Friday Harbor was truly amazing. I loved every minute I was there. The atmosphere and attitude of Friday Harbor Labs is welcoming and warm among the towering fir trees that shield the campus from the gale force winds that kicked up off the sound.
What struck me about Friday Harbor the most was how obvious it was that life there is tied to the ocean. Whales, porpoise, and seals can be seen so frequently from the ferries that lurch from island to island or even from shore that sightings become familiar. You begin to feel your place in the islands and in the ecosystem, aware that the salmon you ate for dinner just as well could have been food for an orca or seal.
We spent our first three weeks in Friday Harbor doing a little diving and learning the bird and mammal species in class. The knowledge of these species set us up nicely to be keen observers for the rest of our stay. I spent the downtime in those weeks getting friendly with the local nudibranchs that dot the pilings and floats of the docks nicely within reach of my camera if I rolled up my sleeves. Nudibranchs have always been a fascination of mine, and having unrestricted, constant access to about half a dozen species at any given time was exceptionally exciting. Furthermore, a series of whale watches with Western Prince Whale and Wildlife Tours introduced me to orcas and many other species for the first time, and then again and again when I came back for more. The whale watches were truly extraordinary. I'm definitely hooked. Constantly being on alert, scanning for a blow or dorsal fin felt like home to me. I won't say much about the orcas because I'd rather you look at my photos. I don't think my words would do justice. I hope my photos do a better job, though I don't quite think they quite cut it either. Guess I'll have to go on more whale watches...
Even the terrestrial species fascinated me on San Juan; there is a community of about 500 introduced European Rabbits that live in American Camp on San Juan Island. Often seen hunting these rabbits are European Red Fox, which are also a non-native species. These fox are gorgeous and unfortunately quite used to human presence. That is, they are used to being fed, something I witnessed first hand. Fortunately for me, that means they'll let me get reasonably close with a camera, though they leave disappointed when all I do is point a camera at them.
San Juan and Friday Harbor labs are truly amazing places, and I hope to return to further explore the area soon.
These images were taken during our precious few dives in Friday Harbor. I am pretty used to cold water diving, and loved the richness of life that exists in Puget Sound. It really puts the diving here in Massachusetts to shame with an incredible amount of invertebrates and fish (including an enormous Ling Cod) covering the ocean floor.
I hoped for an encounter with a seal or sea lion (though others would warn that the Steller Sea Lions in the area are very aggressive and dangerous, taking bubbles as a sign of aggression), but I came away empty handed.
Another reason to return...
Friday harbor was also an unfortunate place for me, as I had a hard drive failure that resulted in the loss of most of the 8,000 images I took there. I do have decent quality JPGs of them that I had luckily exported for upload here, on my website. The failure occurred two days before I was planning to back all the images up onto a second drive that I had brought for the express purpose of a backup.
I don't wait to back up my drives any more.