HAT ISLAND — Excited children scream as a whale blows water from its spout.
“This is awesome,” one says.
Even longtime residents are impressed. Their visitor is close and putting on a show.
The barnacle-covered gray whale is only about 15 feet from where they’re standing on the shore of Hat Island.
Mike Murphy, of Lynnwood, caught video of the scene around 10 a.m. May 26. The whale was spotted near Murphy’s cabin on the southeast point of the island.
More people were visiting than usual because of Memorial Day.
“A lot of kids got to see something they’ll never see again really close up,” Murphy said. “It was really neat.”
Murphy has had the cabin for 11 years. Two gray whales have been visiting for the past five or so, although they travel separately.
The one in the video is larger, about 35 feet long.
They usually get close to shore, but this time was special.
“That was an exceptionally calm, low tide. It drops off so deep when it gets low like that, so it was an exceptional time to see them,” Murphy said.
The private island west of Everett in Possession Sound is around 1½ miles long. Nearly 260 families have either year-round or vacation homes there.
About 10 gray whales visit the area each year as they migrate from Baja California in Mexico to northern Alaska, said Howard Garrett, board president of the Orca Network on Whidbey Island.
The first two stopped in 1990, and four more joined the next year. The rest showed up in 2000. They mostly travel alone, although some move in pairs, he said.
The whales travel through the Strait of Juan de Fuca between late February and mid-May.
On their way north, they stop at the island to eat. They burrow three or more feet into the mud to reach shrimp, he said.
The pits can be near shore during low tide, which is why the whales get so close to land.
“Right near Hat Island, and all the way around, is prime mud-flat foraging for them,” Garrett said.
In the video, the whale does something called spy-hopping. It sticks its head straight out of the water to check its surroundings.
Half of the neighborhood came out to see the whale, Murphy said. His dog tried to swim with it.
“Come on Luna, don’t even think about it,” Murphy says in the video.