Magazine

Salish Sea Currents is an online magazine featuring the latest science from the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. Join us as we report on some of the key issues driving Puget Sound recovery.

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Canary rockfish. Photo by Tippy Jackson, NOAA
11/30/2018

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. 

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/
10/22/2018

Harbor porpoises become increasing players in the Puget Sound food web

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.

Herring embryos. Photo courtesy of NOAA
9/20/2018

Climate change and ocean acidification may affect herring development

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
9/11/2018

Managing the Salish Sea’s ‘Herring 401 K’

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
9/6/2018

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.

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
8/24/2018

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. 

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/
8/13/2018

Marine mammals from distant places visit Puget Sound

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
8/12/2018

For declining orcas, food is fate

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. 

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
7/18/2018

Marine survival: New clues emerging in salmon deaths

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
7/16/2018

New studies on emerging threats to salmon

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.
7/11/2018

Removal of creosote-treated pilings may assist herring recovery

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. 

A harbor seal hunting anchovies. From Howe Sound Ballet video by Bob Turner: https://youtu.be/Ycx1hvrPAqc
7/9/2018

Could anchovies and other fish take pressure off salmon and steelhead?

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.

Juvenile salmon in seine. Photo courtesy: Long Live the Kings https://lltk.org/
7/2/2018

Size means survival for young salmon

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. 

Spring Chinook Salmon. Photo: Michael Humling, US Fish & Wildlife Service
6/25/2018

Opening the black box: What’s killing Puget Sound’s salmon and steelhead?

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. They are uncovering a complex web of problems involving predators, prey and other factors that put salmon at risk as they migrate to the ocean. We begin 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. 

Photo by Brandon Cole. All rights reserved. Courtesy of Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids.
6/8/2018

New book helps kids discover the Salish Sea

Kids around the region are learning about the Salish Sea thanks to a new book that is being offered — in many cases free of cost — to Washington schools and libraries. Explore the Salish Sea by Joe Gaydos and Audrey Benedict inspires the next generation to appreciate and perhaps someday protect the environment close at hand. 

A US Fish & Wildlife Atlantic employee displays an Atlantic Salmon with characteristic large black spots on the gill cover. Credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/43322816@N08/9680675578
6/7/2018

Despite WA ban on farmed salmon, BC impacts may flow across border

A high-profile salmon escape led to a ban on salmon farms in Washington earlier this year. But just across the border, scientists say salmon farms in British Columbia expose migrating fish from Puget Sound to potential maladies like parasites, bacteria and dangerous viruses. They say simply getting rid of salmon farms in Washington does not put the potential impacts to rest. 

An eelgrass bed in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Oregon State University.
5/29/2018

Ocean acidification may be twice as extreme in Puget Sound’s seagrass habitats, threatening Dungeness crabs

Ocean acidification could be up to twice as severe in fragile seagrass habitats as it is in the open ocean, according to a study published last April in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The conditions may threaten Dungeness crabs by 2050 and will be especially pronounced in the winter, the study says.

Pacific herring exposed to 50% urban stormwater runoff experienced stunted growth, unabsorbed yolk sacs, and smaller eyes than control seawater Photo credit: Louisa Harding, WSU
5/21/2018

Stormwater mimics oil spill's effect on Pacific herring

Pacific herring exposed to stormwater in Puget Sound show some of the same effects as fish exposed to major oil spills. Symptoms include heart and developmental problems.  

Eelgrass at low tide. Photo by Olivia Graham.
5/18/2018

Diving deeper to understand eelgrass wasting disease

New studies show that eelgrass wasting disease is more common in warmer waters, leading to concerns over the future effects of climate change on eelgrass populations in Puget Sound. We continue our series on science findings from the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.  

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/
5/15/2018

Where did the Puget Sound green crabs come from? We’re still not sure

Genetic testing shows that invasive European green crabs in Puget Sound likely did not come from the Sooke Basin in British Columbia as previously thought. New findings on the crab's origins were presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. 

Bay Mussels (Mytilus trossulus) on Edmonds Ferry Dock. Photo [cropped]: brewbooks (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/8840874065
5/11/2018

Bay mussels in Puget Sound show traces of oxycodone

State agencies tracking pollution levels in Puget Sound have discovered traces of oxycodone in the tissues of native bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from Seattle and Bremerton area harbors. The findings were presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. 

Bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana), the only surface canopy species in the Puget Sound, observed in March 2018. Photo: Brian Allen
5/1/2018

Kelp continues steady decline in Puget Sound

Scientists are trying to learn how to restore Puget Sound’s diminishing kelp forests in an effort to stave off habitat loss for rockfish and other threatened species. We report on new findings presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. 

Amazon Spheres in Seattle. Photo: Jeff Rice
4/12/2018

Panel explores digital tech’s role in Salish Sea recovery

Bridging the gap between nature and technology might be a challenge for the Puget Sound region, but tech leaders could play an important role in protecting and restoring the ecosystem, according to a panel of experts at last week’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle.

Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and WA Governor Jay Inslee helped kick off the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle on April 4, 2018. Photo: Jeff Rice/PSI
4/4/2018

Future of orcas takes center stage at Salish Sea conference

Gov. Jay Inslee joined former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to open three days of science talks at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. The conference includes about 700 scientific presentations on topics ranging from orcas to habitat restoration, from climate change to toxic chemicals.

A milky, turquoise, phytoplankton bloom in Hood Canal visible from space. Natural color MODIS image from Landsat 8 acquired July 24, 2016. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=88454
3/6/2018

Does Puget Sound need a diet? Concerns grow over nutrients

As the region's population grows, scientists say we can expect to see increasing amounts of nitrogen and other elements flowing into Puget Sound. Known as “nutrients” these elements are naturally occurring and even necessary for life, but officials worry that nutrients from wastewater and other human sources are tipping the balance. That could mean big problems for fish and other marine life, gradually depleting the water of oxygen and altering the food web.

The Budd Inlet sewage treatment plant. Photo courtesy of LOTT Clean Water Alliance
3/6/2018

Sewage treatment plant in Olympia a leader in nitrogen removal

A regional sewage-treatment system in Thurston County has helped contain  low-oxygen problems in Budd Inlet as the population continues to grow. The system cleans up some of the effluent for replenishing groundwater supplies.

The rapid growth of a red-orange algae, Noctiluca scintillans, dramatically colors the waters of Puget Sound near Edmonds on May 16, 2013. Such algae blooms have been seen more frequently in recent years. Photo: Jeri Cusimano via WA Ecology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ecologywa/8744775119
2/28/2018

Dead plankton leave clues to a food-web mystery

High amounts of elements such as nitrogen can cause blooms of phytoplankton that sometimes trigger perturbations throughout the food web. This occurs most often in the spring and summer after the long, dark, cloudy days of winter begin to fade.

A sharp boundary appears as sediment-laden freshwater is discharged from British Columbia's Fraser River into the Salish Sea. Fresh water, which is less dense than salt water, spreads in a shallow (approximately 1 m deep) plume at the sea surface. Photo: Ed McNichol, Ocean Networks Canada (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/oceannetworkscanada/8711686267
2/28/2018

Puget Sound circulation triggers low-oxygen conditions at different times and in different places

The amount of oxygen in the Salish Sea is dependent on water circulation which distributes chemical elements such as nitrogen through the system.

Harbor Seals sunning on intertidal rocks of Puget Sound. Photo: Tony Cyphert (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/tony717/14630242564
1/17/2018

Study would explore changes to protections for seals and sea lions

As wildlife managers work to recover Puget Sound’s diminished Chinook population, a proposed white paper is expected to review the impacts of some of the salmon's chief predators. The study would include a section on potential management of seals and sea lions, prompting open discussion of a long taboo subject: Could officials seek to revise the Marine Mammal Protection Act — or even conduct lethal or non-lethal removal of seals and sea lions in some cases? Such actions are hypothetical, but we look at some of the ongoing discussions around the issue as prompted by a new resolution from the Puget Sound Leadership Council. 

A dying female coho salmon in the Lower Duwamish spotted by Puget Soundkeeper volunteers in October 2017. Photo: Kathy Peter
12/5/2017

What is killing the coho?

Researchers are trying to determine which chemicals in stormwater are contributing to the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon in Puget Sound. It has prompted a larger question: What exactly is in stormwater anyway?

A young resident killer whale chases a chinook salmon in the Salish Sea near San Juan Island, WA. Sept 2017. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/21wV8rV
11/20/2017

Seals and sea lions may be slowing salmon recovery, hurting orcas

Increased consumption of Chinook salmon by seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea “could be masking the success of coastwide salmon recovery efforts,” according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Endangered resident orcas are said to be declining in part due to a lack of available Chinook, the orcas' preferred prey.

The Vechey residence and bulkead (circa 2013) before the restoration project. Photo courtesy: John Vechey
10/22/2017

With sea-level rise, waterfront owners confront their options

Climate change could cause sea levels to rise more than four feet in some parts of Puget Sound, leaving shoreline residents with some tough decisions. Experts say fighting the waves with conventional seawalls may not be the answer.

Olympia high tide, Dec 28, 2010. Photo: Johanna Ofner (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetetc9/5301201482
10/19/2017

Average high tides are creeping higher in Puget Sound

The average worldwide sea level has increased more over the past 150 years than during the previous 1,500 years, experts say, and the seas continue to rise at an ever-increasing pace.

GIS is used to illustrate sea-level rise scenarios in downtown Olympia. Story map by City of Olympia: https://arcg.is/LSyOO
10/16/2017

Local governments begin to plan for higher tides

Planning for rising seawater in Puget Sound has often focused on public property such as roads, buildings and utilities. Now local governments are looking more closely at private property despite regulations based on traditional flooding history.

English Sole (Parophrys vetulus) in Puget Sound. Photo: biodiversityguy https://biodiversityguy.smugmug.com/Underwater/Reference-List-Photos-of/i-3GgD5hB/A
8/25/2017

PCBs in fish remain steady while other toxics decline

A new study shows a surprising decline in some toxic chemicals in Puget Sound fish, while levels of PCBs increased in some cases. Scientists say the study shows that banning toxic chemicals can work, but old contaminants remain a challenge as they continue to wash into Puget Sound.

WDFW biologists sorting and measuring fish from PSEMP's index sites in the Duwamish River and near the Seattle Waterfront. Photo: WDFW
8/25/2017

Monitoring helps to reveal hidden dangers in the food web

Toxic chemicals have been showing up in Puget Sound fish for more than a century, but consistent testing over the past 30 years has helped to reveal some unusual patterns of pollution.

Dean Toba, a scientific technician with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, operates the agency’s screw trap on the Skagit River. The trap helps biologists estimate the number of juvenile salmon leaving the river each year. Photo: Christopher Dunagan, PSI
8/4/2017

Are we making progress on salmon recovery?

In recent decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to restore habitat for Puget Sound salmon. In this article, we look at how scientists are gauging their progress. Are environmental conditions improving or getting worse? The answer may depend on where you look and who you ask.

Eelgrass at Alki Beach, Seattle. Report cover photo: Lisa Ferrier
6/15/2017

Eelgrass declines pose a mystery

Scientists want to know why eelgrass is on the decline in some areas of Puget Sound and not others. The answer will affect future strategies for protecting one of the ecosystem’s most critical saltwater plants.

The Qwuloolt estuary hydrology restored by breaching a century old levee. WRP easement land in the foreground. Photo: USDA
5/26/2017

Saving the last estuaries

When rivers spill into Puget Sound, they provide some of the most productive habitat in the ecosystem. The ebb and flow of the tides creates a perfect mix of fresh and salt water critical for young salmon. But over the past 100 years, the region’s tidal wetlands have declined by more than 75%. Now a coalition of state and federal agencies has a plan to bring them back.

The University of Washington Tacoma has spurred sustainable urban development including re-purposing of historic buildings, new housing, a museum and retail district, multi-use trails, and light rail transit. Photo courtesy: UW Tacoma
5/2/2017

Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem

The state of Washington estimates that the Puget Sound area will grow by more than 1.5 million residents within the next two decades. That is expected to have profound effects on the environment as more and more people move to undeveloped areas. The race is on to protect this critical rural habitat, but planners say what happens in the cities may be just as important.

2016 aerial view of completed Calistoga Reach levee project in Orting, WA. Image courtesy: CSI Drone Solutions and Washington Rock Quarries, Inc. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H_NK6U2_zw
4/11/2017

Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon

A new approach to flood control is taking hold across Puget Sound. Rivers, scientists say, can be contained by setting them free. Conservationists hope this is good news for salmon recovery.

Fir Island Farms habitat restoration monitoring in Skagit County. Project provides rearing habitat for young threatened Chinook salmon along with other wildlife. Copyright: Bob Friel
3/30/2017

Finding a strategy to accelerate Chinook recovery

As threatened Chinook populations in Puget Sound continue to lose ground, the state is looking to new strategies to reverse the trend. In the Skagit watershed, the scientists — and the fish — are among those leading the way. 

Celebrating a community harvest at Drayton Harbor. Photo: Jack Kintner
3/7/2017

Bringing the shellfish back: How Drayton Harbor overcame a legacy of pollution

After a long struggle with pollution, Drayton Harbor has reopened to year-round commercial oyster harvesting for the first time in 22 years. Here’s how the community cleaned up its act, potentially showing the way for shellfish recovery throughout Puget Sound.

Sea lion sunbathing between meals in Seattle's Eliott Bay. Photo: Johnny Mumbles (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mumbles/3283168713
1/25/2017

Study says predators may play major role in chinook salmon declines

A new study shows that increased populations of seals and sea lions are eating far more of Puget Sound’s threatened chinook than previously known, potentially hampering recovery efforts for both salmon and endangered killer whales. 

Benthic invertebrates range in size from those easily seen with the naked eye to those that cannot be spotted without the use of a microscope. Photo: Christopher Dunagan
1/17/2017

Healthy stream, healthy bugs

Many groups have been formed around the goal of saving salmon, but few people talk about a concerted effort to save microscopic creatures. Whether or not a pro-bug movement catches on, future strategies to save salmon are likely to incorporate ideas for restoring streambound creatures known as benthic invertebrates.

An eelgrass bed near Bainbridge Island, Washington. David Ayers/USGS
1/6/2017

Eelgrass in Puget Sound is stable overall, but some local beaches suffering

Eelgrass, a marine plant crucial to the success of migrating juvenile salmon and spawning Pacific herring, is stable and flourishing in Puget Sound, despite a doubling of the region’s human population and significant shoreline development over the past several decades. [Story reprinted from UW Today.]

Heartbeat line overlays Seattle Skyline from Alki Beach. Graphic: Puget Sound Institute w/ copyrighted images
12/7/2016

Implementation Strategies will target Puget Sound ‘Vital Signs’

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).

Fluoxetine hydrochloride. Photo: Meg (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/disowned/1125134972
11/9/2016

Concerns rise over rogue chemicals in the environment

Drugs like Prozac and cocaine have been showing up in the region’s salmon. But these are just some of the potentially thousands of different man-made chemicals that escape into the Salish Sea every day, from pharmaceuticals to industrial compounds. Now the race is on to identify which ones pose the greatest dangers.

Industrial plant. Photo: Gray World (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/greyworld/6159264209
11/8/2016

New law will increase testing of chemicals

New federal legislation, approved overwhelmingly by the U.S. Congress in December 2015 and signed into law by President Obama in June 2016, is designed to make sure that people and the environment are not harmed by new and old chemicals on the market.

Before and after composite view at the site of a 2013 bulkhead-removal project on the shore of Penrose Point State Park in Pierce County. Composite: Kris Symer, PSI; original photos: Kristin Williamson, South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group
10/17/2016

Hitting a wall: Can we fix Puget Sound’s beaches?

New numbers show progress in the state’s efforts to remove shoreline armoring, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Bay Mussels (Mytilus trossulus) on Edmonds Ferry Dock. Photo [cropped]: brewbooks (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/brewbooks/8840874065
10/10/2016

Salish Sea snapshots: Mussel memory

Scientists are testing ways to use transplanted shellfish such as mussels to monitor toxic contaminants in Puget Sound. 

Toxic algal blooms are sometimes associated with invasive plankton. Photo: Eutrophication&Hypoxia (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/48722974@N07/5120831456
10/4/2016

Salish Sea snapshots: Invasive species and human health

Invasive species are considered a top threat to the balance of ecosystems worldwide. New discoveries of non-native green crabs in Puget Sound have highlighted that concern here at home, but invasive species can impact more than just the food web. Some introduced species can produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish or by directly infecting the human body.

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/
9/23/2016

Second invasive green crab found in Puget Sound

Another European green crab has been spotted in Puget Sound prompting concern that the species may gain a foothold in the region. 

Rhinoceros Auklet carrying sand lance. Photo by Peter Hodum.
9/20/2016

Salish Sea snapshots: Plastics in fish may also affect seabirds

Sand lance in parts of British Columbia are ingesting small pieces of plastic that may be passed through the food web.

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Bellingham Bay, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/9509722373/
9/13/2016

The return of the pig

After an almost complete collapse in the 1970s, harbor porpoise populations in Puget Sound have rebounded. Scientists are celebrating the recovery of the species sometimes known as the "puffing pig." 

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwifc/9517621153
8/31/2016

Clam hunger

Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.

Pacific sand lance at rest on sand. Photo: Collin Smith, USGS. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgeologicalsurvey/13378704834
8/18/2016

The secret lives of forage fish: Where do they go when we aren’t looking?

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. A University of Washington researcher describes how scientists are looking into the problem.

A state inspector boards a container ship at the Port of Seattle to check on ballast water and determine whether procedures were followed to reduce the risk of invasive species being released into Puget Sound.  Photo: WDFW
8/2/2016

Invasive stowaways threaten Puget Sound ecosystem

Gaps in regulations could allow invasive species to hitch a ride on ships and boats. We report on some of the potential impacts, and how state and federal agencies are trying to solve the problem. 

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/
8/2/2016

Green crabs could impair Puget Sound shellfish operations

Concerns over the potential arrival of the European green crab have inspired a small army of volunteers. A search is underway for early signs of an invasion.

The orange-striped Asian anemone (Diadumene lineata) was commonly observed in Shelton during the 1998 Puget Sound Expedition. Photo: James Koh (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jameskoh/3835201631/
8/2/2016

Building a baseline of invasive species in Puget Sound

Almost twenty years ago, volunteer biologists began an intensive survey for invasive species in the marine waters of Puget Sound. In a little over a week of hunting, they found 39 such species, including 11 never before seen in the region.

A clump of cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) Photo: USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
8/2/2016

Invasive marine species: Washington state priorities

The Washington Invasive Species Council evaluated more than 700 invasive species in and around Washington, considering their threats to the state’s environment, economy, and human health. They included terrestrial plants and animals, aquatic plants and animals (both freshwater and saltwater), insects and diseases. In the end, the council listed 50 “priority species” for action, including five marine animals and two marine plants, along with one virus that infects fish. 

Photogrammetry image of an adult female Southern Resident (J16) as she’s about to surface with her youngest calf, born earlier in 2015, alongside. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium
7/20/2016

Killer whale miscarriages linked to low food supply

New techniques for studying orcas have been credited with breakthroughs in reproductive and developmental research. Drones and hormone-sniffing dogs are helping scientists connect declines in food supply with low birth rates and poor health. Update: The research described in this 2016 article has now been published in the 6/29/17 issue of the journal PLOS ONE. 

Monitoring devices deployed by NOAA for detecting harmful algal blooms. Photo by Rachael Mueller.
7/12/2016

Salish Sea snapshots: Detecting harmful algal blooms

Environmental samplers may provide early detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Puget Sound. This toxic algae is expected to increase as the climate changes, bringing with it new and potentially more severe outbreaks of shellfish poisonings. 

A steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Cascade River, WA, 2014. Photo: © Morgan Bond http://www.morganhbond.com/
6/30/2016

Advances in technology help researchers evaluate threatened Puget Sound steelhead

New, smaller acoustic tags will allow scientists to track steelhead migrations in Puget Sound in ways that were once impossible. Will they provide answers to the mysterious decline of these now-threatened fish? 

Key hypotheses include bottom-up and top-down processes and additional factors such as toxics, disease, and competition.  Graphic: Michael Schmidt, Salish Sea Marine Survival Project
6/29/2016

Mystery remains in deaths of young salmon

The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has mobilized dozens of organizations in the U.S. and Canada to find an answer to one of the region's greatest mysteries. What is killing so many young salmon before they can return home to spawn? A series of talks at the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference brought together some of the latest research. 

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha). Photo: WDFW
6/17/2016

Contaminants higher in resident 'blackmouth' Chinook

Many of Puget Sound's Chinook salmon spend their entire lives in local waters and don't migrate to the open ocean. These fish tend to collect more contaminants in their bodies because of the sound's relatively high levels of pollution. 

Studies suggest that western sandpipers depend on biofilm for close to 60% of their diet. Storey's Beach, Port Hardy, BC. Photo:  Nicole Beaulac (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolebeaulac/26579296150
6/1/2016

Salish Sea 'slime' vital for shorebirds

It turns out that a gooey substance known as biofilm is a big deal for Salish Sea shorebirds, providing critical food for some species. But could a proposed port expansion in Vancouver threaten this slimy resource?

Puget Sound's orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. Photo: Minette Layne (CC-BY-2.0) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale#/media/File:Orca_porpoising.jpg
5/18/2016

New theory rethinks spread of PCBs and other toxics in Puget Sound

Researchers are proposing a shift in thinking about how some of the region’s most damaging pollutants enter Puget Sound species like herring, salmon and orcas.

Black Scoter (Melanitta negra), one of seven new birds added to a Salish Sea-wide list of species of concern. Photo courtesy of USGS.
4/16/2016

Conference snapshot: The number of species of concern in the Salish Sea is growing steadily

The number of species of concern in the Salish Sea is growing at an average annual rate of 2.6%, according to a report published in the proceedings of the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C.

Bulkhead in Puget Sound. Photo by Christopher Dunagan
4/15/2016

Conference snapshot: Long-term study looks at impacts of shoreline armoring

A new peer-reviewed study reports significant findings on the impacts of shoreline armoring in the Salish Sea. 

Killer whales and boat in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA.
4/15/2016

Conference snapshot: Listening to the Salish Sea

Scientists are realizing that underwater noise in the Salish Sea affects a broad range of species, even plankton. Read a Q & A with the organizers of the session 'From plankton to whales: underwater noise and its impacts on marine life.'

A 6-year-old killer whale from L pod, known as L-73, chases a Dall’s porpoise in this historical photo taken in 1992. Photo: Debbie Dorand/Center for Whale Research
4/14/2016

Resident killer whales sometimes attack porpoises but never eat them

The mysterious practice of killing porpoises may have a useful function, but it has yet to be fully explained, according to orca researcher Deborah Giles.

4/13/2016

Perception is the key to a better future, says Canadian astronaut

Dr. Roberta Bondar opens the three-day Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, B.C., by challenging people to see things in different ways.

4/12/2016

Gearing up for the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

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 deltas. 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. 

Marine Shoreline Design Guidelines (MSDG) report cover
4/7/2016

State guidelines offer new approaches to shoreline protection

Bulkhead removal is becoming an attractive option for many shoreline property owners as awareness spreads of their geological and ecological impacts, and as aging bulkheads come up for replacement. New state guidelines provide alternatives to hard armor.

Feeder bluff and beach at Fort Flagler Historical State Park. Marrowstone Island, WA. Photo: Kris Symer (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
4/7/2016

Sources of sand: maps show crucial “feeder bluffs”

For more than a hundred years, property owners have seen shoreline erosion as the enemy. But it turns out that in many cases erosion is actually a good thing — crucial, according to scientists — because it provides the sand and gravel needed for healthy beaches.

Chart: Local shoreline changes in King County (2012-13). Source: King County, 2014
3/29/2016

Studies point to gap in permits for shoreline armoring

A significant number of Puget Sound property owners have been altering their shorelines without required permits. A new report suggests that state and local regulators should increase enforcement and make penalties more costly for violators.

Pat Collier walking along the restored beach in front of her Maury Island home. Photo: Christopher Dunagan/PSI
3/29/2016

Shoreline restoration turns to private property owners

By removing bulkheads where they can, property owners are improving shoreline habitat, one piece at a time. Officials from county and nonprofit groups have been offering assistance and finding new ways to connect with property owners.

Spawning Surf Smelt. Fidalgo Bay. Photo: Copyright Jon Michael https://www.flickr.com/photos/-jon/5892559865
3/22/2016

Spawning habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides

Where shoreline bulkheads remain in place, the loss of spawning habitat used by surf smelt is likely to reach 80 percent.

Cattle Point Beach, San Juan Island, WA. Photo: Travis S. (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/baggis/8089171175
3/22/2016

Forage fish are losing places to lay their eggs

Rising sea levels are expected to exacerbate habitat loss caused by bulkheads, according to studies in the San Juan Islands.

Storm surges against the bulkheads protecting beach houses at Mutiny Bay, WA. Photo: Scott Smithson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/dtwpuck/15725058917
3/22/2016

Shoreline armoring's effect on the food web

The removal of shoreline armoring in Puget Sound has become a priority for state and federal agencies, but until recently there have been relatively few scientific studies of armoring's local impact. New research looks at the pronounced biological and ecological effects of these common shoreline structures, especially for tiny beach-dwelling creatures that make up the base of the food web.

Ballard Locks from the air. Photo: Jeff Wilcox (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffwilcox/4805933588
2/18/2016

Will Ballard Locks withstand a major earthquake?

For close to 100 years, Seattle's Ballard Locks has been one of the region's busiest waterways, drawing major boat traffic along with millions of tourists. But as it prepares to celebrate its centennial, the aged structure is also drawing the concern of engineers. They worry that an earthquake could cause the locks to fail, draining massive amounts of water from Lake Washington and Lake Union. In some scenarios, the two lakes could drop by as much as 20 feet, stranding boats, disabling bridges and causing big problems for salmon restoration.

Returning sockeye salmon packed gill-to-gill in the viewing windows at the Ballard Locks fish ladder. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/taylar/7511895940
2/18/2016

Salmon live in a topsy-turvy world upstream of the Ballard Locks

Chinook, coho and sockeye salmon, along with steelhead trout, live in the Lake Washington watershed and navigate a treacherous route through the Ballard Locks on their way to Puget Sound.

Pathogen-free herring are reared from eggs to allow a wide range of experiments on infectious organisms at the Marrowstone Marine Field Station. Photo: Christopher Dunagan
1/13/2016

Disease in herring threatens broader food web

Pacific herring have long been considered an essential part of the Puget Sound food web. Now, studies are beginning to reveal how diseases in herring could be reverberating through the ecosystem, affecting creatures large and small. We continue our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound with this look at the region's most well-known forage fish.

Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Photo: Eric Engbretson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
1/13/2016

Are diseases playing a role in salmon decline?

Chinook, coho and steelhead populations in Puget Sound have declined dramatically over the past 30 years. In some cases, counts of fish returning to the rivers are just a tenth what they were in the 1980s. While many possible causes of this decline are under consideration, some researchers are focusing on the combined effects of predators and disease. This article continues our coverage of the ecological impacts of disease in Puget Sound.

Mist from the breath of killer whales is collected at the end of a long pole then tested for dozens of different types of bacteria. Photo: Pete Schroeder
1/13/2016

Concerns rise over potential impacts of disease on the ecosystem

From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.  

Alaska Airlines 737 taking off from Sea-Tac Airport with Mt Rainier and Central Terminal in background. Photo: Port of Seattle by Don Wilson
1/23/2015

Airport offers a glimpse at tightening stormwater regulations

How does one of the West's busiest airports deal with extreme stormwater, and what does that mean for water quality standards in the rest of the state?

Raindrops on a cafe window.  Photo: Jim Culp (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/jimculp/7140363701
12/17/2014

Stormwater fixes could cost billions

Pollution from stormwater has been called one of the greatest threats to Puget Sound. How much will it cost to hold back the rain? A new EPA-funded study says the price could reach billions per year, a figure that dwarfs current state and federal allocations.

Olympia oysters. Photo: VIUDeepBay (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/viucsr/5778358466
12/11/2014

Gifts from the sea: shellfish as an ecosystem service

The shellfish industry is a cornerstone of the Puget Sound economy, but the region's famed mollusks provide more than just money and jobs. They offer what are called ecosystem services—a wide variety of benefits that humans derive from an ecosystem.

Seattle's central waterfront at sunset. Photo: Michael Matti (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelmattiphotography/9090323308/
10/29/2014

Brighter future for salmon at downtown seawall

The decaying seawall along Seattle’s waterfront is providing scientists with an opportunity to improve long-lost habitat for migrating salmon. It could also show the way for habitat enhancements to crumbling infrastructure worldwide. One University of Washington researcher describes the project.

Stormwater flowing into catch basin carries contaminants to our waterways. Photo: Ben McLeod (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/benmcleod/420158390
10/7/2014

Citizens now the leading cause of toxics in Puget Sound

New research presented at the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference shows that some of the greatest dangers to Puget Sound marine life come from our common, everyday activities. These pervasive sources of pollution are so woven into our lives that they are almost invisible to us, but it’s becoming impossible to ignore their effects.

Nisqually Reserve Fish Sampling March 2012. Photo: Michael Grilliot, DNR (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/wastatednr/6834386824
9/9/2014

No salmon left behind: The importance of early growth and freshwater restoration

The growth and survival of young salmon in streams, river deltas and floodplains are seen as crucial pieces of the salmon recovery puzzle. In part two of this two-part series, researchers at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle say the complexities of the salmon life cycle require new coordination among scientists.

Chinook Salmon (juvenile) Photo Credit: Roger Tabor/USFWS. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usfwspacific/6093338474
8/28/2014

What is killing young salmon in Puget Sound?

Scientists say Puget Sound’s salmon are dying young and point to low growth rates in the marine environment as a possible cause. In part one of this two-part series, scientists consider threats facing young salmon in the open waters of Puget Sound.

Inside the Eelgrass beds. Photo: Eric Heupel (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/eclectic-echoes/7654885752
8/8/2014

Shedding new light on eelgrass recovery

Scientists say eelgrass, an unassuming flowering plant found just off shore in Puget Sound, is vital to the health of the ecosystem. They also say the plant is declining. New and increasingly urgent efforts to restore it brought a group of researchers to the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference.

Western grebe. Public Pier, Blaine, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/10298390254
7/22/2014

Declines in marine birds trouble scientists

Why did all the grebes leave? Where did they go? And what does their disappearance say about the health of the Salish Sea? Seasonal declines among some regional bird species could hold important clues to the overall health of the ecosystem.

2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference logo
7/22/2014

About the Salish Sea Currents series

Last spring, the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle brought together more than a thousand of the region's leading scientists and managers with one clear goal: To better understand the state of the ecosystem and to look to the future. It was the premier showcase for the science driving Salish Sea recovery, and a rare opportunity.