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Field Notes: a Northwest nature blog

One of the reasons many of us live in the Pacific Northwest is the natural wonders that amaze us all. On this blog Seattle Times writers and photographers will share their explorations of the natural world from snowcaps to whitecaps. Write us at fieldnotes@seattletimes.com with your own sightings, questions and wonders to share.

December 15, 2011 at 8:30 AM

Rare sighting of world's largest animal off Washington coast

Posted by Matt Kreamer

From Times environmental reporter Craig Welch:

Even for a pro like John Calambokidis, it was a remarkable sight: the world's largest whale, surfacing, diving and gliding just below the surface, 25 miles off Westport.

Calambokidis, one of the world's foremost experts on the endangered blue whale, spotted six of them last Thursday while conducting a rare winter survey for marine mammals. It was only the third such documented sighting off the Washington coast in the past 50 years.

Calambokidis, a whale biologist with Cascadia Research in Olympia, was in a 20-foot research boat. He was able to shoot 100 pictures before weather and darkness sent him back to shore.

He said it's not clear if it's unusual for the whales to be in Washington waters in winter -- or if sightings are rare because wind, waves and short days mean researchers don't spend much time searching for them here at this time of year.

Either way, the sighting helps confirm what researchers had only just started learning -- that blue whales, unlike other krill-eating baleen whales (humpbacks, for example), don't actually fast in winter while heading south to warm breeding grounds. Instead they just keep on moving about and consuming -- perhaps not surprising for a creature that can burn 3 million calories a day.

The number of blues in the eastern Pacific is thought to be 10 percent of historic highs, Calambokidis said, a holdover from decades of whaling and, he fears, the result of modern-day ship strikes. He is currently working on a project to try and figure out how many blues are killed by passing ships -- and how best to put an end to it.

See today's story here. And read an earlier story about ship strikes in the Los Angeles Times.


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