A trip to the Chittenden Locks in Ballard in the fall is a good time to see salmon making their way up through the fish ladder en route to their spawning grounds. If we know the salmon are there, so do their predators. On this day, it was seals. Seals and sea lions are both common at the locks when hunting for salmon. A pair of seals were playing around in the waters near the locks, no doubt choosing their moment for a snack. Another pair of seals had been a bit more aggressive in their thinking. They had made their way into the fish ladder itself.
There are gates on the entrance to the ladder that are intended to allow the fish through and not the larger predators but I guess on this day, the gates had been left open. Our first glimpse on one of the seals was as it was chomping its way through a salmon it had already caught. It was making swift work of it. A while later we saw them again. They would haul themselves out on to the walls of the ladder for a break before diving back in to search for the next snack!
Seeing aquatic creatures when you are at sea level can be tricky. If they pop out of the surface, you might spot them if you are paying attention. Get a bit of elevation and things are suddenly a lot easier to spot. We reached Point Defiance at the turning point of our hike and stopped to look out across the water. Straight down below us was a group of seals. Looking down they were immediately obvious. They would dive down every once in a while but, given how many of them there were, there were always a few on the surface. They seemed to be just hanging out near the beach on a sunny day.
The shores of Puget Sound provide plenty of places to explore. One of these was a beach in Shoreline, a town that is quite appropriately named. I was actually about to head back to the car when this event occurred. As I walked up the path I saw people coming in the opposite direction. I thought they had a dog with them and that it was swimming in the water alongside them. Then I realized that the head in the water was not a dog but instead was a sealion.
The sealion was very close in to the shore and seemed to be quite interested in what was going on. I turned back around and headed to the water as it came closer. There were some old wood pilings in the water and the sealion came in to those, almost as if they provided a measure of protection. Then it paused before turning around and swimming back in the other direction. Shortly thereafter, it dipped under the surface and swam away. By this point, a few people had stopped to watch its progress. A sealion is hardly a rarity but it is interesting just how much attention it garners all the same.
For the last two years I have been to Ano Nuevo for the sunrise photo tour amongst the elephant seals. This year I decided I didn’t need to get there before the sun came up. However, Nancy was interested in seeing them and she wanted to try getting some shots with her new Nikon P900. Therefore, we decided to take one of the other tours that occurs during the mating season, albeit during more sociable hours. We still went for the morning event and it turned out to be a good plan.
Unlike the sunrise tour, the groups are much larger and you are not driven out. Consequently, you have to carry everything you want with you. It makes picking your gear a slightly more careful decision process. The sun was out and it was a very pleasant morning. There were a few locations that the docents took us to and, while the males had picked some good locations right on the paths, we were still able to get to see a lot of the seals.
The weather had been wet which meant there was a lot of water inland and this appeals to the males who come to find a puddle to rest in and, occasionally, practice fighting. This is clearly not serious combat as the whole thing is a bit halfhearted. When you see the real fights, you are left in no doubt they mean it. We did get to see a lot of the colony and enjoy the nice weather. All in all, a pretty good second option.
I have posted plenty of pictures of Monterey and the surrounding area in the past. As you head along the shore, you actually move from Monterey in to Pacific Grove. It is quite strange how you go from the tourist center of Monterey onto some beautiful shoreline in a very short space of time and the number of people plummets. That is not to say Pacific Grove is deserted but it is a far more tranquil spot to be. The path along the top of the cliffs is great for wandering along and seeing what the sea is doing and what wildlife is out.
The birds are a constant presence as you walk but looking down to the water you get to see whatever the abundant sea life of Monterey Bay has to offer. On this trip a few seals were resting on the rocks and some Sea Otters were going about their business close in to the ricks despite the waves crashing around them. Must be good food near there.
The other “marine life” we saw was a group of people swimming out into the bay. I assume it was a club of some sort since it seemed very organized. A lot of people of varying age and ability were swimming out to a marker buoy and back. They seemed to have a lot of fun although some seemed noticeably tired once they were out of the water. Since I would have had a very hard time doing what they were doing, I can certainly sympathize!
Sometimes it is hard to remember that there are places as pretty as Half Moon Bay within an hour of where we live. If the traffic is flowing, it really is a short trip to get there. I have been there a few times recently for various different reasons. While we had relatives visiting, I thought a day trip there would be a good idea. The weather was looking nice (which it hadn’t been for much of their visit) so getting to hang out near the ocean was worthwhile.
The harbor at the north end of the bay is a nice place to be. Aside from some nice refreshments at a café near the harbor, there is the shoreline to wander along. It is also a launching site for local fishermen and some of the crab pots were stacked up along the parking lot. They are colorful despite their functionality.
A short drive north of the harbor is a favorite spot of mine. It is a parking lot at the top of some cliffs. The parking lot is for a distillery that I have never visited. Whisky is not really my thing. However, the view over the ocean with the waves crashing in below combined with the wildlife that lives along the coast makes it a relaxing place to be. We had pelicans flying low along the surf and seals that seemed to be hanging out in the shallows. Not sure why they were there but I suspect it was easy to rest there out of the way of the sharks further out in the deeper water. We even got a squadron of pelicans running along the ridge near us just before we left. It was like I had booked them.
The mud flats of Elkhorn Slough are a popular haunt for harbor seals. Relatively easily distinguished from sea lions, these guys seemed to really enjoy just lying out on the flats and sunning themselves. I imagine there are times of day when they are busy hunting for food but they must have been successful by the time we came by because they were not too active.
Their coats are very different when wet and dry and some of them would lie just into the water, possibly as a result of the tide having changed the water level while they rested. You could see the change in the coat underneath versus on top where it had dried out. One or two had even draped weed over themselves. Our guide explained why but I’m afraid I can’t for the life of me remember what the reason was. Therefore, I am going to go with fashion!
Of course, if you want to go for the cute factor, it has to be a baby animal. A baby seal duly provided the awww moment. It seemed interested in us too, so didn’t prove to be the hardest shot to get!