BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma
— and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200
stations today, according to a
list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began
as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in
The searchable archive
covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of
birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related
sources — including photos or videos; a little history or
biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and
often more information about the featured birds.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is
a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past
two years or so that I think you will enjoy:
UPDATE, Jan. 30, 2 p.m.
K pod was in Rich Passage and heading toward Bremerton when I
talked to Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. He
did not know the location of J pod at that time.
Over the past week, J pod continued to hang out in the Strait of
Juan de Fuca and general San Juan Islands area, as revealed by a
satellite transmitter attached to J-27, a 24-year-old male named
For the past month, J pod has remained in the inland waterways,
traveling from the mouth of the Strait up into the Canadian Strait
of Georgia, approaching Campbell River. J pod is one of the three
orca pods that frequent Puget Sound. The location of K and L pods
remains largely unknown among whale researchers.
From Wednesday, Jan. 21, to Friday, Jan. 23, the pod stayed
mainly in the outer portion of the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of
Sekiu, venturing a short way into the open ocean, before turning
back and shooting up past Saturna Island, north of the San Juans,
by the next afternoon.
The whales traveled south through the San Juans Saturday night
and were back in the Strait on Sunday. At that point, the satellite
tag was automatically switched off to conserve its batteries. When
it came back on Tuesday, the whales were at the entrance to the
Strait of Juan de Fuca, where they meandered about for nearly for a
As of this afternoon, there were indications that J pod and
possibly K pod were coming past Port Townsend on their way into
Puget Sound. Some people are reporting visual sightings of
unidentified orcas, while others are reporting orca calls on the
Salish Sea Hydrophone
Network. I’ll update this as new information comes in. Orca Network’s
Facebook page is usually the place to go for the latest.
J pod crossed the Canadian border and came into Puget Sound over
this past weekend, allowing Brad Hanson and his fellow researchers
to meet up with whales.
Brad, of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, was able to
locate the killer whales from a satellite transmitter attached to
J-27, a 24-year-old male named Blackberry.
As you can see from the chart, the whales swam south, then
turned back north near Vashon and Maury islands. The researchers
met up with them Saturday morning on their return trip past
Seattle’s Elliott Bay, according to an update on the
The newest baby in J pod, designated J-50, was spotted with
J-16, according to the report from Hanson and crew. Other reports
have indicated that J-36 was also nearby, so it appears that the
new calf’s mother still is not certain. Researchers agree that the
mom is either J-36, a 15-year-old orca named Alki, or else Alki’s
mother — 42-year-old J-16, named Slick.
The researchers collected scraps of fish left behind by the
orcas’ hunting activities. Fecal samples also were collected. Those
various samples will help determine what the whales were
Orca Network published photos taken by whale observers near
Edmonds north of Seattle as well as from Point No Point in North
Yesterday, J pod headed out into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The
map shows them at the entrance to the strait going toward the ocean
at 6:15 this morning.
Orca Network reports that K and L pods apparently headed into
Canada’s Strait of Georgia on Friday, as J pod moved into Puget
Sound. It sounds like the two pods missed each other. We’ll see if
they meet up in the next few days.
Meanwhile, at least one group of transient killer whales has
been exploring South Puget Sound for more than 50 days, according
to the Orca Network report. That’s a rare occurrence indeed. A
second group of transients has been around for much of that time as
While putting the final touches on a two-year, 10-part series
about the Puget Sound ecosystem, I couldn’t help but wonder about
the true character of Washington state and its citizens.
How much do people really care about salmon and rockfish, eagles
and herons, killer whales, cougars, and many lesser-known species
in and around Puget Sound? Do we have a political system capable of
supporting the needed efforts — financially and legally — to
correct the problems?
After interviewing hundreds of people over the past few years, I
have a pretty good feeling about this state, especially when
considering other parts of the country. There is hope that we can
save some of the remaining gems of the Puget Sound ecosystem while
restoring functioning conditions in other places.
Puget Sound Partnership, which is overseeing the restoration
efforts, still has the support of many people and organizations —
including many conservatives and business-oriented folks. That
support comes despite ongoing struggles by the partnership to find
a proper place within the state’s political system. Review my
latest story in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription).
“Let science lead the way” remains the refrain of both critics
and supporters of the partnership. But that is easier said than
done — even if you could take politics out of the equation.
Scientists in almost any field of research don’t always agree on
the fundamental problems, and there is a competition among
scientific disciplines for limited research dollars. Are endangered
fish more important than endangered birds or endangered whales, or
should we be studying the plankton, sediments and eelgrass that
form the base of the food web?
Really, where should we focus our attention and tax dollars?
That’s a key question. The correct answer is, and always has been,
“All of the above.”
When it comes to funding, the decision-making becomes widely
disbursed, and I’m not sure whether that is good or bad. At the
local level, we have Lead Entities and Local Integrating
Organizations. At the state level, we have the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board and
Then there is the Puget Sound Partnership, with its seven-member
Leadership Council and 28-member Ecosystem Coordination Board,
along with its science advisory panel. The partnership establishes
an Action Agenda to guide funding decisions by the others.
One would never want an individual man or woman deciding where
the money should go. But do the various groups help identify
important problems, or do they diffuse attention from what could be
a focused strategy? I believe this will always be somewhat a
One thing I confirmed in the final installment of the 10-part
series “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound” is that nobody was ever serious about a deadline
established in the law creating the Puget Sound Partnership.
Restoring Puget Sound by the year 2020 remains on the books as a
goal that needs to be changed.
If officials acknowledge that the goal cannot be met, will the
Legislature and the public continue their support for the current
level of funding or perhaps increase support?
That gets back to my wondering about the true character of
Washington state and its citizens. Based on past legislation, this
state is clearly a leader in ecosystem protection. We have the
Shoreline Management Act, the Growth Management Act (with its
urban-concentration and critical-areas protections), Municipal
Stormwater Permits, Forest Practices Act and more.
Are we ready to go all the way, by setting interim goals for
2020 and looking to the long term? We will need to better track
progress, which means gathering more data in the field —
monitoring, if you will.
Monitoring is not as inspiring as restoring an important
estuary. But think of all the time and money spent on forecasting
the weather, which relies entirely on monitoring with costly
investments in satellites and equipment, all needing continual
Envision a significant role for experts who can describe changes
in the ecosystem and help us decide if our money is being well
spent. If weather reporters can hold a central role on the evening
news, why shouldn’t we have ecosystem reporters discussing
I wouldn’t mind hearing a report on the news something like
this: “We are seeing improved conditions in southern Hood Canal,
with scattered salmon spawning at upper elevations, and a 90
percent chance that oyster beds will be opened in Belfair.” (Just
kidding, of course.)
Puget Sound Partnership’s proposed budget, as submitted by the
governor, contains more than $1 million for assessing Puget Sound
recovery. That could be an important step to providing information
about how the ecosystem is responding to the hundreds of millions
of dollars spent on protection and restoration so far.
In writing about the future for the final part of the “Pulse”
series, I described a 2008 report from the University of
Urban Ecology Research Lab. The report identified the primary
“drivers” of change that would determine the future of the Puget
It was interesting to learn that if we are lucky about climate
change — or even if we’re not so lucky — the future is largely in
our hands. How will we react to economic ups and downs? How will we
address land use with millions of new people coming in? Will we
embrace technology as the final solution or look to nature for
The report describes six remarkably different scenarios, though
others could be constructed. Perhaps the worst one is called
“Collapse,” in which warning signs of ecological problems are
ignored and economic challenges are met by relaxing environmental
regulations and allowing residential sprawl. In the end, the
ecosystem cannot withstand the assault. Shellfish beds are forced
to close, and hundreds of species — including salmon and orcas —
Two scenarios hold more hopeful outcomes. One, called “Forward,”
includes public investments to purchase sensitive areas, including
shorelines. Growth becomes concentrated in cities, and people learn
to fit into the ecosystem. The other, called “Adaptation,” includes
grassroots efforts to save water and resources and improve people’s
ecological behavior. Protecting shorelines, floodplains and
wildlife corridors help reduce flooding and protect species that
could have been wiped out. Check out
“Scenarios offer glimpses of a possible future for Puget
Sound,” Kitsap Sun (subscription).
Joel Baker, director of Puget Sound Institute, capped off my
“futures” story with a sense of optimism, which I find contagious.
I don’t know if Joel was thinking of the Frank Sinatra song, “New
York, New York” which contains the line, “If I can make it there,
I’ll make it anywhere.” But Joel told me something like, “If we
can’t make it here, we can’t make it anywhere.”
Here are his exact words:
“As an environmental scientist, I find it interesting that
things are starting to come together. We continue to grow
economically, so we have the money.
“Energy is lining up with the environment, and we’re forcing the
restoration program to think holistically. It’s as much about
transportation as it is about sewage-treatment plants.
“The Pacific Northwest is technologically savvy; we have smart
people here; and we have the collective will to get things done. So
I’m optimistic about cleaning up Puget Sound. If we can’t do it
here, God help the rest of the country.”
I’ve always heard that downtown Seattle and its waterfront area
were built on a massive amount of fill, but I never knew how
massive until I viewed the video on this page.
According to the researchers involved, Seattle is “one of the
most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States.”
The video was completed two years ago, but I had not heard of it
until I read a recent blog post by archeologist Peter Lape,
researcher Amir Sheikh, and artist Don Fels, who together make up
the Waterlines Project. The three have collaborated to study the
history of Seattle by focusing on how the shorelines changed over
time. As they state in the
blog post for the Burke Museum:
“For more than ten years, we’ve worked as an informal group,
known as the Waterlines Project, to examine Seattle’s past
landscapes. Drawing from data gathered by geologists,
archaeologists, historians and other storytellers, we are literally
unearthing and imagining our collective pasts…
“What have we found? Among other things, Seattle is one of the
most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States. From
the dozen or so settlers who founded it on Coast Salish land in
1851 to its current status as America’s fastest growing city,
hardly a decade has gone by without its residents taking on some
major ‘improvement’ projects affecting its shorelines.”
The maps and photos
collected during the Waterlines Project will take you back to
another time. Thanks to photographer Asahel Curtis, much of the
history of our region has been preserved for us to see. Some of his
notable photographs on the waterfront theme:
K pod, one of the three pods of orcas that frequent Puget Sound,
came south through the San Juan Islands yesterday and were spotted
in South Puget Sound late this afternoon.
It’s quite unusual to see K pod coming into Puget Sound this
early in the year, noted killer whale researcher Brad Hanson of the
Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
K pod contains 19 orcas and is often seen with other pods, but
not this time. If history is any indication, they will soon be
heading back out to the ocean. They are more likely to begin
hanging out in the San Juan Islands in late May or early June.
Susan Berta of Orca
Network told me that whale researcher Ken Balcomb had been out
with the whales Sunday and was able to account for all the animals
(no deaths), but there were no new babies either.
Brad said his crew collected two fecal samples, but they may not
be representative of ocean feeding, since the whales have been
around for more than a day. Research has been focusing on what
Southern Resident orcas eat when they are in the ocean.
The whales may have been spotted first this morning by a crew on
one of the Seattle ferries. The report to Orca Network was a single
killer whale a mile north of Alki Point, about mid-channel, at 7:30
The K pod reports came amidst other reports of transient killer
whales heading north from Point No Point about 9:30 a.m., passing
Whidbey Island an hour later and off Everett in the early
afternoon, according to reports on Orca Network. Another group of
transients was reported on the other side of Whidbey in Admiralty
Inlet and later seen heading west in the Strait of Juan de
Because of the multiple transient reports, Brad said he was
caught by surprise this morning when he went out and found all of K
pod swimming south in Colvos Passage off South Kitsap.
Normally, resident orcas first pass Vashon Island on the east
side and come north through Colvos Passage.
“We kept getting all these weird reports,” said Susan, who was
kept busy posting updates to Orca Network’s Facebook
page. “We heard about one lone orca off Alki, then another
group, and I said, ‘I wonder if that is K pod all strung out down
there.’ We were not expecting that.”
Susan said it is rare, but not unprecedented, for residents to
come into Puget Sound in early spring. In March 2006, K and L pods
arrived together and went all the way south to Olympia.
We just completed another group of stories in the ongoing series
we’re calling “Taking the Pulse of Puget Sound.” This latest story
package is about
marine water quality and marine sediments. (The stories
themselves require a subscription.)
For all my years of environmental reporting, I have to say that
I’ve never really understood the meaning of water quality. Keeping
the water free of chemicals and fecal bacteria is one thing. Safe
levels of oxygen, temperature, acidity and suspended sediment are
other important factors.
But in the real world, you never find ideal conditions. You take
what you get: physical conditions dictated by weather, climate and
bathymetry; a strange brew of toxic chemicals; and a mix of
nutrients and organic material, all drifting through complex cycles
of life and death.
Water quality means nothing without the context of living
things. More than 1,000 species of tiny organisms live in or on the
mud at the bottom of Puget Sound. In many areas, sensitive species
have disappeared. We are left with those that can tolerate harsher
conditions. Why are they dying off? What can be done about it?
Some plankton species are becoming more dominant, and the
effects on the food web are unknown. When water quality is poor,
Jellyfish are displacing forage fish, disrupting the food supply
for larger fish.
We know that toxic chemicals are spilling into Puget Sound in
stormwater and getting into the food web, first touching the
tiniest organisms and eventually causing havoc for fish, marine
mammals and humans. Compounds that mimic hormones are affecting
growth, reproduction and survival for a myriad of species. Because
of biomagnification, some chemicals are having serious effects at
concentrations that could not be measured until recently.
Puget Sound can’t cleanse itself by flushing its chemicals and
waste out to sea, as most bays do. Puget Sound is long and narrow
and deep, and the exchange of water takes a long time. Most of the
bad stuff floating in the water just sloshes back and forth with
the daily tides.
We can’t forget that some of the good stuff floating around are
microscopic plants that feed the food web, along with a variety of
larvae that will grow into fish, shellfish and many other
creatures. But many of these planktonic life forms are vulnerable
to chemicals, which can reduce their ability to survive against
predators, tipping the balance in unknown ways.
Understanding water quality is not so much about measuring what
is in the water as understanding the effects on living things.
Which species are missing from a given area of Puget Sound, and
what killed them off?
Biological monitoring has been around for a long time, but we
may be entering a new phase of exploration in which we begin to
connect the dots between what takes place on the land, how
chemicals and nutrients get into the water, and what that means for
every creature struggling to survive.
We have some brilliant people working on this problem in the
Puget Sound region. I would like to thank everyone who has helped
me gain a better understanding of these issues, as I attempt to
explain these complexities in my stories.
While I was looking into the sediment story, Maggie Dutch of
Ecology’s sediment monitoring team introduced me to a huge number
of benthic invertebrates. In a blog she calls
“Eyes Under Puget Sound,” she talks about the monitoring
program and offers a slideshow of some of the bottom creatures. See
Washington state now has an official state oyster, thanks to the
lobbying efforts of 14-year-old Claire Thompson, who raised the
prominence of the Olympia oyster as part as a school project.
That’s assuming, of course, that the governor signs the bill.
The bill designating Ostrea lurida as the state oyster first
passed the Senate Feb. 13 on a 47-1 vote. It was approved March 5
in the House, 94-4, after an amendment expanded the language of the
bill to this:
“This native oyster species plays an important role in the
history and culture that surrounds shellfish in Washington state
and along the west coast of the United States. Some of the common
and historic names used for this species are Native, Western,
Shoalwater, and Olympia.”
The Senate then agreed to the amendment and passed the bill into
law today, again on a 47-1 vote. Michael Baumgartner, a Republican
from Spokane, was the only dissenting voice in the Senate.
Opponents in the House were Reps. Richard DeBolt, Chehalis; Brad
Klippert, Kennewick; Jason Overstreet, Lynden; and Rep. Elizabeth
Scott, Monroe. All are Republicans.
When Claire testified on the Senate bill in the House Government
Operations and Elections Committee, she looked toward the future.
When she testified on the earlier House version, she was looking to
the past. You can hear her testimony in the viewer on this page, or
56:40 on TVW.
Here’s what she said, in part, to the House committee:
“The last time I came to testify I talked about the history of
this oyster. This time I would like to talk to you about what I
hope is the future of this oyster…
“I am only 14 and most of my life still lies ahead. To make my
future and the futures of all the kids who live around Puget Sound
better, I would like you to not only pass this bill but get as many
of these and other bivalves seeded and into the Puget Sound as
quickly as possible. This is because these oysters filter the water
and can help regulate harmful algal blooms, including the red tide.
By keeping algae down, they increase the overall oxygen content for
fish and crustaceans and all the other animals.
“In the large numbers that Puget Sound needs, these oysters can
link together to build coral-reef-like structures that provide an
ecosystem habitat of room and hiding for young sea animals and all
the kelps and sea plants that we are losing… Oyster beds this thick
keep sediments anchored and the entire Puget Sound in balance.”
Nobody was really talking about designating an official
“Washington state oyster” until 14-year-old Claire Thompson came
along. Now the state Senate has approved a bill, on a 47-1 vote, to
list the Olympia oyster as the state’s official oyster.
Claire is an eighth grader at Olympia’s
Nova School, which requires a yearlong project involving
something that students care deeply about and can make a
difference. Claire, who hopes to become a marine biologist or
oceanographer, developed a sense of history for the once-prominent
Olympia oyster, as we learned from her testimony before the Senate
Governmental Operations Committee.
The full testimony on SB
6145 falls between 40:00 and 51:00 in the
video on this page.
“Pollution near historic beds caused many closures of the
fishery and rallied the oyster farmers to fight for the earliest
pollution control regulations for clean water and cleanup,” Claire
told the committee.
Ostrea lurida, the scientific name for the Olympia
oyster, is the only native oyster to the region. The Pacific
oyster, imported from Japan in the 1920s, makes up most of the
production today, but the tiny Olympia is making a comeback as a
unique delicacy with natural ties to the region.
Claire talked about ocean acidification, caused by excess carbon
dioxide in the atmosphere, and its ongoing threat to the ecological
health of Puget Sound, Hood Canal and other bays and estuaries.
“Ostrea lurida,” she said, “stands as a living symbol
of Washington’s history, from the earliest Native Americans through
the pioneers down through statehood to the present day, deserving
protection as our native oyster. Please join me in fighting to
protect not only our native oyster but our waters as well.”
Claire is the daughter of Rowland Thompson, lobbyist for Allied
Daily Newspapers of Washington, who encouraged her to develop her
project and speak before the Legislature.
Jim Jesernig of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association said
he supports the bill, even though it came as a surprise to his
“We have been very pleased working with Claire,” Jesernig said.
“It’s very interesting. From the industry, we did not see this. We
were working on derelict vessels and a whole bunch of things going
on. Claire has worked with folks in Willapa Harbor and the South
Sound. We would like to support this in any way.”
If next approved by the house, the Olympia oyster will become
the official state oyster, joining:
The orca, the official marine mammal;
The Olympic marmot, the official endemic mammal;
The willow goldfinch, the official bird;
The steelhead trout, the official fish; and
The common green darner dragonfly, the official insect.
Since then, Puget Sound Restoration Fund has helped rebuild
native oyster populations in many bays, with one of the greatest
successes in Liberty Bay near Poulsbo. Betsy Peabody, executive
director, told me this morning that her group has great hopes for
success in Dyes Inlet near Silverdale and in Port Gamble Bay in
North Kitsap. A new oyster hatchery in Manchester is expected to be
in operation later this year.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a
long-term restoration plan for the Olympia oyster with 19 areas
listed for habitat restoration:
Bellingham Bay (South) Shoreline, Portage Island, and Chuckanut
Port Gamble Bay
Union River/Big and Little Mission Creek(s) deltas
Liberty Bay and sub-inlets
Dyes Inlet and sub-inlets
Point Jefferson-Orchard Point complex of passages and inlets
Harstine/Squaxin Islands complex of passages and inlets
U.S. officials say they have not heard a word from Chinese
health authorities since the Washington State Department of Health
sent test results showing that geoducks from Puget Sound are safe
A ban on shellfish imports from the Northwest continues. By all
accounts, it appears that U.S. shellfish exporters will miss a
chance to provide geoducks, oysters and other shellfish to China
during lucrative Chinese New Year celebrations next week.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent the
health department’s test results to China, NOAA spokeswoman Connie
Barclay told me yesterday. “We will continue to work with folks to
see if we can resolve this issue,” she said.
Meanwhile, Chinese Central Television (CCTV), a
government-sponsored TV network in China, has produced a video
describing the issue, including the economic effects on shellfish
growers. It’s a pretty straightforward piece, but offers no hint
about what further steps may be taken by the Chinese