[Tweeters] Pier-ing Into the Sound

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Sat May 9 10:52:37 PDT 2015

Yesterday, May 8th, my Sister (who was in town for the week) and I were out early exploring about the pier at the Marine Science Center here in Port Townsend. We saw amazing things!
Firstly, pulling the truck up to the pier, the skies above the Pt. Wilson dunes were full of buzzards - a tea kettle of eleven Turkey Vultures! Quite a sight. (we saw 6 nearby the day before).
Then as we walked out the pier, we were entertained by the sights, but first sounds, of the newly arrived Purple Martins out on the pier - the largest and loudest of all our swallows. It was kind of a low tide and water surface conditions within the pier were conducive for underwater viewing. Some guy in a sport fishing boat was tied up to the dock and cleaning a large fish in the stern of his boat. Being curious, I immediately checked out what he'd caught.
Well, his big fish was a 100 lb. Halibut, which he quickly filleted, and then tossed the carcass overboard. An impressive specimen of ichthyology . The water by the floating dock being calm allowed for clear views of plankton (many types of little jellyfish, and swarms of larval whatever - quite the array of plankton). But what was truly amazing was the thousands and thousands of Sandlance- a small slinky silvery fish.
Sandlance is a fish frequently featured in photos of Puffins, or Rhinoceros Auklets - the slender things drooping like spaghetti from an auks bill. A pretty cool trick how the birds can hold on to all those little slippery things. The ones we were seeing were only about an inch - and- a-half, to two inches long ,in dense cloud-like schools right near the surface. There could have easily been 50 thousand of them. Really. Beautiful to watch swarming around.We watched all that for quite awhile.
When the fisher guy tossed the Halibut carcass overboard I thought, " well the Otters are gonna love that!", but had no idea of the show that was about to ensue. As my sister Margie and I were back up on the pier again, five River Otters showed up- swimming right below us under the clear water, trailing air-bubbles. One popped up right over where the fisherman had tossed his Halibut. We continued with our watch of other things , when an Otter zoomed by towing the Halibut carcass underwater by the float! The Halibut was about six times larger than the Otter, by visible bulk. It was so big, that the Otter was barely noticeable. The Otters kept hauling this big fish around - now you see it, now you don't. One view was as an Otter, towing the big fish from below, right near the surface, made it look like this giant fish - belly-up and showing the proverbial "fish belly white" as it zoomed by the dock, was operating by it's own power. A naturalist seeing this sight without the background Otter information would surely be flabbergasted. I was, and I knew what was going on!
It was like seeing Moby Dick - compared to little Sandlance, at least. Telling this fish tale later at a Sea-Tac Thai restaurant , I described the Halibut to my brother -in-law, as being about the size of our table. It was.
Jeff Gibsonreporting from Port Townsend Wa

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