Abstract: Identifying drivers of ecosystem change in large marine ecosystems is central for their effective management and conservation. This is a sizable challenge, particularly in ecosystems transcending international borders, where monitoring and conservation of long-range migratory species and their habitats are logistically and financially problematic. Here, using tools borrowed from epidemiology, we elucidated common drivers underlying species declines within a marine ecosystem, much in the way epidemiological analyses evaluate risk factors for negative health outcomes to better inform decisions. Thus, we identified ecological traits and dietary specializations associated with species declines in a community of marine predators that could be reflective of ecosystem change. To do so, we integrated count data from winter surveys collected in long- term marine bird monitoring programs conducted throughout the Salish Sea—a transboundary large marine ecosystem in North America’s Pacific Northwest. We found that decadal declines in winter counts were most prevalent among pursuit divers such as alcids (Alcidae) and grebes (Podicipedidae) that have specialized diets based on forage fish, and that wide-ranging species without local breeding colonies were more prone to these declines. Although a combination of factors is most likely driving declines of diving forage fish specialists, we propose that changes in the availability of low-trophic prey may be forcing wintering range shifts of diving birds in the Salish Sea. Such a synthesis of long-term trends in a marine predator community not only provides unique insights into the types of species that are at risk of extirpation and why, but may also inform proactive conservation measures to counteract threats — information that is paramount for species-specific and ecosystem-wide conservation.
Update May 2015
At their April 2015 meeting, the Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to approve listing the tufted puffin as endangered in Washington State. The listing became official in mid-May.
Thanks to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for taking this important step!
Update February 2015
In early February, the Fish and Wildlife Commission heard public comments on listing the tufted puffin as endangered.
The Commission will make a decision at their April 9-10 meeting in Olympia. Public comments will be accepted until April 8.
To make your voice heard, send a short comment by email to firstname.lastname@example.org before April 8.
Read the updated status report (with public comments attached)
Once again we want to say thank you to the generous donors who made it possible for SeaDoc to fund the crucial Status Review that set this process in motion.
It’s been a long time coming, but Washington State is in the final stage of deciding whether or not to list the Tufted puffin as a state endangered species.
Tufted puffins used to breed at 43 different nesting colonies in Washington State. Now they are found at only 19, and the state’s population is 1/10th of what it was in 1984.
Tufted puffins have been candidates for listing in Washington State since 1998. But you can’t move from candidate to listed species without a formal scientific status review. Since the Department of Fish and Wildlife didn’t have the resources to write the status review, nothing happened for a long time.
Then SeaDoc stepped in. We knew it was important to get the status review written so that the State could eventually create a recovery plan for puffins. So in 2010 we raised money from private individuals, with gifts ranging from $100 to $23,000. (Crowdfunding before crowdfunding was cool.)
With that money we hired scientist Thor Hanson (familiar to many of you as the author of the award-winning book, Feathers) to draft the status review. Since completion several years ago the report has undergone further editing and refinement by WDFW scientist Gary Wiles, and has been externally reviewed by scientists.
While you’re reading the Tufted puffin status review, note that WDFW is also taking comments on another species, Steller sea lions. But this time the proposal is to take them OFF the threatened species list because they’ve made a strong recovery. Get the full story:
Want to learn more about threatened and endangered species in the Salish Sea? Every two years SeaDoc tallies all the species in the Salish Sea that are threatened, endangered, or are candidates for listing by Canada, British Columbia, the USA, or Washington State. See the most recent list here:
In this issue: annual subtidal dive monitoring yields early results, power to the puffins, marine science lecture by Paul Dayton, thanks to the people who make our lecture series possible, SeaDoc in the news for derelict gear recovery.
In this issue: Learning more about stranded killer whales, marine bird declines featured in the news, thank you for supporting SeaDoc at our auction, Salish Sea book is coming soon, join SeaDoc for a once-in-a-lifetime Salish Sea trip, slideshow on coastal cutthroat trout, SeaDoc presents on wildlife diseases.
From white-winged scoters and surf scoters to long-tailed ducks, murres, loons and some seagulls, the number of everyday marine birds here has plummeted dramatically in recent decades. The reasons are often complex, but for many the loss of forage fish like herring might hold a clue.
This article was on the front page of the Seattle Times on July 25, 2014.
In this issue: United States and Canada must work harder to stop ecoystem decay. GiveBIG is Tuesday, May 6. Salish Sea Science Prize goes to the Northwest Straits Foundation for their derelict fishing gear work. Scientists need to communicate better. May is Puget Sound Starts Here Month.
An estimated 1.2 million cases of salmonellosis occur annually in the United States (approximately 42,000 are laboratory-confirmed and reported to the Centers for Disease Control; CDC). Transmission comes primarily from contaminated food, water or contact with infected animals only some of which are wild animals. Of the 50 Salmonella outbreaks reported by the CDC between 2006 and 2013, only 5 (10%) were related to wildlife. These included the 2013 outbreak related to small turtles (Salmonella Sandiego, Pomona and Poona), two 2012 events associated with hedgehogs (Salmonella Typhimurium) and small turtles (Salmonella Sandiego, Pomona and Poona), the 2011 outbreak connected to Africa dwarf frogs (Salmonella Typhimurium) and the 2010 water frog-related outbreak (Salmonella Typhimurium).
Feeding by gray whales Eschrichtius robustus along the eastern Pacific coast between the Bering Sea and Baja, Mexico, appears to be increasing. Gray whale feeding can disturb large fractions of intertidal and shallow subtidal sediments, altering the distributions of benthic invertebrates for many months. Increased gray whale feeding may be modifying foraging profitability for other bottom-feeding vertebrates along the coast, but such effects have not been documented. This paper is the first report of a feeding association between a cetacean and bottom-feeding birds, namely a migrating gray whale and diving sea ducks. Local counts and condition of surf scoters Melanitta perspicillata in Puget Sound, Washington, suggest that gray whale feeding can provide important foraging opportunities for scoters during spring, when other foods may have declined and requirements to prepare for migration and reproduction are high. Complementary data are needed to evaluate the importance to scoters of this seasonal interaction with gray whales. However, given the large and protracted impacts of gray whales on benthic communities, our observations suggest that whale feeding may have increasing influence on the foraging patterns and trophic relations of a range of bottom-feeding vertebrates.
Western grebes are in decline along the western coast of the United States and often are impacted by oil spills and natural seeps when wintering along the Pacific coast. There is a dearth of information regarding the efficacy of post-oil spill rehabilitation and the evaluation of rehabilitated grebes post-release has been prevented by a lack of suitable tracking capability. This study was designed to answer several questions including: 1) can satellite transmitters be implanted successfully in Western grebes, 2) how long do the grebes survive post-release, and 3) what are their wintering and migrating patterns? Previous work resulted in a modified surgical technique to implant this species with satellite transmitters. In this next phase of the research, we used this modified technique to implant satellite transmitters in 10 Western Grebes captured in early December 2010 in San Francisco Bay, California. Nine of ten birds survived surgery and were released. Post-release, all birds survived at least 25 days suggesting a lack of complications related to surgery. After 25 days, survival showed a steady decline and currently only two grebes are still transmitting. One bird did not migrate, while the other migrated to Upper Klamath Lake in Oregon in July and recently returned to San Francisco Bay in November 2011. This is the first study to document winter site fidelity and migration of a Western grebe from its marine wintering ground to an inland breeding colony and back. It provides the first step for developing a safe technique for using intracoelomic satellite transmitters for post-oil spill tracking of Western grebes.