Diving in the San Juan Islands - Oceana USA
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July 6, 2011

Diving in the San Juan Islands

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today’s highlights: On their first day in Washington, the team saw a minke whale, harbor seals and more in the San Juan Islands.

Washington Leg, Day 1

Just before 5 a.m., captain Todd Shuster started the two quiet engines of the eco catamaran, Gato Verde. Shortly thereafter we were riding the waves out of Port Angeles Harbor.

Due to gale force wind advisories in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were forced to re-route our diving to the San Juan Islands. For years, we have been interested in the abundant forage and orca whale populations, steep drop-offs and strong currents in this area. As we approached the islands we were exuberant, curious, and hopeful of what we would find today.

Living among the sand and rocks of Hein Bay, a bed of scallops and sea urchins were kept company by corals and a diversity of fish species. A brief appearance by a minke whale off the bank was a highlight of this dive.

We found that the rocky walls and boulders of the steep seafloor drop in Andrew’s Bay, north of Limekiln Lighthouse, was home to yellow branching sponges, large anemones, scallops, copper rockfish, quillback rockfish, kelp greenlings, and cryptic sculpins.

The currents in this area, popular for salmon fishing, were raging at 4 knots, but we successfully captured footage of biogenic reefs. These reefs are unique because they are created by old barnacle shells that have accumulated over time to create a reef structure.

During this dive, we were greeted by a couple of sly harbor seals, sneakily swimming past, their heads just barely above water.

It was dinner time as we continued to work while dozens of rhinoceros auklets feasted on sandlance — a long, thin, silvery fish that is critical food for these birds.