The Bear Necessities

bear eating barnaclesBlue herons hunting for fish, bald eagles swooping on seabirds, river otters diving for crabs: links between animals and the ocean are common in the Pacific Northwest. These dependencies go much deeper than previously thought. Seadoc’s Joe Gaydos and Scott Pearson (WDFW) recently compiled the first list of every bird and mammal species (Publication/Checklist) that uses our inland sea and its 16,925 km2 ecosystem – a huge task that involved tracing the web of life from forest to marsh to ocean.

Counting species is basic science, but without a baseline we would have no way to know how we’re doing in the battle to keep our ecosystem healthy enough to support both ourselves and wildlife. In making their list, Joe and Scott discovered some surprising facts:

• 172 bird and 37 mammal species depend on the Salish Sea.

• Beavers, red fox, purple martins, snowy owls and other species not normally associated with the marine environment use the Salish Sea for food or habitat.

• Black and brown bears no longer forage for barnacles, clams and salmon in developed areas, revealing that human activity has shifted the distribution and ecological role of some species.

The greatest takeaway from the study is that nearly 60% of the bird species and 30% of the mammals that need the Salish Sea also require terrestrial resources to survive, illustrating the intimate link between land and sea and the need to conserve both.

There's more. We've got a checklist of all 209 species, video with Joe Gaydos sharing how he and Scott did their research, and another great photo. That page also has a download link for the publication.

The photo of the bear is by Jim Braswell of