When out looking for wildlife, it pays to keep your head swiveling. There are the things you are expecting to see but also the odd one you weren’t. It was close to high tide as I walked far out on the boardwalk at Nisqually but the tide had turned and the water was starting to flow out. As I glanced across, I saw three shapes in the water. Some seals were drifting out with the tide. Two of them were swimming along but one had stopped close to me and was staring directly at me. Consequently, he got photographed. We stared at each other for about a minute and then he disappeared under the surface and I didn’t see him again. The other two were long gone so I assume he was chasing to catch up with them.
It’s not unusual to see seals along the shoreline at Mukilteo. The creation of the new ferry terminal seems to have provided them something new to explore. It also provides an elevated location from which to see them which is great since photographing seals when you are close to water level makes for difficult conditions and less than inspiring photos.
I don’t know how much the base of the ferry terminal provides for good food supply for the seals but they seemed to be hanging around for a while. Maybe it was curiosity or maybe the food was good. I was just glad to see them!
Lime Kiln Point is a popular spot for watching whales. A humpback was not far offshore but a Steller’s sea lion came swimming up along the shore. It was very close in and headed past the lighthouse and to the north. We went back to watching for the whale. A little while later, a snort came from our right with a spray of water. The Steller’s was back and was bobbing in the water right in front of us. It hung around long enough to take a couple of shots and then it went back north. I think it was jealous of the attention the whale was getting!
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!
The salmon head to spawn in phases with the three different breeds coming at slightly different times. They head through the ladder at the locks in Ballard in the fall but, before they head into Lake Washington, they pause in the approach area. The transition from salt water to fresh is something that they have to adjust to and the area just by the locks where the fresh water is spilling out provides a good place for them to get adjusted. They can stay for a couple of weeks or more. The result was that we saw a lot of salmon swimming around in the waters by the dam. This was not a risk free occupation as shall be covered in a future post.
While walking along the harbor in Victoria, I happened to be looking over the edge when three otters came out from under where we were and dropped into the water. I was quite surprised by this and we watched them swim out a way into the water before the dived. It wasn’t long before they popped back up with their catches in their mouths. They then climbed up onto the jetty for one of the ferries to enjoy their crab lunch and to play around as otters are prone to do!
On our trip back to Edmonds, after we left the orcas, we had a lucky encounter. We came across a minke whale. It was having a good time feeding on bait balls that were easy to spot given the large number of birds on the surface above them. We saw the whale surface a few times and then it headed for the bait. Timing its surfacing was tricky. The birds all started to take flight but they did so a long time before the whale came up through the fish. I missed the key moment. However, I did get a few shots of the whale as it was feeding although not of the swollen lower jaw folds as it took mouthfuls of water in.
Sealions are not small creatures when you get close to them. However, the ones you more normally come across have a larger relative. The Stellar Sealion is a big beast of a creature. The females are large and the males are huge. When we used to visit Ano Nuevo, you could see the Stellars out on the island. What looked like large rocks were actually the males. These things are big.
A colony of them was hanging out on some rocks we came across during our trip to go whale watching. They were basking on the rocks or swimming in the waters nearby. The boat was able to get quite close to the rocks so we could see the sealions out enjoying the sun. Seals and sealions seem to be very happy when they are dozing on the rocks in the sun. We weren’t close enough to disturb them but we were close enough to get a good look.
While we were happy to see the humpbacks that I covered in this post, we were really hoping to see some orcas. There is a resident group that lives in the area and transients. We didn’t mind which ones we got. We were just hoping to spot some. We were not disappointed. There were quite a few orcas out hunting. They were quite scattered. Our previous orca trip had followed a pod for a long period and they had stayed relatively close together. This time we saw individuals or pairs spread out across the water.
The orcas are such cool looking whales. The black and white coloring is distinctive and the male whales have such a large dorsal fin that they stand out clearly. Getting shots of more than one at once is a touch tricky. Usually they surface individually and one will be diving back under as another breaks surface. I did get the occasional time when they were above the water together, though.
One whale was heading parallel to the shore as we went the other way. Between us was a fishing boat. The guys on the boat must have had a great view as it went by. For us, our pace matched theirs and it appeared that the whale was always just in front of the fishing boat! With the amount of orcas we saw, it was a very successful trip.
We took a trip out to go whale watching while we had some visitors staying with us. The trip departed from Edmonds and proved to be a great day out. Our first encounter was with some humpbacks. We have had some great humpback spotting previously and they got a post here from one of those events. This time we came across a couple of them feeding in the waters of Puget Sound. A couple of times we were nice and close when the whales dived. The humpback is great for getting a view of the fluke as they dive deeper. Here are a couple of fluke shots I got. The flukes are the way that the scientists are able to identify the whales since they are quite individual.