SeaDoc in the News

Salmon study wins Salish Sea Science prize, gets featured in Islands' Sounder

The SeaDoc Society presented its Salish Sea Science prize this week to a group of scientists from NOAA who studied the effects of copper runoff on salmon's ability to smell. The story was featured in The Islands' Sounder:

Scientists who showed how copper damages salmon's sense of smell and helped create legislation to remove copper from car brake pads are honored with the prestigious Salish Sea Science prize.


A team of U.S. scientists will be awarded the SeaDoc Society's prestigious Salish Sea Science prize this week for groundbreaking research they performed demonstrating the impacts of copper to salmon.

Read the full story in The Islands' Sounder.

SeaDoc quoted in Hakai Magazine piece on whale watching

SeaDoc was mentioned in a recent article in Hakai Magazine (a magazine about Coastal Science and Societies). The story, based on a recent Soundwatch report describing whale watching infractions in 2015, refers to the science behind the whale watch guidelines and the transboundary (US / Canadian) challenges.

Joe Gaydos, the chief scientist with the SeaDoc Society in the San Juan Islands, says bad whale-watching behavior is concerning as there are a number of ways infringing boats can hurt whales. Engine noise makes it more difficult for whales to communicate and hunt; propellers are a collision risk; and whales may inhale vessel exhaust fumes when they come up to breathe. Whales also alter their swimming to avoid boats, a particular problem for nursing females. “We don’t want to give moms that are lactating extra reason to expend energy,” says Gaydos.

Read the full article at the Hakai Magazine website.

Going viral: Concerns rise over potential impacts of disease on the ecosystem

Salish Sea Currents, the magazine of the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, did a feature story on the role of disease in the Salish Sea.

From orcas to starfish to humans, disease affects every living creature in the ecosystem. Scientists are increasingly alarmed by its potential to devastate already compromised populations of species in Puget Sound.

SeaDoc's Joe Gaydos (also the Birds and Mammals topic editor for the Encyclopedia) is quoted. "The crazy thing about disease is that it isn’t really on people’s radar. It is a smoldering factor in our environment, but one that can break out at any time."

See the full article by Christopher Dunagan.

The article was also featured on the front page of the Kitsap Sun.

List of fishes featured in Salish Sea news outlets

The new list of Fishes of the Salish Sea published by Ted Pietsch and Jay Orr, and funded by the SeaDoc Society, has been featured in several news outlets around the Salish Sea. The Victoria Times Colonist noted in particular that Pietsch and Orr used the Royal B.C. Museum as one of their sources.

The Skagit Valley Herald focused on some of the species that inhabit shorelines in Skagit County, like red Irish lords, queenfish, and smallhead eelpout.

And then The Stranger picked it up. Which fish will inhabit your nightmares? Which one looks like Keith Haring painted it? You'll have to read the article to find out...

The paper has also been written up in, Science Daily, the Parksville Qualicum Beach News, the Fish Site, Nature World News, the Journal of the San Juans, and the Vancouver Sun, among others.

In December, reporter Jessi Loerch wrote about the paper in the Everett Herald. She focused particularly on the striking illustrations, and interviewed illustrator Joseph Tomelleri about his drawing process.

Coverage of Washington Department of Wildlife Citizen Award

The SeaDoc Society received a 2015 Citizen Award from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. From the press release:

Another organization honored during this year's ceremony was the SeaDoc Society, a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Headquartered on Orcas Island in the San Juan Islands, SeaDoc was recognized for efforts to protect Washington's salt-water habitats and wildlife. Its work in Washington includes data gathering, mapping and analysis on issues such as derelict fishing gear, marine bird population declines, orca whale disease, forage fish spawning areas and the status of tufted puffins.

"It's difficult to pare down a short list of the important contributions SeaDoc has made in working with the department," said Eric Gardner, WDFW wildlife program deputy assistant director. "They have been active, productive contributors on a surprising range of topics in support of Washington's marine wildlife and coastal ecosystems."

The award was covered in many news outlets, ranging from The Olympian to AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

SeaDoc's Jen Renzullo quoted in LA Times article on whale entanglements

SeaDoc's Jen Renzullo, who works on derelict fishing gear programs in California, was quoted in a Los Angeles Times article about the record number of whales that have been entangled in crab fishing gear off the California coast.

“There are a couple of things going on here, and they’ve become political,” Jennifer Renzullo, a research biologist at UC Davis, said in an interview. “For some reason, perhaps because of unusual conditions at sea, humpback and gray whales that tend to migrate through the areas such as Monterey Bay have been spending more time there. Coincidentally, the crab population was healthiest there this year, in terms of harvesting.

“More fishing pressure,” she added, “combined with more whales hanging out in the area are contributing to a spike in entanglements.”

Read the full story at the Los Angeles Times website.

SeaDoc killer whale stranding research referenced for Northern California stranding

In April 2015 a dead male orca stranded near Fort Bragg, California. In an article about the stranding, the Lost Coast Outpost referred to the rarity of finding dead orcas. "A 2013 study analyzing North Pacific killer-whale strandings back to 1925 noted that, "while orcas are some of the most widely distributed whales on Earth, very few dead ones are ever found." That 2013 study is our Spatial and temporal analysis of killer whale (Orcinus orca) strandings in the North Pacific Ocean and the benefits of a coordinated stranding response protocol, published in Marine Mammal Science.

Here's the article at Lost Coast Outpost.

The orca was found with derelict crab gear wrapped around its tail.

Seattle Magazine recommends Salish Sea book

Seattle Magazine recommended SeaDoc's book, The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest, in a spread in its March issue.

The new book The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest (Sasquatch Books, $24.95) looks at these local waters through a scientific lens, illustrating the region’s unique geology (thanks to glaciers, plate tectonics and volcanoes) and vibrant marine ecology. Written by biologist Audrey DeLella Benedict with Joseph K. Gaydos, chief scientist for the SeaDoc Society (an Orcas Island–based conservation group focused on the Salish Sea), the book pairs bright, bold, photographs with fascinating facts about local sea creatures. (Did you know that the Salish Sea is home to the world’s largest species of barnacle, octopus and burrowing clam?)

Read the article at the Seattle Magazine website.

Sea lion rescue featured in Islands Sounder

Our work to rescue sea lions that are entangled in marine debris was featured on the front page of the Islands' Sounder on February 18.

“The biggest challenge when working with a 1,400-pound animal is obviously safety - for the people and for the animal,” said Gaydos, chief scientist and regional director of the Orcas-based SeaDoc Society, which conducts and sponsors scientific research in the Salish Sea. “You don’t want anybody to get hurt and you don’t want the animal to get hurt.”

Read the article at the Islands' Sounder.

National Geographic features SeaDoc work on birds and forage fish

Often overlooked, forage fish are a key part of the food web, and they’re vital to the well-being of threatened and endangered birds, fish, and marine mammals. A recent National Geographic article by Craig Welch puts a spotlight on the controversy over herring harvest, and references SeaDoc’s important paper in Conservation Biology that showed that diving seabirds that eat exclusively forage fish are 16 times more likely to be in decline than bird species with wider diets.

Read the article at the National Geographic website.



Banner photo: Herring (not Pacific herring). Courtesy of Jacob Botter via Flickr. Creative Commons 2.0.

Gulls switch to trash-diet as fish stocks run low

Courtesy of  Jerry Kirkhart  via Flickr CC.

Courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr CC.

Joe Gaydos was quoted in a New Scientist article about the implications of diet changes for gulls. In a recently published paper (find a link to it in the New Scientist article, below), UBC's Louise Blight and collaborators looked at feather samples to understand how gull diets have changed over the past 149 years. The results show that as the birds' diets have changed from fish to more garbage, the result has been population declines and lower fertility in glaucous-winged gulls.

Overfishing has meant that one of the gulls' favourite fish species, the highly nutritious eulachon, is now considered threatened in the Salish Sea area. Another former staple, the Pacific herring, no longer forms the large aggregations that gulls once feasted on.

SeaDoc recently published a study about population declines in diving birds. This study linked the highest risk of population decline to birds with very specific diets involving forage fish like eulachon and herring.

In the article, Joe Gaydos is quoted: "[Gull] populations should not decline as quickly as specialist feeders. The fact that generalists like gulls could be in decline is definitely worrisome."

Read the article, which has a link to the published paper.

Do otters eat a lot of rockfish? Look in their scat to find out

Sharon Wootton wrote a nice piece in The Everett Herald on SeaDoc's recently-published peer reviewed paper on river otter diet. The concern was that river otters might be hampering rockfish recovery. Turns out while river otters do eat some juvenile rockfish, they primarily eat other intertidal and shallow subtidal fish. Get the full story at The Everett Herald site.

Stewards of the Deep: Underwater monitoring in The Islands' Sounder

Colleen Armstrong of The Islands' Sounder wrote about SeaDoc's collaboration with divers from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation ( on the front page of the paper.

The story included links to REEF's database where you can see detailed findings, including color images of creatures found, for different locations and areas. Visit The Islands' Sounder site to read the article.



Banner photo courtesy of Janna Nichols / REEF.

SeaDoc helps commercial crabbers recover 550 pots in California

The California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project (a self-sustaining project of the SeaDoc Society that operates without any donated funds), got a nice write-up in the Del Norte Triplicate. Kirsten Gilardi, SeaDoc's executive director, and Jen Renzullo, the field manager for the lost gear project, were featured for their innovative work where north coast crab fishermen are actually recovering lost crab pots and turning a profit by selling the pots back to their original owners.

Read the full article or get more of the story on the UC Davis website.

“The most exciting thing about this project is that the fishermen themselves are taking the lead,” said Kirsten Gilardi, director of the California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, a program of the SeaDoc Society, which is part of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “They are mobilizing the fishermen to participate, conducting all the transactions of funds and gear, and even realizing financial benefits for their hard work to clean the ocean.”

More coverage can be found at California Sea Grant News.



Banner photo: Jennifer Renzullo of SeaDoc’s California Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project heads out to sea with fishermen from Eureka to collect lost crabbing gear. Photo courtesy of J. Cox.

Marine birds in decline: Loss of small fish may be to blame


From white-winged scoters and surf scoters to long-tailed ducks, murres, loons and some seagulls, the number of everyday marine birds here has plummeted dramatically in recent decades. The reasons are often complex, but for many the loss of forage fish like herring might hold a clue. This article was on the front page of the Seattle Times on July 25, 2014.

Read the full article.

New protocol will enhance killer whale knowledge

Killer whale strandings are rare and tragic events, which is why it’s so important that scientists respond quickly and appropriately to collect as much data as possible.

According to Dr. Joe Gaydos, Wildlife Veterinarian and Chief Scientists of UC Davis’s SeaDoc Society, “Every killer whale stranding represents an opportunity for researchers to learn more about the species. It’s important that we have a system to capture as much information as possible in each event.”

A team of researchers from the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the University of British Columbia (UBC) and SeaWorld came together this year to do just that. The team has created the new Killer Whale Necropsy and Disease Testing Protocol, which is an updated version of a document that was originally written back in 2004.

That original protocol greatly enhanced killer whale examinations in the Northeast Pacific Ocean, but plenty of advances have been made in the ensuing decade. The new protocol captures that new knowledge in an effort heighten awareness of health concerns and increase the number of complete postmortem standardized necropsies.

Since the original protocol, scientists have performed necropsies on one out of every three killer whales that strand in the North Pacific – a remarkable 1,600 percent increase in effort. The data collected – on causes of death, contaminants, and genetics – are already being used to help recover endangered killer whale populations.

Dr. Steve Raverty, a UBC faculty member at the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit, points out that “Revision of the necropsy protocols is the first of a multiphase approach to further understand health and disease in these majestic animals, icons of the Pacific Northwest.”

The new protocol will be critical in helping understand how disease might impact the recovery of small declining killer whale populations, such as the southern resident killer whales.

In the new protocol, sample collection is standardized and guidelines are provided to help identify research personnel that can assist in a given stranding incident. It also helps assess the impact of sound on killer whale ear anatomy. Dr. Raverty said, “Thanks to research over the last decade, we now have a better understanding of how sound can damage whale ear structure and this data has informed the protocol. When we examine a dead whale, we now have better tools to determine if it got stranded because of a blast or other sonar incident.”

According to Judy St. Leger "The loss of any of these animals is always a sad event. However, data from systematic evaluations provides a window into the world of killer whales. We can compare results and identify ways to positively impact populations."

While the testing is focused on North American resources, the sampling protocol is universal and this protocol can be implemented globally. It can be accessed for free using the button below.

Increase in harbor porpoise strandings

The number of harbor porpoise strandings in May of 2014 was higher than usual (but not higher than the number in 2012). Joe Gaydos was quoted in the Journal of the San Juans:

In fact, according to Dr. Joe Gaydos of the Orcas Island-based SeaDoc Society, spring is the time of year when harbor porpoise typically migrate en masse from the mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait into the heart of the Salish Sea and strandings are not uncommon at that time. Still, Gaydos, who will perform the early June necropsies, said the spate of strandings warrant examination to find out if an infectious disease or virus, such as pneumonia, may be responsible or contributed to the deaths.