In this issue: Finding sand lance hidden in salmon data – Should we be concerned when a seal gives birth to a two-headed pup? – How disease could impact the Salish Sea – Four new SeaDoc board members – SeaDoc-funded scientist honored by Seattle Aquarium – Serge Dedina speaks February 24th
We’re excited to announce that four new board members have joined the SeaDoc Society board of directors, replacing four long-time members who have rotated off.
Janice D’Amato recently retired from PACCAR, Inc., one of the largest manufacturers of medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the world, where she served as a Senior Attorney and Corporate Secretary. Janice now devotes more time to the local community and currently serves as a board member of School’s Out Washington, an organization that provides training and support for after school programs. Fun fact: Janice was off the grid in Argentina when we asked for a fun fact!
Ashley Ebbeler is formerly the Gift Planning Marketing and Communications Project Manger for The Nature Conservancy, where she focused on marketing legacy giving and developing stewardship publications for Conservancy donors. She has recently obtained a Masters of Environmental Management and is currently pursing a Masters of Business Administration. Living just outside Washington, D.C., Ashley is extremely involved in her community as the Director of the Riverdale Park Sustainability Committee and as a Board Member for the Riverdale Park Farmers Market. Ashley is looking forward to calling the San Juan Islands home soon. Fun fact: Ashley’s first flying lesson was aerial acrobatics.
Dr. Marguerite Pappaioanou (Captain, retired, US Public Health Service) is an epidemiologist and public health veterinarian with over 30 years’ experience working in global-, public-, and one-health. She currently serves as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) liaison to the Food and Drug Administration for Food Safety. At CDC her work has focused on global emerging infectious and zoonotic disease surveillance, and evidence-based prevention and control programs. Fun facts: Marguerite has traveled to all seven continents and served for many years as the trail veterinarian for the Kuskokwim 300, a 300-mile sled dog race out of Bethel, Alaska.
Jo Seel recently transitioned from a 25-year career in commercial banking and maritime lending to join the not-for-profit world. Jo brings both financial and fundraising experience to the Board. She’s had a unique business career combining finance and adventure with stints in Taipei, Taiwan and Vladivostok, Russia. Fun fact: Jo is an avid backpacker and downhill skier, she sees the mountains and the sea as being inter-connected and is passionate about making sure they both remain healthy and viable.
In the summer of 2013, Orcas Island resident Dennis King spotted a dead harbor seal on the beach near his house in Olga. He called the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, and volunteers responded and collected the carcass for further study. Little did he know how interesting his discovery would turn out to be.
When SeaDoc interns Kay Wicinas and Liz Anderson examined the carcass they were surprised to find that the mother had died while trying to give birth. The following day when SeaDoc, The Whale Museum, and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network performed a complete necropsy, or animal autopsy, they discovered that this was no ordinary dystocia. A conjoined fetal twin that was too big to be birthed was the real cause of the problem.
Twins are very rare in marine mammals, and conjoined twins are obviously even more rare, about like hens teeth. This appears to be the first documented case of equally-developed conjoined twins in harbor seals.
Harbor seals are an important species for scientific study because they serve as good indicators of ecosystem health. They are in residence year-round and are high level predators, so studying them can help us discover emerging biotoxins or contaminants.
Because high levels of contaminants or naturally occurring toxins have been shown to cause genetic defects in domestic animals, the mother and twins were tested for a long list of known contaminants and toxins. Fortunately nothing was discovered, suggesting that these conjoined twins likely were caused by an inborn error of cellular division and not something in the environment.
The need to unravel such mysteries is one of many reasons SeaDoc puts such a high priority on investigating wildlife diseases.
Read the peer-reviewed paper by Jennifer Olson, et al., recently published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases
(If you don’t have a subscription to that journal, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll send you a copy of the paper.)
Join the Marine Mammal Stranding Network
If you’re interested in responding to stranded marine mammals in the San Juan Islands, please contact Jennifer Olson at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. (360) 472-1852 or email@example.com. Trainings happen in late Spring.
Keep your distance
Remember that the Marine Mammal Protection Act requires you to stay 100 yards away from marine mammals. If you spot a stranded marine mammal, dead or alive, please call the Stranding Hotline to report it. Their number is 1-800-562-8832.
Recently a team of scientists from the Northwest Straits Commission and the SeaDoc Society took a deep dive into decades of data collected by scientists looking for juvenile salmon in the nearshore.
But they weren’t interested in salmon. Instead, Jamey Selleck, Caroline Gibson, Suzanne Shull and SeaDoc’s Joe Gaydos were interested in Pacific Sand Lance, which are often caught by accident during salmon sampling.
They discovered a treasure trove of data about these important fish, which are vital to the ecosystem because they turn plankton into fat for other animals higher up the food web.
Within the salmon data, they analyzed findings from over 15,000 beach seines that captured Sand Lance, spanning 1,630 sites along 320 miles of shoreline.
The results of the study were published in the scientific journal Northwestern Naturalist.
The study showed that while Sand Lance can be found almost everywhere in the Salish Sea, abundance varies during the year.
Here’s the abstract:
Pacific Sand Lance (Ammodytes personatus) are energy-rich schooling fish that are thought to be important drivers of marine food webs in Alaska (USA) and British Columbia (Canada). Despite a number of studies characterizing their distribution and habitat use in Alaska and British Columbia, surprisingly little is known about population attributes in the Salish Sea. We compiled and analyzed 15,192 records collected from 1630 sites, primarily by beach seine or tow net in nearshore shallow areas between 1970 and 2009, to determine Sand Lance spatial and seasonal distribution in the inland waters of Washington State. Sand Lance were present along 78% of the shoreline that was sampled and were captured during every month of the year. The maximum number captured in individual nets increased between May and August. Fork length ranged from 1.7 to 19.0 cm and average fork length did not vary by month. The shortest minimum fork lengths were documented during April through July, likely representing annual recruits, but size at maturity is not known for the local population. Their widespread distribution throughout the region and peak abundance during summer suggests that they are an important potential prey source and could be a driver of marine food webs in this region.
Want to read the full study? Here’s how
Salish Sea Currents, the magazine of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, did a feature story on the role of disease in the Salish Sea.
From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.
SeaDoc’s Joe Gaydos (also the Birds and Mammals topic editor for the Encyclopedia) is quoted. “The crazy thing about disease is that it isn’t really on people’s radar. It is a smoldering factor in our environment, but one that can break out at any time.”
The article was also featured on the front page of the Kitsap Sun.
SeaDoc’s Joe Gaydos was featured in a story about a recent 2-day meeting of scientists hosted by the Seattle Aquarium to discuss research into Sea Star Wasting Disease.
In the clip, Joe spoke about the need to understand risk factors like ocean acidification and increasing water temperatures.
Image: Evasterias troschelii by J. Gaydos
SeaDoc’s publication on the impact of energy projects on the entire Salish Sea ecosystem has been covered in outlets including The Olympic Peninsula Environmental News, Phys.org, and the San Juan Islander.
In this issue: Failure of collaboration puts the Salish Sea at risk, update from Argentina on gulls feasting on living whales, thank you for your support in 2015, Dr. Martin Haulena talks on marine mammal stranding on January 12.
“We need to deal with the impacts of new energy projects at the level of the ecosystem, not just project to project,” says wildlife veterinarian Dr. Joe Gaydos, lead author of a new paper analyzing the combined threats posed by six fossil fuel transportation projects in the Salish Sea.
The new study by SeaDoc and the Swinomish Tribe was recently published in the international journal PLoS ONE.
What did they find? Canada and the US need to do a better job collaborating on Salish Sea issues.
The study evaluated the threats posed by each project to 50 species that are important to the Coast Salish people. These include endangered humpback and killer whales, and key food species including seaducks, salmon, clams, and Dungeness crabs.
Gaydos says, “When you look at these projects cumulatively, they have a high possibility of affecting the Coast Salish and everybody else. The environmental impact statements aren’t looking at the threats collectively.”
Although the Salish Sea is an integrated ecosystem, it is shared by Washington, British Columbia, and indigenous Coast Salish governments. When US and Canadian governmental bodies evaluate proposed developments, they rarely take into account projects occurring outside of their jurisdictions.
Coast Salish have long looked at the ecosystem as a whole. “We walk as one with our resources, as they are the spirit within us,” said First Nation Summit Co-Chair and Chemainus First Nation member Ray Harris. “Each day is a blessing when we see our scientists and traditional knowledge teachers sharing and incorporating one another’s information. We see the removal of barriers happening all over the Salish Sea, and this respect of one another allows us to take care of this beautiful place we all call home.”
Rectifying the problem:
A solution is within reach. Brian Cladoosby, Swinomish Chairman, says, “For more than 150 years, we have lived with the destruction of our resources and environment by a pollution-based economy. It is time for a change, and this can only happen if we work together.”
This study makes it clear that managers need to establish a mechanism for addressing transboundary threats.
Transboundary ecosystems like the Salish Sea, which exist around the world, are vulnerable to cumulative pressures when there is no mechanism for collaborative decision-making.
In the Salish Sea, there is no governing body that requires multiple proposed projects be evaluated for their cumulative impact. As noted in the paper, “This is a failure in coastal ecosystem management that stands to have a direct impact on the Coast Salish and likely on most of the 7 million other people that also depend on this ecosystem.”
Six years ago the Salish Sea was named. It is now time for the governing bodies responsible for the Salish Sea to create an effective system for evaluating threats across the entire ecosystem.
News coverage is here.
For more background, see an article by Lynda Mapes at the Seattle Times, Northwest tribes unite against giant coal, oil projects.
The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center do cutting-edge work all around the world. A recent example from Argentina reveals that Kelp gulls are wounding living Southern right whales at an ever-increasing frequency.
UC Davis Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Marcela Uhart co-authored the study that tracked wounds on the backs of living and dead southern right whales at their calving grounds in Argentina. The gulls eat skin and blubber from the whales’ backs when they surface to breathe. For the gulls this is a high-energy source of food, easily accessible in the winter months.
Since gull attacks were first observed in the 1970s, lesions have increased every decade until they were visible in almost every animal by the 2000s. Over time, the actual number of lesions on individual animals shifted from mothers to calves.
“Mothers, who return to the birthing grounds every three years or so, have learned to protect themselves by resting with their heads and tails up and the rest of their body submerged,” said Dr. Uhart. “Calves have not learned this and are at greater risk for attack.”
In recent years calf mortality has been unexpectedly high at Peninsula Valdés, which is the only place in the world where this kind of gull harassment of right whales has occurred. But it is not yet clear if or to what extent these attacks are contributing to calf deaths. The study does suggest, however, that the attacks are costing the calves precious energy, as well as causing pain and discomfort.
For calves, avoidance behaviors include swimming faster and surfacing to breathe without exposing their backs. Both of these behaviors mean they are investing more energy in avoidance and less in playing, resting, and nursing. Wound healing also diverts essential resources needed for normal growing and development.
Not mentioned in the paper is the inappropriate handling of fishing and urban waste by regional municipalities and fisheries, which are thought to be responsible for artificially increasing the gull population over the past 45 years.
Want to dive deeper into this issue? View the publication at PLOS ONE (open access).