Sea Otters and Gray Whales
The undersea kelp forests found off the coast of Olympic National Park are the preferred habitat of the sea otter. This frisky fellow is protected from the cold waters of the north Pacific by a thick coat of fur — a pelt that was once so valued by trappers that the otter nearly faced extinction.
The sea otter was extirpated from the Washington coast by the early 1900s because of hunting. Worldwide population for the marine weasel once fell lower than 2,000 individuals, before a hunting ban and habitat restoration efforts helped it rebound. The waters near Olympic National Park are home to about 800 sea otters. While its turnaround is one of the great success stories of marine conservation, the sea otter remains an endangered species.
Like the sea otter, the gray whale also recovered from the brink of extinction. But while the otter remains a species of significant concern, the eastern Pacific population of gray whales now number more than 20,000 individuals. These marine giants were once hunted for their bones and oil, but today they are most sought after by whale watchers who can catch them from March to May as they migrate northward to their summer feeding range.
Whales, otters and other marine animals greatly benefit from the protected waters of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, a 3,310-square mile ocean preserve (about twice the size of Olympic National Park) that is home to 29 documented species of marine mammals.
The Olympic marmot is one of more than two dozen endemic species that evolved on the Olympic Peninsula through geographic isolation associated with glaciation during the last ice age. The burrowing member of the squirrel family is uniquely adapted to thriving the on windswept, high-altitude grasslands of the Olympic Mountains. It may hibernate underground for up to eight months out of the year to escape the harsh cold.
Although settlers and explorers of the Olympic Peninsula hunted the marmot for food and sport, but it’s remained a constant resident of the region throughout human settlement. However, a recent decline in marmot numbers — indicated by abandonment of long-populated areas — has spurred new research of rodent. Scientists argue that encroachment of new predators, such as coyotes, due to human disturbance and climate change have precipitated the downturn.
Preservation of the Roosevelt elk, also known as Olympic elk, was a principal driving force behind the founding of Mount Olympus National Monument, which would later become Olympic National Park. The elk would be named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, who established the monument. This largest existing species of North American elk was once aggressively hunted, but has since made a comeback in diverse locations such as Northern California, some Alaskan islands and of course, the Olympic Peninsula. Today Olympic National Park is home to herds of free-roaming Roosevelt elk, which can commonly be seen in the Hoh rainforest.