Lewis and Clark's Columbia River
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Lewis & Clark's Columbia River - "200 Years Later"
"Seals and Sea Lions"
Includes ... Astoria ... Bonneville Dam ...
Image, 2015, Astoria, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lions take over the East Mooring Basin, Astoria, Oregon. Image taken May 20, 2015.


Seals and Sea Lions ...
"Phoca" is the latin word for "seal". The seal which Lewis and Clark spotted was the Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina richardii). Today the Pacific Harbor Seal, California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus), and the Steller Sea Lion (Eumetopias jubatus) frequent the waters of the lower Columbia River, from its mouth at Clatsop Spit all the way up past the Bonneville Dam.

Lewis and Clark and the "Phoca" ...
"... The Seal or Phoca are found here in great numbers, and as far up the Columbia as the great Falls, above which there are none. I have reasons to believe from the information of the men that there are Several Species of the Phoca on this Coast and in the river, but what the difference is I am unable to State not haveing Seen them myself Sufficiently near for manute inspection nor obtain the different kinds to make a comparison. the Skins of Such as I have Seen are covered with a Short thick Coarse Glossy hair of a redish bey brown Colour. tho' the animal while in the water, or as we saw them frequently in the river appear to be black and Spoted with white sometimes. I am not much acquainted with the Seal, but Suppose that they are the Same common also to the atlantic Ocian in the Same parrelal of Latitude. the Skins, or those which I have Seen are presisely Such as trunks are frequently Covered with. the flesh of this animal is highly prised by the nativs who Swinge the hair off and then roste the flesh on Sticks before the fire. ..."

[Clark, February 23, 1806, while at Fort Clatsop]

"Seal" vs. "Sea Lion" ...
According to NOAA (2015):

"Sea Lions are brown, bark loudly, "walk" on land using their large flippers and have visable ear flaps. Seals have small flippers, wriggle on their bellies on land, and lack visible ear flaps.

"Have you ever wondered about the main differences between seals and their "second cousins," the sea lions?

Both seals and sea lions, together with the walrus, are pinnipeds, which means "fin footed" in Latin.

But seals' furry, generally stubby front feet — thinly webbed flippers, actually, with a claw on each small toe — seem petite in comparison to the mostly skin-covered, elongated fore flippers that sea lions possess.

Secondly, sea lions have small flaps for outer ears. The "earless" or "true" seals lack external ears altogether. You have to get very close to see the tiny holes on the sides of a seal’s sleek head.

Third, sea lions are noisy. Seals are quieter, vocalizing via soft grunts.

Fourth, while both species spend time both in and out of the water, seals are better adapted to live in the water than on land. Though their bodies can appear chubby, seals are generally smaller and more aquadynamic than sea lions. At the same time, their hind flippers angle backward and don't rotate. This makes them fast in the water but basic belly crawlers on terra firma.

Sea lions, on the other hand, are able to "walk" on land by rotating their hind flippers forward and underneath their big bodies. This is why they are more likely to be employed in aquaria and marine shows.

Finally, seals are less social than their sea-lion cousins. They spend more time in the water than sea lions do and often lead solitary lives in the wild, coming ashore together only once a year to meet and mate.

Sea lions congregate in gregarious groups called herds or rafts that can reach upwards of 1,500 individuals. It's common for scores of them to haul out together and loll about in the sand, comprising an amorphous pile in the noonday sun."


Source:    NOAA's National Ocean Service, "Ocean Facts", 2015.


Image, 2011, Buoy, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Pacific Harbor Seal, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, Oregon. Image taken October 25, 2011.
Image, 2015, Kalama, Washington, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lion, Columbia River at Kalama, Washington. Image taken March 6, 2015.


Seals and Sea Lions

  • Columbia River at Bonneville Dam ...
  • Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, Oregon ...
  • Columbia River at the East Mooring Basin, Astoria, Oregon ...
  • Columbia River at Rainier, Oregon ...
  • Columbia River at Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington ...
  • Lewis and Clark and "Phoca Rock", Washington ...
  • Lewis and Clark and "Seal Islands", Cathlamet Bay, Oregon ...
  • Lewis and Clark and "Seal River" (Washougal River), Washington ...




Columbia River at Bonneville Dam ...
[More]

Image, 2010, Sturgeon and Sea Lion at Bonneville Dam, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lion with Sturgeon at Bonneville Dam, Washington side. Image taken March 27, 2010.


Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, Astoria, Oregon ...

Image, 2011, Buoy, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Buoy with California Sea Lions, Columbia River at Clatsop Spit, Oregon. Image taken October 25, 2011.


Columbia River at the East Mooring Basin, Astoria, Oregon ...

Image, 2015, Astoria, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lions take over the East Mooring Basin, Astoria, Oregon. Image taken May 20, 2015.
Image, 2015, Astoria, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lions take over the East Mooring Basin, Astoria, Oregon. Image taken May 20, 2015.


Columbia River at Rainier, Oregon ...

Image, 2016, Rainier, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lions take over the public dock in Rainier, Oregon. Image taken March 11, 2016.
Image, 2016, Rainier, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lions take over the public dock in Rainier, Oregon. Image taken March 11, 2016.


Columbia River at Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington ...

Image, 2016, Rainier, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lion and Sturgeon, Columbia River at Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington. Image taken March 25, 2016.
Image, 2016, Rainier, Oregon, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
California Sea Lion and Glaucous-winged Gull, Columbia River at Steigerwald Lake NWR, Washington. Image taken March 25, 2016.


Lewis and Clark and Phoca Rock, Washington ...
Phoca Rock, located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 132, was named by Lewis and Clark, after the Latin (Greek?) word for "seal", as presumably they saw many seals in the area. However in their journals for November 2, 1805, the day they passed Phoca Rock, they make no mention of spotting "seals" of any kind.

"... at 17 miles passed a rock near the middle of the river about 100 feet high and 80 feet Diamuter ..." [Clark, November 2, 1805]

The name "Pho ca rock" does appear in their writings during the winter while in their camp at Fort Clatsop.

"... 11 miles to the Pho ca rock in midl. Rivr. 100 foot high, Saw Seal's; ..." [Clark, winter 1805-1806]

Lewis and Clark and "Seal Islands", Cathlamet Bay, Oregon ...
Lewis and Clark refered to the area of Cathlamet Bay and the Lewis and Clark National Wildlife as the "Seal Islands". Cathlamet Bay is approximately Columbia River Mile (RM) 20.

"... Great numbers of Swan Geese Brant Ducks & Gulls in this great bend which is Crouded with low Islands covered with weeds grass &c. and overflowed every flood tide ..." [Clark, November 26, 1805, first draft]

"... crossed a Short distance above the rock out in the river, & between Some low marshey Islands to the South Side of the Columbia at a low bottom about 3 miles below Point Samuel and proceeded near the South Side leaveing the Seal Islands to our right and a marshey bottom to the left 5 Miles to the Calt-har-mar Village ..." [Clark, November 26, 1805]

The "rock out in the river" is Pillar Rock, Point Samuel is today's Aldrich Point and the Calt-har-mar Village is in the location of Knappa, Oregon.

Lewis and Clark again passed through the islands of Cathlamet Bay on March 24, 1806. They camped that evening at Aldrich Point.

"... at half after 3 P. M. we set out and continued our rout among the seal Islands; not paying much attention we mistook our rout which an Indian perceiving pursued overtook us and put us in the wright channel. ..." [Lewis, March 24, 1806]

"... we proceeded on through Some difficult and narrow Channels between the Seal Islands, and the south side to an old village on the south side opposit to the lower War ki a com village, and Encamped. ..." [Clark, March 24, 1806]

"... passed through a number of Islands called the Seal Islands, which lay on the So side of the River ..." [Whitehouse, March 24, 1806]

Lewis and Clark and "Seal River" (Washougal River), Washington ...
Captain Clark's journal entry for November 3, 1805, refers to the Washougal River, located at Columbia River Mile (RM) 121, as "a Large Creek". Clark was writing about the Sandy River, on the Oregon side of the Columbia, at the time. The "Small prarie" is today's Cottonwood Beach, a spot Lewis and Clark spent six days on their return in 1806.

"... on the Opposit Side of the Columbia a <large Creek> falls in     above this Creek on the Same Side is a Small prarie. extensive low country on each Side thickly timbered. ..." [Clark, November 3, 1805]

During the winter months the "Creek" acquired the name of "Seal River", after the Harbor seals which were plentiful near its mouth. Captain Clark's summation during the winter of 1805-6, uses "Seal River", as does the route map [Moulton, vol.1, map #79]. The draft map [map#88] uses "Sea Calf River".

On the return journey Lewis and Clark's journal entries refer to the Washougal River as "Seal River".

"... Seal river discharges itself on the N. side.     it is about 80 yards wide, and at present discharges a large body of water.     the water is very clear.     the banks are low and near the Columbia overflow and form several large ponds.     the natives inform us that it is of no great extent and heads in the mountains just above us.     at the distance of one mile from the entrance of this stream it forks, the two branches being nearly of the same size.     they are both obstructed with falls and innumerable rappids, insomuch that it cannot be navigated.     as we could not learn any name of the natives for this stream we called it Seal river from the great abundance of those animals which we saw about it's entrance. ..." [Lewis, March 31, 1806]

The two branches of the Washougal River are the Little Washougal (left branch) and the main stem Washougal River (right branch).


Image, 2005, Washougal River from Washington Highway 14, click to enlarge
Click image to enlarge
Mouth of the Washougal River as seen from Washington State Highway 14. Image taken May 1, 2005.


From the Journals of Lewis and Clark ...

Clark, ...
 




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*River Miles [RM] are approximate, in statute miles, and were determined from USGS topo maps, obtained from NOAA nautical charts, or obtained from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website, 2003

Sources:    NOAA's National Ocean Service, "Ocean Facts", 2015;

All Lewis and Clark quotations from Gary Moulton editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals, University of Nebraska Press, all attempts have been made to type the quotations exactly as in the Moulton editions, however typing errors introduced by this web author cannot be ruled out; location interpretation from variety of sources, including this website author.
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June 2015