February 12, 2018

Sunny Sunday: Wonderful Wildlife around the Outer Islands

Stelller Sea Lions

[Sunday 02/11/2018, M/V Sea Lion 12:00, Naturalist Erick]

     On Sunday, we were lucky enough to get another bright, sunny, brisk day. We started our whale and wildlife search headed north through San Juan Channel toward the outer islands. We stopped first at the Cactus Islands. Most folks don’t associate cacti with the Pacific Northwest, but the San Juan Islands are in a rainshadow area created by our coastal mountains and Vancouver Island. Our climate is a little more arid than the rest of western Washington and we get about half the amount of rain that Seattle does a little farther south. As we passed by here we saw a bunch of adorable Harbor Seals doing their mermaid poses on the half-submerged rocks surrounding the islands. Here we also saw over ten Bald Eagles both on the rocks and in the trees. They were most likely scavenging things on the island. The eagles get most of their food from scavenging or stealing from other animals. We continued between the islands and then headed north towards Canada. We headed towards Saturna Island and its impressive cliffs. We continued along its shoreliene for a bit looking at more soaring Blad Eagles, Harbor Seals, and some feral goats until we arrived at East Point. This is where Georgia Strait, Rosario Strait, and Boundary Pass meet so it is a very dynamic and nutrient rich area.

     One of the rocks at East Point is a favorite haul-out spot for Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals. Steller Sea Lions are the largest species of Sea Lions in the world, and they are only a part-time resident here. They migrate north in the summers to various breeding grounds in Alaska. They all look like giant, blubbery grizzly bears on the rocks and they are super impressive as they waddle around on land and skim through the water effortlessly. After watching them flop and growl for a while we headed to south to search waters we don’t often search. We went past Patos Island and its stunning Lighthouse framed in front of a looming, snow-capped Mt. Baker in the background. Then, we cruised around Sucia Island, created by an ancient riverbed, and wound back and forth through its skinny bays. We saw more Steller Sea Lions and Harbor Seals and the beautiful rock formations of Sucia Island. The name ‘Sucia’ comes from the Spanish cartographers that sailed through the area in the 1700s. They saw the sandstone formations heavily mixed with stones and other dark matter and thought it looked dirty. ‘Sucia’ is Spanish for dirty. A lot of that ‘dirt’ in the sandstone is actually fossils from a time when Sucia Island was a river valley. This island was home to Washington State’s first dinosaur fossil! After seeing the beautiful outer islands we returned through Presidents Channel bordered by steep, forested hillsides back home to Friday Harbor. Another beautiful, sunny day in the San Juan Islands!


Until next time,

Naturalist Erick


Bald Eagles
Sarah McCullagh