The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
Tufted Puffins are iconic seabirds. Adapted to “flying underwater” to catch schooling forage fish and invertebrate prey with their large orange bills, puffins were once considered common in the Salish Sea. Historically, more than 40 puffin nesting colonies were documented in Washington, however recent work found nesting birds at only 17 sites and the population is thought to number less than a thousand birds.
With the support of private donors like you, SeaDoc helped write the scientific Status Review for Tufted Puffins, which the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) used to list the bird as Endangered. This State-private partnership, based on trust and scientific respect, was so unique that we even published a paper on it.
Thanks to a very generous donation by SeaDoc Founder, Kathy Dickenson, we’re back at it. This time, SeaDoc is teaming up with WDFW to write a recovery plan for these amazing birds. Recovery plans are action plans, often seen as the place where the rubber meets the road for conservation. This plan, which will be written by Drs. Thor Hanson (a SeaDoc special hire for this project), Scott Pearson (WDFW), and Peter Hodum (Univ. of Puget Sound), will detail what we need to do to bring this bird back.
We can’t wait to make the puffin common again and look forward to keeping you updated on the recovery plan, but more importantly, on puffin recovery.
By Markus Naugle
We’re extremely grateful to Seattle-born philanthropist and environmentalist Nancy Skinner Nordhoff who has put us one step closer to completing our Salish Sea Forever Campaign! Thanks to her generous $50K matching grant, every dollar you donate will now be counted as two. One more person has made a difference and you can, too. So please tell all your friends and give today to help us achieve our $1.5M goal, doubling our capacity to protect the Salish Sea…forever.
Nancy Nordhoff has dedicated her life to philanthropy, learning first through the family’s Skinner Foundation then honing her skills and expanding her reach through efforts such as the United Way, Seattle Junior League, Seattle CityClub, Pacific Northwest Grantmaker’s Forum (later renamed Philanthropy Northwest) and the Goosefoot Community Fund for sustainable community development on Whidbey Island. Her tireless work has earned many accolades and honors while empowering women, supporting rural communities, and promoting environmental protection of Washington state’s flora and fauna. In 1985, she founded Hedgebrook, a women’s writers retreat on Whidbey Island. She is a mother of three, a former pilot, and an avid baseball fan. And obviously, a fan of a healthy Salish Sea. Thank you, Nancy, for your lifetime of support, of SeaDoc and so many others!
If you haven’t already donated to the Salish Sea Forever Campaign to help SeaDoc increase our impact, please make a difference today by doubling your donation to restore and protect our extraordinarily diverse and uniquely beautiful Salish Sea ecosystem for generations to come.
Book review by Joe Gaydos, SeaDoc Society
A Sea of Glass: Searching for the Blaschkas’ Fragile Legacy in an Ocean at Risk
By Drew Harvell
University of California Press, Oakland, California
With highly cited publications in Science, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and every other prestigious scientific journal you can imagine, Cornell University Professor Drew Harvell is a scientist. And honestly, scientists are not known for being art aficionados. But when Drew was appointed to curate a stunning collection of glass invertebrates purchased by Cornell in the late 1800s as a teaching tool, she had the wisdom to recognize beauty and the power it has to change us for the better. These 569 glass animal pieces were made by the famed European glass artists Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka and purchased with the help of Cornell’s first President to teach land-locked students about the ocean’s incredible biodiversity. Dusty, long forgotten, and often broken, these artistic pieces were still so beautiful and so true to life they compelled Harvell to undertake a worldwide quest to find their living counterparts. Like the fate of the actual glass collection since its creation 160 years ago, the world’s oceans too had been neglected, not well cared for, and in more places than we care to admit, broken.
A Sea of Glass is Harvell’s personal story. One where the joy of experiencing the perfection of Blaschkas’ glass counterfeits actually shrinks the fabricated gap between art and science. It also takes a hard look at how the oceans have changed since the Blaschkas’ created their first piece … a time when the oceans’ were unexploited, healthy, and teaming with exciting creatures, most of which had yet to be discovered or described. The fragility of our oceans and what we have done to them is well detailed in Harvell’s imaginary discussion with Leopold Blaschka where she shares her passion for the artistry of the ocean’s vast invertebrates and also explains to him how we have squandered the ocean’s riches in our quest for improved life and material goods. After a heartfelt monologue that includes the toll that ocean acidification is already taking on so many shell-forming invertebrates, Harvell herself recognizes that the depressing story she portrays sounds more like science fiction than fact.
Just as Harvell was able to recognize the value of and restore the Blaschkas’ neglected art, she too reminds us that there is so much we can do to revive our fragile oceans. In the end, Harvell’s well-written story makes the reader want to create a future that generations look back on as we do the work of the Blashkas – with pride for having created something lasting and inspirational that makes the world a better place. After all, shouldn’t that be the goal of both art and science?
Coming next: Gaydos reviews Robert Dash’s new book, On an Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge
How did this Washington State crab buoy wind up in a tree on Wake Island?
Ever have one of those “What a small world!” moments? Well, SeaDoc recently experienced a remarkable one when our founding director and current board member Dr. Kirsten Gilardi received an email from out of the blue—from way out of the blue.
The message was from her brother-in-law, John Gilardi, who’d been out doing his quarterly survey of seabirds on Wake Island, a miniscule coral atoll that’s 2,300 miles west of Hawaii, 1,500 east of Guam, and 1,000 miles south of nowhere.
“I’d gone to the windward side of the island to count gray-backed terns,” says John, an ecologist who the islanders call Birdman. “They like to nest there amid the coral rubble thrown up by storms.”
Of course coral isn’t the only thing cast ashore by the wind and waves. “That side of the atoll collects all kinds of flotsam, jetsam and other man-made debris,” says John. “I always keep an eye out hoping to find old Japanese glass fishing floats, but mostly it’s trash like bottles, buckets, cigarette lighters and shoes. The folks on Wake do cleanups every few months, but it just keeps coming.”
On this particular beach survey, John spotted a flash of color that turned out to be a modern fishing float. When he got closer, John noticed that the buoy still had its Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife commercial crab license tag attached. That’s when he had an “aha” moment. “I thought, ‘I bet Kirsten would be interested in this!’”
There’s even more to the coincidence beyond the gee whiz improbability of a SeaDoc-family relative finding a Washington crab float that somehow navigated the great Pacific gyres on a three-and-a-half-year odyssey to a speck of land less than two square miles in area some 4,300 miles from the Salish Sea. As it happens, John’s sister-in-law Kirsten has been wrapped up in lost fishing gear for years.
Her involvement started at a SeaDoc board meeting more than a decade ago. “I remember board member Tom Cowan bugging me about this great fishing gear recovery program they had going on in Puget Sound,” says Kirsten.
Tom was the first director of the Northwest Straits Commission, and back around the year 2000 he’d asked several groups of scientists to come up with a priority list of actions the NWSC could take to begin restoring the Salish Sea.
“They all came back saying derelict fishing gear, especially nets, was a huge problem,” says Tom, who then received a grant from NOAA to come up with a safe and effective way to remove nets lost on Puget Sound’s rocky reefs.
Derelict nets keep ghostfishing for decades, and SeaDoc got involved by developing a statistical modeling program that predicts the killing capacity of lost gear and the cost/benefit ratio of removal. The resulting scientific paper written by Kirsten, Tom and others proved beyond any doubt the great economic benefit of clearing derelict nets.
“We showed that every year, along with killing huge numbers of seabirds and marine mammals, these nets were destroying millions of dollars worth of commercial seafood like Dungeness crab,” says Tom. “When we figured out a way to remove them at relatively low cost by hiring fishing-industry divers to haul them up, the program really took off.”
Kirsten caught gear recovery fever from Tom, and brought it back with her to UC Davis, SeaDoc’s administrative home. After several years of operating a program using divers just like Washington, though, SeaDoc gave the concept a Golden State twist. While Puget Sound’s program involved paying sea cucumber divers to clear fishermen’s gill nets, Kirsten’s idea was to incentivize fisher folks to recover gear lost within their own industry.
“For the last few years, our program has focused on the Dungeness crab fishery in California,” says Kirsten. “When commercial crabbers can’t work because it’s off season or there’s a closure due to algal blooms, we figured out a way they can still get out on the water and get paid to recover lost crab traps.”
The program SeaDoc started was such a success that it has been turned into a California State law called the Whale Protection & Crab Gear Recovery Act (crab gear is also a major entanglement threat to migrating whales). It’s hoped that the act will become financially self-sustaining through the fees crabbers pay to buy back their lost gear.
And there’s yet another circle-of-saving-sealife aspect to this story. After recovering more than 5,900 fishing nets from the Washington State portion of the Salish Sea and thereby transforming nearly 900 acres of killing zones into healthy, productive habitat, Northwest Straits has now turned its attention, like SeaDoc in California, to lost crab pots.
The float that went on walkabout all the way across the Pacific until it was found by the brother-in-law of SeaDoc’s lost-gear guru was originally attached to one of an estimated 14,000 commercial and recreational crab pots that are lost each year in Washington State waters.
The Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife runs a program in the state’s coastal waters that allows commercial crabbers to get a special WDFW permit and head out after the season to scour the Pacific coast for lost gear. The arrangement cleans the habitat and clears potential entanglement risks, and the benefit for the keen-eyed crabbers who recover gear is finders keepers. But the program doesn’t include the waters of the Salish Sea, where some 12,000 of those crab traps go missing every year.
Northwest Straits has already recovered 4,700 lost traps in Puget Sound, but obviously there’s a lot more for all of us to do. Recreational crabbers and shrimpers can do their part by making sure their traps don’t go missing in the first place by using enough weight to hold them in place, rigging more than enough sinking-type line to account for the depth, having proper biodegradable escape panels, and by not setting traps when the tides and currents are too extreme.
The gear recovery programs SeaDoc has been involved with in Washington and California are both huge successes and have become models for similar efforts around the world. Out on Wake Island, John “Birdman” Gilardi hung that well-traveled crab float on a Casuarina tree as a symbol of our interconnectedness.
All the world’s oceans and seas share problems like marine debris and ghostfishing gear that kills wildlife and damages habitat. But by sharing solutions and supporting restoration efforts, we are making a difference.
The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
A difficult truth we’re facing is that the Salish Sea’s Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) are at serious risk of extinction.
Due to their population structure and dynamics, limited fecundity, high toxin load and food-supply challenges, the orcas of J, K and L pods are vulnerable to having a single disease event, oil spill or just a terrible year that takes out too many breeding-age females signal the end of our iconic killer whales.
Even without a random disaster, the long-term prospects for Southern Residents are not good and are likely to get worse, with proposals for multiple Salish Sea port and pipeline projects threatening to greatly increase the dangers of ship strikes, fuel spills and underwater noise pollution (read the paper SeaDoc published on this topic).
When the SRKWs were placed on the Endangered Species List in 2005, there were 88 whales in the three pods. Today, after a dozen years of recovery planning and efforts, the official count from the Center for Whale Research shows that the population has actually dropped to just 78 individuals. With the recent sharp decline, people are pushing regulators to do more.
One example is a petition by three NGOs asking NOAA Fisheries to declare a whale protection zone (WPZ) along the west side of San Juan Island. The area has historically been known as the best place to spot SRKWs, both from boats and from the shore, as well as to fish for Chinook salmon, the orcas’ favorite food.
The petition asks that no vessels (with a few necessary exceptions) be allowed to enter the WPZ, which will extend three-quarters of a mile from shore, with an additional quarter-mile no-wake buffer zone. Excluding boats, say the petitioners, will reduce noise and disturbance, allowing the orcas to hunt and communicate more efficiently and to transit or rest in a favored foraging area without being stressed.
A previous proposal for a smaller WPZ in the same location was sunk by strong opposition, primarily from recreational fishers, whale watch operators, and the local tourist industry. This time around, similar battle lines have been drawn. While there’s no debate that the SRKWs are in trouble, the arguments start when it comes down to which specific recovery actions to take and who those measures will impact.
All parties agree that the best thing for the Southern Residents would be to fully restore the Chinook runs on which they depend and to rid the Salish Sea of toxins. Those efforts have already been underway for decades, though, with billions spent showing mixed results at best. Many Chinook runs, in fact, still share space on the Endangered Species List with SRKWs.
The proposed WPZ, petitioners argue, is an achievable action that could be quickly put in place. The question is: will it help the Southern Residents? If the answer is no, then there’s no reason to potentially disrupt the local economy. If yes, then citizens need to wisely judge the benefits versus the possible economic impacts. This is where SeaDoc and good science enter the picture.
“Science cannot tell you what your priorities are, and it doesn’t make decisions,” says Kit Rawson, SeaDoc Board Chair and former conservation science program manager for the Tulalip Tribes.
Kit says that issues like this are good reminders that the SeaDoc Society is a scientific organization, not an advocacy group, and that its job is to conduct and translate research that is free of bias and insulated from political, emotional or economic concerns.
“SeaDoc’s value is derived from that credibility,” says Kit. “It’s imperative that we communicate to the public and to policymakers facts that are objective, rigorously tested and evidence-based so that they can use them to inform their decisions whether or not to support actions important to marine conservation.”
As we’re now in a period where efforts are being made to deny, devalue and defund science, with calls to seriously hobble research supported by NOAA and EPA—both critical partners in Salish Sea salmon and killer whale restoration—it’s more important than ever to remember that science isn’t about opinions, ideology or alternative facts. It’s about going wherever the evidence takes you.
To that end, SeaDoc’s science director, Dr. Joe Gaydos, examined the data used to support the current WPZ petition—just as we do for many regulatory proposals that affect the Salish Sea, whether they come from fishermen, whale watchers, government agencies or concerned citizens groups.
In Joe’s review of the scientific literature, he found some of the supporting science unsettled due to data uncertainties, while other lines of evidence were strong enough to draw conclusions.
In short, there is ample scientific evidence to suggest that vessel noise, disturbance from vessel traffic, and a limited supply of salmon are having an interactive effect on our resident orcas’ health, and clearly need to be addressed. The science is there to support strong actions to recover the Southern Residents. Exactly what form that action takes is now up to informed citizens, elected officials, and management agencies.
Joe strongly recommends, however, that if NOAA Fisheries does move forward with a WPZ or other regulatory mechanism to protect our killer whales, they need to invest in a process to address any concerns of the co-managing tribes as well as stakeholders including whale watch operators, commercial and recreational fishing interests, and recreational boaters to ensure that whatever guidelines are developed will be respected by all parties.
With many federal and state governmental science programs that partner with SeaDoc facing drastic budget cuts, we’re reminded again just how crucial private donors like you are to continuing our mission to use science to heal the Salish Sea. We couldn’t do it without your support. Thank you!
Starting Thursday, April 27 at noon, you can schedule donations for Give Big Day 2017! The donation button is now live on www.givebigseattle.org/SeaDocSociety, but scheduled donations will not be charged to your card until Give Big Day, which is May 10.
Why schedule your donation early? Because it helps ensure that you don’t forget to give on the big day! Our lives are busy, and giving early allows you to donate when it’s on your mind. Scheduled gifts will be processed very early on May 10, so your donations will also help SeaDoc get some great momentum to start to the day, which can encourage others to give as well.
For early giving, donors will be prompted to create a simple profile that includes their name, email and a password when they donate. Learn more about early giving in Give Big’s FAQs.
To address the growing challenges facing the Salish Sea ecosystem, we are in the final stretch of a $1.5M fundraising campaign, Salish Sea Forever, designed to double our science and double our impact. We are fortunate to have a $125,000 matching grant, meaning every dollar that you donate on Give Big (including the ones scheduled in advance!) will be counted as two. “Now more than ever”, please give BIG this year!
SeaDoc Society’s mission is to improve the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem that is home to more than 8 million people and extraordinarily diverse fish and wildlife populations. We are a core program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the University of California Davis, a center of excellence in the School of Veterinary Medicine recognized as the top veterinary school in the world for the past three years.
Based on Orcas Island in the Salish Sea, SeaDoc works on both sides of the US/Canadian border. All donations are used in the Salish Sea. We have prioritized and funded more than 100 scientific projects documented in more than 70 peer-reviewed publications on topics ranging from evaluating water quality and contaminants to forage fish and killer whale recovery.
Thank you for supporting GiveBIG 2017! Schedule your donation today!
The SeaDoc Society newsletter is sent out once a month. Read the latest below, and subscribe to the letter here.
By Jonathan White
Trinity University Press, San Antonio
Book Review by Joe Gaydos:
Jonathan White’s book Tides: the science and spirit of the ocean is a must-read for anybody who loves the ocean. Tides govern the ocean yet wait for no one. So why do so few people really understand how they work? Because they’re complicated. Tides have both fascinated and confused the likes of Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Sir Isaac Newton, just to name a few of the great minds discussed in this easy-to-read, science-come-action adventure book. Despite the complex nature of the subject, White takes the reader on epic journeys around the world exploring big tides and big wave surfing, diving and sailing, shore bird migrations, and even a tidal bore in China that rears to 25 feet “terrorizing everything in its path.” The writing is so accomplished and the content so fascinating, it is not surprising that by the time you have followed White’s adventures trailing Greg Long surfing Mavericks, dropping below the frozen surface of Ungava Bay to harvest mussels with Inuit Lukasi Nappaaluk, or discussing climate change and sea level rise with Kuna Indians in Panama’s San Blas Islands, you’re begging for just one more tidally-based adventure with him. What was surprising upon finishing Tides, was realizing that White had done for me what oceanographic textbook after marine biology textbook could not, he taught me to understand the physical workings of tides and helped me to appreciate the legacy that gravity, the moon’s elliptical orbit around the earth, and the earth’s geology provide for the world’s oceans – White taught me the beauty of tides.
Coming next: Gaydos reviews Dr. Drew Harvell’s new book, A Sea of Glass: Searching for the Blaschkas’ fragile legacy in an ocean at risk