Find content specifically related to invertebrates of the Puget Sound and Salish Sea ecosystems. For checklists and descriptive accounts of individual species, visit our species library.
Endangered sea stars could help control urchin populations, aiding kelp forests in the Salish Sea, according to a new study at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories. Scientists say captive baby sea stars eat even more urchins than their adult counterparts.
With their square heads and antennae that look a bit like pointy ears, it makes sense why the catworms, or marine segmented worms in the family Nephtyidae, would be named after cats. But their antennae are more like a cat’s sensory whiskers than ears, allowing them to feel their way through the mud as they crawl and burrow. Nephtyids are strong diggers, and can even hold their own in the water, rapidly wiggling their smooth, pale bodies in order to swim.
The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring Program, initiated in 1989, is one component of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program, a collaborative effort dedicated to monitoring environmental conditions in Puget Sound. The Marine Sediment Monitoring Team collects sediments from the bottom of Puget Sound twice a year and tests them to determine their physical, chemical, and biogeochemical characteristics; and to determine the condition of the invertebrate communities that live in them. They report their findings in agency reports and story maps, and in Eyes Under Puget Sound (EUPS) blog posts.
A pilot project to create a 'living dike' in Canada's Boundary Bay is designed to help a saltwater marsh survive rising waters due to climate change.
The winter was cold and wet, resulting in a good snowpack in the mountains to sustain river flows into summer. In Puget Sound, saltier waters in summer transitioned to fresher conditions by fall 2021. Water temperatures in late winter 2022 are now colder and oxygen levels are high. From the air, Puget Sound looks spectacular, with few events to report. First signs of the spring bloom were visible in protected bays and passes. Port Susan and Carr Inlet already show sizable patches of drifting organic material. Small jellyfish patches were present in Eld Inlet.
The tenth annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview looks at marine water quality and other conditions in the region in 2020. According to the report, there were few extreme weather or ecological events in 2020, but overall, conditions in Puget Sound were generally warmer, sunnier, and wetter than in typical years. The overview also examines patterns and trends in numerous environmental parameters, including plankton, water quality, climate, and marine life.
Bug seeding involves moving beneficial insects and other aquatic invertebrates from healthy streams to streams where these creatures are missing from the food web.
This summer river flows were generally lower than in 2020. And in August, high air temperatures and low precipitation continued, following a drought emergency declaration in mid-July that affected also marine conditions. The higher-than-normal salinity anomaly which persisted during summer in Puget Sound marine water is, however, eroding away, and lower-than-normal oxygen conditions developed in Central Sound in the month of August. Many blooms and organic material were reported by citizens throughout summer, and by September many colorful blooms in bays across the region continue to be active. Patches of macro-algae and organic debris are still numerous in South and Central Sound and in Padilla Bay. Jellyfish are occurring in unusual places. While we document water quality issues, we are also showcasing the natural beauty of Puget Sound through photography.
A 2021 report commissioned by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources identifies potential actions at the state or local level, or in combination, that could further bolster shellfish bed recovery in support of the Puget Sound Partnership's shellfish bed recovery target.
We are in a weakening La Niña, coastal downwelling has lessened and we are getting out of a cold and wet stretch, hurray. In March, rivers have almost returned to normal and carry clear water. It’s a good time to go diving if you don’t mind cold water. The productive season has only started in some places and patches of jellyfish are visible. Have a look at this edition and marvel about the secrets of the dead, or mysterious sediment clouds and the oil sheen spotted near Lummi Bay.
The Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (B-IBI) Implementation Strategy is designed to improve freshwater quality by analyzing the health and diversity of invertebrate populations in Puget Sound area streams.
Rivers are flowing higher than normal since 2020. Winter weather has been warmer and wetter. In marine waters, temperatures have become too cool for Northern Pacific anchovies to tolerate in North Sound. From patches of jellyfish and snow geese, to sediment and early blooms, there is more happening in the winter than you might expect. Puget Sound has many species worth showcasing such as the heart crab – a shy critter that wears its heart on its shell.
After a relatively warm summer and fall, and La Niña forming in the tropics, stream flows in the Puget Sound region are now relatively normal. Summer in Puget Sound produced lots of algal and organic material in the water and on beaches, which by October have disappeared. Kelp beds look strong in northern Puget Sound and the Straits; and the harvest of the annual chum salmon run is in full swing in Hood Canal. Jellyfish aggregations are visible in Budd and Sinclair Inlets — and some of the jellyfish might conceal a beast of another kind within. Oil sheens on the water are currently numerous.
Many creeks and waterbodies in Puget Sound may look pristine, but most face serious threats from stormwater pollution. A new study at Soos Creek shows how mud-dwelling bugs, traditional chemistry and digital "heatmaps" can be used to track stormwater impacts and identify the most polluted areas. Scientists and planners hope that this may one day lower the price tag on costly stormwater fixes.
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.
The pinto abalone was a popular sport catch for divers in the Salish Sea until its numbers plummeted to near extinction. Now, the delicious marine snail is on the endangered species list and the focus of an ambitious hatchery and replanting program. A broad coalition of partners has released more than 20,000 young pintos into the wild with the hope that the population will start to rebound.
The state's stay-at-home order has halted much of the field research that would normally be underway in Puget Sound this spring, but a small group of scientists and volunteers have been able to continue their search for an invading marauder along the shoreline. Their work has been classified as critical by the state.
The Pathogens Prevention Reduction and Control agreement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Health focuses on the prevention and reduction of pathogen pollution in Puget Sound through the management of human and animal waste. The primary objectives of the agreement include restoring shellfish growing areas, avoiding shellfish closures, and protecting people from disease.
After a wet January, precipitation has been low and air temperatures have been cooler. As a result, rivers gages are lower than expected, a pattern that has continued since last year. In March we approached the coldest water temperatures of the year. Herring are spawning in Port Madison. Although these cool temperatures are good for herring, temperatures are close to the survival limits for anchovies. If you can handle these temperatures, now is a good time to go diving to benefit of good underwater visibility, just avoid windy days near wave-exposed beaches. If you are lucky, you might see the kelp humpback shrimp, a master of camouflage.
The geoduck has earned an honored place as Puget Sound's largest and most distinctive native clam, but how much do we really know about it? Often seen as a culinary curiosity, the geoduck has only been commercially harvested on a large scale since the 1970s, and the clam's current popularity is based mostly on demand from Asian markets. Nevertheless, this deep-burrowing mollusk has always been a signature part of the Salish Sea ecosystem.
High levels of mercury and other toxic chemicals are showing up in seemingly remote and pristine parts of the Puget Sound watershed, the result of atmospheric deposition. Scientists talk about a “dome” of pollution hanging over urban areas, leading to a never-ending cycle of persistent compounds working their way through the air, onto the land and into the water.
Last summer, scientists met at the University of Washington to address alarming findings concerning the rapid acidification of the world's oceans. Experts at that symposium warned that wildlife in the Salish Sea, from salmon to shellfish, may start to see significant effects from changing water chemistry within the next 10 to 20 years. This article summarizes the symposium's key findings and was commissioned and edited by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center which hosted the gathering. Funds for the article were provided by the Washington state legislature. [A version of this article was originally published by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center.]
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program says climate change altered the base of Puget Sound's food web in 2018, diminishing microscopic phytoplankton necessary for marine life. Scientists also observed lower abundances of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.
A broad collaboration of volunteers, agencies, and tribes are working together to keep invasive European green crabs at bay in Washington state. This story map was produced by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the Puget Sound Institute in collaboration with the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team.
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.
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.
The survival of hatchery‐origin pinto abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana released into Washington waters
In Washington State, the pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) has declined by 97 percent since 1992 and is unlikely to recover without intervention. A captive rearing and restocking pilot study shows promise for saving wild populations from local extinction.
Disease epidemic and a marine heat wave are associated with the continental-scale collapse of a pivotal predator (Pycnopodia helianthoides)
The sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides) is highly susceptible to sea star wasting disease. The authors of a 2019 paper published in Science Advances document the rapid, widespread decline of sunflower stars and discuss the ecological implications of losing this important subtidal predator species.
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.
There are more than a half dozen species of skeleton shrimp in Puget Sound. The Washington State Department of Ecology profiles this unusual crustacean in its Eyes Under Puget Sound series.
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.
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.
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.
Sediment Quality in Puget Sound: Changes in chemical contaminants and invertebrate communities at 10 sentinel stations, 1989–2015
A 2018 report from the Washington State Department of Ecology presents results from 27 years of sampling sediments and benthic invertebrates at 10 long-term stations throughout the greater Puget Sound area every year from 1989 through 2015.
The Washington Marine Resources Advisory Council has released an addendum to the 2012 report Ocean Acidification: From Knowledge to Action. The original report established a statewide strategy for addressing ocean acidification in Washington. The addendum identifies updates based on emerging science and management practices and is intended to be a companion to the 2012 report.
The Orange Sea Pen, also called the Fleshy Sea Pen or Gurney’s Sea Pen, resembles a colorful autumn tree waving in the “breeze” of moving water currents. Article courtesy of the Washington Department of Ecology's Eyes Under Puget Sound series.
A 2017 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.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is an independent program established by state and federal statute to monitor environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
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.
A study in the journal PLOS ONE uses volunteer diver surveys to assess the impacts of sea star wasting disease in the Salish Sea. Data shows that sunflower sea stars were especially hard hit and have all but disappeared from the region.
Scientists are testing ways to use transplanted shellfish such as mussels to monitor toxic contaminants 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.
Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.
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 growing number of species of concern in the Salish Sea suggests ecosystem decay is outpacing recovery
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.
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.
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.'
The genus Sternaspis is comprised of sedentary invertebrates with short and thick anterior setae. The dumbbell worm (Sternaspis affinis) can be found on the West Coast of North America, from Alaska to the Gulf of California.
The Doto is a species of sea slug, also known as a nudibranch. It is a marine gastropod in the family Dotidae. This species was first discovered in British Columbia and has been reported as far south as Santa Barbara, California.
Priapula are a small phylum of small, worm-like animals found in Puget Sound. They occur in most seas, both tropical and polar, at a variety of depths, from shallow coastal waters to as far down as 7,200 meters.
Sea pens are marine cnidarians that belong to the order Pennatulacea. They are colonial organisms, composed of specialized polyps.
Lake Washington was heavily contaminated by untreated sewage until extensive pollution controls by the city of Seattle.
Impacts of anthropogenic noise on marine life: Publication patterns, new discoveries, and future directions in research and management
A 2015 review in Ocean & Coastal Management looks at trends in research related to anthropogenic noise and its affect on a wide variety of marine organisms, from whales and fish to invertebrates. The review includes case studies from the Salish Sea.
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.
The Puget Sound Fact Book brings together statistics and other information about the health and makeup of the Puget Sound ecosystem. Areas of focus include climate change, geography, water quality, habitats, human dimensions and regional species. The fact book was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Puget Sound Partnership.
A report from NOAA and the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program provides an overview of 2014 marine water quality and conditions in Puget Sound from comprehensive monitoring and observing programs.
The Puget Sound Update is a technical report that integrates results of PSAMP and other scientific activities in Puget Sound focused on marine life and nearshore habitat, marine and freshwater quality, and toxic contamination.
A 2015 paper in the journal Ecological Economics evaluated “personal use” and subsistence use of seafood among commercial operators in Washington and California, as well as the extent, range, and species diversity of noncommercial wild ocean seafood subsistence harvests.
Enhancement and standardization of benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring and analysis tools for the Puget Sound region
With funding from an EPA grant from 2010-2014, King County worked with regional partners and experts to enhance data analysis tools and encourage collaboration and standardization for benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring in the Puget Sound region.
Forty years of change in forage fish and jellyfish abundance across greater Puget Sound, Washington (USA): anthropogenic and climate associations
A 2015 paper in the Marine Ecology Press Series reports a trend toward more jellyfish and less of some forage fish species in Puget Sound. The paper analyzes more than 40 years of state data, and assesses potential human causes for the shift.
A 2015 paper in Oikos Journal examines the impacts of great blue heron predation on species diversity in eelgrass meadows in British Columbia.
A 2014 Washington State Department of Ecology report provides a taxonomic guide for Puget Sound sediment-dwelling invertebrates (benthos). Surveys of these species are used to monitor the health of the foodweb, as well as levels of toxic contaminants in the seafloor.
A 2014 report by the Kitsap Public Heath District describes the goals and achievements of the Shellfish Restoration and Protection Project including: increasing harvestable shellfish growing areas, establishing a routine shoreline monitoring program, improving water quality, and increasing education of water quality and shellfish protection.
A 2005 report from the Washington Sea Grant Program describing the history and current state of native Olympia oysters including their ecology, history with human interactions, prefered habitat, and reestablishment efforts in the Puget Sound region.
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.
This 2006 technical report for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership describes how shellfish have high ecological, economical, cultural, recreational value, however human activity is threatening their existence by altering their native habitat with changes in land use, shoreline modifications, stormwater, sewage and industrial discharge.
Northwest Coast First Peoples made clam garden terraces to expand ideal clam habitat at tidal heights that provided optimal conditions for clam growth and survival, therefore enhancing food production and increasing food security.
A virus is the likely cause of sea-star die-offs on the Northeast Pacific Coast and in Puget Sound, according to a November 2014 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
A report from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department describes the results of a project to address threats to water quality in Pierce County, focusing on shellfish areas most at risk.
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.
A list of over 1800 benthic infaunal invertebrates is now available on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. The list was prepared as part of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring Program (MSMP). This program, initiated in 1989, is one component of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program, a collaborative effort dedicated to monitoring environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
Spatial and Temporal Variation in River Otter (Lontra canadensis) Diet and Predation on Rockfish (Genus Sebastes) in the San Juan Islands, Washington
A 2014 paper in the journal Aquatic Mammals examines coastal river otter predation on rockfish at three islands in the Salish Sea.
Approximately every two years, the SeaDoc Society prepares a list of species of concern within the Salish Sea ecosystem. The following paper found 119 species at risk and was presented as part of the proceedings of the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, April 30 – May 2, 2014, Seattle, Washington.
Several research groups in the region are investigating biological markers and/or impacts of Contaminant of Emerging Concern (CEC) exposure in different organisms. An abstract describing each study is included below. Also included are links or contact details for further information about each project.
A Washington State Department of Ecology report establishing benthic indicators for Puget Sound. Benthic macrofauna are known to be good indicators of the status of marine environments, and benthic indices are often used as an assessment tool.
A January 2014 USGS report discusses approaches for measuring the effect of bivalves on nutrient availability in different regions of Puget Sound.
A November 2013 literature review by Washingtom Sea Grant synthesizes the state of the science of geoduck clams and the potential environmental impacts of geoduck aquaculture in the Puget Sound region.
This paper examines the importance of prey size to shifting scoter populations in two bays in north Puget Sound.
A camera on board a remotely operated vehicle scans the floor of Puget Sound capturing digital video of underwater marine life. Selected clips of Plumose sea anemones, Pacific halibut, Pacific cod, Sea stars, and North Pacific spiny dogfish are now available for public viewing.
The Puget Sound Marine Waters 2012 Overview from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program synthesizes conditions measured in 2012 and has been expanded to include observations on seabirds that rely on marine waters. Read an excerpt below, or download the full report.
Sediment health in Central Puget Sound has shown a recent steep decline, according to a report by the Washington Department of Ecology. The report compares monitoring data over a ten-year period between 1998/1999 and 2008/2009.
Browse a collection of shellfish photos provided by the Swinomish Tribe.
With funding from the EPA (EPA Interagency Agreement DW-13-923276-01), scientists at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of Washington used a field and quantitative modeling ‘source-transport-fate’ assessment approach to classify the vulnerability of shellfish growing areas to closures caused by watershed and marine-derived pathogens. Based on the historical prevalence of nutrient pollution, shellfish closures, and phytoplankton blooms in commercial and recreational shellfish growing area, the project focused on three nearshore sites--the Hamma Hamma (WRIA 16), Dosewallips (WRIA 16) and Samish (WRIA 3).
Extended abstract— Poisoning the body to nourish the soul: Prioritising health risks and impacts in a Native American community
This is an extended abstract of Poisoning the body to nourish the soul: Prioritising health risks and impacts in a Native American community by Jamie L. Donatuto, Terre A. Satterfield and Robin Gregory. The full article was published in Health, Risk & Society, Vol. 13, No. 2, April 2011, 103–127. The extended abstract was prepared for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound by Jamie L. Donatuto.
This is the executive summary from a technical report produced for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership on Valued Ecosystem Components (VEC). The entire document is included as a PDF with this summary.
The following is an alphabetical list of marine invertebrates occurring in Puget Sound and adjacent regions. It is taken from the book Keys to the Marine Invertebrates of Puget Sound, the San Juan Archipelago, and Adjacent Regions by Eugene N. Kozloff. This list is provided with permission of the author.
The Encyclopedia of Puget Sound species library now includes a list of species of concern in the Salish Sea watershed. The list was created by Joe Gaydos and Jacqlynn Zier of the SeaDoc Society, and was released as a paper presented as part of the Proceedings of the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Vancouver, BC.
Recent worldwide increases in the abundance of some jellyfish have been associated with human-caused disturbances to the environment such as eutrophication, overfishing and climate warming.
Dungeness crabs are an important resource in Puget Sound for recreational, commercial, and tribal fisheries. They utilize a variety of habitats over the course of their lives, and are vulnerable to shifts in ocean temperature and water quality.
Pinto abalone are the only abalone species found in Washington State.
Many types of bivalves, both native and non-native, flourish in Puget Sound. These species are a crucial part of the Puget Sound ecosystem and are also important for commercial fisheries.
GIANT PACIFIC OCTOPUS (Enteroctopus dofleini) is the largest species of octopus in the world. It is found in the northern Pacific Ocean from the northwest coast of the continental United States to Japan, including Puget Sound.
The Puget Sound Marine Waters 2011 report is now available. The report was produced by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program and assesses the condition and quality of the waters of Puget Sound.
Puget Sound Stream Benthos is a data management project which monitors benthic invertebrates in streams and rivers in the Puget Sound region. The system is maintained and operated by King County and was the result of a joint effort between King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties.
Puget Sound hosts more than 100 species of seabirds, 200 species of fish, 15 marine mammal species, hundreds of plant species, and thousands of invertebrate species. These species do not exist in isolation, but rather interact with each other in a variety of ways: they eat and are eaten by each other; they serve as vectors of disease or toxins; they are parasitic; and they compete with each other for food, habitat, and other resources.
Many consumer organisms in Puget Sound are both herbivores and detritivores. Zooplankton and benthic invertebrates that are scavengers, herbivores, or detritivores are considered jointly in this article. Some of these organisms can be predatory as well. Hundreds of invertebrates and fish species have a planktonic larval stage that eats plants and occupies the nearshore and offshore pelagic waters of Puget Sound.
A variety of animals, including invertebrates, fish, mammals, and birds, consume the suspension-feeders, filter-feeders, grazers, and detritivores that serve as a link between the primary producers and detrital pathways and the upper levels of the food web.
Non-native species are those that do not naturally occur in an ecosystem. A non-native species is considered invasive when it is capable of aggressively establishing itself and causing environmental damage to an ecosystem. Plants, animals, and pathogens all can be invasive.