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San Juan Island’s Favorite Seal

By Courtney Oldwyn published on April 10, 2017

Every year almost half a million people visit the San Juan Islands in order to see the whales that frequent our surrounding seas. As majestic and fascinating as our resident Orca pods are, you’ll find that many local islanders have another favorite sea creature: Popeye the Harbor Seal.

This chubby, friendly Harbor Seal has been hanging around the Port of Friday Harbor for more than twenty years. Local boaters and fishermen noticed a seal with a strange, milky left eye taking advantage of fish, crab scraps and other seafood tossed into the waters around the marina. Summer after summer she would return. She gradually learned to spend the majority of her time close to Friday Harbor Seafoods, the small seafood market just off Friday Harbor Marina’s main dock.

During your stay here at the Harrison House Suites, you’re within walking distance to the docks where Popeye spends most of her summer days. So here are five reasons why a visit to see Popeye is worth your time! Your Innkeepers will happily point you in the right direction.

Friday Harbor is her Home

Popeye has regularly made her summer home around the Port of Friday Harbor Marina since 1995. That makes her at least twenty one years old which means she’s in her golden years (Harbor Seal life span is twenty five to thirty five years), living out her seal retirement in the San Juan Islands.

She’s Famous

She has her own Wikipedia page and a statue of herself just above the marina. In Fairweather Park along first street, just above the marina you’ll find the granite statue of Popeye complete with her signature milky left eye. This is a perfect photo op spot, especially if you’re traveling with young children.

Don’t Miss the Baby Seals!

For years it was unknown what gender Popeye was. Then, one Spring, she showed up at her usual spot in the Marina (right next to the small, local seafood market Friday Harbor Seafood just off the marina’s main dock) with a baby in tow. Now she regularly brings her pups to Friday Harbor with her. Always the vigilant mother, she often hides her pup away on a safe shore. No one knows exactly where her favored hiding spots are located. She only rarely brings them around humans. The Whale Museum, on San Juan Island, has had multiple reports over the years of harbor seal pups “stranded” along the shoreline near Friday Harbor. They would later realize it was just Popeye’s baby, patiently waiting while her Mama fills her belly in the Marina.

Speaking of Popeye’s Belly…..

You’ll notice that she boasts a very uh, shall we say, round figure? Harbor seals typically feed on shellfish, mollusks and numerous types of fish. They also typically hunt for their meals. But Popeye, being the opportunist that she apparently is, quickly learned the easiest way to catch a meal. Straight out of the hands of her human friends! Friday Harbor Seafood Market sells small bags of food grade frozen herring. You will find them just off the main dock of the Friday Harbor Marina. One of local children’s favorite summer activities is tossing these small fish to Popeye. She happily swallows them in one gulp. If you pause too long between fish, prepare to get wet. She is not shy about using her flipper to splash anyone who’s not quick enough with their toss!

Please note though that feeding wildlife is discouraged. It’s typically unhealthy for the animals, and in many cases, illegal. Popeye is a bit of an unstated exception. Over the last almost twenty years, she’s adapted to depend on being fed by people. It is now one of her main sources of food. Please do not ever attempt to feed other wildlife on land or sea.

Whether you choose to bring the kids along during your stay at the Harrison House Suites or just want to spark your own child life enthusiasm, a visit to meet Friday Harbor’s unofficial mascot, Popeye, is always delightful.

Cheers!

Courtney ~ Local Blogger for the San Juan Island Inn Collection

Some of Popeye’s Friends Caught a Video of Her

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