Category Archives: Patches

Patches the Sea Lion: Part II

Patches skimmed the steep rock face just below the surface of the waves. Every now and than his whiskers tickled as they brushed against the rocks. He pumped his flukes and rode the growing wave that his body created. Taking the corner of the cove as fast as he could, Patches sent waves crashing onto the rocks, soaking a gull that squawked at his boisterous entrance. Gulls amused Patches more than any other creature. Bobbing arrogantly on the surface, completely unconcerned until you surfaced near them, causing them to cry out and fly away in a flurry of indignation because you had the nerve to breath.

Patches broke the surface and grabbed a quick breath, feeling the mist of his exhalation run across his exposed back. The gash still throbbed from where the sea lion had fallen on it earlier and he noticed that it was bleeding again. It had been a month since the injury and it still protested at the mildest irritation. He hoped that it would begin to scab over and heal soon, the thought of maneuvering around the colony all winter with it and feeling the cold wind against his exposed blubber was not appealing. But for now he would just have to continue to live with it, and it certainly didn’t stop him from hunting.

Like most sea lions, Patches wasn’t all that picky about what he ate. He was a decent fisherman as far as sea lions go, though he still struggled to catch the ultimate prize, salmon. But bottom fish, crab, and herring were all easy enough to grab, and filled him up reasonably well. But he felt his body desiring the fatty meat of the salmon that continued to run past the rookery and knew he would need to start catching more to get through the winter. As quietly as he could Patches dove and entered the mouth of the cove. The water was shallower in here, and he could see clearly thirty feet in front of him, his world a greenish, aqua tint as rays of light from above reflected and stabbed the waving kelp fronds. It was here, Patches knew, the silver flashes of salmon could be found. They would seek shelter in the kelp beds to rest, relying on their maneuverability to wiggle through the stalks of kelp to stay a step ahead of the monstrous male sea lions that hunted in the deeper waters just fifty feet away.

But Patches had no trouble squirming among the kelp, and it was here that he had the most success hunting salmon. Many of the younger sea lions too, would work the kelp bed just off the rocks directly below the humans platform that overlooked the ocean. As the tide rose it was often necessary to pass directly below this platform, just feet from where they stood. The larger sea lions flatly refused to go near. Everything about the land seemed to terrify them and at least once a week at the rookery, one would let out a terrified roar and scramble for the ocean, unconcerned with anyone in his path. In the interest of preservation all before him would run for the ocean, trying to stay out of the way of his surprisingly agile bulk. It would than take them hours to get back onto the rocks.

The young sea lion wove through the kelp, head turning constantly as if on a swivel, his stomach growling. As he came out of the kelp bed and made a slow turn to go back the other way towards the cove, he felt something disturb the water next to him. He looked back to his left and saw that he was not alone. A harbor seal cruised peacefully in his slipstream, looking up at him expectantly. Patches had heard of this behavior but had never actually been followed by a harbor seal before. They would often trail a sea lion closely, scooping up scraps or the chance to clean up a whole fish if the sea lion missed his original lunge. But he had no intention of sharing any fish that he got, but for now, the little guy wasn’t bothering him at all.

The pair traced the kelp bed three more times, all to no avail. With a disappointed look, the harbor seal turned and dove for deeper water, skimming the ocean floor for crab. It wasn’t a bad idea, thought Patches, clearly the kelp bed was depleted of everything but sea urchins, and he wasn’t that hungry yet. But just as he rose to grab a breath before heading for deeper water, he saw it. A salmon cautiously glided into the kelp directly ahead of him, floating silently near the surface, the kelp fronds waving back and forth, obstructing his view. His heart raced as he swam slowly and quietly below the fish until he was directly below it. He hadn’t taken a breath and his lungs were beginning to ache. If he was going to strike he had to do it soon, but the kelp was still in his way. He floated on the current a few feet further, feeling the rocks scrape against his belly as the salmon slowly came back into view. The current shifted and the fronds were pulled the other way, exposing the fish. Sensing the change in the water, the salmon twitched, its’ wide unblinking eyes darting left, right, and down.

With all his strength Patches launched himself upwards, his eyes focused, the fish filling his mind. With a powerful flick the salmon bolted forward just as Patches closed his jaws. He felt scales rip off in his mouth, tasted the slimy texture on the back of his throat, and felt the fish slipping through. With a bolt of panic he snapped down and his teeth punctured skin, his mouth full of the salmon’s tail. The fish wiggled but Patches had him in his powerful canines as he ripped his head back and forth, feeling his body break the surface.

He broke the fish into bits, hearing the the squeals of the gulls all around him, snatching at pieces of his precious lunch. In three quick gulps Patches managed to get most of the fish down. Pride swelled inside him as three other sea lions raced up, eyes groping the water column for scraps. But they were too late. Patches floated at the surface, finally having a chance to catch his breath, feeling the sun warm his body as he stuck his flukes straight in the air. He drifted serenely in the current, in no real hurry to go anywhere with his belly full of fish.

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Patches: Part 1

The rocks were crowded and wet with the waves of the ebbing tide still lapping at their base. It smelled too, with dozens of sea lions jostling and roaring for position, climbing and stomping on each other, all trying to reach the drier and exposed portions above. But it was an uphill battle in more ways than one. It was hard to climb on their flippers, and the sea lions above outweighed the ones below by at least 500 pounds. Obesity can have its’ luxuries.

At the edge of the rock, clinging to the edge inches from the icy waves was a young male sea lion named Patches. He lay curled up in a small nook that kept him from being launched off by his neighbors who seemed determined to uproot the three big bulls five feet above. One made a vain leap for the ledge, only to be met by a deafening roar and six inch teeth. The younger sea lion retreated unceremoniously down the rock, tripped, and fell the last few feet back into the ocean, plunging ten feet before floating for the surface.

Sea lions don’t roll their eyes, but if they did, Patches would have. What was the point? In an hour the tide would shift and begin to flood, and an hour after that they’d all be back in the ocean. It was better to settle for a nook with a little tide pool and a barnacle sticking in your back as long as you got some sleep. Not that Patches ever got much sleep. There was always someone clambering over you, convinced that the next rock over was the one for them. Here you got by on quick cat naps, got back in the water, and fed as much as you could. Gaining weight was the only real way to move permanently up the rock.

Patches rolled over to see his remaining rock mate, still eye balling the ledge above and the three massive bulls occupying it. What luxury! No barnacles scratching you, or boat wakes washing you off, just four hours of glorious sleep. Despite the ferocity of the previous assault, his rock mate seemed dead set on trying to succeed where his partner failed. He moved tactfully and casually, waddling awkwardly toward Patches, as if he had nothing more in mind than a stroll down the angled rock into the water. Carefully he put his flippers on a carved step leading up and slowly pushed himself up until he was eye level with the ledge.

The nearest bull would have none of it, but this time he struck. Patches felt his eyes widen and his body recoil as the teeth struck the young male, causing specks of blood to fall onto the rocks, only to be washed away by the sea. The young sea lion leaped for safety only to land directly on Patches’ wound.

The gash was small but nasty, about six inches in diameter with a single puncture wound in the center along the left side of his back. After days of nursing it and keeping it away from the sharp rocks and the aggressive teeth of his rivals, he felt the wound split again, a shooting pain reverberating along his back. Patches roared and snapped at his rock mate who, despite being larger, had clearly had enough for one day and leapt into the water, his belly flop sending a wave of water over the rock and Patches.

Shaking his coat dry, he tried to go back to sleep, but the attempted thievery from the first two sea lions had made the mature bulls above uneasy, they were unwilling to share their rock with anymore upstart young males. With a bellow and a crash that shook the whole rookery, one of them leaped down beside Patches, charging at the small nook he had folded himself back into. With a yelp of surprise and fear Patches dove for the ocean, feeling the sting of salt water on his cut. Diving deep he paddled hard away from the rock and his aggressor, finally rising to the surface 100-feet away.

He was sick of the whole game. Why they all had to haul out in the same stupid place was ridiculous. Wouldn’t it be better if they just distributed themselves evenly? It’s not like the British Columbia coast line lacked for rocky intertidal zones. And yet here they gathered, piled in massive brown heaps, crushing each other to death while the big ones above roared and slapped the ground with their flippers, letting all who could hear know who was in charge.

Tired and hungry, Patches swam slowly north along the shoreline. Not far from the haul out was a peaceful cove. Many of the sea lions avoided it because of the humans that lived there. But Patches didn’t care. It was obnoxious the way they ran down to the rocks and made weird gargling noises at him, but they were harmless really. And the harbor seals would chase fish into the cove, and there was nothing easier than a fish trapped on a rock face. The thought cheered Patches considerably, and he swam faster, past the last rookery, toward the tiny cove with chum salmon on his mind.