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Mustelid Mania

The Dorsal Spin
“Mink in the Marsh” photo by Phil Lanoue.
“Mink in the Marsh” photo by Phil Lanoue.

Mustelid mania overcomes our Jack Russell terrier, Nashoba, when she detects Ono the Otter scampering under our deck with a juicy flounder or other succulent prey item. Nashoba whimpers and snorts at the floor above the spot where the river otter hides. This can be challenging when it happens at 3:00 AM.

Ono the Otter might be looking for a den site. Hmm, adorable yet odiferous otter pups. A frisky otter brood rates as one of nature’s best displays. The charming, stinky family Mustelidae includes otters, weasels, ferrets, minks, and skunks -- a personal favorite. In late March, lucky Nashoba saw another sly Vashon mustelid.

For more than a year, we three – Odin, Nashoba, and I -- have noticed the telltale paw prints of a mink on a nearby, secluded stretch of beach. Nashoba sniffs around the tracks with gusto. While walking the shoreline on a fine spring day, we heard two discontented crows squawking predator alert calls. I scanned the trees expecting to find a raptor; instead, a chocolate brown form rustling about in the bare branches caught my eye – elusive Cousin Mink!

The cheeky mink chased a rat out of the undergrowth and through a dilapidated concrete house foundation. The rat ran for his little life toward the Sound and jumped in without hesitation. The mink was hot on his trail. The rat swam behind a rock and then executed a clever diversionary maneuver -- a lá Tweety and Sylvester -- escaping to the right while the mink searched the water.

This amusing encounter illustrates why the ever-resourceful rat will inherit the planet after most species are obliterated. Cousin Mink boldly stared at us, tolerant of our presence. We were at a safe distance, and s/he was preoccupied with finding that rat, anyway.

Miss Nashoba was on her leash, in Odin’s arms, veritably squeaking with mustelid mania. Every quivering fiber of her terrier being said, “I’m supposed to chase those weasel-types and rodent-types!” Cousin Mink was not intimidated.

Of course, we did not have a camera on hand for our best mink sighting ever. Except for binoculars, we usually venture gadget-free into Mother Nature to soak up her splendor. I scoured the “interwebs” for a photo to evoke the demeanor of our mink neighbor. Visit www.phillanoue.com/mink-photos/ for additional images similar to the enchanting “Mink in the Marsh.”

Though minks occur throughout the Pacific Northwest, my understanding is that the American Mink is not native to Vashon-Maury. Mink farms reportedly introduced the wily mustelids to the Island decades ago. Previously, we saw a mink swimming in the cove where we once lived.

Chez VHP’s other remarkable marine mammal sightings of late involve seals and porpoises. We watched a Harbor seal gnawing on an octopus for about an hour – you could tell it was chewy. Six or more Harbor porpoises, including calves, zipped through Dalco Pass in late March. We typically see groups of just two or three porpoises down here.

Please support the work of the Vashon Hydrophone Project (VHP): REPORT LOCAL WHALE SIGHTINGS ASAP TO 463-9041, as well as seal pups and sick, injured, or dead marine mammals on Island beaches. Prompt reports to the VHP expedite vital data collection efforts and sustain an accurate record of whale sightings for Vashon-Maury. Send photos to Orca Annie at Vashonorcas@aol.com.