Some sum up seals with a single word: Adorable.
Others curse them as salmon thieves. A friend of mine calls them “torpedoes with fins.”
Whatever feelings they evoke in you, seals can be fun and interesting to watch even if they don’t do much except bask in the sun.
Seal watching is more accessible on the Everett waterfront these days than it has been. They can be seen most days and most times of the day alongside the Port of Everett’s 10th Street boat launch atop a slowly growing raft of logs bound for export.
Everett used to be a major exporter of logs to Asia and other venues, but that business dwindled. It’s come back a little, hence the number of logs immediately adjacent to the launch right now.
The log islands have arrived much to the joy of the Pacific harbor seals, who used to climb onto the docks of the port’s covered boat moorage, onto harbor buoys, or in other places that weren’t easily visible without a boat.
Seals spend about half of their time in the water and half out of it, so they need a spot to relax when they’re not swimming around looking for something to eat.
It also has to be easy for them to move around.
While seals are graceful and agile in the water, they’re clumsy on land. They need a place where they can haul their portly bodies in and out easily.
And, of course, watching seals get around is part of the entertainment. Their flippers are small, and they typically haul themselves around by arching their bodies and flopping on their bellies.
Once they do find a spot, they generally stay there and do things like yawn, smile, and arch their heads and flippers so they look like a giant banana. Sometimes they wiggle and flop to a better location.
It sounds silly, maybe even a little cruel, to describe seals as clumsy and awkward and then talk about how entertaining they are. But they truly are fun to watch.
Sometimes their expressions are humanlike. At others, they can remind you of the family dog when it’s done something wrong.
And if you’ve been working a lot lately and haven’t spent much time outdoors, taking a quick drive to watch the seals can even be a bit therapeutic.
It’s a shame we can’t easily watch seals where they truly shine: in the water.
Seals can swim 15 knots and are beautiful underwater. The state Department of Ecology website notes harbor seals can dive 300 feet and stay under for up to a half-hour. Their only predators are killer whales, sharks and, of course, people.
Fishers don’t usually think of seals as cute.
In addition to being fast, the seals are also quite smart. Seals can strip a commercial fishing net of its salmon pretty quickly, and they sometimes get caught in them and half to be hacked out.
They also associate sports anglers with fish.
It’s not unusual for a seal to grab a salmon that’s on an angler’s line and run off with it.
I also watched recently while a successful angler cleaned his catch along the pier at the boat ramp. He’d been tossing the unwanted parts of the salmon to the gulls when he started yelling and quickly grabbed his two coho.
He explained that a seal had swum up and attempted to snatch one off the dock.
Whether you like seals or whether you don’t, know that they are a protected species and that it’s against federal law to kill one or to harass it in any way.
The seals at the boat launch are used to seeing people, so you can get quite close to one by walking along the dock without it being considered harassment.
Binoculars will put you even closer.
- 5 to 6 feet: Maximum length
- 25 to 30 years: maximum age
- 30 to 40 minutes: maximum dive duration
- 300 pounds: maximum weight