Gray whales dazzle visitors to Mukilteo waterfront

At least two whales have become like regulars near Ivar’s this week. “They’re both young, with no barnacles,” a server said.

MUKILTEO — “Oohs” and “aahs” rung out Tuesday on the Ivar’s waterfront patio in Mukilteo as a majestic giant rolled through the waves.

At least two of the animal kingdom’s farthest-migrating mammals, gray whales, have become regulars this week at the restaurant, where krilled cheese is not on the menu. Grays tend to eat zooplankton anyway.

“They’re both young, with no barnacles,” Ivar’s server Michael Merfeld said. “They’re super gorgeous.”

Locals who frequent the pier may have spotted the blubbery celebrities soaking up their vitamin sea this past week. Merfeld said he saw the pair three times in one hour.

“Each time I see a whitecap out the window of the restaurant or from the deck, I get excited,” the restaurant server said. “It’s been hard to focus on work.”

Some restaurant guests said they got a look at a whale’s eye, restaurant manager Lanah Brown said.

“He was dancing yesterday,” she recollected. “He was rolling, and his tail kept coming up. It was amazing.”

A few nicknames for the fin-tastic duo have circulated among the staff of Ivar’s: “Jennifer Gray,” “Joe Blowden,” “Wally (or Wanda) the Whale,” and “Krilla de Vil.”

Some speculated the whales have been swimming close to the pier to feed in a nearby trench.

General manager Greg Covey said it has been a delight to see guests from out of town get blown away by the whales. Sometimes they swim back and forth, visible from the pier for 15-minute stretches, he said.

“A lot of our guests this week have been visitors from all over the country and world,” Covey said. “Many haven’t ever seen water quite like this, let alone a whale popping out. They are just beside themselves.”

Adult gray whales can be as long as 50 feet and weigh up to 45 tons. The marine mammals typically live from 55 to 70 years, according to American Oceans, an organization that promotes restoration, protection and preservation of coastal waters.

The species is listed in the “greatest conservation need” category under the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s action plan.

“Gray whales face a number of known or potential threats such as entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, ship strikes, human-generated marine sound, and climate change,” reads a blurb on the state agency’s website. “These could adversely impact the Western North Pacific population because of its small size and precarious conservation status.”

Gray whales regularly migrate 10,000 miles round-trip. They can swim as far as 14,000 miles per year. But for some, the chowder’s worth the trip.

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; ellen.dennis@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @reporterellen.

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