If you stand on the rugged coast of Olympic National Park and scan the Pacific Ocean, you might spot seals, sea lions, a spouting whale, or sea otters frolicking amid the kelp. These waters are part of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, an area of over 3,310 square miles (about twice the size of the park). The sanctuary has documented 29 species of marine mammals in its waters.
The cold northern Pacific Ocean provides a rich feeding ground for marine mammals, including several success stories. Sea otters were hunted to extinction off the Washington coast by the early 1900s, but a reintroduction in 1969 and 1970 began a recovery that continues today. Over 800 otters are now at home again in the kelp forests and waters off the park.
Gray whales, also once driven to near extinction, recovered enough to be removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act. From March into May, look for their spouts or barnacled-splotched backs as they migrate north to their summer feeding grounds.
Click here for a list of marine mammals that might be seen in the nearshore environment.