SEATTLE — He spotted the geyserlike spray from its blow hole first.
Biologist John Calambokidis was tracking humpback whales about 25 miles off the Washington coast last week when he saw what he presumed was an exhalation from a much bigger species, a fin whale.
But the creature that surfaced 100 yards away was even bigger than that.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s no fin whale!’” Calambokidis said.
Instead, far out to sea in a tiny 20-foot research boat, Calambokidis and a colleague were seeing something so extraordinary it had been documented off Washington’s coast only twice before in the past 50 years — a blue whale, the largest animal on Earth.
Over the course of the afternoon Thursday, he would snap 100 photographs and watch as six of the glistening light-blue cetaceans glided beneath the surface in pairs and dived repeatedly above a deep underwater feature known as Guide Canyon.
Calambokidis, one of the world’s foremost experts on the blue whale, has seen these massive marine mammals in California and South America so often that his organization, Cascadia Research, can actually identify individual animals by their markings. And yet spying so many of them up close in a place so unexpected was, for him, a spectacular experience.
“It’s still an incredible thrill,” Calambokidis said. “Here’s the biggest animal that ever lived, and it’s this beautiful, shimmering color. I get excited every time I see one.”