Some Puget Sound seabird species ‘may be turning the corner’ in a good way, 7-year analysis suggestsJanuary 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm | In Environment, Seen at sea, West Seattle news, Wildlife | 5 Comments
(All photos in this story are by Mark Wangerin. Above, rhinoceros auklet)
A glimmer of good news about the health of Puget Sound and some of its wildlife. This news release arrived via NOAA, but much of the work was done by volunteers:
A new analysis of seven years of bird sightings by volunteer birdwatchers from the Seattle Audubon Society has found positive trends in several Puget Sound seabird species that had been in historic decline.
The study tracked the occurrence of 18 seabird species at 62 sites around Puget Sound and found increased presence of 14 species, including cormorants, loons, rhinoceros auklets, and harlequin ducks. It also documented local hotspots for certain species, which may reflect especially important habitat or prey the birds depend on.
“This means that all other things being equal, if someone goes out now they’re more likely to see these birds than they would have been seven years ago,” said Eric Ward, an ecologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and lead author of the research.
Many seabird species are thought to have declined around Puget Sound since the 1960s and 1970s but the new results suggest the trends have turned up for many species.
On another mostly gray, rainy day, following a stormy night, here’s a view that’s bright in two ways: Colorful undersea creatures recorded by “Diver Laura” James in the area known as the “junkyard” – and as you’ll see if you watch it, she found some sea stars:
We saw numerous young sunflower stars in the shallows, far more than I was expecting. There was a healthy medium-sized one in the 40’ depth range as well, so this is a change for the positive. Sunflower stars have been all but extirpated at many of our regular dive sites. It is still winter underwater, so we will have to wait until fall to see the real impact (how many babies show up and how many survive) The majority of the sea stars that were lost in the wasting disease are the types that spawn in the spring to mid summer. The babies will then be in the larval stage and float around in the current before they land and start growing. Baby sunflower stars start with 5 arms and then start growing pairs of additional arms, which is why you see uneven arms in the videos. That isn’t because they’ve lost limbs, it means they are growing :)
Many of the stars in the video other than the young sunflower stars and the mottled stars (there were a few) were species that were not as impacted by the wasting disease, such as Leather stars, so it isn’t a surprise to find them there. We did not see any sand stars, pink spiny stars, pisaster (ochre stars) or morning sun stars, but I’m crossing my fingers come spring/summer.
(WSB photos/video by Patrick Sand)
A gathering this afternoon around West Seattle’s replica of a powerful symbol of human freedom was organized in hopes of winning freedom for a fellow mammal held captive thousands of miles away:
Taken from her family and her Puget Sound home more than 40 years ago, the orca known as Lolita (originally Tokitae), a member of L-Pod, has spent all that time in a tank at the Miami Seaquarium. Of the dozens of killer whales captured all those years ago, she is the last survivor. This afternoon’s Alki gathering was in support of a larger rally in Miami, stepping up the pressure for Lolita to be “retired” and returned home.
From Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza, advocates, many with signs, headed on a one-mile march along the beach – here’s our video:
We estimated at least 150 supporters here; MiamiHerald.com estimates a thousand participants at today’s rally there. They heard from Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network, describing the plan already proposed for reintroducing Lolita to the wild via a sea pen in the San Juans. It’s not new, but there is a potential milestone driving the new attention – a federal ruling expected this month on whether Lolita will be officially included in the listing of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. That would not guarantee freedom for her, but could at least step up the pressure. According to the Miami Herald, the Seaquarium says flatly she’s not for sale and shouldn’t be freed. Meantime, back at Alki, Lolita’s supporters came from all age groups:
Advocates said that other support rallies were planned in San Diego, Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, Germany, and the UK.
Even as the number of Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whale population hovers at a dangerously low level, one of the group’s members remains thousands of miles away, captive in a tank. Tokitae is the last surviving SRKW from those captured decades ago; she has been at the Miami Seaquarium for 44 years, performing as “Lolita.” This Saturday from coast to coast, wildlife advocates will demonstrate in support of setting her free and returning her home to Puget Sound. Here in Seattle, the big gathering is a march for about a mile along Alki, starting at 1:15 pm Saturday (January 17th); meet at Alki Statue of Liberty Plaza (61st/Alki) at 1 – more info in our calendar listing. (Photo via Wikimedia)
P.S. Thanks to Steve for the tip on this – you also can paddle along the route in support – that group will leave Don Armeni Boat Ramp (1222 Harbor SW) at noon.
Check on your chickens, urban farmers. Both of today’s coyote reports mention backyard birds. Dan at 37th/Holden [map] says a coyote came into his yard today and got two of his four chickens, normally kept in a chain-link-surrounded enclosure, but let out to “free range” in the daytime, and it happened while he turned his attention away from a bit. We also heard from Janis, who says she saw a coyote at 2 pm at California/Southern [map]: “Was alerted by the chickens making noise.” Both of those locations are in Gatewood, as is a sighting on New Year’s Day that we still had in queue – Belinda saw one that day, going “down the sidewalk looking in yards in the 6500 block of 40th Ave SW.” [map]
P.S. Our usual “coexisting with coyotes” advice link includes, toward the bottom, advice on protecting poultry.
(Photo courtesy Center for Whale Research: Mom J16 and newborn J50)
One week after announcing the birth of baby orca J50, the Center for Whale Research says J50 is female – especially good news provided she beats the odds and survives, since that pod in particular has been short on breeding-age females. In a release on its website, the center also says it hasn’t quite sorted out the questions about which orca is J50′s mom – you’ve probably heard that while she was originally believed to be the calf of 43-year-old J16, experts have reasons to suspect that J16 might actually be J50′s grandmother. Whoever her mom is, ~2-week-old J50 was seen with her family, doing well, today in the northern Strait of Georgia in British Columbia
Before local students show up at Fauntleroy Creek in the spring to set salmon fry free, they spend months tending to and studying in-school aquariums – and today’s the day it all begins anew. Volunteers Judy Pickens and Phil Sweetland have spent the day ferrying more than a thousand salmon eggs from a regional hatchery to 10 schools in West Seattle and South Park. We caught them at the first one they visited, Our Lady of Guadalupe:
As they made each delivery, disinfecting the eggs in an iodine bath before they could be placed in their hatching tanks, they talked with students, who were fascinated to see what would eventually hatch into coho:
From OLG, they went to nearby West Seattle Elementary, where their visit was shorter, since they volunteer at WSES regularly. But this school has something extra-special – a tank and ornate base, courtesy of Phil:
We had to photograph it before the students crowded around, so you could see the art.
Judy and Phil live on Fauntleroy Creek, and have a deep devotion to this program – almost four years ago, we reported on their resolve to keep it going despite state budget cuts. As explained at the time, it’s not that this is making a big dent in the salmon population, but it is helping keep fish and creeks top of mind every year for a new group of students who will grow into the adults on whose actions the fish’s fate will rise and fall. Meantime, these eggs will hatch soon, and the fish will grow for a few months in the tanks in school hallways and classrooms, before creek releases in spring.
(Photo courtesy Center for Whale Research: Mom J16 and newborn J50)
After heartbreaking losses this year in Puget Sound’s orca pods, good news – a baby! Here’s the news release shared by Orca Network:
This afternoon Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research confirmed seeing and photographing 42-year old J16 (Slick) with her newborn baby – now known as J50!
During an encounter off the south shores of North Pender Island in Canadian waters, Ken discovered J16 with her newborn calf, only a day or two old, snuggled in her slipstream and looking healthy and energetic.
No other female has given birth at over 42 years of age in the four decades of demographic field studies of the Southern Resident orcas. J16 was not expected to be carrying a calf due to her advanced age.
Researchers probably won’t know the calf’s gender for many months, until they are able to see and photograph the calf’s ventral markings.
The Southern Resident community was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 2005, after dropping in population to only 78 members, but had recently lost a pregnant female, J32 Rhapsody, bring their numbers down to only 77 members. This birth brings the So. Residents up to 78.
Most of J pod was seen on December 24 west of Orcas Island, but J16, known as Slick, and her family were not among them. Then on December 26th, the Orca Network Sightings Network received a photograph of J16′s oldest offspring, 23-year old J26 (Mike), and another orca off the north end of Lopez Island, indicating that J16 was probably nearby, because maternal families remain in close proximity their entire lives.
9:09 PM UPDATE: We hope to add a photo when Orca Network releases one; in the meantime, you can see several on the ON Facebook page. Also, thanks to West Seattle wildlife watcher/photographer/writer Trileigh Tucker for tipping us to the happy news even before we got the news release.
9:28 PM UPDATE: Added a Center for Whale Research photo of mother and calf, republished with permission. You can see half a dozen others on the center’s website.
(WSB photos unless otherwise credited)
One more way to see wildlife in West Seattle – the display currently on view in the window at Twilight Gallery and Boutique in The Junction. Twilight’s Tracy Cilona called our attention to its unusual nature (so to speak), and we stopped by for photos.
Elijah Evenson is a Seattle-based sculptor who combines the aesthetics of a natural history museum with the concept of surrealism. In 2004 he studied sculpture at Gage academy of Fine Art and went on to study at the Seattle Sculpture Atelier in 2007. He currently has a studio at the Inscape building in the international district where he works in a variety of mediums both large and small.
The Survivors Exposition is a large-scale diorama in homage to the animals of the Pacific Northwest, featured in our window gallery for the month of December.
(Photo provided by Twilight)
(From the artist): “Every day that I live in the northwest, I fantasize about the way things were here one hundred thousand years ago. I have always felt a strong connection with the mountains in Washington, the beautiful balance of the very rich and peaceful environment. The animals that live here are elegant and yet apprehensive. There is special quietness that most of the animals share as they listen to the strong sound of the wind blowing through the trees and the rush of the rivers. Through these sounds, the soul of the mountain can be heard. The Coyote, the Elk, and the Falcon all have their own harmonies to sing. When I was in the redwoods, I came upon an elk’s skull that had been buried into a tree. The poor thing had its horns caught up in the branches until the tree eventually ate the carcass whole. Buried in the trunk was the memory of the elk. What survived was a monument of itself. This is my monument to the spirits of the forest.”
Twilight is on SW Alaska just west of California SW, and open until 7 pm tonight.
The orcas seen off West Seattle on Saturday weren’t the “transients” who spent so much time recently in the South Sound. Instead, expert whale-watchers identified them as members of J Pod, one of the three groups of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Federal researchers hoping to help save the SRKW from extinction are trying to find out more about where J-Pod orcas, in particular, goes when they are not here at “home,” so once again this year, they have tagged a member of the pod. According to this report on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center website, researchers tagged J27 yesterday, while J Pod was northbound through north Puget Sound. What little they know from previous tries suggests that, more than the other two SRKW pods, this one stays closer to home. Finding out more, they say, can help them identify “critical habitat” among other things. They promise to update the page from which we got the map you see above – follow it here.
Today’s impromptu wildlife theme continues, this time away from the shore – We’ve received three reports of coyote sightings in Sunrise Heights around mid-afternoon. Jeremy shared the photos (taken from a distance – we cropped them), after seeing two “wandering down 27th near Othello” in the 2 pm hour.
Not long after that, Ellery saw two coyotes that “just strolled by in front of my house on 32nd Ave at Holden St.” That’s also where Sarah reported seeing them. (Here’s a map showing both aforementioned locations.)
If you haven’t seen coyote mentions here before … we’ve been publishing reader reports of sightings for more than seven years; here’s the archive. The more awareness, and the more that we all follow advice such as not leaving food out, the more likelihood of continuing to minimize closeup conflict. (The state Fish and Wildlife “Living with Wildlife” page that we usually recommend seems to be inaccessible right now, so here’s another page full of info/advice.)
One more story in keeping with what seems to be today’s theme (water/beaches/wildlife):
At midday on Christmas, Marianne sent word that Seal Sitters were out on the beach at Lincoln Park, guarding a pup. Before we could get out of the house, she sent the photo you see above, with a followup – the seal had returned to the water shortly after SS responder Dana arrived. That wasn’t the end of the story, though. We finally went to Lincoln Park for a walk (which resulted in these pictures) shortly before sunset. As we entered from the Lowman side, we passed the Seal Sitters group (including David and Eilene Hutchinson, recognizable from so many other volunteer endeavors) departing – seems the pup had made a comeback for a while. And now, you can read the full story of seal pup Silverbell and the humans who helped it, via the newest update on the Seal Sitters “Blubberblog.”
— Andrew Malinak (@AndrewSwims) December 27, 2014
(Added: The every-Saturday-morning Alki swim included an orca sighting!)
9:33 AM: When last we heard of whales in the area, it was late Friday, and some were reported to be heading northbound in this direction, off the east side of Vashon. Don’t know if they are the same ones, but we have multiple reports of orcas off the 1500 block of Alki right now, for starters, plus an Orca Network Facebook report of orcas off Alki Point a short time ago, possibly visible off West Seattle. We’re off to look; let us know of any sightings!
10:02 AM: Very choppy water on the west-facing shore; followed up a text about orcas at Emma Schmitz Overlook but no luck.
10:47 AM: Just saw two southbound from Brace Point!
Orcas are headed this way, northbound, most recently seen off Vashon Island, roughly parallel with Burien’s Seahurst Park, according to commenters on the Orca Network Facebook page; we’ve also received general tips via Facebook and Twitter. They apparently are the “transient” orcas that have spent a lot of time in the South Sound lately. We’re off to look; please let us know if you see them off our shores – we have barely an hour of light left!
(2013 photo by Trileigh Tucker)
With the heartbreaking news these past few days of the death of pregnant Puget Sound-resident orca J-32, many wonder, can anything more be done to keep the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ numbers from dwindling further? Come hear and talk about them at The Whale Trail‘s next West Seattle event, 6:30 pm December 17th at C & P Coffee Company (WSB sponsor). Here’s the announcement from TWT’s Donna Sandstrom:
With the loss of J-32, the southern resident orcas are down to just 77 individuals. Join us Dec 17 for a seasonal gathering to share our concern for and connection to these beloved and iconic whales.
Researcher Mark Sears will share photos from recent encounters with J, K, and L pods in Puget Sound. Seal Sitters and Diver Laura James will be there too.
Bring your ideas, your passion and your good energy. We’ll provide snacks, speakers, and tools to get involved.
Together we’ll find light in the dark for the whales.
(Mark Sears is one of the researchers you’ll see sometimes when orcas pass through our area, in a boat like the one in the photo above.) Tickets are $5 (kids free), available online. C & P is at 5612 California SW.
One person who recently reported a coyote sighting phrased it more as a surprise that they are in West Seattle. So that’s why we mention them from time to time … in hopes fewer will be surprised. That report was from a man out with his 3-month old daughter who saw it in the 37th/Hudson vicinity. Other recent reports include an early-morning sighting as a coyote emerged from Lincoln Park; a coyote running down 40th SW in Gatewood, toward Othello; one jumping over a 6-foot fence in Arbor Heights to try to get a backyard chicken; two in Highland Park around HP Way and Othello; 6700 block of 42nd in Morgan Junction; and one near Fauntleroy and Dawson.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU SEE ONE? As the experts advise – try to scare it away – shout, wave, throw rocks, and remove every source of food you can (that includes outdoor pet food as well as small pets themselves, although experts say they more often eat small wild animals such as rats). Want to see where else they’ve been reported in the six-plus years we’ve been publishing sightings? Click the word “coyotes” under the headline of this story, to reach the archive.
(Possibly the last photo of J32 – at right – by Melisa Pinnow, provided by Orca Network)
11:45 PM: Another death reported tonight among the endangered orcas whose home is Puget Sound and adjacent waters. The orca found dead in British Columbia is identified as a member of J Pod, J32, known as “Rhapsody,” an 18-year-old female. According to reports including this one published by the Vancouver Sun, she might have been pregnant – a necropsy will reveal whether that’s true. J32′s death comes less than two months after the death of baby L120 was reported. The Southern Resident Killer Whales’ total number is now down to 77, much lower than the triple-digit population the official “recovery plan” had envisioned by now, as discussed at this recent talk presented by The Whale Trail.
11:53 PM: We have the full Orca Network news release about J32′s death – click ahead:
11:34 AM: Orcas are back in Puget Sound today, and might be visible off West Seattle soon. After tips to a sighting off Kingston at midmorning – thanks to our friends at Killer Whale Tales and The Whale Trail for early alerts – we’re seeing mentions via Orca Network FB commenters that they’ve been seen from Discovery Park, still “trending southbound.” Expert advice for today includes using binoculars to watch from bluffs, rather than on the surface. Please let us know if you see them – comment here, or text/voice 206-293-6302; we’ll be looking too.
1:08 PM UPDATE: By multiple reports, including Gary‘s comment here, they’ve turned back northward just as they got close to our area … for now.
12:58 PM: Early alert this time – text reports orcas are “south of Vashon” and headed northbound. No research boat this time because conditions and weather are less than optimal. If you missed the weekend sightings – photos and updates from Saturday are here, video by “Diver Laura” James is here. As always, we appreciate your updates if/when you see them – comment and/or text/call our 24/7 hotline, 206-293-6302!
1:23 PM: And … guess that’s the potential risk with early alerts. They’ve now turned to head through the Tacoma Narrows, southbound. But if that changes later, we’ll update here again.
3:51 PM: According to the Orca Network’s Facebook page, whales are now passing Olalla in Kitsap County, along the passage west of Vashon, northbound. It’s misty/murky looking west from Beach Drive (where we’re working right now) but you never know, they might be in view before nightfall.
No West Seattle sightings today that we’ve heard of, but Saturday, Southern Resident orcas passed our area headed southbound in the morning, and then back northbound in the afternoon (as reported here – thanks again to everyone who shared location updates!). “Diver Laura” James was watching from the Brace Point area during the northbound pass, and shares the video above (we mentioned it briefly in last night’s sea-star report but you might have gone right past the link). Note that the boat with the orcas in the last two minutes was carrying researchers.
A sea star wasn’t always such a memorable sight on a tidepool walk. Saturday night, though, we were glad to hear some were spotted in Constellation Park during a nighttime low-tide walk with Seattle Aquarium naturalists. The photo is by Antonio Ventimiglia, shared by Tom, who spotted the exploration event (sorry we didn’t have it on our calendar; turns out two more are coming up in December and January, and tonight you might just want to explore the beach yourself, as the tide will be out to -2.3 feet around 11:20 pm Sunday). Back to the sea stars; you’ll recall a new report earlier this week suggested a not-so-new virus might be factoring into the massive die-off. “Diver Laura” James, who has long been watching and investigating the sea star situation as a “citizen scientist,” went back to survey in Cove 1 near Seacrest shortly afterward; she shares this video spanning 8 years, from a time of plentiful starfish, to now:
P.S. Laura was out whale-watching Saturday afternoon, as were many others – here’s her video, featuring a multitude of spouts as the group of orcas swam in nearby waters.
(Photo by Trileigh Tucker)
8:53 AM: Southbound orcas were seen from the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry about half an hour ago, according to a thread on the Orca Network Facebook page. That could place them off our shores now or soon. Still blustery out there, so you’ll almost certainly need binoculars (also, sounds like they’re closer to the east side of the Sound). Let us know if you see them!
9:38 AM: In comments, Gary noted them passing Alki Point, and we’ve since received Jeff Hogan (Killer Whale Tales)’s text report of a Lincoln Park-area sighting, still southbound. This time of year, they are chasing the chum salmon run – same one that has brought net fishers into view in the past few weeks – so here’s hoping they are finding the food they need for survival.
(Photo by Paul B)
2:27 PM: See comments for the orcas’ travels since then. Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail has just posted on Facebook that they’ve turned back northbound and could be passing south West Seattle shores again by 3 pm if they continue their current path. We’ve also added photos from earlier.
3:37 PM: Donna just called – the whales are visible from Lincoln Park, with the blows visible from this side, and she’s off to the South Alki area in about 10 minutes – look for a pod of people watching from shore (she brings excellent binoculars).
(Photos by Torin Record-Sand for WSB, unless otherwise credited)
Tomorrow morning, you’re invited to join Puget Soundkeeper Alliance for a walk along Longfellow Creek in North Delridge, as the group continues to investigate the health of local salmon. We got a preview by joining Kathryn Davis and Michelle Piñon from Soundkeeper on Wednesday as they were joined by Elissa Ostergaard, a creek steward from South King County.
As WSB readers had reported earlier this month, they say they’ve seen many coho in the creek. We didn’t see any live fish on Wednesday, perhaps because of the semi-long dry spell (now over), but we did learn what you can find out from a dead fish, once one was spotted:
Thanks to West Seattleite Art Cazares for the quick clip and this report:
It has been one or two years since I last witnessed the birth of a new clutch “eaglets” at Lincoln Park, in West Seattle. I watched meticulously last time the Bald Eagles produced their clutch resulting in two chicks; one which died or fell out of the nest. Even more exciting, was to witness the successful raising on the one chick who grew into young adulthood and eventually flew away. Many at the park marveled each day and set up cameras and lawn chairs to witness the daily feedings and events.
Well, I’m pleased to report that the eagles have returned and once again; the warbled communication of their cries can be heard as they rebuild the nest that was partially destroyed by wind storms just a couple of months ago. I’ve included footage that i took just yesterday as the female returned to her nest with twigs and branches. It’s exciting to see that this mated pair might be planning for a new family next year. I’ve been to Lincoln Park 3 days in a row in the early morning to witness this rebuilding.
If you stand below the nest (which is about 100 feet up), you can see many branches sitting at the base of the trunk of the evergreen tree…auspiciously, the eagles have done some remodeling! :)
Cheers and best of luck to the “love birds!”
Just might be the same eagle photographed by Trileigh Tucker and shown here two weeks ago (or that eagle’s mate)! (She also documented, 2 years ago, the eaglet that Art mentions.) Read more about bald eagles here.
(File photo courtesy Laura James)
Thanks to “Diver Laura” James, who long has worked on the sea-star die-off mystery as a “citizen scientist,” for the tip on this: New scientific research says a virus is the likely culprit in the deaths of so many of what are commonly known as starfish. The Seattle Times (WSB partner) published a report this afternoon, pointing to the research paper itself (read it here), which concludes, “Based on our observations, the densovirus, SSaDV, is the most likely virus involved in this disease.” However, the researchers note, this isn’t a new virus, so they still don’t have the big picture of what’s happening and what it might lead to.
P.S. It’s been a year since Diver Laura first pointed out die-off evidence on West Seattle shores/in West Seattle waters, and she’s continuing to follow up on what’s happening now.
That short clip by Elizabeth Butler shows the first two coho spawners spotted this fall at the mouth of Fauntleroy Creek south of the ferry dock, back on October 25th. That’s how the volunteer salmon-watchers’ season started; now, after more than a week without sightings, it’s ended. Here’s the wrap-up report from Judy Pickens, including the visitor count as well as the fish count:
Salmon Watch 2014 on Fauntleroy Creek closed Nov. 7, a week after volunteers documented the last of 19 coho spawners to come into the creek.
Eleven volunteers watched for nearly three weeks, recording the first fish on Oct. 25, a day ahead of the annual salmon drumming. They noted spawning behavior at two locations and saw a third pair heading upstream at dusk with enough energy that they may also have left fertilized eggs. Spawning locations will be monitored in late January/early February to see if fry emerge to start feeding in the creek.
In addition to the fish, volunteers welcomed at least 190 visitors to see the action and learn about salmon and the creek habitat.
This fall marked the 20th anniversary of coho spawners in Fauntleroy Creek. Restoration activity happened just in time for a pair of fish to come in at high tide in 1994 and spawn a few yards up the creek. Since then, the number of spawners has fluctuated wildly, from zero some years to the record-smashing 274 recorded in 2012.
Thanks to Judy and to Dennis Hinton for sharing information and photos during the watch (not to mention other times of the year, including spring, when volunteers host schoolchildren at creekside, releasing salmon fry raised by their classes).
Quick note for whale fans: We’ve received a couple reports that the humpback seen in the area recently is in the Lincoln Park vicinity right now.
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