Species and food webs
Puget Sound hosts more than 100 species of seabirds, 200 species of fish, 15 marine mammal species, hundreds of plant species, and thousands of invertebrate species (Armstrong et al. 1976; Thom et al. 1976; Canning and Shipman 1995). Visit our species page for a full list. The array of species found in Puget Sound reflects its high productivity, the wide diversity of habitats present, and its unique geographic location at the interface of “northern” and “southern” ranges for many species. These species do not exist in isolation, but rather interact with each other in a variety of ways: they eat and are eaten by each other; they serve as vectors of disease or toxins; they are parasitic; and they compete with each other for food, habitat, and other resources.
There is no single food web in the Puget Sound ecosystem. Instead there are many marine food webs that reside in the soft-bottomed nearshore, in rocky-bottomed areas, in habitats dominated by eelgrass or kelp, and in pelagic areas as well. Similarly, there are terrestrial and freshwater aquatic food webs that occur in alpine habitats, mid-elevation and lowland forests, and rivers, lakes, and streams. The food webs in each of these areas are not discrete and independent, but rather are highly interconnected by organic matter sources, physical proximity, exchange of water, and organisms that change habitats during the course of their life cycles.
Food webs also change both in time and space due to variation in stratification, prey availability, organic-matter source availability and quality, and other local and regional conditions. In addition, some species occupy multiple places or play multiple roles in the food web depending on their life stage, size, habitats they occupy, and time of year.
Sound Science: Synthesizing ecological and socioeconomic information about the Puget Sound ecosystem. Published 2007. Used by permission.
Tiny bone samples show that seals alter their diets as conditions change. The findings could help scientists understand whether seals are contributing to local salmon declines.
A series of beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) sightings in southern Puget Sound in October 2021, added a new set of records for the species in this region. The 2021 event represents the longest period of time a beluga has been observed so far south of Alaska, in the eastern North Pacific. This may have just been an isolated event of a single extralimital individual. Alternatively, it may suggest a potential range expansion that could portend future increased visits by this species in the Pacific Northwest, especially if warming of Arctic waters continues.
Puget Sound's glaciers are melting rapidly due to climate change. The North Cascades mountains have lost about 56% of their glacial ice while estimates show that glaciers in the Olympics could be gone within the next 50 years. Scientists say salmon and other species could be hard hit as the region loses its “giant storage tank” of ice.
Over the past year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported an unusually high number of sixgill sharks found washed up along Puget Sound's shoreline. Four dead sharks in all were spotted, alarming scientists who believe that the large predators use Puget Sound as a pupping ground. Sixgills are rarely seen in Puget Sound but are one of its largest fishes, reaching lengths of up to 16 feet. Some speculate that warmer-than-usual waters could be a factor in the deaths, but the cause remains a mystery. We spoke with Fish and Wildlife biologist Lisa Hillier.
Fishing for rockfish was once promoted as a sustainable alternative to salmon harvests, but when rockfish numbers plummeted, fisheries managers realized they had a problem. Now a rockfish recovery plan seeks to reverse the damage as scientists learn more about protecting this once-popular game fish.
The 2021 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s seventh biennial report to the Legislature on progress toward the recovery of Puget Sound. The document reports on both the status of the Partnership's recovery efforts and a suite of ecosystem indicators referred to as the Puget Sound Vital Signs.
Scientists think they may have discovered a lost population of native kokanee salmon in Lake Washington. Salmon watchers are monitoring local creeks this fall to confirm the finding.
The tenth annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview looks at marine water quality and other conditions in the region in 2020. According to the report, there were few extreme weather or ecological events in 2020, but overall, conditions in Puget Sound were generally warmer, sunnier, and wetter than in typical years. The overview also examines patterns and trends in numerous environmental parameters, including plankton, water quality, climate, and marine life.
A 2021 study published in the journal Antibiotics suggests that animals may be potential sentinels for antibiotic-resistant and extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli in the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Bull kelp is easily recognized by its wavy leaves and long, floating stipes that sometimes wash ashore like slimy green bullwhips. In that sense, it is one of the more familiar types of seaweed in Puget Sound. But as kelp forests decline throughout the region, scientists are finding that there is much about this increasingly rare species that remains a mystery.
A 2021 report commissioned by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources identifies potential actions at the state or local level, or in combination, that could further bolster shellfish bed recovery in support of the Puget Sound Partnership's shellfish bed recovery target.
A resident population of minke whales is catching the attention of scientists who want to learn if the elusive mammals are found here year-round. While small compared to their cousins the blue whales, minkes are still among the largest creatures in the Salish Sea.
The number of golden-crowned kinglets in the Puget Sound watershed has declined by more than 91% over a recent 50-year period, according to data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The data was reported by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracks the information for the Puget Sound Partnership’s terrestrial bird indicator. The indicator was established to monitor the health of Puget Sound’s species and food webs.
Each spring, about a dozen gray whales make a brief detour into the Salish Sea before heading north to their feeding grounds in the Arctic. Biologists dubbed these whales "Sounders" after first noting their presence in the 1990s, and the whales have become rare but widely anticipated visitors to local waters. The whales were spotted again this year, but biologists have documented a 24 percent decline in gray whale populations along the West Coast.
A 2021 paper in the journal PLoS ONE provides a clearer picture of what endangered southern resident orcas eat throughout the year. Chinook salmon make up the bulk of the whales' diet, but the paper suggests that other salmon species and non-salmonid fishes can also play important roles depending on the season.
Collisions with boats and other interactions with humans are "significant" causes of death for killer whales in the northeastern Pacific, a recent study says. The findings come from one of the most comprehensive looks at killer whale pathology to date, but scientists say determining how a killer whale may have died is often notoriously difficult.
The Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (B-IBI) Implementation Strategy is designed to improve freshwater quality by analyzing the health and diversity of invertebrate populations in Puget Sound area streams.
Priority Science to Support Recovery of the Puget Sound Ecosystem: A Science Work Plan for 2020-2024 (SWP for 2020-2024) describes the information, learning, and interaction needed to support the coordinated efforts to recover, protect, and improve the resilience of the Puget Sound ecosystem.
Antibiotic resistance of bacteria in two marine mammal species, harbor seals and harbor porpoises, living in an urban marine ecosystem, the Salish Sea, Washington State, USA
Harbor seals and harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea are showing a relatively high presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A 2021 paper in the journal Oceans suggests that these findings may indicate a wider problem among other species in the region.
A river spawning species of forage fish known as the longfin smelt is rare and getting rarer in the Salish Sea. Biologists are looking into the mysterious decline of the ‘hooligans’ of the Nooksack.
Pathology findings and correlation with body condition index in stranded killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the northeastern Pacific and Hawaii from 2004 to 2013
A 2020 study of pathology reports for 53 stranded killer whales in the northeastern Pacific and Hawaii showed that deaths related to human interaction were found in every age class. Vessel strikes accounted for the deaths of four of the nine endangered southern resident killer whales identified in the study. The findings were published Dec. 2 in the journal PLOS ONE.
The search for why large numbers of spawning coho salmon have been dying in Puget Sound's urban streams goes as far back as the 1980s and culminated this year with the discovery of a previously unidentified chemical related to automobile tires. We offer a detailed timeline for the discovery.
Environmental engineers and chemists at the University of Washington Tacoma have identified a mysterious compound implicated in the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon in Puget Sound. The chemical is linked with a rubber additive commonly used in tires and is thought to kill more than half of the spawning coho that enter the region's urban streams every year.
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program details the effects of a changing climate on Puget Sound in 2019, and documents how these changes moved through the ecosystem to affect marine life and seafood consumers.
Interannual differences in postrelease movements of rehabilitated harbor seal pups (Phoca vitulina richardii) in the Salish Sea
A study published in Marine Mammal Science in June 2020 followed the movements and behavior of rehabilitated harbor seal pups after being released into the Salish Sea. The results suggest that although their movements differ from wild pups that have been weaned, the rehabilitated pups do successfully make the transition.
Last month's federal authorization to kill more than 700 sea lions to protect salmon runs along the Columbia River is prompting discussions of similar actions for harbor seals in Puget Sound. But experts say the situations are very different with many unanswered questions.
Few environment problems in the Salish Sea have been studied more than the steep decline in salmon populations. But one potential contributor to these declines has gained less attention. Scientists say infectious disease may play a wider role than previously understood.
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.
Identifying kelp stocks that are tolerant of warmer waters could help the Salish Sea’s iconic underwater forests survive climate change.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.']
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.
They rival tropical forests in their richness and diversity, but Puget Sound's kelp beds have declined steeply in recent decades. Scientists are just starting to understand the extent of these losses. What they are finding is bringing kelp to the forefront of Puget Sound's environmental concerns.
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program says climate change altered the base of Puget Sound's food web in 2018, diminishing microscopic phytoplankton necessary for marine life. Scientists also observed lower abundances of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.
A 2019 article in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases looked at trace element concentrations of heavy metals in the livers of harbor seals that died and stranded in the San Juan Islands. The study indicated exposure to trace elements (naturally occurring, human-introduced, or both) in the Salish Sea; however, the study reports that trace element toxicity is not a major threat to harbor seal health.
Officially known as West Coast transients but increasingly referred to as Bigg’s killer whales, these marine mammal-eating orcas (Orcinus orca) are spending increasing time in the Salish Sea to consume their marine mammal prey including harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor and Dall’s porpoise. They range from Southeast Alaska to California, but over the last 15 years more members of the population are spending increasing time in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia (Houghton et al. 2015, Shields et al. 2018). They have no predators (except perhaps occasionally other Bigg’s killer whales - see Towers et al. 2018), but are at risk from anthropogenic effects, including toxics and noise pollution (Ford et al. 2007).
Volunteer researchers are tracking the plastic and other debris washing up on Puget Sound's beaches. They hope the data can be used to protect sea creatures from the growing amounts of trash littering the world's oceans. [A version of this article first appeared in the COASST blog.]
Spring and fall Chinook salmon were thought to be alike until researchers discovered a gene for early migration. Now, federal biologists and legal experts are struggling to decide if spring Chinook should be granted their own legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Scientists believe that herring have been a staple of Salish Sea food and culture since humans first arrived here at least 12,500 years ago. That importance has continued into modern times, even as herring numbers have declined in parts of the region.
Pigeon guillemots have attracted relatively little scientific attention compared to other seabirds in Puget Sound. That may be because their population is generally stable, but a group of citizen scientists is helping to put guillemots on the conservation radar. They hope the birds can be used as an indicator of Puget Sound health.
A 2014 paper in the journal PLoS ONE examines differences between foraging behavior of harbor seals based on haulout site locations, seasons, sexes and times of day. The authors hypothesize that these factors may help explain the variability in diet among harbor seals observed at different haul-out site groups in the Salish Sea.
An unintended consequence of the recovery of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been the impact on seabirds. The authors of a 2019 paper published in Ecology and Evolution suggest that the effects of bald eagle activity on a large glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) colony on Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca include the possibility of coexistence but also the possibility of gull colony extinction.
A broad collaboration of volunteers, agencies, and tribes are working together to keep invasive European green crabs at bay in Washington state. This story map was produced by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the Puget Sound Institute in collaboration with the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team.
Each winter and spring, researchers survey the sometimes spectacular spawning events of Puget Sound's Pacific herring. They have found wide swings in the fish's population and an overall decline in herring numbers since the 1970s, but little is known about the cause or what this might mean for the health of the food web. We spent a day with a biologist spotting herring eggs and considering the future of one of our region's most ecologically and culturally important fish species.
Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides)
The sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is highly susceptible to sea star wasting disease. The authors of a 2019 paper published in Science Advances document the rapid, widespread decline of sunflower stars and discuss the ecological implications of losing this important subtidal predator species.
This three-part series explores opportunities and challenges of using medical interventions to save Puget Sound's southern resident orcas from extinction. Part 1 looks at how scientists might treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease; Part 2 considers how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to orcas in Puget Sound; and Part 3 explores a federally approved vaccination program designed to ward of a deadly virus among endangered Hawaiian monk seals.
Puget Sound’s only native oysters were nearly wiped out in the 19th century from overharvesting. Now a network of scientists and advocates is working to restore them to their historical and cultural prominence.
A 2019 report from the non-profit group Earth Economics look at revenues and other economic activity resulting from whale watching in San Juan County, Washington.
For critically endangered animal populations, experts worry that a highly infectious disease could be the final nail in the coffin, forcing the species into extinction. That’s one reason why federal authorities approved the development and deployment of a new vaccine to ward off the deadly morbillivirus among Hawaiian monk seals. The vaccination program raises the possibility of using vaccines to prevent disease among Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales, but no specific steps have been taken so far.
As the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas becomes increasingly desperate, with the population dropping from 98 to 75 in just 22 years, scientists are weighing the options of medical intervention. In part two of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to the situation here in Puget Sound. [Part one, "When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?" is also available.]
The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in with medical care for distressed animals in the wild. Medical intervention has become routine for some endangered mammals, but scientists say Puget Sound’s resident orcas present a series of unique challenges and ethical questions. In part one of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how scientists are preparing to treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease.
A 2018 report published by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brings together an assessment of key science and other knowledge related to herring recovery in the Salish Sea. The report was produced with support from the SeaDoc Society and received input from a cross-border team from state and federal agencies, universities and area tribes.
There are more than a half dozen species of skeleton shrimp in Puget Sound. The Washington State Department of Ecology profiles this unusual crustacean in its Eyes Under Puget Sound series.
With a population growth of about 10 percent per year in inland waters, harbor porpoises are having an undetermined but growing effect on food dynamics in Puget Sound.
Sightings of southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea 1976−2014: the importance of a long-term opportunistic dataset
A 2018 paper in the journal Endangered Species Research analyzes southern resident killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea between 1976 and 2014.
Between 1962 and 1973, at least 263 killer whales were caught or killed in the waters of British Columbia and Washington (Bigg and Wolman 1975). Twelve of these died during capture and fifty were kept for display in aquariums. The remainder of the captured animals escaped or were released. Twenty-seven of the whales kept as captive were taken from the population now designated as endangered southern-resident killer whales (Balcomb 2018). All but one of those, nicknamed Lolita, have since died. Lolita remains in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium.
Balcomb, Ken. (2018). Center for Whale Research. Personal correspondence.
Pacific herring are a pelagic fish species found from northern Baja California to northern Honshu Island, Japan. They are found throughout the Puget Sound basin and are a mix of “resident” and “migratory” stocks.
New research shows that warmer and more acidic oceans could lead to shorter embryos and higher respiration in Pacific herring.
As critically important eelgrass declines in some parts of Puget Sound, scientists are trying to plant more of it. The health of the ecosystem may be riding on their efforts, but what they are finding is something that farmers have known for thousands of years: Getting something to grow may be harder than you think.
The reasons for the surprise visits are unknown, but changes in environmental conditions here or elsewhere are one possibility.
Recent images of a mother orca appearing to grieve for her dead calf have brought worldwide attention to the plight of Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident orcas. As orca numbers decline, we look at how the effects of toxic chemicals on the whales are magnified even as the residents slowly starve from a general lack of Chinook salmon, their chief source of food.
Chemicals, disease and other stressors can increase a salmon's chance of being eaten or reduce its ability to catch food. We wrap up our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project with a look at some of the lesser-known, but still significant factors contributing to salmon declines in the Salish Sea.
A recent influx of anchovies into Puget Sound may have saved some steelhead from predators, but researchers seek more evidence to prove the connection. Our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project continues with a look at these and other potential impacts from predators on the region's salmon and steelhead.
Getting bigger faster can help save juvenile Chinook salmon from a gauntlet of hungry predators ranging from birds and marine mammals to larger fish. We continue our series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project with a look at what helps salmon grow and prepare for life in the open ocean.
A high-profile salmon escape led to a ban on salmon farms in Washington earlier this year. But just across the border, scientists say salmon farms in British Columbia expose migrating fish from Puget Sound to potential maladies like parasites, bacteria and dangerous viruses. They say simply getting rid of salmon farms in Washington does not put the potential impacts to rest.
Pacific herring exposed to stormwater in Puget Sound show some of the same effects as fish exposed to major oil spills. Symptoms include heart and developmental problems.
Kelps are large seaweeds in the order Laminariales that form dense canopies in temperate rocky intertidal and subtidal habitats less than 30 m in depth. The kelp flora of the Pacific Northwest is one of the most diverse in the world.
Scientists are trying to learn how to restore Puget Sound’s diminishing kelp forests in an effort to stave off habitat loss for rockfish and other threatened species.
Sediment Quality in Puget Sound: Changes in chemical contaminants and invertebrate communities at 10 sentinel stations, 1989–2015
A 2018 report from the Washington State Department of Ecology presents results from 27 years of sampling sediments and benthic invertebrates at 10 long-term stations throughout the greater Puget Sound area every year from 1989 through 2015.
Daily and annual habitat use and habitat-to-habitat movement by Glaucous-winged Gulls at Protection Island, Washington
A 2017 paper in the journal Northwestern Naturalist looks at distribution patterns for Glaucous-winged Gulls across associated habitats in the Salish Sea.
As wildlife managers work to recover Puget Sound’s diminished Chinook population, a proposed white paper is expected to review the impacts of some of the salmon's chief predators. The study would include a section on potential management of seals and sea lions, prompting open discussion of a long taboo subject: Could officials seek to revise the Marine Mammal Protection Act — or even conduct lethal or non-lethal removal of seals and sea lions in some cases? Such actions are hypothetical, but we look at some of the ongoing discussions around the issue as prompted by a new resolution from the Puget Sound Leadership Council.
A December 2017 article in the journal PLOS One reports that incidents and violations among whale watching vessels have increased in the Central Salish Sea since 1998.
Group characteristics, site fidelity, and photo-identification of harbor porpoises, Phocoena phocoena, in Burrows Pass, Fidalgo Island, Washington
A 2017 paper in the journal Marine Mammal Science examines harbor porpoise group structure and site fidelity in the Salish Sea.
A 2017 paper in the journal Aquatic Mammals reports that harbor seals in the Salish Sea are less concerned about predators when they become habituated to humans.
Increased consumption of Chinook salmon by seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea “could be masking the success of coastwide salmon recovery efforts,” according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Endangered resident orcas are said to be declining in part due to a lack of available Chinook, the orcas' preferred prey.
The Orange Sea Pen, also called the Fleshy Sea Pen or Gurney’s Sea Pen, resembles a colorful autumn tree waving in the “breeze” of moving water currents. Article courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology's Eyes Under Puget Sound series.
Formaldehyde is often used to control parasites on hatchery salmon and trout. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology conducted a joint study of formaldehyde concentrations in effluent from hatcheries in the Pacific Northwest.
In recent decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to restore habitat for Puget Sound salmon. In this article, we look at how scientists are gauging their progress. Are environmental conditions improving or getting worse? The answer may depend on where you look and who you ask.
A biennial report produced by the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office provides stories and data about salmon, habitat, and salmon recovery in Washington, including Puget Sound.
The marine habitat of Puget Sound can be divided up into nearshore, benthic (associated with the sea floor), and pelagic (open water) habitats. This article focuses on the pelagic habitat within the Puget Sound. This article was prepared as part of the 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book produced by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute.
Detritus, or dying or decaying matter, is a central component of the nearshore food web in Puget Sound. This article was prepared as part of the Puget Sound Fact Book produced by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute.
Scientists want to know why eelgrass is on the decline in some areas of Puget Sound and not others. The answer will affect future strategies for protecting one of the ecosystem’s most critical saltwater plants.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is an independent program established by state and federal statute to monitor environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
Vessel traffic is increasing in the Puget Sound region. A 2017 article in the journal Aquatic Mammals looks at the potential impacts that increasing vessel disturbance may have on resident harbor seal populations and how future management decisions may need to look at variable buffer zones related to level of human activity.
As threatened Chinook populations in Puget Sound continue to lose ground, the state is looking to new strategies to reverse the trend. In the Skagit watershed, the scientists — and the fish — are among those leading the way.
A new study shows that increased populations of seals and sea lions are eating far more of Puget Sound’s threatened chinook than previously known, potentially hampering recovery efforts for both salmon and endangered killer whales.
Many groups have been formed around the goal of saving salmon, but few people talk about a concerted effort to save microscopic creatures. Whether or not a pro-bug movement catches on, future strategies to save salmon are likely to incorporate ideas for restoring streambound creatures known as benthic invertebrates.
A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of key products, results, and recommendations presented in three previous reports reviewing 50 projects from the first four years of the Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Grant Program.
A study in the journal PLOS ONE uses volunteer diver surveys to assess the impacts of sea star wasting disease in the Salish Sea. Data shows that sunflower sea stars were especially hard hit and have all but disappeared from the region.
Invasive species are considered a top threat to the balance of ecosystems worldwide. New discoveries of non-native green crabs in Puget Sound have highlighted that concern here at home, but invasive species can impact more than just the food web. Some introduced species can produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish or by directly infecting the human body.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released its fifth annual Marine Waters Overview this week. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2015 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds, fish and marine mammals.
Another European green crab has been spotted in Puget Sound prompting concern that the species may gain a foothold in the region.
Sand lance in parts of British Columbia are ingesting small pieces of plastic that may be passed through the food web.
After an almost complete collapse in the 1970s, harbor porpoise populations in Puget Sound have rebounded. Scientists are celebrating the recovery of the species sometimes known as the "puffing pig."
Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.
Some of the most important fish in the Salish Sea food web are also the most mysterious. Researchers have only begun to understand how many there are, where they go, and how we can preserve their populations for the future. A University of Washington researcher describes how scientists are looking into the problem.
Gaps in regulations could allow invasive species to hitch a ride on ships and boats. We report on some of the potential impacts, and how state and federal agencies are trying to solve the problem.
Concerns over the potential arrival of the European green crab have inspired a small army of volunteers. A search is underway for early signs of an invasion.
Almost twenty years ago, volunteer biologists began an intensive survey for invasive species in the marine waters of Puget Sound. In a little over a week of hunting, they found 39 such species, including 11 never before seen in the region.
The Washington Invasive Species Council evaluated more than 700 invasive species in and around Washington, considering their threats to the state’s environment, economy, and human health. They included terrestrial plants and animals, aquatic plants and animals (both freshwater and saltwater), insects and diseases. In the end, the council listed 50 “priority species” for action, including five marine animals and two marine plants, along with one virus that infects fish.
A July 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 10 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program. The report is an analysis of findings on invasive species, toxics, oil spill, and integrated risk assessment.
New techniques for studying orcas have been credited with breakthroughs in reproductive and developmental research. Drones and hormone-sniffing dogs are helping scientists connect declines in food supply with low birth rates and poor health. Update: The research described in this 2016 article has now been published in the 6/29/17 issue of the journal PLOS ONE.
Birds serve as useful indicators of ecosystem change and ecosystem health, biodiversity, condition of habitats, and climate change. Many people and organizations have their eyes on marine birds in Puget Sound.
New, smaller acoustic tags will allow scientists to track steelhead migrations in Puget Sound in ways that were once impossible. Will they provide answers to the mysterious decline of these now-threatened fish?
The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has mobilized dozens of organizations in the U.S. and Canada to find an answer to one of the region's greatest mysteries. What is killing so many young salmon before they can return home to spawn? A series of talks at the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference brought together some of the latest research.
Many of Puget Sound's Chinook salmon spend their entire lives in local waters and don't migrate to the open ocean. These fish tend to collect more contaminants in their bodies because of the sound's relatively high levels of pollution.
It turns out that a gooey substance known as biofilm is a big deal for Salish Sea shorebirds, providing critical food for some species. But could a proposed port expansion in Vancouver threaten this slimy resource?
Researchers are proposing a shift in thinking about how some of the region’s most damaging pollutants enter Puget Sound species like herring, salmon and orcas.
Researchers are studying how persistent pollutants such as PCBs avoid settling to the bottom of Puget Sound. This article continues our coverage of new theories on the spread of toxic chemicals in the food web.
The growing number of species of concern in the Salish Sea suggests ecosystem decay is outpacing recovery
The number of species of concern in the Salish Sea is growing at an average annual rate of 2.6%, according to a report published in the proceedings of the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C.
The number of species of concern in the Salish Sea is growing at an average annual rate of 2.6%, according to a report published in the proceedings of the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C.
The mysterious practice of killing porpoises may have a useful function, but it has yet to be fully explained, according to orca researcher Deborah Giles.
Where shoreline bulkheads remain in place, the loss of spawning habitat used by surf smelt is likely to reach 80 percent.
Rising sea levels are expected to exacerbate habitat loss caused by bulkheads, according to studies in the San Juan Islands.
The removal of shoreline armoring in Puget Sound has become a priority for state and federal agencies, but until recently there have been relatively few scientific studies of armoring's local impact. New research looks at the pronounced biological and ecological effects of these common shoreline structures, especially for tiny beach-dwelling creatures that make up the base of the food web.
The genus Sternaspis is comprised of sedentary invertebrates with short and thick anterior setae. The dumbbell worm (Sternaspis affinis) can be found on the West Coast of North America, from Alaska to the Gulf of California.
The Doto is a species of sea slug, also known as a nudibranch. It is a marine gastropod in the family Dotidae. This species was first discovered in British Columbia and has been reported as far south as Santa Barbara, California.
Priapula are a small phylum of small, worm-like animals found in Puget Sound. They occur in most seas, both tropical and polar, at a variety of depths, from shallow coastal waters to as far down as 7,200 meters.
Sea pens are marine cnidarians that belong to the order Pennatulacea. They are colonial organisms, composed of specialized polyps.
A 2016 technical report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Cascadia Research Collective details the decline of the harbor porpoise in Puget Sound in the 1970s and reports that species numbers have increased over the past twenty years likely due to outside immigration.
A 2016 paper in Environmental Pollution identifies dozens of pharmaceuticals and other compounds that are accumulating in Puget Sound fish such as salmon.
A 2016 paper in the journal Oecologia describes how individual herring populations in Puget Sound exhibit a portfolio effect, collectively influencing and stabilizing the region’s population as a whole.
Competition occurs when individuals of different species struggle to obtain the same resource in an ecosystem (such as food or living space). Adaptations, such as physical mutations and behavior modifications, can help an organism outcompete its competitors.
Food webs are natural interconnections of food chains and depict what-eats-what in an ecological community. While Puget Sound represents a specific food web, the organisms that reside within that web often travel outside the region. In this way, one community's food web can be drastically affected by a change in a neighboring ecosystem.
Decaying organic matter plays an important role in marine ecosystems.
Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, along with steelhead trout, live in the Lake Washington watershed and navigate a treacherous route through the Ballard Locks on their way to Puget Sound.
Lake Washington was heavily contaminated by untreated sewage until extensive pollution controls by the city of Seattle.
Impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life: Publication patterns, new discoveries, and future directions in research and management
A 2015 review in Ocean & Coastal Management looks at trends in research related to anthropogenic noise and its affect on a wide variety of marine organisms, from whales and fish to invertebrates. The review includes case studies from the Salish Sea.
This article describes the first known case of conjoined twins in a harbor seal. The case was documented in the Salish Sea region where harbor seals are often used as indicators of contaminant levels. However, researchers say their findings do not support that this anomaly was due to any common contaminants and hypothesize that the twinning was caused by disordered embryo migration and fusion.
Pacific herring have long been considered an essential part of the Puget Sound food web. Now, studies are beginning to reveal how diseases in herring could be reverberating through the ecosystem, affecting creatures large and small. We continue our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound with this look at the region's most well-known forage fish.
Chinook, coho and steelhead populations in Puget Sound have declined dramatically over the past 30 years. In some cases, counts of fish returning to the rivers are just a tenth what they were in the 1980s. While many possible causes of this decline are under consideration, some researchers are focusing on the combined effects of predators and disease. This article continues our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound.
From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.
Researchers updating a 1980 fish catalog have found evidence of 37 additional fish species in the Salish Sea. This information, accompanied by hundreds of detailed illustrations, is seeding a new reference book expected to gain wide use among scientists, anglers and conservationists. [Editor's note: As of 2019, the list of Salish Sea fishes has grown to 260 species.]
The Puget Sound Fact Book brings together statistics and other information about the health and makeup of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Areas of focus include climate change, geography, water quality, habitats, human dimensions and regional species. The fact book was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership.
A 2015 NOAA report creates an updated and comprehensive list of the fishes of the Salish Sea.
In the 1940s, harbor porpoise were among the most frequently sighted cetaceans in Puget Sound, but by the early 1970s they had all but disappeared from local waters. Their numbers have since increased, but they remain a Species of Concern in the state of Washington. This in-depth profile looks at harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea, and was prepared by the SeaDoc Society for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
A report from NOAA and the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program provides an overview of 2014 marine water quality and conditions in Puget Sound from comprehensive monitoring and observing programs.
This report documents how Washingtonians have responded to the challenges of protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead to healthy status. It also serves as a tool to summarize achievements, track salmon recovery progress through common indicators, and identify data gaps that need to be filled.
A 2015 article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology presents additional isotopic evidence that glaucus-winged gulls in the Salish Sea are shifting their diets from marine to terrestrial sources due to human impacts. Scientists hypothesize that declining forage fish may be the cause.
The University of Washington Climate Impacts Group has been analyzing the potential effects of climate change in Puget Sound. The projections below represent some of their most recent reporting about expected conditions in the region over the next 50 to 100 years. Support for this article was provided by the Puget Sound Partnership.
Conservation and ecology of marine forage fishes— Proceedings of a research symposium, September 2012
The symposium was held on September 12–14, 2012, at the University of Washington, Friday Harbor Laboratories campus. Sixty scientists, graduate students, and fisheries policy experts convened; showcasing ongoing research, conservation, and management efforts targeting forage fish from regional and national perspectives.
The baseline assessment summarizes the status and trends of 15 priority invasive species, as identified by the Washington Invasive Species Council, within the Puget Sound Basin.
This report, Priority science for restoring and protecting Puget Sound: a Biennial Science Work Plan for 2011-2013, identifies priority science and monitoring questions needed to coordinate and implement effective recovery and protection strategies for Puget Sound.
Salmon recovery demands both dedication among people with different interests, and sustained resources. This biennial report tells the story of the progress made to date and the challenges ahead.
Sound Science: Synthesizing Ecological and Socio-economic Information about the Puget Sound Ecosystem summarizes what we know about the greater Puget Sound ecosystem and what we think could happen in the future given present trajectories and trends.
The Puget Sound Update is a technical report that integrates results of PSAMP and other scientific activities in Puget Sound focused on marine life and nearshore habitat, marine and freshwater quality, and toxic contamination.
With its striking plumage and brilliant orange bill, the Tufted Puffin is an iconic seabird well known to native peoples, fishermen, and coastal communities throughout its range in the temperate and sub-arctic North Pacific. Though pelagic in winter, puffins gather on islands and headlands during spring and summer to breed and raise their young. They are members of the auk family, with stocky bodies adapted to “flying” underwater as they dive in pursuit of a wide range of fish and invertebrate prey. Nesting Tufted Puffins range up to 100 km from their breeding colonies to forage for their nestlings, and are famed for carrying 20 or more small fish at one time, neatly lined up and carried crosswise in their large, brightly colored bills.
A 2000 report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife provides information on haulout sites for harbor seals, Steller sea lions, California sea lions, and northern elephant seals located in Washington waters.
Scientists say low marine survival rates threaten Puget Sound coho salmon populations. A 2015 article in the journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries reports that wild cohos in the Salish Sea had higher smolt survival rates over a 30 year period than hatchery coho salmon. Smolt survival in the Strait of Georgia during that time declined faster than it did in Puget Sound.
A December 2014 report from the University of Washington examines when and where climate change impacts will occur in the Puget Sound watershed.
When and where will we see the impacts of climate change in Puget Sound? A web-based tool factors in dozens of site-specific variables for watersheds throughout the Pacific Northwest. The resource was developed by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group with support from the EPA, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Center for Data Science, University of Washington-Tacoma.
Forty years of change in forage fish and jellyfish abundance across greater Puget Sound, Washington (USA): anthropogenic and climate associations
A 2015 paper in the Marine Ecology Press Series reports a trend toward more jellyfish and less of some forage fish species in Puget Sound. The paper analyzes more than 40 years of state data, and assesses potential human causes for the shift.
A 2015 report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reviews information relevant to the status of the tufted puffin in Washington and addresses factors affecting this status.
Foraging differences between male and female harbor seals present challenges for fisheries management
A 2015 article published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series identifies intraspecific differences in diet between harbor seals in the Salish Sea, suggesting implications for marine reserve management.
A 2015 report from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources summarizes the status and trends for native eelgrass and other seagrasses in Puget Sound from 2010-2013.
This paper summarizes a 2014 report ranking the greatest human-caused threats to the Puget Sound ecosystem.
Living in the fast lane: rapid development of the locomotor muscle in immature harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)
A study in the Journal of Comparative Physiology shows that muscle development necessary for diving can take several years to mature in harbor porpoises. Scientists argue that this may make immature harbor porpoises more vulnerable than adults to impacts from boat traffic or other disturbances.
A 2015 paper in the journal Marine Policy examines surveys of Puget Sound anglers to provide baseline information related to rockfish conservation.
A 2015 paper in the journal The Condor: Ornithological Applications describes century-long trends in Glaucous-winged Gull populations in British Columbia.
A 2014 report by the North Cascadia Adaptation Partnership identifies climate change issues relevant to resource management in the North Cascades, and recommends solutions that will facilitate the transition of the diverse ecosystems of this region into a warmer climate.
A 2015 paper presented to the International Whaling Commission compares the impacts of kayaks and powerboats on killer whale populations.
A 2014 Washington State Department of Ecology report provides a taxonomic guide for Puget Sound sediment-dwelling invertebrates (benthos). Surveys of these species are used to monitor the health of the foodweb, as well as levels of toxic contaminants in the seafloor.
Population structure and intergeneric hybridization in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in British Columbia, Canada
A 2014 paper in Endangered Species Research suggests that harbour porpoises inhabiting coastal waters of southern British Columbia constitute a single genetic population, which should be reflected in management decisions.
A 2014 report by the Kitsap Public Heath District describes the goals and achievements of the Shellfish Restoration and Protection Project including: increasing harvestable shellfish growing areas, establishing a routine shoreline monitoring program, improving water quality, and increasing education of water quality and shellfish protection.
A 2005 report from the Washington Sea Grant Program describing the history and current state of native Olympia oysters including their ecology, history with human interactions, prefered habitat, and reestablishment efforts in the Puget Sound region.
The region's famed mollusks provide more than just money and jobs. They offer what are called ecosystem services—a wide variety of benefits that humans derive from an ecosystem.
This 2006 technical report for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership describes how shellfish have high ecological, economical, cultural, recreational value, however human activity is threatening their existence by altering their native habitat with changes in land use, shoreline modifications, stormwater, sewage and industrial discharge.
A December 2014 paper in the journal Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management describes a project to identify transboundary ecosystem indicators for the Salish Sea.
Northwest Coast First Peoples made clam garden terraces to expand ideal clam habitat at tidal heights that provided optimal conditions for clam growth and survival, therefore enhancing food production and increasing food security.
A virus is the likely cause of sea-star die-offs on the Northeast Pacific Coast and in Puget Sound, according to a November 2014 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Ecological effect of a nonnative seagrass spreading in the Northeast Pacific: A review of Zostera japonica
A 2014 literature review in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management suggests negative effects of nonnative eelgrass on the native species.
Scientists are rethinking floodplain management in Puget Sound. Can we have our farms and salmon too?
Puget Sound herring reproduction is not limited by the amount of suitable spawning vegetation, according to a November 2014 paper in the journal Marine Ecology. The article points to terrestrial or marine variables as likely determinants of egg loss.
The decaying seawall along Seattle’s waterfront is providing scientists with an opportunity to improve long-lost habitat for migrating salmon. It could also show the way for habitat enhancements to crumbling infrastructure worldwide. One University of Washington researcher describes the project.
A 2014 paper decribes how monitoring the energy density of key Pacific salmon species could affect the recovery of northern and southern killer whales through fisheries management.
Birds that dive for fish while wintering in the Salish Sea are more likely to be in decline than nondiving birds with less specialized diets, according to a 2014 study led by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology proposes that long-term changes in the availability of forage fish are pushing the declines.
New research presented at the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference shows that some of the greatest dangers to Puget Sound marine life come from our common, everyday activities. These pervasive sources of pollution are so woven into our lives that they are almost invisible to us, but it’s becoming impossible to ignore their effects.
State of the physical, biological and selected fishery resources of Pacific Canadian marine ecosystems in 2013
A summary of environmental conditions in Pacific Canadian Waters and the broader North East Pacific in 2013.
A report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program provides an overview of 2013 marine water quality and conditions in Puget Sound from comprehensive monitoring and observing programs.
The growth and survival of young salmon in streams, river deltas and floodplains are seen as crucial pieces of the salmon recovery puzzle. In part two of this two-part series, researchers at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle say the complexities of the salmon life cycle require new coordination among scientists.
Scientists say Puget Sound’s salmon are dying young and point to low growth rates in the marine environment as a possible cause. In part one of this two-part series, scientists consider threats facing young salmon in the open waters of Puget Sound.
Scientists say eelgrass, an unassuming flowering plant found just off shore in Puget Sound, is vital to the health of the ecosystem. They also say the plant is declining. New and increasingly urgent efforts to restore it brought a group of researchers to the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.
Age, region, and temporal patterns of trace elements measured in stranded harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) from Washington inland waters
A 2014 article in the journal Northwestern Naturalist shows how Harbor Seal tissues can reflect regional and temporal trends in contaminants in Puget Sound.
Why did all the grebes leave? Where did they go? And what does their disappearance say about the health of the Salish Sea? Seasonal declines among some regional bird species could hold important clues to the overall health of the ecosystem.
A 2014 report describes a research and monitoring study of Pigeon Guillemot conducted in and near the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.
Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are the most commonly seen marine mammals in the Salish Sea and can be found throughout the region year round. They have been intensively studied within the Salish Sea and this species profile provides an overview of what is known about them. It was produced for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound by the SeaDoc Society.
A list of over 1800 benthic infaunal invertebrates is now available on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. The list was prepared as part of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring Program (MSMP). This program, initiated in 1989, is one component of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program, a collaborative effort dedicated to monitoring environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
Spatial and Temporal Variation in River Otter (Lontra canadensis) Diet and Predation on Rockfish (Genus Sebastes) in the San Juan Islands, Washington
A 2014 paper in the journal Aquatic Mammals examines coastal river otter predation on rockfish at three islands in the Salish Sea.
Approximately every two years, the SeaDoc Society prepares a list of species of concern within the Salish Sea ecosystem. The following paper found 119 species at risk and was presented as part of the proceedings of the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, April 30 – May 2, 2014, Seattle, Washington.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been present in Puget Sound since the early 1900s, although most were established after the 1960s. By 1998 there were at least 102 intertidal and subtidal protected areas in Puget Sound, created and managed by at least 12 different agencies or organizations at the local, county, State and Federal level.
A 2014 report describes a study of socio-cultural values associated with blueback salmon in the Quinault Indian Nation. The blueback salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a unique strain of sockeye that returns primarily to the Quinault river system.
Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) are one of the most frequently sighted cetaceans in the Salish Sea. Anecdotal information, possibly supported with stranding encounter rate data, suggests that harbor porpoise may have increased in Puget Sound, or have shifted their distribution back to Puget Sound relative to earlier decades.
Harbor porpoises were once common in Puget Sound, but had all but disappeared from local waters by the 1970s. Regular and numerous anecdotal sightings in recent years show that populations of these cetaceans are now increasing and may be approaching their former status. The attached document from NOAA Fisheries describes harbor porpoise numbers and their geographic range in Puget Sound as of 2011.
A paper in the February 2014 journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms examines the effect of leaf age on wasting disease in eelgrass across sites in the San Juan Archipelago. Co-author: Encyclopedia of Puget Sound topic editor Joe Gaydos.
The Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network are two citizen science projects dedicated to furthering our understanding of abundance, distribution, behavior, and habitat use by the endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales, also called orcas. The Hydrophone Network lets the public listen for orcas through their computers and phones, while the Orca Network gathers and disseminates sightings of orcas as they move between Puget Sound, the Fraser River, and the Pacific Ocean.
A January 2014 USGS report discusses approaches for measuring the effect of bivalves on nutrient availability in different regions of Puget Sound.
Ecological assessments (sometimes referred to as "conservation assessments") typically identify and evaluate the ecological attributes of an ecosystem. There is no single type of ecological assessment, but the following list includes an informal inventory of related efforts in the Salish Sea. This list does not include Ecological or Environmental Impact Assessments, which are targeted to specific land uses. This is a living document and will be updated as more information becomes available and as needs arise.
In December 2013 NOAA released what it classifies as a "Highly Influential Scientific Assessment" of the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals. The comment period on the draft assessment extends until March 13, 2014.
Forage fish represent a critical link in the Puget Sound food web and help to sustain key species like salmon, marine mammals and sea birds. But the region’s forage fish may be vulnerable on a variety of fronts, according to a new study panel report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute. Download the panel's summary and proposed research plan.
A 2013 article in the journal Animal Conservation compares the effects of increasing anthropogenic noise to habitat loss for endangered fin, humpback and killer whales in the Salish Sea.
Can Puget Sound claim a new species? Ribbon seals were not previously thought to venture into the Salish Sea, but a series of sightings in Puget Sound in 2012 expands their potential range. Scientists are keeping an eye out for future sightings.
Every two years the Puget Sound Partnership is required to assess the status of scientific research relating to the recovery of Puget Sound, in a document knows as the Biennial Science Work Plan (BSWP). Among other tasks, this entails making an inventory of all ongoing research projects in the current biennium (2011-2013). We are posting this (draft) inventory of recovery-relevant research projects here to make the information generally available.
An October 2013 report released by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program inventories and assesses monitoring activities of Puget Sound's ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks and habitats.
The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound spoke with Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes about the exhibit Elwha: A River Reborn, which opened at the University of Washington Burke Museum on November 23rd. The exhibit is based on the book of the same title by Mapes and photographer Steve Ringman, and tells the story of the largest dam removal in U.S. history.
This paper discusses the dietary habits of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in two estuaries in Puget Sound.
This thesis discusses the Glaucous-winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) as an indicator of ecosystem change in the Salish Sea region.
White-winged scoters (Melanitta fusca) are a species of sea duck that spend much of their time in northern marine environments. This paper investigates how dietary changes occur in response to changing availability of prey and the effect of those dietary changes on scoter condition and reproductive success, among other variables.
This paper examines the importance of prey size to shifting scoter populations in two bays in north Puget Sound.
This paper discusses Brucella pinnipedalis infections in harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in Washington state and transmission to humans and other wildlife. The disease poses a threat to endangered populations and may be exacerbated by organic pollutants.
This article was originally published by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife as part of its annual report Threatened and Endangered Wildlife in Washington
Potential effects of the interaction between marine mammals and tidal turbines – an engineering and biomechanical analysis
A paper presented at the European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference in Aalborg, Denmark describes the potential effects of a tidal turbine strike on an endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale in Puget Sound (SRKW). A tidal turbine is proposed for deployment in Admiralty Inlet in Island County.
A camera on board a remotely operated vehicle scans the floor of Puget Sound capturing digital video of underwater marine life. Selected clips of Plumose sea anemones, Pacific halibut, Pacific cod, Sea stars, and North Pacific spiny dogfish are now available for public viewing.
This page includes documents and links related to the status of Steller Sea Lion in Washington state and the Salish Sea region.
Download presentations from the Study Panel on Ecosystem-based Management of Forage Fish held August 25, 2013 at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Lab, San Juan Island.
Paper: A floating bridge disrupts seaward migration and increases mortality of Steelhead smolts in Hood Canal, Washington State
A new study provides strong evidence of substantial migration interference and increased mortality risk associated with the Hood Canal Bridge for aquatic animals, and may partially explain low early marine survival rates observed in Hood Canal steelhead populations.
Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are underwater robotic vehicles used for a variety of ocean surveys and operations. Both are used for deep-sea observation, mapping of underwater environments, and surveys of biodiversity and water quality trends. While ROVs are tethered to the user by a cord called the umbilical, which provides power as well as control and video signals, AUVs are programmed for a specific course and then set loose, operating without a tether.
Proposed designation of critical habitat for the distinct population segments of Yelloweye Rockfish, Canary Rockfish, and Bocaccio
The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a Draft Biological Report proposing designation of critical habitat for yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, and bocaccio in the Salish Sea. Download the full report and supporting data.
The Puget Sound Marine Waters 2012 Overview from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program synthesizes conditions measured in 2012 and has been expanded to include observations on seabirds that rely on marine waters. Read an excerpt below, or download the full report.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 and the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Region have released a report describing results from a series of technical workgroups about the potential effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on Puget Sound and Southern Resident killer whales.
The 2013 Health of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Report was prepared jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada. View the complete report, or read the Executive Summary below.
Paper: Shifts in the estuarine demersal fish community after a fishery closure in Puget Sound, Washington
This paper looks at 21 years of data on estuarine demersal fish in Puget Sound, assessing changes in population after the closure of bottom trawl fisheries.
Could recent declines in Puget Sound herring be linked to decreases in native eelgrass? Biologist Tessa Francis reports on a new study that may provide insight into the health of one of the region's most iconic forage fish.
Paper: Citizen science reveals an extensive shift in the winter distribution of migratory Western Grebes
A June 19, 2013 paper in the journal PLoS ONE hypothesizes that regional declines in Western Grebe populations may be related to decreasing numbers of forage fish. Using citizen science data from 36 years of bird counts, researchers were able to look at population trends up and down the entire West Coast, finding that abundance of grebes decreased in the Salish Sea but increased in southern California. North American population declined by 52% overall.
Paper: Spatial and temporal analysis of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific Ocean and the benefits of a coordinated stranding response protocol
A new paper by Puget Sound area scientists from the SeaDoc Society and their collaborators represents the most complete summary to date of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific. The authors analyzed stranding records dating back to 1925, obtained from scientists worldwide, finding that very few whales are stranded (an average of ten a year over the last twenty years). However, most of those strandings result in death. Only 12% of stranded whales survive.
Audio recordings of the Mazama Pocket Gopher.
Sediment health in Central Puget Sound has shown a recent steep decline, according to a report by the Washington Department of Ecology. The report compares monitoring data over a ten-year period between 1998/1999 and 2008/2009.
Seabird populations are declining worldwide. This paper looks at the impact of gillnets on bird populations.
This 2004 report looks at the status of Washington's four killer whale populations.
A master's thesis prepared at Western Washington University discusses the impact of harbor seals on fish stocks in the San Juan Islands, where the seals are a year-round predator.
Paper: A model approach for estimating colony size, trends and habitat associations of burrow-nesting seabirds
A paper in the May 2013 issue of The Condor [115(2):356–365, 2013] describes a repeatable and statistically robust approach to monitoring burrow nesting seabirds in the Salish Sea and the California Current that can be applied at single- or multi-island scales. The approach can be applied to both relatively common and important members of the seabird community like the Rhinoceros Auklet and to species of conservation concern like the Tufted Puffin.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently released a Bat Conservation Plan for the 15 species of bats found in Washington State. All but four of these species occur within the greater Puget Sound watershed1, including:
Browse a collection of shellfish photos provided by the Swinomish Tribe.
With funding from the EPA (EPA Interagency Agreement DW-13-923276-01), scientists at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Washington used a field and quantitative modeling ‘source-transport-fate’ assessment approach to classify the vulnerability of shellfish growing areas to closures caused by watershed and marine-derived pathogens. Based on the historical prevalence of nutrient pollution, shellfish closures, and phytoplankton blooms in commercial and recreational shellfish growing area, the project focused on three nearshore sites--the Hamma Hamma (WRIA 16), Dosewallips (WRIA 16) and Samish (WRIA 3).
A new Chinook monitoring framework is designed to build cooperation among managers and policymakers working across the Puget Sound watershed. The report, prepared by an independent team of scientists and released by NOAA, includes a regionally specific, common classification system for Chinook habitats and key ecological attributes.
Puget Sound Chinook Salmon recovery: a framework for the development of monitoring and adaptive management plans
The Puget Sound Recovery Implementation Technical Team has released a draft of a NOAA technical memorandum describing frameworks for adaptive management and monitoring of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Download the report.
Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) is an aquatic flowering plant common in tidelands and shallow waters along much of Puget Sound’s shoreline. It is widely recognized for its important ecological functions, and provides habitat for many Puget Sound species such as herring, crab, shrimp, shellfish, waterfowl, and salmonids.
This is the executive summary from a technical report produced for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership on Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). The entire document is included as a PDF with this summary.
This technical report produced for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership on Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC) summarizes existing knowledge of salmon use of nearshore habitats in order to help protect and restore these habitats.
This is the executive summary from a technical report produced for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership on Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). The entire document is included as a PDF with this summary.
Canadian and U.S. governments differ on special status for bocaccio in the Salish Sea.
The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound species library now includes a list of species of concern in the Salish Sea watershed. The list was created by Joe Gaydos and Jacqlynn Zier of the SeaDoc Society, and was released as a paper presented as part of the Proceedings of the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC.
An indicator species is an organism whose presence, absence or abundance reflects a specific environmental condition. Indicator species can signal a change in the biological condition of a particular ecosystem, and thus may be used as a proxy to diagnose the health of an ecosystem. For example, plants or lichens sensitive to heavy metals or acids in precipitation may be indicators of air pollution. Indicator species can also reflect a unique set of environmental qualities or characteristics found in a specific place, such as a unique microclimate.
The Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe conducts annual surveys of amphibian egg masses in the Reservation Slough wetland near the Sauk River.
Methods and Quality of VSP Monitoring Of ESA Listed Puget Sound Salmon and Steelhead: With Identified Critical Gaps 2012
There are at least 28 species of rockfish in the Salish Sea, but their populations have declined in the past several decades. The proceedings from a 2011 rockfish recovery workshop in Seattle are now available.
A recent report by an independent science panel reviewed data on the effects of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whale populations. The report was released on November 30, 2012 and was commissioned by NOAA Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Three distinct groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca) occupy the coastal waters of the northeastern Pacific. These groups—northern and southern residents, transients, and offshores—are distinguished by diet, behavior, morphology, and other characteristics. Among these, southern resident and transient killer whales commonly are found in Puget Sound. Northern residents and offshore killer whales rarely enter Puget Sound (Wiles 2004, Kriete 2007), and therefore are not described in detail here.
Harbor seal numbers were severely reduced in Puget Sound during the first half of the twentieth century by a state-financed population control program. This bounty program ceased in 1960, and in 1972, harbor seals became protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and by Washington State.
The Puget Sound region has the highest densities of bald eagles in Washington. Breeding pairs initiate nesting activities in January or February.
More than 70 bird species regularly utilize Puget Sound during some or all stages of their life histories, but only a portion of these are actively being investigated.
Fish in the family Salmonidae (salmon, trout, and charr) play potentially integral roles in the upland freshwater, nearshore and pelagic marine ecosystems and food webs of Puget Sound.
Approximately 27 species of rockfish are reported from Puget Sound, spanning a range of life-history types, habitats, and ecological niches.
Bentho-pelagic fish utilize both bottom habitats and shallower portions of the water column, often feeding in shallow water at night and moving to deeper water to form schools during the day.
Recent worldwide increases in the abundance of some jellyfish have been associated with human-caused disturbances to the environment such as eutrophication, overfishing and climate warming.
Dungeness crabs are an important resource in Puget Sound for recreational, commercial, and tribal fisheries. They utilize a variety of habitats over the course of their lives, and are vulnerable to shifts in ocean temperature and water quality.
Pinto abalone are the only abalone species found in Washington State.
Many types of bivalves, both native and non-native, flourish in Puget Sound. These species are a crucial part of the Puget Sound ecosystem and are also important for commercial fisheries.
Sweetening the waters - the feasibility and efficacy of measures to protect Washington’s marine resources from ocean acidification
Washington State's ocean acidification initiative began with the launch of Governer Christine Gregoire's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification in December 2011. The initiative is the first of its kind in the country, and a report commissioned by the Global Ocean Health Program was released in November 2012. The report is a first step towards assessing and improving the tools at hand.
GIANT PACIFIC OCTOPUS (Enteroctopus dofleini) is the largest species of octopus in the world. It is found in the northern Pacific Ocean from the northwest coast of the continental United States to Japan, including Puget Sound.
The State of Our Watersheds Report is produced by the treaty tribes of western Washington, and seeks to present a comprehensive view of 20 watersheds in the Puget Sound region and the major issues that are impacting habitat.
Protection Island, a National Wildlife Refuge in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, provides important habitat for seabirds and marine mammals.
The Puget Sound Marine Waters 2011 report is now available. The report was produced by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program and assesses the condition and quality of the waters of Puget Sound.
Forage fish occupy every marine and estuarine nearshore habitat in Washington, and much of the intertidal and shallow subtidal areas of the Puget Sound Basin are used by these species for spawning habitat.
Audio recordings of rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island.
Puget Sound Stream Benthos is a data management project which monitors benthic invertebrates in streams and rivers in the Puget Sound region. The system is maintained and operated by King County and was the result of a joint effort between King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.
The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, in cooperation with the USGS, has developed a list of terrestrial vertebrates occurring within the Puget Sound basin.
Puget Sound hosts more than 100 species of seabirds, 200 species of fish, 15 marine mammal species, hundreds of plant species, and thousands of invertebrate species. These species do not exist in isolation, but rather interact with each other in a variety of ways: they eat and are eaten by each other; they serve as vectors of disease or toxins; they are parasitic; and they compete with each other for food, habitat, and other resources.
Many consumer organisms in Puget Sound are both herbivores and detritivores. Zooplankton and benthic invertebrates that are scavengers, herbivores, or detritivores are considered jointly in this article. Some of these organisms can be predatory as well. Hundreds of invertebrates and fish species have a planktonic larval stage that eats plants and occupies the nearshore and offshore pelagic waters of Puget Sound.
A variety of animals, including invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds, consume the suspension-feeders, filter-feeders, grazers, and detritivores that serve as a link between the primary producers and detrital pathways and the upper levels of the food web.
Fishes, birds, and mammals (including humans) serve as top-level carnivores in the Puget Sound ecosystem. With the exception of humans, these organisms have a diet that consists almost entirely of fish or other vertebrates.
Non-native species are those that do not naturally occur in an ecosystem. A non-native species is considered invasive when it is capable of aggressively establishing itself and causing environmental damage to an ecosystem. Plants, animals, and pathogens all can be invasive.