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By Nancy Olsen, Trail Tales Coordinator

Sea Otter swim - Pete HaaseHave you seen one of the Fidalgo Bay RIVER OTTERS along the shores of the Tommy Thompson trail? It wouldn't be a big surprise to see the shiny dark furred figure scamper over the rocks or glide through the water foraging away for its meal. But it would be a big surprise to see a SEA OTTER along the shores of Fidalgo Bay or anywhere else inside the Straits of Juan de Fuca. However – a couple volunteers were lucky enough to watch a SEA OTTER busy being a sea otter at Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island 2 weeks ago. You might do a double-take when you photo at right taken by Pete Haase (Beach Watcher, MRC Forage Fish Lead) when he was at Lime Kiln with friend and fellow Beach Watcher, Salish Sea Steward, Trail Tales docent and MRC Beach Naturalist "Dr" Bob Weathers. These pictures looked to me at first to be a RIVER OTTER because I have never known a SEA OTTER to be out of the water and I didn't know they would ever be seen in from the coastal waters. But it is a SEA OTTER and sure enough, a few occasionally are seen in the San Juan Islands.


Because of this unusual visitor and because our Trail Tales "mascot" on the logo is a RIVER OTTER, I thought you might be interested in some of the other facts about SEA OTTERS and RIVER OTTERS that I learned from investigating photos. Regarding the history and range of sea otters: Prior to the 1800's, SEA OTTERS numbered between 100,000 and 300,000 along the Pacific coast and likely many places in the Salish Sea. However the intensive harvesting for their valuable pelts that began in the 1740's, brought their numbers to near extinction in less than 100 years. There were no SEA OTTERS in Washington for more than 50 years until 1969, when 59 sea otters were reintroduced to the Washington coast from Alaska. Still the population remained small with a few communities scattered on the outer coast, and in 1981, the sea otter was listed as a state endangered species. Washington's sea otter population is surveyed annually in July through a combination of aerial and ground counts along the entire outer coast and eastward into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The July 2012 survey produced a total count of 1,105 sea otters. The single largest concentration (562) of sea otters was at Destruction Island. No otters were sighted in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Source: www.eopugetsound.org) These excerpts from 3 sources reflect the rare sightings of SEA OTTERS inside the straits of Juan de Fuca in recent times:

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The Former Shell Oil Tank Farm, currently located between 13th and 14th Streets east of Commercial Avenue was originally a portion of the Fidalgo Bay tide flats, which were filled to the current grade between 1925 and 1929. The property was acquired by the Port of Anacortes (Port) in 1929 and subsequently leased to the Shell Oil Company in 1930 for use as a bulk fuel storage and distribution facility that primarily handled gasoline and diesel range fuels until it was decommissioned in 1987and all tanks, piping, and structures were removed.

Starting in mid-October 2014, as part of the Puget Sound Initiative, the Washington State Department of Ecology and the Port will be completing a remedial excavation to remove approximately 4,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil within the readily accessible portion of the Site. Confirmation soil samples will be collected during the excavation activities to verify the successful removal of contamination.During backfilling activities, an oxygen releasing material will be placed at the extents of the excavation to stimulate naturally occurring microbes to enhance biological degradation of organic contaminants potentially remaining in place beneath the sidewalk and asphalt surfaces of 14th Street and the Q Avenue. Excavated areas of the Site will backfilled with imported clean soil.

Following the remedial excavation activities the Port will monitor groundwater to confirm that concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, benzene, and cadmium do not exceed groundwater cleanup levels. For more information, please contact Nick Acklam at the Washington State Department of Ecology – Toxics Cleanup Program: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (360)407-6913.

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By Regan Weeks

Here we are starting another Trail Tales season, introducing many locals to Anacortes stories along the Tommy Thompson Trail. One of my questions as a relative newbie to our island was "who was Tommy Thompson?" In finding the answer, I found double trouble. There were two Tommy Thompsons – father and son, and both have fascinating histories. Tommy Thompson (the father) was essentially the first American chemist to devote his major efforts to investigating the chemistry of sea water.

Born in 1888 on Staten Island, and trained as a chemist, he came to the University of Washington with his wife Harriet to pursue a graduate degree after serving in WWI. He stayed on to eventually become a full professor in 1929. He and Harriet had 3 children: Tommy Jr., born 10/3/1923; Jack, born 9/8/1925, and Harriet born 4/30/1931. During the late 1920s, Thompson became increasingly interested in the difficult problems associated with quantitative analysis of sea water, and spent summers working at the Puget Sound Biological Station on San Juan Island. In the days before large research grants were common, Thompson and his wife agreed to budget 10% of his salary to his research, which brought them both satisfaction. Some additional History: the San Juan Island Puget Sound Biological Station -now UW Friday Harbor Labs- was established in 1903 with the first classes in 1904. Students and teachers lived in tents, washing their own clothes and rowing and sailing to access interesting marine sites. It was a rough life, but students came from all over the world to attend for a few weeks in the summer.

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On May 13th, Trail Tales volunteers and members of other leading conservation groups were hosted by Tesoro Refinery for a tour of the March Point Facility.  Initially intended to be a Trail Tales extended learning opportunity, Tesoro Lead Environmental Engineer Rebecca Spurling, and several other staff and managers offered to host as many as the chartered motor coach would accommodate for a "perimeter tour".  This enabled Trail Tales to invite members from Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen's Committee and the Marine Resources Committee representatives Salish Sea Stewards volunteers.

The tour began in Anacortes and included stops at various points on March Point with Tesoro project leads and managers and specialists providing information about operations at the refinery and pier and rail transfer facilities, marine/water protection, oil spill response and conservation efforts. At one stop, Toby Mahar, engineer from the Northwest Clean Air Agency regulatory staff explained air emissions monitoring and regulation that she is involved in at the refineries.

Tesoro also provided a picnic lunch for attendees which expanded the opportunity for community members and Tesoro staff to engage with each other informally.  Trail Tales volunteers now have a better understanding of the Tesoro refinery operations and environmental protection programs, which they can refer to when questions are raised during our walk programs. The tour lasted approximately 4 hours and all participants felt it had been very valuable and informative.

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The 2014 Fidalgo Shoreline Academy was a big success on February 5th with 90 attendees, up 20 from last year!  We hope those of you who attended enjoyed the day and were inspired by the many educational presentations and walks.  Our keynote speaker, Dr. Deborah Kelley wowed the audience with an amazing presentation on deep sea volcanoes and vents with amazing photos and videos.  She even brought some samples of volcanic rock from the ocean floor for us to see and feel. 

Sorry you missed it or can't wait to learn more? You can learn more about the UW Interactive Oceans program that she is involved with and you can learn more about her research with Dr. John Delaney, our keynote speaker in 2012, on their research vessel the "Thomas Thompson" at the University of Washington's Interactive Oceans website.  We're hoping to line up a visit for Friends members and volunteers to their ship when it comes to port.  You can view the  video here.  http://uwtv.org/watch/PIUKej4_XMU/.

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