West Seattle, Washington
Story by Tracy Record
Photos by Patrick Sand
West Seattle Blog co-publishers
Students and stewards are in the midst of a record-setting salmon-release season at Fauntleroy Creek, with more than 800 students participating in 22 release events.
But their work is being jeopardized by vandals, we’ve learned today – painful and criminal in any event, particularly so because this is all work involving students and volunteers, along an urban salmon stream whose survival is by no means guaranteed.
More on that shortly – first, here’s what the work is all about.
That group of 50 fifth-graders from West Seattle Elementary is one of the school groups scheduled to visit Fauntleroy Creek this spring to release coho fry into the creek. Speaking with them in the photo is creek/watershed steward Judy Pickens, who has long volunteered with the Salmon in the Schools program. She and husband Phil Sweetland ferry salmon eggs to local classrooms in one mad dash every school year, and then for the next step, students and teachers bring the fry to the creek.
And off they go, with volunteer Denny Hinton‘s help:
Some classes turn salmon-raising and -releasing into an even larger learning experience. A recent visit by Arbor Heights Elementary included not only a release, but also a presentation by students who are studying the creek:
In our photo are Harriet and Hannah Mae, Arbor Heights fifth-graders who, as Pickens explains, are along with classmates delving into the mystery of what’s happening with the hundreds of thousands of coho salmon that have not come back into Puget Sound from the ocean.”
They gathered on a creekside patio with Pickens, who notes, “The fall 2015 return was nearly non-existent and the fall 2016 return is expected to be at least as dismal. Under the direction of teacher Angie Nall and aided by scientists from Seattle Public Utilities, the students explored El Niño warming off the coast that killed the prey coho need to survive, ocean acidification, and pollution from stormwater runoff.”
There have been glimmers of hope. In fall 2012, more than 200 spawners returned. Every fall, volunteers take up their spots along the creek and watch with hope.
For them and for the salmon, it’s enough of an upstream swim, they don’t need any more challenges. Which brings us to the vandalism. Pickens reports two recent incidents: “One was ripping the net from our smolt trap in the upper creek. We have the trap in place in order to know how many coho have matured to migrate to saltwater – a gauge of both food abundance and water quality. A volunteer checks that trap daily and was able to make repairs within hours of the vandalism so that this important monitoring could continue.
“The other was digging stones out from a derelict section of concrete pipe imbedded in sediment at the salmon-release site. A few days ago, our volunteers discovered a sizable hole in the pipe that was diverting much-needed water from where children release their fish. A volunteer hydrologist temporarily plugged the hole with stones so that flow was restored and releases could continue. Then someone removed the stones, requiring another fix. A long-term fix can’t happen until a period of low flow this summer, so we need the pipe left alone. ‘Volunteer’ appears a lot in this report, an indication of the community’s commitment to salmon in Fauntleroy Creek and the students who cap their salmon study on release day.”
Pickens concludes, “If responsible park users can be on the lookout for destructive behaviors, we can stop this senseless vandalism.”
Tayler and Ana, graduates of the UW’s Environmental Science Program, are Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers, and that means they’re helping wildlife all over our area. Want to join them? Here’s your next chance:
Seal Sitters Marine Mammal Stranding Network will be holding our “Spring New Volunteer Training Session” on Monday evening, May 23rd, from 6:30 – 8:30 pm.
For more information and to RSVP (required to attend), please visit the volunteer page of our website. We encourage children to join and become stewards of Puget Sound’s fragile marine ecosystem.
As an authorized agent of NOAA’s West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Seal Sitters MMSN responds to reports of all marine mammals along the shoreline of West Seattle, from Brace Point through the Duwamish River.
Join Seal Sitters, a very active network, and make a difference for wildlife!
(Video by Rick R)
That’s reader video of a gray whale seen off Brace Point this morning – likely the same whale that was moving slowly through the center of Puget Sound last Saturday. As Robin Lindsey of the Seal Sitters Marine Stranding Network reported, authorities went out to assess that whale’s health on Saturday, but they have yet to make a statement on what they found. This time of year, gray whales still in Puget Sound might be ailing and/or hungry. One died off north Vashon last month. The reader who sent the video and photo this morning said the whale was heading slowly north toward the Fauntleroy ferry dock at the time.
We have since heard from someone who saw it off Lincoln Park. Updates if and when we get them – and if you are out on the water, remember that you have to stay at least 100 yards away.
10:53 AM: We usually feature bird photos with our daily calendar update – but this sighting is too unusual to time-share with other subject matter. We’ve received two reports, with photos, of a bird seen in West Seattle, with both readers describing it as a turkey! Above and below, photos that Jodi Steele took in Lincoln Park on Sunday, south of the north play area:
And before we could publish Jodi’s sighting, another one just arrived in the WSB inbox from George Capestany, south of Me-Kwa-Mooks, who wrote, “This is a rare sighting. This morning at 9:30. Just walking around the neighborhood”:
So is it really a turkey? BirdWeb doesn’t include King County in their habitat.
7:35 PM: Commenters have a variety of opinions on what exactly this bird is. Meantime, we have an even-closer photo courtesy of JoDean, who says her daughter took it at Lincoln Park on Sunday:
Let us know if you see it!
11:29 AM: Thanks to everyone who has texted and e-mailed about this, including Delfino Muñoz, who sent the photo above: A gray whale is in the middle of Puget Sound between West Seattle and Vashon Island and may be in trouble. Those who have watched it from afar and up close say it hasn’t moved much for some time. We looked through binoculars from the south end of Emma Schmitz Overlook and also noted that it was fairly stationary. We know it’s been reported to the local marine-mammal stranding network, Seal Sitters (206-905-SEAL), and to the state. Gray-whale sightings in Puget Sound aren’t rare, but this time of year, some that don’t make it back out to the open ocean for the annual Pacific Coast migration may be lingering because they are ill or undernourished. Earlier this month, one such gray whale was first seen in the Ballard Locks and then found dead between north Vashon and Fauntleroy. We’ll update if we find out anything more about the whale that’s out there right now.
2:43 PM UPDATE: Just got an update from Robin @ Seal Sitters, that those keeping an eye on the whale might see a boat closer to it than boats are supposed to be – researchers from Fish and Wildlife and Cascadia Research Collective are headed out to try to assess the whale’s condition and make sure it’s not entangled. WSB’s Christopher Boffoli got this view from Beach Drive, though the whale is much closer to the other side:
Christopher reported the whale is definitely blowing regularly, though not moving much. Robin also says they’ve advised the Coast Guard about the whale, since it’s in the shipping lanes and they want cargo ships to know to steer clear – Christopher photographed one passing:
We’ll continue to update when more information’s available.
Our two most recent reader reports about West Seattle coyote sightings both included photos:
First, Aimee sent that photo tonight, saying:
Just wanted to give North Admiral neighbors a heads up of a coyote I saw this afternoon. The coyote crossed California heading east on Hill Street. Sorry the picture is not the best, he was fast.
We also had this in queue from Lori‘s Fauntlee Hills sighting last week:
She saw the coyote running through her backyard at 9:15 in the morning and thought it had been hanging around that area for some days.
Wondering what to do if you see one? Best thing to do is to scare it away – coexistence depends on us and them keeping apart – as explained on this state Department of Fish and Wildlife infopage.
It’s been a while since we’ve had a report about one of Alki’s road-crossing river otters; Crispin Garrott saw that one near Duwamish Head around 11 pm Sunday. So we’re reminding you to be careful – as discussed here before, the otters have dens inland and cross the road to go looking for food, among other things. More than a few have been hit and killed. So, especially at night when you might not see them, be careful in the area.
Thanks to Krista Livingston for the photo and report:
This coyote was jumping around, playing in our yard (edge of Schmitz Park) at Charlestown and 52nd Ave SW. I know you get lots of sightings. Thought the neighbors would like to know the coyotes are out day and night.
If you scroll through our archive of coyote sightings, you will definitely be able to verify that. And if you do see one, please remember that the best thing to do for your sake and theirs is to scare it away – as explained in the state’s one-sheet about coexisting with coyotes.
The photo and info are from Robin Lindsey of Seal Sitters – who deal with more than seals:
With the recent media buzz about the gray whale who wandered into the Ballard Locks, Seal Sitters thought it was a good opportunity to discuss the timely manner in which all whale (and other cetacean) sightings should be reported to the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Unless a whale is deemed in danger (such as entangled or stranded), all reports including species and as precise a location as possible, should be emailed promptly to Orca Network – firstname.lastname@example.org.
For whales that are indeed in trouble – or in an area where we would prefer they not be, such as in the Duwamish River or Ballard Locks, please immediately contact the NOAA West Coast MMSN hotline at 866-767-6114 with as precise a location as possible.
Seal Sitters requests that if a whale is sighted along the shoreline of West Seattle, please contact the Seal Sitters Hotline at 206-905-7325 (SEAL) and then email Orca Network. This will potentially enable our first responders to obtain an identification photograph of the whale. Databases are kept by researchers of all whales and identification helps monitor the health of the species.
I have provided a photograph to help for identification purposes showing the distinct profile of a surfacing gray whale, with its trademark mottled gray skin and “knuckles” along the ridge of the lower back. Humpbacks and other whales have a dorsal fin.
Read more on the Seal Sitters’ Blubberblog website.
P.S. And after making the official reports mentioned above, please consider letting us know, too, as whale sightings are news! 206-293-6302 text or voice, 24/7.
Join us for this rare Seattle appearance by renowned whale researcher Bruce Mate. Bruce will demonstrate how his teams use satellite-monitored radio tags to identify critical habitats and migration routes of endangered whales to protect them. His talk will focus on western and ENP gray whales, right whales, and contemporary issues for blue whales during the last few years of warm water as examples.
Bruce Mate is the Director and Endowed Chair of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, and founder of Oregon’s Whale Watching Spoken Here program.
Bruce’s talk is hosted by The Whale Trail, and co-sponsored by Seal Sitters and the American Cetacean Society, Puget Sound Chapter. Celebrate Earth Day by learning about whales!
Tickets are $10 ($5 for kids under 12) – available now at brownpapertickets.com.
It’s been years since our last reader report about an owl attack. This morning, Rose e-mailed this report of what happened while she jogged along Harbor Avenue:
On my run this morning at about 5:20 am on Harbor Ave SW just a bit south of the 7-11 [map] I was attacked by an owl. It is literally that one stretch of Harbor that if you scream no one hears you!
It clawed my head and it looked like it was considering another swipe.
I run that stretch of road every day and have never seen an owl there. So I want folks to be alert that one was there this morning.
ps – it did break my skin and there was a little blood but I am okay. and I was able to finish my run.
Our archived reports include encounters on Bonair in 2010 and in 2011, and, later in 2011, in Lincoln Park. And web searches reveal more than a few reports from elsewhere in the city. The state’s “Living With Wildlife” one-sheet about owls offers explanation as well as advice.
Last night when I got home there was a coyote eating something in my backyard. I beat on the windows and scared it away (for a minute) before it returned to get the meal it had left behind. Unfortunately, it looks like he may have gotten a neighborhood pet, like a tortoiseshell-color cat. Since it was getting dark then, I will check the yard today for any collars or identifying information. Please encourage your readers to keep their pets inside. This coyote is much bigger than the others that seem to visit my back yard on a weekly basis. If anyone has ideas on what can be put down to keep them away, I’d love to know what would do it. I live on the Alki hillside on Lander.
The state’s main advice in the coyote chapter of its “Living With Wildlife” series is to reduce food sources – don’t leave pet food out, let alone pets – as well as scaring them away if you see them, not just with noise, but even with throwing rocks or sticks if within range.
Two sightings your West Seattle neighbors wanted to share:
NEAR MORGAN JUNCTION: Brandon just e-mailed this:
Just wanted to report that I ran into a coyote this morning while walking the dogs, in case it is news. It came out of the alley between Mills and Willow, headed across Fauntleroy and headed down Willow [map] toward Pelly Place. It was around 7:30 this morning. My wife thought that cat owners would like to know.
MID-DELRIDGE: Sunday night, a texter reported a “coyote sighting at 24th and Myrtle [map] – our first sighting in 2 years living here.”
Just because you haven’t seen one doesn’t mean they’re not around – scroll through our archives for years of sightings (many with photos). We share them to be sure everyone’s aware they share our city (among others). Most important thing you can do if you see one is to scare it away – coexistence requires a healthy distance – lots more info on that can be found in this state-produced one-sheet.
Love nature? You can do more than admire it … you can help others learn about and enjoy it. From Seattle Parks:
Live the dream – become a nature guide! Do you love sharing nature with others? Are you interested in learning more about the flora and fauna of Seattle’s many public green spaces and parks? You are the perfect candidate for the Seattle Urban Nature Guide program. SUN Guides participate in 30 hours of training and commit to providing 8 programs a year at Environmental Learning Centers and parklands near schools throughout Seattle.
Seattle Urban Nature Guides provide hands-on learning opportunities for school groups, nature programs for families and adults and Discovery Stations for all throughout the city. Volunteers’ backgrounds are as varied as the students they teach – the common thread is their desire to share nature with the greater Seattle community.
The goal of the Seattle Urban Nature Guide Program is to enhance, promote, and foster appreciation of nature by connecting citizens and students with their Seattle Parklands, by providing educational opportunities for all.
Training begins March 29. Deadline for applications is March 8. For additional information, please contact Penny Rose at email@example.com or 206-386–4250, or apply online.
We’re told much of the training is at West Seattle’s own Environmental Learning Center – Camp Long.
Thanks to Jim Bodoia for the underwater photo and video we’re sharing as a Sunday afternoon “extra.”
He explains, “I was lucky enough to run into a couple of Pacific Wolf Eels off Alki, not too far from our Liberty Statue … We call them ‘eels’ but they’re actually very long fish (Anarrhichthys ocellatus). I’m fairly certain that the tan one [seen in the video] is a young female. At first she just poked her head out and then she joined me for a swim. The blue one [top photo] is a bit older and didn’t want to come out and play.” Learn more about wolf eels via the Seattle Aquarium website.
After so much relatively good news for Puget Sound’s Southern Resident Killer Whales over the past year or so, some sad news tonight: Their newest calf is missing and presumed dead, the Center for Whale Research announced tonight:
“After an extended encounter with all members of J-pod on February 25, 2016, Center for Whale Research reluctantly announces that the newest member, designated J55, is missing and presumed dead,” said senior scientist Kenneth Balcomb.
J55 was first documented by NOAA Fisheries killer whale researchers on January 18, 2016, in Puget Sound. While exact maternity was never established, the calf was documented swimming in close proximity to both J14 (estimated to be 42 years old) and her daughter J37, a 15 year old mother of one (J49 born in 2012). It is also possible that J55 was the first offspring of J40, a 12 year old, and the youngest daughter of J14.
Prior to February 26, members of the federally endangered Southern Resident killer whales were last seen by Center for Whale Research (CWR) affiliates on January 19, 2016 when Mark Malleson encountered some members of J-pod in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and was able to photo-document fourteen of the whales (including members of the J14 matriline) despite the fact that the pod was widely dispersed across the strait and in less than optimal sea conditions.
“While J55 was not photographed on that day, it is the Center for Whale Research’s policy to wait to announce the loss of an individual whale until a thorough survey of the entire pod can be undertaken, yesterday provided that opportunity,” said CWR Research Director, Dr. Deborah Giles.
“Although the loss of any calf is a blow to the Southern Resident killer whales and a setback to the struggling population, it is not entirely surprising that one of the ‘baby boom’ calves did not survive its first few months; as many as 50% of newborn calves do not survive their first year. Nevertheless, the loss of this calf underscores the need to recover the whales’ primary prey base – Chinook salmon – if the Southern Resident population of whales is to survive and thrive,” said Giles.
Two wildlife sightings just in via text (206-293-6302 any time):
-Whale spotted off Alki about an hour ago – not an orca – the texter thought it might have been a gray whale; Orca Network had word of a humpback off Manchester (right across the Sound) early today. Here’s a handy guide to species ID, from The Whale Trail.
-Coyote strolling the sidewalk “on 48th between the intersection of Beach Drive and Lincoln Park Way and Graham.”
(WSB file photo of Jeff Hogan presenting Killer Whale Tales at a local school)
Want to know more about our local orcas? Here’s your chance. Jeff Hogan from West Seattle-headquartered Killer Whale Tales – who is often the first to share the word when orcas are visiting – has an invitation for you:
West Seattle residents – you’re invited to a special night out with Killer Whale Tales, a grassroots nonprofit that’s been hard at work for 12 years right here in our neighborhood of West Seattle.
Killer Whale Tales is empowering youth to protect Puget Sound by educating them about our beloved orca population. Our program brings environmental science directly into the classroom, at no cost to schools. In the past 10 years we’ve reached 100,000 students!
Join us Saturday, February 27, from 7 to 9 p.m. at C & P Coffee for a unique opportunity as an adult to immerse yourself in the same experience our kids have in the program! Founder Jeff Hogan will deliver his interactive presentation and guests are invited to learn about and identify the Southern Resident killer whales that call Puget Sound home. It’s an exciting time to talk about our orcas – as our local pod has welcomed eight babies this year!
Come relax, have a drink and connect with your neighbors! Event is free but donations are welcomed. RSVP at this link.
If you want a Facebook reminder, here’s the event page.
5:22 PM: Thanks to “Diver Laura” James for sharing her newest work – results of a dive in the “Alki Junkyard” area on Saturday. She says, “It is spring underwater with clusters of eggs everywhere.” Take three minutes to see for yourself!
P.S. The “Junkyard” area is off the west end of the public beach/promenade – approximately 64th SW.
ADDED 9:04 PM: More from Diver Laura:
Yesterday on our dive, Lamont pointed out a sea star to me and was surprised at how excited I got.
The sea star may be a large Leptasterias specimen, one that i have not seen previously in 25 years of diving at the site (that doesn’t mean they were not there, just that I didn’t see them). It is unclear how this might relate to the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome other than they may have been in hiding or always eaten by the bigger predatory stars. A cool thing about Leptasterias is that they are brooding sea stars, and if this one is female we may get to see her babies!
You can learn more about this special sea star here, at Chris Mah’s amazing echinoblog!
If you are a regular WSB visitor, you’ve seen many incredible wildlife photos by Mark Wangerin (including one just this morning). Again this year, he donated his images for a West Seattle Wildlife Calendar to raise money to help students at Chief Sealth International High School, where he used to teach. Laura Robb from Mark House Publishing, which made the calendars, sends the photo of Mark presenting the check for the proceeds to Sealth students and teacher Heather Griffin, along with this update:
It’s official! This year the 2016 West Seattle Calendar, with Mark Wangerin’s fabulous photos, sold out its run of 500 calendars and made a profit of $4,000 for Chief Sealth International High School.
Thanks to West Seattle retailers, student salespeople, teachers, and many, many individual purchasers, the students have had opportunities to expand and enrich their learning about the environment. The whole 9th grade class was able to participate in a hands-on project about water quality in the Duwamish River, and another group will be able to attend the environmental leadership conference, WAGIN, held this year at Ingraham High School.
Among the very helpful retailers were J.F. Henry, West Seattle Nursery, Emerald Water Anglers, West Seattle Thriftway, C&P Coffee, Page 2 Books (in Burien), and Capers. Also, LaFarge North America purchased several dozen calendars to support the sale.
Thanks to Steven for sharing that photo, taken around 2:30 pm from a condo window in the 1200 block of Alki Avenue SW, looking at the hillside behind the building.
Not necessarily applicable when you’re viewing from inside your home, but remember that the best thing to do if and when you see one is to try to scare it away, for its sake as well as yours. Read more in the State Fish and Wildlife Department’s “Living with Coyotes” guide.
Where else have West Seattleites seen coyotes? Almost everywhere. Check our archive here.
2:30 PM: Just got this report via text, and the Orca Network has a report too – orcas in Elliott Bay, likely closer to downtown than West Seattle. Let us know if you see them!
4:08 PM: We had no luck but Amy Shuster sent the photo we’ve just added, taken from the Bainbridge ferry – thank you!