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What drives Puget Sound's 'underwater Amazon'?

In a new series we are calling “Ask a scientist” we interview local researchers to get their thoughts on some of the important but lesser-known scientific facts about the Puget Sound ecosystem. Today, we speak with University of Washington oceanographer Parker MacCready about Puget Sound’s “underwater Amazon” and why it has profound implications for Puget Sound science and policy. It all begins, he says, with the mixing of fresh and salt water and something called the “estuarine exchange flow.” 

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Neotrypaea californiensis, the bay ghost shrimp. Image courtesy of Dave Cowles (wallawalla.edu)
10/25/2022

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month - Ghost Shrimp

Fall’s chill is in the air (finally!), leaves are turning colors, and skeletons and spider webs are popping up in yards all over town. Meanwhile, under the mud of Puget Sound, there’s a strange critter that stays in its ethereal costume all year long – the burrowing ghost shrimp.

A single sea bird floating on the water with several thin silvery fish in its beak.
10/18/2022

Whir! Chunk! Capture! The art of tagging rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island

Where do Protection Island's rhinoceros auklets go to find their food? Scientists hope GPS tags will offer new insight into the bird's still mysterious foraging behavior. Biologist and science writer Eric Wagner reports from the field. 

Report cover
9/30/2022

The 2022-2026 Action Agenda for Puget Sound

On August 4, 2022, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the 2022-2026 Action Agenda adopted by the Leadership Council as the Puget Sound National Estuary Program's (NEP) Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. 

View of river looking upstream with water flowing through large pieces of wood in the foreground and two people walking in the stream in the background.
8/31/2022

Study raises questions about using ‘woody debris’ to restore streams

A new report says further study may reveal why experts cannot find expected benefits to salmon populations, despite widespread use of wood in stream restorations.

A downy black seabird chick nestled in the corner of a wooden box that is resting on top  of gravel.
8/29/2022

Notes from the field: The Illusion of abundance

Biologist and science writer Eric Wagner recently returned from a trip to observe pigeon guillemots on Protection Island. He wonders: How much do we really know about the health of seemingly abundant bird populations?

A single harbor seal swimming with its face above and body below the surface of the water.
8/25/2022

An eye on harbor seals

Occasionally, our magazine includes reports and essays from guest writers on the subject of Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Biologist and author Eric Wagner has this look at an ongoing harbor seal survey at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River. Wagner says the study hinges on a basic question: Who is eating the salmon? 

Shoreline composed of a human-made rock wall next to water with a small boat tied to the shore.
8/24/2022

First modern clam garden takes shape in Puget Sound

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community has begun constructing the first known clam garden to be built in modern times. They hope that what was once an ancient way of cultivating shellfish can now be a hedge against climate change.

: Underwater view of a person in scuba diving gear holding a clipboard and grasping a stalk of brown kelp.
8/24/2022

Underwater monitoring of kelp forests

Puget Sound Restoration Fund has launched a network to track declining kelp populations in the Salish Sea. The three-year initiative aims to support and standardize underwater monitoring to improve kelp conservation in the region.

A single grey bird with a dark eye standing in flowing water of a river.
8/22/2022

Bird populations improve after Elwha Dam removals

Dam removals are often associated with salmon recovery, but new research on the Elwha River suggests that birds also benefit. Scientists say birds are a sometimes-overlooked indicator of river health.

DFO photo of orca J35 known as Tahlequah pushing her calf on Aug. 8, 2018, off Cape Flattery, Wash. Photo by Sara Tavares, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
8/3/2022

Four years after Tahlequah's journey, the legal and ethical debates over orca protection continue to evolve

It has been four summers since a mother orca’s dramatic vigil brought worldwide attention to the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales. A recent gathering of legal experts, conservationists, and academic scholars looked at how perceptions of the whales have changed since then and whether laws and policies should reflect new thinking about ethical responsibilities to orcas and other animals. 

Underwater view of a single, pink and white sea star with many long arms and a few short ones.
7/21/2022

Young sunflower sea stars are hungry for urchins

Endangered sea stars could help control urchin populations, aiding kelp forests in the Salish Sea, according to a new study at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. Scientists say captive baby sea stars eat even more urchins than their adult counterparts.

Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover
7/1/2022

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - March to June 2022

Low air temperatures, rain, and late snow accumulation pushed back the discharge of meltwater to Puget Sound this season. The water temperature in Puget Sound was mostly at expected levels, but cooler in South Sound by May. Central Sound saw more oxygenated conditions. This year, La Niña weather made flying for aerial photography challenging, but by June, sunny days made up for it, revealing a high number of schooling fish, unusually low tides, and a glimpse of macroalgae to come. Internal waves in Central Basin and Puget Sound, and the beauty of Puget Sound from the air, are a reminder of the unique place we live in.

Catworm
6/27/2022

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the Month - Catworms

With their square heads and antennae that look a bit like pointy ears, it makes sense why the catworms, or marine segmented worms in the family Nephtyidae, would be named after cats. But their antennae are more like a cat’s sensory whiskers than ears, allowing them to feel their way through the mud as they crawl and burrow. Nephtyids are strong diggers, and can even hold their own in the water, rapidly wiggling their smooth, pale bodies in order to swim.

Ecology's Marine Sediment Monitoring Team in action.
6/27/2022

Eyes Under Puget Sound

The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring 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. The Marine Sediment Monitoring Team collects sediments from the bottom of Puget Sound twice a year and tests them to determine their physical, chemical, and biogeochemical characteristics; and to determine the condition of the invertebrate communities that live in them.  They report their findings in agency reports and story maps, and in Eyes Under Puget Sound (EUPS) blog posts.

Underwater view of two Pacific lamprey resting on rocks and sand.
6/25/2022

Lamprey legacy: Eel-like fish return after dam removal

Prehistoric-looking lamprey are recolonizing parts of the Elwha River that they have not occupied for more than 100 years. Like salmon, the culturally and ecologically important fish also move from saltwater into rivers to spawn. And like salmon, lamprey were devastated by the dams that once blocked their way. We conclude our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy.'   

Underwater view of a single fish with red and white spots swimming above rocks
6/25/2022

Good news for bull trout in the Elwha

Bull trout appear to be thriving in nearly every section of the Elwha River. Populations there have at least doubled in the years since dam removal, signaling good news for a species that has struggled throughout the West. We bring you part six of our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy.'

Underwater view of a large group of silver and grey fish
6/25/2022

Opening the door for coho, chum, and pink salmon

Restoration managers are hopeful that populations of coho, chum and pink salmon will rebound on the Elwha River as the fish take advantage of newly accessible habitat. Part five of our series 'Returning home' examines the importance of genetically distinct salmon runs.

Three salmon with green heads and red bodies seen underwater
6/25/2022

Sockeye among 'biggest unknowns' for Elwha salmon recovery

The return of sockeye to the Elwha River is intriguing scientists. Could nearby freshwater kokanee help re-establish resident populations? We continue with part four of our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy.' 

View of the Elwha River above the site of the former Glines Canyon Dam in 2021. Photo: Sylvia Kantor
6/20/2022

Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy

Following dam removal, migratory salmon have been free to swim into the upper Elwha River for the first time in 100 years. Their actual behaviors and reproductive success may well be driven by changes in their genetic makeup. Our seven-part series 'Returning home' examines how the fish are doing and whether the Elwha's genetic legacy remains intact. 

A single steelhead trout swimming under water with rocks in background
6/20/2022

Wild steelhead still a force in the Elwha

Migration patterns have apparently reawakened for the Elwha River's wild steelhead. Studies show that the fish may have retained much of their genetic drive despite 100 years of being trapped behind dams. We continue our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy' with part two of seven. 

Two fish swimming underwater with rocks below them.
6/20/2022

Will the mighty spring Chinook rise again?

Our series 'Returning home: The Elwha's genetic legacy' continues with a look at the possible return of spring Chinook to the upper portions of the Elwha River. We bring you part three of seven.

A killer whale with a digital acoustic recording tag swimming in Puget Sound . Photo: NOAA/NWFSC (taken under NOAA research permit No.781-1824 and 16163).
6/16/2022

Placing microphones on orcas offers a point-of-whale perspective on underwater noise

Research on the sounds and feeding behavior of Puget Sound's southern resident orcas is providing new insight into how the whales respond to underwater noise. A recent online conference brought together some of these findings along with discussions on how to reduce the impacts of noise from vessel traffic.

Two people in a small boat next to large boat being lifted from the water
6/9/2022

Derelict vessels prompt cleanup efforts

A state law going into effect this month will significantly increase funding for the cleanup of abandoned and derelict vessels in Puget Sound. The funding will add about $4.3 million annually to remove hazardous sunken wrecks and related pollutants.

An adult yelloweye rockfish foraging for prey. Photo: Victoria O'Connell
6/2/2022

Are yelloweye rockfish on the path to recovery?

New research suggests that recovery efforts are working for Puget Sound’s threatened yelloweye rockfish. Preliminary models show "considerable improvement" in population numbers.

Puget Sound Institute headquarters at the Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma
5/18/2022

A boundary spanning system supports large-scale ecosystem-based management

A 2022 article in the journal Environmental Science & Policy looks at how knowledge exchange across organizations influences science-based ecosystem recovery in Puget Sound. The University of Washington Puget Sound Institute describes its work to identify and communicate key scientific findings that support funding and policy decisions on an ecosystem scale.

Mudflats at low tide with numerous small mounds of sediment
5/15/2022

'Invertebrate engineers' combat sea level rise

A pilot project to create a 'living dike' in Canada's Boundary Bay is designed to help a saltwater marsh survive rising waters due to climate change.

A white beluga whale swiming near the surface of the water.
4/21/2022

Species account: A lone beluga whale visits the Salish Sea

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.

Black and white photo of two men standing in front of a canvas shack with mountain and glacier behind it.
4/7/2022

The retreating glaciers of Puget Sound

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.

4/6/2022

Interactive map of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea

Use our interactive map to determine if a geographic feature is within the boundaries of the Puget Sound or Salish Sea watersheds. The Puget Sound region includes the area within the United States while the Salish Sea region* encompasses the entire shaded area. Areas that influence circulation in the Salish Sea or eventually drain into the estuary are marked by broader boundaries.

Two people operating a bulldozer at the intersection of two flooded streets in Sumas, Washington. In the background, partially submerged cars are parked in front of the library.
3/22/2022

Rethinking flood control for the Nooksack River

Can restoring the natural balance of the Nooksack River also reduce flood risks? Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border are taking note as climate change raises the stakes. 

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