Monthly Archives: January 2015

Harbor Porpoises

Image Courtesy of seagrant.us

Image Courtesy of seagrant.us

Harbor porpoises, one of the smallest members of Cetacea, have been a rare sight in the Salish Sea until recently. They were common in our inland waters through the 1950’s, but had virtually disappeared by the early 1970’s due to fishing activities, increased vessel noise, and industrial pollution. Why they have made a comeback recently is unknown, but several factors, including declines in local gill-net fisheries as well as ongoing environmental cleanup efforts, could all be responsible for the population increase.

Globally, harbor porpoises have an enormous range, making it hard for scientists to estimate their population size. They can be found throughout the temperate coastal waters of the Northern Hemisphere. The population that resides in the Inland waters of the Puget Sound are thought to be a unique subspecies. As their name suggests, they are typically found in nearshore waters shallower than 500 feet. They forage small schooling fish such as herring, and have been known to eat squid and crustaceans. A group of harbor porpoises is called a shoal, but you’re unlikely to see a shoal of them during your charter in the Salish Sea. Those that call the Puget Sound home like to live in smaller groups of 2-5 individuals. On average, they live about 20 years. Adults are 5-6.5 feet in length, and they only weigh about 120 lbs. Females are larger than males.

These small porpoises can be hard to spot, especially in choppy water, because of their subtle, secretive behavior. Look for their dark grey, small triangular dorsal fin to break the surface, which can blend in with waves. They have dark grey backs with white underbellies and throats. You may also hear them breathing. Their puffing breath sounds like a sneeze. They reside in the Salish Sea all year around.

If you would like to see harbor porpoises during your charter, a great spot to see them in the islands is in Bellingham Channel, north of Guemes Island, south of Lummi Island, and in between Vendovi and Sinclair Islands. During tide changes, there is a convergence zone at that spot where fish tend to school, attracting the harbor porpoises.

Sucia Island

Sucia IslandSucia Island is commonly the first overnight stop that our charter guests make after departing from our docks on Saturday morning. It is 2.5 miles north of Orca’s Island in the San Juans, and is actually the largest island in an archipelago of ten islands, meaning that there is plenty to explore both on and off your boat. The isolated coves and bays dotting the shoreline of the island has served the Lummi Tribe for centuries in their seal hunting days. Later, in the 1800’s, smugglers used them as hideouts while illegally transporting wool and opium, as well as liquor during Prohibition in the 1920’s and 30’s. In the 1960’s, the archipelago was purchased by the Puget Sound Interclub Association, who donated it to the State of Washington for protection as a marine park. Now, Sucia Island is popular with boaters due to ample mooring buoys and 640 feet of dock. Shallow Bay, on the island’s west side, offers 7 mooring buoys as well as space for smaller boats to anchor. This beach is the access point to a large group camping site that has a covered eating area. Directly across the island’s isthmus from Shallow Bay is Echo Bay, which is the largest of the anchorages. Here, there are several mooring buoys close to a pebble beach. Fossil Bay, on the south end of the island, is popular with visitors because there are two docks available to tie up to, as well as mooring rings. There is also room for anchorages in Ewing Cove on the northeastern side of the island. Visitors to Sucia can spend time beachcombing, fishing, clamming, crabbing, scuba diving, or hiking on the island’s 10 miles of trails.