Name ‘Salish Sea’ offers new possibilities for description

“Salish Sea” is now the official name for our inland waterway that stretches across more than 1,400 square miles of Western Washington and British Columbia. See my story in today’s Kitsap Sun.

<em>Salish Sea watershed</em><small> EPA graphic</small>
Salish Sea watershed
EPA graphic

The question now is whether the name will catch on and be used more frequently.

One application that comes to mind is the description of the three pods of killer whales known as Southern Residents. I’ve often referred to these animals as the orcas that frequent Puget Sound. That’s because “Southern Residents” have little meaning to the average reader, who wishes to know why they are “southern” and what I mean by “residents.”

It so happens that the Salish Sea just about defines the range of these whales for a large percentage of the year.

Now I may refer to them as the killer whales that frequent or mainly reside in the Salish Sea — including much of the summer in the San Juan Islands, with winter and fall stints into Puget Sound.

I’m not sure how else I will use this term, but I no longer feel constrained by the idea that the Salish Sea is not a real name and has never been defined by any authority.

Here are some facts about the Salish Sea provided by the SeaDoc Society. (I’ve converted meters to feet and kilometers to miles.)

  • Coastline length, including islands: 4,642 miles
  • Total number of islands: 419
  • Total land area of islands: 1,413 square miles
  • Sea surface area: 9,942 square miles
  • Maximum depth: 886 feet
  • Number of different marine animals species estimated: 20 species of mammals, 128 species of birds, 219 species of fish, and over 3000 species of invertebrates
  • Number of species listed as threatened, endangered or are candidates for listing: 64
  • Total watershed area, not counting the upper Fraser River area (See Stefan Freelan): 42,000 square miles

7 thoughts on “Name ‘Salish Sea’ offers new possibilities for description

  1. Thanks Mr. Dunagan,
    I for one am very excited about the move to recognize ‘The Salish Sea’. I think that it not only offers new possibilities in terms of describing the nature and habits of aquatic life…I think it opens up discussions on geology, geography, history, anthropology, cartography and more! The obvious targets of this are our children, but even this old dinosaur gets some joy in discovering this. I hope others-people,not dinosaurs-are also excited!

  2. This politically correct BS will never get any traction amoung the common people. Only the “Intellectual Elite” will ever use it. It will serve to make you sound very PC and well informed at your next AlGore fund raiser.

  3. I wonder if it will give rise to ANOTHER umbrella environmental group: the Salish Sea Society, or whatever. Another group, another appropriation, another set of meetings for those who do nothing else to attend.

  4. NOT an e-group, but an fb-group: those on Facebook are welcome to join the group: Living on the Salish Sea. It’s free, it’s non-governmental, and there are no meetings.

  5. I understand why some scientists will find the term convenient when referring to the whole area. I don’t think it will be used by most people as it is likely to cause confusion instead of communication.

    For example, Transient orcas in small pods of 3-7 frequent the Strait of Juan de Fuca and go north into the open waters of the Straits of Georgia, but seldom enter Puget Sound. It is misleading to say only 3 orca pods frequent the Salish Sea, but not so to say only 3 frequent Puget Sound.

    By the same token, if I said I lived on the ‘sea’shore (Salish Sea), people around here would get the concept that I lived on the ocean..certainly not Hood Canal. It would be poor communication on my part even though I’d live on the “Salish Sea”.

    1. Tom,

      As I noted in the story comments, I really don’t see any reason for concern. The prime territory for the Southern Resident killer whales just happens to be the entire Salish Sea. Like you say, I don’t anticipate using the term very often.

      Transient orcas, on the other hand, generally travel everywhere in the Salish Sea plus all the way through British Columbia up to Alaska, as well as down the coast to California. Check out the maps at the bottom of the page on the Cascadia Research site.

      When I talked about the transients that stayed in Hood Canal for eight weeks, I noted that they were generally sighted in Alaska’s Glacier Bay each spring. There is no need to talk about the Salish Sea in these contexts.

  6. So, are they Salish Sea Chinook now? Should the entire population be considered in regard to continued listing under the ESA?

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