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Fluoxetine hydrochloride. Photo: Meg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In early 2016, scientists at NOAA made headlines when they reported finding 81 different man-made chemicals in the tissues of juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Among those chemicals were drugs such as cocaine and Prozac.

This was the first time scientists had made these findings for the region’s salmon, but it was already well-understood that local waters — and marine waters the world over — are becoming an alphabet soup of rogue chemicals. In varying degrees, these chemicals are settling into the bodies of every species analyzed in Puget Sound, including humans.


Can we really wait 700 years to remove all of the armoring along Puget Sound's shoreline? Let's do some of the math.

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Last month, EoPS senior writer Christopher Dunagan's series on invasive species in Puget Sound highlighted some of the state's worries about the arrival of the European green crab. The article noted that "the threat could be just around the corner." It could not have been more timely.

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes

A story this week in Salish Sea Currents delves into the connection between environmental change and culturally important foods. Writer Sarah DeWeerdt interviewed social scientists at the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference about how this affects the spiritual and physical health of Salish Sea tribes and first nations. “The loss of subsistence and cultural identity cannot be estimated,” Joe Schumacker of the Quinault Department of Fisheries told her.

Pacific sand lance at rest on sand. Photo: Collin Smith, USGS.

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. University of Washington graduate student Margaret Siple describes how scientists are looking into the problem in the latest issue of Salish Sea Currents

European green crab. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Invasive species are among the three greatest threats to the environment worldwide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Species ranging from microscopic viruses to larger creatures like rodents and non-native fish can alter the balance of entire ecosystems. The threat is well-known in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, which face their own unique challenges.

A Southern Resident Killer Whale is about to surface with her young calf. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization.

Chances are, if you think about the Puget Sound ecosystem, you will think at some point about orcas. There may be no more striking image than an orca breaching against the backdrop of Mount Rainier, or a family of whales slicing through the waters of the San Juans. The fact that there are so few resident orcas remaining — less than a hundred Sound-wide — is part of their mystique. When they experienced a mini 'baby boom' this year, it was celebrated in the media and noted as a positive sign by scientists.

Key hypotheses include bottom-up and top-down processes and additional factors such as toxics, disease, and competition. Graphic: Salish Sea Marine Survival Project

You might see it as a high stakes and incredibly complicated game of Clue. But instead of Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlet with the lead pipe, scientists are looking at a dozen or so different culprits. They want to know why young salmon are dying in such high numbers when they venture into the marine waters of the Salish Sea. All researchers know for sure is that there has been what amounts to a murder—or many murders. For Puget Sound's Chinook, coho and steelhead, marine survival has declined by a factor of ten since the 1970s. 

New theories are rethinking how toxic chemicals like PCBs enter Puget Sound's endangered orca populations. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Watch for several new articles in Salish Sea Currents in the coming weeks. On Monday, senior writer Christopher Dunagan takes an in-depth look at new theories on the transport of PCBs through the Puget Sound foodweb. Conventional wisdom points to contaminants in the seafloor sediment, but new studies may show a radically different source. If the studies bear out, they will have big implications for Puget Sound's endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales, which are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. 

Killer whales and boat in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

One of the hot topics at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference this week is the impact of shipping noise on marine mammals such as the region's endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. As vessel traffic increases in the Salish Sea, so does chronic noise, which scientists say can alter whale behavior or even mask communication between species. Now scientists are saying that this may be an even bigger issue, affecting species across the board.


Watch for updates and stories from the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Salish Sea Currents. We are sending ten science writers to Vancouver to cover key findings—from the fascinating to the decision-critical—emerging from more than 450 talks scheduled for this week's conference. These stories will be published throughout the year on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. If you want a sense of what is happening during the week, our writers and others will be posting to Twitter using the hashtag #SSEC16.


More than 1100 scientists and researchers converge on Vancouver, B.C. this week to attend the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. The conference runs from April 13-15 and will include a combined 600 presentations and posters. It's the region's largest gathering on the state of the ecosystem, and we'll distil some of the best of it in our Salish Sea Currents series. 

Pacific Treefrog; photo by James Bettaso, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

It's easy to forget that when we talk about Puget Sound, we don't just mean the salty areas. Puget Sound is the sum of the water that flows into it. The cleaner the land and its thousands of streams and wetlands, the cleaner the Sound. It's that simple.

New series in Salish Sea Currents: Rethinking shoreline armoring

A long war may be turning. For more than a hundred years, Puget Sound shoreline residents have been in a battle with a perceived enemy. 

Stylatula elongata is often found in groups. Photo courtesy of Chris Grossman,

We are pleased to include a number of new species accounts from the Washington State Department of Ecology's blog EcoConnect. Ecology has been shining a spotlight on some of the unsung creatures living in the sediment of Puget Sound's seafloor. These fascinating accounts will be of interest to readers of all backgrounds, and feature gorgeous photos of rarely seen and seldom-studied species.


About 4,600 miles of coastline wind from southern Puget Sound to northern British Columbia along what is known as the Salish Sea. It is a land of connections and contradictions. Snowmelt from three national parks feeds more than a thousand creeks and rivers that in turn flow to the rich floodplains and estuaries of places like the Skagit and Nisqually Delta. It is one of the most diverse and spectacular ecosystems  in the world, a fact made even more incredible because it is also home to 8 million people. 


NOAA has updated its ERMA mapping system to include features such as time-enabled layers, a new draw tool and increased data sharing. The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound has been a partner with NOAA's Pacific Northwest ERMA site since 2012, and has incorporated links and metadata into our Maps and GIS page.

Read more about the updates in a recent newsletter from NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration excerpted below.


Our Executive Director Joel Baker is part of a panel of four environmental leaders in Puget Sound who will be interviewed onstage at the Inside Radiolab show on Friday, January 22nd in Tacoma. Radiolab’s Robert Krulwich will host the event at the Pantages Theater where he will interview panelists about Northwest water issues.

Before and after composite view of a 2013 bulkhead removal project at Penrose Point State Park in Pierce County. Adapted from original photos by: Kristin Williamson, SPSSEG.

Last year, we reported on an exciting trend related to shoreline armoring in Puget Sound. For the first time, state agencies actually noted a decrease in new armoring in which removal of these controversial beach structures outpaced new permits for development.

Report cover

A new report commissioned by the Puget Sound Institute and the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the expected impacts of climate change on the Puget Sound region.