Killer whales were back in Puget Sound today, spotted early this
morning near Vashon Island, in the afternoon near Seattle and after
dark near Point No Point in North Kitsap. Reports can be seen on
Network’s Facebook page.
It’s a reminder that chum salmon are now running in Puget Sound,
and the whales are close behind. The chum also are entering our
local streams. So this is the time to visit your nearest salmon
stream to see if the fish have arrived. Tristan Baurick wrote about
recent conditions for the
As always, if you wish to see chum swimming upstream and
possibly spawning, one of the best places to go is Chico Salmon
Park next to Kitsap Golf and Country Club. For the latest
information about the park, read the story in the
Kitsap Sun by Terri Gleich.
With a couple of updates, my Salmon Viewing
Map and videos still offer a guide to the best public spots to
watch salmon on the Kitsap Peninsula. Click on the map at right to
access the videos and other information, including viewing
If you would like to learn about salmon from the experts, make a
note of these events:
Saturday, Nov. 7, Poulsbo Fish Park, 288
Lindvig Way. Children’s activities included, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. No
Salmon Viewing Saturday
Saturday, Nov. 14, Chico Salmon Park, Chico
Way at Golf Club Road, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No charge. Kitsap
Saturday, Nov. 14, Mountaineers Rhododendron
Preserve, 3153 Seabeck Highway. Tours, involving a hike of about
1.5 miles, begin at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Nov. 14.
Kitsap Salmon Tours.
The Southern Resident killer whales appear to be making their
annual excursion into Central and South Puget Sound — up to a month
later than normal.
As I write this, a group of whales — believed to be J pod — is
heading south along the eastern shoreline of the Kitsap Peninsula.
The video was shot yesterday morning by Alisa Lemire Brooks.
So far, nobody seems to have a good idea why the whales are
late. Typically, they spend their summers in the San Juan Islands,
then begin checking out the rest of Puget Sound in September.
Presumably, they are looking for salmon to eat. We know their
preference is for chinook, but they will eat coho and chum if
that’s all they can find.
In the fall, chum salmon are abundant throughout much of Puget
Sound, and they often become the main food source for all three
pods of killer whales. J pod, however, is the one that spends the
most time in the Salish Sea (the inland waterway that includes
Puget Sound and the Strait of Georgia).
On a stormy Sunday night, the first day of November, all three
pods headed south past Port Townsend and into Puget Sound, as
reported by Orca
“All of October, we waited patiently as we followed the reports
of Js, Ks, and Ls following chum salmon runs far to the north when
typically they follow the chum into Puget Sound,” states Orca
Network’s sighting report from Sunday.
“We have been compiling these Sighting Reports since 2001, and
this was the first October to come and go without the Southern
Residents,” the report continues. “Come morning, many joyous people
will perch themselves atop favored viewpoints, on nearby bluffs,
and along the many shorelines in hopes of seeing the beloved J, K
and L pod members-including perhaps their first glimpse of any of
the new calves who might here. We do hope they find plenty of
On Monday, whale researchers — including Ken Balcomb of the
Center for Whale Research and Brad Hanson of the NOAA’s Northwest
Fisheries Science Center — met up with the whales heading north
from Seattle. Late in the afternoon, the orcas split up. K and L
pods continued north, and J pod headed south.
Brad told me that he was as surprised as anyone that the whales
did not venture south before November. “I’ve been scratching my
head over that one, too,” he said. “It was very strange.”
The whales did stay around the San Juan Islands longer this
year, he noted, which might mean they were getting enough chinook
to eat. Then they moved north into Canada, perhaps finding salmon
in other areas besides Puget Sound.
Yesterday, the first whale sightings came from Maury and Vashon
islands in South Puget Sound, where the whales — believed to be J
pod — turned around without heading up through Colvos Passage, as
they often do. By nightfall, they were between Kingston and
Edmonds, where Alisa Brooks shot the video on this page.
This morning, they were headed south again from Whidbey Island,
passing Point No Point. As I post this about 3 p.m., they are
somewhere around Kingston.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network saw the whales go past Whidbey
Island. “They were traveling fast with lots of porpoising,” he told
me, referring to the high-speed maneuver that shoots them along
above and below the surface.
We can expect the whales to stay around these waters as long as
December. But, as orca experts always tell me, if you expect killer
whales to do something, they are just as likely to do something
Here’s a population update, if you missed the recent news:
The orca baby boom continues with the birth of a sixth calf
since last December. The baby, designated J-53, was spotted off the
west side of San Juan Island on Oct. 17. The mother is J-17, a
38-year-old female named Princess Angeline. The calf has two
sisters, J-28 named Polaris, and J-35 named Tahlequah, and a
brother, J-44 named Moby. The newest whale in J pod also has a
6-year-old niece named Star (J-46), born to Polaris, and a
5-year-old nephew named Notch (J-47), born to Tahlequah.
While the birth of new orcas is encouraging, I also need to
mention that 50-year-old Ophelia (L-27) has been missing since
August and is presumed dead by most people. She outlived all four
of her offspring.
The total number of whales in the three pods now stands at 82:
28 in J pod, 19 in K pod and 35 in L pod. This count, maintained by
the Center for Whale Research, does not include Lolita, the orca
taken from Puget Sound and now living in Miami Seaquarium.
Beards Cove Community Organization and Newberry Hill Heritage
Park Stewards are this year’s winners of the Hood Canal
Environmental Achievement Awards.
The awards, sponsored by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council,
recognize people and groups that have taken actions and fostered
relationships to improve the health of the Hood Canal
The 500 property owners in the Beards Cove community were
credited with developing relationships with Great Peninsula
Conservancy and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to
restore an estuary near the Union River on the North Shore of Hood
The Beards Cove Restoration Project completes the final segment
of 1.7 miles of unbroken saltmarsh along the shoreline. The project
removed 45,000 cubic yards of fill, derelict structures and a
septic system. The work included reconfiguring the shoreline and
planting the area with native vegetation, all to enhance salmon
The Beards Cove project was described in a
Kitsap Sun story by Arla Shepherd Bull and in a
Water Ways blog entry I wrote about the history of the Beards
Cove development leading to the need for restoration.
Stewards working to improve Newberry Hill Heritage Park are
protecting fish and wildlife in the area, which includes the
Anderson Creek watershed, which drains to Hood Canal. The group
built a fence to protect a beaver dam, which provides habitat for
coho and other fish, along with a foot bridge that maintains access
to a flooded trail. The group helped develop a forest-management
plan to restore ecological health to the park. Members are known
for expanding their knowledge about forests, streams and
The awards will be presented Friday at a conference that will
celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hood Canal Coordinating
Council. Speakers will include Donna Simmons, one of the council’s
founders who will describe the history of the organization. U.S.
Rep. Derek Kilmer will discuss his Save Our Sound legislation and
how to move forward with ecosystem restoration. I will contribute
to the discussion by talking about my reporting career as it
relates to Hood Canal.
The event will be held at Lucky Dog Casino Event Center. Those
who would like to attend should contact Robin Lawlis at the
coordinating council, (360) 394-0046 or email@example.com. For
information, check the fact
sheet on the HCCC’s website.
The Hood Canal Coordinating
Council was established in 1985 to improve the water quality of
Hood Canal. It has expanded its mission to include improving the
ecological health of the canal. The group is made up of the county
commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along with
the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.
Being able to measure a killer whale’s girth and observe its
overall condition without disturbing the animal is an important
advancement in orca research.
By running a small hexacopter, also known as a drone, at a safe
level over all 81 Southern Resident killer whales last month,
researchers came to the conclusion that most of the orcas were in a
healthy condition. Seven whales were picked out for further
observation, including a few suspected of being pregnant.
I was especially intrigued by the idea that researchers could
track the progress of a pregnancy. It has been long suspected that
the first calf born to a young female orca often dies. A possible
reason is that the calf receives a dangerous load of toxic
chemicals from its mother. With this “offloading” of toxic
chemicals from mother to first calf, later offspring receive lesser
amounts of the chemicals.
Miscarriages and even births often go unnoticed, especially in
the winter when the whales travel in the ocean far from human
observation. If the young ones do not survive until their pod
returns to Puget Sound, we may never know that a young whale was
lost. Now, this remotely operated hexacopter may provide before and
after pictures of a pregnant female, offering evidence when
something goes wrong with a calf.
Images of the whales can be combined with skin biopsies and
fecal samples collected by boat to provide a larger picture of the
health of individual whales and the overall population.
Images of the whales collected this fall can be compared to
those collected by conventional helicopter in 2008 and 2013 to
assess any changes in the animals. Because of the noise and prop
wash of a conventional helicopter, pilots must stay at a higher
elevation to keep from disturbing the whales. There seems to be
general agreement that drones are the way to go.
John Durban of NOAA Fisheries, who piloted the drone on 115
flights over the Southern Residents, said he was encouraged that
their overall condition appeared better than in the past few
“Most individuals appear to be fairly robust this year, which is
good news, but it’s also very important baseline information to
have if the next few years turn out to be difficult for salmon and
their predators,” Durban said in a
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has a somewhat
different take on this new tool. The high rate of miscarriages and
neonate deaths have long been known, Ken told me in an email. It is
the only way that they are able to control their population within
the carrying capacity of their food supply.
“I am more excited about five whales being born and surviving
since last December than I am about an unproven morphometric
surmise that additional whales are in some stage of a
seventeen-month pregnancy,” he said. “It is not wise to ‘count your
chickens before they hatch,’ as the saying goes.”
The goal should be to recover the population, Ken said. When it
comes to recovering salmon and killer whales, resource management
has been a dismal failure. His suggestion: Remove the Snake River
dams and allow the salmon numbers to rebuild naturally while fixing
Canada’s Fraser River.
“With climate change well underway,” Ken wrote, “we cannot
fritter away golden opportunities to restore viability in what
little is left of a natural world in the Pacific Northwest while
counting unborn whales.”
Other aspects of this new effort involving the hexacopter were
well covered by news reporters this week. Check out the list below.
The new video with John Durban and NOAA’s science writer Rich Press
can be seen above. Last month, I provided other information and
links about the new tool. See
Water Ways Sept. 9.
A new publication called “Puget Sound Fact Book” has been
released online by the
Puget Sound Institute, an affiliation of the University of
Washington, Environmental Protection Agency and Puget Sound
Like its name suggests, the fact book contains detailed
information about Puget Sound — from the geology that created the
waterway to creatures that roam through the region, including
humans. The fact book has been incorporated into the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Working for the Puget Sound Institute, I became part of a team
of about 25 researchers and writers who compiled the facts and
produced essays about various aspects of Puget Sound. I wrote an
introductory piece titled “Overview: Puget Sound as an Estuary” and
a conclusion called “A healthy ecosystem supports human
One can download
a copy of the fact book from the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound
Just for fun, I thought I would offer a multiple-choice quiz
from the book. Answers and scoring are at the bottom.
1. Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast covers about four
times the area of Puget Sound. The total volume of water in
Chesapeake Bay is roughly how much compared to Puget
A. Twice the volume of Puget Sound
B. Equal to the volume of Puget Sound
C. Half the volume of Puget Sound
D. One-fourth the volume of Puget Sound
2. Puget Sound was named by Capt. George Vancouver,
honoring one of his officers, Lt. Peter Puget. Where was the
northernmost boundary of the original Puget Sound?
A. The Canadian border
B. The northern edge of Admiralty Inlet near present-day Port
C. The southern edge Whidbey Island
D. The Tacoma Narrows
3. How deep is the deepest part of Puget
A. 86 meters = 282 feet
B. 186 meters = 610 feet
C. 286 meters = 938 feet
D. 386 meters – 1,266 feet
4. Washington State Department of Health has classified
190,000 acres of tidelands in Puget Sound as shellfish growing
areas. How much of that area is classified as “prohibited,” meaning
shellfish can never be harvested there without a change in
A. 36,000 acres
B. 52,000 acres
C. 84,000 acres
D. 110,0000 acres
5. In the late 1800s, experts estimate that Puget Sound
contained 166 square kilometers (64 square miles) of mud flats.
Development has reduced that total to how much today?
A. 79 square kilometers = 30 square miles
B. 95 square kilometers = 36 square miles
C. 126 square kilometers = 49 square miles
D. 151 square kilometers – 58 square miles
6. How many bird species depend on the Salish Sea,
according to a 2011 study?
7. Resident killer whales eat mainly chinook salmon.
What do transient killer whales mainly eat?
A. Pink salmon
B. Marine mammals
8. Most fish populations in Puget Sound have been on the
decline over the past 40 years. What type of marine creature has
increased its numbers 9 times since 1975?
A. Rock crabs
D. Dogfish sharks
9. Rockfish are among the longest-lived fish in Puget
Sound. How many species of rockfish can be found in Puget
10. Puget Sound’s giant Pacific octopus is the largest
octopus in the world. The record size has been reported at what
A. 200 pounds
B. 400 pounds
C. 500 pounds
D. 600 pounds
– ANSWERS 1. C. Chesapeake Bay contains about half the
volume of Puget Sound, some 18 cubic miles compared to 40 cubic
miles. 2. D. Tacoma Narrows. 3. C. The deepest spot in Puget Sound — offshore
of Point Jefferson near Kingston — is 286 m, although one spot in
the larger Salish Sea (Strait of Georgia) reaches a depth of 650 m.
or 2,132 feet. 4. A. 36,000 acres are prohibited shellfish
beds 5. C. Total mudflats today total 126 square
kilometers 6. D. 172 bird species 7. B. Transients eat marine mammals. 8. B. Jellyfish 9. C. 28 10. D. 600 pounds is said to be the record,
although more typical weights are 50 to 100 pounds.
Most of these questions are pretty tough. If you got five right, I
would say you know Puget Sound pretty well. Six or seven right
suggests you have special knowledge about the waterway. More than
seven correct answers means you could have helped compile the facts
for this new book.
Carl Safina — scientist, teacher, author and documentary
filmmaker — will speak Wednesday on a topic of interest to many
killer whale observers, “Intertwined Fates: The Orca-Salmon
Connection in the Pacific Northwest.”
Following his speech, Safina will join a panel of experts on
salmon and killer whales to discuss the connections between these
two iconic species and what it will take for the survival of the
species. The experts are Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale
Research, Jacques White of Long Live the Kings, Howard Schaller of
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Lynne Barre of NOAA
Safina’s newest book, “Beyond Words: What Animals Think and
Feel,” is winning acclaim for its description of animal culture and
even emotions in creatures such as elephants, wolves and killer
“We have long asked whether we are alone in the universe, but
clearly we are not alone on earth,” wrote Tim Flannery in his
review of “Beyond Words” in the
New York Review of Books. “The evolution of intelligence, of
empathy and complex societies, is surely more likely than we have
hitherto considered. And what is it, exactly, that sets our species
apart? We clearly are different, but in light of ‘Beyond Words’ we
need to reevaluate how, and why.”
“Safina comes to an unfamiliar but empirically based
conclusion,” Flannery continues. “Prior to the domestication of
plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human
societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins
was a matter of degree, not kind. Why, he asks, has it taken us so
long to understand this?”
Previously, in a PBS series “Saving the
Ocean,” Safina explored the effort to restore chinook salmon to
the Nisqually River. During a two-part segment, he interviewed
numerous biologists and talked to tribal leader Billy Frank before
Billy’s untimely death.
The newly formed Orca Salmon Alliance is a consortium of
environmental groups focused on supporting the recovery of orcas
and salmon. Proceeds from Wednesday’s event will support the
“We can’t recover the highly endangered population of orca
living off the Northwest coast without also restoring their primary
food source, the chinook salmon,” said Deborah Giles, Science
Advisor for OSA.
Mark Powell made it, completing his swim today of the entire
Duwamish River, with the exception of some whitewater rapids
upstream and a stretch of the river through Tacoma’s protected
watershed. For background, see
Water Ways, Aug. 22.
During his remarks after
climbing out of the water in Elliott Bay, Mark said he had
concluded along the way that “the heart of the Duwamish River … is
“I started out with the idea that I would hope to find the heart
of the Duwamish River, and I think I succeeded. One thing I saw
stands out above all else, and to me it is the heart of the
Duwamish River. I saw thousands of wild pink salmon swimming up the
Duwamish and the Green River.
“There’s a huge run of pink salmon this year. I don’t know how
many people in Seattle know about it. Schools of salmon so thick
and so close that I reached out and touched the salmon with my
hand. I have never seen so many salmon except in videos taken in
“That’s not to say everything is fine on the Duwamish River.
There are some other species of salmon not doing so well. There are
some very well known pollution problems. But the thriving, healthy
wild pink salmon run to me is the heart of the Duwamish River. The
heart is still beating.”
The first video on this page shows the final leg of Mark’s
journey through the industrial Duwamish Waterway, a journey that
began where the Green River begins as a trickle south of Snoqualmie
Pass high in the Cascade Mountains.
Preservation is cheaper than restoration. If you need proof, one
place to look is the Beard’s Cove estuary-restoration project on
Hood Canal, about a mile outside of Belfair.
The project, nearing completion, is re-establishing 7.3 acres of
saltwater wetlands by excavating and removing about 4,000 dumptruck
loads of old fill dirt from an area originally built as a private
park for the Beard’s Cove community.
It is a rare restoration project, because essentially the same
dirt used to fill the wetlands in 1973 is being taken out and put
back where it came from — across North Shore Road from the
development. The cost is estimated at $1.1 million, as reported by
Arla Shephard in a story in the
Filling in the salt marsh was part of the development plan for
the Beard’s Cove plat, approved by the Mason County commissioners a
few years before construction began. The voter-approved Shoreline
Management Act and other environmental regulations were just coming
on the scene.
Hood Canal Environmental Council, a fledgling group at the time,
testified against the Beard’s Cove project. Phil Best, a young
lawyer who would later become Kitsap County commissioner, was a
founder of that organization.
“We were concerned that this project would set a precedent,”
Phil told me. “If you start filling in all these marsh areas, you
would be destroying a lot of salmon habitat throughout Hood
Although scientists today know much more about the value of
estuaries, Phil said there was plenty of evidence at the time about
the damage that would be caused by this kind of project. Much of
the scientific information was provided by researchers at the
University of Washington’s Big Beef Creek Research Station. That
facility, near Seabeck in Kitsap County, is still used for salmon
In the end, the Beard’s Cove developer prevailed with the county
commissioners and the courts, and the fill was dumped into the
estuary to create a park. Today, of course, a project like this
would not even get off the drawing board.
“We’re finally getting to where things should be,” Phil said,
“but it is unfortunate that we have to spend millions of taxpayer
dollars, when the permit for this should have been denied in the
first place. There is a lesson to be learned here: It is better to
err on the side of caution when it comes to environmental
For every restoration project we know about, someone could have
avoided the cost by not doing the damage in the first place. We
must recognize that we are paying for many mistakes made by our
At the same time, we must face the fact that — despite all we
have learned — we are still doing damage to the ecosystem. Some
damage is inevitable, as more development is needed to accommodate
a growing population. But we should be as careful as we can, so our
descendants don’t have to undo what we have done.
The alternative, of course, is far more dreadful. If we cannot
turn the tide on our ecological destruction and find a way to live
within the natural world, Puget Sound is doomed to ecological
collapse. Future generations might live on a large, sterile pond
and wonder what it once was like. They might as well live on the
The 540 or more families who live in the Beard’s Cove Community
today had nothing to do with the mistakes that were made. Who could
blame them for using the park and swimming pool developed for their
use? People who grew up in Beard’s Cove cherish the memories of
that park. I would suggest that it is of little value to blame
anyone for past mistakes, since society as a whole sanctioned all
sorts of activities that we would not allow today.
The Beard’s Cove community should be congratulated for breaking
with the past and allowing the restoration to take place. It may be
true that the decision was easier after the park fell into
disrepair. Someone apparently destroyed the old swimming pool by
draining it during an extreme high tide, causing it to “float” up
out of the ground — or so the story goes, says Louena “Louie”
Yelverton, president of the Beard’s Cove Community
Louie says the community supports the restoration of the marsh
and looks forward to seeing a more natural shoreline.
“it is nice to be part of a restoration project, realizing that
this is a small part of a 700-acre project that is going to help
salmon,” she said. “As a society, we are starting to learn that we
need to give forethought to the future. It might not affect us, but
it will be there for our grandkids and future generations. I am
glad to be part of this.”
Louie credits Kate Kuhlman of Great Peninsula Conservancy for
helping to generate goodwill in the community. Her concerns for the
people as well as the steadfast promotion of the science helped get
the project to construction. GPC coordinated the grants to get the
work done with some land left for community use.
“She has been a trooper through everything,” Louie said. “Now we
are going to have a park, and the shoreline is going to be good for
salmon. I am super-excited that we are toward the end of this and
will get to see what all the hard work has accomplished.”
Wetlands along the North Shore of Hood Canal have been
undergoing protection and restoration for 30 years. This is where I
chose to write the opening chapter of the book
“Hood Canal: Splendor at Risk.”
The Beard’s Cove project, including a permanent conservation
easement, fills in the final gap in a full 1.7 miles of unbroken
estuarine habitat to be preserved in perpetuity, thanks to GPC and
its North Mason predecessor, Hood Canal Land Trust, along with
Pacific Northwest Salmon Center, Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife and the North Mason School District.
The project includes the construction of 2,530 feet of newly
formed tide channels, 1,200 feet of graveled beach and large woody
debris habitat structures.
Marsh areas like this are among the most productive places on
the planet, supporting a rich food web that includes salmon species
such as Puget Sound chinook, Puget Sound steelhead and Hood Canal
summer chum, all listed as “threatened” on the Endangered Species
By swimming the entire Green/Duwamish River in King County, Mark
Powell hopes to show that the river’s full length — roughly 85
miles from the mountains to Puget Sound — is a single system worthy
of protection and restoration.
I believe that most people have heard about the Duwamish
Waterway in Seattle, a channelized, industrialized section of the
lower Duwamish River where decades of pollution are being cleaned
up, one step at a time. But how much does anyone know about the
upper end of the river, which begins as a trickle of crystal clear
water in the Cascade Mountains south of Snoqualmie Pass?
“Almost nobody knows the river well, not even the people who
live along the river,” Mark told me.
Mark, the Puget Sound Program director for Washington
Environmental Council. said the idea of swimming the entire river
came to him during the kickoff of a new
Green/Duwamish Watershed Strategy by King County and Seattle.
The plan is to identify all the significant problems in the
PDF 1.1 mb) and to increase restoration efforts where
“I thought this would be an interesting way to connect with
people,” Mark said. “I’m a guy who likes to get outdoors, so this
is a personal commitment I could make.”
Mark swam around Bainbridge Island in the winter of 2008-09.
““By swimming the whole coastline, I’m not just diving to the
pretty spots. I’m forced to look at the gross parts,” he told
reporter Michelle Ma in a story for the
So far, Mark has been swimming the upper and middle portions of
the Green/Duwamish River. He said his biggest surprise is finding
pockets of good habitat everywhere he goes.
Earlier this month, he was accompanied on the river by Sheida
Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, and
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the partnership’s Leadership
Council. A few days before they swam the river near Auburn, the
Leadership Council approved new “vitals signs” indicators for
“human health” and “human well-being” to emphasize the human
connection to the Puget Sound ecosystem. See
“Water Ways” July 30.
The human connection was still on Sheida’s mind when I talked to
her about a week after her trip to the Green River. The most
“eye-opening” part of the swim for her was the condition of “this
incredibly beautiful natural element coursing through a very urban
She saw evidence of people living along the river in
less-than-desirable conditions, she said. There were barbecues and
trailer houses but no suggestion that people had any connection to
the river — except that some individuals apparently were using it
as a toilet, she said.
“I haven’t quite wrapped my head around that, but it feels very
right that we are considering human well-being,” she explained. “On
the one hand is what we have done to the river. On the other hand
is what we have done to ourselves. We need to figure out how it all
Mark’s adventures on the river are chronicled in a blog called
Duwamish.” He hopes to swim every section of the river where he
is allowed to go and be safe. A portion of the Green River
controlled by the city of Tacoma has no public access, because it
is a source of the city’s water supply. Rapids in the Green River
Gorge are said to be dangerous, so Mark will look for a guide to
help him. And because of heavy marine traffic in the Duwamish
Waterway, he may use a boat to escort him on his approach to
Seattle’s Elliott Bay.
The Green/Duwamish River may be the most disjointed river in
Puget Sound, both physically and psychologically. People who have
seen the industrialized lower river find it hard to visualize the
near-pristine salmon stream spilling clean water down from the
mountains. It is the upper part that provides the inspiration to
clean up the lower part, Mark told me.
“If there was a reason for sacrificing a river, you could find
it in the Duwamish,” he said. “But we can’t afford to sacrifice
even one river. To me, this is what protecting Puget Sound is all
about. By the time the pollution gets to Puget Sound it is too
If salmon can make it through the gauntlet in the lower river,
they may have a fighting chance to spawn and produce a new
generation of Green River fish. Improving their migration corridor
is not an impossible dream.
I suggested to Mark that the name of the river be officially
changed to “Green/Duwamish” or “Green-Duwamish” to help people
recognize that this is a single river from the mountains to Puget
Sound. After all, the name “Salish Sea” has helped some people
realize that we share an inland waterway with Canadians. The other
name-change option would be to call it Duwamish all the way.
Until I started reading about the Duwamish, I didn’t realize how
this river once captured water from the Black River and the White
River as well as the Green River and the Cedar River. But the
system has changed drastically over the past century or so.
As you can see in the map on this page, the Green River once
joined the White River and flowed north, picking up waters from the
Black River. The Black River, which took drainage from Lake
Washington, picked up water from the Cedar River.
Where the Black River merged with the White River, it became the
Duwamish all the way to Puget Sound.
Two major events changed the rivers’ flow and subsequently the
nomenclature. In 1906, a flood diverted the White River to the
south into the channel of the Stuck River, which flowed into the
Puyallup River. Shortly after that, the White River was
artificially confined to keep it flowing south. Because the river
flowing north contained water only from the Green River, the name
“White” was changed to “Green” downstream to where the Duwamish
The other big event was the construction of the Lake Washington
Ship Canal in 1917 to connect the lake with Puget Sound. The
construction lowered the lake by more than 8 feet, with the lake
level controlled by the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The Black River,
which had taken the discharge flow from Lake Washington before
construction, then dried up. The Cedar River, which had flowed into
the Black River, was diverted into the lake.
Following those changes, the Green River and the Duwamish became
essentially the same river, with the total flow perhaps one-third
as much as it had been before the changes. If you are interested in
this history and other geological forces at work in the area, check
out the 1970 report by the U.S. Geological Survey
(PDF 53.1 mb).
More than 466,000 animals — from seals to sea birds to salmon to
crabs — were found dead during the retrieval of “ghost nets” over
the past 12 years by the Northwest Straits Foundation, which
celebrated a major milestone today. In recognizing the end of a
significant program, I’d like to add a little personal history.
The celebration in Everett marks the completion of the intense
effort to retrieve nets lost from fishing boats in less than 105
feet of water — because the vast majority of the nets have been
removed. Future roundups may be planned if more nets are found or
reported by commercial fishers, who are now required to report lost
The removal program has pulled out more than 5,660 derelict
fishing nets and more than 3,800 crab and shrimp pots blamed for
killing all those marine mammals, birds, fish and other creatures,
according to statistics kept by the organization.
“Removing these nets restores marine habitat forever.” Joan
Drinkwin, interim director of the Northwest Straits Foundation,
said in a
news release. “Marine mammals like porpoises, diving birds, and
fish can now swim and dive in Puget Sound without the risk of being
entangled in these dangerous derelict nets.”
Northwest Straits Foundation stepped up and tackled the huge
ghost-net-removal project with the first grant from the Washington
Legislature in 2002. Through the years, other funding came from the
federal government, foundations, fishing groups, tribes,
corporations and private individuals. In a separate project, U.S.
Navy divers removed derelict nets from selected underwater
“Just about every agency and organization in Puget Sound that
works to protect and restore our marine waters has contributed to
this effort,” Drinkwin said. “We have many people to thank, so this
is a celebration not just of our work, but of collaboration and
pulling together to achieve great things.”
I’d like to add some personal notes, giving a bit of early
credit to Ray Frederick, who headed up the Kitsap Poggie Club in
2000, when Ray first called my attention to the ghost net
It was right after a
state initiative to ban non-Indian gillnets failed at the
ballot box, leaving many sport fishermen upset with what they
viewed as the indiscriminate killing of fish, including salmon
listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Ray called me and said gillnet fishing will continue, but
something should be done about the ghost nets. I think that was the
first time I had ever heard the term. Here’s how I began the first
of many stories (Kitsap
Sun, June 30, 1999) I would write about this subject:
“In the murky, undersea twilight of Puget Sound, scuba divers
occasionally come face to face with the tangled remains of rotting
fish. Nearly invisible in the dim light, long-lost fishing nets
continue to ensnare fish, birds, seals, crabs and other creatures
that happen along.
“Divers call these hidden traps ‘ghost nets.’
“”It’s a little eerie, seeing fish like that,’ said Steve
Fisher, an underwater photographer from Bremerton. ‘You can see
that something has been eating on them, and the fish are a pretty
good size — bigger than you would normally see.’”
I reported that a few net-retrieval operations had been
conducted since 1986, but state officials were warning against any
ad hoc operations following the death of a volunteer scuba diver,
who became tangled in fishing gear and ran out of air.
Ray got involved in a campaign to seek state and federal funding
to eliminate ghost nets. He wrote to Gov. Gary Locke and select
legislators. I located
one of Ray’s letters, which expressed frustration about the
lack of action to remove the derelict gear he knew was killing sea
life in Puget Sound.
State Sen, Karen Fraser, D-Lacey, who had been pushing for
funding, was joined by then-Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge
Island, the late-Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, and other
legislators to push through funding to develop new guidelines to
safely remove derelict gear. The Northwest Straits Commission,
which wanted to remove ghost nets in and around the San Juan
Islands, was chosen to conduct the study, which led to “Derelict
Fishing Gear Removal Guidelines” (PDF 2.3 mb).
Now that most of the nets have been removed in water less than
105 feet deep, the effort must turn to removing nets in deeper
water, where they are likely to snare threatened and endangered
rockfish species in Puget Sound.
NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife have listed abandoned nets as threats to rockfish and
recommend action. The most promising method of removal is remotely
operated vehicles. A report by
Natural Resources Consultants (PDF 1.4 mb) spells out the