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An image from "Salish Sea Wild." Video courtesy of the SeaDoc Society.
An image from "Salish Sea Wild." Video courtesy of the SeaDoc Society.

Video series features science and adventure in the Salish Sea

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A new video series follows local scientists into the water, capturing the adventure behind the research. “Salish Sea Wild” is entering its second season and we interviewed the series host and producers. Among our burning questions: What’s it like to have a Steller sea lion chew on your head? 

By Jeff Rice

It’s the middle of the night somewhere between Jagged Island and the Giant’s Graveyard on the outer coast of the Olympic Peninsula. The “Salish Sea Wild” crew is bobbing up and down in eight-foot swells trying to get the perfect shot. Out on the water a team of scientists is swooping in to capture what they hope is an auklet or a puffin or some other seabird — they’re not sure which one — and series cameraman and writer/producer Bob Friel needs to steady the camera.

To do this, Friel has leaned out of the small, inflatable boat and a couple of biologists are holding his legs to keep him from dropping into the 45-degree water. At the same time, Friel’s upper body is being held by another team member on a boat that is bobbing alongside. He spans across like a bridge and starts rolling video. He can be heard exclaiming, “No one tell my mother!”

Somehow, Friel gets the shot and stays out of the water. The group on this night is rewarded with a rare capture of a secretive marbled murrelet, one the Salish Sea’s most endangered seabirds. It is only the second marbled murrelet caught in Washington state that year, exciting for both scientists and viewers alike. The bird is released after scientists gather a DNA sample that will shed some light on the bird’s health and will contribute to an inter-agency study of seabird declines in the Salish Sea.

In its first season, “Salish Sea Wild,” which includes host and SeaDoc Society science director Joe Gaydos, along with the intrepid Friel and other members of the SeaDoc team, has had its share of adventures like this. The show has taken a submersible to the deepest parts of the Salish Sea. The crew has gotten into the water with giant Steller sea lions. They’ve swum with rockfish and watched seabirds “fly” underwater. The treacherous swells of the outer coast are just one more reminder that science often takes place in the wild, not just where it is convenient.

To hear more about the series, I traveled to “Salish Sea Wild” headquarters at the offices of the SeaDoc Society on Orcas Island where I met with Gaydos, Friel and SeaDoc communications and marketing manager Justin Cox. They are already planning their second season, which is slated to begin this fall, and the team has been busy shooting new footage.

I started out with a question I’ve been wanting to ask since I saw the first episode. In that show, the team dives amidst a group of Steller sea lions, which they compare in size and toothiness to the grizzly bear. In the course of shooting the video, several young sea lions enter the picture, getting closer than the divers might have expected. You can see one of them curiously nibbling on the hood of Gaydos’ wetsuit. It’s just one of the remarkable shots that make up the series.

Read the full interview on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.