Sunday, February 2, 2014

Steller Sea Lions

One day, I hiked to Cape Flattery, the northwestern most point in the contiguous United States.

Cape Flattery resides on the Makah Indian Reservation. The trail to the cape was once treacherous. The Makah obtained funding to improve the trail, which now includes overlooks along the way.

It's a lovely hike through a rain forest that's vibrant and green.

Cape Flattery
At the end of the trail, when you emerge from the forest, you are high up on a bluff overlooking Cape Flattery with a view deep into the Pacific. It seemed mysterious with the mist, the surf, the ocean, the island, the sky, the coming fog way out to sea, and the sounds. It was sublime, wild and uncut.

Tatoosh Island

Off the coast of Cape Flattery, about a half-mile from shore, is Totoosh Island that was once a working lighthouse. Because of its isolation it is now home to a diverse population of wildlife.

I stood at the edge of the bluff and leaned on the railing, the only thing keeping me from the gray swirling waters below. And, as we all do, when in situations of possible chance, I thought briefly about the railing breaking and me falling into the water below. 

It would be difficult to survive the power I saw down there.

After awhile of immersing myself in thought and Cape Flattery, I spotted something swimming. I was able to discern that it was a sea lion vigorously submerging and then emerging in the cold waters. 

I was not certain of the species but knew I'd identify her in time (it was a female I found out later). To my delight another appeared exhibiting the same behavior. It seemed they were feeding.

I continued to watch them as they made their swimming seem effortless in such powerful waters.

I could not help but think they were like aquatic dogs playing on a sunny day except, their realm, is the northwest Pacific.

I watched them as they swam further out into the Pacific and then disappeared.

Back home and with images in hand, I set out to identify them and I'm pretty confident I have. They are Steller Sea Lions, a near-threatened species that were once listed on the Endangered Species List.

Their numbers declined ominously with the highest losses caused by fishermen who shot them as competition for fish. They have rebounded, somewhat, but the Japanese still continue to shoot them.

I felt privileged to witness these beautiful animals in their natural habitat and observe their feeding behavior. It is my hope they re-populate to healthy numbers and, that those who shoot them, lay down their guns of violence.

I can hope. I can.

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