These dark brown ungulates are the largest subspecies of elk in North America, with bulls sometimes reaching 1,100 pounds and cows more than 600 pounds. The largest wild herd of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest lives in Olympic. Small herds of about 30 cows and calves band together and browse on ferns, lichens and meadow grasses year-round, while bulls tend to live alone. In September, listen for the eerie bugling of bulls during the rut (mating season).
These lovable mammals can be found on the Pacific coast from Alaska to northern California. Sea otters are larger than river otters, and unlike the river otters, rarely come ashore. Thick, brown fur protects sea otters from cold water. Males in the area can weigh up to 65 pounds and reach 4 feet in length. Playful and smart, sea otters are the only mammals besides primates known to use tools. They use small rocks to pry shellfish, from underwater boulders and to hammer the shells open.
These huge birds of prey—they can weigh more than 14 pounds, with a nearly 7-foot wingspan—are most frequently spotted roosting in trees along the Olympic coast. Adults are easy to recognize. Look for a dark brown body with white tail feathers and a “bald” white head. Juvenile eagles are brownish with brown heads. Bald eagles hunt for fish, waterfowl, reptiles and amphibians, but they’re also frequent and opportunistic scavengers, sometimes stealing the prey of other animals.
Black bears (but not grizzlies) live throughout Olympic, roaming in search of ripe berries, spawning salmon, tree bark and insects. Look for them in high-elevation fields, subalpine zones, forests and along the coast. Black bears can be black, brown or even blond. Though bear attacks are extremely rare, bears can be dangerous. Never approach one, and scare it away by shouting and banging pots and pans if one wanders into your campsite.
In spring and summer, Olympic’s largest animal can be spotted off the coast. The gray whale can stretch up to 60 feet long and weigh more than 30 tons. Gray whales migrate from their summer feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska to their winter range in Baja California, an annual distance of more than 10,000 miles. As baleen whales, they filter bottom sediments to eat the small crustaceans and tube worms that live on the ocean bottom.
Non-native to the park, mountain goats most likely were introduced in the park during the 1920s for hunting purposes. Today, there are about 600. Stay at least 50 yards away from them (half the length of a football field). Never surround, crowd, chase or follow a mountain goat. They have been known to approach humans probably because they have a taste for salt. Humans deposit salt on their clothing as they sweat. Goats will especially seek out salt in late spring and early summer. If you encounter a billy goat during the fall rutting season, its first instinct may be to defend its territory.