Harbor Porpoise

Harbor porpoise are vastly reduced in numbers in the Baltic Sea due to the beleif of fishermen that they reduce vaslty the numbers of fish available. And they are right. Each porpoise consumes several pounds of fish a day. In the San Juans it is the salmon gillnetters that struggle with these animals. They blunder into the gillnet – for what reason it is not understood because they can “see” them – and tangle.
Distinguished by a small triangular dorsal fin in the middle of the back – at best – these beautiful animals reach five feet at best. Harbor porpoises are colored:

  • Gray back – lighter sides and belly,
  • Dark mouth-to-flipper stripe,
  • Indistinct beak.

Usually solitary, at the end of summer they will congregate in larger groups of up to 25 individuals. They are seldom seen because of their quick rolls on the surface with little to no splashing. They are found in the north Pacific and Atlantic along the coast. Harbor porpoises can be distinguished from the coastal dolphins by their size.


Pirates Day – September 19

Okay a day late and a dollar short. But what kind of blog about the San Juans could not mention pirates day?

Okay so we didn’t have Morgan or some of the other greats. But we did have our characters.

In Bellingham in Fairhaven there is a statue dedicated to the fond memory of Dirty Dan Harris. Now there are dry academic approachs to Dirty Dan and his exploits but there are the myths and legends too. After having his rowboat taken by folks from Point Roberts and being left on Sucia Island – marooning in pirate terms – Dan made a log raft and let the tide carry him back into Bellingham. Soon back in business, he laid a wee trap for the protagonists. Mixing a few kegs of whisky with raw sewage, when he was hijacked again, the perpetrators were so ill from consuming their booty they never bothered him again.

More importantly to mariners are the tales of Dan’s incredible knowledge and use of tides. He rowed out to an ebb tide and his boat was carried across the straits from Bellingham to Victoria. Sitting out the next tide cycle while his boat was loaded, he rode the returning flood tide back to Bellingham. He often completed the round trip in less than 36 hours. Something to think about in these times of rising fuel prices!
Many of the reports of Dan talk about him as a developer which may or may not be true. He certainly had a profound impact on the community he lived in. Today he lives on in the historical reconstruction and tourism attraction for the tiny community.


Marine mammals

Many first time visitors to the San Juan Island come to the see the Orca. Fascinating and spectacular they are only a small portion of the marine mammals that call Puget Sound home.

My interest began with the porpoises that rolled by the sailboat as I went from island to island. Usually they were visible in calms seas but I occasinally saw them in weather too. Talking to other boaters and fisherman I got some interesting stories including being told that they were “blackfish” and really were fish – not mammals.

That got me going. I discovered that Dall’s porpoises and harbor porpoises both exist in the area. Being told that what I was seeing was Dall’s – I carried merrily on. I realized that there were other small whales in the area. And then there were the seals.

All fascinating creatures in their own right.


History of the natural – San Juan Islands

Natural history isn’t the strongest search term to name a blog – yet I want to post a ton of material that doesn’t fit under any rubric better than that. I’m interested in the San Juan Islands. Their human history, their geological history as well as their ecology – botany – and zoology. Not to mention that it is just a beautiful place.