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

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.


Southern resident killer whale breaching. Image courtesy of NOAA

A 2018 paper in the journal Endangered Species Research analyzes southern resident killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea between 1976 and 2014. 


An orca show at Miami Seaquarium featuring southern-resident orca Lolita. Photo by Marc Averette. Avaiable through a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Ported license. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Miamiseaquariumlolita.jpg

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. 

Bigg, M. A., & Wolman, A. A. (1975). Live-capture killer whale (Orcinus orca) fishery, British Columbia and Washington, 1962–73. Journal of the Fisheries Board of Canada, 32(7), 1213-1221.


A large river delta in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project

The diversity and complexity of estuarine ecosystems is vital to the overall health of Puget Sound. This summary fact sheet focuses on the current state of estuarine ecosystems in Puget Sound—large river deltas, embayments, their interconnecting beaches, and rocky coasts—and the historical changes that have occurred since the development of the Puget Sound coastline. Additional emphasis is placed on the historical losses of tidal wetlands within these estuaries. 


Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - September 17, 2018

Air temperatures have remained high with precipitation and river flows below normal, extending the summer’s unusual conditions. Water temperatures were warmer in August, perhaps too warm for bull kelp and some salmon species in South Sound. In contrast, Hood Canal, North Sound, and the San Juan Islands provide optimal growth temperatures for herring and salmon. Many terminal inlets of Puget Sound are experiencing extensive red-brown blooms. Jellyfish patches are developing in South Sound finger Inlets and remnants of floating macroalgae occur in the nearshore areas of South Sound and in Useless Bay. At times floating organic material we see from the air ends up on the shoreline were our BEACH team documents it.


Pacific herring (Clupea pallasii). Image courtesy of NOAA.

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. 


Herring embryos. Photo courtesy of NOAA

New research shows that warmer and more acidic oceans could lead to shorter embryos and higher respiration in Pacific herring.


Pacific herring are small forage fish that fit in the palm of your hand. Photo: Margaret Siple

Scientists argue that herring managers should take a tip from stock market investors and diversify the population’s “portfolio.” 


Jeff Gaeckle measures the length of the eelgrass blades as part of a monitoring project near Joemma Beach State Park in South Puget Sound. Photo: Chris Dunagan

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.


A map of Marine Protected Areas within Puget Sound. Image courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

A 2018 paper in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management examines and compares planning approaches used to develop marine protected areas and estuary restoration projects in Puget Sound. It finds that management policies can benefit from increasingly collaborative planning with a focus on multiple benefits such as flood control, salmon recovery, recreation and resilience to climate change. 


An image of the Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System study area. Image courtesy of USGS.

The Puget Sound Coastal Storm Modeling System analyzes the potential impacts of sea level rise on nearshore areas of the Puget Sound region. 


Breeding adult Rhinoceros Auklet flying low above the water. San Juan Islands, WA - July, 2016. Photo: Mick Thompson (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mickthompson/28777858956

More than 70 percent of the seabird population of Puget Sound nests on a single island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That includes a massive colony of rhinoceros auklets that has drawn the interest of scientists and birders alike. Our writer Eric Wagner visited the island this summer and reports on a long-term study of the auklets that is revealing new information about the health of seabirds in the Salish Sea. 


Yukusam the sperm whale in Haro Strait off of Turn Point Lighthouse, Stuart Island, WA. March 2018. Photo: Copyright Jeff Friedman, Maya's Legacy Whale Watching (used with permission) http://sanjuanislandwhalewatch.com/first-ever-sperm-whale-san-juan-islands/

The reasons for the surprise visits are unknown, but changes in environmental conditions here or elsewhere are one possibility.


J16 surfacing near Saturna Island, August 2012. Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/7730710932

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. 


Issaquah Creek. Photo courtesy of Nicholas Georgiadis.

A 2018 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute analyzes trends in summer stream flows and finds they are declining, but not necessarily because of abstractions by humans.


Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - July 16, 2018

Its summer! River flows are generally below normal levels in response to low precipitation and warm air temperatures. Algae blooms are causing intense red-brown colors in Bellingham and Samish Bays, as well as in some other bays. Infrared images revealed that the algal blooms are in water exceeding 15°C. These warmer waters increase the risk of harmful algal blooms if toxin-producing species are present. Large rafts of macroalgae are drifting at the surface in South and Central Sound, and are particularly extensive in Carr Inlet, Commencement Bay, and Port Madison. Our Washington Conservation Corps Intern shares her many perspectives on Puget Sound.


Clockwise from top left: 1) Spring Chinook Salmon. Photo: Michael Humling, US Fish & Wildlife Service. 2) Juvenile salmon in seine. Photo courtesy: Long Live the Kings https://lltk.org/ 3) A harbor seal hunting anchovies. From Howe Sound Ballet video by Bob Turner: https://youtu.be/Ycx1hvrPAqc 4) Chinook salmon leaping at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/29739921130

An intensive research program in the U.S. and Canada is studying why so few salmon in the Salish Sea are returning home to spawn. It is uncovering a complex web of problems involving predators, prey and other factors that put salmon at risk as they migrate to the ocean. We present a four-part series on the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, including new findings presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference last spring in Seattle.


Chinook salmon leaping at the Ballard Locks in Seattle. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/29739921130

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.


Creosote removal project in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Researchers are analyzing the harmful effects of creosote-treated wood pilings on Pacific herring and shellfish in Puget Sound. Studies show that piling removal projects can ease the impacts, but only if carefully done. 


Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) Photo courtesy: Aaron Barna

The restoration of eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) is a high priority for Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. In 2011, the State of Washington set a restoration target to increase eelgrass abundance by 20% in Puget Sound by 2020. Locating areas to restore eelgrass effectively and efficiently has been challenging for researchers. A 2018 article in the journal Restoration Ecology reports on efforts to identify potential restoration sites using simulation modeling, a geodatabase for spatial screening, and test planting. 


A harbor seal hunting anchovies. From Howe Sound Ballet video by Bob Turner: https://youtu.be/Ycx1hvrPAqc

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.


A new study looks at social science and equity integration within the proceedings of the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. The study was produced on behalf of the Puget Sound Partnership for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.


Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report – June 28, 2018

During June, near normal air temperatures and continued low precipitation have resulted in highly variable freshwater inputs to Puget Sound. A large Noctiluca bloom extends across the South Central Basin of Puget Sound. Coccolithophores are blooming in Hood Canal. Macroalgae is drifting as mats on the water in Port Madison, South Central Basin, and South Sound. They are also piling up on beaches in South and Central Puget Sound and Whidbey Basin. Juvenile fish are migrating out of the estuaries and meeting a complex thermal habitat. New infrared images tell the story. Meet our ocean acidification expert, Stephen Gonski.


Juvenile salmon in seine. Photo courtesy: Long Live the Kings https://lltk.org/

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. 


Screenshot of Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference website from 6/26/2018. https://wp.wwu.edu/salishseaconference/

The 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference took place April 4-6 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, WA. It featured 588 presentations across 17 topic areas.