Traveling after Sock Summit: Astoria, OR, and a sea lion experience

posted in: Serendipity, Travel | 11

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After Sock Summit, I have some family gatherings to attend, so I started the next part of my trip by heading northwest of Portland and through Astoria, Oregon, where I stopped for gas and yogurt at a Safeway on highway 30. The Safeway is on the waterfront, with a multi-use trail and a trolley running along the shore. I decided I had time to take a short walk and enjoy the locale along with the yogurt.

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As I ambled along the trail, I noted birds congregating by type on the various pilings: cormorants in one place, gulls in another.

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While walking, I heard the distinctive sound of seals or sea lions, and thought there might be some on the rocky shore, not visible because of the thick shrubs. I hadn't seen any seals or sea lions in a lot of years, and I was curious. I continued along the trail, figuring that at some point I might be able to catch sight of the shore at an angle that would let me see what was making the noise.

The calls varied in intensity, and sometimes became quite a ruckus, echoing off the breakwater and the shore. I was puzzled about their source.

Looking out across the harbor, I realized that the docks appeared to be moving. Very odd. And then I connected the movement—and there was a lot of it—to the tumult of barking sounds.

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The closer I got to the harbor, the more sea lions I could distinguish along the docks.

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And in the water. They were almost everywhere.

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When I first arrived, even the wire cage (not enclosed) at the end of the dock was full of sunning sea lions. A few minutes later, the cage was empty, although I wasn't aware of any sort of mass exodus. Just the general shifting and napping and diving and swimming and nudging and calling of the population as a whole.

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Some were playing "King of the Mountain" and pushing each other off the docks.

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Others were snoozing the afternoon away. (They are captured and branded for tracking.)

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They obviously hang out here a lot. They even have their own sign.

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The danger appears to be due to their size and their numbers. I think they are California sea lions, which are intelligent, social, and trainable.

I wondered about the folks who have boats in these slips—how would they get to and from their moorings?

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The sea lions are quite peaceful, but I'd seen them rousting each other about, and they can weigh a lot.

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They're obviously individuals, even to a casual observer: looks and personalities are distinctive.

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When I went back a few days later, I discovered how at least one person gets to and from his boat through the bevy of sea lions: by bicycle. The critters moved right out of his way, some diving into the water and some just lumbering to the side of the dock to let him pass.

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Discovering them was an amazing delight, and I hope peaceful coexistence between humans and pinnipeds is possible.

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Sea lions (otariids) are "eared seals"—when you are close to them, you can see their ears, as you can in some of the photos above. True seals (phocids) are better long-distance swimmers than otariids, but their flippers are less maneuverable and they can't manage on land as well. Otariids, or sea lions, are therefore the "seals" often trained to perform for people at zoos: they are much more adept at the tricks they are asked to learn.

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These sea lions seem to especially like THIS particular harbor *IN* Astoria. They are not congregating to this extent in many other locations.

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11 Responses

  1. Susan J. Tweit

    The sea lions like this particular harbor in Astoria because they can pig on juvenile salmon swimming out to sea from the Columbia, and on adult salmon returning for their perilous journey upstream through the dams to spawn. They’re heck on the Columbia River’s remaining salmon population….

  2. Deb Robson

    I figured it was salmon. I’m not sure, though, whether the sea lions are worse for the salmon than the many dams and other human-added impediments along the Columbia and other rivers. Tom Jay, whom I’ve known from Port Townsend and saw a year or so ago at the Sitka Symposium in Alaska, has been working on restoring free runs for salmon in the Northwest: http://www.thelateralline.com/tomjay

  3. Susan J. Tweit

    I’m all for restoring wild salmon in the NW and removing the dams. I hear a lot about the relative issues with salmon and sea lions and dams and urban runoff and other impediments to salmon survival in the Columbia from my bro, who is Washington State’s chief policy wonk and scientist for the Columbia and Puget Sound fisheries, and is also on the staff of the N Pacific Fisheries Commission. It’s a fascinating and maddening and complicated set of issues.

  4. donna Druchunas

    I want to move there! (Can you tell CO is not my favorite place? Plus I’m in one of those transition periods. Trying to get through it without moving this time though. Don’t want to move until the next transition when I ‘retire’! 🙂 (When Dom retires, really, at about 53.)

  5. Deb Robson

    Astoria’s a great place. Not too far from Portland. Sort of full of tourists in the summer, but if you go out of town a little way it’s mellower. I’ve lived in heavily touristed places, and our patterns of travel shifted seasonally to stay out of the influx.

  6. Deb Robson

    The “fascinating and maddening and complicated set of issues” is why what I do here is describe what I saw and my personal feelings about it instead of getting into the details. If I could spend full-time studying it, I would likely be able to come up with opinions about what I think “should” be done (“should” being a loaded word). But I can’t. So I observe and marvel.

    My brother-in-law (one of the folks I am spending time with this week) was an Alaska salmon fisherman for more than 25 years. He has opinions.

  7. Deb Robson

    His opinions are as complex as the issues, too. It’s fascinating. At holidays, we give each other books. . . . They’re always thought-provoking. . . . Not simple. . . .

  8. Susan J. Tweit

    He might like Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris, new from OSU Press. It’s not about salmon management, but it’s a very interesting commentary on our impacts on the ocean….

  9. Deb Robson

    Thanks–he probably would like that a great deal. He’s someone who has read an encyclopedia. Don’t play Trivial Pursuit with him unless you want to lose. He’s not always right (in other folks’ opinions {grin}), but he can always back up his ideas.

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