The Marine System encompasses all coastal areas not appreciably diluted by freshwater (surface salinities seldom falling below 30 ppt), including open coastal areas, straits, and euhaline inland waters. It can extend from the outer edge of the continental shelf to (1) the landward limit of tidal inundation or wave splash or (2) the seaward limit of the Estuarine System.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program has released its seventh annual Marine Waters Overview. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2017 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds and fish.
In July, the recent trends of warm, dry conditions lessened; however, river flows remain low. Extensive macroalgae drifted through South and Central Sound and washed up on beaches. Macroalgae growth is fueled by excessive nutrients and sunshine. When it washes onto the beach, it is called beach wrack, and it can be a health risk to beachgoers because of bacteria it can harbor. From our aerial photography, we saw that Southern Hood Canal looks tropical because of a bloom of coccolithophores coloring the water turquoise. Schools of fish congregate in South Sound and southern Hood Canal. Jellyfish are abundant in Quartermaster Harbor.
Pigeon guillemots have attracted relatively little scientific attention compared to other seabirds in Puget Sound. That may be because their population is generally stable, but a group of citizen scientists is helping to put guillemots on the conservation radar. They hope the birds can be used as an indicator of Puget Sound health.
A 2014 paper in the journal PLoS ONE examines differences between foraging behavior of harbor seals based on haulout site locations, seasons, sexes and times of day. The authors hypothesize that these factors may help explain the variability in diet among harbor seals observed at different haul-out site groups in the Salish Sea.
Warm and dry conditions this spring are predicted to persist into summer, resulting in saltier and warmer than normal Puget Sound water conditions. Early upwelling and a premature melt of the snowpack means nutrient-rich ocean water likely already entered Puget Sound. This sets the stage for a lot of biological activity. From the air, it is obvious that the productive season is in full swing. We saw large algae blooms in Central Sound along with abundant Noctiluca. Huge numbers of anchovies were documented in Case Inlet and other finger inlets in South Sound, attracting hundreds of marine mammals.
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.
Eight aquatic reserves, managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, have been established to protect important ecosystems on state aquatic lands.
In most reserves, area residents work with state, local and tribal officials and nonprofit groups to develop and carry out management plans, including scientific research.
The aquatic reserves in the order they were established include:
- Maury Island 2004
- Cypress Island 2007
- Fidalgo Bay 2008
- Cherry Point 2010
- Protection Island 2010
- Smith and Minor Islands 2010
- Nisqually Reach 2011
- Lake Kapowsin 2016
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.
Following a generally warmer and drier winter and then a cold spell in February, Puget Sound waters are cold for anchovies. The productive season is in full swing with algal blooms spotted in South Sound, Kitsap Peninsula, and Quartermaster Harbor. Jellyfish are abundant in some inlets, and Noctiluca stains the water orange in Hood Canal. We collect monthly data to keep you informed about the conditions around Puget Sound. Come into the lab and see how we assure the highest data quality from our field instruments!
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.
Although fall and winter were warm, February brought cold snowy weather and low river flows. Despite colder air temperatures, the productive season has already started in Hood Canal and Holmes Harbor. Puget Sound waters were warmer than expected through January, and the warmest waters were in Hood Canal, possibly creating a thermal refuge for cold-sensitive species such as anchovies. We saw lots of sea lions feasting on anchovies in Case Inlet, and we may have captured some herring spawning activity. Unusual for mid-winter, we saw jellyfish patches in Eld and Budd inlets. See the new publication about ocean acidification featuring twenty-five years of our marine monitoring data!
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.
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.
Sightings of southern resident killer whales in the Salish Sea 1976−2014: the importance of a long-term opportunistic dataset
A 2018 paper in the journal Endangered Species Research analyzes southern resident killer whale sightings in the Salish Sea between 1976 and 2014.
Pacific herring are a pelagic fish species found from northern Baja California to northern Honshu Island, Japan. They are found throughout the Puget Sound basin and are a mix of “resident” and “migratory” stocks.
New research shows that warmer and more acidic oceans could lead to shorter embryos and higher respiration in Pacific herring.
Scientists argue that herring managers should take a tip from stock market investors and diversify the population’s “portfolio.”
Policy pivot in Puget Sound: Lessons learned from marine protected areas and tribally-led estuarine restoration
A 2018 paper in the journal Ocean and Coastal Management examines and compares planning approaches used to develop marine protected areas and estuary restoration projects in Puget Sound. It finds that management policies can benefit from increasingly collaborative planning with a focus on multiple benefits such as flood control, salmon recovery, recreation and resilience to climate change.
During June, near normal air temperatures and continued low precipitation have resulted in highly variable freshwater inputs to Puget Sound. A large Noctiluca bloom extends across the South Central Basin of Puget Sound. Coccolithophores are blooming in Hood Canal. Macroalgae is drifting as mats on the water in Port Madison, South Central Basin, and South Sound. They are also piling up on beaches in South and Central Puget Sound and Whidbey Basin. Juvenile fish are migrating out of the estuaries and meeting a complex thermal habitat. New infrared images tell the story. Meet our ocean acidification expert, Stephen Gonski.
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.
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.
Kelps are large seaweeds in the order Laminariales that form dense canopies in temperate rocky intertidal and subtidal habitats less than 30 m in depth. The kelp flora of the Pacific Northwest is one of the most diverse in the world.
Under the federal Clean Water Act, states are required to assess the quality of their surface waters and compile a list of polluted water bodies. The law mandates cleanup plans to address pollution and other water-quality problems. This article describes how this process works in Washington state for dissolved oxygen.
Daily and annual habitat use and habitat-to-habitat movement by Glaucous-winged Gulls at Protection Island, Washington
A 2017 paper in the journal Northwestern Naturalist looks at distribution patterns for Glaucous-winged Gulls across associated habitats in the Salish Sea.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program has released its sixth annual Marine Waters Overview. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2016 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds and fish.
A 2017 paper in the journal Aquatic Mammals reports that harbor seals in the Salish Sea are less concerned about predators when they become habituated to humans.
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 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.
The Salish Sea Model is used to predict spatial and temporal patterns in the Salish Sea related to factors such as phytoplankton, nutrients and Dissolved Oxygen. It is a collaborative effort between the Pacific Northwest National Lab, the Washington State Department of Ecology and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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.
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.
A biennial report produced by the Governor's Salmon Recovery Office provides stories and data about salmon, habitat, and salmon recovery in Washington, including Puget Sound.
The marine habitat of Puget Sound can be divided up into nearshore, benthic (associated with the sea floor), and pelagic (open water) habitats. This article focuses on the pelagic habitat within the Puget Sound. This article was prepared as part of the 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book produced by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute.
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.
A 2017 article in the online journal Authorea reports that a comparatively small portion of ships produce much of the ocean's underwater noise.
Vessel traffic is increasing in the Puget Sound region. A 2017 article in the journal Aquatic Mammals looks at the potential impacts that increasing vessel disturbance may have on resident harbor seal populations and how future management decisions may need to look at variable buffer zones related to level of human activity.
The Puget Sound ecosystem is shaped by its physical environment. This article looks at Puget Sound's geologic history as well as dynamic factors such as the flow of its rivers and currents.
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.
A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of key products, results, and recommendations presented in three previous reports reviewing 50 projects from the first four years of the Puget Sound Marine and Nearshore Grant Program.
A September 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 27 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program. The report is an analysis of findings on shoreline restoration and derelict net and fishing gear removal.
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.
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.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released its fifth annual Marine Waters Overview this week. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2015 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds, fish and marine mammals.
Sand lance in parts of British Columbia are ingesting small pieces of plastic that may be passed through the food web.
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."
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.
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.
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.
A July 2016 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 10 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program. The report is an analysis of findings on invasive species, toxics, oil spill, and integrated risk assessment.
Formerly known as “Red Tide”, harmful algal blooms are a health concern for both wildlife and humans. The following is a brief review of some of these algae and their effects.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Researchers are studying how persistent pollutants such as PCBs avoid settling to the bottom of Puget Sound. This article continues our coverage of new theories on the spread of toxic chemicals in the food web.
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.
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.
A 2016 technical report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Cascadia Research Collective details the decline of the harbor porpoise in Puget Sound in the 1970s and reports that species numbers have increased over the past twenty years likely due to outside immigration.
A 2016 paper in Environmental Pollution identifies dozens of pharmaceuticals and other compounds that are accumulating in Puget Sound fish such as salmon.
An algal bloom is a rapid increase or accumulation in the population of algae in a water system. While most are innocuous, there are a small number of algae species that produce harmful toxins to humans and animals.
A 2016 paper in the journal Oecologia describes how individual herring populations in Puget Sound exhibit a portfolio effect, collectively influencing and stabilizing the region’s population as a whole.
Complex physical processes such as hydrology, nutrient cycling, and sediment transport are linked to water circulation patterns in Puget Sound.
This overview discusses the processes that control ocean and climate characteristics. Topics include atmospheric forcing, precipitation patterns, oscillation trends, coastal upwelling, and climate change.
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.
This article describes the first known case of conjoined twins in a harbor seal. The case was documented in the Salish Sea region where harbor seals are often used as indicators of contaminant levels. However, researchers say their findings do not support that this anomaly was due to any common contaminants and hypothesize that the twinning was caused by disordered embryo migration and fusion.
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.
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.
Evaluating threats in multinational marine ecosystems: A Coast Salish first nations and tribal perspective
A 2015 paper in the journal PLoS ONE identifies ongoing and proposed energy-related development projects that will increase marine vessel traffic in the Salish Sea. It evaluates the threats each project poses to natural resources important to Coast Salish first nations and tribes.
A 2015 report from the Whatcom Conservation District and Whatcom County describes a pilot watershed characterization study focusing on the Terrell Creek and Birch Bay areas. The report and related appendices are available for download.
A 2015 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute summarizes and reviews 14 EPA-funded projects focusing on Puget Sound's marine and nearshore environments. The projects were conducted between 2011-2015 with support from the EPA's National Estuary Program.
A 2015 report from the University of Washington provides the most comprehensive assessment to date of the expected impacts of climate change on the Puget Sound region.
The Lower Duwamish Waterway in Puget Sound was designated a Superfund cleanup site in 2001. Its legacy of contamination predates World War II and the waterway continues to pollute Puget Sound through stormwater runoff.
The 2015 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 2015 NOAA report creates an updated and comprehensive list of the fishes of the Salish Sea.
In the 1940s, harbor porpoise were among the most frequently sighted cetaceans in Puget Sound, but by the early 1970s they had all but disappeared from local waters. Their numbers have since increased, but they remain a Species of Concern in the state of Washington. This in-depth profile looks at harbor porpoise in the Salish Sea, and was prepared by the SeaDoc Society for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Puget Sound is the second largest estuary in the United States. Today, we understand that estuaries—where freshwater and saltwater merge—are among the most productive places for life to exist.
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.
This report documents how Washingtonians have responded to the challenges of protecting and restoring salmon and steelhead to healthy status. It also serves as a tool to summarize achievements, track salmon recovery progress through common indicators, and identify data gaps that need to be filled.
A 2015 article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology presents additional isotopic evidence that glaucus-winged gulls in the Salish Sea are shifting their diets from marine to terrestrial sources due to human impacts. Scientists hypothesize that declining forage fish may be the cause.
Increased harbor porpoise mortality in the Pacific Northwest, USA: understanding when higher levels may be normal
A 2015 paper in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms examines potential causes of increased harbor porpoise strandings in Washington and Oregon.
This report, Priority science for restoring and protecting Puget Sound: a Biennial Science Work Plan for 2011-2013, identifies priority science and monitoring questions needed to coordinate and implement effective recovery and protection strategies for Puget Sound.
State of the physical, biological and selected fishery resources of Pacific Canadian marine ecosystems in 2014
An annual State of the Pacific Ocean meeting is held to review the physical, biological and selected fishery resources and present the results of the most recent year’s monitoring in the context of previous observations and expected future conditions. The workshop to review conditions during 2014 took place at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, Sidney, B.C. on March 10 and 11, 2015, with over 100 participants both in person and via webinar.
Salmon recovery demands both dedication among people with different interests, and sustained resources. This biennial report tells the story of the progress made to date and the challenges ahead.
Sound Science: Synthesizing Ecological and Socio-economic Information about the Puget Sound Ecosystem summarizes what we know about the greater Puget Sound ecosystem and what we think could happen in the future given present trajectories and trends.
The 2011 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference was held October 25 to 27 at the Sheraton Wall Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia. This event brought together a diverse group of government officials, community leaders, First Nations and tribal members, environmental managers, scientists and academics to learn from each other about the state and threats to the shared ecosystem. Over 950 delegates attended.
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.
With its striking plumage and brilliant orange bill, the Tufted Puffin is an iconic seabird well known to native peoples, fishermen, and coastal communities throughout its range in the temperate and sub-arctic North Pacific. Though pelagic in winter, puffins gather on islands and headlands during spring and summer to breed and raise their young. They are members of the auk family, with stocky bodies adapted to “flying” underwater as they dive in pursuit of a wide range of fish and invertebrate prey. Nesting Tufted Puffins range up to 100 km from their breeding colonies to forage for their nestlings, and are famed for carrying 20 or more small fish at one time, neatly lined up and carried crosswise in their large, brightly colored bills.
A 2015 paper in the journal Limnology and Oceanography presents new data on ocean acidification in the Salish Sea.
Hypoxia, defined as dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations less than 2 mg / L, has become widespread throughout estuaries and semi-enclosed seas throughout the world (Diaz 2001).
Scientists say low marine survival rates threaten Puget Sound coho salmon populations. A 2015 article in the journal Marine and Coastal Fisheries reports that wild cohos in the Salish Sea had higher smolt survival rates over a 30 year period than hatchery coho salmon. Smolt survival in the Strait of Georgia during that time declined faster than it did in Puget Sound.
A December 2014 report from the University of Washington examines when and where climate change impacts will occur in the Puget Sound watershed.
When and where will we see the impacts of climate change in Puget Sound? A web-based tool factors in dozens of site-specific variables for watersheds throughout the Pacific Northwest. The resource was developed by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group with support from the EPA, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Center for Data Science, University of Washington-Tacoma.
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 report from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reviews information relevant to the status of the tufted puffin in Washington and addresses factors affecting this status.
Foraging differences between male and female harbor seals present challenges for fisheries management
A 2015 article published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series identifies intraspecific differences in diet between harbor seals in the Salish Sea, suggesting implications for marine reserve management.
A 2015 report from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources summarizes the status and trends for native eelgrass and other seagrasses in Puget Sound from 2010-2013.
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.
This paper summarizes a 2014 report ranking the greatest human-caused threats to the Puget Sound ecosystem.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP), along with partners from the US EPA Columbia River Program and USGS Oregon Water Science Center, have developed a framework for prioritizing monitoring of Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in the Pacific Northwest.
Living in the fast lane: rapid development of the locomotor muscle in immature harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena)
A study in the Journal of Comparative Physiology shows that muscle development necessary for diving can take several years to mature in harbor porpoises. Scientists argue that this may make immature harbor porpoises more vulnerable than adults to impacts from boat traffic or other disturbances.
A 2015 paper presented to the International Whaling Commission compares the impacts of kayaks and powerboats on killer whale populations.
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.
Population structure and intergeneric hybridization in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena in British Columbia, Canada
A 2014 paper in Endangered Species Research suggests that harbour porpoises inhabiting coastal waters of southern British Columbia constitute a single genetic population, which should be reflected in management decisions.
Development of a stormwater retrofit plan for Water Resources Inventory Area (WRIA) 9: Comprehensive needs and cost assessment and extrapolation to Puget Sound
A 2014 King County report projects the capital and maintenance costs of the stormwater treatment facilities that would be needed, within WRIA 9 and the Puget Sound region, to fully comply with the Clean Water Act.
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.
A December 2014 paper in the journal Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management describes a project to identify transboundary ecosystem indicators for the Salish Sea.
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.
Ecological effect of a nonnative seagrass spreading in the Northeast Pacific: A review of Zostera japonica
A 2014 literature review in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management suggests negative effects of nonnative eelgrass on the native species.
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.
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.
A 2014 paper decribes how monitoring the energy density of key Pacific salmon species could affect the recovery of northern and southern killer whales through fisheries management.
Birds that dive for fish while wintering in the Salish Sea are more likely to be in decline than nondiving birds with less specialized diets, according to a 2014 study led by the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. The study, published in the journal Conservation Biology proposes that long-term changes in the availability of forage fish are pushing the declines.
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.
State of the physical, biological and selected fishery resources of Pacific Canadian marine ecosystems in 2013
A summary of environmental conditions in Pacific Canadian Waters and the broader North East Pacific in 2013.
A report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program provides an overview of 2013 marine water quality and conditions in Puget Sound from comprehensive monitoring and observing programs.
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.
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.
Age, region, and temporal patterns of trace elements measured in stranded harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) from Washington inland waters
A 2014 article in the journal Northwestern Naturalist shows how Harbor Seal tissues can reflect regional and temporal trends in contaminants in Puget Sound.
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.
A 2014 report describes a research and monitoring study of Pigeon Guillemot conducted in and near the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.
A study published in the journal Coastal Management generates a broad description of the collaborative network among marine and nearshore researchers in Puget Sound and identifies incentives and barriers to collaboration.
The July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound ecosystem recovery. Articles range from political ecology to the development of human wellbeing indicators and directly address current Puget Sound restoration efforts. Guest editors include Encyclopedia of Puget Sound topic editor Kelly Biedenweg and Puget Sound Science Panel co-chair Katharine Wellman. The journal is co-edited by Patrick Christie of our editorial board. Extended abstracts of the articles will be available on these pages in coming weeks.
Harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) are the most commonly seen marine mammals in the Salish Sea and can be found throughout the region year round. They have been intensively studied within the Salish Sea and this species profile provides an overview of what is known about them. It was produced for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound by the SeaDoc Society.
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 studies have been performed to determine the occurrence of selected Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) in the environment.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been present in Puget Sound since the early 1900s, although most were established after the 1960s (Whitesell et al. 2008, Van Cleve 2009). By 1998 there were at least 102 intertidal and subtidal protected areas in Puget Sound, created and managed by at least 12 different agencies or organizations at the local, county, State and Federal level (Murray and Ferguson 1998).
Although overall eelgrass abundance appears to be stable in Puget Sound, some local areas are showing declines. A 2014 report from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources looks at the potential impact of increased nitrogen on eelgrass health.
The Puget Sound Model was designed and built by the University of Washington School of Oceanography in the early 1950s to simulate the tides and currents of Puget Sound. A series of videos produced by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound describes its construction and operation.
Thousands of different compounds are produced and used as part of our daily lives. Examples include pharmaceuticals (NSAIDs, birth control pills, etc), personal care products (sun screen agents, scents, preservatives, etc), food additives (artificial sweeteners) and compounds used in industrial and commercial applications (flame retardants, antibiotics, etc). Advances in analytical methods have allowed the detection of many of these compounds in the environment.
A 2014 report describes a study of socio-cultural values associated with blueback salmon in the Quinault Indian Nation. The blueback salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is a unique strain of sockeye that returns primarily to the Quinault river system.
Seasonal Carbonate Chemistry Covariation with Temperature, Oxygen, and Salinity in a Fjord Estuary: Implications for the Design of Ocean Acidification Experiments
A 2014 paper in the journal PloS One analyzes a large carbonate chemistry data set from Puget Sound as a basis for identifying control conditions in ocean acidification experiments for the region.
Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) are one of the most frequently sighted cetaceans in the Salish Sea. Anecdotal information, possibly supported with stranding encounter rate data, suggests that harbor porpoise may have increased in Puget Sound, or have shifted their distribution back to Puget Sound relative to earlier decades.
Harbor porpoises were once common in Puget Sound, but had all but disappeared from local waters by the 1970s. Regular and numerous anecdotal sightings in recent years show that populations of these cetaceans are now increasing and may be approaching their former status. The attached document from NOAA Fisheries describes harbor porpoise numbers and their geographic range in Puget Sound as of 2011.
Scientists have identified the strong underwater currents of Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet as a potential source of electricity for nearby utilities. The following article describes some of the basic principles and mechanisms of tidal energy.
The Puget Sound Model was designed and built in the early 1950s at the University of Washington School of Oceanography as a research and teaching tool for understanding Puget Sound circulation patterns. The following text was written by Puget Sound Model co-creator John H. Lincoln (1915-2001) and is provided courtesy of the University of Washington School of Oceanography.
A 2014 paper in the journal Water Research sheds new light on a novel ‘in place’ treatment option that effectively lowers risk by reducing the activity of PCBs in sediment.
The Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orca Network are two citizen science projects dedicated to furthering our understanding of abundance, distribution, behavior, and habitat use by the endangered population of Southern Resident Killer Whales, also called orcas. The Hydrophone Network lets the public listen for orcas through their computers and phones, while the Orca Network gathers and disseminates sightings of orcas as they move between Puget Sound, the Fraser River, and the Pacific Ocean.
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 December 2013 report identifies marine and terrestrial bird species for use as indicators within the Puget Sound Partnership's "Vital Signs" for ecosystem health.
Ecological assessments (sometimes referred to as "conservation assessments") typically identify and evaluate the ecological attributes of an ecosystem. There is no single type of ecological assessment, but the following list includes an informal inventory of related efforts in the Salish Sea. This list does not include Ecological or Environmental Impact Assessments, which are targeted to specific land uses. This is a living document and will be updated as more information becomes available and as needs arise.
Making science useful in complex political and legal arenas: A case for frontloading science in anticipation of environmental changes to support natural resource laws and policies
A December 2013 report by the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group projects wide reaching change for the Puget Sound ecosystem and the Pacific Northwest. Lead author: Encyclopedia of Puget Sound climate change topic editor Amy Snover.
In December 2013 NOAA released what it classifies as a "Highly Influential Scientific Assessment" of the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammals. The comment period on the draft assessment extends until March 13, 2014.
Forage fish represent a critical link in the Puget Sound food web and help to sustain key species like salmon, marine mammals and sea birds. But the region’s forage fish may be vulnerable on a variety of fronts, according to a new study panel report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute. Download the panel's summary and proposed research plan.
A 2013 article in the journal Animal Conservation compares the effects of increasing anthropogenic noise to habitat loss for endangered fin, humpback and killer whales in the Salish Sea.
An October 2013 report released by the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program inventories and assesses monitoring activities of Puget Sound's ESA-listed salmon and steelhead stocks and habitats.
Extended abstract: Ecological response and physical stability of habitat enhancements along an urban armored shoreline
This paper describes a multi-year effort testing whether shoreline enhancements at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle have improved conditions for fish and invertebrates as compared to armored shorelines.
This paper discusses the dietary habits of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) in two estuaries in Puget Sound.
Potential effects of the interaction between marine mammals and tidal turbines – an engineering and biomechanical analysis
A paper presented at the European Wave and Tidal Energy Conference in Aalborg, Denmark describes the potential effects of a tidal turbine strike on an endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale in Puget Sound (SRKW). A tidal turbine is proposed for deployment in Admiralty Inlet in Island County.
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.
This page includes documents and links related to the status of Steller Sea Lion in Washington state and the Salish Sea region.
Download presentations from the Study Panel on Ecosystem-based Management of Forage Fish held August 25, 2013 at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Lab, San Juan Island.
Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are underwater robotic vehicles used for a variety of ocean surveys and operations. Both are used for deep-sea observation, mapping of underwater environments, and surveys of biodiversity and water quality trends. While ROVs are tethered to the user by a cord called the umbilical, which provides power as well as control and video signals, AUVs are programmed for a specific course and then set loose, operating without a tether.
Proposed designation of critical habitat for the distinct population segments of Yelloweye Rockfish, Canary Rockfish, and Bocaccio
The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a Draft Biological Report proposing designation of critical habitat for yelloweye rockfish, canary rockfish, and bocaccio in the Salish Sea. Download the full report and supporting data.
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.
The audio files below are excerpts from a May 2013 interview with Donald Malins, former Director of the Environmental Conservation Division of NOAA Fisheries. Research by Malins and his colleagues in the 1970s and mid-1980s revealed high levels of industrial toxics in sediment-dwelling fish in Puget Sound, leading to the creation of Superfund sites in the Duwamish Estuary and Commencement Bay. Read a full profile of Donald Malins. The interview was conducted by Richard Strickland and Randy Shuman in cooperation with the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound as part of the Puget Sound Voices series. Additional assistance was provided by Jake Strickland.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 10 and the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Region have released a report describing results from a series of technical workgroups about the potential effects of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) on Puget Sound and Southern Resident killer whales.
In the 1970s and 1980s, research from a division of NOAA's Montlake Lab suddenly and irreversibly changed the way scientists and the public viewed the health of Puget Sound. Their discoveries of industrial toxics in the region's sediment-dwelling fish led to the creation of two Superfund sites, and new approaches to ecosystem management across the Sound. The man at the forefront of this research was Dr. Donald Malins, featured here as part of the Puget Sound Voices series.
Paper: Shifts in the estuarine demersal fish community after a fishery closure in Puget Sound, Washington
This paper looks at 21 years of data on estuarine demersal fish in Puget Sound, assessing changes in population after the closure of bottom trawl fisheries.
Paper: Citizen science reveals an extensive shift in the winter distribution of migratory Western Grebes
A June 19, 2013 paper in the journal PLoS ONE hypothesizes that regional declines in Western Grebe populations may be related to decreasing numbers of forage fish. Using citizen science data from 36 years of bird counts, researchers were able to look at population trends up and down the entire West Coast, finding that abundance of grebes decreased in the Salish Sea but increased in southern California. North American population declined by 52% overall.
Paper: Spatial and temporal analysis of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific Ocean and the benefits of a coordinated stranding response protocol
A new paper by Puget Sound area scientists from the SeaDoc Society and their collaborators represents the most complete summary to date of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific. The authors analyzed stranding records dating back to 1925, obtained from scientists worldwide, finding that very few whales are stranded (an average of ten a year over the last twenty years). However, most of those strandings result in death. Only 12% of stranded whales survive.
Once a month, Washington State Department of Ecology marine scientists take to the air to obtain high-resolution aerial photo observations and gather water data at the agency's monitoring stations and via state ferry transects. This provides a visual picture of the health of Puget Sound, which they call Eyes Over Puget Sound or EOPS.
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.
Vern Morgas remembers the early days of scuba diving in Puget Sound.
Seabird populations are declining worldwide. This paper looks at the impact of gillnets on bird populations.
This 2004 report looks at the status of Washington's four killer whale populations.
A master's thesis prepared at Western Washington University discusses the impact of harbor seals on fish stocks in the San Juan Islands, where the seals are a year-round predator.
Paper: A model approach for estimating colony size, trends and habitat associations of burrow-nesting seabirds
A paper in the May 2013 issue of The Condor [115(2):356–365, 2013] describes a repeatable and statistically robust approach to monitoring burrow nesting seabirds in the Salish Sea and the California Current that can be applied at single- or multi-island scales. The approach can be applied to both relatively common and important members of the seabird community like the Rhinoceros Auklet and to species of conservation concern like the Tufted Puffin.
A new Chinook monitoring framework is designed to build cooperation among managers and policymakers working across the Puget Sound watershed. The report, prepared by an independent team of scientists and released by NOAA, includes a regionally specific, common classification system for Chinook habitats and key ecological attributes.
Puget Sound Chinook Salmon recovery: a framework for the development of monitoring and adaptive management plans
The Puget Sound Recovery Implementation Technical Team has released a draft of a NOAA technical memorandum describing frameworks for adaptive management and monitoring of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Download the report.
Eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) is an aquatic flowering plant common in tidelands and shallow waters along much of Puget Sound’s shoreline. It is widely recognized for its important ecological functions, and provides habitat for many Puget Sound species such as herring, crab, shrimp, shellfish, waterfowl, and salmonids.
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.
Canadian and U.S. governments differ on special status for bocaccio in the Salish Sea.
Methods and Quality of VSP Monitoring Of ESA Listed Puget Sound Salmon and Steelhead: With Identified Critical Gaps 2012
A recent report by an independent science panel reviewed data on the effects of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whale populations. The report was released on November 30, 2012 and was commissioned by NOAA Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Harbor seal numbers were severely reduced in Puget Sound during the first half of the twentieth century by a state-financed population control program. This bounty program ceased in 1960, and in 1972, harbor seals became protected under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and by Washington State.
More than 70 bird species regularly utilize Puget Sound during some or all stages of their life histories, but only a portion of these are actively being investigated.
Fish in the family Salmonidae (salmon, trout, and charr) play potentially integral roles in the upland freshwater, nearshore and pelagic marine ecosystems and food webs of Puget Sound.
Approximately 28 species of rockfish are reported from Puget Sound, spanning a range of life-history types, habitats, and ecological niches.
Bentho-pelagic fish utilize both bottom habitats and shallower portions of the water column, often feeding in shallow water at night and moving to deeper water to form schools during the day.
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.
Sweetening the waters - the feasibility and efficacy of measures to protect Washington’s marine resources from ocean acidification
Washington State's ocean acidification initiative began with the launch of Governer Christine Gregoire's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification in December 2011. The initiative is the first of its kind in the country, and a report commissioned by the Global Ocean Health Program was released in November 2012. The report is a first step towards assessing and improving the tools at hand.
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 State of Our Watersheds Report is produced by the treaty tribes of western Washington, and seeks to present a comprehensive view of 20 watersheds in the Puget Sound region and the major issues that are impacting habitat.
Protection Island, a National Wildlife Refuge in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, provides important habitat for seabirds and marine mammals.
An independent review conducted by the Puget Sound Institute (PSI) is featured in findings by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology that there is currently “no compelling evidence” that humans are the cause for recent trends in declines in dissolved oxygen in Hood Canal.
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.
Audio recordings of rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island.
King County contains four major marine habitats: backshore, intertidal and shallow subtidal, deep subtidal, and riverine/sub-estuarine. Descriptions of each of these habitats and the types of flora and fauna associated with them are provided below.
They are sometimes called Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), or submersible drones. They glide like airships through the deeper channels of Puget Sound, and have become an important tool for a wide array of open ocean applications, including detection of marine mammals, military reconnaissance and the monitoring of environmental disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Puget Sound is the birthplace and key testing area of the Seaglider.
Fecal bacteria are found in the feces of humans and other homeothermic animals. They are monitored in recreational waters because they are good indicators of harmful pathogens that are more difficult to measure.
"Habitat" describes the physical and biological conditions that support a species or species assemblage and refers to conditions that exist at many scales. An oyster shell provides habitat for some algae and invertebrates, whereas cubic miles of sunlit water in Puget Sound comprise the habitat for many planktonic species.
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.