Island Experience

Responsible Wildlife Watching in the San Juans

Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation offers guidelines for keeping wildlife wild

San Juan Wildlife

In addition to beautiful scenery and interesting history, the San Juan Islands are home to a rich variety of wildlife. Whether you have a quiet picnic or go for a long hike, seeing and hearing a range of wild creatures can add to your enjoyment of this special place. You may be lucky enough to watch a Bald Eagle soar overhead, see a Harbor Seal pop its head out of the water or catch a glimpse of a doe and her fawn moving quietly through the trees. There may be little swallows swooping to catch insects, a garter snake warming itself on a rock or a heron standing motionless at the edge of the water. They are all around you, if you look and listen!

Eagle at South Beach, American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park
Rufus Hummingbird in Indian Paintbrush, Photography by Phil Green


Tips for Better Wildlife Watching

Slow and Quiet - Move slowly and quietly. If you move quickly and make lots of noise, most wild animals will be gone long before you realize they are there.

Listen and Look - Use your ears as well as your eyes.  Often the first clue that a wild animal is nearby is a sound - a few cheeps from the branches above your head, or a rustle in the bushes.

Sit and Watch - Choose a good spot, sit quietly, and look around.  It’s more rewarding to watch animals acting naturally, unaware that you are there.

Not Too Close - Don’t be tempted to move closer to get a better look or a good photo.  Use binoculars to watch from a distance or a long lens to take photos, so you don’t disturb the animals.

Find out more about Be Whale Wise.


Steller Sea Lions at Cattle Point, Photography by Jim Maya
Red Fox at American Camp, Photography by John Yunker at


Reducing Your Impact

While you are enjoying wildlife in the islands, be aware that your activities can also harm them.  Here are some ways you can help prevent this.

CARS – Many wild animals, including deer, otters, raccoons and owls, are hit by cars. 

Drive slowly and carefully, especially at night and in wooded areas.

DOGS – Dogs love to chase, and can injure or kill wild animals.

 Keep your dog under control at all times.

BOATS/KAYAKS – Marine animals can be injured by boats and propellers and boat wakes can damage shoreline nests. Going too close to marine mammals in the water or on their haul-out rocks can cause disturbance.

Go carefully, watch out for animals in the water and minimize your wake when you are close to shore. Stay well back from marine mammals – in the water and on land.

LITTER – Bottles, cans, plastic bags, etc., are all potential hazards for wildlife.

Dispose of all garbage properly.

FISHING – Animals can become caught in discarded fishing line, nets or hooks. 

Remove unwanted or snagged fishing gear.

FOOD - Wild animals can be attracted to road sides and picnic areas if they are fed or food scraps are left behind. They are then more likely to be injured, and young animals become reliant on hand-outs when they should be learning how to find their natural foods.

Don’t feed wildlife, and clean up after your picnic.

The opportunity to see so many different types of wildlife is part of what makes visiting the San Juan Islands so special. Enjoy these beautiful wild creatures and help keep them safe.

Find out more at Leave No Trace.