Whale of a celebration: Langley Whale Center marks 10 years

— Created March 6, 2024 by Kathy Reed

Photo Courtesy of Cindi Rausch Photography
Here on Whidbey Island, whales are the stars of the show, like orca T124D, whose name is Field. This Cindi Rausch photo was taken in Saratoga Passage. The Langley Whale Center, celebrating its 10th anniversary this month, is a great place to learn about the orca and gray whale populations who visit Whidbey Island every year, sometimes putting on spectacular performances.

By Kathy Reed

March is celebration month for the Langley Whale Center, part of the nonprofit Orca Network. The center is marking its 10th anniversary with activities all month long and will hold a birthday party Saturday, March 16 to commemorate its first decade.

“Langley Whale Center will be open extended hours, from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., on March 16,” shared Stephanie Raymond, Orca Network’s program coordinator. “Beginning at 11 am, a program of special Science Talks from Orca Network founders, staff and board members, story times with Sage and Debora, and a Langley Whale Center Anniversary Video begins. Throughout the day there will be face painting, kids’ craft activities, and 20 percent off all Langley Whale Center merchandise.”

For those who may not be able to stop in for the party organizers have put together a 10th anniversary scavenger hunt for young visitors to enjoy throughout March.

“The scavenger hunt is best suited for younger guests, with four simple but engaging questions for guests to answer as they explore Langley Whale Center exhibits,” explained Raymond. “Two different sets of questions will be available for ‘Jr. Naturalists’ and ‘Whale Experts,’ depending on age. When all four questions have been answered, successful hunters can exchange their question sheet for a special 10th anniversary token. It is designed to be completed in a short amount of time.”

The anniversary celebration has been a perfect opportunity to look at how far the Langley Whale Center has come in its first 10 years.

“From humble beginnings in a small, leaky building shared with two other businesses, we have moved twice, always getting a little closer to Whale Bell Park, into the lovely space we have today,” she said. “A whole separate children’s room was created, decorated with a beautiful mural featuring the marine mammals and other creatures of the Salish Sea. One of the highlights of the current layout is the Ocean Listening Booth, which allows visitors to listen to recordings from local hydrophones and is dedicated to the memory of Whale Center docent Pat Price.”

Last year, the center welcomed more than 28,000 visitors and had over 1,300 visitors in one day during the recent Langley Mystery Weekend. Raymond said a lot has changed over the past decade, stressing it is the center’s dedicated volunteers from all over Whidbey Island and the mainland that help current manager ,Katie Watkins, and assistant managers, Trevor Snow and Lucy Miller, maintain and staff the whale center, whose mission remains unchanged with time.

Photo Courtesy of the Langley Whale Center
Susan Berta and Howard Garrett, founders of Orca Network, were all smiles 10 years ago when the Langley Whale Center first opened its doors. The center will hold a special anniversary celebration Saturday, March 16.

“Langley Whale Center is part of Orca Network, with the mission of connecting people with whales of the Pacific Northwest,” said Raymond. “By raising awareness about these whales, and the importance of providing them with healthy and safe habitats, we find ways for people to work together to protect the rich, beautiful, diverse habitats and inhabitants of the Salish Sea. Langley Whale Center is a showcase for our Whale Sighting Network, Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Toki’s Legacy, and education and advocacy programs, where trained docents and staff are eager to introduce visitors from all over the world to our incredibly cetacean and pinniped neighbors.”

The overriding desire of all visitors is, of course, to catch a glimpse of these Salish Sea dwellers.

“People want to know where the whales are and if they are visible off of Whale Bell Park, we will put up a sign on the door and take binoculars down to the water to help people spot them,” said Raymond. “It’s always so rewarding to help someone spot a whale for the first time, and it’s one of the things our staff and volunteers love best about working at the Langley Whale Center.”

While more than satisfied with the progress made in its first 10 years, Raymond said there are already plans in the works to start the next decade.

Photo Courtesy of Langley Whale Center
The Langley Whale Center, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in March, has grown to include a special room for kids, in addition to expanding its other exhibits.

“We have some exciting new exhibits in progress, including a gray whale pectoral fin skeleton and an interactive exhibit about Toki’s Legacy,” she shared. “Lolita/Tokitae/Sk’aliCh’elh-tenaut was a whale from the L-pod family of the endangered southern resident killer whale population, who was captured in Penn Cove in 1970 and spent her life in a tiny tank at Miami Seaquarium. Orca Network was among many groups and individuals working hard to return her to her native waters, but she sadly passed away last August before that dream could become a reality. Langley Whale Center hosted a vigil in her honor and will create a new interactive exhibit to tell her story and encourage visitors to get involved in ways to help her family, who is still alive in the wild. That’s what Toki’s Legacy is all about. 

“We also hope to increase our youth programing and offer junior docent opportunities,” Raymond continued. “And in the whale world, there is always new information, so keeping our exhibits up to date and our docents trained on current events is an ongoing process.”

The Langley Whale Center is located at 105 Anthes. The center is currently operating on its fall/winter schedule and is open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Watch for updated spring/summer hours and find more information online at orcanetwork.org/langley-whale-center.