The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
From October 14th to January 7th, glass artist Raven Skyriver’s amazing display of Pacific Northwest-inspired aquatic creatures will be featured at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner, Washington.
Trained in Venetian glass blowing techniques, Skyriver’s works of elegance and skill push the boundaries of size and color and reflect his long-standing respect for the creatures of the sea and the delicate balance in which all things in nature hang.
As scientists, we are not often asked to participate in art exhibits. We were honored when MoNA asked scientists at SeaDoc and SR3 Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research to provide facts about each of Raven’s pieces that would help further inspire the audience to both know, connect, and eventually help protect these amazing living resources.
Be sure to check out the exhibit and come to the panel discussion on November 4th. Joe Gaydos will be a panelist!
Thanks to you, the Salish Sea now has twice the potential to be the healthy, vibrant ecosystem we all love and depend on. Through your kindness and support, more than 200 donors helped us close our $1.5 million Salish Sea Forever campaign. That will double our research, competitive grant making and translational science efforts.
We’ve already hired a Regional Director to steer the program, providing more time to our Science Director for science. We’re in the process of improving our science communications by hiring a full-time Communications Specialist and plan to eventually hire another full-time scientist.
The Salish Sea is a stunning and inspiring ecological jewel that provides unparalleled quality of life for all of us who live, work and play here. Our important mission to restore and protect this extraordinary place is only possible because of you! With so much gratitude, we give thanks for you!
The SeaDoc Society, in partnership with the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a program of The Whale Museum, was recently awarded another one-year federal grant through the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Assistance Program.
This is the 14th time we have received this important grant. Funds will enable the Stranding Network to continue field response during the 2018 season, which includes preventing the harassment of live stranded animals, transporting injured or harassed animals to rehabilitation centers, and collecting critical data from dead stranded animals.
SeaDoc will help diagnose disease and other causes of marine mammal strandings, including identification of diseases and parasites that can affect marine mammals, domestic animals and even people. Examples of diseases diagnosed in the past include brucellosis, fungal infections caused by Cryptococcus gattii, and the presence of harmful algal toxins in stranded marine mammals.
By Joe Gaydos
On August 19 and 20, a net pen owned by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific collapsed, releasing an undetermined number (estimates range from 4, 000 to 185,000) of the 305,000 Atlantic salmon being raised there into the waters around Cypress Island, just northwest of Anacortes, Washington.
In a region where vast amounts of money and effort have been spent attempting to restore wild salmon runs, this mass escape of non-native fish has caused a public uproar. How could this happen? Will the Atlantic salmon spread disease to wild fish? Will they outcompete native salmon for food or freshwater spawning habitat?
To try and answer the questions, it’s valuable to look at the established science. Unfortunately, salmon spills like this are not new events in the Pacific Northwest.
People have been farming Atlantic salmon in Washington since 1982, and in British Columbia since 1985 (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Despite assurances from the aquaculture industry, wherever there are fish farmed in sea pens there are escapes.
In fact, on July 2, 1996 high tidal flows destroyed seven net pens at an Atlantic salmon farm near Cypress Island, releasing or killing 101,000 Atlantic salmon (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Sound familiar? The lessons from that and other releases should inform us about the risk that farmed Atlantic salmon pose for the Salish Sea’s five species of native salmon.
The first concern is the potential for released farmed salmon to transmit disease to wild salmon. Farmed Atlantic salmon can carry viruses, bacteria and parasites like sea lice that can infect wild salmon (e.g., Jones et al., 2015). The release of thousands of salmon that were actively experiencing a disease outbreak could have huge ramifications for wild salmon.
In Washington State, all public and private growers of salmon, including Atlantic salmon hatchery operators, are required to adhere to strict disease control polices (Waknitz et al., 2003). While we have not seen data on the health or disease status of the released Atlantic salmon, it was reported that they were treated for a bacterial infection called yellow mouth in July 2016 but were believed to be disease-free at the time they escaped.
Without detailed disease testing data it is difficult to know what the potential for disease transmission could be in this most recent release. An evaluation of the risk of disease transmission from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild Pacific salmon conducted over a decade ago (Nash 2003) classified the risk as low due to existing disease testing protocols and the State’s prohibition of bringing new Atlantic salmon stocks or eggs into Washington (which limits new diseases from entering).
As to whether released farmed salmon will compete with native salmon for food and breeding or spawning space, studies (Jonsson and Jonsson, 2006) have shown that while their performance and reproductive success in nature vary, farmed Atlantic salmon often are outcompeted by wild salmon of similar size.
Between 1987 and 1996, 10,609 Atlantic salmon were caught in the North Pacific representing 4.2% of the total number reported to have escaped since Atlantic salmon farming began in Washington and British Columbia (255,554 escapees reported; McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Interestingly, this includes Atlantic salmon caught in Alaska, even though Alaska does not allow Atlantic salmon farming, proving that the fish are capable of surviving and moving great distances after escaping.
Of the Atlantic salmon caught during that time period, stomachs were examined in 813 animals. Empty stomachs occurred in almost 77% of ocean-caught Atlantic salmon and 62% of those caught in freshwater. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has examined the stomach contents of about a dozen of the recently escaped Atlantic salmon and all of their stomachs have been empty. Additionally researchers and volunteers from the non-profit KWIAHT dissected 31 Atlantic salmon caught in Watmough Bight last week and found empty stomachs with the exception of two fish that each had one small mussel shell and a few crumbs of fish chow pellets. This suggests that while released farmed Atlantic salmon will compete with wild salmon for food, many also don’t make the transition from being fed pellets in farms to catching and eating wild food. For those that do, though, stonefly nymphs found in the stomachs of Atlantic salmon caught in the Salmon River (Vancouver Island) suggest that escaped Atlantic salmon also can be predators in freshwater as well as in ocean ecosystems (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997).
Although the probability is low, escaped adult Atlantic salmon have the potential to colonize and exist as self-sustaining introduced species. In 1998, scientists captured twelve juvenile Atlantic salmon (and observed, but did not capture another 28) in the Tsitika River on Vancouver Island (Volpe et al., 2000). Genetic analysis confirmed that these were Atlantic salmon that were the products of natural spawning by released Atlantic salmon. More recent survey work and modeling looking at Atlantic salmon use of freshwater streams in British Columbia showed that 97 % of streams in British Columbia with high native salmon diversity were occupied by Atlantic salmon and that Atlantic salmon can occupy these rivers for multiple years (Fisher et al., 2014). Colonization can occur.
The only potential positive from this large release of Atlantic salmon is that these farm-raised fish should serve as easy prey for seals, sea lions and eagles, maybe taking some predation pressure off wild salmon.
On balance, though, the science looking at past net pen releases of Atlantic salmon in this region suggests that there can be negative impacts to native salmon including disease transmission, competition for food and breeding habitat, and the potential for long-term establishment of an introduced Atlantic salmon run.
Science informs decisions, it does not set public policy: the people and their representatives do. So while the science does not suggest that this spill will likely be catastrophic to wild salmon, in looking at the public reaction to this net pen release and the outcry against Cook Aquaculture Pacific, it seems evident that the people of the Salish Sea value native salmon runs more than they do the salmon farming industry.
The message from the public appears clear: With the billions of dollars we’ve invested to protect and recover native wild Pacific salmon, any introduced risk like farmed Atlantic salmon is unacceptable.
For daily updates, please visit the Washington Department of Natural Resources website on this incident.
To report your catch of Atlantic salmon or see where these escaped farm fish are being caught, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Catch Map.
Fisher, AC, JP Volpe, JT Fisher. 2014. Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions. Biological Invasions 16:2137-2146. doi 10.1007/s10530-014-0653-x
Jones, SRM, DW Bruno, L Madsen, EJ Peeler. 2015. Disease management mitigates risk of pathogen transmission for maricultured salmonids. Aquaculture Environment Interactions 6:119-134. doi 10.3354/aei00121
Jonsson B, N Jonsson. 2006. Cultured Atlantic salmon in nature: a review of their ecology and interaction with wild fish. ICES Journal of Marine Science 63:1162-1181. doi 10.1016/j.icesjms.2006.03.004
McKinnell S and AJ Thomson. 1997. Recent events concerning Atlantic salmon escapees in the Pacific. ICES Journal of Marine Science 54:1121-1125.
Nash, CE. 2003. Interactions of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest VI. A synopsis of the risk and uncertainty. Fisheries Research 62:339-347.
Volpe JP, EB Taylor, DW Rimmer, BW Glickman. 2000. Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia River. Conservation Biology 14:899-903.
Waknitz FW, RN Iwamoto, MS Strom. 2003. Interactions of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest IV. Impacts on the local ecosystems. Fisheries Research 62:307-328.
Note: if you would like to read any of these peer-reviewed papers and do not have access to them, please contact SeaDoc.
For most folks, the surface of the Salish Sea exists as a beautiful albeit slightly forbidding border. Our inland sea is wonderful to ferry or paddle across and a fine comfy home for seals, killer whales and other critters. But jump into that cold water? No thanks.
There’s an entire subclass of people, though, who look at our chilly green water and see opportunity. Escorted around reefs by curious kelp greenling, local divers regularly engage in staring contests with lingcod, link arms with giant octopus, peep at nudibranchs and attend rockfish schools.
This hardy band of deep breathers knows that underwater images in books like The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest aren’t just exotic, aspirational fantasies; divers see these colorful creatures every time they strap on a mask. With such awesome diving in our front yard, it’s no wonder that Washington State has the 3rd highest number of certified scuba divers per capita in the U.S.
A newly released SeaDoc study led by Dr. Katharine Wellman, resource economist with Northern Economics, asked local divers about the most important factors in choosing underwater sites to visit. Not surprisingly, number one was “abundant wildlife.”
Spending their down time literally immersed in the environment, divers naturally tend to be passionate advocates for healthy marine ecosystems. Many even volunteer as citizen scientists, doing underwater surveys, deploying fish-tracking instruments, and acting as early warning systems for unusual mortality events like the 2013 Sea Star Wasting Disease outbreak.
Research has also shown that divers do more than their share to contribute to a healthy local economy, spending more per activity day than any other outdoor enthusiasts. Our new study found that just the approximately 1,000 state residents who belong to Washington’s scuba clubs contribute five million diving dollars to the state’s economy each year.
“Considering that there are an estimated 100,000 certified divers in the state,” says Dr. Wellman, “and thousands more in British Columbia, plus all those who travel to the area to dive, we’re talking about a deep financial impact on the region.” Diving, together with other recreational activities like fishing, kayaking, coastal hiking, wildlife and whale watching, contributes billions to our local economy in direct and non-market benefits.
Each one of those dollars and all the related jobs are dependent on a functional, flourishing Salish Sea ecosystem, something we at SeaDoc are constantly working on whether we’re at our desks, in the lab or when we’re lucky enough to be getting down with our dive buddies.
Read the full report here: Economic Impacts of Washington State Resident Scuba Divers.
SeaDoc would like to thank Rick Stratton of Diver News Network; Mike Racine of Washington SCUBA Alliance; Josh Reyneveld and Maya Kocian of Earth Economics; Dan Tonnes, Adam Obaza, Steve Copps and Leif Anderson of NOAA; Janna Nichols of REEF; Craig Burley and Dayv Lowry of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Patrick Christie at the Univ. of Washington; Fran Wilshussen and Preston Hardison at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and the many dive shops, clubs, and recreational divers who helped scope this project and collect data used for the economic valuation.
The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
Each summer, SeaDoc brings one or more rising third-year veterinary students to Orcas Island to assist with research projects in conjunction with the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. The eight-week internship is a great opportunity for vet students to get involved in wildlife health issues.
One of their primary roles is to help respond to marine mammal strandings, but they also participate in medical rounds at the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and they work closely with volunteers and spend a good deal of time educating and speaking with the public. This year’s interns are Alyssa Capuano and Devon England from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Amber Backwell from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.
Summer housing for the interns has been generously provided by the Hoglund family, whom we thank deeply for their support of SeaDoc. Get to know each of the interns below!
It is a dream come true being a part of The SeaDoc Society as a veterinary intern this summer! Originally from Long Island, I have moved coast to coast following my passion for science, education, wildlife, and the ocean. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara where I experienced the life-changing world of scuba diving, I worked as a marine science educator at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. My curiosity for marine biology brought me to the University of Miami where I completed a graduate degree in marine mammal science. My career goals to protect marine wildlife and their ecosystems through research, education, and medicine encouraged me to attend veterinary school at UC Davis. My research with Dr. Walter Boyce at UCD focuses on influenza virus exposure in marine mammals, an important link between marine mammal disease, the ocean environment, and human health. In my free time I love hiking, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and spending time with family, friends, and fellow ocean enthusiasts. I am very grateful to connect my love of the ocean and marine mammals this summer as I contribute to the important mission of The SeaDoc Society!
My love for the ocean and the animals that inhabit it started pretty much from day one—born and raised in Southern California just 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, some of my favorite childhood memories are of spending hours at the beach looking for sand crabs or admiring the huge range of mollusks and anemones at local tidepools. This love of both science and animals transformed into a desire to become a veterinarian when I was eight years old, a path I have been following ever since. All throughout my many years of education, first during my undergraduate at Cornell and continuing through my first two years of vet school at UC Davis, I have sought out experiences to work with and learn about marine life: from volunteering at marine mammal rehabilitation centers in San Pedro and Sausalito to spending a semester abroad in Queensland, Australia home of the incredible Great Barrier Reef and the multitude of oceanic life that call it home. The SeaDoc society internship program has thus been on my radar for quite some time now, and I am beyond thrilled to be spending my final summer vacation before entering my clinical year on the beautiful Orcas Island! Working for an organization like the SeaDoc Society—which combines two concepts I am extremely passionate about: veterinary medicine and environmental stewardship—is a dream come true and I am loving taking part in just some of projects the fantastic team of Joe Gaydos, Jean Lyle and Markus Naugle have devoted their careers to. I hope to take what I learn here this summer into my future career—which I hope will in some way involve caring for marine wildlife and their ecosystems—and continue to spread the ideals of SeaDoc wherever on this planet life might take me!
My passion for wildlife and being outdoors is what led me to beautiful Orcas Island and the SeaDoc Society! I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia (from Ontario) in 2009 to pursue a Masters in Public Health and immediately fell in love with the west coast. I worked in spinal cord injury research for two years upon completion of my Masters, after which I flew one-way to London, England and travelled the world for just shy of a year. I needed time to recalibrate personally and professionally and reflect on what it was that I wanted to do with my life. It was in the far west of Nepal, near Bardia National Park, on a tuk tuk ride that I realized I needed to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. Upon returning home to Canada I completed the prerequisite courses and applied to and was accepted at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I am now in my fourth year of the DVM program. My time at the WCVM has been difficult albeit rewarding in so many ways. Last summer I had the opportunity to travel with a school club to three African countries where we volunteered with some amazing wildlife veterinarians and were able to work with many different wildlife species, my favorites being large cats and rhinos! When I’m not in school or traveling the world, I enjoy hiking, camping, horseback riding, reading and spending time with my two cats. The Pacific Northwest is my home now and I hope that through my career I can help protect our beautiful environment and the animals with which we share it. The SeaDoc Society does incredible work in this area and I am so thrilled to be here learning more about the Salish Sea and helping out with Society’s various projects!
Every year, the SeaDoc Society hosts interns for the summer in collaboration with The Whale Museum and the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In this video, two of our interns respond to a call about a harbor seal pup on Orcas Island. One of our 2016 interns, Megan Mangini, a student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, explains how the response network works and what she gained from her experience as a summer intern. SeaDoc is part of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Big thanks to the Hoglund family for supporting the SeaDoc Society and generously donating lodging to the interns each summer. We deeply appreciate it! Stay tuned for some darting practice footage from our 2017 interns next month!
Note: The pup in the video above was re-sighted in the wild once after being tagged, but specifics beyond that are unknown.