Monitoring San Juan Islands' seals, sea lions and birds

Photographed and written by Phil Green, Yellow Island Land Steward

Last week, I finally had decent weather to get to Goose and Deadman islands to do what is now yearly monitoring. I actually visit these two islands monthly from April through September to keep an eye on the nesting bird populations. Unlike our non-island properties, I rarely set foot on these two properties. They are located at the south end of San Juan Channel where the channel enters the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Currents and winds in this area can be really nasty, so I definitely want to only head that way in good conditions.

Observations are usually made from the water. Harbor seals use the only landing beach as a haul-out site on Goose Island (35 seals present this year) and use Deadman Reef (25 seals this year). The reef is part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's San Juan Island National Wildlife Refuge, which is adjacent to the landing beach on Deadman Island. Harbor seals are one of our conservation targets on both islands, so their presence during monitoring allowed me to check the box "appeared stable" on the report.

Another conservation target for Goose Island is nesting seabirds, in this case double-crested and pelagic cormorants and glaucous-winged gulls. Nesting season is over, but earlier trips to the island confirmed that all three species "appeared stable." The day of the monitoring, two bald eagles were on Goose Island, one actually in a cormorant nest. Needless to say, with the eagles present, there weren't many other birds around. Eagles often hunt both the cormorants and gulls on Goose Island. They also use Deadman Island as a place to perch.

This year, Jen Olsen, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, accompanied me and took notes while I drove and took photos. After finishing the inspections, we continued down to Whale Rocks (San Juan Preservation Trust property), which is a major Steller sea lion haul out. Jen monitors the sea lions when they are present, September to the following May, getting counts but also looking for entanglements. We counted more than 70 Steller sea lions on Whale Rocks, with more in the water, plus more than a dozen California sea lions. Fortunately, there were not any sign of entanglements.

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  Goose Island, the Cattle Point Lighthouse on the right and the Olympic Mountains in the background across the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Goose Island, the Cattle Point Lighthouse on the right and the Olympic Mountains in the background across the Strait of Juan de Fuca