Encounter with a Harbor Seal in Elliott Bay – Seattle

[previously published at The Wild Beat in March 2013]

My paean to a harbor seal on a misty morning ~

Harbor Seal Swimming in Elliott Bay

“She” could be a he since there are few visible differences distinguishing male and female harbor seals. **  Between the two of us, only she knows. I can’t use the word “it,” the way we’re often instructed to do. It’s just too soulless a word for sentience.

She stirs from the depths and shallows of the bay, gliding reflected alongside me. She rounds the rock bend, fusiform, tapered and sleek, riding the tide on her hind flippers.

Harbor Seal in Elliott Bay

I hesitate to point my lens, thinking she might submerge her new-moon eyes and disappear into the deep. But she stays, looking back at me as I look at her, granting me a moment as she pierces the divide between brine and breath.

She is sensory magic, with whiskers so sensitive they send signs of fish to her seal brain. She’ll plunge hundreds feet, quelling her heart to a slow drum. Her sight and sound, muted on land, are super-seal, better than human, in her fin-footed world beyond the breakwater.

Harbor Seal in Puget Sound

With a final spin, the waters pour over her pelage — a coat which is sometimes pale, pewter, silver, coal, or spotted. It’s unique like a fingerprint. She twists her head to me just one more time before sinking, languid, engulfed by the bay, at one with the salt and the sea. Her sea.

** There’s little sexual dimorphism in harbor seals. Males tend to be slightly larger but it’s not a reliable measure since sizes can vary regionally, as well.

Harbor Seal Swimming in Puget Sound

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