Erin | M/V Sea Hawk | Thursday, August 8, 2019 | 2:00 PM

What an incredible trip packed full of wildlife this afternoon! We left Roche Harbor with no firm reports of whale sightings, so we decided to head toward Canadian waters and try to search for whales on our own. Whales can be anywhere throughout the Salish Sea, so we were hoping to find them as we made our way through some important wildlife refuges. We arrived at a refuge called Mandarte Rock, which is important for nesting and resting seabirds. The rock has guano all over it, which is important for the nutrient cycling in our oceans. The rock had many different species of gulls on it, and there were also a whole host of pelagic cormorants using the rock as well. As we got closer to the rock, we could actually see the pelagic cormorants sitting on their nests! There were nests all over the steep sides of the rocks. Pelagic cormorants have their breeding plumage right now, so they are all black with white spots on their bodies. It was incredible to see nesting in action on Mandarte Rock. 

We then headed to see the lighthouse at Turn Point, which is on Stuart Island. It is the most northwestern point in the contiguous United States! On the steep cliffside next to the lighthouse, we saw pigeon guillemots nesting. They are phenomenal birds that have the ability to dive to 100 feet! We also got to see the neat geological features of Stuart Island, such as honeycomb weathering. When we went around Turn Point and into Boundary Pass, we came across a baitball! Baitballs are noticeable because of the presence of birds at the water's surface. The birds can be diving, flying, or just sitting there. It usually means that there are small schooling fish, or baitfish, gathered below them, and that they are attempting to feed on those fish. 

After spending some time in Boundary Pass, we headed over to another important wildlife refuge known as Flattop Island. We first came across some harbor seals that were hauled out on one of the small beaches. Some of them were also swimming around in the water, and a few of them were even splashing around! It is pupping season for the harbor seals, so there are many mothers that are nursing pups right now. We headed around Flattop Island and saw a bald eagle in the treetops. It was looking quite majestic. We then went over to the nearby Cactus Islands, where we saw more harbor seals and a bald eagle's nest. Bald eagle's nests can be 6 feet deep, 9 feet wide, and weigh up to 2,000 pounds! 

We enjoyed the lovely, forested views of the north side of Spieden Island, and we saw another bald eagle in the treetops. We got to see this one even closer than the last one, and it looked giant! They can be 3 feet tall and have a 6 foot wingspan! Then, we went around to the south side, which is a stark contrast to the north side. There is a small amount of vegetation, which makes it easier to see some of the non-native animals present on the island. We got some awesome looks at some mouflon sheep, some of which were heading down to the water's level to drink out of some of the freshwater springs that run down there. We also saw more harbor seals hauled out on the beaches of the island. Although we didn't see any cetaceans, we got some amazing looks at the other types of wildlife that call the Salish Sea home. 

Naturalist Erin