Attack of the Harbor Seals

Date: July 31, 2019Author: Kyla Merwin6 Comments

Or, The Sweet Kiss of a Summer’s Day

You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen 25 angry, bobbing seal heads coming across the water, straight at YOU. 

“Slowly back away.”

This directive comes from my friend, John, animal whisperer and kayaking companion, who had the good sense to keep a respectful distance from the sunbathing flock of harbor seals on the shore of Siletz Bay.

Harbor seals are a common and delightful site along the Oregon Coast
Photo Credit: Explore Lincoln City

They bask in the sun on their rotund bottom halves and take cool dips in the ocean. When the mood strikes them (breakfast, lunch and dinner), they dive into the sweet waters where the Siletz River meets the sea, and yummy summer steelhead come home from their three-year sojourn in the sea.

The opening to the ocean at this particular juncture is the perfect feeding ground if you’re hungry for spawning salmon, traveling towards the same clean, cool waters in which they were born.

Do you know that harbor seals don’t have legs?

To get from Point A to Point B on dry land, they sort of waddle and thrust through the sand by “galumphing” (the scientific term) on their bulbous bellies behind fins of steel. Harbor seals measure about six feet in length and weigh in at 300 pounds. Each.

But who knew they could move so fast?

While awkward on land, get them in the water and these babies can move! Just moments before my arrival, they were all lazily sunning themselves on the hot summer day–the perfect embodiment of sloth and torpor–with nothing better to do but soak up each other’s good company and a catch a few rays.

Which, by the way, was exactly what brought John and me to the beach that day.

So let me start at the beginning, before the armada of harbor seals went on the offensive.

It started out as just another day at the beach. Gotta love Saturdays! Weather: Raining and overcast in Portland; 73 degrees and sunny on the Oregon Coast. See my taillights? Buh-bye city. Hello ocean!

I do not share the sea’s indifference to me. I worship at its shores, smitten and enriched…

John and I headed out Saturday morning for a day far from any four walls, boring chores and mundane routines. Destination: The Oregon Coast. But first:

  • Fine woven blanket from a beach vendor in Mazatlan ✔
  • Change of cloths in case I accidentally fall in the drink ✔
  • Pandora set to 70s light rock ✔
  • Sun Screen (Why bother?)
  • Low-rider camp chairs ✔
  • Cooler of beverages ✔
  • Extra water ✔
  • Fishing pole ✔
  • Road snacks ✔
  • Kayaks (2) ✔

One fast-food stop, a ton of summer traffic, non-stop hits from The Carpenters, Jackson Browne and Crosby, Stills & Nash, and two hours later, we arrived at the Pacific Ocean.

It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, the first glimpse of the great sea-blue expanse always takes my breath away. It seems to suddenly appear in between the shops and hotels, as we’re driving at its flank on the Pacific Coast Highway. Of course, it’s always there, indifferent to my comings and goings.

I do not share the sea’s indifference to me. I worship at its shores, smitten and enriched by its vast and dangerous beauty.

Photo Credit: Visit Lincoln City

We hauled our gear (see checklist above) on foot through the Taft Historical District and set up our day camp in the sand … near enough to the shore to be happy and far enough from the throngs to be sane.

This is where the sloth and torpor come in. How lovely it was to just sit! An hour or so of sitting, and I amped up enough energy to crack the cover of a book. One chapter later and (I admit) I had all the sitting still I could handle.

It’s not necessarily a pretty sight to watch a middle-aged woman with a desk job plop her butt into a tippy kayak. Feet first? Rear first? Straddle? Side saddle? A few fits and starts, however, and I was in the vessel.

Did you know that a kayak has a rotund bottom and no legs?  

There’s no other way to say it…I galumphed myself off the sand and into the sea.

So there we were, my kayak and me, front half in the water and back half still nestled into the sand. There’s no other way to say it. I was going nowhere, until…

…waddling and thrusting, I galumphed myself off the sand and into the sea.

John was already on his way, a seasoned pro at all things athletic, paddling towards the far shore. Putting weightier cares behind me, I made a beeline across the bay toward the harbor seals…because they are so cuuuuute!

What could possibly go wrong?

A few of the seals were bobbing in the water, taking an occasional plunge under, but most of them were basking on the beach … say, 40 of them or so.

I just wanted to get close enough to say hello.

This is when John told me to ratchet back my speed and keep my distance. Oh, okay, I thought, I’ll just have to make friends with them from afar.

The tide had other ideas, however, and slowly pushed me closer and closer to the flock of seals. I merely floated one … ripple … too … far. That’s all it took. Twenty-five bulbous shapes on the beach sprung into action. One by one by one they slipped into the ocean, moving at great speed. Destination: Kyla.

It’s a funny thing, seeing all those faces aimed at me, eye-to-eye at sea level.

“Slowly back away.”

Riiiight. Paddle backwards. Don’t show weakness. Slooowly move away from the horde of harbor seals, in their element and on the rampage, protecting their women and children back on the seashore.

And then … it was over. Nobody wanted a fight.

I paddled into the distance and the seals gave up the chase. Our friendship had gotten off to a rocky start, but I will return some day and try again. Maybe with some salmon in my pocket. Or Cheese Nips.

(Just kidding. Strictly against the rules.)

Safely back on shore, we lunched at Mo’s (fish & chips for John and chowder in a bread bowl for me).

So worth the wait! The fun part about Mo’s certainly isn’t the long line (no reservations accepted).

It’s all the sea-themed bric-a-brac lining the shelves through which the line meanders. From mermaid key chains to genuine shark teeth, Mo’s got it. And then some.

After lunch, I indulged in more sloth and torpor on the beach, while John fished at the mouth of the estuary. One hour or so of that and the sun was setting on the day. We packed up our day camp and hauled our gear to the road.

As I waited for John to bring the truck around, I felt the satisfaction of a day well spent. Good food, good company, a great escape. I also felt the sweet kiss of a sunburn that would turn to a deep golden tan over night.

Except not. One look in the truck’s mirror and I could see that I was burned to a crisp. But only in the delicate areas of my cheeks, neck and chest. Okay, and maybe my toes.

Fine. I get it. Next time bring sunscreen. Give my friends space when they need it. And take a little piece of the beautiful, dangerous mystery of the sea home with me … in the sweet kiss of a summer’s day.

Travel Insights At a Glance

Photo Credit: Explore Lincoln City

Siletz Recreational Area/Lincoln City

Siletz Bay Parks & Access Points
Siletz Bay is full of natural adventures. Here are the best ways to get onto the sand and into the water.

Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Siletz Bay’s coastal habitats include salt marsh, mudflats, sloughs and conifer-hardwood forests, all of which are essential to shorebirds, waterfowl, wading birds, and Coho and Chinook Salmon.

Explore Lincoln City (Visitors Association)
With everything from colorful kite festivals to fresh catch feasts to hand-blown glass floats, Lincoln City is one place, endless adventure.

Area Maps
Lincoln City Maps

Fave Dining Spots
Breakfast: Pig ‘n Pancake
Lunch: Mo’s Seafood & Chowder
Beach Fare: Wood fired pizza vendor & ice cream
Dinner: Kyllo’s at the Beach

Adult Beverages
Snug Harbor Bar & Grill
Rusty Truck Brewing Company

Shopping
Lincoln City Outlets

Lodging
Vacasa VRBO Rentals
Lincoln City Lodging

More Cool Stuff Not to Miss
Glass buoys (finder’s keepers)
Saltwater taffy
Art Galleries

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