We’ve been surveying this section of the Washington coast for approximately two years. We do it year-round every month and in every kind of weather; wind storms, rain, and snow. Occasionally in sunshine. Of course, like most aspects of life, this routine was interrupted by our recent COVID crisis. However, I do feel a much stronger appreciation for the outdoors and the healing it provides with this forced interruption despite finding the occasional sad find cast up on the beach. In this case a Harbor Porpoise.
Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) are the smallest of 22 cetaceans recorded in the Salish Sea and are probably one of the few that are resident year-‐round. Excluding the Arctic, their distribution extends throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Their numbers in the waters of Puget Sound declined steeply in the 1970s, but their population has increased in recent years.
Phocoena phocoena vomerina is the subspecies found in the North Pacific, including the Salish Sea. Their subdued coloration is typically dark gray to brown dorsally and shades into white ventrally. Weighing less than 220 pounds and spanning less than 6 feet long, Harbor Porpoise sit low in the water and barely brush the water’s surface to breathe. Observers rarely glimpse more than their back and small, uniformly colored dorsal fin, which has a longer leading than trailing edge. They can be confused with Dall’s Porpoise (Phocoenides dallii), small, stockier porpoises that are black with white flanks along the belly and white-tipped dorsal fins and flukes). They could also be mistaken for Pacific White-Sided Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), which have similar gray backs but complex white stripes on their sides, a bi-‐colored and more curved dorsal fin, and more exuberant, social behavior, generally traveling in larger groups and often leaping from the water completely.
Apparent Increase In Visitation
This trip was also unusual in that for the first time there was more than one car at the trailhead. A lot more. However, while on the beach we actually only saw a handful of tents near the north end of our survey beach; I can only assume that means there were quite a handful of campers dispersed along the coast.
On the one hand, that’s encouraging, the more people get out in nature the more they’re likely to want to protect what we have left. The downside is that these remote beaches can only support so many visitations before they start to be affected in a negative way.
I’m not the right person to be making any kind of judgment call here, I have neither the training nor education in this field but I can say that from what I observed everyone on the beach appeared to be practicing Leave No Trace methods and the benefits of these stewards were more beneficial than any negative impact they had by camping on the beach.