Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Living Sanctuary section includes Marine Life, Habitats, Ocean Environment, History and Culture

Marine Life

photo of starfish
Intertidal habitat invites exploration.
One of the Ocean's most astonishing qualities is the diversity of living things that live there. The complete list of animals in the seas has never been - and may never be - compiled. From microscopic organisms that drift unseen in the currents, to the largest whales, the wildlife of the Olympic Coast reminds us that humans share our ocean planet with other inhabitants. Learn more by following the links below to begin your marine wildlife journey in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

photo of sea lions on rocks
Rock outcrops and islands bark and roar where sea lions haul out to rest.
Twenty nine species of marine mammals reside in or migrate through Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Toothed and baleen whales, seals and sea lions and sea otters all represent the adaptation of land-based animal forms for survival in the marine environment. Gray whales, sea otters, harbor seals and Steller and California sea lions can be spotted from land at many locations along the coast at some time during the year. Other whales including humpback whales can only be seen from boats as they feed miles offshore.

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is part of the Pacific Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Networkimage indicates link leaves this site - follow this link to learn more about whale strandings, and how to avoid injury to yourself and a marine mammal if you encounter an injured, abandoned or stranded animal.

photo of a seabird flying
More than 100 species of seabirds spend at least part of their lives in the sanctuary.
Seabirds, ranging in size from tiny storm-petrels to majestic black-footed albatross roam over the wave tops offshore in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Sea stacks and islands provide critical nesting habitat for common murres and tufted puffins. Sand and gravel beaches furnish habitat for shorebirds, crows, gulls and a host of others. The coastline forms an important migratory pathway for millions of birds that pass through each year, guiding ducks, geese, cranes and raptors toward northern breeding areas during the spring and southward, as winter approaches.

Slow growing, long-lived rockfish may not reproduce until they are 15-20 years old.
Cold, temperate waters of the Olympic Coast are some of the most productive fish-growing habitats in the world. Long known for salmon, and halibut, the Olympic Coast is also rich in rockfish and other ecologically-important fish species. Historically, many commercial fisheries were developed on the Olympic Coast, including harvests of halibut, hake and salmon. Before that, Native Americans fished the plentiful waters using a wide variety of net and line techniques. Most important, however, is the sheer abundance and diversity of fish species that are not used by people, but which form the web of living things holding the complex ecosystem together. Predator and prey alike, from vast shoals of herring to solitary ocean sunfish, fish are indicators of ocean health.

Competition for food and space in the intertidal zone increases diversity.
Life-forms in the ocean take on a multitude of shapes and sizes, ranging from the familiar to the bizarre. Invertebrates (animals without backbones) are the largest group of animals on the planet. In the ocean, they reveal every conceivable function and design that Evolution could muster. Some are simple digestive systems encased in a gelatinous film. Others, like the octopus with its complex eyes, show powerful evolutionary development, not unlike that of mammals. Intertidal invertebrates like sea stars must live in two worlds, submerged by high tide and exposed at low. Bottom dwellers, like basket stars, live in strangely stable environment of darkness, pressure and cold.

mixed seaweeds One indicator of the Olympic Coast's productivity is its diverse communities of seaweeds. Our seaweed flora includes green, red, and brown algae along with surfgrass, a true flowering plant.

Welcome to the dazzling world of the Olympic Coast's marine wildlife.

Contact for page content: olympiccoast@noaa.gov
Photo of peach coral
Revised July 26, 2017 by Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary   |    Contact Us   |    Report a broken link  |
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service    |    leaving site indicates a link leaves the site. Please view our Disclaimer for more information.| User Survey
National Ocean Service | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | National Marine Sanctuaries | NOAA Library | Privacy Policy