Editor's Column: Let’s keep Puget Sound cold

Very few people swim in Puget Sound regularly, but as one of those who does I concur with scientists who say the oceans are warming up.

Puget Sound isn’t technically an ocean, but it’s filled with ocean water that pours in through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The water has always seemed a bit warmer on the east side of Whidbey Island, as the mass of ocean water passes through Admiralty Inlet on the west side. My theory is that the water moves more slowly, through Deception Pass and around the south end of the island, to get to the east side, so it warms up a degree or two in the process.

Most of my Puget Sound swimming is done in the east side, in the shallows in Saratoga Passage. Even though it’s traditionally a bit warmer than water on the west side, that doesn’t mean it’s bathtub quality. A swimmer should start turning blue after about 10 minutes on the east side, compared to maybe 5 minutes on the west side. It’s that feeling of total numbness that cold water swimmers enjoy. All you physical sensations such as aches and pains disappear, at no cost, in cold water. If health care quacks could bring it inside their spas they’d make a mint boasting about the curative powers of Puget Sound waters. We should throw teenagers into the Sound at least once a day to keep their bodies numb and their thoughts on their homework.

The warmth of the water on the east side has troubled me this summer. It’s actually difficult to get fully numb and the water doesn’t seem quite as fresh. Kind of like swimming in Cranberry Lake, but without all the algae.

One day I swam into a huge jellyfish, the biggest one I’ve ever seen so close to shore. Had a body as big as a basketball, and long stringy tentacles that actually stung worse than nettles. I had visions of my body washing up on the beach with mysterious tentacle marks all over. The coroner would have loved it, but fortunately for me I made it back to shore and before morning the stinging sensation went away. Sorry, 911 dispatchers, I cheated you out of the thrill of saying “man stung by giant jellyfish on east side of Whidbey.”

Concerned about the warmer water and giant jellyfish on the east side, I decided to give the west side a try. West Beach is a fine place to test the water temperature. The beach drops off quickly, and at low tide the water is ocean cold, no chance of being warmed up by mudflats heated by the sun. Much to my displeasure, the West Beach water was tolerable - definitely warmer than in previous years. I saw other people sunning themselves on the beach and chatting in the driftwood as is always the case. I’ve never seen another swimmer at Rocky Point, but if word gets around about the warming water Whidbey Island could change for the worse almost overnight.

If the global warming trend continues for a few more years, we could end up as L.A. north with zillions of people swarming to the beaches, which are guarded by Baywatch type bodies. Taxes will probably have to go up to pay for all the lifeguards. Whidbey beaches will become miniature Coney Islands, with throngs of people, hotdog stands, amusement rides, and umbrella rentals. The days a lone swimmer could find solitude and numbness in the waters of Puget Sound will be over.

Fortunately, I’ve got a plan keep Puget Sound cold. Drag a couple of glaciers down from the Arctic Ocean and park one on each side of Whidbey. It’ll keep the giant jellyfish away and, more importantly, the tourists.

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