Sucia Island Marine State Park

Oct 12, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird


This morning, we left Friday Harbor and ventured out into the San Juan Islands. One hundred and seventy-four islands make up the San Juans, and many of these have been made into conservation districts, wildlife refuges, and state parks. We spent the morning looking for wildlife and spotted a large pod of harbor porpoises near the Turn Point Lighthouse. There are eight lighthouses in the islands, but this one is the most picturesque.  We also saw a group of Steller sea lions and two separate sightings of humpback whales. Our destination for the day was one of the “jewels” of the region: Sucia Island Marine State Park. There are 11 different islands in this park; the main island has four different bays to moor a boat and great opportunities for kayaking on sheltered waters.

Geologically, Sucia is perhaps the most interesting island, with two distinct formations. The Nanaimo Formation was formed 80 to 90 million years ago and was once part of the seafloor.  The Chuckanut Formation, formed about 55 million years ago, is sandstone that was once quarried and sent off to Seattle, Olympia, and Bellingham for constructing buildings. Some of these buildings are still standing today—the State Capitol Building of Washington is one of them. The Chuckanut starts in the foothills of the Cascades beneath towering Mount Baker (10,700 feet) and ends here on Sucia Island. There is a small part of Sucia in the southwest that is made up of the Nanaimo Formation and it contains fossils of marine creatures such as horseshoe crab, giant clam, and ammonites. 

The birding is always good here on Sucia, and today was no exception. A group of at least 50 black oystercatchers fed along the shoreline, harlequin ducks posed, and eagles and great blue herons foraged for fish. A family of river otters in Fossil Bay gave us a show with their antics, and of course, the harbor seals popped up their heads to watch us fossil hunt and kayak.

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About the Author

Victoria Souze

Naturalist

Victoria is currently director for the Whatcom Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a non-profit organization dedicated to responding to marine mammal strandings and the welfare of marine mammals. After completing her studies in fisheries and wildlife at Grays Harbor College and marine biology at Western Washington University, she moved to Lummi Island, a small island that is part of the San Juan Islands in Washington State. For the past two decades she has worked as a marine naturalist on tour boats with an emphasis on the endangered Southern Resident killer whales in the Salish Sea, a region that encompasses the Puget Sound, San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia (Canada). In 2009 this area was officially renamed the Salish Sea in honor of the Coast Salish native tribes who have lived there for thousands of years.

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