Mythical Sea Creatures and Puget Sound Marine Mammals

Last summer I wrote a post about a mysterious creature I saw one day in Puget Sound. At that time, my researching led me to conclude it was a group of porpoises—most likely Dall’s porpoises since they were the most common. The only other likely suspect, the harbor porpoise was thought to have long-since disappeared from Puget Sound, killed off by industrial pollution or entanglement in fishermens’ gill nets.

Since then, new information has revealed that harbor porpoises have made an extraordinary comeback in Puget Sound. Amazingly, they are now considered the most common marine mammal in the great Salish Sea!

So, I’m revising my conclusion: the mystery creature was most likely a group of three harbor porpoises.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure. It could have been a group of Dall’s porpoises out for a lazy swim off the shore of West Seattle. Or, maybe it really was a magical sea creature after all.

I’m not ruling anything out.

 

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(The following is a re-posting of my very first blog post)

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Sometimes I let my imagination run wild. Maybe I watched too many sci-fi thrillers when I was young, or maybe I just want to sprinkle a little artistic license on the ordinary world, but sometimes…I daydream up weird stuff. Just for the fun of it.

Once, I casually remarked to my husband as we walked on the beach, “Just imagine—right now—a giant mutant octopus emerging up out of Puget Sound! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

pugetsound

 

I should have known better than to say such a thing to a marine biologist!

But one day I actually saw something that seemed impossible. It was on the beach in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park—one of those typical Seattle days, with the water and the sky one solid slab of gray. No wind at all…the water smooth as glass. Not a soul in sight…no people, no boats, no ferries.

I had been walking along in the gray, thinking how nice it would be if water had no reflective surface. We already know what the sky looks like…why should the water mirror it for us? Wouldn’t it be better if Puget Sound was transparent from every angle, so we could see all the way to the bottom…see every bit of marine life in there?

Then a giant sea-serpent swam by right in front of me. Something straight out of Norse mythology. It had the familiar three-hump shape and the graceful rolling motion of a snake in the water. All that was missing was the arched head and the lashing tongue.

Lincoln Park

 

I watched it swim for at least ten minutes…three perfect dark humps rising smoothly in synchronized movements…one after the other. It went slowly, in playful figure-eights, spiraling out further and further off shore. And each time a hump rose and fell, it sprayed off a neat little fountain of water.

Daydreamer shifted into Naturalist. It must be three separate animals. Baby orca? Orcas are not unusual in Puget Sound—I’ve seen pods quite a few times. But no, orcas are lots bigger, and this was three creatures of similar size, not a baby with adults.

I ran through the list of common Puget Sound marine mammals: sea lions, harbor seals…no, they move differently. They swim for a while, then stop and poke their noses up and look around. Usually, they look right at you. Same with river otters. And I’ve never seem them swim synchronized like that.

I figured there had to be something I was forgetting, and of course there was: Dall’s porpoise. Dall’s porpoises are rare in Puget Sound, and I’ve never seen them here before. Plus, I’ve always thought of porpoises as swimming fast, darting through the water, not lazy like these were. And I didn’t remember seeing any dorsal fins. But they best fit the description, right down to the distinctive “rooster-tail” splashes they make.

dalls porpoises2

 

 

I feel a little silly about the whole sea-serpent thing. But it does make me feel better that my husband didn’t think of porpoises either. “Gosh, Dee,” he said when I described what I had seen and asked what he thought, “maybe it was a magical sea creature.”

I’ll never live down the ‘mutant octopus’ remark.

So now when I walk the beach, I look for porpoises. And I think about all the living things out there in Puget Sound. But I still wish water didn’t have a mirrored surface. Maybe then it would seem like more than just a body of water…maybe it would seem more like a place where actual creatures are trying to live. Maybe then, we would care more about protecting it.

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Mutant Octopus, Mythical Sea-Serpents, and Puget Sound Marine Mammals

 

Sometimes I let my imagination run wild. Maybe I watched too many sci-fi thrillers when I was young, or maybe I just want to sprinkle a little artistic license on the ordinary world, but sometimes…I daydream up weird stuff. Just for the fun of it.

Once, I casually remarked to my husband as we walked on the beach, “Just imagine—right now—a giant mutant octopus emerging up out of Puget Sound! Wouldn’t that be awesome?

I should have known better than to say such a thing to a marine biologist!

But one day I actually saw something that seemed impossible. It was on the beach in West Seattle’s Lincoln Park—one of those typical Seattle days, with the water and the sky one solid slab of gray. No wind at all…the water smooth as glass. Not a soul in sight…no people, no boats, no ferries.

I had been walking along in the gray, thinking how nice it would be if water had no reflective surface. We already know what the sky looks like…why should the water mirror it for us? Wouldn’t it be better if Puget Sound was transparent from every angle, so we could see all the way to the bottom…see every bit of marine life in there?

Then a giant sea-serpent swam by right in front of me. Something straight out of Norse mythology. It had the familiar three-hump shape and the graceful rolling motion of a snake in the water. All that was missing was the arched head and the lashing tongue.

 

I watched it swim for at least ten minutes…three perfect dark humps rising smoothly in synchronized movements…one after the other. It went slowly, in playful figure-eights, spiraling out further and further off shore. And each time a hump rose and fell, it sprayed off a neat little fountain of water.

Daydreamer shifted into Naturalist. It must be three separate animals. Baby orca? Orcas are not unusual in Puget Sound—I’ve seen pods quite a few times. But no, orcas are lots bigger, and this was three creatures of similar size, not a baby with adults.

I ran through the list of common Puget Sound marine mammals: sea lions, harbor seals…no, they move differently. They swim for a while, then stop and poke their noses up and look around. Usually, they look right at you. Same with river otters. And I’ve never seem them swim synchronized like that.

I figured there had to be something I was forgetting, and of course there was: Dall’s porpoise. Dall’s porpoises are rare in Puget Sound, and I’ve never seen them here before. Plus, I’ve always thought of porpoises as swimming fast, darting through the water, not lazy like these were. And I didn’t remember seeing any dorsal fins. But they best fit the description, right down to the distinctive “rooster-tail” splashes they make.

I feel a little silly about the whole sea-serpent thing. But it does make me feel better that my husband didn’t think of porpoises either. “Gosh, Dee,” he said when I described what I had seen and asked what he thought, “maybe it was a magical sea creature.”

I’ll never live down the ‘mutant octopus’ remark.

So now when I walk the beach, I look for porpoises. And I think about all the living things out there in Puget Sound. But I still wish water didn’t have a mirrored surface. Maybe then it would seem like more than just a body of water…maybe it would seem more like a place where actual creatures are trying to live. Maybe then, we would care more about protecting it.