Preston and I are staying at the La Push Ocean Park Resort, on the Quileute Indian Reservation on the northwest part of the Washington Peninsula. We used to stay here quite a bit when we were DINKs living in Seattle. But we haven’t been here in close to a year. We’re back in our favorite cabin, both pleased and sad that our resident mouse doesn’t seem to be here any more.
We got in late last night, got up this morning to walk to the one restaurant in town for breakfast. But the doors were locked and things looked under construction. We stopped by to talk to the local harbormaster, who said that the restaurant is supposed to be opened up again on the 8th “or so I hear”, which I think is Native for “ya, right”. Seeing all the fish heads and skeletons in the marina, I asked if they ever get bears down in town, but he sounded surprised by the question. They hear reports of bears occasionally out in the parks (by which I assume he means Olympic National) , but never in town.
So we headed back to the cabin to have the standby breakfast wraps, and then headed to the beach (100 yards from our front door). I’ve been reading Tom Brown Jr.’s Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking, and spent most of the morning having Preston do various moves in the sand, and then trying to read the pressure releases. I haven’t ever done any work with pressure releases, havng been mostly at the stage where it’s exciting to just identify a track without needing to figure out what it was doing. But hte book presented the releases in such an easy way that I can’t help but see them now. Really cool stuff. I don’t understand what he means by “waves” though. Apparently there is a wave present in a walking person’s track. When they speed up it turns into two waves, and when they are going really fast, it’s a more complicated wave pattern. I don’t get this one, but was able to see most of the others in tracks on the beach today.
In the late afternoon, as we were walking over to the grocery store for milk, we stopped to watch the surfers. Rather close in to the beach, closer than several of the surfers, inside the breakers, I suddenly saw a solid grey triangle sticking up. At first I wondered, “Has there been a rock outcropping there all this time that I’ve never noticed?” But then it sank below the surface, and I thought, “could there possibly be a whale this close in to shore?” A minute later, I saw a blow, but still thought it possible that the wind had just picked up some wave spray in a funny way. But a minute later, Preston and I both saw the back line arc out of the water for a couple seconds and sink back under. Sure enough, we watched that whale play in the surf for 30 minutes or more. I’m not the sort of girl that jumps up and down with glee, but the next time that whale spyhopped, and we saw the grey triangle of its snout up to its eye peering out over the breakers, I grabbed Preston’s arm and jumped up and down and squeeled like a schoolgirl. It was just about one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen. It didn’t ever breach like in the movies, but it stuck its nose up out of the water several times, far enough that it could get its eye above water to look around. And once it was rolling on its back, with its eye above water, and that meant that its tail was above water also, so we got to estimate its size. After looking through the whale ID book that Preston bought me last year, we’re pretty sure that we agree on the grey whale as an identification. Possibly a smaller one than average, but certainly possible that it was about the size of a school bus, which is the comparison the guide book uses. Freaking cool! It makes sense that the mothers with calves would be migrating through here on their way to the Arctic about now, and we confirmed at least two whales out there, although we only got the size reference on one of them.
A few of the surfers also saw it, including one guy who was fairly startled when it came up right next to his board. He surfed in to shore, and hung out near us watching for quite a while, but didn’t seem in a hurry to get back out there. I asked Preston, an aspiring surfer, how he would feel to look over and see A FREAKING GREY WHALE surfacing next to him. After pondering for a minute, he said, “Pretty awestruck.” And with that we hurried back to the cabin so Preston could grab his board and wetsuit. By the time we got back, the whale(s?) were gone. But Preston stil had a good session. Pictures to follow once I get them uploaded.