Salish Sea

The Salish Sea extends across the U.S.-Canada border, and includes the combined waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound Basin and the San Juan Islands.

Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA). Map: Kris Symer. Data source: WAECY.

OVERVIEW

Geographic boundaries of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea

The boundaries of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea are not always consistently defined by scientists and government agencies. This article clarifies the distinctions between oceanographic and watershed-based definitions of these geographic areas. 

RELATED ARTICLES

Maps generated from the Salish Sea Model showing surface layer transport in the Northwest Straits (left) and sea surface salinity (right). Images: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
5/18/2021

The Salish Sea Model

The Salish Sea Model is a computer model used to predict spatial and temporal patterns related to water circulation in the Salish Sea. It was developed at the United States Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. It is housed at the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute. 

Salish Sea map my Norm Maher. Courtesy of the SeaDoc Society.
4/2/2013

The Salish Sea

The Salish Sea extends across the U.S.-Canada border, and includes the combined waters of the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound Basin and the San Juan Islands (see map).

The name Salish Sea was proposed by Bert Webber in 1989 to reflect the entire cross-border ecosystem. Both Washington State and British Columbia voted to officially recognize the name in late 2009. The name honors the Coast Salish people, who were the first to live in the region.

An image from the LiveOcean model showing Salish Sea circulation patterns.
3/10/2021

Estuarine circulation, mixing, and residence times in the Salish Sea

A 2021 article in the journal JGR Oceans describes circulation and mixing in the Salish Sea. The findings are based on simulations produced by the LiveOcean computer model.

A woman standing on a rock in a river holding a long pole with a net on the end. Photo: Rachael Mallon
12/15/2020

Once hearty 'hooligans' declining in the Salish Sea

A river spawning species of forage fish known as the longfin smelt is rare and getting rarer in the Salish Sea. Biologists are looking into the mysterious decline of the ‘hooligans’ of the Nooksack.

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
7/24/2020

'The blob' revisited: Marine heat waves and the Salish Sea

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.

Southern resident killer whales. Photo by Candice Emmons/NOAA Fisheries (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
7/16/2020

Orcas without borders

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.

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
7/1/2020

How to plan a clam garden

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.

Harbor porpoise. Photo: Copyright Cindy R. Elliser, Pacific Mammal Research.
1/5/2020

Status and trends of harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea

Harbor porpoises declined dramatically in the Salish Sea in the 1970s but their populations have since rebounded, increasing by more than 10% per year in recent decades. A 2020 report for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound examines harbor porpoise status and trends, natural history and recent policy considerations for the species.

Bigg's killer whales. Photo: copyright Monika Shields, with permission
10/24/2019

Status and trends for West Coast transient (Bigg’s) killer whales in the Salish Sea

Officially known as West Coast transients but increasingly referred to as Bigg’s killer whales, these marine mammal-eating orcas (Orcinus orca) are spending increasing time in the Salish Sea to consume their marine mammal prey including harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor and Dall’s porpoise. They range from Southeast Alaska to California, but over the last 15 years more members of the population are spending increasing time in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia (Houghton et al. 2015, Shields et al. 2018). They have no predators (except perhaps occasionally other Bigg’s killer whales - see Towers et al. 2018), but are at risk from anthropogenic effects, including toxics and noise pollution (Ford et al. 2007).

Fishes of the Salish Sea book cover
9/24/2019

Of ratfish, Loch Ness monsters and stuffed sharks: A conversation with the authors of the book “Fishes of the Salish Sea”

The first comprehensive guide to the fishes of the Salish Sea is the culmination of more than 40 years of research by University of Washington authors Ted Pietsch and Jay Orr. The new, three-volume set includes descriptions and illustrations for every fish species known to have been documented within the Salish Sea, all gathered from an exhaustive search of libraries, aquariums, fish collections and even one restaurant.

An image from "Salish Sea Wild." Video courtesy of the SeaDoc Society.
6/6/2019

Video series features science and adventure in the Salish Sea

A new video series follows local scientists into the water, capturing the adventure behind the research. "Salish Sea Wild" is entering its second season and we interviewed the series host and producers. Among our burning questions: What's it like to have a Steller sea lion chew on your head? 

Salish Sea basin and water boundaries. The Salish Sea water boundary (blue) includes the Strait of Georgia, Desolation Sound, The Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. The larger watershed basin (green) is the area that drains into Salish Sea waters. WA Water Resource Inventory areas (WRIA) boundary lines are shown for reference. Map: Kris Symer. Data: Stefan Freelan; WAECY.
5/20/2019

Survey illustrates a lack of familiarity with the Salish Sea

Washington and British Columbia residents are largely unfamiliar with the Salish Sea. A recent study conducted by the SeaDoc Society and Oregon State University reveals a need to improve geographic literacy and familiarity with the Salish Sea among those communities who share and live alongside this integrated transboundary ecosystem. This summary was provided by two of the collaborators on the survey, David Trimbach of Oregon State University and Joe Gaydos, Science Director at the SeaDoc Society.

Cover of 2018 Salish Sea Toxics Monitoring Synthesis: A Selection of Research
3/31/2019

2018 Salish Sea toxics monitoring synthesis: A selection of research

A 2019 report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program presents an overview of selected recent monitoring and research activities focused on toxic contaminants in the Salish Sea. 

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. 

The shared marine waters of British Columbia and Washington report cover
7/28/2015

The shared marine waters of British Columbia and Washington

A scientific assessment of current status and future trends in resource abundance and environmental quality in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Strait of Georgia, and Puget Sound 

Book cover for The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest
4/20/2015

New book focuses on the natural history of the Salish Sea

The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest brings together more than 230 extraordinary images of the Salish Sea. But don't call it a coffee table book. Its lush photos are backed by a serious scientific perspective on this complex and fragile ecosystem.

Screenshot of 2013 Health of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Report
7/19/2013

Report: 2013 Health of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Report

The 2013 Health of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Report was prepared jointly by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada. View the complete report, or read the Executive Summary below.

 

Locations of shellfish beds in the Salish Sea (left) compared to regions predicted by the Salish Sea Model to have high microplastic accumulation (right). Maps: PNNL
3/30/2010

Ecosystem models expand our understanding of the Salish Sea

Scientists are using computer models to address complex issues in the Salish Sea like the rise of harmful algal blooms and the movement of toxic PCBs. LiveOcean, Atlantis and the Salish Sea Model are three systems that are changing the game for ecologists and other researchers.