San Juan Island

Oct 15, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird


We awoke this morning at anchor in Echo Bay at Sucia Island, a delightful state park that we explored yesterday. With the sunrise over Mt. Baker behind us, we headed to the town of San Juan Island’s Friday Harbor, the county seat and “hub” of the archipelago. It’s a picturesque town with a beautiful harbor, filled with all kinds of vessels.

We saw numerous Dall’s porpoise on our route. They’re about 350 pounds, black and white, and can reach speeds of up to 35 mph. On Whale Rocks, we spotted numerous Steller sea lions growling, rumbling, and jostling for position with Mt. Baker in the distance. Mt. Baker, with an elevation of 10,800 feet, is an icon in this corner of the Pacific Northwest. It’s an active volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range—the same range as Mt. St. Helens that erupted back in 1980.

San Juan Island is where the infamous Pig War dragged on for 13 years. It began in 1859 when an American settler shot and killed a pig belonging to a British subject. Due to border ambiguities, it was unclear to whom San Juan Island belonged—the Americans or the British. The “war” finally ended with peaceful negotiations; the only casualty being the pig. Today, Canada and the U.S. share the longest, unfortified border in the world.

Friday Harbor is home to The Whale Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated to killer whales, those legendary black-and-white creatures of the Northwest. The museum, an educational experience, showcases marine mammal skeletons and displays that tell the stories of the animals that live in the Salish Sea. 

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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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