6 Wild Animals for your Olympic National Park Watch List

Look for these animals as you explore Olympic National Park including elk, whales, eagle plus three more.

Roosevelt Elk

Roosevelt Elk in Olympic National Park. Photo by Justin Bailie
Roosevelt Elk in Olympic National Park.Justin Bailie

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).

More about Roosevelt elk.

Sea Otters

Sea Otter
Sea OtterDepositphotos
River otters eating a salmon at Olympic National Park
River otters eating a salmon at Olympic National ParkPublic Domain

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.

Bald Eagles

Closeup of a bald eagle
Closeup of a bald eagleDepositphotos

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 Bear

Black bear
Black Depositphotos

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.

Gray Whales

Breaching Gray Whale
Breaching Gray WhaleiStock

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.

More about whale watching.

Mountain Goats

Mountain goat on a rocky ledge. Photo by John Williams
Mountain goat on a rocky ledge.John Williams

Non-native to the park, mountain goats most likely were introduced in the park during the 1920s for hunting purposes. Today, park officials are in the process of removing the 725 that live there. You might experience area closures during removal efforts. Stay at least 50 yards away from them (half the length of a football field). Never surround, crowd, chase or follow a mountain goat. One man was fatally gored by a goat in 2010. 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.

Read: What to Do if You See a Mountain Goat on the Trail