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Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover

After a relatively warm summer and fall, and La Niña forming in the tropics, stream flows in the Puget Sound region are now relatively normal. Summer in Puget Sound produced lots of algal and organic material in the water and on beaches, which by October have disappeared. Kelp beds look strong in northern Puget Sound and the Straits; and the harvest of the annual chum salmon run is in full swing in Hood Canal. Jellyfish aggregations are visible in Budd and Sinclair Inlets — and some of the jellyfish might conceal a beast of another kind within. Oil sheens on the water are currently numerous.


Report cover

A 2020 Base Program Analysis from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute presents an overview of the programs, policies and initiatives that support the Puget Sound Partnership’s Land Development and Cover Implementation Strategy.


Close up of a stonefly larva on river rocks.

Many creeks and waterbodies in Puget Sound may look pristine, but most face serious threats from stormwater pollution. A new study at Soos Creek shows how mud-dwelling bugs, traditional chemistry and digital "heatmaps" can be used to track stormwater impacts and identify the most polluted areas. Scientists and planners hope that this may one day lower the price tag on costly stormwater fixes. 


Report cover

A warm and dry summer ended with a smoky September due to massive wildfires that were followed by strong rain. As a consequence, muddy river plumes in Puget Sound are very visible, especially near the Nooksack River. During summer, many wonderful citizen contributions documented the large formation of organic material in Central Sound and helped us cover the gap in EOPS flight from April-September. By September when we started flying again, a few bays still had red-brown blooms. Nevertheless, schools of fish are abundant, and jellyfish are sparse, which is good news. Meet our new ocean acidification experts.


Adult harbor seal with pup. Photo: Mark Ahlness (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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.


A tributary of the Nooksack River. Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries.

The Nooksack River watershed spans part of the border between British Columbia and the State of Washington. In August 2018, the international, multi-agency Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group (TCG) was established to implement a three-year work plan to reduce fecal bacteria concentrations in the Nooksack River watershed. This 2019-2020 TCG annual report summarizes second year project activities and focuses on three of the watershed's transborder sub-basins.


A harbor seal skull in a box

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.


Harbor seal photographed by Andreas Trepte. Available through a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 license.

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. 


Otter crossing street sign. Photo: Joe Gaydos

North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) inhabit inland freshwater environments; however, from Alaska to California they also occur in coastal marine waters where they forage on a variety of marine fish and invertebrates. Little is known about mortality factors in marine-foraging river otters. Among 30 otter carcasses collected in San Juan County, Washington, analysis indicates that car collisions and gunshots were the most common causes of mortality.


We have published a yearly round-up of stories from our magazine Salish Sea Currents. The 2020 edition focuses on the impact of climate change on the Salish Sea and includes a special section on the effect of global warming on infectious diseases in the ecosystem. 


 Wild sockeye salmon in Adams River, BC. Photo: Province of British Columbia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/L6McUY

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.


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

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


A kayaker on Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Washington State Department of Ecology.

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


Bull kelp floating on the surface of the sea

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


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

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

 


Pinto abalone. Photo: Taylor Frierson

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


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

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


Harbor seals. Photo: Mick Thompson (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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


The Cougar Creek Fire in Klickitat County, Washington, 2015. Photo: USFS

Historically, the eastern part of the state has seen the largest impacts from fires, but climate change is now increasing the risk west of the Cascades. That could have big implications for many rural communities throughout Western Washington, including the Puget Sound region.


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

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