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Posted (crates) in biology, nature on September-17-2012

      Dark shapes were rising out in the water and each time that they did, I would hear a loud “whoosh.” They were Dall Porpoises and are fairly common in Puget Sound despite the fact they have been killed by the thousands by fishing trawlers in the NorthPacific.  I am always reminded of Orcas when I see these black and white mammals swimming here just south of the Narrows Bridge in Washington.

     It was early in the morning a few days ago, and I had just walked down to the beach with my pack in order to do a little fishing.  The sun was just lifting above the horizon making the rising mist glow and illuminating the beach and water in that beautiful golden light that I love so much.  The porpoises were heading south but stopped to cavort  just offshore before moving on. Their exhalations were very loud in the calm morning air.

     Earlier I had surprised a Bald Eagle on the beach as I walked down to my favorite spot.  I like to fish just alongside a large mass of brown algae which provides cover for the fish, but where my line will not become entangled. Later, I saw the same Bald Eagle dive at a fish in the middle of the Narrows, miss it, return and catch the fish and then laboriously begin to flap toward the shore, just a few feet off the water, before dropping it again.  It returned and caught the fish again and then made its way to the shore where it was barely able to gain enough altitude to reach its favorite perch on a Douglas Fir snag just above the beach.

      As the sun rose higher I was looking down the beach and saw what I thought were three dogs bounding across the sand.  I immediately recognized my error as I noticed their bodies seemed peculiarly elongated and flexible, and when they entered the water and swam away I knew that these were freshwater River Otters (Lontra canadensis) .  I have often encountered one of these otters along the road which leads down to the beach.  This otter seems to frequent a bridge culvert through which a small stream flows, and I can see its muddy footprints on the road pavement every time I walk down to the beach.

    Marine mammals were common this day.  I saw the heads of several Harbor Seals (Phoca vitulina richardsi) out in the water, but fortunately they didn’t approach the area where I was fishing.  Later in the day I saw a massive California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus californianus) swimming slowly north against the tide, but lost sight of him until he suddenly appeared with his head sticking straight up out of the water about a hundred feet off shore. It was a really large beast–its head looked as large as a barrel.  It seemed to be treading water, and it was yawning deeply and then exhaling loudly which made it’s jowls flutter with a loud noise.  It continued to do this, slowly drifting with the tide for about two hundred yards–constantly yawning and exhaling loudly. My first thought was perhaps it was trying to infuse its body with oxygen after prolonged diving, but apparently the causes of yawning is still being debated. There are three main theories. The physiological theory states that we yawn to get more oxygen or get rid of carbon dioxide. The evolutionary theory suggests that early human-like species would yawn to show their teeth and intimidate others. The boredom theory says that yawning is caused by boredom, fatigue or drowsiness, and a more recent idea says we yawn to cool our brains! 

    The big sea lion finally finished his yawning and drifting, and then once again began to swim against the tide, quickly making up  the distance it had lost.

     I’ve been really enjoying the sunny days this year in the endlessly cloudy days of Puget Sound. The Seattle area only averages 58 sunny days a year (7th least in the U.S.) and 226 cloudy days, 81 partly cloudy days and 155 days of rain!  The sunny days thus far this year has been far above average.  This particular day was so nice that I almost didn’t mind not catching any fish.

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