As you can see in the first video, a beautiful sea sapphire
flashes in brilliant hues of green, blue and purple before
disappearing before your eyes.
Sea sapphires are tiny copepods, and the color changes probably
relate to their process of attracting a mate. How these little
creatures change their colors was finally explained by a group of
researchers this past summer in the
Journal of the American Chemical Society.
The colors relate to an innate ability to adjust the spacing
between their tiny plates, adjusting the wavelength of light
reflected from the crystals underneath. When the reflected light is
shifted far enough into the ultraviolet, the little critters nearly
The process of discovering the mechanism was fully explained in
journal article. For a less technical discussion of these
unusual copepods, read the blog post by Jennifer Frazer, a who
“The Artful Amoeba” for the Scientific American website.
I like the narration on the first video, produced by the
American Chemical Society, but credit for the amazing pictures of
the sea sapphire goes to videographer Kaj Maney of Ambon,
Indonesia. Kaj did not reveal his video technique, but it must be
good. I looked everywhere for additional videos of sea sapphires,
but it was his
video that was copied again and again by others. For other
great videos of sea creatures, see his Liquid Guru website.
The second video relates to the amazing process called
bioluminescence, in which animals produce their own light with
biochemistry. The video was part of National Geographic’s 2013
program “Expedition Week: Hunt for the Giant Squid.”
My most impressive encounter with bioluminescence was in 1997,
when I went out at night on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale with killer
whale researcher Jodi Smith. As the whales swam near the boat, it
was easy to see the trail of glowing plankton they left behind. It
was an experience I’ll never forget.
Those interested in the creatures that inhabit our local
waterways may find themselves enthralled by two recent publications
— one describing the many species of fish found in the Salish Sea
and the other examining the lifestyles of crabs and shrimps living
along the Pacific Coast.
new fish report (PDF 9.2 mb), published by NOAA Fisheries,
documents 253 species found in the Salish Sea, including 37
additional species not listed in the previous comprehensive fish
catalog, now 35 years old.
What caught my immediate attention in the report were the
beautiful illustrations by Joe Tomelleri, who has spent the past 30
years capturing the fine features of fish from throughout the
world. Check out the ornate fins on the fourhorn poacher and the
muted colors of the spotted ratfish. I never realized that common
ratfish wwere so beautiful.
The new report offers a preview of a much-anticipated book by
Ted Pietsch, retired fish curator at the University of Washington’s
Burke Museum, and Jay Orr, a biologist at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries
Science Center. The book, “Fishes of the Salish Sea,” will provide
extensive descriptions as well as illustrations of all known
species — including some early discoveries that came to light after
publication of the new NOAA report. The book could be 600 pages or
I interviewed author Ted Pietsch of Seattle and illustrator Joe
Tomelleri of Leawood, Kans., for a piece incorporated into the
The other book, “Crabs and
Shrimps of the Pacific Coast” by Greg Jensen of Bremerton,
pulls together information about 300 of these various crustaceans.
The book, which has been on my review list for more than year, has
won acclaim from experts in the field as well as casual observers
of nature. The book comes with an associated computer disc of the
book’s text, which allows one to link to other articles and
reports. One can also load much of the book onto a smart phone,
which can be taken to the shoreline and used as a field guide.
“My goal was to make a book that would appeal to someone who
just wants to learn about this stuff and would also be valuable to
someone, like myself, who is a specialist in the field,” Greg told
I enjoy Greg’s light writing style, as he tells little stories
in sidebars, shares brief biographies of key scientists and clears
up myths and confusion. One sidebar, for example, tells us that the
lines between shrimp and prawns have become blurred.
In Great Britain, he said, Crangonids, “with their stout,
somewhat flattened form, were called ‘shrimp,’ while palaemonids
were known as prawns.” In other places, prawns are considered
larger than shrimp. Sometimes prawns refer to freshwater versus
“Bottom line: There is no formal definition separating the two.
Like the Queen’s English, once they left home for America and
Australia, they became bastardized beyond recognition,” he
Greg, a scuba diver, shot about 90 percent of the pictures shown
in the 240-page book. If nothing else, he told me, the book
provided an excuse for him to dive in waters all along the
“It was like a big scavenger hunt,” he said. “You look through
the literature and you have this list (of crabs and shrimps). You
dig up anything and everything about where to find them.”
Like Ted Pietsch has done for fish, Greg has gone back to the
original references about crabs and shrimp, taking pains to correct
mistakes passed down through scientific literature. It has taken
years to track down the many references to ensure accuracy and give
credit to the right people, he said.
Greg, who grew up in Bremerton, was in grade school when a field
trip took him to Agate Passage on a low tide, where he became
intrigued by crabs. He soon started an extensive collection of
dried crab shells. Looking back, Greg credits marine biology
instructors Ted Berney at East High School and Don Seavy at Olympic
College for helping him pursue his interests, eventually launching
his career at the University of Washington.
Today, Greg still lives in Bremerton, researching, writing and
teaching at the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Science.
I’ve always enjoyed listening to sounds, whether it be easily
identified natural sounds or mysterious sounds that are hard to
When I was kid, I was given a tape recorder, which I used to
collect all sorts of natural and unnatural sounds. I would play
back the sounds and ask people if they could identify the source.
Even as an aging adult, I enjoy listening to the sound of a flowing
stream, breaking waves or falling rain. I also like to listen to
bird calls, and I keep telling myself that I need to learn how to
identify more of them — but that’s another story.
For this blog, I would like to return again to this idea of
natural sound and share some websites where you can listen to your
heart’s content and sometimes shape the sound itself. Since this is
a blog about water, I’ve tended to focus on rain, streams, oceans
and such things, but these links can be just a starting point.
Soundsnap is a website
that boasts of having 200,000 sounds in its catalog, including
6,000 sounds of
nature. Included are 249 sounds of rain, 117 sounds of the
sea, 1,065 sounds
of water and
298 sounds of ice. These sounds can be
downloaded for a fee, but it costs nothing to explore Sound Snap’s
At the other end of the spectrum is a single 11-hour YouTube
video featuring the sound and images of ocean waves. I have not
listened to more than a few minutes of this video at a time, so I
don’t know what happens if you turn on this video to go to sleep
and then leave it on all night. But the sound coming from the video
is certainly more pleasant than the nightly sounds that some people
learn to tolerate. The video, embedded on this page, was posted by
which has several videos of a similar vein.
If you would like to download a sound to save it or use it in a
video project, Sound Bible is a
royalty-free site with a large collection of sounds. I downloaded
the files below from collections called “Sea Sounds” and “Water
Nudibranchs, soft-bodied mollusks often called “sea slugs,” are
among the most ornately decorated creatures in the sea. With about
3,000 species of nudibranchs coming in all shapes and colors, I
thought it might be fun to track down some of these animals.
Nudibranchs are found in all the world’s oceans, but you don’t
need to go beyond Puget Sound to find some of the most beautiful
ones. I’m grateful to Dan Hershman, a retired Seattle teacher,
part-time musician and underwater naturalist, who shared some of
his best photos of sea slugs from this region. Check out Dan’s
The word nudibranch (pronounced nude-eh-brank) comes from the
Latin word nudus, meaning naked, and brankhia, meaning gills. So
these are animals with naked gills, which often grow out of their
backs and sides. These creatures can be as small as a quarter-inch
or as long as a foot or more.
Nudibranchs are carnivores, eating things ranging from algae to
anemones, barnacles and even other nudibranchs. They can pick up
coloring for camouflage and even poisons from the prey they eat,
using the chemicals in defense against predators.
Hermaphrodites with reproductive organs of both sexes, these
animals don’t normally self-fertilize. But they are prepared to
mate with any mature individual of the same species. Eventually,
they will lay masses of spiral-shaped or coiled eggs.
Death came early to Hood Canal this year, demonstrating just how
odd and unpredictable ocean conditions can be.
Fish kills caused by low-oxygen conditions in southern Hood
Canal usually occur in late September or October. That’s when
low-oxygen waters near the seabed are pushed upward by an intrusion
of heavier water coming in from the Pacific Ocean and creeping
along the bottom. Winds out of the south can quickly blow away the
surface waters, leaving the fish with no escape.
That’s basically what happened over the past month, as
conditions developed about a month earlier than normal. South winds
led to reports of fish dying and deep-water animals coming to the
surface to get enough oxygen, with the worst conditions occurring
on Friday. Check out the video on this page by Seth Book, a
biologist with the Skokomish Tribe, who found deep-water ratfish
swimming near the surface.
The story of this year’s strange conditions actually begins
about a year ago and involves a 1,000-mile-long “blob” of unusually
warm ocean water off the West Coast. State Climatologist Nick Bond,
who coined the term “blob,” explains its formation in an article in
Research Letters with a summarized description by Hannah Hickey
The warm, low-density coastal waters related to the blob came
into Hood Canal on schedule last fall, but they were not dense
enough to flush out the low-oxygen waters, according to University
of Washington oceanographer Jan Newton.
Hood Canal entered 2015 with the least-dense waters at depth
over the past 10 years. They remained in a hypoxic state, meaning
that levels were below 2.5 parts per million. Sea creatures unable
to swim away can be unduly stressed and unable to function normally
at that level. Conditions worsened into the summer, when the
hypoxic layer at Hoodsport grew to about 300 feet thick.
By then, the annual intrusion of deep seawater with somewhat
elevated oxygen levels was on its way into Hood Canal, spurred on
by upwelling off the coast. This year’s waters are more normal in
density, though their arrival is at least a month early. By August
9, the hypoxic layer at Hoodsport was reduced from 300 to 60 feet,
pushed upward by the denser water.
It’s always interesting to see this dynamic play out. The layer
of extreme low-oxygen water becomes sandwiched between the
higher-oxygen water pushing in from the ocean and the surface
water, which ordinarily stays oxygenated by winds and incoming
streams. Without south winds, the middle low-oxygen layer
eventually comes up and mixes into the surface layer.
If south winds come on strong, however, the surface layer is
blown to the north, causing the low oxygen water to rise to the
surface. Fish, shrimp and other creatures swim upward toward the
surface, trying to stay ahead of the rising low-oxygen layer. When
the low-oyygen layer reaches the surface, fish may struggle to
breathe in the uppermost mixing layer. Unfortunately, the fish have
no way of knowing that safer conditions lie down below — beneath
the low-oxygen layer and within waters arriving from the ocean.
Jan Newton reported that the low oxygen levels in southern Hood
Canal earlier this year were the most extreme measured over the
past 10 years. So far, however, the fish kills don’t seem as bad as
those in 2003, 2006 and 2010, she said.
The graph below shows how the deep layer coming in from the
ocean at 279 feet deep contains more oxygen than the middle layer
at 66 feet deep. The surface layer, which normally contains the
most oxygen, dipped to extremes several times near the beginning of
August and again on Friday, Aug. 28. These data, recorded from a
buoy near Hoodsport, are considered unverified.
The surprise trick of coming up behind someone and tapping him
or her on the opposite shoulder is a technique that seems to work
especially well for the larger Pacific striped octopus.
This is how the octopuses often catch a shrimp for dinner, as
you can see from the first video on this page. For a little more
emotional drama, watch this same video with a musical soundtrack
added by UC
Berkeley Campus Life.
The larger Pacific striped octopus seems to be the odd one out,
according to recent observations by marine biologist Roy Caldwell
of the University of California at Berkeley. Findings reported this
month by Caldwell and colleagues in the open-access journal
“PLOS ONE” confirm strange stories told about the octopus over
the past 30 years — behaviors far different from those of most
Two years of observations of live large Pacific striped
octopuses in Berkeley laboratories and elsewhere have confirmed
behaviors never seen among most octopuses. Activities include
unusual beak-to-beak mating, which looks like the animals are
kissing; males and females shacking up together, sharing food and
having sex for days at a time; and females living long beyond the
time they lay their first clutch of eggs, as they continue to eat,
mate and lay more eggs.
The paper also discusses the possibility that these odd
octopuses may live together in colonies, as observed by scuba
divers, and come to recognize each other based on unique color
patterns and postures.
As for tapping a shrimp on the shoulder, “I’ve never seen
anything like it,” Caldwell told Robert Sanders of
Berkeley News, the media outlet for UC Berkeley.
“Octopuses typically pounce on their prey or poke around in
holes until they find something,” he continued. “When this octopus
sees a shrimp at a distance, it compresses itself and creeps up,
extends an arm up and over the shrimp, touches it on the far side
and either catches it or scares it into its other arms.”
In addition to Caldwell, authors reporting observations in the
paper are Christine L. Huffard of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research
Institute; Arcadio Rodaniche of the Smithsonian Tropical Research
Institute; and Caldwell, Huffard and Richard Ross, all of the
California Academy of Sciences.
The larger Pacific striped octopus is perhaps the oddest of an
odd group of creatures, with their shifting octopus shapes,
mesmerizing eyes and uncanny intelligence, Richard Ross told
Associated Press reporter Seth Borenstein.
“They’re aliens alive on our planet,” Ross said, “and it feels
like they have plans.”
MORE VIDEOS FROM THE JOURNAL PLOS ONE
Two larger Pacific Striped Octopuses appear to embrace and kiss
in a unique mating ritual.
Sometimes these octopuses move along by bouncing across the
bottom of the ocean.
These octopuses can change their coloration along a bilateral
line while twirling their arms.
A new worldwide map of sea level rise, plotted with precision
satellite instruments, shows that the Earth’s oceans are rising
faster with no end in sight.
Sea levels have gone up an average of 3 inches since 1992, with
some locations rising as much as 9 inches. Meanwhile, some limited
areas — including the West Coast — have experienced declining sea
levels for various reasons.
Two years ago, climatologists released an international
consensus, which predicted a sea-level rise of between 1 and 3 feet
by the end of this century. It was a conservative estimate, and new
evidence suggests that ocean waters are likely to meet or exceed
the top of that range, possibly going much higher, according to
four leading researchers speaking at a news conference
The implications are huge and growing more important all the
time. At a minimum, waterfront property owners and shoreline
planners need to begin taking this into consideration. It doesn’t
make sense to build close to the shoreline if extreme high tides
will bring seawater to one’s doorstep.
If we hope to avoid local extinctions of key intertidal species,
we must start thinking about how high the waters will be in 50 to
For clues to the future, we can watch Florida, where vast areas
stand at low elevations. Even now, during high tides, Miami is
beginning to see regular flooding in areas that never got wet
before. This is the future of low-lying areas in Puget Sound, such
as estuaries. In the Pacific ocean, the threat of inundating
complete islands is becoming very real.
Along the West Coast, sea levels have actually declined over the
past 20 years, largely because of the cooling effect of the Pacific
Decadal Oscillation, a warming/cooling cycle that can remain in one
phase for decades. The cycle appears to be shifting, with the
likely effect that sea levels on the West Coast will soon rise as
fast or faster than the worldwide average, according to Josh
Willis, an oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
The cause of sea level rise is attributed to three factors.
Scientists estimate that roughly one-third of the rise is caused by
thermal expansion of ocean waters, which absorb much of the energy
from global warming. Another third comes from the melting of the
massive Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. The remaining third
comes from the melting of mountain glaciers throughout the world.
Researchers at yesterday’s news conference said they expect the
melting to accelerate.
Measuring the change in sea-level rise has become possible
thanks to advanced technology built into altimeters carried aboard
satellites. The instruments can distinguish changes in elevation as
small as one part in 100 million.
“The instruments are so sensitive that if they were mounted on a
commercial jetliner flying at 40,000 feet, they could detect the
bump caused by a dime lying flat on the ground,” said Michael
Freilich, director of NASA’s Earth Science Division.
While sea level rise can now be measured, predicting the rate of
future rise is difficult, because much of the melting by ice sheets
occurs out of sight under the water.
The Greenland ice sheet covers 660,000 miles — nearly the size
of Alaska. Satellite measurements have shown that an average of 303
gigatons of ice have melted each year over the past decade. The
Antarctic ice sheet has lost an average of 118 gigatons per year,
but some new studies suggest it could begin to melt much
In Greenland, researchers are reporting that one of the largest
chunks of ice ever to break away from land cleaved from the
Jakobshavn glacier in a “calving” event that left researchers
awestruck. More than 4 cubic miles of ice was loosed quickly into
the sea. Check out the news release by the
European Space Agency.
“This is a continuing and evolving story,” glaciologist Eric
Rignot said during yesterday’s news conference. “We are moving into
a set of processes where we have very tall calving cliffs that are
unstable and start fracturing and break up into icebergs …
“We have never seen something like this on that scale before,”
said Rignot, associated with JPL and the University of California
at Irvine. “Personally, I am in awe at seeing how fast the icefall,
the calving part of the glacier, is retreating inland year by
Other new information from NASA, including lots of graphics:
I am still baffled, as are the folks at the University of
Washington’s Seismology Lab, why people freaked out over the
earthquake article, titled “The Really Big One,” published this
month in New
Could it be that Northwest residents were unaware or had
forgotten about the risk of earthquakes in this area until a
national magazine called attention to the problem?
Was it the lack of credible details about earthquake risks in
the original article, which included this quote from an
emergency-management official: “Our operating assumption is that
everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.”
Or maybe it was the rapid spread of information via social media
and the huge number people living in other parts of the country who
texted, tweeted and inundated Facebook with worries about their
relatives in the Pacific Northwest.
“I don’t really know what it was,” said Bill Steele, my longtime
contact at the UW’s Seismology Lab. “We are a bit baffled by it.
There is nothing really new.”
Although the author, Kathryn Schultz, left out specifics about
which areas might be affected more than others, she did tell a
compelling — and fairly accurate — story about what could happen
when the North America plate breaks free of the Juan de Fuca plate,
which is sliding underneath it.
I was pleased to see that she came back this week with a
follow-up article describing where the greatest shaking would
occur and which areas would be at greatest risk from a tsunami
unleashed by slippage along the Cascadia subduction zone. She also
suggests steps that people can take to protect themselves and their
property — something I have always felt is a mandatory part of any
story I write about earthquakes. Review a webpage put together by the
I’ve been very fortunate to have worked as a news reporter
during a time when many important discoveries were made in
Northwest seismology. I accompanied researchers digging in swamps,
riverbanks and man-made trenches, where they found traces of
ancient earthquakes. That work and much more comprises a body of
evidence across many disciplines that helps us understand how bad
our “big one” could be.
In 1999, I paused from covering individual discoveries about
earthquakes to write a story for the Kitsap Sun focusing on a few
of the researchers and their key findings. We called the story
“Finding Fault: 13 Years of Discoveries.”
I can’t begin to recount all the stories I’ve written about
earthquakes through the years, but I do recall warning people a few
years ago to get prepared after the massive Japanese earthquake
made headlines across the the globe (Kitsap
Sun, March 11, 2011):
“While Japan struggles to recover from one of the greatest
earthquakes in world history, West Coast seismologists are warning
that a quake just like it could occur at any time off the
Washington and Oregon coasts.
“In broad-brush terms, ‘the two earthquakes are very similar,’
said John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismograph
Network at the University of Washington. ‘As a first guess, what
might happen here is what happened there.’
Of course, we have had our own earthquakes that should give us
plenty of reason to get prepared. The 6.8-magnitude Nisqually
earthquake on Feb. 28, 2001, occurred in the Puget Sound region and
served as a powerful wakeup call for many people.
The Nisqually quake was called the “miracle quake” because
nobody was killed, although one man died from a heart attack that
could have been related to the event. About 400 people were injured
and damage estimates ranged up to $4 billion. (U.S.
In the Puget Sound region, the shaking from the Nisqually quake
could be something like area residents will experience in a
Cascadia subduction-zone quake, though shaking from a subduction
quake is expected to last longer, depending on how much of the
plate breaks free. Things will not be the same in all places, and
communities closest to the Olympic Mountains might experience the
most damage from a subduction quake.
Five years after the Nisqually quake, Phyllis Mann, who was
director of Kitsap County Department of Emergency Management at the
time, was still wondering why many people were not prepared for an
earthquake in Kitsap County.
“Kitsap has never depended on the federal government as part of
its plan,” Phyllis told me in a
Kitsap Sun story published Feb. 28, 2006. “The federal
government can’t be with us the day of the disaster. With the
exception of the military, which is part of our community, you
can’t count on the feds early on.”
Mann used our interview to direct pointed questions at Kitsap
“Why aren’t you ready? What is it going to take? We keep asking
this question and finding out that people aren’t prepared. Where is
your food and water for three days? (A week is the latest
recommendation.) Where are your reunion plans? Is it my
responsibility as the county emergency manager to make sure
everyone does it?”
The New Yorker article failed to mention an earthquake threat
that should be of equal concern to residents of the Puget Sound
area. You may have heard of the Seattle fault, which runs from
Seattle across Bainbridge Island and Central Kitsap to Hood
Although the frequency of huge earthquakes on the Seattle fault
appear to be less than those along the Cascadia subduction zone, we
must not forget that a quake on the Seattle fault about 1,100 years
ago lifted up the south end of Bainbridge Island by 21 feet and
created a tsunami that inundated shorelines now occupied by people.
By contrast, a tsunami coming from the ocean after a subduction
quake might raise the water level quickly in Puget Sound but
probably no higher than what we see with daily tides.
In a way, the Seattle fault put the Kitsap Peninsula on the map
with a red bull’s-eye, which I wrote about five years ago. See
Kitsap Sun, May 8, 2010, along with the map on this page.
Bill Steele told me that he is sure that Kenneth Murphy,
regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency,
regrets saying, “Our operating assumption is that everything west
of Interstate 5 will be toast.” That may be a good “operating
assumption” for an agency trying to plan for the worse possible
emergency, but it is not a very good description of what
seismologists predict by modeling various scenarios.
Bill said many people failed to read the New Yorker article
carefully and took the comment to mean that most of Western
Washington would be hit with a 50-foot wall of water — something
that could not be further from the truth.
“The good news for us is that we have a pretty good 10,000-year
history of what happened on the fault,” Bill said. “We know how the
shaking will be distributed.” Again, look at the hazard map on this
page and note the strip of red along the coast.
While many earthquake experts are surprised by the reaction to
the New Yorker article, it has accomplished one goal of those who
understand the risks: getting people to create earthquake kits,
secure homes on their foundations and other things that could help
prevent damage and get people through the emergency.
“You have to take your hat off to the author,” Bill told me,
“because she got a lot of people thinking. It is not like the New
Yorker has that many subscriptions.”
Emergency managers may be studying the cascading events
triggered by the New Yorker article, including the initial
publication, the ripples running through social media and the
public alarm that rose up and eventually died down.
Directing public concern into action is what folks like Bill
Steele and others are doing right now. Check out the video in the
player below for Bill’s appearance on “New Day Northwest,” and
visit the webpage of the Pacific
Northwest Seismic Network for basic information and scheduled
discussions about earthquake risks. One public forum is scheduled
for Tuesday at the University of Oregon, and
other forums are under consideration at the UW.
It’s an interesting time for researchers to begin writing a blog
about ocean conditions off Oregon and Washington, an area
undergoing some fascinating changes in oceanography and
Scientists from NOAA Fisheries and Oregon State University
launched their new website,
“Newporter Blog,” last week. It’s named after the Newport Line,
an area of study off the Oregon Coast where researchers have
monitored changes for the past 20 years.
“This year, the ocean has been very different,” wrote blogger
Jennifer Fisher in the blog’s first post on June 23. “Anomalously
warm surface water dubbed the ‘warm blog’ moved onto the
continental shelf off Newport in September 2014. A very large
harmful algal bloom (HAB) spanning from British Columbia to
California is occurring off the coast right now. El Niño conditions
are occurring at the equator, and NOAA is forecasting a 90-percent
chance that an El Niño will persist through the Fall.”
The next blog post last Thursday was by researcher Cheryl Morgan
from the Canadian fishing vessel FV Frosti “somewhere off the coast
of the Pacific Northwest,” where researchers are looking to see how
juvenile salmon are doing. They were taking note of anything picked
up in their nets in the upper 60 feet of water.
“Watching the trawl come in is like the anticipation of opening
a Christmas gift,” Cheryl wrote. “What could be in there? How many?
How big? Have we ever caught any of them in the net?
“We always hope for some juvenile salmon, since that is the main
point of the survey, but we also like to see something different,
strange, or unusual to spice things up,” she continued.
The next post on Monday revealed that fish being caught were of
a kind seen in Northwest waters only when the temperatures rise.
They included pompano and jack mackerel. The researchers were
especially surprised to find bottom-dwelling flatfish in their net
some several hundred feet off the bottom.
“What is a fish that lives on the bottom, one side down, doing
in the water column?” she asked. “Perhaps they are lost, could not
find the bottom or they are chasing some dinner. Most strange,
however, was the catch of nearly 3,330 Pacific sanddabs … in ONE
trawl. That was a first for even the fishing crew.”
The team also brought up a juvenile red octopus, a species
normally found among rocks on the bottom — “another creature that
is a long way from home.”
The research fishing will continue from Newport to the upper
corner of Washington state. The scientists are taking note of any
birds preying on fish before they begin their daily trawl. Plankton
also are scooped up to see what the fish might be eating and to
provide new data about the harmful algal bloom.
The work is being funded by NOAA and Bonneville Power
The researchers/bloggers said they would share their findings as
they go along. I, for one, look forward to learning about ocean
conditions and how the warm water is affecting all sorts of sealife
along the West Coast.
This year’s research project tracing the movements of Southern
Resident killer whales has ended after 96 days of tracking L-84, a
25-year-old male named Nyssa.
It was the longest period of tracking among the Southern
Residents since the satellite-tagging studies began in 2012. The
transmitter carried by L-84 lasted three days longer than a similar
deployment on K-25 in 2013. The satellite tags, which are attached
to the dorsal fins of the whales with darts, often detach after
about a month.
The nice thing about this year’s study is that it covered the
entire month of April and much of May, according to Brad Hanson,
project supervisor for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
That tells the researchers something about the movement of the
whales later in the year than previous deployments have
A satellite tag on J-27 (Blackberry) in late December extended
the total tracking period to more than four months.
Looking back through the
tracking maps since February, it is clear that L-84 and his
entourage have spent much of their time moving up and down the
Washington and Oregon coasts. They seem to favor hanging out near
the mouth of the Columbia River. On a few occasions, they have
ventured into Northern California.
On May 6, they took their only jaunt north into Canadian waters,
reaching Estavan Point (halfway up Vancouver Island) two days
later. They continued north another day, nearly reaching Brooks
Peninsula (about three-fourths up Vancouver Island) on May 9. Then
they headed back south, ending this year’s tracking program near
the Columbia River.
Just before the satellite tag fell off, biologists from Cascadia
Research Collective caught up with the whales on May 21 south of
the Columbia River. The researchers noticed that the tag was
loosening, and no further satellite signals were picked up.
The tracking studies, combined with efforts to collect samples
of feces and fish remains, are designed to identify where the
whales are spending their time in winter months and what they are
finding to eat when salmon are more scarce. All of this could lead
to a major expansion of their designated “critical habitat” and
increased protections in coastal waters. As of now, critical
habitat for the whales does not extend into the ocean, and NOAA has
concluded that more information is needed before changing the
designated protection area.
Within the next month or so, all three Southern Resident pods
should head into Puget Sound, congregating in the San Juan Islands,
as chinook salmon return to Canada’s Fraser River and other streams
in the Salish Sea.
Meanwhile, J pod seems to be hanging out in waters around the
San Juans, possibly waiting for the other pods to show up. Plenty
of observers have been filing some great reports and related photos
That link also includes recent reports of seal-eating transient
killer whales that have traveled as far south as the
Bremerton-Seattle area, perhaps farther. A few humpback whales have
been sighted in northern Puget Sound.