All in Ocean Wildlife

In the Spotlight, Seeking Sanctuary

Driven by hunger, the surviving killer whales ventured into California waters, into Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries. In 2000 researchers in Monterey Bay first documented members of the K and L pods. Subsequent years found them off Bodega Head, Point Arena, the Columbia River and other “new” feeding grounds. Here, at last, lay hope for them.

     The weary, fog-draggled volunteer clipped oiled feathers from a freshly dead Common Murre she’d found among beach wrack festooning the high tide mark. Snapping photos, and enfolding the feathers in foil, she tucked them into an evidence jar. She sealed it, signed the tape, and trudged back to her car to complete Chain of Custody paperwork. Dull routine. Who could predict that this was one of several links in the chain of forensic evidence that led to discovering the source of innumerable “mystery spills” and seabird deaths over the past half-century? The oil was traced to the sunken freighter S/S Jacob Luckenbach, which, after 50 years, continued to belch globs of oil during winter storms since it sank off the Golden Gate in 1953.

     As the tide receded, the harbor seal’s sleek form nearly blended into the dappled gray mudflats. She was restless, shifting her hindquarters, turning to inspect them. With just one more twitch, she gave a push and a small head emerged from between her hind flippers. The pup’s advent was heralded by the clamor of gulls squabbling over the afterbirth. Calling softly, sniffing and nuzzling her pup, the mother established a pair bond that would last just a few weeks, but which would equip her pup for survival on land and at sea. Welcome to springtime on the coast, to Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.

      The cove was a mass of shining fronds of bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) floating languidly atop the swell. Each plant’s long, brown stalk stretched down to a sea floor teeming with myriad creatures. Amid the dim light filtering down from the surface, a leopard shark’s dappled form glided slowly, in search of prey. Small fish sheltered beneath the kelp canopy. Abalone grazed on succulent algae that clothed the rocky bottom. A black seabird dove beneath the surface, darting here and there, propelled by strong wings and feet, picking off fish, one by one. Life in the forest – this Kingdom of Kelp - was good, was balanced...