Microscopic view of diatoms in various shapes and sizes.

Tiny plankton play a mighty role in the health of Puget Sound

Diverse communities of microscopic organisms called phytoplankton make up the base of the aquatic food web. In that role, they are essential to the tiny animals that eat them, but phytoplankton are not dependent on others. Thanks to chlorophyl, these tiny organisms can generate their own energy from nutrients and sunlight. Despite their critical importance to a great diversity of sea life in Puget Sound, phytoplankton can also contribute to low-oxygen conditions, and some can be harmful in other ways.

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Residents and Bigg’s killer whales will be listed as subspecies by the Society for Marine Mammalogy. Here, in this 2013 photo, several southern residents pass by Seattle in Puget Sound. // Photo: Candace Emmons, NOAA

All killer whales will remain one species — for now, according to marine mammal committee

A formal proposal to designate resident and Bigg’s killer whales as separate species has been rejected by a committee widely recognized as the authority in naming new marine mammal species.

A group of black and white killer whales swimming in open water.

Decision time approaches for two new orca species, as other issues bring new questions

Scientists are making the case that the world's orcas should be divided into two new species. Voting for the proposed change was scheduled to take place last week at the Society for Marine Mammalogy. [Update: Read about the decision here.]

A western pond turtle perched on log next water.

A head start for Puget Sound's endangered turtles

The Puget Sound region is known for its salmon-filled estuaries and coastal forests, but on the southern portion of its range, evergreens give way to small patches of rolling grasslands that are home to some of Washington's rarest species. One of those species, the northwestern pond turtle, was recently proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. A captive breeding program is preparing these turtles for the challenges of life in the wild.


The voice of eelgrass

Wade out into the shallows of Puget Sound on a warm, sunny day and put your ear close to the water. You might catch the faint, champagne-like bubbling of eelgrass.

Three people wearing chest waders walking on a mudflat with blue sky above.

Rare tidal marshes set the table for salmon recovery

Tidal wetlands are crucial to Chinook salmon recovery but are among the most threatened habitats in Puget Sound. In 2012, The Nature Conservancy began restoring a 150-acre section of tidal marsh on Port Susan Bay at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. That project is entering a new phase and may soon connect with other adjacent restoration efforts put forth by the Stillaguamish Tribe. 

A chum salmon in spawning condition swimming in shallow water.

Hood Canal summer chum could be first-ever salmon removed from Endangered Species List

Summer chum salmon in Hood Canal are making a remarkable comeback. Could it be enough to support their removal from the Endangered Species List?

Underwater view of large shark with its mouth opened wide to filter feed.

Will these gentle giants return to the Salish Sea?

A shark species the length of a bus was once common in the Salish Sea. Then it was labeled a "destructive pest" and nearly wiped out. Can the gentle and often misunderstood basking shark make a comeback?

View of a single black and white Dall's porpoise swimming near the surface of the water.

The decline of Dall’s porpoise in the Salish Sea

Dall’s porpoises have declined in the Salish Sea since the early 1990s for reasons that are unknown. However, the species, which remains abundant in inshore waters of Alaska and in open coastal and offshore waters of the North Pacific Ocean, is not considered threatened or endangered. Major threats to Dall’s porpoise populations include direct hunting, by-catch in fisheries, and the impacts of environmental contaminants.

Two pairs of killer whales swimming in open water with spray coming from their blow holes. Land with green trees and vegetation is in the near background.

Under a new proposal, our local orcas — resident and Bigg’s killer whales — would each become a new species

A scientific paper, published on March 27th, spells out the unique physical and genetic characteristics that should make each group a separate species, with the proposed scientific names Orcinus ater for residents and Orcinus rectipinnus for Bigg’s.

Report cover

Habitat protection and restoration in Puget Sound: An overview of Strategic Initiative Lead investments 2016-2023

Between 2016 and 2021, $21 million provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded 100 different projects to protect, restore, and study critical habitats in Puget Sound. This publication presents an overview of many of the key accomplishments and lessons learned from these efforts. It is a catalog of some of the ‘big ideas’ presented by the scientists and conservationists involved, and it is meant to inform and guide future Puget Sound recovery efforts. This overview is based on the full synthesis report, “Synthesis of Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead 1.0 2016-2023 Investments for Puget Sound Recovery," published by the Puget Sound Institute.

Underwater view of a single salmon swimming above gravelly river bed.

The words ‘in common with’ were pivotal to Judge Boldt’s ruling on Native American fishing rights

Three common words and their legal interpretation a half-century ago helped set the stage for a cultural revival among Native Americans while propelling an environmental movement that still resonates today. Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan revisits the legal reasoning behind the famous Boldt decision that upheld tribal fishing rights in the state of Washington. 

Two seabirds with black and white plumage floating on water.

Science notebook: Winter studies of Puget Sound's threatened marbled murrelets

For years now, scientists have been braving the cold winter waters of Puget Sound to study one of the region's most enigmatic seabirds, the marbled murrelet. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in Washington, Oregon, and California, marbled murrelets nest in old-growth forests but find their food at sea. Much research on the birds has centered around the spring and summer breeding season, but less is known about what the murrelets do in winter. That puzzle prompted a team of scientists from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to head out on the water last January. Writer and biologist Eric Wagner joined the expedition and brought back these notes from the field.  

Person standing on a paddle board with the Seattle skyline in the background.

Puget Sound perceptions of environmental and climate change

About 80% of respondents to a 2022 human wellbeing survey reported some level of concern for environmental impacts affecting Puget Sound. The survey was funded by the Puget Sound Partnership and led by members in Oregon State University’s Human Dimensions Lab.

Colorful graphic showing chart of Puget Sound Vita Signs.

Summary report of 2022 human wellbeing Vital Signs survey

This report presents results of the 2022 survey to monitor the human wellbeing Vital Signs prepared for the Puget Sound Partnership by Oregon State University.

Chemical symbols for QPPD and QPPD-6 overlain on image of black car driving on wet road

Lawsuits fly, as regulators come to grips with a toxic tire chemical

Finding a replacement for 6PPD in tires is one major challenge; another is to prevent the highly toxic derivative 6PPD-Q from reaching salmon streams and killing fish.

Car wheel and tire next to a pothole puddle.

Scientists worldwide are immersed in studies of a deadly tire chemical

Research that began in Puget Sound has revealed much about the cellular-level assault on vulnerable salmon and trout, yet the puzzle remains incomplete.

A coho salmon fry about 1.5 inches long watches for food below the Salmon Bone Bridge at Seattle’s Longfellow Creek.  Designed by the late sculptor Lorna Jordan, the bridge honors the creatures that so far keep returning to spawn. Photo: Tom Reese

Photographing the 'Creek of Hope'

Longfellow Creek near West Seattle's industrial district still draws spawning salmon despite a century of city development and an onslaught of toxic chemicals. A current exhibit by photographer Tom Reese explores this often-overlooked gem of urban nature.

An adult elephant seal resting on the shore with water in the background.

Northern elephant seals in Puget Sound and vicinity

Northern elephant seals were hunted heavily in the 19th century and believed to be extinct by 1892. However, a small remnant population (~50–100 animals) off the western coast of Mexico grew to populations in the United States and Mexico to at least 220,000 individuals as of 2010. Elephant seals are distributed in the central and eastern North Pacific Ocean, from as far north as Alaska down to southern Baja California. Sightings of elephant seals were once considered rare in the Salish Sea, but increasingly single individuals are known to haul out onto sandy beaches on Smith, Protection, and Whidbey Islands. In 2010, a local breeding population established itself along the lower west side of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound.

Image of a sailboat on the water at sunset.Text overlay reads: Puget Sound Marind Waters 2022 Overview.

Puget Sound Marine Waters 2022 Overview

Each year, the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program releases the annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview report. The latest report combines a wealth of data from comprehensive monitoring programs and provides a concise summary of what was happening in Puget Sound’s marine waters during 2022. The report represents the collective effort of 84 contributors from federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, academia, nonprofits, and private and volunteer groups.

A stream full of hundreds of swimming salmon.

Surging numbers of pink salmon raise ecological concerns

An estimated 70% of all the salmon in the North Pacific are pink salmon. Scientists say the extreme abundance of pinks could be causing a "trophic cascade" that is harming species across the food web.

Report cover

State of the Sound report 2023

The 2023 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s eighth 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.

Aerial view of Interstate 5 stretching across a large area of land covered by brown flood waters from the Nooksack River in the foreground with mountains and Puget Sound in the distance and grey skies above.

Studies target increasing flood risks

All across the region, communities are finding that rising seas and rising rivers are two sides of the same coin. New research funded by the Environmental Protection Agency may help managers target their responses to climate-fueled flood risks in Puget Sound. The following article was commissioned by the Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead (HSIL), a cross-agency team co-led by the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.



本區域各地的社區發現,海平面上升和河水上漲是一體兩面的問題。氣候變遷使得Puget 海灣面臨愈來愈高的洪水風險,環境保護局贊助的新研究可能有助於主管機關找出因應之道。


Những nghiên cứu nhắm đến các rủi ro ngày một nhiều về lũ lụt

Trên toàn khu vực, các cộng đồng đang nhận thấy rằng tình trạng mực nước biển và mực nước sông dâng lên có mối liên hệ chặt chẽ. Nghiên cứu mới do Environmental Protection Agency (Cơ Quan Bảo Vệ Môi Sinh) tài trợ có thể giúp các nhà quản lý hướng các biện pháp ứng phó của họ vào các rủi ro lũ lụt do khí hậu tại Puget Sound.

Two people standing on a boat hosing off two long, black sampling nets that have been pulled out of the water by a small crane.

The ups and downs of zooplankton in Puget Sound

Zooplankton are critical to the marine food web, but until recently there have been few surveys of the zooplankton community in Puget Sound. Ongoing monitoring is now revealing a system full of complexity and surprises. The following article was commissioned by the Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead (HSIL), a cross-agency team co-led by the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.

A beaver sitting at the base of small tree on mud surrounded by green vegetation.

Program seeks alternatives to beaver dam removals

Beavers provide critical benefits for wetland ecosystems but can also alter the landscape in ways that are unpredictable for property owners and conservationists alike. New techniques are helping humans and beavers share the landscape with the goal of benefiting both parties. The following article was commissioned by the Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead (HSIL), a cross-agency team co-led by the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.


Los estudios señalan el aumento del riesgo de inundaciones

En toda la región, las comunidades están descubriendo que el aumento del nivel del mar y los ríos son dos caras de la misma moneda. Una nueva investigación financiada por la Agencia de Protección Ambiental puede ayudar a los administradores a enfocar sus respuestas a los riesgos de inundaciones provocadas por el clima en el estrecho de Puget.

A killer whale surfaces with its head above water holding a harbor porpoise in its mouth.

Southern resident orcas chase and sometimes kill porpoises. Why don’t they eat them?

Puzzling encounters between endangered killer whales and harbor porpoises point to questions about prey availability and whale culture, scientists say. Are the whales playing, practicing their hunting skills, or is something else going on? 

A person wearing a Tyvek suie and orange vest standing on a beach next to two full garbage bags. Water, land, and blue sky in the distance

Avian flu comes to the Salish Sea

A new strain of avian flu has been sweeping the globe since 2020, leaving thousands of dead seabirds in its wake. This past summer, it arrived at a colony of Caspian terns at Rat Island in the Salish Sea, with catastrophic results.

A grey and white harbor seal swimming in water

Status and trends for harbor seals in the Salish Sea

Harbor seals were hunted from the 1870s to 1970s until they were protected in the United States by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act and in Canada under the 1970 Marine Mammal Regulations in the Fisheries Act. The inland Washington harbor seal stock is estimated to be over 12,000, while the Strait of Georgia sustains approximately 39,000 harbor seals. Key threats include human disturbance, habitat degradation, loss of prey, and interaction with fishing gear and boats.

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