As winter approaches, salmon and orcas are still a commanding presence

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With salmon and orcas still on the move and facing ever-changing weather conditions, I thought it might be time for a brief update to my blog post of Nov. 21. At the time of the last report, the Puget Sound region had gone through a 13-day dry spell, which followed a period of brief and limited precipitation. Low stream flows were making it tough for chum and coho salmon to go upstream when they should have been at their peak of spawning. Many unfortunate fish were dying before they could […]

Low rainfall leads to an odd and changing year for salmon, killer whales and people

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It has been an interesting year for observing the behavior of Southern Resident killer whales, chum salmon and humans in the Puget Sound region. Weather played a significant role. Two weeks ago, all three pods of endangered orcas spent four days together in Puget Sound, something we have not seen in years. Chum salmon, which the whales feed upon in the fall, appeared to be on a stop-and-go migration schedule because of the unusual rainfall pattern. And, as always, the activities of people must be noted within this ecological context. […]

Lawsuit seeks to block Southeast Alaska troll fishing to increase salmon for orcas

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How much should Alaskan fishing be curtailed to provide more food for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales? It is an important question, enmeshed in conflicting federal priorities and provoked by a lawsuit brought by Wild Fish Conservancy, a Seattle-based conservation group. A federal court ruled in August that the National Marine Fisheries Service had violated the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act in its approval of salmon harvests in the Southeast Alaska troll fishery. That fishery harvests Chinook salmon originating from streams as far south as […]

Scientists dig into massive data collected during international high-seas expedition

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Questions about where salmon go and how they survive when traveling far out into the Pacific Ocean have puzzled scientists for 200 years. But a new vision for piecing together this intricate puzzle has begun to emerge, thanks to sophisticated research tools deployed during an international expedition this past winter. Last week, scientists got together in Vancouver, British Columbia, to share their preliminary findings and to brainstorm the next steps in a collaborative effort to solve some of the great mysteries of Pacific salmon. Researchers from multiple countries provided wide-ranging […]

Killer whale census shows another down year, with three deaths and two births

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Three deaths and two births. Over the past year, the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population has declined by a total of one, according to the annual census report submitted yesterday by the Center for Whale Research. Now the number of whales in all three pods stands at 73, down from 74 last year and declining from 98 animals the past 25 years. The births of J59 last February and K45 in May have been widely reported, along with the death of the much-loved K21, a 35-year-old male named Cappuccino. […]

Add-on structure will begin to address steelhead crisis at the Hood Canal Bridge

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The Hood Canal Bridge, which connects the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, has proven to be a dangerous impediment to juvenile steelhead trout. As many as half of the young migratory steelhead in Hood Canal may get picked off by seals, birds and other predators as the fish try to pass under the floating highway, according to studies. While a permanent solution may be years away, the first step at reducing predation at the bridge may be just around the corner, as construction crews prepare to fabricate a floating structure that […]

New film about spring Chinook delves into history, culture and science in unique habitats

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A new film, titled “The Lost Salmon,” opens with a video montage that takes us through some wondrous scenes: A wide aerial shot of California’s majestic Salmon River, moving to an underwater view of salmon swimming through the clear water and then to an action spectacle of wild salmon practically flying through the air to surmount a rushing cascades. The filmmaker, Shane Anderson of Olympia, merges passion, culture and science in this documentary that premieres tomorrow on public television. The project culminates years of investigation and filming, as Shane follows […]

Magazine series looks at salmon returns in the Elwha River

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It has been more than ten years since the first of the Elwha River’s two dams was breached, and scientists are gaining new perspectives on the resilience of that ecosystem and its species. The dramatic sight of a river suddenly running free, and the swift return of its salmon has captured the public’s imagination. But a key factor driving the return of the Elwha’s fish populations is less visible. It exists in the microscopic realm, in the genes of the species. We are pleased to kick off a new series this week […]

Governor’s renewed salmon strategy faces decisive period in the current Legislature

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State legislation designed to enhance salmon habitat by requiring protective buffers along streams has been set aside pending further discussions over the coming year. Meanwhile, several other salmon-protection measures proposed by the governor could move forward with decisive funding from the Legislature. The buffer bill (HB 1838), named the Lorraine Loomis Act, would prohibit degradation of streamside habitat while encouraging restoration within prescribed “riparian management zones” on both public and private lands. Such requirements would apply to farmland, areas destined for development and even properties undergoing redevelopment. The bill is […]

North Pacific expedition gets underway aboard four ocean-going research ships

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A North Pacific research expedition is underway, with projects said to be bigger, bolder and more scientifically sophisticated than cruises in 2019 and 2020. Four research vessels carrying more than 60 scientists from various countries will span out across the Pacific Ocean to increase their understanding of salmon — including migration, environmental stresses, availability of prey and risks from predators. Researchers aboard a U.S. ship operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration left from Port Angeles this morning. There has never been a research cruise as involved as this […]

Understanding the cold-water needs of salmon and helping them to survive

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Salmon need cold water. This general statement is something I’ve been hearing since I first began reporting on these amazing migrating fish years ago. Cold water is a fact of life for salmon, known for their long travels up and down streams, out to saltwater and back. But colder is not always better. Questions about why salmon need cold water and how their habitat might grow too warm or too cold led me into an in-depth reporting project. I ended up talking to some of the leading experts on the […]

Recovery of Puget Sound species could hinge on better understanding of ecosystems

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A recent report from the Puget Sound Partnership helps us understand the difficulty of restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem. What caught my attention in the State of the Sound report was that after 20 years of protecting and restoring streams, wetlands, shorelines and estuaries, we have not increased overall fish and wildlife populations, and some remain in a downward spiral. (Our Water Ways, Nov. 3). Several reasons have been given for the disappointing findings, including ongoing habitat losses from an increasing human population in the Puget Sound region. Clearly, there […]