A second European green crab has been found in Puget Sound, this
one in Padilla Bay — about 30 miles southeast of where the first
one was discovered about three weeks ago.
Green crabs are an invasive species known to devour a variety of
native species and alter habitats where they have become
established. Keeping green crabs out of Puget Sound has been a goal
of state officials for years.
After the first green crab was caught in a volunteer trapping
program three weeks ago, experts mounted an intensive trapping
effort to see if other green crabs were in the area around Westcott
Bay in the San Juan Islands. (Water
Ways, Sept. 3). No live crabs were found, but one cast-off
shell (molt) was discovered nearby (Water
Ways, Sept. 15).
The latest find is a young female crab, 34 millimeters across,
which may have grown from a larva dispersed last winter.
“We were relieved to find very little evidence of a larger
population of invasive European green crab in Westcott Bay,” Emily
Grason of Washington Sea Grant said in a
news release (PDF 371 kb). “But finding an additional crab at a
site more than 30 miles away suggests that ongoing vigilance is
critical across all Puget Sound shorelines. WSG’s Crab Team is
committed to continuing the efforts of volunteer monitoring as
resources allow, but we also rely on beachgoers to keep a watchful
eye out for this invasive species.”
A second rapid-response effort will get underway Monday with
more traps being deployed over a larger area than last time. The
goal is to locate any crabs that may have made a home in the area
and determine where the crabs might be gaining a foothold.
Humpback whales have been making the news for their organized
“rescues” — seemingly heroic efforts in which the humpbacks have
intervened in attacks by killer whales against other marine
The humpbacks have not only protected their own calves but they
have gone well out of their way to protect gray whales, minke
whales, Dall’s porpoises, Steller sea lions, California sea lions,
Weddell seals, crabeater seals, harbor seals, northern elephant
seals and even ocean sunfish, according to researchers.
The latest incident, in which humpbacks reportedly intervened in
a killer whale attack on a Steller sea lion, is said to be the
first reported incident in the Salish Sea. The incident took place
last week off Sooke, BC, about 20 miles west of Victoria.
“What we witnessed was pure aggression,” Capt. Russ Nicks of BC
Whale Watch Tours of Victoria said in a
news release from Pacific Whale Watch Association. “We had four
humpbacks trumpeting, rolling on their sides, flukes up in the air
“The killer whales split many times into two groups, with one
that appeared to try to draw the humpbacks away from the sea lion.
The other group would go in for the attack while the humpbacks were
safely away – but then they’d get in the middle of it again,
fighting the orcas off. It was amazing to watch.”
These killer whales were of the transient variety, a subspecies
of killer whales that eats marine mammals, as opposed to the
resident orcas that each fish.
The same attack and rescue was viewed by naturalist Alethea
Leddy of Port Angeles Whale Watch Company, as reported in the news
“We got there in time to see some crazy surface activity, with
humpback whales splashing in the distance along with orcas. Then
two humpbacks surfaced next to us trumpeting, and the next thing we
know there were four humpbacks, possibly six, all defending the sea
“The water boiled all around as the orcas tried to separate the
sea lion from the humpbacks. It was a wild scene, with the
humpbacks even circling the sea lion trying to keep him safe while
he frantically struggled to get his breath.
“The anxiety of the humpbacks was palpable, and they took turns
diving and slashing at the orcas. This life-and-death drama went on
and on until the four transient orcas, known as the T100 family,
moved off in the distance. As they did, we saw the sea lion appear
next to the humpbacks being guarded and escorted in the opposite
“This was an unbelievable encounter. Hats off to our courageous
humpbacks and best wishes to our little Steller sea lion, survivor
for another day!”
In July, 14 marine mammal experts reported on 115 apparent
rescue efforts by humpback whales during what appeared to be killer
whale attacks on other species of marine mammals. Their report
appeared in the journal Marine
Reasons for these rescue efforts are open to much speculation,
but the researchers noted that evidence is mounting in favor of a
belief that killer whales that eat marine mammals, called MEKW,
attack young humpback whales more often than commonly reported.
“Clearly, MEKW predation, even if rarely observed and targeting
mainly calves and subadults, represents a threat to humpbacks that
is persistent, widespread, and perhaps increasing,” the report
states. “As such, humpbacks could be expected to show some specific
anti-predator behaviors, and indeed some have been suggested. Ford
and Reeves (2008) summarized the defensive capabilities of baleen
whales faced with killer whale attack, and they identified two
general categories of response.
“Balaenopterid rorquals (including fin whales and minke whales)
use their high speed and hydrodynamic body shape to outrun killer
whales and were classified as flight species. The
generally more rotund and slower-swimming species — right whales,
bowhead whales, gray whales and humpback whales — apparently rely
on their bulk and powerful, oversized appendages (tail and
flippers) to ward off attackers. This group was categorized as
Of course, it is one thing for the humpbacks and other baleen
whales to take a defensive posture. It is quite another thing for
them to go after killer whales when another species of marine
mammal is under attack.
In the report, humpbacks initiated encounters with MEKWs 58
percent of the time, while the killer whales initiated contact 42
percent of the time — at least for those cases when the killer
whale ecotype could be identified as marine mammals eaters. On a
few occasions when known fish-eating killer whales were involved,
the encounter was relatively benign, the researchers said.
The video, shot by BBC filmmakers, show a pair of humpback
whales attempting to prevent a group of orcas from killing a gray
whale calf. In this case, the effort was unsuccessful.
When humpbacks went to the rescue of other marine mammals, it
appears that the rescuers were generally a mixture of males and
females, according to the report. Humpback postures, whether
attacking or defending, involved slapping their flukes on the
surface, slashing from side to side, bellowing, persuing and
flipper slapping. The length of battles reported ranged from 15
minutes to seven hours. In the end, the prey that was at the center
of the battles was killed 83 percent of the time — at least for
those cases when the outcome was known.
“The humpback whale is, to our knowledge, the only cetacean that
deliberately approaches attacking MEKWs and can drive them off,
although southern right whales may also group together to fend off
MEKWs attacking other right whales,” the researchers stated, adding
that humpbacks’ powerful flippers covered in sharp barnacles can
shred the flesh of their opponents.
When in hunting mode, transient killer whales are generally
silent, not making much noise. Once an attack begins, they become
more vocal, perhaps to coordinate the attack. It appears that
humpbacks respond to killer whale vocalizations from distances well
out of sight of the attack.
The reasons the humpbacks would get in a fight with killer
whales to save another species are listed in three categories:
Kin selection: Protecting an offspring or
closely related animal.
Reciprocity: Protecting unrelated animals,
generally as part of a social organization.
Altruism: Benefitting another animal at some
cost to the one taking action.
It is possible, the researchers conclude, that humpbacks could
be improving their individual and group fitness to fend off attacks
against their own by protecting other species. One idea is that the
killer whales may think twice about attacking a humpback of any
“We suggest,” they write, “that humpbacks providing benefits to
other potential prey species, even if unintentional, could be a
focus of future research into possible genetic or cultural drivers
of interspecific altruism.”
No European green crabs were caught this week during an
intensive two-day trapping program designed to see if any of the
invasive crabs have gained a foothold in the San Juan Islands.
If you recall, a single adult green crab was trapped Aug. 31 by
a team of volunteers in the San Juan Islands. It was the first
green crab ever found in Puget Sound, but experts have been worried
about the crab for years. (See
Water Ways, Sept. 3.) The volunteers are involved in a citizen
science monitoring program to locate green crabs when they first
arrive in Puget Sound and before they become a breeding
The response by professional leaders of the Crab Team was to
place 97 traps in and around the location where the first crab was
found. The effort was started on Monday and repeated on Tuesday.
The maps on this page show the locations and the number of traps
place at site on the two days. Hundreds of native crabs were
trapped and inspected, but no green crabs were found.
Although no live crabs were found, one molt (cast-off shell)
from a green crab was found by Jeff Adams, a marine ecologist for
Washington Sea Grant who manages the Crab Team of volunteers. The
molt was close to where the live crab was found. The experts have
not determined if the molt came from the first crab or if there
might be other crabs in the area.
The next step is still being planned. It could involve another
intensive trapping effort, perhaps in the spring, as well as
increasing the number of volunteer trapping sites in the San Juan
Islands. The volunteer program takes a hiatus in the winter, when
the crabs are less active, but it will resume in the spring.
The next green crab training program is scheduled for March,
when new and former citizen science volunteers will be taught how
to identify green crabs and conduct an effective trapping effort in
up to 30 locations throughout Puget Sound. To learn more about the
volunteer program, check the Washington Sea Grant webpage
“Get Involved” or sign up for a free email newsletter called
“Crab Team News” (click “Newsletters”).
Emily Grason, Crab Team coordinator for Washington Sea Grant,
was involved in the two-day intensive trapping program. Emily blogs
about the effort on the Crab Team website:
On the outside, chum and coho salmon don’t seem all that
different from one another, not when you consider the variety of
fish in Puget Sound — from herring to halibut along with dozens of
odd-looking creatures (EoPS).
But we know that if you place coho in stormwater taken from a
heavily traveled roadway, the coho are likely to die within hours.
But if you do the same thing with chum, these hardy fish will
barely notice the difference.
Researchers began to observe the varying effects of pollution on
different species of salmon years ago. In 2006, I reported on
studies by researcher Nat Scholz of the National Marine Fisheries
Service, who discovered that coho would swim into Seattle’s heavily
polluted creeks to spawn, but they wouldn’t get very far. Within
hours, they would become disoriented, then keel over and die.
Sun, June 10, 2006)
Later, Jenifer McIntyre, a researcher with Washington State
University, collaborated with Scholz to refine the studies,
exposing adult coho and later young coho to stormwater under
controlled conditions. Much of that work was done at the Suquamish
Tribe’s Grover’s Creek Hatchery in North Kitsap. The researchers
also measured the physiological effects of pollution on zebrafish
embryos during their early stages of development.
Working at the Washington Stormwater Center in Puyallup, Jen
made a remarkable discovery that has dramatically changed people’s
thinking about stormwater treatment. She found that if you run the
most heavily polluted stormwater through a soil medium containing
compost, the water will no longer have a noticeable effect on the
sensitive coho. Rain gardens really do work.
Now, Jen, who recently joined the faculty of WSU, is beginning a
new phase of her research, probing deeper into the physiological
responses of coho salmon when exposed to polluted stormwater. She
told me that the varying responses of coho and chum offer clues
about where to look for problems.
“It is very interesting,” she said. “As biologists, we
understand that there is variability among species. But we would
expect, at least among salmon, that things would be pretty much the
Researchers in Japan have discovered that different kinds of
fish have different subunits in their hemoglobin, which are the
proteins in red blood cells that carry oxygen to the vital organs.
Since coho and other salmon may have different forms of hemoglobin,
oxygen transport in the blood is a good place to start this
investigation, she said.
From there, the issues of blood chemistry get a little
technical, but the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen can
depend not only on the form of hemoglobin but also on the pH
(acidity) of the blood, she said, and that can be altered by drugs
and other chemicals.
Another thing that researchers may be seeing is “disseminated
intravascular coagulation,” a condition that results from clotting
in the lining of the capillaries. DIC can reduce or block blood
flow where it is most needed and eventually cause organ damage.
That’s an area for more research, Jen said, noting that these
investigations are moving forward in collaboration with researchers
at NMFS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Meanwhile, Jen is working with chemists at the University of
Washington’s Center for Urban Waters in Tacoma to figure out which
substances — out of hundreds of chemicals found in stormwater —
could be causing these deadly effects on fish.
If isolating the dangerous compounds proves too difficult,
researchers might be able to start with the original toxic sources,
perhaps exposing fish to chemicals found in tires, oil, antifreeze
and so on, Jen said. For those effects, it might be good to begin
the investigation with the well-studied zebrafish embryos, which
are transparent and can be observed closely throughout their
Needless to say, this is a field of intense interest. If
researchers can discover what is killing coho, they might begin to
understand why the recovery of chinook salmon in Puget Sound has
been so slow. Chinook, which could be added to Jen’s studies, are
listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and
are the preferred prey of Puget Sound’s killer whales, which are
listed as endangered.
Two recent articles discussed the relative hardiness of the chum
compared to coho salmon:
With some luck, southern Hood Canal may avoid a major fish kill
this year, as we observe extremely low oxygen levels beginning to
It looks like the fish around Hoodsport dodged a bullet on
Friday when south winds pushed the surface layer of oxygenated
water to the north, bringing hypoxic waters up from below,
according to data from the Ocean
Remote Chemical Analyzer (ORCA) buoy near Hoodsport.
University of Washington researchers watching the conditions
issued this alert
on Friday: “Hypoxic waters have been observed intermittently at the
surface at our Hoodsport mooring — in addition to the Twanoh
mooring —consistent with the strong southerly winds and upwelling
conditions we’ve been seeing over the past few days.”
Seth Book, who monitors the water conditions for the Skokomish
Tribe, said he was on vacation last week and did not make his usual
rounds to observe potential fish kills. But we have not heard of
any reports of dead or dying marine life along the shores of Hood
The risk of a fish kill is still present, and another strong
wind out of the south has the potential to bring more low-oxygen
water to the surface. The layers of water and the timing appear
similar to last year, when south winds brought deep-water fish —
such as ratfish — to the surface, as Seth recorded in a video. See
Water Ways, Sept. 1, 2015.
Each summer, sunny weather brings a growth of phytoplankton that
eventually dies, sinks to the bottom and decays, a process that
consumes oxygen. The result is extremely low levels of oxygen near
the bottom of Hood Canal, a situation that continues until a surge
of seawater in late summer or fall pushes in from the Pacific
Because of its higher salinity, that seawater comes in along the
bottom and pushes up the low-oxygen water, which gets sandwiched
between the ocean water and the more oxygenated water near the
surface. If the surface layer gets displaced suddenly by the wind,
the fish have no place to go to get oxygen. That appeared to be the
condition on Friday, but now the middle layer is growing thinner as
it mixes with the layers above and below.
Conditions are improving, Seth confirmed, “but the negative side
of me still says we have low D.O.” Crabs, shrimp and deep-water
fish may be out of the woods for this year, thanks to higher levels
of oxygen in the incoming seawater, but mid-level fish are still at
risk until the water column equalizes to a greater extent.
In July, areas farther north in Hood Canal, such as Dabob Bay,
experienced low-oxygen conditions, which drove a variety of fish to
the surface, Seth told me. Of particular interest were thousands of
Pacific herring trying to breathe by staying in the upper foot of
water along the shore.
“We have dodged something so far this year,” Seth said. “I am
hopeful because we are now into September and we can see this
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.”
Through the years, I’ve written a lot about the Skokomish River,
which begins in the Olympic Mountains and flows into the south end
of Hood Canal. The wide, productive estuary might be described as
the elbow of this long, narrow waterway that bends up toward
I’ve heard it said that Puget Sound cannot be restored to health
without a healthy Hood Canal, and Hood Canal cannot be restored to
health without a healthy Skokomish River. Whether that is true
remains to be seen, but I have no doubt that the Skokomish River
watershed is coming out of a dark period of abuse with hope of
becoming one of the most productive streams in the region.
Much of the credit for the transformation goes to a group of men
and women from a variety of agencies, occupations and ways of life
who came together with an understanding of the historic value of
the Skokomish River and a vision for what the river could become
again. This was the Skokomish Watershed Action Team, or SWAT, which
celebrated its 10th anniversary last year.
To be sure, it was basically loads of money that began to
transform the abused Skokomish River watershed to a much more
productive system. But the people in charge of the federal, state,
local and private dollars were able to see the Skokomish as a
worthy cause, thanks to the groundwork laid by the SWAT.
Disappointments have been few, as one project after another brings
this long lost river back to life.
Yes, I have written a lot about the Skokomish River, its history
and its future. That’s why I was glad to see the 10-year update to
the Skokomish Watershed
Action Plan (download, PDF 113 mb). The document contains an
extensive account of the projects completed and the milestones
passed through the years. Whether you are intimately involved in
the watershed or just want to know what the heck I’m talking about,
take a look at the report released this week.
Since 2005, nearly 50 restoration projects were completed — from
removal of old logging roads high in the mountains to the
re-establishment of tidal channels in the lower estuary. Salmon are
being reintroduced to the North Fork of the Skokomish River,
including the dammed-up Lake Cushman, thanks to a legal settlement
between Tacoma and the Skokomish Tribe.
About 12 miles upstream in the South Fork of the Skokomish, a
series of 30 logjams were installed and almost immediately began to
restore the channel to a more natural habitat for fish and other
aquatic creatures. This area was part of a four-mile stretch that
was heavily logged in the 1950s for a reservoir that never
Once the logjams were in place, the area began to store massive
loads of sediment, which always created problems as they washed
downstream into the lower river. The river’s characteristic problem
of spreading out and slowing down was reversed, as width-to-depth
ratios decreased and the average depth in the middle of the river
increased by two feet. The number of pools deeper than five feet
doubled from three to six, and the piles of wood grew larger by
capturing logs floating downstream.
The new report also lays out plans for the watershed in the
coming years, including projects identified in a major study by the
Army Corps of Engineers. A Corps proposal to fund $20 million in
restoration projects is now before Congress, as I described in
Water Ways in April and June. Other projects have been proposed
for separate funding, as outlined in the new report.
From space, Hood Canal is easily recognized by its new shade of
bimini green, a color that stands out clearly from the rest of
Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean, as shown in the photo above.
The color is caused by a large bloom of coccolithophore, a
single-celled phytoplankton bearing a shell made of white calcium
Teri King of Washington Sea Grant spotted the unusual color more
than a week ago from the ground while driving along Hood Canal.
“I thought to myself, ‘Am I dreaming of the Cayman Islands?’”
she reported on her
Facebook page. “I pulled over to the side and took a few photos
to document my observations. I then had an opportunity to grab a
water sample. Yep, a Coccolithophore bloom from Quilcene to
“It is hard to miss a bloom of this color,” Teri continued on
Facebook. “We don’t see them often, but when we do it is
remarkable. The water takes on a tropical blue green appearance
with white speckles.”
The photo from space (top) was taken last Sunday from NASA’s
Aqua satellite with equipment
used to capture the natural color. On Wednesday, a more detailed
image (second photo) was taken from the Landsat 8
Reporter Tristan Baurick describes the phenomenon in yesterday’s
Kitsap Sun. The single-celled plankton are not harmful to
people or animals, so the bloom won’t affect shellfish harvesting.
Hood Canal, as we’ve discussed many times, is prone to low-oxygen
conditions, often exacerbated by massive blooms of plankton, which
reduce oxygen through the process of decay.
The last major bloom of this kind in Hood Canal was noted in
northern Hood Canal during the summer of 2007. Samples taken at
that time showed the species of coccolithophorid to be
Emiliania huxleyi, according to a report for the Hood
Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program.