Eelgrass disease study investigates vulnerability to Labyrinthula

kelp crab on eelgrass by NOAA

Eelgrass (Zostera marina) plays a key role in the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem. It stabilizes sediments, reduces the impact of wave action, provides habitat, and is an important nursery and foraging area for multiple species, some of which are endangered. SeaDoc's involvement in eelgrass issues goes back to 2003, when we convened a meeting of eelgrass experts, resource managers, and land-use specialists to analyze the sudden disappearance of 35 acres of eelgrass in San Juan Island's Westcott Bay. Eelgrass can be damaged by pollutants, by shading from docks and structures, and by … [Read more...]

Unraveling the Mystery of Stranded Whales


Killer whale strandings are always bad news. However, a new paper by SeaDoc scientists and collaborators shows that each orca’s death also is an opportunity to improve our understanding of the species and aid in the recovery of endangered populations. This first-of-its-kind study analyzed live and dead killer whale strandings in the North Pacific Ocean dating back to 1925. It showed that very few orcas that die wash ashore – just 10 per year over the entire North Pacific Ocean. While each rare stranding is a chance to gather a huge amount of data, until recently less than 1 out of every 50 … [Read more...]

Hide and Seek Seabirds

credit USFWS Pacific

Marine birds are important sentinel species for ecological conditions and to track them, scientists often count the birds at the breeding colonies, which tells us the number of adults trying to breed. But for seabirds that nest in burrows like Rhinoceros Auklets and Tufted Puffins, it’s hard to know how big the colony is because the birds, eggs, and chicks can be 15 feet down underground. A recently-published SeaDoc-supported paper recommends ways to improve monitoring of burrow-nesting seabirds. Lead author Scott Pearson and others used Rhinoceros Auklet breeding colony count data for … [Read more...]

Salish Sea Marine Bird Project

Surf scoters and white-winged scoters are diving ducks in decline in the Salish Sea

Peer-reviewed publication: Vilchis, L. I. C. K. Johnson, J. R. Evenson, S. F. Pearson, K. L. Barry, P. Davidson, M. G. Raphael, and J. K. Gaydos. 2014. Assessing Ecological Correlates of Marine Bird Declines to Inform Marine Conservation. Conservation Biology. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12378. (Open access publication) Where have all the birds gone? The last 30 years have seen precipitous declines in many of the bird species that visit the Salish Sea during the winter. Using various tools, private money and strategic collaborations, SeaDoc made a substantial investment to understand … [Read more...]

Alien Invaders: Invasive tunicates and shellfish aquaculture


Alien Invaders? Subtidal alien invaders swarm, swelling into a slimy mass that grows and covers the shores of the Salish Sea! Or maybe not. While headlines about invasive tunicates have at times reached the breathless pitch of ads for campy horror films, there was legitimate concern because invasive tunicates in other regions of North America have severely impacted the aquaculture industry. Our Pacific Northwest shellfish industry annually pumps millions of dollars into the local economy. Introduced tunicates could potentially cause ecological and financial disaster. Several years ago, … [Read more...]

River Otter Diet and Predation Project


Project status: A peer-review article has been published. (5/2014) SeaDoc funded a River Otter diet and predation study by Monique Lance of the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.  The study aims to describe the diet of river otters and investigate the potential effect they have on rockfish and salmon populations in the San Juan Islands. Rockfish and salmon are currently listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Because of the dramatic decline in these species over the past several decades, Marine Protected Areas have been created to assist in their … [Read more...]

Scoters need more than just mussels to eat

Photo credit: blindgrasshopper via Flickr Creative Commons

Surf Scoters are known for eating a lot of mussels, but a recently published SeaDoc-supported paper by Eric Anderson and James Lovvorn shows that scoters also depend heavily on eelgrass habitats. Thousands of Scoters can be found eating mussels in Penn Cove, Washington during the fall and early winter. But then they leave. Why? Well, as it turns out, they prefer to eat small mussels (2-30mm) and once those are gone, the larger mussels and worms left are not as as appealing. It's more productive for them to move to eelgrass habitats where they can feed on creatures like small crabs and shrimp … [Read more...]

Pacific White-Sided Dolphin Population Study


SeaDoc supported a project to assess the health of Pacific white-sided dolphin populations by using photo-ID to estimate survival and abundance. Erin Ashe, a PhD student at St. Andrews University, has digitized more than 2,000 historically-collected white-sided dolphin photographs and is beginning the process of comparing them to photographs taken more recently. We thank all of the volunteers who submitted dorsal fin photographs to Erin. We also encourage any of you who have photographs and have not submitted them yet, or who see these terrific marine mammals and get good photos, to please … [Read more...]

Bears and Barnacles: The Land – Sea Connection

  Videos Why make a list of all the birds and mammals that depend on the Salish Sea? Joe Gaydos explains. (1:18)   Part 2: Why has this never been done before?   In Part 3, Joe talks about: the challenges in assembling the list, how it can help scientists (including SeaDoc's own Dr. Nacho Vilchis), how the list indicates when and how heavily different species use the ecosystem, how they tracked down citations for each and every species, and how fox and beaver have been shown to use the intertidal zones. At about minute 4:30 Joe talks about how … [Read more...]

River Otters, Sea Otters, and Toxoplasma gondii

Originally published as a letter to supporters, Winter 2007 At first glance, domestic cats and river otters seem worlds apart. One thrives in our marine waters, the other despises water. One often snuggles by us in our homes at night and the other avoids humans when possible. Recent SeaDoc research, however, has shown that like our own lives and the health of the marine ecosystem, these two animals are probably more intimately connected than most of us realize. For several years we’ve been working to better understand what impacts the health of river otters in the Salish Sea. While … [Read more...]