Low oxygen waters lurking in southern Hood Canal

Dissolved oxygen in southern Hood Canal has dropped to dangerously low levels, and the table appears to be set for a fish kill if we get strong winds out of the south. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

It seems a lot of experts are surprised that we have reached this level of low oxygen, considering that we were seeing near-record high oxygen levels earlier this year. See a story I wrote in August.

Although we have had low-oxygen problems in Hood Canal for years, monitoring buoys installed a few years ago now allow us to see what is happening at the moment and to describe the conditions in some detail.

In 2006, for the first time, scientists were able to show the factors leading up to a fish kill. Until then, it was only reasoned speculation. What may be equally troubling, however, is the level of stress that sea creatures are coming under before and after a fish kill — or if none occurs at all.

I didn’t mention it in my story, but oxygen levels at Twanoh and probably up toward Belfair are even lower than at Hoodsport. Lower Hood Canal is an area where the oxygen is so chronically depleted that fluffy mats of bacteria can be seen growing on the bottom at times when no other life can survive.

I feel that I need to express my disappointment with some of the comments posted to my story. To write this piece, I took note of the monitoring buoys; I pulled together observations of divers and others; and I even informed a few officials about the conditions that were developing.

I told this story straight, basing it on facts and observations that I gathered. Yet some people apparently chose to believe that my writing had something to do with taxation, government control, funding for Puget Sound Partnership, another costly study or hysterical tactics by environmental wackos.

I suppose I should be used to cynical comments by now, and I am glad that one person took the time to say he was pleased that I was “telling it like it is.” I just thought people would like to know of the dire conditions facing sealife in southern Hood Canal and what might occur if a south wind blows.

4 thoughts on “Low oxygen waters lurking in southern Hood Canal

  1. Chris,
    Your well researched and well reasoned stories make a significant contribution to the community conversation — actually they help fill a gaping hole in our awareness. But all the reason in the world doesn’t do much for people who don’t grasp logic — meaningful dialog with them presumably takes some other form (outside of my area of expertise).

    Many of the comments about your article pointed out another challenge too — knowledge of the behavior of the underwater critters is not something that is a part of our culture, our education — it’s not even very available.

    For example, some years ago when I included some of Wayne Palsson’s (WDFW) video of stressed wolf-eels and sea cucumbers in a movie I made about the HCDOP research, Wayne described the buccal breathing he was seeing in the wolf-eels that indicated that they were “panting,” if you will. I have since done several internet searches to find a simple but technically correct explanation of this phenomenon, but to no avail. Not only is it something beyond most peoples’ experience, but it’s not even easy to find out about it if you wanted to!

    Similarly, I was unable to find detailed descriptions of the behavior exhibited by sea cucumbers when the dissolved oxygen levels are low. Yet if large numbers of crows, squirrels or banana slugs were suffering from some sudden, unusual debilitating environmental condition, even those of us who aren’t biologists would recognize their aberrant behavior. And if not, the TV and newspapers would be so full of stories about it it would be impossible to ignore.

    But because there is so little in our media and in our educational systems about what goes on below the surface of our waters, descriptions of the creatures’ “normal” behavior are already pushing the realm of science fiction. When we see and describe important aberrant behavior down there, it’s like whistling in the wind.

    Because our waters are such a major part of our ecosystem, our neighborhood, we somehow need to find more ways to make better awareness of the underwater world and its relevance available to everyone in our communities. How can we do more than we’re already doing? I wish I knew!

  2. Chris,

    I appreciate your articles, and agree with your general sentiment about the Hood Canal.

    I can also appreciate people being bewildered and dismissive of your concerns… not because they are wrong, but just because there are so many things going on and it really is hard to distinguish the priority of environmental concerns.

    Don’t take their comments as negative, take them as an opportunity to make your message stronger. You are far ahead by talking about something that might happen instead of just reiterating things that have already happene.

  3. It is important to know the truth! Mother Earth is in control and will do what is needed to cleanse and renew herself.

    Drunvalo Melchizekek writes in his book “Serpent of Light”, we will be fine IF we stay in our hearts.

    My gratitude to you for your research and bringing the message to the people.

    Blessings to you on your journeys.

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