Tag Archives: seal

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.

Advertisements

Face to Face

A seal bobs in the shallows of the cove next to our house. Floating silently, big wide eyes fixed on the rocks and washed up logs in the back of the cove. Where there’s seals there’s usually fish and I rush out the door, grabbing the net leaning against the wall that we always have close at hand. I pick my way down the beach, stepping and sliding over logs, their surfaces slick with rain. I clamber over one and try to push myself up, my hand slips, coming away with some nasty slime coating my palm. But after wearing the same pants for a week a little tree slime seems irrelevant and I wipe it on my pants leg.

The fish love to take shelter in the shallows, even huddling under the logs when they float on the high tide. It’s an aquatic Easter egg hunt and I peer under log after log, looking for a dark shadow, a burst of blue, a hint of silver. I find nothing as I near the far side of the cove. I look out over the water, the seal has vanished like a phantom beneath the waves. There are no sea lions, no humpbacks, just the lapping of the waves. I balance on a floating log and continue to pry the water with my eyes, the net held loosely at my side. The rain that has been falling for three days begins again, and with it the rush of wind, the beginning of a 30 knot storm that would blow in before the night was done, pinning Paul and Helena in Alert Bay for another day.

I reach the last fallen tree and gingerly step off, hearing the rock crunch against my feet, my toes tingling from the cold. I’d gone over the top of my XtraTufs putting the boat away last night and the insides are still lined with sea water. The sun disappears behind the clouds, concluding it’s brief appearance for the day, the solar panels have had little to do this week, but we’ve been keeping the generator plenty busy.

Something large moves in the shallows, than a flash of silver. At my feet is a salmon. Adrenaline rushes, my eyes wide. The chum is laying on its side mouth working feverishly, passing as much water as possible through its gills. One wide unblinking eye stares up at the sky and into the heavens. He’s dinner. I pull the net out, and take a step towards him, this was too easy. But something large and gray slithers across the submerged portion of the nearest log, making me stop my approach.

It’s a harbor seal, maybe five feet away, it’s belly dragging against the rocks of the shallows, whiskers a yard from the fish. It had to know I was there, his sharp ears and wide eyes would have told him long before he reached this point. And yet there he floated, trusting me. For the briefest moment I’m conflicted. Two steps, a yell, and a quick move of the blue net and the fish was mine. And yet, what would that say about me? What kind of man would I be to callously shove this seal aside so that I could have what it had chased. How was that any different from the profit hungry oil company, banging on the doors of the refuge? The hunter on Baranof Island, murdering a bear for its fur. This fish wasn’t meant for me and I knew it. I may want it, but I didn’t need it. I look down at the seal, still floating there, a wave hits shore and almost carries the pinniped into my feet, I’ve gone over the tops of my boots again.

Finally, the seal turns his head, and looks straight into my eyes. For the briefest moment we’re connected. What must he be thinking. Many of my species would call him a pest, destroying nets, eating fish. God forbid that he live the way a seal’s supposed to live. And yet here he was, giving me a chance to do the right thing. Nature once again, giving us a chance to make amends. It was my turn to represent mankind to the animal kingdom, I didn’t want to disappoint.

“Go ahead,” I whisper, “take it, it’s your fish.” The seal turns away and with one movement, delicately grabs the fish by the tail and pulls it back into the deep water. I watch the little gray torpedo depart, gliding serenely through the waves, the fish clenched in his teeth. Ten feet from shore he surfaces, his head turned back toward shore. The tail hangs out one side of his mouth and he hovers for a second, starring at me, and is swallowed up by the sea.