Category Archives: Stressors

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Terrific tides, a cruel crustacean and a smooth operator

Scout holds one of the many fried-egg jellies (Phacellophora camtschatica), large and small, that we found beached or at the water's edge. Photo: Jeff Adams
A girl scout holds one of the many fried-egg jellies (Phacellophora camtschatica), large and small, that we found beached or at the water’s edge. These don’t have a significant sting. However, the similarly sized, brick red lion’s mane jelly packs a nettle-like sting. Photo: Jeff Adams

Terrific Tides

The daytime minus tides that began on Thursday are the last of the lowest for 2013, so this week’s a great time to get out and explore. All tides below are for Seattle and can vary depending on where you go in the Salish Sea.

  • Saturday 7/20: -2.3@9:25am
  • Sunday 7/21: -2.9@10:15am
  • Monday 7/22: -3.1@11:03am
  • Tuesday 7/23: -2.8@11:50am
  • Wednesday 7/24: -2.1@12:37pm
  • Thursday 7/25: -1.1@1:23pm

The Kitsap Beach Naturalists will be sharing cool finds at Scenic Beach State Park Saturday (8:30-10:30), Fay Bainbridge Park Sunday (9-11), and at both Kitsap Memorial State Park and Lions Park (Lebo Blvd. in Bremerton) Monday (11-1).

I had the pleasure to end the work week by teaming up with the great Harbor WildWatch staff and volunteers to share sea life wonders with about 100 girl scouts, team leaders and some family members at Manchester State Park. We had a lot of lovely finds and a couple that really piqued my interest…

Shiner surfperch parasitized by a blood sucking copepod (Haemobaphes diceraus). Photo: Jeff Adams
Shiner perch parasitized by a blood sucking copepod (Haemobaphes diceraus). Photo: Jeff Adams

A cruel crustacean

Reactions to a dead shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata) were varied, particularly as we showed off the  evidence of parasites that may have hastened the perch’s demise. Turns out the poor fish’s body was home to a small coven of vampires!

Out from under each gill cover poked what looked like a pair of small Slinkys. A colleague who trained as a fish pathologist, informed us that the coils were the gonads of a parasitic female copepod called Haemobaphes diceraus.

Copepods are crustaceans, better known as abundant members of the microscopic animal plankton. Of course, in certain circles, their fame derives from Plankton, the tiny, one-eyed nemesis from SpongeBob SquarePants. Plankton was a reasonable depiction of typical copepods, which have teardrop bodies with a single eye and long antennae. Their parasitic cousins, however, wind up looking more like a bit of offal from the cleaning of the last catch.

Close up of the egg sacks from Haemobaphes diceraus. Photo: Jeff Adams
Close up of the pair of coiled egg sacks from the parasitic isopod, Haemobaphes diceraus. Photo: Jeff Adams

Haemobaphes diceraus has a long trunk that extends through the gill arch and directly into heart, where… it siphons off blood. It’s super cool creepiness even garnered the honor of Parasite of the Day in 2010.

Research from Nanaimo, British Columbia in the early 2000’s found that about 10% of shiner perch unwillingly hosted their personal blood sucker. Interestingly 97.9% of the infested fish they studied had only a single copepod inhabiting them. Our sad specimen sported two. Bummer.

Smooth operator

Beauty and grace combine on a bed of slime. Imagine shaping yourself to the ground as you move through your daily life. While halfway up the stairs, I’d be thinking “Oh yeah, I’m pretty cool.” (Then again, I’d be choking on dust and dog fur.) Alas we remain upright and rigid, but we can still enjoy watching a flatworm live the glide life.

Giant flatworm (Kaburakia excelsa) with it's spotted brown top side and branched digestive sacks on the bottom. Photo: Jeff Adams
Photo: Jeff Adams

While collecting for the touch tanks, Harbor WildWatch staff  found a beautiful giant flatworm (Kaburakia excelsa). Their typical home is under rocks, though you may find them on floats and docks and among masses of mussels. Since they can read 4″ long, these are the giants of the flatworm world and a bit tougher than their smaller cousins.

You can see the highly branched digestive sac in the picture of it’s underside. Though branched, the sack is made up of dead ends. After using an eversible throat to capturing an unfortunate victim, partially digested food is moved into the digestive sac. Since there’s no point B for the indigestible bits to leave the sac, poo must go out where the food came in. Yum.

Wandering the beach is an iconic part of the Salish Sea summer. Summer’s going fast, so explore a beach this week. Go slow. Be observant. There’s always some new bit of wonder tucked on a rock… or sticking grotesquely out of the side of a dead fish’s head!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Swollen seas and a Tolkien tide

A Tolkien tide
Having been a fan of Tolkien’s faerie tales since I was chasing squirrels in the oaks and hickories of the heartland, it’s no surprise I’m excited to see the Hobbit. My dear Alejandra even bought me a ticket to the opening show at our local theater. Of course, that requires staying awake!

If you too have any intention staying up for a midnight cinematic premier, mother nature will provide a premier low tide (-3.6’ish) to fill the “I really should be going to bed now” hours with “Ooo’s” and “Ahh’s” in the beam of your light. For most of the inland Salish Sea, the tide will be in minus territory any time after 9:pm and bottoms out around around 11:pm. It’ll probably be wet and chilly, so dress well and feel free to share what cool things you see through comments or by  contacting me directly.

The wrack or debris line over this parking area indicates the peak of especially high storm tide in early December 2012. Photo: Jeff Adams

Swollen seas
‘Tis the season for storm surges.

The week before Thanksgiving, I saw the 12′ predicted high tide lapping on the beach as I walked off a ferry to West Seattle. A stream babbled north under the dock, well above the tide and buffered by large wood and another few feet of gravel/sand beach.

I traveled the same path a week later, when the predicted high tide was actually a few inches lower. However, the storm tide had swamped the beach logs and stream both, lapping in the vegetation of the recently restored shoreline. Numerous logs with cut ends had rolled and floated out into the bay – an example of the sub-par services cut logs provide when compared to their rooted and branched brethren.

You may also recall the heavy rain before Thanksgiving. Along with that came the surge that I observed and that you can see in the graph below. The actual water levels (red) pushed almost 2 feet higher than the predicted level (blue). The green shows the difference between the two. When predictions hold, the green line stays on zero.

Air pressure and predicted and actual water levels during 2012’s pre-Thanksgiving storms. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov
Air pressure and predicted and actual water levels at The Battery Station, New York City, during Hurricane Sandy. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov

Heaping on the water
Tides are predicted based primarily on the locations of the Earth, Moon and Sun. Those astronomical or predicted tides are the numbers we see in our tide tables, apps or calendars. We have a great deal of certainty as to where the heavenly bodies will be at any given time in the future, but back on our corner of the blue planet, long-range weather details are largely unknown. Consequently, we have no long-range ability to factor storm surges into our tidal predictions.

Storms, caused by the collision of colder northern air and warmer southern air, set our Pacific waters in motion. The warm air rises, lowering the pressure the atmosphere applies to the ocean and allowing the ocean to swell. That pressure-driven surge is accompanied by some level of  wind-driven surge, as the rising warm air also fosters stronger winds that pile the water up on the coastline.

Since our region is spared tropical cyclones (we seem satisfied with earthquakes and volcanoes), our storm surges are mild compared to what everyone watched the East Coast suffer during Hurricane Sandy (right). Still, it’s not unusual for our waters to surge 1 or 2 feet higher than expected during stormy seas.

Our strongest storms often strike in the winter, when we also have some of our highest predicted tides (see and be part of WA DOE’s King Tide photo initiative). Add 20 inches of storm surge to an already high tide, then throw in some high wind and waves… repairs to shoreline properties, roads, and utilities often follow. Factor in potential effects of climate change (a few inches of sea level rise, more intense storms), and the issue of storm surge becomes an important consideration with regards to shoreline infrastructure. Oh, and that kayak that you didn’t bother to tie up because it was 2 vertical feet above the highest predicted tide… (ouch!)

Our highest tide. Highest recorded water level at the Seattle, Puget Sound station. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov

Tide fun courtesy of NOAA
If you enjoy exploring graphs and numbers, you can have some fun through NOAA’s Tides & Currents portal. You can even check out sea level changes over time and historical extremes. The “Seattle, Puget Sound” station’s highest recorded water level was in January 1983 at +14.48 (right). Not too bad considering our recent big surges were about +14. Certainly nothing compared to the extra 10 feet piled onto the east coast shorelines.

When you’re playing with the numbers and graphs, remember the -8hr conversion from GMT and a -7.94 feet conversion from the extremes section to make them comparable to what we’re used to seeing (based on mean lower low water [MLLW] as 0.0, instead of the station standard that’s 7.94 feet below MLLW).

Have fun exploring NOAA’s online tidal treasures and our last lowest tide of the year! And if you fall asleep at work or school tomorrow… you didn’t read this.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

Terrific tides, crab opener, and croaker care

Students and families at Scenic Beach State Park. Photo: Jeff Adams

Terrific tides
This morning was the first in a great set of minus tides.

  • 6/29, -0.4 at 7:43AM
  • 6/30, -1.6 at 8:36AM
  • 7/1, -2.5 at 9:27AM
  • 7/2, -3.1 at 10:16AM
  • 7/3, -3.4 at 11:03AM
  • 7/4, -3.2 at 11:50AM
  • 7/5, -2.7 at 12:35PM
  • 7/6, -1.7 at 1:20PM
  • 7/7, -0.5 at 2:04PM

Remember that these are predictions for Seattle and can vary depending on geography and weather. Should get you in the ballpark though. Kitsap Beach Naturalists will be on several beaches at different times over the next week if you can take advantage of the great critter stories they have to share.

Eagles know where to find midshipmen. The medium to large rocks such as those in this image often harbor midshipman during the summer. Poulsbo waterfront. Photo: Jeff Adams

When you head out to explore the beaches, keep a few things in mind to protect and respect those who call the beach home.

  • tread lightly and walk more than run (you stay safer and see more cool stuff when you’re walking anyway),
  • look around the edges of eelgrass and kelp beds instead of tramping through them,
  • explore mostly under rocks that are smaller than your head and return them to the way you found them,
  • refill any holes you dig, and
  • remember, shellfish license or not, it’s illegal to take most living sea creatures off the beach, including  shore crabs, hermit crabs, sea stars, sand dollars, snails, etc.
Midshipman eggs with the front half of daddy midshipman cryptically visible to the lower left of the eggs. Fort Ward. Photo: Jeff Adams

Midshipman (croakers)
In the big rock category, if you do turn over a large rock this time of year, you may find male plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus) guarding pea-sized yellow eggs that are attached to the underside of the rock. It’s a really cool thing to see, but over-handling of the fish and awkward replacement of a heavy rock may be tough on the fish and it’s progeny. If you do get a good look at one, maybe stick to the “rocks smaller than your head” rule and leave the rest of the large rocks be.

These amazing deeper water fish have light producing spots called photophores under their head to attract prey, and some seriously sharp teeth with which to munch them. Each late spring/summer, they rise up to the intertidal to stake out nests under large solid objects and make grunting noises to attract the ladies (the reason they’re sometimes called croakers).

Midshipman, nibbled on and left to dry. Poulsbo waterfront. Photo: Jeff Adams

Plainfin midshipman are important predators, but also fall prey to seals and sea lions and can be a very important part of eagles’ diet. It’s not unusual to find the bodies of eviscerated midshipman far from the shoreline, delivered there by an eagle or crow. They are also sometimes abundant bycatch in commercial shrimp trawls.

Crab season
For those of you who have been drooling for dungeness since Christmas… The recreational crab season opens this Sunday, July 1st, for much of Puget Sound and lasts until September 3rd. Blain/Bellingham/San Juans are the exceptions with a slightly later start and close to the season. You can only crab Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. I guess Tuesday and Wednesday is the crab weekend.

The large hard substrate that midshipman find isn't always limited to rocks. Silverdale Waterfront Park. Photo: Jeff Adams

You’re still measuring between where the outermost points meet the carapace. In Puget Sound, you’re looking for up to 5 male Dungeness that measure at least 6.25″, and up to 6 red rock crabs of either sex that are at least 5″. Make sure their shells are hard and that you record your Dungeness. For crab sexing, you can check out an earlier post, and for lots of great information including gear and regulations, see WDFW’s excellent recreational crab site.

Enjoy the holiday week and the excellent tides, and our intertidal treasures!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

“Ocean Frontiers”: Working together can really work!

Ocean Frontiers doesn’t have a dragonfly inspired alien or a mutant invasive snakehead fish (I love that stuff!), but it is an opportunity to see some inspiring examples of how stakeholders with very different interests can address issues in ocean conservation… to mutual benefit.

Ocean Frontiers logo courtesy of ocean-frontiers.org.

After a brief introduction, the case studies begin with an amazing effort in Boston Harbor to understand why ships and whales are having unfortunate encounters. Really cool whale research follows that then informs decision making by shipping and energy companies. The results and the process are a model for better, more informed management of our marine environments.

Protection efforts in the Florida keys and off the Oregon Coast follow, but in the middle is an example that really came home to me. I grew up on a small farm along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Delta faces a number of ecological challenges, which in turn impact important fishery opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico. Who comes to the rescue? Iowa farmers.

I was really struck by the image of a bunch of Iowa farmers (could have easily been my childhood neighbors and friends) on a fishing charter in the Delta, 1000+ miles from their crops and cows. They were reeling in something other than bass, crappie and catfish while learning about the connections between their agricultural choices and the distant fisheries in the Gulf.

There are so many perspectives that come into play as we engage in efforts to rehabilitate and protect the Puget Sound (and all of the Salish Sea), while maintaining an economy, culture and lifestyle that is dependent on estuary’s watershed and resources. Ocean Frontiers provides examples of ocean management that can embolden us to imagine how our perspectives can work together to mutually beneficial ends.

If you missed the Bainbridge Island screening in early February and the Seattle screening last week, opportunities to catch the film (and ensuing discussions) remain. The Ocean Frontiers’ website’s find a screening page indicates a showing in Bellingham April 25 (umm, that would be shortly after I post this). Also looks like it will be screened in Olympia June 9th. Click on the pin drop for more details on that showing.

Tomorrow evening (April 26 @ 6:30PM) a Port Orchard screening is sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido and held at the Dragonfly Cinema in downtown Port Orchard at 822 Bay Street. A discussion will follow, lead by Washington Sea Grant’s Marine Habitat Specialist, Jim Brennan. Cost is only a suggested donation. I hope you can take advantage and join in an atmosphere of collaboration that can lead us into a future of healthy oceans and prosperous societies.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Windy days and low dissolved oxygen

It’s a good day to breath air in the southern Hood Canal. Once again, winds from the south push Hood Canal’s water north and leave southern Hood Canal belching  oxygen depleted water up to the surface. I blogged about it September 20th last year (From the south blows an ill wind) with some details and links that are still pertinent.

Sunday's ORCA buoy Oxygen Concentration data from Hoodsport. Graph: www.nanoos.org
Seven day oxygen concentrations at 10', 66' and 312' depth at the Hoodsport ORCA buoy. Graph: www.nanoos.org

I’ve attached ORCA (Oceanic Remote Chemical-optical Analyzer) buoy readings at Hoodsport for the last 24 hours and 7 days. The water breathers are probably a little stressed.

Amazing technology that we can all observe such a dramatic response in real time. Go make graphs of your own and explore data from other monitoring sites at NANOOS (Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems). To see Hood canal data… zoom down to Hood Canal; pick your buoy; then click a variable (Oxygen conc. [concentration], Nitrate, Chlorophyll, etc.) to see a graph. Enjoy the technology; cross your fingers for the critters.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Catch cards and a confounding crab

Few of us get a chance to see the full diversity of the Salish Sea’s crabs. Many species never venture onto the beaches. Others are small and hide well. Some even remain tucked away inside a large clam or mussel. For all the wonder, economic benefit and gastronomical pleasure crabs provide, there are several species that we don’t want to see in our waters, including the invasive European green crab, Chinese mitten crab and Asian shore crab.

European green crab (Carcinus maenas), notice the five large points on either side of the front of the carapace. Photo: Jeff Adams

Such invasive species can have dramatic economic and ecological consequences. That’s why I’m always very appreciative of folks who send notes or pictures or specimens of something unusual. Controlling the spread of marine invasive species is difficult at best, but the earlier they’re detected, the better chance we have.

I received images of a potential green crab in late August from an informed individual who had found an unusual crab at Birch Bay State Park (near Blaine and the Canadian border).

The European green crab has been present on the outer coast of Washington and up the Pacific side of Vancouver Island since the late 1990’s, but the populations have not been highly successful to date and have not found their way into the Salish Sea. Hopefully, that arrangement will continue since these buggers consume shellfish and outcompete Dungeness crab of similar size, for both food and habitat. Red rock crab on the other hand, tend to give the green crabs a serious abdomen whooping.

Green crab??? Thankfully not. Photo: Len Vandervelden

Fortunately, this is a helmet crab. It has the few large points on the front of its carapace like a green crab, and was probably a similar size (~3″ across the carapace), but helmet crabs are covered in stiff hairs and have points all the way around the back side of the carapace.

Helmet crab (Telmessus cheiragonus), a hairy or even bristly crab with several large points on either side of the front of its carapace and a couple more on the back side. Photo: Jeff Adams

The helmet crab is probably the species most commonly mistaken for a green crab. The individual in question is particularly tricky to identify since it has so many barnacles on it.

Live helmet crabs and even molts may seem unusual even to experienced beach goers. I see scores of them while snorkeling over eelgrass that’s exposed at low tide, but I rarely see them alive on the beach when the tide is out. I guess it’s no surprise that as one of the fastest Pacific Northwest crabs, a helmet crab would rather retreat with the tide than try its luck hiding from gulls in the eelgrass and algae.

Back to the European green crab… Fortunately, it isn’t living up to the initial concern in our state, but there are a lot of unknowns if it gets into the Salish Sea or if conditions change in our waters. It’s certainly important to keep a watchful eye.

Always feel free to send observations, pictures or thoughts of things extraordinary or out of the ordinary. If I can’t share part of its story, I enjoy looking for someone who can and learning together.

Oh, and just a reminder for all you crabbers… Whether you caught Dungeness or not, don’t forget to put your Puget Sound crab catch cards in the mail or enter the data online by October 1 to avoid a $10 penalty and to help managers determine how much crab should be harvested in the winter season. Happy autumn!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Keep the butter out of your belly and your shovel out of the sand

Screen shot of the Washington Department of Health Shellfish Safety map for Kitsap County for August 3rd, 2011.

Thanks to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins produced by microscopic marine algae… King and east Kitsap Counties are closed to harvest of all shellfish species including clams and geoduck, oysters, mussels, and other invertebrates such as the moon snail (which are no longer legally harvestable anyway).

The meat from crabs is not known to contain the PSP toxin. The guts (butter) can contain PSP levels that are not safe, so carefully clean your crabs and toss the guts. (I guess I’d better stop letting the chickens gobble the guts lest I wake up to a poultry Jonestown.)

Invasive purple varnish (mahogany) clams hold the toxin longer than any other bivalve in the region. Butter clams also hold onto the toxin for longer than most shellfish. Sometimes shorelines will be closed to varnish clam only or to both species only, so read the health maps and warnings carefully. Even when beaches are open, it’s a good idea to cut off the black tip of the butter clam’s siphon before eating it since toxins are concentrated in the tip.

The DOH clickable shellfish biotoxin/pollution map is an excellent resource to check every time you head out for shellfish or might interact with others who are digging dinner. You can also learn more about the toxin and it’s origins from the Department of Health PSP fact sheet and the links it provides.

Noctiluca bloom in West Seattle (late June 2011). Photo: Jeff Adams

Washington Sea Grant also has a really great publication called Gathering Safe Shellfish: Avoiding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. The document has lots of great info and fabulous black and white drawings of some of the harvested shellfish species in the Salish Sea (great identification resource). It also discusses the difference between the striking blooms you may see and those creating biotoxins.

This too shall pass. In the meantime… enjoy the the beaches in Puget Sound’s Main Basin, but but keep the butter out of your belly and your shovel out of the sand.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

Terrific Tides and Historical Harper

Harper fishing pier on the right and ferry "dolphin" on the left. The dolphin was removed in 2009 shortly after this picture was taken. Jeff Adams

Along with the amazing sea life you might encounter around the Kitsap Peninsula, the Salish Sea and beyond, I also want to periodically highlight some beaches that host our saltwater bounty.

The area of South Kitsap from the Harper pier, south into a pocket estuary is a great place to watch birds, dive, reflect on history and our shoreline fingerprint, launch a boat, and explore the beach. The area uncovered by a low tide is a real hodgepodge of public and private ownership, but the boat launch and fishing pier are readily identifiable public access points.

Harper has a history well worth noting. The fishing pier stands were the ferry system linked Kitsap to Vashon and West Seattle until the early 1960’s. Until their 2009 removal, a remnant of the ferry dock (a cluster of deteriorating creosote pilings called a dolphin) could be seen at the end of the pier.

The Harper pier is frequented by divers and anglers alike. For divers, there are even a couple wrecked boats to explore beyond the pier. The sport plumose anemones, kelp crabs, barnacles and other piling fare to enjoy. Divers also find abundant lures, lines, bottles and mobile phones lost by the piers other regular users. It’s also a great place to see birds and get a great view of the Central Puget Sound.

A pile of brick from one of the Harper Clay Products brick dump areas. Jeff Adams

A fascinating history lies on the beach near the boat launch, and just under the surface. The Harper Clay Products Company started making bricks from nearby clay in the late 1800’s (click here for some great old photos and maps). The good bricks can still be seen in Pioneer Square buildings in Seattle and in the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. The discarded bricks, however, are abundant near the boat launch as one of the “brick dump” areas used by the factory. The bricks wind up supporting barnacles, rockweed and some other animals that live on hard surfaces, though in the areas where they’re piled deeply, they don’t do any favors for the mudflat organisms that would have been there in their absence.

A rich pocket estuary and salt marsh lies to the south of the boat launch and road. The culvert that feeds this area is the subject of restoration interest, with the intent of broadening the salt marsh habitat to its historic extent.

As for this week’s great low tides…
Our first -3 tides of the season are today and tomorrow. Excellent mid-day minus tides continue through Sunday. As a bonus, it looks like we’re even in for a few sunny days.

A layer of discarded Harper bricks can be seen on the eroded edge of the boat launch. Picklweed and grass now grow on top. Jeff Adams

5/17, -3.0 at 11:30am, Tuesday (better hurry:)
5/18, -3.2 at 12:10pm, Wednesday
5/19, -2.9 at 1:00pm, Thursday
5/20, -2.3 @ 1:40pm, Friday
5/21, -1.3 @ 2:30pm, Saturday
5/22, -0.2 @ 3:15pm, Sunday

Head out to Harper or your favorite walking, birding, shellfishing, trash cleaning, beachcombing, all around breathtaking beach to enjoy the low tides and maybe a bit of sunny and sixty for a change. Time to trade knee boots for sandals? Cheers! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Emperors of the air, stuck in the mud

Albatross in flight off Washington coast. Photo: Jeff Adam

Albatrosses are birds that few of us ever get to see or fully appreciate. They avoid the mainland, nesting on remote islands, and foraging in the open ocean. We certainly don’t find them in the Salish Sea. A Puget Sounder’s best bet is to head out to the Washington coast, jump on a boat (Westport has a great pelagic birding charter) and ride the waves for a few dozen miles out to sea. Once out of sight of land, you may be in sight of albatrosses.

These unique birds are build for long trips at sea, soaring so efficiently that their hearts beat about the same when they’re soaring for hundreds or thousands of miles as when they’re resting. And these are big birds! Wingspans of North Pacific albatross are between 6 and 7′.

Ironically, the wings that makes them soaring superstars also makes them pretty poor flapping fliers. Relatively stiff wings aren’t very effective when winds that are essential to their flight are calm. While we sit out a storm, albatrosses sit out the calm, floating on the sea’s surface until the wind picks up.

Amid the devastating human tragedy of Japan’s recent earthquake and tsunami, albatrosses and other island nesting birds in the Pacific have also faced challenges. I thank John Williams of Still Hope Productions for turning me onto Midway Atoll wildlife biologist Pete Leary’s blog. In a March 12, 2011 posting Pete shared experiences and dramatic images of the tsunami displaced birds he and many others rescued from debris, mud and open water. It’s amazing that the birds captured in his images were the survivors, some buried with only their head above the debris. Unfortunately, Pete suggested 10’s of thousands of albatross chicks were washed out to sea.

Albatross species, most of which are considered threatened, face a number of other, more chronic threats.

  • Albatrosses see an easy meal as bait in longline fisheries sinks slowly behind a boat. The result is 10’s of thousands of albatross bycatch deaths each year. Washington Sea Grant staff and others are working with longline fisheries to reduce seabird bycatch. Just distracting birds until the bait sinks below their diving depth can reduce seabird contact with the bait by 70%.
  • Invasive rats and cats prey easily on eggs and chicks and may attack adults. These birds evolved to breed on islands without terrestrial mammals and lack the necessary defenses. Invasive plants and overgrazing have impacted habitat for some species.
  • Plastic garbage is a problem of deepening concern. Plastic debris is now a prominent component of the oceans’ surface water. Mistaking these materials for food, albatrosses pack their gizzard and stomach with the undigestible plastic, creating blockages or reducing the space that should be taken up by food. They also regurgitate plastics for their own chicks, likely causing the chicks to feel full and increasing physiological stress. Steps to reduce plastic consumption and increase proper disposal are worth taking.

When even the emperors of the air are unable to avoid the crushing force of runaway water, the consequences of a tsunami for those held firm by gravity become all the more sobering. My heart and hopes for recovery go out to all. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Suitable for a plate but has no place in the Salish Sea

Thanks to Jim Aho of Illahee for sharing a report of an Atlantic or Maine lobster caught from the community dock. It’s third hand information, but wouldn’t be the first time an Atlantic lobster has been found in the Puget Sound – 1999, 2008. The 2008 discovery lead to some interesting exchanges between divers who liked the idea of seeing something unusual on their dives, and those who understood the risk non-native species pose.

People with good intentions buy and release lobsters. Someone even wrote about their dilemma to buy and release lobsters and in the end how they did the right thing. But the fact that someone is putting that much thought into it means that it’s on the minds of many. The presence of lobsters in the our marine waters clearly shows that some follow through with their thoughts. Maybe well intentioned, but a horribly dangerous habit to get into.

Releasing one may help that individual live a little longer, but just one can cause direct harm by eating and out-competing our native species (they’re opportunists eating fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins…) and can have even greater impact by spreading disease. I don’t know if conditions are suitable here for lobsters to successfully reproduce, but it’s just not worth the risk.

Should you ever find an Atlantic/Maine lobster, please snap a photo and send a message with location and date to me (jaws@uw.edu) and/or to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Coordinator, or call 877-9-INFEST. We may just continue to catch these odd individuals here and there, but should we start to see reports clustered in an area, this may be a species we would have a chance to eradicate. Thanks for keeping your eyes peeled and reporting the unusual! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.