Category Archives: Salmon

New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

The educational game, called Survive the Sound, was developed by Long Live the Kings. Each fish you enter will cost $25, with proceeds going to the organization. Long Live the Kings has long been known for its work in rebuilding wild salmon and steelhead populations and researching the needs and threats to these amazing migratory fish.

“I’ve seen some of these migration paths of steelhead,” said Lucas Hall of Long Live the Kings. “Some take some wacky paths, and some even turn around and go the wrong direction for a while.”

As I said, the cartoon fish are based on a select group of real-life fish. Each fish has a home base, either the Nisqually or the Skokomish river, and the size of the real fish is listed. Where the game departs from real life is that the fish are given funny names, and each fish is quoted with a phrase that it might say.

A fish called Itchy Roe is dressed as a baseball player and says, “Swimming this gauntlet is still better than playing in Cleveland.”

Another fish is named Call Me Fishtail, and he says, “Uncharted truth: it is not down in any map; true places never are” — a line from the novel Moby Dick.

The there is Sci-Fi: “This migration is one small step for fish, one giant leap for fish-kind.”

The original tracking effort is conducted by implanting tiny acoustic transmitters into young fish. Receivers placed along the migratory route pick up transmissions that identify the specific fish. If a little steelhead gets eaten by a seal or a bird, researchers may find themselves tracking the predator until the transmitter is excreted.

The idea for the game came up during a board meeting of Long Live the Kings, Lucas told me. Someone mentioned that it would be intriguing to have a Fantasy Football game for fish with winners and losers, as in the real world of salmon and steelhead. The game is now six months into development.

“We’re trying to tell a story in a way that people can understand,” Lucas said.

People may purchase any number of fish for themselves or gift them to others. Prizes will be awarded in several categories. For details, go to the FAQ page on the game’s website. If your fish dies, you will still get updates on the migration along with other ongoing information.

The game is linked to the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, an international effort involving more than 60 groups in the U.S. and Canada that are attempting to explain why so few salmon and steelhead grow up to spawn as adults. Among the project’s supporters is the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Vulcan Inc., founded by Allen, helped with the design and user interface for the game.

KUOW reporter Ellis O’Neill visited Big Beef Creek on the Kitsap Peninsula to see how the steelhead are implanted with acoustic tags. She also spoke with Seattle attorney Ryan McFarland and his 8-year-old son Dylan, who will be playing the game. Hear her report below, followed by a video story told by reporter Allison Morrow of KING-5 television.

Listen to “2017-04-26-steelhead” on Spreaker.

Amusing Monday: All sorts of animals can be viewed live online

Millions of people watched and waited online for April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park near Harpursville, N.Y. — although I am not sure how many were viewing live at the moment of birth. Of course, it is now recorded on YouTube for anyone to see.

As of yesterday, zoo officials announced on Facebook that a new camera will be installed to allow occasional viewing at times to be announced. For a $5 subscription, you can sign up for text alerts about the baby. This has become a real money-maker for the zoo. Frankly, I’m amazed at the level of interest, but it will probably decline now that the baby has arrived.

Each spring, I post an Amusing Monday piece showing where to find some of the best critter cams around the world. I’m pleased to report an ever-expanding number of cameras, not only those in zoos and aquariums but also those in outdoor locations where wildlife experts can study animals without disturbing them. Because of the Internet, we are able to essentially look over the shoulders of researchers and even watch the animals when official observers are not around.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, is becoming the go-to website for connecting people live with animals via webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 65, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera for interactions between video operators and online observers.

Several live feeds are able to show Northern Resident killer whales when they pass through Johnstone Strait, off the northeastern shore of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The Explore.org webcams are coordinated with OrcaLab, a research station run by Paul Spong on nearby Hanson Island.

One of the newest Explore.org feeds shows a pair of long-eared owls and their owlets near Missoula, Mont. (Check out the first video player above). Besides watching the live image, one can scan backward in time using the scroll bar to get a better view of the babies.

One of the most popular critter cams is the one at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Southeast Alaska. Beginning in June, brown bears congregate at the falls to catch migrating salmon. The bears seem to vary in their hunting techniques, some catching fish in midair. Until that webcam gets up and running, one can view highlights from previous years.

A number of popular critter cams from past years have been taken down for various reasons. Sometimes a nesting site does not get used. Also, funding to support the projects is always an issue, and I’m sorry to say that WildWatchcams from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is almost completely closed down at the moment.

One of my favorite live animal cams is still Pete’s Pond in Mashatu Game Preserve in Botswana, on the border with Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is often nighttime in Africa when it is daytime in our part of the world. The darkness, illuminated with infrared lights, is a good time for viewing, because that is when animals come to drink from the watering hole. (The site was offline when I posted this Monday afternoon.)

I’m sort of thrilled with the idea that we can visit a remote part of Africa and observe lions and zebras moving about in real time. The text-messaging feed allows people to communicate with the camera operator and other observers. The system is run by US Stream, an IBM subsidiary.

The third video is Cayman Reef near the East End of Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.

Explore.org also arranges its critter cams by channel. Here are some good ones to check out:

Floodplains by Design solves problems through careful compromise

Water

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Floodplains by Design, a new program that combines salmon restoration with flood control, is a grand compromise between humans and nature.

I got to thinking about this notion while writing a story for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound regarding the need to protect and restore floodplains in order to improve habitat for salmon and other species. The story is part of a series on Implementation Strategies to recover Puget Sound. Check out “Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon.”

Floodplains by Design is an idea born from the realization that building levees to reduce flooding generally causes rivers to rush faster and flow higher. Under these conditions, the rushing waters often break through or overtop the levees, forcing people to rebuild the structures taller and stronger than before.

Flooding along the Snoqualmie River
Photo: King County

Salmon, which have evolved through untold numbers of prehistoric floods, were somehow forgotten in the effort to protect homes and farmland built close to a river. Absent the levees, floodwaters would naturally spread out across the floodplain in a more relaxed flow that salmon can tolerate. High flows, on the other hand, can scour salmon eggs out of the gravel and flush young fish into treacherous places.

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New videos talk about protecting the ecosystem with tribal treaty rights

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest residents.

The video was released under the commission’s new communications banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone.”

The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim countries.

The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May, saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual and accustomed area. See news release.

The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring population that has declined so severely that it can no longer support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing practices.

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More coho salmon are expected, but fishing will remain limited this year

Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.

But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho making their way back to those rivers.

In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap Sun, May 4 and May 28.

“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen yesterday in Olympia.

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Amusing Monday: Ray Troll visits Puget Sound with Ratfish Wranglers

Ray Troll and the Ratfish Wranglers, one of the most amusing bands in the Pacific Northwest, is touring Western Washington this month, with stops in Port Townsend, Gig Harbor and Seattle.

Two years ago, when writing about how fishermen can save rockfish from barotrauma, I featured a video by Ray and the band in Water Ways (June 22, 2015). This video includes a rockfish puppet and an original rap song by Ray Troll and Russell Wodehouse telling all about the problem.

Besides music, Ray is well known for his “fin art,” which is mostly about fish of all kinds, especially salmon. Ray prides himself on the realistic images of fish, produced with scientific precision, which he combines with humor to create some edgy posters.

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Seals and sea lions may be undercutting chinook and orca populations

Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered killer whales.

A new study shows that seals and sea lions are eating about 1.4 million pounds of Puget Sound chinook each year — about nine times more than they were eating in 1970, according to the report. Please read the story I wrote for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, also published in an abridged version in the Kitsap Sun.

Harbor seals rest on the breakwater at Poulsbo Marina. // Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Seals and sea lions in Puget Sound get the first chance to catch the chinook as they leave the streams and head out to the ocean. Since they are eaten at a very young age, these small chinook, called “smolts,” never grow into adults; they never become available for killer whales or humans.

Based on rough estimates, as many as one in five of these young fish are getting eaten on their way out of Puget Sound. If they were to survive the seals and sea lions and one factors in the remaining mortality rate, these fish could translate into an average of 162,000 adult chinook each year. That’s twice the number eaten by killer whales and roughly six times as many as caught in Puget Sound by tribal, commercial and recreational fishers combined, according to the study.

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Stream ‘bugs’ will help guide funding for future stream restoration

One of the goals established by the Puget Sound Partnership is to improve freshwater quality in 30 streams throughout the region, as measured by the Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity, or B-IBI.

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

Simply described, B-IBI is a numerical measure of stream health as determined by the number and type of bottom-dwelling creatures that live in a stream. My latest article published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound describes in some detail how this index works. Here’s the basic idea:

“High-scoring streams tend to have a large variety of ‘bugs,’ as researchers often call them, lumping together the benthic species. Extra points are given for species that cannot survive without clean, cool water. On the other hand, low-scoring streams are generally dominated by a few species able to survive under the worst conditions.”

Because benthic invertebrates have evolved over time with salmon and other fish, many of these important “bugs” are primary prey for the fish that we value highly. Said another way, “healthy” streams — as measured by B-IBI — tend to be those that are not only cool and clean but also very good habitats for salmon.

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Granny, a killer whale unlike any other, stayed graceful to the end

If we can celebrate the life of a person who has died, it seems fitting to me that we should celebrate the long, productive life of a killer whale known as Granny.

Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research
Granny, or J-2, breaching in 2009, as she was known to do throughout her life.
Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Granny, officially designated J-2, was the oldest orca in the three pods of Southern Residents. Possibly more than 100 years of age, her longevity is something we can only hope to see among the other orcas that frequent Puget Sound.

Granny was the longtime leader of J pod. In a matriarchal society like the orcas, offspring stay with their mothers for life. Generally, the older females lead the way, and Granny was almost always seen at the front of the pack as J pod moved through the Salish Sea.

For a long-lived intelligent orca, it is hard to imagine the amount of knowledge she must have accumulated through the years. I tend to think that Granny had a personal history with nearly every cove and inlet in the Salish Sea. I think she understood the movement of salmon and where the fish would congregate before heading up the streams. It must have been tough for her to watch the decline of the whales’ once-abundant prey.

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Death toll for 2016 includes six orcas
from the Salish Sea

UPDATE, Jan. 2
The Center for Whale Research has announced that J-2, known as “Granny,” has apparently died. The oldest orca among the three Southern Resident pods, Granny was one of the first Southern Residents identified when Ken Balcomb began his Orca Survey in 1976. At the time, she was estimated to be at least 45 years old and probably in her 70s, putting her likely age at more than 100. Ken’s tribute to Granny can be read on the Center for Whale Research website. More to come.
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When it comes to the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound, a year can make all the difference in the world. Last year at this time, we were celebrating a remarkable baby boom — eight new orca calves over the previous 12 months. See Water Ways, Dec. 16, 2015.

J-34, named DoubleStuf, with Mount Baker in the background. Photo taken last February before his death this month. Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research
J-34, named DoubleStuf, swimming last February with Mount Baker in the background. The 18-year-old male died this month.
Photo: Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research

Another new baby was added in January of this year, for a total of nine. But if 2015 was the boom year, then 2016 turned out to be a major bust, with six orca deaths recorded during the calendar year.

The latest death among the Southern Residents was J-34, an 18-year-old male named DoubleStuf. He was found dead floating near Sechelt, B.C., northwest of Vancouver, on Dec. 20. Check out the tribute and wonderful photos on Orca Network’s webpage.

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