Early and continuing rains in October have increased streamflows
and brought coho and chum salmon into their spawning territories
ahead of schedule this year.
I was out and about today, taking a look at some of the streams
in Central Kitsap. I couldn’t pass up the chance to enjoy the sunny
and warm weather, and I was pleased to encounter a lot of other
folks doing the same thing. Adults of all ages, some with children,
were out looking for the elusive salmon. That’s not something I
ever saw 10 years ago while making my rounds to public
I believe the growing interest in salmon may result from ongoing
promotions of salmon watching by governmental and volunteer
organizations, as well as the news media. Why shouldn’t we go out
to watch salmon swimming upstream and possibly, if one is lucky,
catch a glimpse of spawning behaviors? After all, we live in one of
the best areas for this enjoyable pastime.
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.
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:
Killer whales were back in Puget Sound today, spotted early this
morning near Vashon Island, in the afternoon near Seattle and after
dark near Point No Point in North Kitsap. Reports can be seen on
Network’s Facebook page.
It’s a reminder that chum salmon are now running in Puget Sound,
and the whales are close behind. The chum also are entering our
local streams. So this is the time to visit your nearest salmon
stream to see if the fish have arrived. Tristan Baurick wrote about
recent conditions for the
As always, if you wish to see chum swimming upstream and
possibly spawning, one of the best places to go is Chico Salmon
Park next to Kitsap Golf and Country Club. For the latest
information about the park, read the story in the
Kitsap Sun by Terri Gleich.
With a couple of updates, my Salmon Viewing
Map and videos still offer a guide to the best public spots to
watch salmon on the Kitsap Peninsula. Click on the map at right to
access the videos and other information, including viewing
If you would like to learn about salmon from the experts, make a
note of these events:
Saturday, Nov. 7, Poulsbo Fish Park, 288
Lindvig Way. Children’s activities included, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. No
Salmon Viewing Saturday
Saturday, Nov. 14, Chico Salmon Park, Chico
Way at Golf Club Road, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No charge. Kitsap
Saturday, Nov. 14, Mountaineers Rhododendron
Preserve, 3153 Seabeck Highway. Tours, involving a hike of about
1.5 miles, begin at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Nov. 14.
Kitsap Salmon Tours.
Prompted by stream biologist Jon Oleyar. my grandson, Kevin
Jeffries, and I visited Gorst Creek today during a break in the
As I reported in
Water Ways yesterday, Jon, who counts salmon for the Suquamish
Tribe, had observed an unusual number of coho salmon swimming
upstream in Gorst Creek.
Because of heavy rains, the creek was running high and very fast
this afternoon, and the waters were a muddy brown. In fact, the
sediment load was so heavy that we spotted only a few fish swimming
upstream. We suspected that a lot of them were hunkered down in
deep pools, waiting for the flows to decline and the stream to
become more passable.
Although we did not see a lot of fish, it was exciting to watch
coho salmon trying to jump up into an outlet pipe that discharges
water from the salmon-rearing raceways in the park. Coho, wearing
their spawning colors of red, are known as jumping fish, but these
guys were going nowhere fast. Check out the video on this page.
I’m looking forward to returning to the stream after the rains
decline and the waters clear up a little bit. The coho may or may
not be gone by then, but Jon expects that we should be able to see
chum salmon in Gorst Creek at least until Christmas.
The on-and-off rains over the past two weeks are nearly perfect
for both spawning salmon and for recharging shallow groundwater
supplies, experts say.
For October, total rainfall ranges from about 5 inches at
Hansville to 12 inches at Holly, according to rain gauges managed
by the Kitsap Public
Utility District. Fortunately, those rains have not been
delivered to us in only a few days.
The intermittent nature of October rains has allowed the streams
to maintain their flows without flooding. They’ve also allowed
infiltration into the ground without excessive runoff.
“It is the good kind of rain,” said Bob Hunter, interim manager
of Kitsap PUD. “We’ve had a couple of days when we’ve had 2-plus
inches, but we haven’t seen the streams flash.”
In other words, the streams have not risen excessively fast. Bob
attributes that to how dry the ground was before the rains began.
Soils were able to absorb much of the early rainfall before
stormwater runoff began to increase. Pauses between the rainstorms
allowed more of the water to soak into the ground.
“It just goes to show you the variability that we have around
here,” Bob told me.
October marks the beginning of the 2015 “water year.” Although
we are just a month into the start of the year, the rainfall has
been closely tracking all-time highs at some rain gauges —
including Holly, which has been monitored since 1999. (See charts
Meanwhile, the rain pattern in October was nearly perfect for
salmon, said Jon Oleyar of the Suquamish Tribe, who walks the East
Kitsap streams to count migrating salmon as they arrive.
“It seems like we’ve had storms coming in every couple of days,
so they are not right on top of each other,” Jon said. “That gives
the streams some time to recede.”
When there is not adequate flow, the salmon often wait for the
streams to rise. On the other hand, too much flow can wash salmon
eggs out of the streambed.
Last week’s rains got the chum salmon moving into most of the
East Kitsap streams, Jon told me.
“I checked Chico Creek on Wednesday, and there were almost
11,000 fish in there and going up about as far as they can get,” he
A good escapement for the Chico Creek system is between 12,000
and 15,000 chum, and there is still more than a month left —
assuming a typical timing of the run, he said. But things are
looking a little different this year, he noted, and the bulk of the
run may have arrived already.
One indication that timing could be different this year is that
Gorst Creek already has a fair number of chum salmon — perhaps 500
— yet the Gorst Creek run usually comes in later and continues well
Is it possible that all or most of the salmon runs are coming in
early? It’s a question that only time will answer.
Jon told me that he’s a bit water-logged at the moment, trying
to count fish in the rain with the streams running high.
“I’m pretty happy about it,” Jon said. “I have my fish up where
they need to be, but it’s just hard to count them right now. If
you’re a fish, this is really working for you.”
In the charts below, found on the Kitsap PUD’s website, you can
see that October’s rainfall has been tracking the record high
rainfall at these stations. Of course, the “water year” has barely
begun, so anything can happen. (Click on images to enlarge.)
This year’s return of chum salmon to Hood Canal remains on track
to break the record, coming in with four times as many fish as
predicted earlier this year.
Last week, I reported that the total run size for Hood Canal
fall chum appeared to be about 1.4 million fish, according to
computer models. See
Kitsap Sun, Oct. 30 (subscription). The modern-day record is
1.18 million, set in 2003. If conditions hold, this year’s run will
easily exceed that.
The large Hood Canal run also is expected to provide an economic
boost of some $5 million to $6 million for commercial fishers, not
including fish processors and stores that sell the fish.
The forecast models are based largely on commercial harvests.
Data collected since I wrote the story only tend to confirm the
record-breaking run, according to salmon managers. Final estimates
won’t be compiled until the end of the season.
The chum run in Central and South Puget Sound also are looking
very good. The latest data suggest that the run could reach
700,000, or nearly twice the preseason estimate and well above
Meanwhile, the large chum runs are attracting Puget Sound’s
orcas to the waters off Bainbridge Island and Seattle, as chinook
runs decline in the San Juan Islands and elsewhere. As I described
in a story on Sunday, it has been an odd year for the whales, which
may have spent most of the summer chasing chinook off the coast of
Kitsap Sun, Nov. 2 (subscription).
The large chum run also promises to provide some great viewing
opportunities for people to watch the salmon migration in their
local streams. I would direct you to the interactive salmon-viewing
map that Amy Phan and I completely revamped last year for the
Kitsap Sun’s website. The map includes videos describing salmon
streams across the Kitsap Peninsula.
Speaking of salmon-watching, everyone is invited to Saturday’s
Kitsap Salmon Tours, an annual event in which biologists talk about
the amazing salmon and their spawning rituals. One can choose to
visit one or both of the locations in Central Kitsap. For details,
check out the Kitsap
Public Utility District’s Website.
One of the locations, now named Chico Salmon Park, is undergoing
a major facelift, thanks to more than 100 hours of volunteer labor
over the past two weekends — not to mention earlier work going back
to the beginning of the year. See the Kitsap County
news release issued today.
Volunteers working on the park deserve a lot of credit for
removing blackberry vines, Scotchbroom and weeds from this
overgrown area. This property, which has Chico Creek running
through it, is going to be a wonderful park someday after native
trees and plants become established. (See
Kitsap Sun, Feb. 2, 2013)
When it comes to salmon restoration, victories often come in
small steps, one stream at a time. Never let anyone tell you that
small streams don’t count.
One small, but inspiring, stream is Cooper Creek, which drains
into the head of Eagle Harbor on Bainbridge Island. The little
stream saw its first return of chum salmon this year following a
long absence because of a blockage caused by a water-diversion dam.
Get the larger picture from Tad Sooter’s story in the
Only about 10 fish came back this fall, said Wayne Daley, a
biologist who assisted with the release of 15,000 fry each year
over the past four years. Still, 10 fish is a start, he told me,
and it’s better than most years, going back for decades.
“I’m very satisfied,” Wayne said. “I know that some folks feel
we should have had a lot more fish, but it demonstrates to me that
we can do projects like this. This was a wonderful educational
Given that most of the work done was by volunteers, the Cooper
Creek project was not expensive. The stream is rather short, and
spawning gravel is limited, but the hope is that the run can be
restored without further human intervention.
“We’ll see what happens after four years of supplementation,” he
The 10 salmon that made it back are true survivors — from their
early days, when they somehow avoided predators in the stream, to
four years of swimming in the ocean, to finally avoiding fishing
nets and harbor seals on the last leg of their journey back into
“One thing that was fascinating was to watch when these fish
first showed up,” Wayne said. “There were not only fish; there were
harbor seals that followed them right up to the gas station (near
the mouth of the stream).”
When I hear about harbor seals chasing salmon, I always wonder
why there aren’t more transient killer whales chasing the seals.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world, with dog salmon (chum) on the menu.
As in many streams throughout Puget Sound, volunteers have taken
Cooper Creek to heart, providing a new start for a long lost salmon
I could make a list of small streams where groups of individuals
are making a difference in adding to the mass migration of chum,
coho, pink and chinook salmon, not to mention steelhead. I would
enjoy it if you would pass on stories about grass-roots projects
that are making a difference for salmon and other wild
When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in
double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the
changing weather would make the trip more exciting.
Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized
Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring
Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her
Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for
Saturday. See the story I wrote for
Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.
By Spring Courtright Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center
At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at
Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined
up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to
Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study
salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping
salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor
Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on
This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number
of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of
these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the
more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick
change in weather. Continue reading →
The Southern Resident killer whales have begun their annual
travels into Central and South Puget Sound in search of chum
The shift occurs when chinook salmon have completed their
migration and chum are just beginning to come home to their natal
streams, as I describe in a story in
yesterday’s Kitsap Sun. It is widely assumed that the length of
their stay depends on their success in finding the later
This year was predicted to be a low year for fall chum. But Jay
Zischke, marine fisheries manager for the Suquamish Tribe, told me
that early commercial and test fisheries suggest that the run is
either earlier than usual or larger than the preseason forecast.
Even so, it may still be a relatively low year for fall chum.
This is the 15th anniversary of another low chum year, 1997,
when 19 members of L pod came all the way into Dyes Inlet to find
adequate numbers of chum schooled up in front of Chico and Barker
creeks. The whales stayed in the inlet for a month and left just
before Thanksgiving. There is still debate about whether they
wanted to stay that long.
On the 10th anniversary of the event, I wrote about the story of
two young researchers, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok and Jodi Smith, who
spent most of that month studying the whales and trying to protect
them from a massive number of boaters who wanted a front-boat view
of the action. Stories, maps and other information about that event
can be found on a website called “The Dyes Inlet Whales
— Ten Years Later.” Continue reading →