Federal funding to restore Puget Sound and other large U.S.
estuaries would be slashed by more than 90 percent under a
preliminary budget proposal coming from President Trump’s
Funding for Puget Sound restoration would be cut by 93 percent,
from the current budget of $28 million to just $2 million,
according to figures cited by the
Portland Oregonian and apparently circulated by the National
Association of Clean Air Agencies. Here’s
The Great Lakes, which received a big boost in spending to $300
million in the current biennium, would be hammered down to $10
million. Chesapeake Bay, currently at $73 million, would be reduced
to $5 million.
Much of this money goes for habitat protection and restoration,
the kind of effort that seems to be kicked to the bottom of the
priority list, at least in these early budget figures. The new EPA
administrator, Scott Pruitt, appears to be focusing on upgrading
water infrastructure, cleaning up toxic sites and reducing air and
water pollution, although everything is cut deeply and details
Looking back on the various comments that followed the death of
the killer whale named Granny, I realized that there were a couple
of thought-provoking tributes that I never shared with readers of
Granny, designated J-2, was believed to be more than 100 years
old, and she was the obvious leader for many of the Southern
Resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound. Granny went missing last
fall and was reported deceased at the end of the year by the Center
for Whale Research. See
Water Ways, Dec. 30.
Some tributes to Granny were written and posted soon after her
death notice, including one by Ken Balcomb of the Center
for Whale Research. I posted my thoughts along with some others in
Water Ways on Jan. 4.
An amusing video that shows a young family experiencing close-up
encounters with killer whales, a polar bear and several penguins
has been making the rounds on social media. The technology has been
described as a hologram by many people posting and reposting the
video, the first on this page.
Frankly, I was amazed at first, believing that people were
really up close and personal with a 3D image in a shopping mall.
The animals, which I assumed were projected for all to see,
appeared so real that it was no wonder that people in the video
were reaching out to touch them. Unfortunately, that’s not what we
are seeing, according to observers.
A European green crab invasion may be taking place in Puget
Sound, and Washington Sea Grant intends to enhance its Crab Team
this summer with more volunteers looking in more places than ever
Training is about to get underway, and anyone with an interest
in furthering science while being exposed to the wonders of nature
may participate. It’s not always good weather, but I’ve been
inspired by the camaraderie I’ve witnessed among dedicated
The work involves going out to one or more selected sites each
month from April into September with a team of two to four other
volunteers. It is helpful to have folks who can carry the crab
traps, plastic bins and other equipment. For details, check out the
Washington Sea Grant website.
Seals and sea lions can no longer be ignored in the effort to
recover our threatened Puget Sound chinook salmon or our endangered
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
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.
Since the beginning of the manned space program, astronauts have
been playing with water in microgravity conditions. The result has
been a large assortment of videos demonstrating the unique and
amusing properties of water.
In the first video on this page, Chris Hadfield, an astronaut
with the Canadian Space Agency demonstrates what happens aboard the
International Space Station when you ring out a soaked wash cloth
in the weightlessness of space.
The experiment was suggested by students Kendra Lemke and
Meredith Faulkner of Lockview High School in Fall River, Nova
Scotia. It was posted on YouTube in 2013.
The video shows that the surface tension of water is great
enough that the water keeps clinging when Hadfield rings out the
cloth. If you watch closely, however, you can see a few droplets
fly off when he starts to ring out the cloth.
Invasive saltwater snails, including dreaded oyster drills, seem
to be far more leery of predators than native snails under certain
conditions, according to a new study by Emily Grason, whose
research earned her a doctoral degree from the University of
Why non-native snails in Puget Sound would run and hide while
native species stand their ground remains an open question, but the
difference in behavior might provide an opportunity to better
control the invasive species.
Of course, snails don’t actually run, but I was surprised to
learn that they can move quite rapidly to find hiding places when
they believe they are under attack.
Like many marine animals, snails use chemical clues to figure
out what is happening in their environment. For her experiments,
Emily created a flow-through system with two plastic shoeboxes.
Chemical clues were provided in the upstream bin, while the
reaction of the snails was observed in the downstream bin.
The most dramatic difference between native and non-native
snails seemed to be when ground-up snails were deposited in the
upstream bin, simulating a chemical release caused by a crab or
other predator breaking open snail shells and consuming the tender
Two days before Donald Trump became president, the Puget Sound
Federal Task Force released a draft of the federal action plan for
the recovery of Puget Sound.
The Trump transition raises uncertainty about the future of this
plan, but at least the incoming administration has a document to
work with, as described by Steve Kopecky of the White House Council
on Environmental Quality. (See
Water Ways, Dec. 22.)
Speaking last month before the Puget Sound Partnership’s
Leadership Council, Kopecky acknowledged that the plan would go
through many changes over time, with or without a new
“That being said, the first one is probably the most powerful,”
he said. “It is the model that new folks are going to use, so we’re
trying to make sure that we have a good solid foundation model
before we all collectively go out the door.”
They say every snowflake is different. That may be hard to
believe until you realize that snowflakes are really quite large on
the molecular scale and that snowflakes come in various shapes and
sizes, created under an enormous number of varying conditions.
In fact, most snowflakes are so different from one another that
the effort to categorize their shapes has never been completely
successful. In 2013, one research group came out with a new
classification of 121 different types of snow crystals, ice
crystals and solid precipitation. Check out the paper in
But what really got me started on this topic was the beauty of
snowflakes and wondering how they form. I offered a view of some
stunning still photos in
Water Ways in 2014. This time, I thought we could take a look
at snowflake formation.
I really like the first video on this page, complete with music.
I didn’t realize until later that the video does not show snowflake
formation at all. Rather it shows the sublimation of snowflakes
(their disappearance) played in reverse.
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.
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
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.