By Naturalist Kate Perkins
The Schooner Zodiac has already had a season rich in marine mammals, exploration of life in the intertidal zone during shore visits, and many sea bird sightings as we are underway. As the Zodiac passes through the Puget Sound, we get to enjoy the rich habitats protected by the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Together, with the goals of research, education, recreation, and conservation, these organizations protect the vitality of the Puget Sound through designations such as Marine Protected Area, National Wildlife Refuge, and Sensitive Eelgrass Areas.
While whale sightings have been a bit more elusive, the ship has been visited regularly by Harbor Porpoises. These marine mammals are cetaceans, a category which also includes whales and dolphins. After experiencing a severe population decline in the 1970s, the Harbor Porpoise made a comeback, which has been attributed to a decline in gill net use and pollutants entering the water from industry (www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/harbor-porpoises-now-a-common-sight-in-puget-sound/). We also often see the shy Harbor Seal as it swims with just the top of its head visible above the water.
In addition to marine mammals, we get to experience a diversity of organisms on shore. The intertidal zone (where the sea meets the shore) hosts marine invertebrates such nudibranchs, barnacles, sea anemones, and sea stars, as well as a macrophytes (marine plants) and algae. Shore visits are rich in plants such as Oregon Grape, Manzanita, and Madrone trees. Some anchorage sites, such as Spencer Spit, host a National Wildlife Refuge with protections in place for sea birds and land animals.