April 15, 2018

Springtime Wildlife Sightings - Steller Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, & Harbor Porpoises Galore!

Steller Sea Lions

[Saturday, 4/14/18 – 12:00 – M/V Sea Lion – Naturalist Erick]


Like most places in the northern hemisphere springtime is about balance. We get some bright sunny days where all the flowers seem to sing spring, and other days we get the classic drizzly Pacific Northwest weather. Today on our noon tour Captain Mike, Piper, and I took a group out on M/V Sea Lion to search for wildlife among these amazing islands. We headed north in San Juan Channel. We made our first stop just a little bit north of Jones Island, a Washington State Park. Here, between Spieden Island, Flattop Island, and Jones Island long lines of eddies form as the tide moves in and out and has to rush by the sharp points on the shores of the islands. These eddies concentrate nutrients, plankton, and fish that are gobbled up by many animals. Today in this eddy line we saw around twelve Harbor Porpoises swimming and hunting here. These little guys are the second smallest cetaceans in the world and are only around 5-6 feet long. These cute porpoises continued to swim and hunt around the boat for a while and a small group even showed us the way to our next stop – Green Point on Spieden Island. Here, we saw the most Steller Sea Lions that I have ever seen anywhere. There were maybe close to one hundred Fiat 500 sized Steller Sea Lions all napping on this rocky point. These fuzzy brown animals are one of my favorites to see every time we go out. There also was a raft of them floating  in the middle of one of the eddies swirling off of Green Point. They looked back at us, walked over each other and locked jaws to fight over the best places to lie on the rocks I assume. After watching these swimming sea lions, we cruised along the southern shoreline of Spieden Island and saw a bunch of adult Bald Eagles sitting on the grassy slopes which are just about eye level with us aboard the M/V Sea Lion. They stared back at us as we passed - so majestic. Also, on these rocky slopes we spotted a lot of the nonnative animals that were brought to this island decades ago to be part of an exotic-game hunting ranch. We saw large male Mouflon sheep lying down, and even more baby lambs hanging out with their grazing moms. As we moved westward along the coast we also saw large Fallow Deer with their huge antlers. We even saw an albino one. Remember on a tiny island there is a small genetic pool. Next, we headed over to Sentinel Rocks to look at a few blubbery Harbor Seals resting on the rocks here. Unlike those huge sea lions we saw earlier these rock sausages stay here year-round. After passing the furry faces of the seals staring back at us we continued west. Our next stop brought us around Mandarte Island which is a large pock-marked sandstone rock jutting out of the water. This barren rock makes for a great seabird colony during nesting season. Tons of gulls, Pelagic Cormorants, and Pigeon Guillemots were nesting here today. This nesting colony was all abuzz with commotion and it was super cool to see all the soon-to-be bird parents diving and flying to fish and collect material to make their nests on the steep cliffs of Mandarte Island. We scooted out of there and headed around Gooch Island, Moresby Island, and then by Stuart Island to then shimmy through Johns Pass. We had to start heading back at this point but made one more stop around Flattop Island and near Spring Pass to look at an even larger group pf Harbor Porpoises hunting! Whale folks, until next time.


Naturalist Erick

San Juan Safaris