April 30, 2018

Springtime Animals in April

[Sunday, 4/29/18 – M/V Sea Lion – 12:00 – Naturalist Erick]


This Sunday we Captain Mike and myself journeyed into the spring mist covering the San Juans. With us, we brought along a great group of folks aboard the M/V Sea Lion. We headed north through San Juan Channel and made our first stop at Green Point on Spieden Island. Here there is a colony of mostly adult, male Steller Sea Lions. Every day they take up different positions on this rocky point, I assume, mostly due to the weather. Today, since it was not too hot and not too cold, most of the them were just sitting with the wat halfway up their bodies so just their massively thick necks and heads were exposed. They were all facing the island and as we approached they swiveled and made their eyes bulge out to take a look at us. These creatures are so silly. As we watched them a few that were swimming in the rips around the point started to crawl on shore which upset all the other sea lions. They growled and bared their teeth at each other and argued about who deserved the best lay out spot the most. They are getting friskier these days. As we approach summer their testosterone levels are growing in preparation for their northern migration and mating season. So, they are getting a little antsy. We soon moved on further north towards Boundary Pass. We crossed the pass and rounded Moresby Island and found a bunch of Harbor Seals on Reay Island just to the west. These cute rock slugs stared back at us through the drizzle and one even squirmed off the rock to go swimming. If you didn’t know that’s the largest difference between “true seals” (phocids) and “eared seals” (otariids) aka sea lions. True seals like these harbor seals cannot walk on land since their back flippers are fused to their spines while eared seals, aka sea lions, can rotate their flippers and walk pretty confidently on land. Next, we headed further south and stopped by Mandarte Island. This island is a huge sandstone rock jutting abruptly out of the water. From afar it and the line of rocks the spread out from its terminal points make it look like a giant sea monster raising its back and making ready to dive deep back whence it came. We stop here not only to marvel at the cool cliffs rising above the water but also the large groups of birds that nest here. First, we stopped by the light on the rocks to watch a pair of Bald Eagles that were perching and chattering back and forth to each other. On the main part of the island the sea bird rookeries were all abuzz with activity. There is a bunch of new sea gull chicks hopping around the top of the island, and the sea cliffs are covered with the funny, tall nests made by the Pelagic Cormorants and the tiny nests that are nestled into the small honeycombed alcoves eroded out of the cliffsides are made by the large groups of Pigeon Guillemots floating and fishing around here. It has been so cool to see the population of birds grow once again on this island as we approach summer. Next, we continued south through north Haro Strait, past Battleship Island and eventually to the shores of Spieden Island. This south side of the island like many of the islands here is covered in prairie oak-lands. It is mostly covered with grasses that are intermittently broken up by Garry Oaks. Along these fields there are also herds of Fallow Deer and Mouflon Sheep. These animals were brought here by a previous owner of the island who operated an exotic-game hunting ranch. Once he sold the island and left he left a few species of animals on the island that are still here today. We watched these for a while especially the new young lambs frolicking through the fields of wildflowers. After experiencing that cuteness attack we continued on and made one last stop before we headed back to Friday Harbor. We stopped by O’Neil Island to see one of the Bald Eagles sitting on its newly laid eggs in their gigantic nest. It has been so great to see all the slow changes that have come with spring.


Whale folks, that’s all for now.

Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris