March 28, 2018

Spring Time in the Islands - Wonderful Wildlife In and Out of the Water

Steller Sea Lions

[Friday -  3/23/18 – 12:00 – M/V Sea Lion – Naturalist Erick]


     This Friday, Captain Mike and I took ourselves with a great group of guests out on a little adventure. We headed north on this nice spring day and pointed towards Spieden Island. We were on a search for exciting wildlife and our first stop was the eastern end of Spieden Island, called Green Point. Here we found one of the Steller Sea Lion colonies in the San Juans. This colony is only here in the winter months and in only a few short weeks they will all swim north toward their northern breeding grounds. Today, they were extra growly. When they are here they are generally calm and are not very aggressive but that does not mean they won’t raise a ruckus when one of the compact-car-sized male sea lions crawls over all of the other sleeping ones to get to the water. These are one of my favorite animals to see and this is definitely the main reason why. They always seem so upset at each other and no matter what happens they are just so dynamic and goofy looking when they are walking out on land.

After we left this group we searched along the southern side of Spieden Island. This side is mostly a grassy plain and at one point was a large exotic-game hunting reserve. Many of those funny animals that don’t belong in the Pacific Northwest are still on the island. This day we saw the large herds of Mouflon Sheep with a bunch of brand new lambs – Happy Spring! – running after their moms and siblings. There were also some quite large groups of Fallow Deer as well occasionally getting their antlers stuck in the tree branches. Both of those species are originally from Europe and although they are not marine related it is always fun to see them roaming their little predator-free paradise island. We continued along the island and saw a few adult Bald Eagles soaring above the island and even a few calmly sitting on the hilly slopes of the island. When they’re standing next to sheep you can really see their true size – 6-foot wingspan!

     Next, we made a short hop over to Sentinel Rocks and saw several groups of Harbor Seals! A few groups were sunning themselves on the rocks and one group was swimming around the kelp forest that surrounds these rocks. These close cousins to the sea lions we saw earlier stay here all year round and are a lot smaller, but they are just as accomplished divers. Seals can stay under water for longer than thirty minutes and catch a fish with only the use of their whiskers! Pretty cool!

      Next, we headed over to the Cactus Islands on the other side of Spieden Island and saw a bunch more Harbor Seals magically lying on rocks that were just below the surface. We also got to saw a pair of Bald Eagles mating, which I have never got to see before! After that we went searching again. We traversed across Boundary Pass and looked at all the seals and Bald Eagles on Java Rocks then headed east along the coast of Saturna Island. We stopped to see some amazing acrobatic goats that were running up and down the sheer sandstone cliffs around Monarch Head! I never understand how they can do that only with their hooves. We continued east and eventually made it to where the Straits of Georgia, Boundary Pass, and Rosario Strait all meet! This area is super dynamic and full of critters both under and on top of the water’s surface.  We saw more huge colonies of Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals as well as a raft of Stellers twisting and turning in the standing waves around the point. Here there were also a bunch of birds all trying to hunt and dive in the churning water. There was a huge group of Surf Scoters, Rhinoceros Auklets, and a small group of Long-tailed Ducks even popped up beside us! This was definitely my favorite part of this trip – seeing all of these birds pretty up close and hunting! Well, after we ran out of time there we had to head back and got to see some Harbor Porpoises as we motored on towards Friday Harbor. What another wild day!


Until next time,

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris