The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
Every winter, male lingcod are tasked with the job of standing guard over their fertilized eggs. If left unguarded, the nest could be quickly decimated by predators such as rockfish, sculpin or kelp greenling.
SeaDoc Science Director Joe Gaydos recently went scuba diving off the coast of Edmonds, WA, where he and his dive partner happened upon a lingcod who was holding down the fort. As you can see in the video above, the lingcod quickly swam at Joe as he arrived. After that, the lingcod sent the same message to the other diver before returning to his post next to the eggs, where he’ll largely remain until they hatch sometime in late winter or early spring. The newly hatched larvae will flow with ocean currents until they grow large enough to swim on their own. By summer they’ll settle into kelp or eelgrass beds.
- Lingcod are only found on the West Coast of North America, from Alaska down to Baja.
- They typically inhabit nearshore rocky reefs, but can go deeper as well.
- Female lingcod mature at 3-5 years of age, while males mature around age 2.
- Females produce more eggs as they grow older and larger.
- Seals, sea lions and human fisherman are all predators for lingcod.
- If a nest-protecting male is removed by a predator, the nest will also likely be lost in short order.
We will feature a different Salish Sea species each month. Subscribe to our monthly update to follow along.
For the past few years, SeaDoc has led an effort to compile individual health records for killer whales, with an eye toward better understanding threats across entire populations. Great strides have been made on that front, but the power of those records as a tool for research is about to go up a notch thanks to a grant from Microsoft as part of their AI for Earth program.
AI for Earth aims to amplify human ingenuity and advance sustainability with the goal of empowering organizations to thrive amid limited resources. SeaDoc will receive a seed grant that provides access to Microsoft Azure’s cloud-computing platform and assistance with artificial intelligence computing tools for data analysis.
“It is exciting to have Microsoft investing in recovery of southern resident killer whales but I’m even more fired up about what this is going to do for improving killer whale health,” said SeaDoc Chief Scientist Joe Gaydos.
Multiple organizations including Center for Whale Research, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, NOAA Fisheries, SeaWorld, SR3 – Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research, and marine mammal stranding networks all over the West Coast have been entering killer whale health data into a shared database being built by Lisa Clowers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation. This allows us to look at individual animal health, but the database also permits evaluation of trends, comparisons between populations, and evaluation of factors that contribute to disease, which can be extremely valuable in understanding threats at the population level. Currently the process is slow and definitely not real-time. But this latest grant from Microsoft has the potential to change that for the good of conservation.
The grant from Microsoft will permit us to do real-time data entry and evaluation, which will enable us to more quickly and effectively respond to threats. This is particularly important with a species like killer whales, where the added computing power and Microsoft’s help in analyzing multiple complex factors will help us understand what causes disease and hopefully help prevent it too. Individual animal immune status, the disease agent itself, and a huge suite of environmental factors influence diseases so we have to address all of those simultaneously to know where we can improve things for the whales.
“We believe that artificial intelligence has incredible potential to accelerate efforts to conserve our planet,” said Bonnie Lei, project manager of Microsoft’s AI for Earth program. “We started AI for Earth to get AI tools and training into the hands of people around the world tackling environmental challenges. The SeaDoc Society has long worked to protect the health of marine wildlife and ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, and we are pleased to award them a grant to use AI tools to better track and protect endangered whale populations.”
We’re excited about this opportunity to further our killer whale health work, and we thank Microsoft for making these powerful tools available to us.
SeaDoc recently received a generous donation to celebrate the induction of renowned photographer and marine environmentalist Ernest “Ernie” H. Brooks II into the International Photography Hall of Fame.
The donation was made by Photokunst, a San Juan Islands organization that specializes in marketing fine art photography to galleries. The organization made a special collection of photos available at the Fragile Waters museum exhibition and donated a portion of the proceeds to SeaDoc Society. We thank Photokunst for the generous donation and Salish Sea passion, and we thank Ernie for his incredible work not only documenting marine ecosystems, but actively supporting their health as well.
Ernie has won international acclaim for underwater photography. His work has been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Monterey Bay Aquarium Shark Exhibit, Yugoslavia ‘Man in the Sea,’ Our World Underwater, Smithsonian ‘Planet Earth’ and was also honored by the Smithsonian Institute.
The Brooks II prints, like the one pictured here, are archival pigment on paper photographs hand-signed by Ernie, matted and framed to archival standards.
Fellow inductees to the International Photography Hall of Fame include Harry Benson, Edward Curtis, William Eggleston, Anne Geddes, Ryszard Horowitz, James Nachtwey, Cindy Sherman, Kenny Rogers, and Jerry Uelsmann. The IPHF annually inducts notable photography industry visionaries for their artistry, innovation, and significant contributions to the art and science of photography.
A few years ago SeaDoc spearheaded writing a scientific report that got the tufted puffin listed as an endangered species in the state of Washington. It was an exciting bit of public-private collaboration that ushered along what can otherwise be a slow-moving process. SeaDoc’s latest visiting scientist, Thor Hanson, was instrumental in that effort, and we’re excited to have him on board as we shift our attention toward a tufted puffin recovery plan.
Hanson, an author and biologist who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, was the lead writer of the status report in collaboration with SeaDoc Society and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. His career in conservation biology has included research on birds, plants, primates, and bees, and he is the author of numerous popular and scientific articles and books.
Tufted puffin populations in Washington have plummeted in recent decades, from an estimated 23 thousand in the ‘80s to an estimated 3 thousand in 2009. Getting them listed as endangered was the crucial first step in a larger attempt to save the species.
“The next step in the agency process is to prepare a recovery plan,” said Hanson. “We’ll lay out specific goals and objectives to help bring puffins back. We want to protect and enhance the habitat – make everything as good as we can for puffins in Washington State.”
The recovery plan, which SeaDoc will share as it comes to fruition, will touch on everything from improving prey availably and protecting nesting habitat (puffins come to the outer coast and Salish Sea to breed) to public outreach and education.
The public-private partnership between SeaDoc and the WDFW is significant because the process for listing endangered species in Washington has become increasingly log-jammed over the years, mostly due to limited funding and a heavy load. Between 1990 and 2014 there were 27 scientific status reports prepared in Washington, which is about one per year. But new species kept getting added to the list of candidates, and by 2014 there were still 112 species waiting to be evaluated.
The main issue has been a lack of staff time, which is where SeaDoc has stepped in, thanks largely to private donations. It’s an innovative arrangement that could be replicated in the future as budget concerns and environmental threats persist.
The puffin status report, which moved along much more efficiently than it otherwise would have, is a great initial success for such a model, and that will continue as Hanson helps craft the recovery plan.
By Justin Cox
Sand lance are a small forage fish known for burrowing into the sand at the bottom of the sea. They’re largely out of human sight, but it would be a mistake to ignore them because they play a crucial role on the bottom of the food web that runs all the way to the top.
They’re an important food source for sea birds like the marbled murrelet and fish like Chinook salmon. If the Pacific sand lance population struggles, a negative ripple effect could be seen all the way up to southern resident killer whales, which eat Chinook salmon.
To date, our knowledge of Pacific sand lance habitat is basic at best, making it very hard to monitor and protect these important fish. That’s why Dr. Cliff Robinson of the Pacific Wildlife Foundation and Dr. Douglas Bertram of Environment & Climate Change Canada pitched a proposal to dig in (read the next few paragraphs and you’ll discover this is a pun!) and enhance the current GIS-based seafloor model that best describes sand lance habitat in the Salish Sea. Defining their habitat and monitoring their population can set the stage for future conservation efforts.
SeaDoc is funding their study, which went into full-swing in 2017. The team recently shared some cool photos from their fieldwork.
“Sand lance are important because they take plankton and convert it into fat,” said SeaDoc Society Science Director Dr. Joe Gaydos. “Tons of birds, fish and mammals eat them. If you can identify and protect the habitat they need, it benefits sand lance and all of the animals that eat them.”
Sand lance are unique in that they bury themselves in medium-coarse sand with low silt content when they’re not feeding in the water column. Robinson and Bertram’s goal is to refine their model to be able to identify and map this important habitat in the Salish Sea. To look for the presence or absence of buried sand lance in potential habitat, the team is taking boats out and using a claw-like grab sampler to pull up sediment or using underwater drop cameras to look for fish entering or emerging from the sand.
We’ll keep you updated as they continue their study.
By Bob Friel
Half a century into the Digital Age it sometimes feels like we’re evolving from animals to house plants, rooted to our chairs and sustained only by the light of glowing screens. Americans, though, are traditionally outdoorsy types, and the latest survey from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) proves that omnipresent electronic devices have not killed our desire to get outside.
USFWS’s National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation is completed every five years to gauge the economic impact of certain outdoor activities. The most recent figures show that 35.8 million Americans over the age of 16 fished, and 11.5 million of them hunted in 2016. Those are impressive numbers, and hunters and fishers have long done a good job of using their economic clout to lobby for laws and regulations that benefit their pursuits—and, often, to protect the natural areas they use.
Less organized are those who fall under the “Wildlife-Associated Recreation” segment. The survey doesn’t tally anyone under this column if they’re headed outside to bike or run or kayak or camp; it counts only those Americans who say they specifically go out to find and observe wildlife.
These are the birdwatchers, whale watchers, bug lovers, tide poolers, scuba diving fish watchers, wildlife photographers and other critter hounds among us. And whether we’re simply enjoying backyard hummingbirds, watching orcas from a rocky bluff, or off on a bucketlisted trek up a salmon stream to see grizzlies, there are a whole lot of us out there.
The USFWS reports that, in 2016, 86 million Americans ventured out to look for wildlife (the cutoff at age 16 means that’s certainly an undercount). And those wildlife voyeurs spent $75.9 billion just to watch, which is almost three times what hunters spent and nearly $30 billion more than recreational fishers.
Perhaps even more surprising to find out, in today’s digital parlance, wildlife watching is trending! Since the last study, overall participation is up 20% and expenditures are up 28%.
As SeaDoc’s recent study on the money generated locally just by our Salish Sea scuba divers shows, the monetary value of having functional ecosystems filled with watchable wildlife is enormous.
Billions of dollars and thousands of supported jobs aside, wildlife watching is proven to benefit—mentally and physically—anyone willing to uproot and unplug for a dose of the outdoors. People living around the Salish Sea normally cite the region’s natural attractions as a primary benefit of living here.
However, not everyone calculates value the same way. Some might say it’s not worth saving a wild salmon run when there are farmed fish at the market. Others might think a pipeline or refinery is worth more than the increased risk of extinction to our Southern Resident Killer Whales. For the folks motivated by dollars and cents, the USFWS reports that there are at least 75.9 billion reasons to protect wildlife in the United States.
Here at SeaDoc, we and our supporters like you understand that even if the value of a healthy Salish Sea can be counted in dollars, it’s better measured with the senses. The well-being, the quality of life, the effects on human health, the satisfaction of being part of a vibrant and vital ecosystem are all priceless.
Besides, we like to watch.