A Whidbey Whale Welcome

Coming to Whidbey Island, I knew there was a small-town appeal. Neighbors greeting each other on walks, locals enjoying coffee at their morning hangout, and a general sense of connection and support. That’s why, when we learned about the Welcome the Whales parade, there was no question about it, we were going to the annual event.

Cloudy skies cleared mid-day as we walked the short distance to downtown Langley. Birds and bunnies were out as we snagged front row seats to the city’s beloved tradition. With COVID-19 shutting down the parade the past few years, there was a sense of anticipation for what was to come. New attendees speculated about what they were about to witness, unsure of what a parade to welcome marine life would look like. Celebration was palpable as the local band practiced next to city hall, with the ringing of tambourines and a drum beat filling the afternoon calm. Storefronts were open as guests gathered on an unusually sunny day in the heart of such a quaint city.

After a short wait, a crowd started to gather a few blocks away. Slowly, participants made their way up Second Street, with the parade gaining in numbers as it journeyed up the road. Children were dressed in homemade costumes, taking on sea life alter egos in support of the event. From ghost shrimp to orcas, parade participants represented members of the local and beloved ecosystem. The highlight of the parade came with the four-person, large grey whale puppet, which sashayed up the street, approaching young children who laughed with delight. As the whale inched closer to our viewpoint, small bubbles escaped from its blowhole. In a matter of minutes, the parade passed by our seats, leaving smiles on our faces.

With good cheer and a celebratory atmosphere, the parade was the epitome of Langley’s charm. This “Village by the Sea,” which it is so lovingly called, is intrinsically linked to its neighboring waters. Welcoming the local marine life is only natural, and this parade was a perfect reminder of why we came ¬— connection to family, connection to community, and, above all else, connection to the environment we live in.

A few weeks later, as we took our daily walk along the nearby waterfront, we suddenly heard a large sounding exhale. Coming to a small outlook, we stopped to take in the sight. There, in the shallow area off the coast where the Saratoga Passage meets up with the waters of Possession Sound, was a lone grey whale. The peaceful afternoon solitude was only interrupted by the whale’s occasional surfacing and exhaling through its blowhole. As it used one fin to scrap the seafloor to harvest the krill, the other fin grazed the surface of the water. Standing there, taking in the sight, the whale looked as if it was spinning in circles. After a while, seagulls joined in on the feast, landing near the whale’s dark shadow, barely visible beneath the surface. Watching this spectacle, we stood in awe. Locals had told us it would take months to catch a glimpse of any whales. Exactly one month to the day we left San Diego, we stood witnessing the majesty of this beautiful sea creature. As the whale finished its meal and moved away, its tail broke the water’s surface, as if waving goodbye as it searched for deeper waters.

We’d welcomed our first whale and it had welcomed us to the island. What a fitting way to continue our journey here.