In this issue: Killer whales to get personal health records, Devil’s Mountain fault, UC Davis Veterinary School is first in the world again, Joe and Jean go running in Utah.
You may have heard the story about how SeaDoc worked with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to write a scientific status review for Tufted Puffins. This ultimately helped to list the iconic seabird as Endangered in Washington State.
What you might not know is that the partnership between SeaDoc and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was a major paradigm-shift in the world of threatened and endangered species legislation. So much so that we knew we had to share it with other scientists, managers and conservation groups around the world.
While many outside groups petition government agencies to list animals, it is unusual that a group would actually assist in the scientific review process to determine if listing is warranted.
The scientists involved in the project — Thor Hanson, Gary Wiles, and Joe Gaydos, — described their collaboration in the peer-reviewed journal, Biodiversity Conservation.
The goal? To help people around the world embrace a new way to move endangered species protection forward.
Funding is a huge roadblock to endangered species conservation. At the federal level in the United States, listed species receive only about 20% of the funds that would be needed to support full recovery.
And that’s just for the implementation work,. The scientific studies that lead to a decision on whether listing is warranted also are underfunded. Just like the feds, the 46 states like Washington that have endangered species programs also have funding problems.
In Washington between 1990 and 2014 there were 27 scientific status reports prepared. That’s about one a year. But new species keep getting added to the list of candidates. So in 2014 there were still 112 species waiting to be evaluated. And of course some populations continue to decline while they wait for action.
SeaDoc’s partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife approached this problem from a unique angle. Because the funding problem for WDFW really came down to a lack of staff time, SeaDoc used privately-raised funds (your donations) to temporarily hire a scientist (Thor Hanson) to write the scientific status review for puffins.
And described in the paper, a key element of this collaboration was the commitment by all parties to keep advocacy out of the process. SeaDoc undertook the status review with the understanding that the science would speak for itself and there was no guarantee that the puffin would or would not be listed.
This model can be used around the world where limited resources are dramatically delaying listing decisions. By partnering with non-governmental organizations that are willing to support science-based investigations, governments can make progress on evaluating species at risk.
This model also shows that a small number of private citizens can make financial investments that shave years off of the listing process and ultimately speeding up the recovery process.
Photo: Brian Guzzetti/Alaska Stock
When you have fish that can live from 80 to 200 years, depending on the species, recovery can be a slow process.
That’s the case with some of the 27 different rockfish (Sebastes spp.) in the Salish Sea. Many species were over-harvested and are now in need of recovery.
One important strategy is protecting the old females who produce copious young. But rockfish don’t birth a big crop of babies every year. (Yes, rockfish give birth to live baby fish.) Instead they seem to have periodic “bonus” years when numerous rockfish babies are born. As a result, it is really important to know when these massive birth years of young rockfish occur and understand the type of habitats those juvenile fish need to survive.
SeaDoc is working with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, REEF, and others to help NOAA design a citizen-driven project where SCUBA divers can collect data to help us learn more about newborn rockfish, known as “young of the year.”
Last month, NOAA project lead Dr. Adam Obaza came up to the San Juans to dive with SeaDoc to test out the new dive protocol. Joe Gaydos, Dr. Obaza, and Jen Olson dove in kelp forests, eelgrass, flat muddy bottom sites and rocky reef sites to look for young rockfish and test out the survey methodology.
Young rockfish are rare, but we did manage to find one young of the year rockfish – a baby Copper rockfish hanging out in some Laminaria sp. kelp near a rocky shore. As things are with science sometimes, it was in the last few minutes of the last dive of the weekend.
We will keep you posted as NOAA rolls out this volunteer SCUBA opportunity in case you or friends want to be involved.
Recovery of severely declining resource stocks often leads to enforced quotas or reduced human access to those resources. Predators, however, do not recognize such restrictions and may be attracted to areas of increased prey abundances where human extraction is being limited. Such targeting by predators may reduce or retard the potential recovery of depressed stocks. In the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, USA, marine reserves were implemented to recover depressed fish populations. We examine the role of harbor seals Phoca vitulina in the San Juan Islands food web. We describe the temporal and spatial variability in their diet, emphasizing species for which reserves were established (rockfish Sebastes spp.) and other important depressed stocks, including salmon Oncorhynchus spp. and Pacific herring Clupea pallasii. During winter and spring, seals primarily consumed Pacific herring, Pacific sand lance Ammodytes hexapterus, northern anchovy Engraulis mordax, and walleye pollock Theragra chalcogramma. During summer/fall, adult salmonids composed >50% of the diet and were particularly important in odd-numbered calendar years, when pink salmon O. gorbuscha spawn. Rockfish were not a primary prey species at any time of the year, suggesting that the abundance of alternative prey species may reduce predation pressure and provide a critical buffer to rockfish predation. The importance of considering increased visitation by marine predators to areas where potential prey are enhanced through restrictions on human extractions should be considered when modeling the efficacy of quotas and reduced access areas, such as marine reserves.