November 23, 2019

Dall's Porpoises, Seals and Sea Lions Inhabit the Salish Sea!

Laura C. | 11/23/2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00

The seas were rocky today in the Salish Sea!  Grey clouds blanketed the sky above swirling whitecaps in the San Juan Channel.  Captain Pete was in his element behind the helm as we stoically ventured north through the deep sloshy seas.  Days like this are my favorite because you really feel connected to the marine environment and feel that there is a greater force out there determining your impending voyage.  We first stopped near Waldron Island, to be greeted by two bald eagles enjoying Saturday lunch.  I could not tell what one of the eagles was carrying in its talons, but it was a small mammal, possibly a mink.  Swaying side to side, the limp carcass dangled by its predator’s claws as the bald eagle swooped to a low rock along the island shore.  We watched this feast for a bit and then made our way further north in hopes of additional wildlife sightings.  I was so excited to see a pod of Dall’s porpoises coming right our way!  We watched a group of about 5-6 individuals swim down our port side as they traveled through the waves.  This is my first-time seeing Dall’s porpoises this season so I was quite thrilled with the encounter!

Dall’s porpoises are the only species in the genus phocoenoides, displaying a tiny head with a very deep body.  Like other porpoises, they have spatula-shaped teeth crowning together to form a cutting edge, suitable for tearing small schooling fish.  However, their body shape and coloration pattern is unlike any other porpoise.  These animals have frosted white tips on their dorsal fins and flukes, as well as prominent white patches traveling down the sides of their bodies.  Dall’s porpoises are found only in the Pacific Northwest, commonly in deep waters, but travel more inshore during the fall and winter months.  These creatures weigh about 400 pounds and are 7 to 8 feet in length, a perfect member half-way up the food chain!  It was great seeing this species today and they were personally the highlight of my trip!

We traveled up to Boundary Pass headed towards Patos Island and looped back towards Spieden and the Cactus Islands.  There, we found Mouflon sheep, fallow deer and sika deer in abundance!  There was an all-white fallow deer on the hills, which was exceptional to see!  Harbor seals and Stellar sea lions were also seen a few times along the island edges.  We were all excited to see a harbor seal pop up near our stern at one point!  And directly outside of Friday Harbor a Steller sea lion was quickly headed southbound and made quite an appearance as we headed towards home.  Even though it was breezy today, it was a fun day out on the water and everyone was able to appreciate the special wildlife found around the San Juan Islands!