San Juan Wildlife & Nature Photography
Matt Ragen

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Deal of the Day


Harbor Seals and Sea Lions
(phoca vitulina)

We are fortunate to have a retreat in the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound that supports a wide range of wildlife. This gives us the opportunity to snap some interesting photos.

There's a small island about 100 feet from an old rock jetty which, in the winter, is used by a group of forty or so seals as a safe haven. It was a bit blustery this day but the seals were in evidence. This little seal was just waiting at the end of the rock to see if I was a threat or not before it slid back into the water.
This small group of four seals is just a small part of the herd of seals that was resting on this small, rocky island in the middle of Kanaka Bay. These four seals were keeping an anxious eye on me.
In August of 2003, while fishing from shore one morning, I noticed that the seals had joined me although I think they were having more luck than I was. This curious seal was checking me out -- as soon as it realized that I was taking pictures, it went under the surface. This fellow stuck around for a while but it stayed a bit further away.
In July of 2003, I was waiting on some rocks at Pile Point to catch some photos of a pod of killer whales that were moving northwards when, out of the corner of my eye, I caught this little harbor seal swimming close to shore. I would hazard a guess that, in order to avoid becoming a tasty lunch for the orcas, this little seal was heading the other way while hugging the shore.
We were scrambling on the rocks on our shoreline when this big sea lion suddenly appeared just about 10-15 feet off shore. As he went by, he started to bark, quite loudly, at our intrusion. He looked to be at least ten feet long.
In 2003, we finally got a picture of a sea lion up close. Very, very close. In fact, this California sea lion washed up dead on one of our beaches. We actually disturbed some of our local turkey vultures that were starting to feed on it. It was a about eight feet long and probably weighed about 300 pounds. This particular sea lion was of interest to some of the local conservation groups who came out to see if they could determine the cause of death -- there is some concern that the extremely powerful naval sonar is so loud that it is causing sea mammals to lose their hearing and perish.

Harbor seals are the most abundant marine mammal in Puget Sound. The harbor seal is the only pinniped that breeds along Puget Sound. Pinnipeds (seals, seal lions, and walruses) spend part of their lives in the water but depend on land to give birth and raise young. The term "pinniped" comes from the latin word "pinna" meaning winged and "ped" meaning foot. Adults are mottled tan or blue-grey with dark spots, measuring between four and seven feet long, weighing 250 to 300 pounds. To distinguish harbor seals from other pinnipeds along Puget Sound (California sea lions, Northern sea lions, and elephant seals) look for the harbor seal's small size, earless head, and spots. The harbor seal can plunge 300 feet and stay underwater up to 28 minutes. It can swim a fast 15 knots.

Although curious, they are shy animals and prefer quiet, unpopulated areas. Seals like to "haul out" on protected beaches, spits, bars, rocks and log rafts to bask in the sun and sleep. At the slightest sign of danger they will slip back into the water where they swim with power and grace. On land, however, seals wiggle and flop along. Harbor seals often haul out at low tide to digest food, rest, give birth, or nurse young.

Giving birth or "pupping" occurs in June and July along the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the San Juan Islands. In southern Puget Sound and Hood Canal, pupping takes place July through September. The mother nurses the pup with rich milk for just three to six weeks; after that, the pups are on their own.


Some books with more information on seals include:

These books are fictional or children's stories that involve foxes.

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