Calling for 2018 Salish Sea Science Prize Nominations

Photo by  Ingrid Taylar

Photo by Ingrid Taylar

Every two years, the SeaDoc Society Awards the Salish Sea Science Prize to a prominent scientist or team of scientists whose work has resulted in the marked improvement of management or policy related to the conservation of marine wildlife and the Salish Sea marine ecosystem.

Non-scientists who have used science in a substantial way to improve management or policy related to healing the Salish Sea also will be considered. This is the only award of its kind. The recipient(s) do not need to be a resident of Washington or British Columbia as long as their scientific efforts or use of science have led to measurable impacts on the Salish Sea ecosystem. The $2,000 prize comes with no strings attached and is designed to highlight the importance of science in providing a foundation for designing a healthy Salish Sea ecosystem. This award is given in recognition of and to honor Stephanie Wagner, who loved the region and its wildlife.

2018 Salish Sea Science Prize Call for Nominations and Timeline (PDF)

Past Winners

In 2009, the SeaDoc Society awarded the first ever Salish Sea Science Prize to Ken Balcomb for his research on the population dynamics of southern resident killer whales. His annual census work was the basis for the population assessments that ultimately led to the Canadian and US listing of the southern resident killer whale community as endangered and served as a foundation for our understanding of resident killer whale longevity, toxics loading, and the implications of disease on the long-term viability of this population.

In 2011, the Salish Sea Science Prize was awarded to John Elliott for his work documenting the high levels of forest industry derived pollutants, dioxins and furans, in marine birds as well for his work documenting the deleterious effects of these toxins on reproduction and embryonic development in multiple bird species. In countless meetings and presentations, Elliott worked with industry and regulators to communicate this science and in so doing, influenced subsequent national and international regulations that halted the use of molecular chlorine bleaching, and restricted the use of chlorophenolic wood preservatives and anti-sap stains.

In 2014 the Northwest Straits Foundation received the prize for scientifically quantifying the impact of derelict fishing gear and the benefit of removal. A peer-reviewed manuscript demonstrated the importance of escape cord for reducing Dungeness crab mortality, which spurred Marine Resource Committees to increase efforts to educate recreational crabbers on this topic. Another manuscript quantified the impact of lost nets on marine species helping funders and policy makers to further support net removal. The additional scientific documentation of drop out and decomposition rates showed that early impact figures were actually gross underestimations as they did not account for the short life of carcasses in a net and the sometimes decades of killing that many of these nets had done prior to removal. Moreover, that same work documented a cost-benefitratio for net removal at 1:14.5, demonstrating that derelict net removal not only benefits marine species, but also is cost-effective.

In 2016 the prize went to a group of NOAA scientists (Drs. Jenifer McIntyre, David Baldwin, and Nathaniel Scholz) who's research on copper and its affect on salmon was instrumental in the passage of landmark legislation in Washington State to phase out the use of copper and other metals in motor vehicle brake pads.

This action will benefit salmon recovery and reduce the loadings of toxic metals to the Salish Sea by hundreds of thousands of pounds each year.

Nominations The SeaDoc Society requests that members of the community nominate highly deserving award candidates. All nominations must be sent electronically to SeaDoc Science Director Joe Gaydos ( by December 20, 2017.


Nominations must be in the form of a narrative (2 pages or less, Times New Roman 12 point font) describing the nominee’s work and the impact of that work. Please provide the nominee’s affiliation, address, email address and phone number. Be sure to describe how the scientist’s (or team of scientists’) efforts have resulted in tangible improvements in management or policy related to the conservation of marine wildlife and the Salish Sea ecosystem. Or, if you are nominating a citizen or group who has used science in a substantial way, be sure to describe what science they used and how it led to improved management or policy. Specific reference to peer-reviewed manuscripts or studies conducted that produced the important and pivotal information must be cited. Please also include the names and contact information for two external referees who can vouch for the role that this scientific work played in effecting positive ecosystem change or the use of scientific work to improve Salish Sea management or policy.

Selection Criteria

The SeaDoc Society will consider all nominees and select a prizewinner. This is not a lifetime achievement award. Selection will be based on the nominee’s production of valuable science that informed management or policy - or - for using science to improve management or policy related to the conservation of marine wildlife and the Salish Sea marine ecosystem. The decision will be made public when the Prize is awarded. The Salish Sea Science Prize will be given at the April 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle, WA (


  • October 30, 2017 – Call for Nominations
  • December 20, 2017 – Nominations Due
  • April 2018 – Prize awarded at the Salish Sea Conference in Seattle, WA

About the SeaDoc Society

The SeaDoc Society is a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, a center of excellence at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. We fund and conduct research and work to ensure that managers and policy makers use science to improve the health of the region’s marine wildlife and ecosystem. Since 2000, the SeaDoc Society has had a regional focus on designing a healthy Salish Sea. For more information or to sign up for free SeaDoc monthly updates, Wildlife Posts, and calls for proposals visit

SeaDoc's Joe Gaydos Lends Expertise to Veterinarians in South America

SeaDoc is focused on improving the health of marine wildlife in the Salish Sea, but occasionally we’re called up to train experts in other parts of the world. Last month, Wildlife Veterinarian and SeaDoc Science Director Joe Gaydos went to Chile to help train nearly 90 wildlife veterinarians on new advances in conservation medicine.

At a large conference that included lectures and hands-on labs, Joe and Dr. Terry Norton, a sea turtle expert from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, spent multiple days training an inspiring group of young veterinarians from all over South America. When we asked him about it, Joe said he was, “humbled by the group and their commitment to conservation. They were smart, energetic, and soaked up new information like sponges. They’re leading the charge for marine conservation in South America.”


Joe and Terry spent the long weekend before the workshop exploring the Humboldt Penguin Reserve on Chile’s north coast. “The coast was wild, the views spectacular, and the wildlife amazing, but the islands that make up the Humboldt Penguin Reserve are not without threats. It made me happy to know there are so many dedicated wildlife veterinarians working to save such places.”

While Gaydos was discussing his work with one man in Chile (pictured), he mentioned that he works for an organization called SeaDoc, like Sea Doctors. “He got the biggest smile,” Gaydos said. “ He looked at me and said, ‘oh yes, because our ocean is sick.’ I just loved that! He’s part of the cadre of up and coming ocean advocates that I met down there - very inspiring!”

Check out some photos from the trip: 

Patagonia Awards SeaDoc an Environmental Grant

Leon Sommes, Joe Gaydos, and Shawna Franklin

Leon Sommes, Joe Gaydos, and Shawna Franklin

Thanks to the recommendation of world famous kayakers Shawna Franklin and Leon Sommes (who own Body Boat Blade International), SeaDoc was awarded an environmental  grant from Patagonia.

SeaDoc Regional Director Markus Naugle reflected, "It was a huge honor for SeaDoc to be recognized as a group that is making a positive change in the world of marine conservation."

Specifically, SeaDoc will use this generous donation from Patagonia to help with our efforts to better understand the health of the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and further develop our medical record system for these endangered animals.

Thank you Shawna and Leon and thank you Patagonia!

SeaDoc Honors Science Advisor Dr. Gary Greene

Photo by Markus Naugle

Photo by Markus Naugle

SeaDoc recently honored Dr. Gary Greene for 18 years as a SeaDoc Science Advisor. Gary is an Emeritus Professor of Geological Oceanography at San Jose State University and has been mapping and characterizing marine habitats in the Salish Sea for almost two decades.

He was a founding member of the SeaDoc Society’s Science Advisors, a group of almost a dozen scientists who volunteer their time to help ensure SeaDoc maintains robust and rigorous scientific standards and focuses on science issues critical for ecosystem recovery.

Gary was given a beautiful wooden carved map of the Salish Sea as a small token of appreciation for all he has done to help the SeaDoc Society and to further species recovery and ecosystem restoration in the Salish Sea. Learn more about SeaDoc’s Science Advisors.

Discussing Rising Deer Populations on the San Juan Islands (VIDEO)

If you’re familiar at all with the San Juan Islands, you’re aware that there is no lack of small black-tail deer bounding around, or standing dangerously close to the side of the road. Ruth Milner, a wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, held a discussion on the topic with a room of approximately 30 people at the Emmanuel Parish Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 20. The gathering was sponsored by WDFW and SeaDoc Society. Read the full story in the Islands' Sounder and watch the full discussion with Milner above.

When artists and scientists collaborate

Stellar sea lion, by Raven Skyriver

Stellar sea lion, by Raven Skyriver

From October 14th to January 7th, glass artist Raven Skyriver’s amazing display of Pacific Northwest-inspired aquatic creatures will be featured at the Museum of Northwest Art (MoNA) in La Conner, Washington.

Trained in Venetian glass blowing techniques, Skyriver’s works of elegance and skill push the boundaries of size and color and reflect his long-standing respect for the creatures of the sea and the delicate balance in which all things in nature hang.

As scientists, we are not often asked to participate in art exhibits. We were honored when MoNA asked scientists at SeaDoc and SR3 Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research to provide facts about each of Raven’s pieces that would help further inspire the audience to both know, connect, and eventually help protect these amazing living resources.

Be sure to check out the exhibit and come to the panel discussion on November 4th. Joe Gaydos will be a panelist!

Thank you!

Thanks to you, the Salish Sea now has twice the potential to be the healthy, vibrant ecosystem we all love and depend on. Through your kindness and support, more than 200 donors helped us close our $1.5 million Salish Sea Forever campaign. That will double our research, competitive grant making and translational science efforts.

We’ve already hired a Regional Director to steer the program, providing more time to our Science Director for science. We’re in the process of improving our science communications by hiring a full-time Communications Specialist and plan to eventually hire another full-time scientist.

The Salish Sea is a stunning and inspiring ecological jewel that provides unparalleled quality of life for all of us who live, work and play here. Our important mission to restore and protect this extraordinary place is only possible because of you! With so much gratitude, we give thanks for you!

Another Year of Marine Mammal Stranding Response, Thanks to Federal Grant

The SeaDoc Society, in partnership with the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a program of The Whale Museum, was recently awarded another one-year federal grant through the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue and Assistance Program.

This is the 14th time we have received this important grant. Funds will enable the Stranding Network to continue field response during the 2018 season, which includes preventing the harassment of live stranded animals, transporting injured or harassed animals to rehabilitation centers, and collecting critical data from dead stranded animals.

SeaDoc will help diagnose disease and other causes of marine mammal strandings, including identification of diseases and parasites that can affect marine mammals, domestic animals and even people. Examples of diseases diagnosed in the past include brucellosis, fungal infections caused by Cryptococcus gattii, and the presence of harmful algal toxins in stranded marine mammals.



Banner photo courtesy of The Whale Museum.

What’s happening under the Salish Sea?

By Joe Gaydos

For the past two weeks SeaDoc, collaborating scientists, and trained volunteer divers have been spending a lot of time underwater. For a total of 15 dives, Joe Gaydos, NOAA Scientist Adam Obaza, and Whale Museum scientific diver Jen Olson conducted annual surveys looking for young of the year rockfish (also called YOYs). While last year was a big recruitment year with thousands and thousands of yellowtail rockfish born, this year we only found one YOY (seen in the first 10 seconds of the video above).

Working with Janna Nichols at REEF Environmental Education Foundation and Bandito Charters, we also hosted more than a dozen trained citizen scientist divers to conduct more than 100 surveys for all fish species, and a subset of 40 or so invertebrates, including species of concern like northern abalone and sunflower sea stars. We did see a few abalone and a few sunflower stars, but not as many as we would have liked. Check out some of the other amazing animals we saw while diving in the video that accompanies this piece. Interested in becoming a trained citizen scientist diver? Check out

Salmon Escape: What Does the Science Say?

By Joe Gaydos

On August 19 and 20, a net pen owned by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific collapsed, releasing an undetermined number (estimates range from 4, 000 to 185,000) of the 305,000 Atlantic salmon being raised there into the waters around Cypress Island, just northwest of Anacortes, Washington.

In a region where vast amounts of money and effort have been spent attempting to restore wild salmon runs, this mass escape of non-native fish has caused a public uproar. How could this happen? Will the Atlantic salmon spread disease to wild fish? Will they outcompete native salmon for food or freshwater spawning habitat?

To try and answer the questions, it’s valuable to look at the established science. Unfortunately, salmon spills like this are not new events in the Pacific Northwest.

People have been farming Atlantic salmon in Washington since 1982, and in British Columbia since 1985 (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Despite assurances from the aquaculture industry, wherever there are fish farmed in sea pens there are escapes.

In fact, on July 2, 1996 high tidal flows destroyed seven net pens at an Atlantic salmon farm near Cypress Island, releasing or killing 101,000 Atlantic salmon (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Sound familiar? The lessons from that and other releases should inform us about the risk that farmed Atlantic salmon pose for the Salish Sea's five species of native salmon.

The first concern is the potential for released farmed salmon to transmit disease to wild salmon. Farmed Atlantic salmon can carry viruses, bacteria and parasites like sea lice that can infect wild salmon (e.g., Jones et al., 2015). The release of thousands of salmon that were actively experiencing a disease outbreak could have huge ramifications for wild salmon.

In Washington State, all public and private growers of salmon, including Atlantic salmon hatchery operators, are required to adhere to strict disease control polices (Waknitz et al., 2003). While we have not seen data on the health or disease status of the released Atlantic salmon, it was reported that they were treated for a bacterial infection called yellow mouth in July 2016 but were believed to be disease-free at the time they escaped.

Without detailed disease testing data it is difficult to know what the potential for disease transmission could be in this most recent release. An evaluation of the risk of disease transmission from farmed Atlantic salmon to wild Pacific salmon conducted over a decade ago (Nash 2003) classified the risk as low due to existing disease testing protocols and the State's prohibition of bringing new Atlantic salmon stocks or eggs into Washington (which limits new diseases from entering).

As to whether released farmed salmon will compete with native salmon for food and breeding or spawning space, studies (Jonsson and Jonsson, 2006) have shown that while their performance and reproductive success in nature vary, farmed Atlantic salmon often are outcompeted by wild salmon of similar size.

Between 1987 and 1996, 10,609 Atlantic salmon were caught in the North Pacific representing 4.2% of the total number reported to have escaped since Atlantic salmon farming began in Washington and British Columbia (255,554 escapees reported; McKinnell and Thompson, 1997). Interestingly, this includes Atlantic salmon caught in Alaska, even though Alaska does not allow Atlantic salmon farming, proving that the fish are capable of surviving and moving great distances after escaping.

Of the Atlantic salmon caught during that time period, stomachs were examined in 813 animals. Empty stomachs occurred in almost 77% of ocean-caught Atlantic salmon and 62% of those caught in freshwater. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has examined the stomach contents of about a dozen of the recently escaped Atlantic salmon and all of their stomachs have been empty. Additionally researchers and volunteers from the non-profit KWIAHT dissected 31 Atlantic salmon caught in Watmough Bight last week and found empty stomachs with the exception of two fish that each had one small mussel shell and a few crumbs of fish chow pellets. This suggests that while released farmed Atlantic salmon will compete with wild salmon for food, many also don't make the transition from being fed pellets in farms to catching and eating wild food. For those that do, though, stonefly nymphs found in the stomachs of Atlantic salmon caught in the Salmon River (Vancouver Island) suggest that escaped Atlantic salmon also can be predators in freshwater as well as in ocean ecosystems (McKinnell and Thompson, 1997).

Although the probability is low, escaped adult Atlantic salmon have the potential to colonize and exist as self-sustaining introduced species. In 1998, scientists captured twelve juvenile Atlantic salmon (and observed, but did not capture another 28) in the Tsitika River on Vancouver Island (Volpe et al., 2000). Genetic analysis confirmed that these were Atlantic salmon that were the products of natural spawning by released Atlantic salmon. More recent survey work and modeling looking at Atlantic salmon use of freshwater streams in British Columbia showed that 97 % of streams in British Columbia with high native salmon diversity were occupied by Atlantic salmon and that Atlantic salmon can occupy these rivers for multiple years (Fisher et al., 2014). Colonization can occur.

The only potential positive from this large release of Atlantic salmon is that these farm-raised fish should serve as easy prey for seals, sea lions and eagles, maybe taking some predation pressure off wild salmon.

On balance, though, the science looking at past net pen releases of Atlantic salmon in this region suggests that there can be negative impacts to native salmon including disease transmission, competition for food and breeding habitat, and the potential for long-term establishment of an introduced Atlantic salmon run.

Science informs decisions, it does not set public policy: the people and their representatives do. So while the science does not suggest that this spill will likely be catastrophic to wild salmon, in looking at the public reaction to this net pen release and the outcry against Cook Aquaculture Pacific, it seems evident that the people of the Salish Sea value native salmon runs more than they do the salmon farming industry.

The message from the public appears clear: With the billions of dollars we’ve invested to protect and recover native wild Pacific salmon, any introduced risk like farmed Atlantic salmon is unacceptable.

For daily updates, please visit the Washington Department of Natural Resources website on this incident.

To report your catch of Atlantic salmon or see where these escaped farm fish are being caught, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Catch Map.

Literature cited:

Fisher, AC, JP Volpe, JT Fisher. 2014. Occupancy dynamics of escaped farmed Atlantic salmon in Canadian Pacific coastal salmon streams: implications for sustained invasions. Biological Invasions 16:2137-2146.  doi 10.1007/s10530-014-0653-x

Jones, SRM, DW Bruno, L Madsen, EJ Peeler. 2015. Disease management mitigates risk of pathogen transmission for maricultured salmonids. Aquaculture Environment Interactions 6:119-134. doi 10.3354/aei00121

Jonsson B, N Jonsson. 2006. Cultured Atlantic salmon in nature: a review of their ecology and interaction with wild fish. ICES Journal of Marine Science 63:1162-1181. doi 10.1016/j.icesjms.2006.03.004

McKinnell S and AJ Thomson. 1997. Recent events concerning Atlantic salmon escapees in the Pacific. ICES Journal of Marine Science 54:1121-1125.

Nash, CE. 2003. Interactions of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest VI. A synopsis of the risk and uncertainty. Fisheries Research 62:339-347.

Volpe JP, EB Taylor, DW Rimmer, BW Glickman. 2000. Evidence of natural reproduction of aquaculture-escaped Atlantic salmon in a coastal British Columbia River. Conservation Biology 14:899-903.

Waknitz FW, RN Iwamoto, MS Strom. 2003. Interactions of Atlantic salmon in the Pacific Northwest IV. Impacts on the local ecosystems. Fisheries Research 62:307-328.

Note: if you would like to read any of these peer-reviewed papers and do not have access to them, please contact SeaDoc.



Banner photo: Farmed Atlantic salmon caught by a fisherman after the Cooke Aquaculture Pacific incident. Courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

SeaDoc Finds Millions of Scuba Dollars Bubbling Through Local Economy

For most folks, the surface of the Salish Sea exists as a beautiful albeit slightly forbidding border. Our inland sea is wonderful to ferry or paddle across and a fine comfy home for seals, killer whales and other critters. But jump into that cold water? No thanks.

There’s an entire subclass of people, though, who look at our chilly green water and see opportunity. Escorted around reefs by curious kelp greenling, local divers regularly engage in staring contests with lingcod, link arms with giant octopus, peep at nudibranchs and attend rockfish schools.

This hardy band of deep breathers knows that underwater images in books like The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest aren’t just exotic, aspirational fantasies; divers see these colorful creatures every time they strap on a mask. With such awesome diving in our front yard, it’s no wonder that Washington State has the 3rd highest number of certified scuba divers per capita in the U.S.

A newly released SeaDoc study led by Dr. Katharine Wellman, resource economist with Northern Economics, asked local divers about the most important factors in choosing underwater sites to visit. Not surprisingly, number one was “abundant wildlife.”

Spending their down time literally immersed in the environment, divers naturally tend to be passionate advocates for healthy marine ecosystems. Many even volunteer as citizen scientists, doing underwater surveys, deploying fish-tracking instruments, and acting as early warning systems for unusual mortality events like the 2013 Sea Star Wasting Disease outbreak.

Research has also shown that divers do more than their share to contribute to a healthy local economy, spending more per activity day than any other outdoor enthusiasts. Our new study found that just the approximately 1,000 state residents who belong to Washington’s scuba clubs contribute five million diving dollars to the state’s economy each year.

“Considering that there are an estimated 100,000 certified divers in the state,” says Dr. Wellman, “and thousands more in British Columbia, plus all those who travel to the area to dive, we’re talking about a deep financial impact on the region." Diving, together with other recreational activities like fishing, kayaking, coastal hiking, wildlife and whale watching, contributes billions to our local economy in direct and non-market benefits.

Each one of those dollars and all the related jobs are dependent on a functional, flourishing Salish Sea ecosystem, something we at SeaDoc are constantly working on whether we’re at our desks, in the lab or when we’re lucky enough to be getting down with our dive buddies.

Read the full report here: Economic Impacts of Washington State Resident Scuba Divers.

SeaDoc would like to thank Rick Stratton of Diver News Network; Mike Racine of Washington SCUBA Alliance;  Josh Reyneveld and Maya Kocian of Earth Economics; Dan Tonnes, Adam Obaza, Steve Copps and Leif Anderson of NOAA; Janna Nichols of REEF; Craig Burley and Dayv Lowry of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Patrick Christie at the Univ. of Washington; Fran Wilshussen and Preston Hardison at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, and the many dive shops, clubs, and recreational divers who helped scope this project and collect data used for the economic valuation.



Banner photo: A diver gets an audience with a Puget Sound King Crab (Lopholithodes mandtii). Photo courtesy of Brandon Cole.

Meet SeaDoc Society's 2017 Summer Interns

Each summer, SeaDoc brings one or more rising third-year veterinary students to Orcas Island to assist with research projects in conjunction with the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. The eight-week internship is a great opportunity for vet students to get involved in wildlife health issues. One of their primary roles is to help respond to marine mammal strandings, but they also participate in medical rounds at the Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and they work closely with volunteers and spend a good deal of time educating and speaking with the public. This year's interns are Alyssa Capuano and Devon England from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and Amber Backwell from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

Summer housing for the interns has been generously provided by the Hoglund family, whom we thank deeply for their support of SeaDoc. Get to know each of the interns below!

Alyssa Capuano


It is a dream come true being a part of The SeaDoc Society as a veterinary intern this summer! Originally from Long Island, I have moved coast to coast following my passion for science, education, wildlife, and the ocean. After graduating from UC Santa Barbara where I experienced the life-changing world of scuba diving, I worked as a marine science educator at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. My curiosity for marine biology brought me to the University of Miami where I completed a graduate degree in marine mammal science. My career goals to protect marine wildlife and their ecosystems through research, education, and medicine encouraged me to attend veterinary school at UC Davis. My research with Dr. Walter Boyce at UCD focuses on influenza virus exposure in marine mammals, an important link between marine mammal disease, the ocean environment, and human health. In my free time I love hiking, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and spending time with family, friends, and fellow ocean enthusiasts. I am very grateful to connect my love of the ocean and marine mammals this summer as I contribute to the important mission of The SeaDoc Society!

Devon England


My love for the ocean and the animals that inhabit it started pretty much from day one—born and raised in Southern California just 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, some of my favorite childhood memories are of spending hours at the beach looking for sand crabs or admiring the huge range of mollusks and anemones at local tidepools. This love of both science and animals transformed into a desire to become a veterinarian when I was eight years old, a path I have been following ever since. All throughout my many years of education, first during my undergraduate at Cornell and continuing through my first two years of vet school at UC Davis, I have sought out experiences to work with and learn about marine life: from volunteering at marine mammal rehabilitation centers in San Pedro and Sausalito to spending a semester abroad in Queensland, Australia home of the incredible Great Barrier Reef and the multitude of oceanic life that call it home. The SeaDoc society internship program has thus been on my radar for quite some time now, and I am beyond thrilled to be spending my final summer vacation before entering my clinical year on the beautiful Orcas Island! Working for an organization like the SeaDoc Society—which combines two concepts I am extremely passionate about: veterinary medicine and environmental stewardship—is a dream come true and I am loving taking part in just some of projects the fantastic team of Joe Gaydos, Jean Lyle and Markus Naugle have devoted their careers to. I hope to take what I learn here this summer into my future career—which I hope will in some way involve caring for marine wildlife and their ecosystems—and continue to spread the ideals of SeaDoc wherever on this planet life might take me!

Amber Backwell


My passion for wildlife and being outdoors is what led me to beautiful Orcas Island and the SeaDoc Society!  I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia (from Ontario) in 2009 to pursue a Masters in Public Health and immediately fell in love with the west coast.  I worked in spinal cord injury research for two years upon completion of my Masters, after which I flew one-way to London, England and travelled the world for just shy of a year.  I needed time to recalibrate personally and professionally and reflect on what it was that I wanted to do with my life. It was in the far west of Nepal, near Bardia National Park, on a tuk tuk ride that I realized I needed to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. Upon returning home to Canada I completed the prerequisite courses and applied to and was accepted at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I am now in my fourth year of the DVM program.  My time at the WCVM has been difficult albeit rewarding in so many ways. Last summer I had the opportunity to travel with a school club to three African countries where we volunteered with some amazing wildlife veterinarians and were able to work with many different wildlife species, my favorites being large cats and rhinos!  When I’m not in school or traveling the world, I enjoy hiking, camping, horseback riding, reading and spending time with my two cats.  The Pacific Northwest is my home now and I hope that through my career I can help protect our beautiful environment and the animals with which we share it.  The SeaDoc Society does incredible work in this area and I am so thrilled to be here learning more about the Salish Sea and helping out with Society’s various projects!

Learn more about the internship program.

Harbor Seal Stranding Response in the Salish Sea (VIDEO)

Every year, the SeaDoc Society hosts interns for the summer in collaboration with The Whale Museum and the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. In this video, two of our interns respond to a call about a harbor seal pup on Orcas Island. One of our 2016 interns, Megan Mangini, a student at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, explains how the response network works and what she gained from her experience as a summer intern. SeaDoc is part of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center, which is part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Big thanks to the Hoglund family for supporting the SeaDoc Society and generously donating lodging to the interns each summer. We deeply appreciate it! Stay tuned for some darting practice footage from our 2017 interns next month!

Note: The pup in the video above was re-sighted in the wild once after being tagged, but specifics beyond that are unknown. 

First Guardians to Future Scientists: New Board Members Expand SeaDoc's Reach

Connections to the Salish Sea run deep for the SeaDoc Society’s two newest board members.

Ardi Kveven

Ardi Kveven

“My grandparents had a cabin out on Lummi Island,” says Ardi Kveven, who was born and raised in Everson, WA. “Growing up, I spent time every summer exploring the beaches and experiencing all that the Salish Sea has to offer.”

Those early adventures sparked Ardi’s life-long interest in marine science and her passion for sharing what she learned with others. Earning a biology degree from University of Washington and a Masters in Science Education from Western Washington U, she embarked on a career teaching oceanography to high school and college students.

In 2003, Ardi founded the Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA), the only program of its kind in the US. Along with core classes, ORCA students receive an intensive, hands-on, college-level marine science education that enables them to graduate with both their high school diploma and an associate degree from Everett Community College.

Working with grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Science Foundation, Ardi has developed ORCA into a world-class educational program complete with a waterfront lab and its own research vessel.

“Exposing our young people to the Salish Sea provides a connection to the place they live,” says Ardi, who’s excited about the chance to foster close connections between her students and the SeaDoc Society.

“Powerful programs are about the passion of the individuals who choose to be a part of them,” she says. “I appreciate the passionate people who choose to be part of SeaDoc, and I applaud their enthusiastic efforts to save the Salish Sea. I look forward to strengthening the opportunity for our students to join those efforts and to feel empowered to make a difference.”

In recent years, some of the most powerful and effective groups making a difference in the Salish Sea’s health have been the Coast Salish tribes and First Nations. And another new SeaDoc board member we’re thrilled to have join the team, Larry W. Campbell, Sr., is a distinguished elder of one of those tribes, the Swinomish.

arry Campbell

arry Campbell

Larry, whose tribal name is Wanaseah, is currently the Community Health Specialist For Climate Change in the Swinomish Environmental Health Program.

"Ninety percent of our tribal land borders the water," says Larry. "So we're very sensitive to changes in sea level and chemistry that will effect everything from our economy and health to our salmon runs and ancestral sites."

Before beginning his three decades of service as a Swinomish government and cultural leader, Larry made his living out on the water as a salmon fisherman. He first worked with SeaDoc several years ago on a project to evaluate the impact of increased energy development in the Salish Sea region.

“We know how to measure impacts and classify threats to wildlife,” says Joe Gaydos, SeaDoc’s Science Director, “but Larry helped us identify the species that were of particular economic, cultural, and spiritual value to the Coast Salish tribes and First Nations.”

Since the tribes are co-managers of Salish Sea natural resources, concerns for species important to their way of life carry extra weight when it comes to management decisions, and can often determine whether impactful projects like coal ports move forward.

The Coast Salish philosophy that every species and element of the ecosystem are important and interconnected meshes perfectly with the SeaDoc Society’s scientific beliefs, just as Ardi Kveven’s dedication to educating young people meshes with our belief that SeaDoc's work is pointless if we don’t engage those who will continue the mission into the future.

“We’re so fortunate to add these two new board members,” says SeaDoc Director Markus Naugle. “Ardi connects the society to the next generation of marine scientists and conservationists, while Larry further bonds us to the very first guardians of the Salish Sea. We look forward to calling on their ideas, guidance and wisdom in the years to come.”

Please join us in welcoming Ardi and Larry aboard!

On An Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge (Book Review)

By  Robert Dash  (2017). ISBN: 978-0-578-18871-3

By Robert Dash (2017). ISBN: 978-0-578-18871-3

Review by Joe Gaydos Science Director, SeaDoc Society

When Bob Dash asked if we'd review his book, On An Acre Shy of Eternity: Micro Landscapes at the Edge, I admit questioning how a book about one acre of land could be relevant to the Salish Sea and the world's oceans.

I wasn't even through the Preface when I realized that Dash's fascination with edges, or what he calls the places "where alien worlds collide," was akin to my preoccupation with how little separation there really is between the land and sea.

To convey the concept, I often tell stories of salmon, bears, American dippers, and marbled murrelets - animals that defy the land and sea segregation. Dash, the artist with a camera and poet with a pen, does it ever more subtly and more convincingly. By the time you've admired and re-admired his photographs and read and re-read his poems, you see how interconnected this one acre is and you're left wondering how you could have ever doubted that the land and sea are inseparable.

At first glance, you will be inspired and wonder where in the Salish Sea you can find Dash's magical little acre of land and how you can arrange a visit to take it in first hand. After enjoying beautiful photographs of birds and scanning electron microscope images of their feathers or thinking about "this land as an essay" while reading free verse poetry juxtaposed to striking photography, you will realize that a visit to Dash's acre is not really what you need.

Instead what you need to do is open your eyes and see that we are all living on our own "acre shy of eternity," we just didn't know it. Dash opens our eyes so subtly and so convincingly that you, like me, may walk away from reading his book thinking you already knew what you really just learned. On An Acre Shy of Eternity will intensify not only your view of the world, but your love for it as well.

Who are SeaDoc Society’s stakeholders?

By Markus Naugle

Can you hear me up there?  It’s gotten so noisy down here I can hardly hear myself breathe.  I’m also having a hard time seeing over distance and the water feels a bit different.  My quillback rockfish family and I have seen a lot of change over the past 100 years, and much of it makes me wonder if we’ll live to see another century more.  But I know there’s hope.

The SeaDoc staff, its volunteers and veterinary interns, the Board of Directors and Scientific Advisors, and the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have been helping to understand and heal our Salish Sea ecosystem through science over the past 15 years. We celebrate your dedicated effort to educate, connect, restore, and protect this place we call home; with your ownership and tireless work, we swim hopefully toward new waters.  But some of my friends are still threatened or disappearing at an alarming rate.

From down here, it’s difficult to see exactly what is causing the problem.  Tanker and container ship traffic, unsustainable fishing techniques, waste water and sewage runoff…at the core of our problems is a growing population of humans who need to eat and work.  So please use your creativity and human connection in making every effort to educate and include them as part of the solution, rather than alienating them as part of the problem.

We’re immensely grateful down here for the SeaDoc Society funders and concerned citizens who provide resources to understand our precarious web of life, and the elusive, shifting balance that is necessary for its viable future.  With your support, the scientific and academic communities can seek and find objective information with new insights into the extent of human impact, leading to development of strategies that support sustainability.  Government entities at the municipal, state, federal, and tribal levels use these scientific findings to define new regulations, policies, and procedures that manage and protect, helping to ensure that their constituents and Salish citizens enjoy a quality of life that breeds health and happiness as a foundation for peaceful coexistence.

While my friends and I swim, fly, and move freely, many of the two-leggeds are flummoxed by those imaginary black lines that define countries, states, and tribal nations, impeding progress towards area-wide solutions that preserve our home.  To the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who are working in harmony to find trans-boundary solutions, we give thanks for your focus on connection and sharing to implement solutions that will restore and protect our Sea.

My hauled-out pinniped friends and spy-hopping cetacean residents share that they see myriad outdoor enthusiasts cycling to Lime Kiln, paddling sea kayaks, and peering wide-eyed over rails of all shapes of bi-national boats, funding Salish Sea tourism and commerce such as restaurants, hotels, and guesthouses as well as the advertisers, printers, and web developers who publicize their services, and airlines, car rental agencies, and collective transporters who deliver them to our teeming waters.  Businesses and the residents whom they employ in the San Juan and Gulf Islands, and entire Salish Sea depend, in some capacity, on our fragile existence.

The employees, stockholders, and billions of worldwide customers of thriving Seattle corporations, such as Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, and REI, also benefit from our Salish existence.  They attract high quality, diverse workers for not only career opportunities and financial benefits but also this magnificent natural backyard playground that supports their health, well-being, and quality of life.

In fact, all of the human population of approximately 8 million people in the Salish Sea can be considered stakeholders in our shared future.  Like the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, diverse, abundantly rich, natural resources and unparalleled beauty are fueling creativity and the development of industries such as high tech, biotech, and money management with entrepreneurship becoming a regional norm.  It would be difficult to find a person or group within the Salish Sea region that does not hold a direct interest or shared investment in our sustainability.

But perhaps the biggest stakeholders of all, should we choose to acknowledge fully our interconnected sacred balance, are the 38 species of mammals, 172 species of birds, 253 species of fish, 2 species of reptiles and more than 3,000 macro-invertebrates who call the Salish Sea home.  Without us, without clean water, air, earth and falling sun rays that support our critical viability, there is no jewel of the Pacific Northwest.  So, on behalf of my rockfish kin and all the creatures that inhabit the Salish Sea, we thank you from our depths and urge you to keep going.  We need each and every one of you to invest in our shared future and keep this jewel sparkling.



Banner photo: quillback rockfish can live to be 90 years old. Photo courtesy of J. Nichols.

Power to the Puffins

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.

One Person Can Make a Difference… and it Can be You, Too!

By Markus Naugle

Courtesy of Hedgebrook

Courtesy of Hedgebrook

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.

'A Sea of Glass' Shrinks the Gap Between Art and Science (Book Review)

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

It's a Small, Small World

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.