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Encyclopedia of Puget Sound


Salish Sea Currents

timely, local stories about ecosystem recovery

Welcome to Salish Sea Currents, an online magazine grouped into themed series. Join us as we report on some of the key issues driving Puget Sound recovery. To be notified of new stories, subscribe to the Puget Sound Institute eNews.

Themes from the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

A series covering major science themes presented at SSEC18 in Seattle, WA. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.


Implementation Strategies

New EPA-funded Implementation Strategies are designed to target Puget Sound recovery in the most direct and coordinated way ever conducted by state and federal agencies. We report on how these strategies will affect Puget Sound’s Vital Signs for years to come, and why you should care (a lot). Sponsored by U.S. EPA.


Invasive species in Puget Sound

A main story and 3 vignettes on the sources, impacts, and regulation of non-native species entering local waters. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Themes from the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

A series covering major science themes presented at SSEC16 in Vancouver, BC. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.


SSEC16 snapshots

Brief reports on SSEC16 in Vancouver, BC. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.


Rethinking shoreline armoring

An in-depth series on issues related to shoreline armoring in the Puget Sound region. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.


Disease as an ecological force

A main story and two vignettes on impacts of disease in the ecosystem. Sponsored by U.S. EPA.


Themes from the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

A 10-story series covering major science themes presented at SSEC14 in Seattle, WA. Sponsored by U.S. EPA and the Puget Sound Partnership.

Science in the spotlight: Eelgrass recovery

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is studying new ways of increasing ecologically important eelgrass habitat in Puget Sound. It is part of the state's effort to boost eelgrass 20% Sound-wide by 2020. So far, recovery of the species has fallen short of that goal, but transplanting efforts are showing promise. 

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Jeff Gaeckle measures the length of eelgrass using a measuring stick and later records the information for a study on the rate of growth near Joemma Beach State Park in South Puget Sound. Photo: Aaron Barna

State aquatic reserves lean heavily on citizen scientists

Eight aquatic reserves in Puget Sound are being studied by volunteers working under the direction of state experts. Washington Department of Natural Resources manages the reserves with guidance from nearby communities.

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Fidalgo Bay Citizen's Stewardship Committee volunteers conduct intertidal monitoring surveys during low tide at Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve. Photo: Erica Bleke/DNR

Ghost nets still fishing in the deep waters of Puget Sound

New technology is helping to remove deadly “ghost nets” that have been lost in the depths of Puget Sound. It is part of an effort that saves millions of animals every year, but managers say better reporting of these lost nets by fishermen is still needed.    

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Derelict fishing gear with animal carasses found by the USFWS Puget Sound Coastal Program. Credit Joan Drinkwin/USFWS https://flic.kr/p/8TX8CQ (CC BY 2.0)

The herring defenders

Each winter and spring, researchers survey the sometimes spectacular spawning events of Puget Sound's Pacific herring. They have found wide swings in the fish's population and an overall decline in herring numbers since the 1970s, but little is known about the cause or what this might mean for the health of the food web. We spent a day with a biologist spotting herring eggs and considering the future of one of our region's most ecologically and culturally important fish species. 

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Clouds of herring milt in the water seen during spawning season near Brinnon, WA on Hood Canal, March 2019. Photo: copyright John Gussman, with permission http://www.dcproductions.com

Social networks a key to orca survival

Understanding the social networks and family bonds of Puget Sound's southern resident orcas may be critical to keeping the endangered whales from extinction. A healthy population is about more than numbers, scientists say. It's about connections.


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A group of southern resident orcas swimming near San Juan Island. Photo: Rene Leubert (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/V4EERj

Oil spill risks by the numbers

An EPA-funded study of oil spill risks in Puget Sound forms the basis of new legislation to regulate vessel traffic in the region. We break down some of the numbers from the study and look at where the risks may be greatest.

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Oil barge, SEASPAN 827, in Fildalgo Bay with tug boat, Rosario. Photo: DanaStyber (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/f2SYAB

The Orca Docs: Can medical interventions help?

This three-part series explores opportunities and challenges of using medical interventions to save Puget Sound's southern resident orcas from extinction. Part 1 looks at how scientists might treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease; Part 2 considers how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to orcas in Puget Sound; and Part 3 explores a federally approved vaccination program designed to ward of a deadly virus among endangered Hawaiian monk seals.

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Clockwise from top left: 1) Mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn 2) J pod Southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165 3) Scientists collect orca breath samples. Photo: Pete Schroeder 4) Hawaiian monk seal. Photo: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854

Return of a native: Olympia oysters are making a comeback

Puget Sound’s only native oysters were nearly wiped out in the 19th century from overharvesting. Now a network of scientists and advocates is working to restore them to their historical and cultural prominence.

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Six-month-old Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) seed. Photo: Benjamin Drummond/benjandsara.com

Vaccines now used to reduce the risk of extinction in Hawaiian monk seals

For critically endangered animal populations, experts worry that a highly infectious disease could be the final nail in the coffin, forcing the species into extinction. That’s one reason why federal authorities approved the development and deployment of a new vaccine to ward off the deadly morbillivirus among Hawaiian monk seals. The vaccination program raises the possibility of using vaccines to prevent disease among Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales, but no specific steps have been taken so far.

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A Hawaiian monk seal at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854

Wildlife rescues may inform orca strategies

As the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas becomes increasingly desperate, with the population dropping from 98 to 75 in just 22 years, scientists are weighing the options of medical intervention. In part two of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to the situation here in Puget Sound. [Part one, "When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?" is also available.]

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Left: mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn. Right: J pod southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165

When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in with medical care for distressed animals in the wild. Medical intervention has become routine for some endangered mammals, but scientists say Puget Sound’s resident orcas present a series of unique challenges and ethical questions. In part one of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how scientists are preparing to treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease.

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Scientists in a boat use a long pole to capture the breath of an orca. Photo: Pete Schroeder

Tidal forests offer hope for salmon

Can scientists bring back the lost tidal forests of Puget Sound? It could take generations, but restoring this rare habitat will pay big dividends for Puget Sound’s salmon.   

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Tidal forest as viewed from an inner waterway of Otter Island in the Snohomish River estuary. Photo: Jeff Rice/PSI

Respecting the rockfish of the Salish Sea

Puget Sound's rockfish have declined by 70% over the past few decades, prompting state and federal protection efforts. We look at some of the ways that scientists are working to reverse the fish's downward trend. 

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Canary rockfish. Photo by Tippy Jackson, NOAA

Studies show challenges for eelgrass restoration

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.

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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

Nights in the lives of the rhinoceros auklets of Protection Island

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. 

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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

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