A free 2017 calendar, published by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, features winning artwork in a contest
that focuses on the problem of trash in the ocean, otherwise known
as marine debris.
More than 700 students from around the country participated in
the contest, and one of the 13 winners was a seventh grader from
Washington state named Sallie S. Neither her full name nor hometown
was disclosed, and I never received a response to an email sent to
her on my behalf by NOAA officials.
Sallie’s statement on the back of the calendar: “Marine debris
impacts our oceans and Great Lakes, because the plastic and other
garbage could badly injure or kill the sea animals. What I will do
to keep our ocean debris free is to not litter. Not littering is
very important, because if you litter the debris can go into
drains, then it can go into the lake or the sea. Then once it goes
in the sea, ocean organisms could then die.”
The contest has just reopened to take entries for the 2018
calendar, which will be published next year. The contest is open to
any student from kindergarten through eighth grade. The deadline
for submissions is Nov. 30. One can obtain an entry form and
detailed rules from the contest
In 2013, I was pleased to write in
Water Ways about a picture drawn by Araminta “Minty” Little, a
seventh grader at Fairview Junior High School in Central Kitsap.
Her picture shows an octopus grasping trash that has been thrown
into the ocean, a picture now used in promotional materials for the
marine debris art contest.
The 2017 calendar is available for download, and a limited
number of printed calendars may be ordered. Pictures on this page
are featured in that calendar. For details, visit the website
“Keep the seas free of debris.”
“Our oceans are filled with items that do not belong there,”
states NOAA’s “Discover the
Issue” webpage. “Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals,
rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear, vessels, and other
lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day,
making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems
facing the world’s oceans and waterways.
“Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that
is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly,
intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the
marine environment or the Great Lakes,” the website continues. “It
is a global problem, and it is an everyday problem. There is no
part of the world left untouched by debris and its impacts. Marine
debris is a threat to our environment, navigation safety, the
economy and human health.”
Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team,
and Thom Johnson, a leading expert in the recovery of Hood Canal
summer chum salmon, have been named recipients of this year’s Hood
Canal Environmental Awards.
Other recipients of the awards, which are sponsored by Hood
Canal Coordinating Council, are Shore Friendly Mason and Shore
Friendly Kitsap, two programs that actively enlist waterfront
property owners in the protection and restoration of their
I learned this afternoon that the awards ceremony on Nov. 4 will
be dedicated to Rich Geiger, the longtime district engineer for
Mason Conservation District. Rich, who died unexpectedly on Sept.
22, held the “technical vision” for the restoration of the
Skokomish River watershed, according to Mike Anderson. (See
Water Ways, Oct. 8.)
Rich had already been honored with a Hood Canal Environmental
Award, but a lot of people have been asking that he receive some
special recognition at this year’s ceremony, said Scott Brewer,
executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.
“Rich was instrumental in working in the Skokomish watershed,
but he certainly left his mark on other watersheds around Hood
Canal,” Scott told the coordinating council, which is made up of
county commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties along
with tribal leaders for the Skokomish and Port Gamble S’Klallam
tribes. The council endorsed the special recognition for Rich
The awards ceremony will recognize individuals and groups whose
actions have improved the Hood Canal environment and community. The
event will be at Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside
on Friday, Nov. 4, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Guest speakers include Sarah Spaeth of Jefferson Land Trust, who
will talk on “Fish, Farms and Forests of the Chimacum Watershed,”
and Lissa James of Hama Hama Company, whose talk is titled “Natural
Resources and the Sustainability of Place in the Northwest.”
Anyone may attend. Reservations should be made by Oct. 31 by
contacting Robin Lawlis, email@example.com or 360-394-0046. For
information, check the website of the
Hood Canal Coordinating Council.
Winner of the Hood Canal Environmental Awards “embody the spirit
of fostering cooperation, collaboration and lasting relationships
to achieve a healthy Hood Canal,” according to organizers. Winners
will have time to talk about their experiences during the
Mike Anderson, who has been with the Wilderness
Society since 1985, has been coordinating the Skokomish
Watershed Action Team since its inception 10 years ago. Mike’s
energy and collaborative skills have kept this team of diverse
interests moving forward toward the ultimate restoration of the
Skokomish River watershed. A major accomplishment was the recent
congressional approval of a $19-million restoration project by the
Army Corps of Engineers, but that is just the latest of many
projects involving the U.S. Forest Service, Skokomish Tribe, state
agencies, Green Diamond Resource Company, Tacoma Public Utilities
Thom Johnson, environmental program manager for
the Point No Point Treaty Council, has been a longtime leader in
the recovery of salmon, most notably Hood Canal summer chum. He got
his start on the summer chum project in the 1990s, when he worked
for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Thom also has
been a key participant in recovery efforts, including the Lead
Entity Citizens Group and the Technical Advisory Group for the Hood
Canal Coordinating Council. Through the years, he has been a
valuable adviser to council members on many issues.
Shore Friendly Kitsap and Shore
Friendly Mason each involve numerous organizations working
together under an umbrella program organized by the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washington Department of Natural
Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Local groups
include Mason Conservation District, WSU Kitsap County Extension,
Washington Sea Grant, Futurewise and QWG Applied Geology.
Shore Friendly has
helped people understand how they can improve their shorelines,
including the removal of bulkheads and restoration of natural
shoreline features, including native plants. The program also
provides financial incentives and assists people with permits to
restore functioning shoreline habitat. See
Shore Friendly Kitsap and Shore Friendly
Honorable mentions in this year’s Hood Canal Environmental
Jay and Susie Allen for their years of
restoration efforts and stewardship on their land in the Tahuya
River watershed. It has been said that whenever the Allens are
approached about a project or idea, their only question is how they
Roma Call ensures that cleanup, restoration and
important environmental regulations and protections are established
to conserve valuable resources and ecosystems for the Port Gamble
S’Klallam Tribe. Roma’s collaborative efforts gain the support of
Clear Creek Elementary Student Garden Project
sponsored by Barbara Bromley, a fourth-grade teacher. This project
began with a pitch at an ECO Net meeting of environmental
educators. It grew with the help of a grant from the Department of
Defense Education Activity with local support from the USS Michigan
crew, Spectra Laboratories and The Brothers Nursery.
Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition for work with
Kitsap County to create a stewardship plan for the new 535-acre
Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park on Port Gamble Bay, which includes
several projects involving hundreds of volunteers, community groups
Michelle Myers with the Hood Canal Salmon
Enhancement Group, who works tirelessly across multiple dimensions
to develop adult outreach programs and youth educational
activities. Efforts involve restoring habitat, pursuing stakeholder
engagement and supporting Hood Canal Watershed Education Network
When I was a young child, we didn’t have to worry about wildlife
getting strangled by six-pack rings, because these plastic binders
for cans had not been invented yet. I was 9 years old in 1961 when
this simple, convenient form of packaging was invented, so I
clearly remember the transition. (See Hi-Cone
At the time, nobody predicted the conservation consternation
that would be created by such a simple piece of plastic. During the
1970s and up to present, pictures of entrapped birds and other sea
creatures became common, suggesting that we at least cut the
plastic to save the animals. The first video provides a story of
Before the invention of six-pack rings, people bought soft
drinks and beer in cardboard packages, which sort of wrapped around
the cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon may have been the first beer sold in
cardboard cartons (second video), although Coca Cola may have
started the phase. The Coke
company claims to be the first to take its bottles out of
wooden crates and begin offering cardboard packaging for consumers
as early as 1923.
So we went from reusable wooden crates to biodegradable
cardboard to ever-lasting plastic six-pack rings, officially called
“yokes” in the industry. Concern about wildlife entrapment
eventually forced manufacturers of the plastic rings to use a
material that would degrade when exposed to light, but degradation
can be slow in a marine environment.
What really prompted me to write this piece about six-pack rings
was a new invention — edible six-pack rings made of wheat and
barley, the byproducts of brewing. It’s a product that “feeds
animals instead of killing them,” according to a promotional video
(third on this page).
Saltwater Brewing, a 3-year-old microbrewery in Delray Beach,
Fla., came up with the concept and is now waiting for patent
approval, according to the company website.
Nowhere does the company suggest throwing these things out for the
birds, but the company implies that it would not be a bad
I don’t know enough about marketing to know if there is any
chance of this gaining widespread acceptance. Initial reports say
these new rings could raise the cost of a six pack by 10 or 15
cents, but mass production could eventually bring down the
I also don’t know how these edible rings taste, and I’m not sure
I want to know. But, as one the commenters said on the YouTube website,
“Sweet, but if I’m REALLY hammered, can I eat it? Or will my head
get stuck in the plastic like what happens to sea turtles?”
Are people really worried about six-pack rings? My wife Sue
insists that I cut up any ringlike attachment devices, including
those used for all sorts of juices and other products sold at
Costco. I do it, knowing full well that I am going to put this
plastic thing into a kitchen trash bag, which will go into a larger
trash bag, which will go into a dumpster, which will eventually go
into a landfill in Oregon. Not much chance to entrap a seagull.
The story would be different if I was going to take a six pack
to the beach, but we normally pull the cans apart and put them into
a cooler before we leave the house.
Maybe these new grain-based rings would be worthwhile for those
who throw their trash at the beach. Maybe they would save the poor
animals that might get trapped or eat the plastic. I’m thinking of
Peanut, the turtle that grew up with a plastic ring crimping her
shell. As described by Stephen Messenger of
“The Dodo,” Peanut became a poster child for Missouri’s
No More Trash
As an example of problems caused by plastic trash getting into
the oceans, the six-pack ring may remain Public Enemy Number 1. But
I tend to agree with Cecil Adams of
“The Straight Dope” that a much more productive effort would be
for everyone to pick up any plastic trash they see at the beach —
or anywhere else — before it gets into the water. That is the same
message delivered by Seattle scuba diver Laura James following our
local rain and wind storms over the past week. (See video
Thanks go to Kitsap Sun reporter Tristan Baurick,
who offered the idea for this blog post.
Chum salmon are beginning to make their way into Central and
South Puget Sound, which means the orcas are likely to follow.
Given this year’s dismal reports of chinook salmon in the San
Juan Islands, we can hope that a decent number of chum traveling to
streams farther south will keep the killer whales occupied through
the fall. But anything can happen.
On Oct. 2, orcas from J and K pods — two of the three Southern
Resident pods — passed through Admiralty Inlet and proceeded to
Point No Point in North Kitsap, according to reports from Orca
Network. The whales continued south the following day and made
it all the way to Vashon Island, according to observers.
On Tuesday of this week, more reports of orcas came in from
Saratoga Passage, the waterway between Whidbey and Camano islands.
See the video by Alisa Lemire Brooks at the bottom of this page. By
yesterday, some members of J pod were reported back of the west
side of San Juan Island.
The movement of chum salmon into Central Puget Sound began in
earnest this week, as a test fishery off Kingston caught just a few
chum last week, jumping to nearly 1,000 this week. Still, the peak
of the run is a few weeks away.
The predicted chum run for Central and South Puget Sound this
year is about 526,000 fish, up from last year’s count of 503,000,
according to Aaron Default, fish program biologist with the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The average annual
return over the past 10 years has been about 640,000 chum, boosted
by a couple of exceptionally high years. (See chart.)
For Puget Sound as a whole, the forecast is for 1.2 million
chum, compared to a 10-year average of about 1.5 million.
It is yet to be seen how the orcas will respond to the schools
of chum coming south, but their fall travels could offer the
opportunity for a lot of people to watch the whales from shore
without disturbing them at all.
This year, Orca Network trained 45 new volunteers as
observers/naturalists. They live in Island, Snohomish, King,
Kitsap, Pierce, Thurston and Whatcom counties and will be on hand
at many of the observation locations, said Alisa. of Orca
“Our volunteers are provided with up to date ID guides and
information to share with others while viewing whales from the
shoreline, to educate about the orcas, their habitat, and prey,”
said Alisa, coordinator of Orca Network’s whale-sighting program,
in a news
Last November, Alisa was watching the whales from shore with
another volunteer, Sara Hysong-Shimazu, when they spotted a newborn
orca off Alki Point in Seattle. They took photographs of the calf,
and the Center for Whale Research later confirmed that it was the
first baby born to L-103, a 13-year-old mom named Lapis. The baby
was named Lazuli.
Observers should carry binoculars or another viewing scope to
get a better view from shore. If you have a decent camera and can
get a picture of one or more dorsal fins, orca researchers might be
able to use your pictures. Orca Network would like to be alerted
immediately to any whale sightings. Whale reports may be called in
to the toll-free number, 1-866-ORCANET; emailed to
firstname.lastname@example.org, or posted on the Orca Network Facebook
Whale sightings reported to Orca Network will be provided to
researchers studying the Southern Residents, which are listed as
endangered under the Endangered Species Act. If possible, observers
are asked to note the location, time, direction of travel and
approximate number of whales, as well as any specific behaviors,
such as breaching, spy-hopping or feeding.
Observers who choose to go out in boats must follow federal and
state regulations for whale watching as outlined on the Be Whale Wise website.
“We are very fortunate to live in a place where we can look out
from nearby shorelines and see those majestic black fins parting
the waters,” said Howard Garrett of Orca Network. “We are thankful
for the hundreds of citizens who report sightings each year,
providing valuable data to help in recovery efforts for the
endangered Southern Resident orcas.”
The similar properties of water and glass are explored in more
than 50 pieces of artwork in an exhibit called “Into the Deep” at
Tacoma’s Museum of Glass.
The art captures the movements, shapes and colors of creatures
and objects in the beautiful underwater world. For a closer look,
click on the images on this page.
“By creating artwork inspired by the ocean, each artist has
captured both the fragile beauty of the marine environment and the
delicate nature of glass,” Katie Buckingham, exhibit curator, said
in a statement
on the exhibit’s webpage.
Buckingham said she hopes visitors will not only enjoy the art
but also feel inspired to celebrate and protect the natural
environment. The 16 national and international artists featured in
the exhibit include Alfredo Barbini, Dale Chihuly, Shayna Leib,
Kelly O’Dell, Kait Rhoads, Raven Skyriver, and Hiroshi Yamano.
Fifteen of the pieces were produced in the workshop at the
Museum of Glass, including some produced by apprentices.
The exhibit opened on Sept. 24 and will remain through September
2017. Visitors will be able to access information linked to each
piece of art by using a cell phone and scanning the STQRY QR codes.
Three virtual tours are available, one with scientific information,
one about the creation of the sculptures and one on the artists.
Bonnie Becker, a biologist at the University of Washington-Tacoma,
wrote the scientific narrative.
Speaking of glass artwork, I am impressed with the intricate
salmon sculpture with the glass salmon eggs used to create a kiosk
at the east end of the new Bucklin Hill Bridge over the Clear Creek
estuary in Silverdale.
Driving across the bridge, one can see the bright orange salmon
eggs, more than 200 in all. A closer look reveals three salmon
figurines in a swimming posture above the eggs.
“I do believe that when you drive along and you have artwork
alongside the road, I think it lifts your spirits,” said Lisa
Stirrett, the designer of the kiosk, in a story written by
Christian Vosler for the
It is hard to imagine the restoration of the Skokomish River
ecosystem without the involvement of Rich Geiger, a longtime
engineer for Mason Conservation District. Rich had a way of
explaining technical aspects of environmental restoration, and he
was a tremendous help to me through the years.
Rich, who was 59 years old, died unexpectedly two weeks ago.
I got to know Rich in 2008 and 2009 while working on a series of
stories about the Skokomish River. My research involved interviews
with members of the Skokomish Tribe, farmers, loggers and longtime
residents of the area. For the final story, I talked to Rich about
what was wrong with the river and what needed to be done to reduce
the flooding and restore the ecosystem. He taught me a lot about
The Skokomish, if you didn’t know, is the largest river in Hood
Canal, and it exerts a great influence on the long, narrow waterway
with its amazing diversity of habitat.
“Something has bothered me about this river for a long time,”
Rich said, as quoted in my story for the
Kitsap Sun. “I have been doing a great deal of reading about
river systems and sediment transport,” he continued. “To boil it
down, the sediment is too heavy to be moved by the depths we think
are there in the Skokomish.”
Fast and deep water contains the force to move larger rocks, he
told me. Somehow the river was able to move large gravel out of the
mountains, but it never made it all the way to Hood Canal. Digging
into the gravel bars, Rich found layers of fine sediment wedged
between layers of larger rock — evidence that the energy of the
river had changed suddenly at various times.
Rich collaborated with engineers from the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation, U.S. Geological Survey and Army Corps of Engineers.
Eventually, they came to understand the river well enough to
develop a plan for restoration. Throughout the process, Rich was
willing to take time to help me understand every aspect of the
restoration alternatives. I will always be grateful for his
expertise and patience.
in January 2014, the plan was completed and accepted by ranking
officials in the Army Corps of Engineers. I called Rich for his
reaction to the important milestone.
“We are very glad to be at this point, because we are talking
about a physical project moving forward and not just more
planning,” he told me. “We asked the Corps to produce a single
integrated restoration plan, and they did.” To review a brief
summary of the plan, see
Water Ways Jan. 26, 2014.
The final plan by the Army Corps of Engineers became
incorporated into the Water Resources
Development Act, including $19 million proposed for the
Skokomish project. The bill was approved, first by the U.S. Senate
and then by the House. A few details still need to be worked out,
but after years and years of planning, the Skokomish project became
virtually assured of funding just a week after Rich died.
Mike Anderson, chairman of the Skokomish Watershed Action Team,
said Rich had always been the “brains of the collaborative.”
“Rich was the holder of the technical vision of the watershed
restoration,” Mike noted. “He understood how all the different
parts of the watershed — from the mountains down to the estuary and
beyond — work together.
“When we started out, he acknowledged that he did not know what
the answers would be for the valley. One of his great achievements
was getting the GI (general investigation) completed and the …
support for authorization. He felt rightly proud of completing that
“Mr. Speaker, Richard was not only an environmental advocate and
steward, he was also a leader in the community. He excelled at
fostering collaboration and consensus among diverse community
stakeholders, including private landowners, businesses, Native
American Tribes, and local, state, and federal agencies, to achieve
Rich was born April 12, 1957, and graduated from Billings Senior
High School. He attended Gonzaga University in Spokane, where he
became an ROTC Cadet and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil
engineering. After graduation, he served as a lieutenant in the
Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and advanced to rank of major.
In 1994, he took a job with Mason County Public Works
Department, where he held a variety of engineering positions. In
2001, he joined the Mason Conservation District as district
The family has suggested that memorials be made to the
Brain and Behavior Research Foundation, a non-profit
organization committed to alleviating the suffering caused by
mental illness. The foundation awards grants aimed at making
advances and breakthroughs in scientific research.
A giant piece of a cedar log stands erect in a barren landscape
north of Silverdale, where a new channel for Clear Creek stands
ready to receive water.
Well, maybe this channel won’t be entirely new. Designers
working to restore this portion of Clear Creek studied old maps.
They tried to align the new man-made channel to the meandering
stream that existed 150 years ago, before farmers diverted the
creek around their fields.
During excavation, workers uncovered buried gravel — remnants of
the old streambed — along with chunks of cedar that had lain along
the edge of the stream. Buried and cut off from oxygen, these
pieces of wood survived for decades underground, while cattle
grazed in the fields above.
Workers excavating for the new channel used their heavy
equipment to pull out what remained of a great cedar log. They
stood the log vertical and buried one end in the ground — a
monument to the past and future of Clear Creek.
Chris May, manager of Kitsap County’s stormwater program, showed
me the new channel this week. He said it was rewarding to uncover
some buried history and realize that the stream would be restored
in roughly the same place.
“We found the old channel,” Chris told me, pointing to a deposit
of gravel. “We are pretty confident that we got it right.”
This $3-million project has been conceived and designed as much
more than a stream-restoration project. The elevations of the land
around the stream have been carefully planned so that high flows
will spill into side channels and backwater pools. That should
reduce flooding in Silverdale and help stabilize the high and low
flows seen in Clear Creek.
The engineers did not calculate the reduced frequency of
flooding, but floodwater storage is calculated to be 18.4
acre-feet, the equivalent of a foot of water spread over 18.4 acres
or 29,700 cubic yards or 6 million gallons.
In all, about 30,000 cubic yards of material have been removed
across 21 acres, including the former Schold Farm on the west side
of Silverdale Way and the Markwick property on the east side.
Native wetland vegetation will be planted along the stream and in
low areas throughout the property. Upland areas will be planted
with natural forest vegetation.
The topsoil, which contained invasive plants such as reed
canarygrass, was hauled away and buried beneath other excavated
soils to form a big mound between the new floodplain and Highway 3.
That area will be planted with a mixture of native trees.
Plans call for removal of 1,500 feet of an existing road with
upgrades to two aging culverts. Adding meanders to the straightened
channel will create 500 feet of new streambed that should be
suitable for salmon spawning.
Plans call for adding 334 pieces large woody debris, such as
logs and root wads to the stream. Some of that wood will be formed
into structures and engineered logjams to help form pools and
“This will be one of the first streams to meet the Fox and
Bolton numbers,” Chris told me, referring to studies by Martin Fox
and Susan Bolton of the University of Washington. The two
researchers studied natural streams and calculated the amount of
woody debris of various kinds needed to simulate natural
conditions, all based on the size of a stream. (Review
North American Journal of Fisheries Management.)
The elevations on the property were also designed so that high
areas on opposite sides of the stream would be in close proximity
in several locations.
“Beaver will pick that spot,” Chris said, pointing to one
location where the stream channel was squeezed by elevated banks on
each side. “We want to encourage beaver to come in here.”
Beaver ponds will increase the floodwater storage capacity of
the new floodplain and provide important habitat for coho salmon,
which spend a year in freshwater and need places to withstand both
high and low flows. Because the county owns the flooded property,
there won’t be any complaints about damage from beavers, Chris
Clear Creek Trail (PDF 390 kb), which begins on the shore of
Dyes Inlet, will be routed along the higher elevations as the trail
winds through the property. Three new bridges will provide vantage
points to watch salmon after vegetation obscures other viewing
areas from the trail. Viewing platforms, as seen along other parts
of Clear Creek Trail, were not included in this project but could
be subject to further discussions.
Count me among the many people — experts, volunteers and users
of Clear Creek Trail — who are eager to see how nature responds
when water (now diverted) returns to the new stream channel. For
decades, the lack of good habitat has constrained the salmon
population in Clear Creek. The stream still has problems related to
its highly developed watershed. But now a series of restoration
projects is providing hope for increased coho and chum salmon and
possibly steelhead trout as well as numerous other aquatic
In a story in the
Kitsap Sun, Reporter Tristan Baurick described work this week
on the Markwick property, where fish were removed in preparation
for final channel excavation.
Here are some details (including photos) of various Clear Creek
projects, as described in the state’s Habitat Work Schedule for
A European green crab, one of the most dreaded invasive species
in the world, has finally arrived in Puget Sound.
A single adult green crab was caught in a trap deployed on San
Juan Island by a team of volunteers involved in a regionwide effort
to locate the invasive crabs before they become an established
Until now, green crabs have never been found in Puget Sound,
although they have managed to establish breeding populations along
the West Coast — including Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor in
Washington and the western side of Vancouver Island in British
Here’s what I wrote: “Puget Sound has so far avoided an
invasion of European green crabs — at least none have been found —
but the threat could be just around the corner….
“Green crabs are but one of the invasive species threatening
Washington state, but they are getting special attention because of
fears they could seriously affect the economy and ecosystem of
Puget Sound. Besides devouring young native crabs and shellfish,
they compete for food with a variety of species, including fish and
In Canada, one breeding population has been identified in Sooke
Inlet near the southernmost tip of Vancouver Island. That’s about
40 miles away from Westcott Bay, where Puget Sound’s first green
crab was found on Tuesday.
It is likely that the crab traveled to San Juan Island in its
early free-swimming larval form by drifting with the currents, said
Jeff Adams, a marine ecologist for Washington Sea Grant who manages
the Crab Team of volunteers. This crab likely settled down in
suitable habitat and located enough food to grow into an adult.
Based on the crab’s size, it probably arrived last year, Jeff told
Finding a green crab in Puget Sound is alarming, Jeff said, but
it is a good sign that the first crab was found by the volunteer
monitors. That suggests that the trapping program is working. If
this first crab turns out to be a single individual without a mate,
then the threat would die out, at least for now.
The concern is that if one crab can survive in Puget Sound, then
others may also be lurking around, increasing the chance of
male-female pairing. The next step is to conduct a more extensive
trapping effort in the area where the first green crab was found,
then branch out to other suitable habitats in the San Juan Islands,
Jeff said. The expanded effort is planned for the week of Sept. 11
and will include a search for molts — the shells left behind when
crabs outgrow their exoskeletons and enter a new stage of
Researchers and others who work with invasive species quickly
recovered from their initial surprise at finding a green crab in
Puget Sound, then got down to business in planning how to survey
for crabs and manage their potential impacts.
Allen Pleus, coordinator of the Aquatic Invasive Species Program
at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told me several
weeks ago that if green crabs show up in Puget Sound, one idea
would be to conduct an extensive trapping program to eradicate or
at least reduce their population. First, however, the extent of the
infestation must be identified. I expect that more extensive
trapping will be planned next spring and summer to look for
offspring from any successful mating in the San Juan Islands.
This video shows a green crab found in Willapa Bay on the
Typically, green crabs are found in marshy areas, which are
habitats extensively used by our native hairy shore crab. But Jeff
tells me that some populations of green crabs seem to be expanding
their habitat into more exposed rocky areas.
With roughly 400 suitable sites for the crabs in Puget Sound,
invasive species experts are calling for everyone who visits a
beach to look for green crabs and their molts. One can learn to
identify green crabs from the
Washington Sea Grant website. The volunteer trapping program is
funded by the Environmental Protection Agency with a grant to Fish
A public discussion about green crabs and how people can help
protect Puget Sound from an invasion is scheduled for Sept. 13 at
Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island. See Crab
Team Public Presentation.
I have some bleak news to share about our Southern Resident
killer whales, which normally frequent Puget Sound at this time of
J-14, a 42-year-old female named Samish, has gone missing and is
presumed dead, while J-28, a 23-year-old orca mom named Polaris,
may be living out her final days.
“Things are shaping up to be pretty bad,” said Ken Balcomb of
the Center for Whale
Research, who keeps tabs on the orca population. “J-28 is
looking super-gaunt, and I would say she is within days of her
The saddest part of my conversation with Ken this morning was to
hear him say that Polaris’ 7-month-old calf would become an orphan
and probably will not survive without his mother. That’s the
typical outcome for an orphan of that age, Ken said, although there
is a chance that the young male will be adopted by his
The calf, J-54, is still nursing, but he is close to weaning,
Ken noted. He is the newest calf born into the three Southern
Resident pods and is part of the “baby boom” of nine orcas born
between December 2014 and December 2015. So far, only one of those
calves, J-55, has died.
After my conversation with Ken, the Center for Whale Research
posted a news release about the death of Samish. Orca observers on
the water have known that she was missing for some time now.
As of today, J pod was on its way out through the Strait of Juan
de Fuca, no doubt searching for food. The chinook salmon run has
been very low this summer.
“Historically, at this time of year, we would see nice little
bunches (of orcas) swimming back and forth in front of the house,”
said Ken, who lives on the west side of San Juan Island. But this
year, the whales have broken up into small family groups and are
traveling around in seemingly random patterns, presumably in search
of whatever salmon they can find.
“Even the fishermen aren’t getting much this year,” Ken
To gauge a killer whale’s condition, researchers consider the
overall shape of its body. Without adequate fish — primarily
chinook salmon — an orca grows thinner as the body fat declines. As
conditions grow worse, a depression develops behind the blow hole.
This sunken condition — which Polaris has developed — is called
“peanut head.” So far, none of the other animals have been observed
in such a dire condition.
I’ve often been told by medical experts that when a killer whale
loses weight it can be a sign of a major problem, such as a disease
that makes them incapable of hunting to their normal ability. But a
shortage of food can exacerbate the condition.
“We have been telling the government for years that salmon
recovery is essential for whale recovery,” Ken said.
He blames the salmon decline on longtime mismanagement of wild
salmon stocks — including damage to habitat, over-fishing and
excess hatchery stocks in both Canada and the U.S. One of the
quickest ways to increase the chinook population for these whales
is to take out the Snake River dams, he said.
Rebuilding salmon runs on the Elwha River will help, Ken said,
but the number of fish is small compared to the potential of the
Snake River, which flows into the Columbia and produces salmon that
can be caught in the ocean.
“I’m trying to get the marine mammal people to talk to the
salmon people,” Ken said. “Fish have been a political problem for a
long time, and we are not solving the salmon issue.”
Money spent on law enforcement to make sure whale watchers don’t
get too close to the orcas would be better spent on education —
specifically on educating lawmakers about the needs of salmon and
killer whales, he quipped.
As of July 1 — the date of the annual orca census — the
population of the three Southern Resident pods stood at 83. That’s
the number that will be reported to the federal government. Since
then, Samish has gone missing, so the ongoing count falls to 82,
pending the status of Polaris and her son.
Samish was considered part of the J-2 (“Granny”) family group.
Her living offspring are Hy’shqa (J-37), Suttles (J-40) and
Se-Yi’-Chn (J-45). Samish was the grandmother to Hy-Shqa’s
4-year-old son T’ilem I’nges.
Polaris is the first offspring of Princess Angeline (J-17), who
is still living. Her first offspring, a female named Star (J-46),
is now 7 years old. J-54 is her second offspring.
Wait! Don’t touch that! It’s not a toy. It’s a living thing.
Researchers aboard the Exploration Vessel Nautilus were scanning
the seafloor off the coast of California using an unmanned
submarine when they spotted a purple thing that caused them to
laugh with amusement.
“It looks so fake,” one researcher said. “It looks like some
little kid dropped their toy.” (Watch and listen in the first video
player on this page.)
They maneuvered the remotely operated vehicle Hercules closer
and continued to laugh at the creature with eyes that looked glued
on. Later, as the video went viral, this purple cephalopod — a
class that includes squid, octopus and cuttlefish — became known to
many people as the “googly eyed squid.” Since Aug. 12, more than
2.5 million viewers have clicked on the video.
This species, Rossia pacifica, is known to Puget Sound divers as
the stubby squid or sometimes the bobtail squid, but it is not a
true squid. See The Cephalopod Page
by James Wood to understand the relationship among family
This particular stubby squid was seen in early August on the
seafloor about 2,950 feet deep off the California Coast. They can
be found from throughout the North Pacific south to Southern
California. They are found at many depths from coastal waters to
The second video shows a bobtail squid spotted from the EV
Nautilus in August of 2014, and the third shows a flapjack octopus
from August of 2015.
Roland Anderson of Seattle Aquarium described early surveys in
Puget Sound, where stubby squids were found in muddy sand at 11
sites between Seattle and Tacoma, including Elliott and
Commencement bays. Check out
“Field Aspects of the Sepiolid Squid.” (PDF 3.3 mb)
In a piece on “The Cephalopod
Page,” Anderson writes, “One surprising thing recently learned
about stubby squid is that they are found in polluted urban bays
with highly polluted bottom sediments, such as the inner harbors of
Seattle and Tacoma.
“There may be several reasons they can survive there. Deposition
from rivers maybe capping polluted sediments. Their short life
spans (just two years from eggs) may not allow them to absorb a
significant amount of pollutants from the sediments. Another
survival factor may be the stubby squid’s ability to produce
copious quantities of mucus, which may protect it from the
sediments like a thick Jello jacket.”
Reporter Stefan Sirucek of
National Geographic News interviewed Michael Vecchione, a
cephalopod expert at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural
“It’s not an uncommon species,” he said. “They get all the way
from scuba-diving depths down into the deep sea. If that is all one
species, then it’s pretty broadly distributed.”
Vecchione said large eyes are fairly common among deep-see
“They are funny-looking eyes, but I’ve seen other species of
this genus that had eyes that looked very similar,” he said.
“People were actually asking whether those eyes were photo-shopped
in to make it look more like a cartoon or something. No, those are
the real eyes. That’s what they look like.”
In low light, the big eyes help them hunt for crustaceans and
avoid predators. In either case, the strategy is to remain still so
other animals don’t notice it there, which can make it look like a
“My guess is it was probably frozen because of this big machine
that was brightly lit up in front of it,” Vecchione said in the
interview. “So it was trying not to be seen, basically.”