March 6, 2019

Snow Falling on an Island-Filled Sea: Watching Salish Sea Wildlife Have a Snow Day

Male Steller Sea Lion


Erick | Wednesday, March 6, 2019 | M/V Sea Lion | 12:00 

This Wednesday, Capt. Brian and I took a small group out on a brisk, cloudy day. It looks like this year winter is sticking around a little bit longer in Washington State. We were on the search for some local wildlife among the many islands of the San Juan Archipelago. We started north into a slight breeze from the northeast and traced our way up through San Juan Channel. We searched from Friday Harbor up through and into Spieden Channel. Here, on the easternmost point on Spieden Island we spied a whole mess of Steller Sea Lions. These our some overwintering wildlife that we see usually from October till May. During the summer they make their way up north to breeding grounds, but during the winters we are one of their most favorite relaxation spots. During this time of the year they find spots where they can find lots of food close to easy haulout spots. The San Juan Islands are perfect for this! They can dive into deep channels to catch fish, octopus, squid, and skates and then haul out to take a nap only a few hundred feet away. This eared seals are massive and happen to be the largest eared seals in the world. As we watched them growl and wiggle on shore it started to snow. We continued to watch them as the snow settled in and blanketed the conifer-covered islands with a thick, white mist. With this magical backdrop we saw some of the Stellers wrestle in the water, flip around, and shoot some snot rockets. After leaving these beasts we went west and soon spotted a Bald Eagle soaring through the falling snow. We followed the southern shoreline and peered at the funny, transplanted animals that inhabit this strange private island. They are descendents from an exotic game hunting ranch that existed here awhile back. Today we saw a few herds of Fallow Deer (originally from western Europe) and Mouflon Sheep (originally from the Mediterranean) grazing along the snowy slopes of Spieden Island. We continued our journey further west and saw a spectacular Bald Eagle blinking from his snowy perch. 

Next, we headed around Stewart Island to Turn Point. This is the end of the U.S.A. and you can see Canada from across Boundary Pass. Here, on Stewart Island there is a large sandstone cliff riddled with honeycomb erosion patterns and exposed cobblestones. This cliff drops several hundred feet and continues to drop even further under the water to meet the deepest channel in the San Juan Islands. It is such a beautiful and wonderous place where one can pull up and sometimes even graze your fingertips along the succulent and moss covered sandstone cliffside. It seems like the rest of our voyage only held more beautiful, snowy vistas as the islands became engulfed in a white mist winding around the green islands as we wound our way home back to Friday Harbor. As we continue to run daily whale and wildlife trips through March we hope to see some of you all come and visit these beautiful islands.


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris