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Map showing a marine heat wave known as "the blob" which spread across the northeastern Pacific Ocean from 2014 to 2016. Image: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory, Data: Coral Reef Watch

'The blob' revisited: Marine heat waves and the Salish Sea

Years after the appearance of the devastating marine heat wave known as "the blob," scientists are still working to understand how it has affected the Salish Sea. In some ways, they say, it is like the blob never left.

RECENT ARTICLES

A kayaker on Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Ecology.
7/24/2020

Whose Puget Sound?: Examining place attachment, residency, and stewardship in the Puget Sound region

A 2020 article in the journal Geographical Review examines the current status of place attachment among Puget Sound residents in connection with environmental stewardship behaviors. The authors challenge often touted negative perceptions of the region’s newcomers and conclude that residents, new and old, share a strong positive place attachment and sense of pro-environmental stewardship.

Southern resident killer whales. Photo by Candice Emmons/NOAA Fisheries (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
7/17/2020

Orcas without borders

The Salish Sea’s endangered southern resident orcas travel freely across the U.S.-Canada border, unconstrained by political boundaries. But while they don’t require passports, they can still face differing policies and conditions as they go back and forth between nations. We look at some of the ways that the United States and Canada compare in their efforts to protect the whales.

The mouth of the Elwha River along the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2016. Photo by Dave Parks and CWI (with permission). All rights reserved.
7/14/2020

Seawall removal reaps benefits of Elwha recovery

The Elwha River has become famous as the site of the largest dam removal project in U.S. history. Several years ago, scientists began knocking down another barrier about a mile away from the river's delta. They removed a large seawall along the Salish Sea shoreline and discovered that sediment from the dam removal had huge benefits for their project.

A surfing harbor porpoise in Burrows Pass, off Fidalgo Island, WA. Photo: Copyright Cindy R. Elliser, Pacific Mammal Research http://pacmam.org/
7/10/2020

Prey-related asphyxiation in harbor porpoises

A paper published in the journal Oceans in 2020 describes cases of prey-related asphyxiation in harbor porpoises along the U.S. West Coast. The findings suggest that a majority of cases involve non-native American shad and that asphyxiation tends to occur more with reproductively active females than other age and sex classes.

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Bellingham Bay, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
7/9/2020

Fungal disease a rising concern for local marine mammals

A 2020 paper published in Frontiers in Marine Science describes details of the fungal disease Mucormycosis which has caused the death of harbor porpoises, harbor seals and one orca in Puget Sound in recent years. The authors discuss the implications for local marine mammals, specifically the endangered southern resident killer whale population.

Human-built clam gardens are found in the lower intertidal zone and characterized by a level terrace behind a rock wall. Photo: Amy S. Groesbeck
7/2/2020

How to plan a clam garden

The revival of an Indigenous aquaculture practice has come to the southern Salish Sea. Clam gardens could help First Nations in British Columbia and Washington state address issues of climate change and food sustainability.

Bull kelp floating on the surface of the sea
6/17/2020

A seed bank for the sea

Identifying kelp stocks that are tolerant of warmer waters could help the Salish Sea’s iconic underwater forests survive climate change.

The new Seattle seawall below the sidewalk at low tide. Photo: Jason Toft/UW
6/9/2020

New Seattle seawall improves migratory pathway for young salmon

Design innovations at the new seawall along Seattle's waterfront could inspire improvements for other shoreline structures around Puget Sound. They may even encourage broader regulatory changes that enhance habitat for migrating salmon and other species.

 

Pinto abalone. Photo: Taylor Frierson
6/2/2020

Delicious and now endangered: Can the pinto abalone make a comeback?

The pinto abalone was a popular sport catch for divers in the Salish Sea until its numbers plummeted to near extinction. Now, the delicious marine snail is on the endangered species list and the focus of an ambitious hatchery and replanting program. A broad coalition of partners has released more than 20,000 young pintos into the wild with the hope that the population will start to rebound.

Sharon Riggs from Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve sets a Fukui trap to monitor European green crabs. Photo: Emily Grason/WSG
5/21/2020

Search for invasive green crab continues during pandemic

The state's stay-at-home order has halted much of the field research that would normally be underway in Puget Sound this spring, but a small group of scientists and volunteers have been able to continue their search for an invading marauder along the shoreline. Their work has been classified as critical by the state.

Harbor seals. Photo: Mick Thompson (CC BY-NC 2.0)
5/18/2020

Causes of mortality in a harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) population at equilibrium

A 2020 article in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science looks at harbor seal stranding and necropsy findings in the San Juan Islands to assess age-related stranding trends and causes of mortality. The harbor seal (Phoca vitulina richardii) population in the Salish Sea has been at equilibrium since the mid-1990s. This stable population of marine mammals resides relatively close to shore near a large human population and offers a novel opportunity to evaluate whether disease acts in a density-dependent manner to limit population growth.

The Cougar Creek Fire in Klickitat County, Washington, 2015. Photo: USFS
5/14/2020

Fire danger returning to Western Washington

The National Weather Service is predicting a warmer and drier than average summer this year in Washington, prompting officials to brace for an early start to the fire season. Historically, the eastern part of the state has seen the largest impacts from fires, but climate change is now increasing the risk west of the Cascades. That could have big implications for many rural communities throughout Western Washington, including the Puget Sound region.

In 2014 and 2019, sea surface temperatures across a broad area warmed to well above average (0 in the middle of the key). On map, 3° C = 5.4° F // Map: NOAA Fisheries
5/11/2020

Warm-water ‘blobs’ significantly diminish salmon, other fish populations, study says

It’s no secret that salmon and other Northwest fish populations are expected to shrink as a result of a warming Pacific Ocean. But a new study suggests that the resulting decline in commercial fishing by 2050 could be twice as great as previously estimated by climate scientists.

Nooksack River. Photo: Ronald Woan (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/BR87Hp
5/5/2020

Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group 2018-2019 Annual Report

The Nooksack River watershed spans part of the border between British Columbia and the State of Washington. In August 2018, the international, multi-agency Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group was established to implement a three-year work plan to reduce fecal bacteria concentrations in the Nooksack River watershed. As a work plan deliverable, the group produced this annual report summarizing first year project activities.

Podcast logo
4/28/2020

Voices Unbound: Enviro-Amplify

What do people really mean when they talk about the environment? A new podcast asks regular citizens a simple, but charged question: "What are the environmental challenges that are most important to you?" The answers to that question drive this engaging podcast in sometimes unexpected directions, from the environmental impacts of being homeless, to air quality, to wide-ranging discussions about environmental justice. 

“The Blue Marble,” photo taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in 1972, two years after the first Earth Day
4/18/2020

Earth Day events go online because of virus

Participants in this year’s Earth Day activities won’t be rallying in large groups, participating in environmental festivals or coming together to clean up the Earth. On the 50th anniversary of Earth Day — April 21st — the environmental movement will be uniquely digital, with many people celebrating from their home computers. [This story is reprinted from the Puget Sound Institute-sponsored blog 'Our Water Ways.']

Beach closed sign. Photo: Washington Department of Ecology
4/10/2020

Pathogens Prevention Reduction and Control 5-6 (PC-00J88801) Final Report

The Pathogens Prevention Reduction and Control agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Health focuses on the prevention and reduction of pathogen pollution in Puget Sound through the management of human and animal waste. The primary objectives of the agreement include restoring shellfish growing areas, avoiding shellfish closures, and protecting people from disease.

Report cover
4/3/2020

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - March 16, 2020

After a wet January, precipitation has been low and air temperatures have been cooler.  As a result, rivers gages are lower than expected, a pattern that has continued since last year. In March we approached the coldest water temperatures of the year. Herring are spawning in Port Madison. Although these cool temperatures are good for herring, temperatures are close to the survival limits for anchovies. If you can handle these temperatures, now is a good time to go diving to benefit of good underwater visibility, just avoid windy days near wave-exposed beaches. If you are lucky, you might see the kelp humpback shrimp, a master of camouflage.

Image from report cover
3/21/2020

Social scientists analyze public reactions to orca crisis

Social scientists at Oregon State University have been analyzing a trove of more than 17,000 public comments sent to the Washington state governor's southern resident orca recovery task force. The researchers have added the comments to a keyword database to look at public emotions and perceptions around the issue of orca declines.

Ocean Outbreak" cover courtesy of University of California Press.
3/17/2020

A conversation with "Ocean Outbreak" author Drew Harvell

When Cornell University ecologist Drew Harvell wrote her book "Ocean Outbreak," she couldn't have known that 2020 would be the year of COVID-19. But even as people around the world grapple with the effects of that disease, scientists are keeping watch on potential disasters from viruses and other pathogens for species in the world's oceans. As the oceans warm due to climate change, scientists expect incidences of disease to increase in marine ecosystems including the Salish Sea. We asked Harvell about her new book and the need to address this rising challenge.

A geoduck farm near Totten Inlet between Shelton and Olympia. Photo: KBCS (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/8gHRA8
3/13/2020

Digging the mighty geoduck: A history of Puget Sound's 'boss clam'

The geoduck has earned an honored place as Puget Sound's largest and most distinctive native clam, but how much do we really know about it? Often seen as a culinary curiosity, the geoduck has only been commercially harvested on a large scale since the 1970s, and the clam's current popularity is based mostly on demand from Asian markets. Nevertheless, this deep-burrowing mollusk has always been a signature part of the Salish Sea ecosystem. 

Researchers led by veterinarian Pete Schroeder capture the breath of orcas in a search for pathogenic organisms from 2007 to 2009. // Photo courtesy of Pete Schroeder
3/10/2020

Virus related to measles could push Puget Sound orcas to extinction, study says

Researchers studying the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound are growing increasingly concerned that a dangerous virus or other disease-causing organism could spread through the population and hasten extinction of these critically endangered southern resident orcas.

Salmon smolts. Photo courtesy of Governor's Salmon Recovery Office
3/5/2020

Warming ocean conditions fuel viruses among species in the Salish Sea

As officials struggle to track and contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19, ecologists say widespread impacts from viruses and other pathogens are also a growing threat to the species of the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Snowmelt on Hurricane Ridge, Olympic Mountains, WA. Photo: Beth Jusino (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/9WRS8J
2/26/2020

Puget Sound's 'warm snow’ makes region vulnerable to climate shifts

Climate models project that if carbon emmisions continue as they are now, the vast majority of watersheds feeding Puget Sound will receive more rain and far less snow by 2080, causing increased flooding and other dramatic changes to the freshwater ecosystem. We look at the past and possible future of the region's snowpack and what this might mean for salmon and other species — including humans. 

Smokestacks in sunlight. Photo: Joe Brusky (CC BY-NC 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/)
1/15/2020

Air contaminants, such as mercury and PCBs, undermine the health of Puget Sound

High levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals are showing up in seemingly remote and pristine parts of the Puget Sound watershed, the result of atmospheric deposition. Scientists talk about a “dome” of pollution hanging over urban areas, leading to a never-ending cycle of persistent compounds working their way through the air, onto the land and into the water.

Report cover
1/8/2020

Eyes Over Puget Sound: 2019 Year in Review

The Washington State Department of Ecology has prepared a summary review of its Eyes Over Puget Sound surface condition reports from 2019. The year started with snow, and a summer drought kept river flows low. As a result, salinities in Puget Sound were elevated year round. Warmer surface water temperatures in spring gradually extended to greater depth by late summer. The spring bloom was strong, and South Sound provided optimal conditions for anchovies that showed up in high numbers. A coccolithophore bloom stained Hood Canal turquoise, and Port Angeles and Discovery Bay were colored red-brown by strong blooms. Noctiluca and macroalgae, both known eutrophication indicators in coastal regions, were abundant in Central Sound, and extended into South Sound and Whidbey Basin. Large numbers of jellyfish occurred in Quartermaster Harbor, Sinclair Inlet, and parts of Orcas Island.

Harbor porpoise. Photo: Copyright Cindy R. Elliser, Pacific Mammal Research.
1/6/2020

Status and trends of harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea

Harbor porpoises declined dramatically in the Salish Sea in the 1970s but their populations have since rebounded, increasing by more than 10% per year in recent decades. A 2020 report for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound examines harbor porpoise status and trends, natural history and recent policy considerations for the species.

In laboratory experiments, a pteropod shell dissolved over the course of 45 days in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100. Photo: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory
12/15/2019

Rate of ocean acidification may accelerate, scientists warn

Last summer, scientists met at the University of Washington to address alarming findings concerning the rapid acidification of the world's oceans. Experts at that symposium warned that wildlife in the Salish Sea, from salmon to shellfish, may start to see significant effects from changing water chemistry within the next 10 to 20 years. This article summarizes the symposium's key findings and was commissioned and edited by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center which hosted the gathering. Funds for the article were provided by the Washington state legislature. [A version of this article was originally published by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center.]

Rhinoceros auklets near Protection Island. Photo: Peter Hodum
12/6/2019

A health check for seabirds

Scientists are still trying to understand what caused the deaths of thousands of rhinoceros auklets in the Salish Sea in 2016. Some studies point to disease as a central factor in that incident and potentially other large seabird die-offs along the coast. That is prompting a deeper look at what makes these birds sick, and how local populations are faring. We followed a group of researchers as they gave a health checkup to a breeding colony of rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island.

Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki). Photo: NOAA Fisheries West Coast
12/5/2019

Genetic composition and conservation status of coastal cutthroat trout in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The watersheds of Washington’s San Juan Islands were thought to be too small to support wild salmonid populations, and many streams flow only seasonally. But a 2019 article in the journal Conservation Genetics reports that at least five watersheds in the region support populations of coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki). Genetic analysis of the cutthroat trout in three of the watersheds suggest two support native populations. The findings are important for understanding the conservation status of these previously unknown populations. 

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