Mammals and Fish

Marine mammals form a diverse group that rely on the ocean for their existence. They do not represent a distinct biological grouping, but rather are unified by their reliance on the marine environment for feeding. Fishes can be found in all marine habitats from tidepools to deep subtidal waters, with a large number of species found in the intertidal habitat, most of them small and hardy individuals.

California sea lion

california sea lion

Zalophus californianus

Description: Dark brown pelt. Face dog-like with pointed muzzle. Male forehead has noticeable bump. Small external ears visible. Large foreflippers, and rotatable hind flippers. Can be seen, and heard, on beaches, breakwaters and buoys in Puget Sound. Females to 5.5 ft (1.68 m) and 250 pounds (113 kg); Males grow to 8 ft (2.44 m) and can reach 900 pounds (408 kg), but average 200 to 400 pounds (91 to 181 kg).

Food: Feeds on schooling fish, including hake, herring, pollock, squid, salmon, and steelhead trout.

Reproduction: Breeds only off the Mexican and Californian coasts from May to June.

Fun Facts: Can stay submerged for 20 minutes.

Harbor seal

harbor seal

Phoca vitulina

Description: Grayish, spotted, short-haired pelt. They have a small dog-like head and face with large brown eyes. Small foreflippers and non-rotating hind flippers. Lack external ears. Sexes similar in size and appearance. A year-round resident often seen floating with head out of water or hauled out onto a beach warming in the sun. During summer and fall pups are sometimes left by mother on local beaches while she hunts. Length to 6 ft (1.83 m) and 300 pounds (140 kg).

Food: Eats a wide variety of bottom fish, herring and perch. Also eats squid and octopus.

Reproduction: Females give birth to a single pup on land in the summer, which is also mating season.

Fun Facts: Harbor Seals can dive to 300 ft (91 m), and stay underwater for 20 minutes.


orca (killer whale)

Orcinus orca

Description: Largest member of the dolphin family. Mostly black, with white patches behind eye, under jaw and under tail. Large paddle-shaped flippers. Males have a taller dorsal fin. Jaws full of conical teeth. Uses
echolocation for navigation. Large vocal repertory. Family groups known as pods. Can travel up to 100 miles (259 km) per day. Local populations termed "residents" (travel same areas consistently) and "transients" (roam widely along coast and interior). Females to 23 ft (7 m) and 8 tons (7257 kg); Males to 30 ft (9.14 m) and 11 tons (9979 kg).

Food: Residents feed exclusively on fish (salmon, rockfish, cods) and sometimes squid. Transients feed on marine mammals.

Reproduction: Males reach sexual maturity in late teens. Females can give birth every 3 years starting in mid-teens.

Fun Facts: Males can live for 50 years and females can live to 80 years! Found in all the world's oceans. Locally J, K and L pods call the Salish Sea home.

River otter

river otter

Lutra canadensis

Description: Sleek, brown fur with webbed feet and long tail. Active and playful, this weasel relative is common along the local shoreline and marsh. Unlike the sea otter, this otter never floats on its back. Common vocalization is a shrill whistle. Grows to over 4 ft (1.22 m) and 30 pounds (13.61 kg).

Food: Hunts crabs, fishes, shrimps, and small birds.

Reproduction: The young live in the nest for 10 to 12 weeks before venturing out into the world accompanied by their mother.

Fun Facts: Fur among the densest of any mammal on earth.

Salmon family

salmon group

Family Salmonidae

Description: Medium-to-large, torpedo-shaped fish. Powerful swimmers. Most salmonids are anadromous, spending adult life in salt water and returning to breed in freshwater streams. Breeding adults undergo radical changes in color when entering fresh water; males develop a hooked jaw, large canine teeth, and a 'razor back'. Juvenile salmon need estuaries for transition to salt water for early growth. Locally, all five major salmon species can be found: Chinook ('King'- 70 lbs, 52 in/1.3 m), Chum ('Dog'- 9 lbs, 40 in/1.02 m), Coho ('Silver'- 6-12 lbs, 38 in/.96 m), Sockeye ('Red'- 5-7 lbs, 33 in/.83 m), and Pink ('Humpback'- 4-6 lbs, 30 in/.76 m).

Food: Predators- feeding on small crustaceans, aquatic insects and smaller fish.

Reproduction: Spawning females dig redds (shallow nests) in bottom gravels; lay small, round eggs that males fertilize with milt (sperm); and cover eggs with gravel. Pacific salmon die soon after mating. Eggs spend two to five months in stream-bed gravel.

Fun Facts: Largest chinook ever known was found in Alaska in 1946; it was 125 lbs.

Tidepool sculpin

tidepool sculpin

Oligocottus maculosus

Description: Found in tidepools. Variable colors, usually green punctuated by five irregular dark saddle-like markings across back. Large eyes. Shaped like a tadpole at first glance. Tolerant of wide variation in water temperatures, salinity and oxygen content. Can even survive out of water for short periods of time. Length to 4 in (10.16 cm).

Food: Eats small crustaceans and detritus.

Reproduction: Female lays eggs.

Fun Facts: This fish can often "smell" its way back to its home tidepool if displaced.

Penpoint gunnel

penpoint gunnel

Apodichthys flavidus

Description: Color varies with habitat and diet. Mostly bright green, sometimes red, yellow or brown. Found under rocks and in eelgrass beds on intertidal beaches. Has a sharp spine at base of anal fin - the "penpoint." Length to 18 in (45.72 cm).

Food: Eats tiny invertebrates and other small creatures.

Reproduction: Spawns in winter at lowest levels of intertidal beaches. Male wraps around eggs.

Fun Facts: Looks like an eel (both are fish, different Orders.)

Pacific sand lance

pacific sand lance

Ammodytes hexapterus

Description: Slender, long body with long, sharp lower jaw. Color iridescent green or gray above, silvery below. Swims in large schools over clean sand. May rest on the sand bottom when tired. Burrows into the sand at night or when disturbed. Eaten by salmon and other large fish. Length to 8 in (20.32 cm).

Food: Eats a variety of small organisms, especially crustaceans and planktonic fish larvae.

Reproduction: Female lays eggs. 

Fun Facts: This fish lacks a swim bladder, so it must constantly swim to maintain its position.