Hood’s Channel

Posted by Ken Campbell September 25, 2008 0 Comment 493 views

Hood Canal extends for about 65 miles from its entrance near Foulweather Bluff to its terminus in the muddy tidelands of Lynch Cove. Over this great length, its width seldom exceeds 1.5 miles. Shaped a little bit like a giant letter “L,” Hood Canal defines the eastern side of the Olympic peninsula.

Technically, it is a fjord, not a canal.

It got its name from Captain Vancouver back in 1792. Named for Admiral Lord Samuel Hood, he had originally marked it on his charts as both “Hood’s Canal” and “Hood’s Channel,” but over time the easiest of all possible versions won out (as it often will).

The US Navy maintains a base in Bangor, on the Kitsap peninsula side of Hood Canal, that is home to nuclear submarines, which you would think might be the area’s biggest environmental challenge. It’s not.

In September of 2006, researchers documented the discovery of the largest dead zone in the canal’s history. Low oxygen levels meant that, over a four-mile stretch of water in the heart of the canal, there was no normal sea life in evidence. The same conditions have resulted in massive fish kills in the central and southern sections of the canal. Low oxygen levels are caused by a variety of sources, but with small towns and waterfront homes dominating much of the southern shores, nutrient build-up from fertilizers and the effluent from leaky septic systems are responsible for the lion’s share of the problem.

Even in the areas that still hold on to some semblance of what a normal sea bottom should look like, there are lower-than-normal levels of dissolved oxygen. Because of its long and slender shape, water exchange is slow between the canal and the fast currents of Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. This near-stagnant condition makes the canal even more susceptible to the environmental pressures that come with a rise in development.

All of this is not to say that Hood Canal is not a raging beauty. She most certainly is. The Olympic peaks arrange themselves in tightly closed ranks, dominating the western skyline. The Kitsap peninsula rolls softly away to the east, a vast carpet of variegated greens and blues, especially in the north. On clear summer evenings, where a soft southern breeze is barely enough to riffle the glassy water, there are not many other places on Earth that could be more delightful to the senses.

To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever traveled the length of Hood Canal on a paddleboard.

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