Her journey started with an orphan whale but morphed into much more.
In 2002, Donna Sandstrom was part of the intense effort to return the orca named Springer to its home waters off Vancouver Island.
“It was a life-changing event. We had worked together for a common goal, getting a little whale home,” said Sandstrom, who later worked collaboratively to save the endangered species.
But Sandstrom had an educational concept that she wanted to bring to life: the The Whale Trail (www.thewhaletrail.org). She started the nonprofit, assembled a team of partners, and was in work mode by 2008.
“Our goal is to build awareness that orcas and other marine mammals live in Puget Sound and in coastal waters, and to inspire stewardship,” the executive director said.
The organization reaches its goal with a trail of sites.
The first Whale Trail sign in Olympic National Park has been posted at the park’s Kalaloch Lodge. It’s the first Whale Trail sign on the state’s outer coast.
“Whale Trail signs are simple but powerful reminders that orcas and other marine mammals live in our waters. The Kalaloch sign encourages visitors to look at this spectacular seascape with a deeper understanding of the diversity of life it supports.”
Signs are posted where there is public access and a reasonable chance to see orcas sometime during the year. At some sites, visitors are more likely to see gray whales, but the signature species is the orca.
“In the strait, you’re more likely to see sea otters, in some places harbor seals. The site description on the sign is a story that tells what the site manager wants to emphasize,” she said.
The Whale Trail first identified 16 sites in Western Washington but now has 35 sites plus the Washington State Ferries system. Its website has an interactive map and other information.
“Our goal is to have an interpretive sign in every coastal Washington county and around Vancouver Island across the orcas’ range.”
There are sites in Langley, Coupeville and Everett on Jetty Island. The first customized sign was posted in 2010. Not all sites have signs because some are in wilderness locations where signs aren’t allowed. Olympic National Park, for instance, has seven sites but only two signs.
“We are very interested in adding sites so people should let us know if they have a suggestion. Some people may want to organize a trip around The Whale Trail sites.”
The experience has been wonderful, Sandstrom said,
“The Whale Trail feels like a small piece of common ground. Everyone keeps saying ‘yes’ to The Whale Trail. No one wants the orcas to go extinct.
“I feel hopeful that people can make a positive impact. We’re playing one small but important role in stopping the orcas from going extinct.”
Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.