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The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group.  It is a place to note of any observations you have made of the world around you.  Rain, sun, wind...insects, birds, flowers...meteorites, rocks...seasonal changes...all are worthy additions to the bucket.  Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment.  Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
Salish Sea
Fall/Winter 2013/14

Hello...what's your story? Do I know you?


Last fall I had an extraordinary encounter, a shared experience with an alien intelligence. I was out on the water in a kayak, drifting around more than going anywhere, when a Harbor Seal engaged me in a friendly game of tag. I wrote about it in this Bucket. She won the game of course. We were in her world, where she is gracefully athletic and I am clumsy and blind. I felt honored to share that time with her, admiring her beauty and cleverness up close.

Ever since, I've wondered whether a seal I see now and then in this bay is the same one as I met on that afternoon. Harbor Seals are private and secretive around here, keeping their distance, and hauling out to rest on offshore rocks where they are safe from people and other land predators. Sometimes when I'm walking down the beach a seal will surface and look at me; they are invariably aware of activity on the beach. Even a ways from shore, is it possible for me to recognize an individual seal? (whether she might recognize me is a question I won't even ask!)

This is what I have learned so far in my observations since last fall.

Given this fact about seal fur, that their

Pelage is short and thick, consisting of coarse guard hairs and finer, denser underhairs.  Its pattern is similar to a human's fingerprint; unique to the individual.  The patterns range from light coats (white, silver, light gray) with dark rings or spots, to medium coats (beige, brown) with light or dark rings, or dark coats (dark gray, black) with light rings. (source, and another)
...I figured if I could get good enough photos to show the patterns, I might individualize the seal(s) I am seeing in the bay. I'd be interested to hear your opinion of what I'm seeing and concluding from my investigation so far. All the photos are in Lightbox, so you can get a better resolution by clicking on a photo.

The seal I saw on that day, October 25, had a pattern of white marks above her left eye, the best view I could get. A thick arch over her eye and a thinner line above that. The underwater photo shows that also. The third photo shows her "eyebrow whiskers" between those two lines:



The previous month, I saw this seal in the same bay (September 14) while kayaking. She came near, checked me out, and swam off. I think I see the two lines above the left eye:

seal 9/14a

seal 9/14b

The next day I went to a steep rocky shoreline a few miles away. One seal swam along the cliff below me. The face markings are totally different:

seal 9/15

I haven't been out kayaking for a while (long story), so all my observations have been from the beach. Usually seals come close into shore after small fish, herring or sand lance, that crowd in shallow water near sunset. Hence, my photos are not so good, it being somewhat dark, and at a distance (I'm hoping to improve on this with my new camera). But this is what I have on December 9 in the original bay. Looks like the 2 lines:

seal 12/9

Sunset scene, seal cruising the shallows:

Last month, on January 21, there were two seals in the bay. The first swam in my direction and then reversed direction:

sea; 1/21 c

seal 1/21 b

This is the second seal, looking at me as she passes by. Their markings are different from each other. Does either one have the "2-lines" pattern?

seal 1/21 a

On the 28th, I didn't get a great view of the left eye markings. I don't know how symmetrical seal color markings are.

seal 1/28

The next day, the 29th, a better view. The markings look similar to the ones on the "tag" day encounter. If so, this seal frequents this bay. I don't know where she goes to haul out.

seal 1/29

One of the few haul-out sites visible from shore is Deadman Rocks, which I've written about before (here and here). The tide runs so swiftly around the rocks, with eddies, currents and whirlpools, no one can safely cross over. The seals know that, and snooze peacefully, or splash around barking at each other. Fishing, when the tide is conducive. Even though they are safe, the seals are keenly aware of any walkers on the shore opposite, and watch us. It's a bit far to get a clear view of face markings, but here's one at a reasonably good angle, showing a different pattern. Seals are mostly invisible swimming, so I like to watch them hauled out, even though on land they are awkward and heavy in their movement, nothing like the sleek gracefulness hidden underwater. Nevertheless, we can tell there's a mind and individuality within.

sea; 1/24 d

seal 1/24 c

seal 1/24 b

seal 1/24 a


Seashore investigations in the Salish Sea. What are you discovering in your part of the country from your nature observations? Please leave a note in the Bucket!

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Originally posted to Backyard Science on Sun Feb 16, 2014 at 06:30 AM PST.

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