West Seattle wildlife: Sea lion apparently ‘rafting’ ‘sailing’ off Lincoln Park

Injured seal

1:37 PM: We’ve heard from a few people about that sighting off Lincoln Park – and just got the photo from Paul via the WSB Flickr group. He and others wondered if it’s in distress; we pointed them to Seal Sitters – our area’s and Paul reports they suggested it might be a “rafting” sea lion, which, now that we’ve seen the photo, we would tend to agree. Paul points out the apparent injury on the sea lion’s fin. We’re not sure what if anything can be done to check on whether it’s in distress, but did want to publish this to share some information for anyone else who notices it – the photo makes it clear it’s not a whale, which some had suspected. (Here’s a 2011 story featuring photos of sea lions rafting and fishing, also off Lincoln Park; rafting is also explained toward the end of this page on the Seal Sitters website.)

11:59 PM: See comments for a vigorous discussion and more information, including the correction that this was “sailing” rather than “rafting.”

13 Replies to "West Seattle wildlife: Sea lion apparently <strike>'rafting'</strike> 'sailing' off Lincoln Park"

  • Clark5080 March 5, 2014 (2:46 pm)

    I saw on Facebook someone was reporting an apparent Graywhale. Is this what someone thinks a graywhale looks like?

    • WSB March 5, 2014 (2:59 pm)

      Clark – yes, in fact, I responded to that note on Orca Network after somebody else flagged us to it. It happened some months back here too – someone thought an orca was in trouble off Beach Drive but it was just a rafting sea lion. In that case, a couple other news organizations actually REPORTED it was an orca – I think a lot of people learned about sea lion rafting behavior that day/night … Tracy

  • Ray March 5, 2014 (2:53 pm)

    I was just there walking the dog. There were two adults there swimming right off the beach near the swimming pool.

    Neither seemed in distress, mostly foraging.

  • Bonnie March 5, 2014 (3:15 pm)

    We saw this today during our run at Lincoln Park. Pretty cool.

  • boy March 5, 2014 (3:39 pm)

    off topic but theres a agresive sales man in the arbor heights neighborhood. He says he is with pc circulation. But has no id. Check PC and fond they have a bad track record.

  • nony L March 5, 2014 (4:15 pm)

    There were some other creatures swimming a bit further out than the two sea lions–they had dorsal fins and did not seem to be very large. Our best guess, judging by the shape of the dorsal fins, was that they were harbor porpoises. There were at least three of them off of Lincoln Park from what we could see. Pretty cool today to see all of the life that the Puget Sound sustains. :)

  • kathleen March 5, 2014 (4:50 pm)

    I often see sea lions in the summer with one fin up. I think they use it as a sail sometimes. Just float and sail.

  • Nony Mouse March 5, 2014 (7:05 pm)

    Hi. I’m a PhD marine biologist, and I work at a sea lion rescue center in Los Angeles. What you are seeing in the picture is typical behavior, but it isn’t rafting. Rafting is when a bunch of animals hook themselves together, usually so they don’t drift apart while sleeping. For example: see the famous sea otters holding paws; in the wild, they wrap kelp around their tummies as anchors). I don’t know if this “waving” behavior even has an official name, but sea lions do it all the time. The theory goes that the flipper is the only part of a (healthy) sea lion where the blood isn’t under lots of fat, so if they want to cool off (or heat up) fast, they hold a flipper up. You’ll often see a whole group of them “waving” in the morning sun after a cold night.

  • westseattledood March 5, 2014 (9:14 pm)

    Thanks for the authoritative comment Nony. I have been told that this is thermoregulation rather like when our Washington native turtles haul out of Lake Washington onto logs when the sun is shining. But others keep calling it rafting and I’ve been confused. Makes sense though that a heating mechanism would be operating.

    While you’re here on WSB, if you are still around, – :) – you wouldn’t happen to have an official term for the group sea lion fishing behavior. I saw it once over by Harbor Island and was surprised to see the circling and bubbling technique being used by about three or four sea lions. I had not heard of them doing it, though I knew about group hunting techniques for orcas and even for some winter flocks of seabirds. But not sea lions. My question would be what is the name of that fishing behavior? Thanks for caring about the critters – great work!

  • David Hutchinson March 5, 2014 (10:16 pm)

    For an explanation of “rafting” and “sailing” please check the following link on the Seal Sitters Blubberblog website.

  • westseattledood March 5, 2014 (11:46 pm)

    I knew somebody would straighten it out David. :) So…the flipper in the air is called “sailing” and groups of critters linked are “rafting”.

    Got that everybody? :)

    Love the learning available here on WSB.
    Great community peeps. Thanks!

    • WSB March 5, 2014 (11:59 pm)

      Sorry, I always thought of it as “rafting” whether it was one or many. Will update.

  • nony L March 6, 2014 (12:19 am)

    I have seen the “sailing” behavior referred to as “jughandling,” as well. :)

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