Enough water is discharged into Washington State’s Puget Sound from mountain watersheds and nearby rivers and streams to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool every two seconds. That’s 41,000 cubic feet each second pumping along 2,500 miles of shoreline. Impressive, but that’s not even the half of it. Sixty-eight state parks are located on its shores and an average 21 million passengers cross these waters yearly by ferry. For the four million residents in the Puget Sound region, this complex body of water is a second heartbeat.
The Sound is a network of channels, estuaries, islands, and bays connecting currents, sealife, and vessels to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. British explorer George Vancouver named the waterway for Peter Puget, a lieutenant on his famed 1792 Vancouver Expedition. Though Captain Vancouver claimed the area for Great Britain, the signing of the Oregon Treaty in 1846 gave land rights to the United States.
Ocean bound ships leave from ports in Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia, and an extensive ferry system shuttles passengers to and from such destinations as Bainbridge Island, the San Juan Islands, and Victoria, British Columbia. The water is generally frigid—after all, it is partially fed by glacial runoff from the Cascade and Olympic mountains. That doesn’t stop die-hard kayakers, canoers, and sailors who can’t resist the urge to take to the waves.
Far from being merely a tourist destination, Puget Sound is a permanent home to hundreds of marine species. Local aquatic celebrities include orcas, otters, seals, sea lions, geoducks (pronounced “gooey ducks” for those unfamiliar with this breed of giant clam), and 211 species of salmon. Low tides reveal pools teeming with sea stars and barnacles, urchins and anemones.