maritime ceremony, Washington State Ferries Assistant Secretary Lynne Griffith broke a bottle of champagne to officially welcome the new ferry to the fleet. Gov. Jay Inslee, along with Secretary of Transportation Roger Millar and Bremerton Mayor Patty Lent, spoke during the event. The Chimacum High School marching band added to the festivities.
The christening marks the Chimacum’s final stage of construction and its preparation for sea trials.
“The Washington state ferry system is among the best in the world. I am so pleased that the Chimacum is being built efficiently, on-budget and ahead of schedule,” Inslee said. “This is great for the state’s taxpayers and our maritime industry.”
“Chimacum joins a hard-working fleet that connects people and communities as part of our state’s integrated, multimodal transportation system,” Millar said. “Washington’s marine highways carry more than 24 million people every year, so it’s critical for us to replace our oldest ferries and plan for the future.”
“This represents a tremendous achievement for the men and women who have helped build this beautiful vessel,” Griffith said. “I am honored to christen our new ferry and I look forward to riding on Chimacum when she enters service next year.”
The 144-car Chimacum will begin its sea trials in early 2017 and will start carrying passengers on the Seattle/Bremerton route next spring. The Washington State Transportation Commission selected the vessel name in 2014 to honor the gathering place of the Chimacum people, which is now the present-day town of Chimacum near Port Townsend.
Chimacum is the third of four funded Olympic Class ferries that replace the aging, midcentury-era Evergreen State Class vessels. The first Olympic Class vessel, Tokitae, joined the Mukilteo/Clinton route in June 2014. The second, Samish, started service on the Anacortes/San Juan Islands route in June 2015. Suquamish, the fourth vessel in the class, is under construction at Vigor and will enter service in 2019.
Back in May, WSB’s Christopher Boffoli covered a media tour of Chimacum and the keel-laying ceremony for Suquamish – see his photos here.