Rare visitor feasts on Aquatic Reserve bounty

A juvenile fin whale swims south of the Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve Sept. 3. Photo by Naturalist Photographer Janine Harles, Puget Sound Express Whale Watching.
A juvenile fin whale swims south of the Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve Sept. 3. Photo by Naturalist Photographer Janine Harles, Puget Sound Express Whale Watching.

The second largest animal in the world made a surprise and swung by DNR’s Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve late last week for a snack.

It’s the first time in decades a live fin whale has been spotted swimming in Puget Sound.

According to an article in the San Juan Islander, the whale was spotted while feeding about three miles south of Minor Island – just west of Whidbey Island. DNR designated the state-owned aquatic lands around Smith & Minor Islands an aquatic reserve in part to protect the habitat that provides nursery and feeding grounds for the forage fish large marine predators like fin whales find so tasty. In fact, the Smith & Minor Islands reserve includes the largest kelp forest in Washington state.

The fin whale isn’t the only whale visitor to the reserve. The waters around Smith and Minor Islands are used by southern resident orcas, a DNR priority marine species also listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Minke whales and gray whales are commonly sighted in the area, particularly in the spring and summer. Other regular marine mammal inhabitants in the area include Dall’s porpoise and less commonly harbor porpoise.

Find out more about the reserve, what makes it so special and why DNR is working to study and protect it, in this video:

 

Managing 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands is a serious job, which is why DNR created the Aquatic Reserves program. This program allows people of the scientific, business, and local communities to locate potential reserve sites that are in need of preservation, restoration, and enhancement.

This partnership helps DNR focus on long-term management options for the specified reserves, and creates opportunities to for us to work with local communities and stakeholders.

Some of the benefits of designating areas as aquatic reserves include:

  • Ensuring environmental protection through site-based preservation, restoration, and enhancement.
  • Encouraging public use and access.
  • Providing for greater public input into conservation management.
  • Working with stakeholders, including citizens and state, local and federal governments, to develop and implement site-specific management plans.
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