The SeaDoc Society has funded and conducted scientific research in the Salish Sea for nearly 20 years, and many of our projects have directly improved management, policy and restoration efforts to protect the ecosystem for future generations.

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Toxins & Southern Resident Killer Whales

The three major threats to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are contaminants, a lack of their food (salmon), and increased underwater noise caused by boat traffic. A SeaDoc Society-funded paper demonstrated the role that Chinook salmon play in transmitting PCBs to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and people. Washington state and British Columbia are actively working to reduce PCBs in the marine environment.

Photo by Tom Bell

Shorebird migration stopover sites

Nearly all of the world's population of western sandpipers stop to rest and refuel in the Fraser River Delta during their massive 12,000 kilometer migration between their nesting grounds in Alaska and wintering sites from California to Peru. SeaDoc funded a project that answered the question of how to determine the best stopover sites and developed a tool that uses plasma metabolites. We now have a tool to help identify and protect important shorebird migratory stopover sites.

Photo by Joe Evenson

Photo by Joe Evenson

Over-harvest & scoter populations

Over the last 25 years, scoter populations have dropped by 50%, representing the largest loss of marine birds in Puget Sound. In 2006, we funded a study to see if continued hunting was impacting the population. This study showed that in at least four Washington counties, hunting was not sustainable.

Knowing this, scoter hunting limits were cut in half and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife developed a safety net that says if populations drop below 55,000 birds, all hunting will cease. This scientifically-based decision leaves birds to hunt, (remember that hunting generates about 6,800 jobs in Washington annually), while protecting the long-term health of the population by keeping people from taking too many birds.

Photo by Josh Bauma

Restoring abalone

Abalone are beautiful marine snails that provided food and shells for local tribes since the beginning of time, only to be fished out by poachers and over-harvested due to poor management. They are now functionally extinct, meaning there are so few they can’t find a mate and reproduce.

When Washington state was developing a recovery plan for abalone, SeaDoc funded some key scientific studies that created the backbone of the abalone restoration program. These provided important science on abalone genetics, habitat needs, and ideal size for releasing hatchery-reared abalone. SeaDoc’s small investment in science helped guarantee a scientifically-based recovery program for abalone.

Photo by Janna Nichols

Trained SCUBA divers to monitor fish and invertebrates

SeaDoc Society has helped train hundreds of recreational SCUBA divers to collect data that are now supporting abalone, rockfish, and sea star recovery efforts in the Salish Sea. As of 2018, we have worked with Reef Environmental Education Foundation to train volunteer SCUBA divers, who have completed more than 18,000 surveys in Washington and 6,000 surveys in British Columbia.

Photo by Jenn Collins

Sea star wasting disease

In 2013, sea star wasting disease decimated several sea star species from California all the way up to Alaska, including the Salish Sea. SeaDoc worked with a group of collaborators to identify the cause of sea star wasting disease as well as show which species of stars are affected by the virus and which ones are not.

Photo by Madison McNutt

Recovering tufted puffins

With its striking plumage and brilliant orange bill, the Tufted Puffin (Fratercula cirrhata) is an iconic seabird. Studies strongly suggest that in Washington they have undergone an order of magnitude population decline that is ongoing. The number of occupied breeding colonies has decreased 57% since 1886-1977 and 46% since 1978-1984. SeaDoc wrote the scientific status review that got the Tufted Puffin listed as Endangered and are now writing the recovery plan for the species in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Photo by Photo by Phil Green

Diving birds and forage fish

One-third of the bird species that use the Salish Sea are listed as threatened or endangered. A risk assessment conducted by SeaDoc Society identified that forage fish-eating diving birds are 18 times more likely to be in decline. That means that many of these birds are in decline because of issues related to the fish they eat.

Photo by Rob Williams

Preventing Pacific white-sided dolphin by-catch

Small cetaceans in British Columbia waters are often caught in salmon gillnet fisheries, but Canada does not have a law to identify when management action is necessary to reduce cetacean by-catch below sustainable limits. SeaDoc funded Dr. Rob Williams and colleagues to determine if small cetacean by-catch was exceeding sustainable numbers. This work illustrated that fisheries by-catch of Pacific white-sided dolphins was too high, so Canada is now actively working to monitor cetacean populations and by-catch to ensure that fisheries are not affecting these species.

Photo by Sandy Buckley

Keeping killer whales out of oil spills

In the wake of the the Exxon Valdes oil spill, 33% of the fish-eating AB killer whale pod and 41% of the mammal-eating AT1 pod died. Oil and whales don’t mix, and oil spills continue to represent a major threat to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea.

SeaDoc worked with NOAA Fisheries and other organizations to develop a plan for keeping killer whales out of an oil spill should one occur in the Salish Sea ecosystem. These actions are now part of a Northwest Area Contingency Plan for responding to a spill.

Photo by Northwest Straits Foundation

Recovering lost fishing gear and saving money

Lost or derelict fishing gear kills millions of animals per year. Much of this fishing equipment is made of synthetic materials that do not degrade in the ocean and can persist for decades. A study conducted by SeaDoc Society and the Northwest Straits Commission showed that while it costs $1,358 to remove a derelict net, every net removed saves $1,966 in Dungeness crab alone annually – that means we’re making about 50% return on our investment in year one, then annually for decades thereafter.

Photo by Pete Naylor

Economics of SCUBA diving

While the Salish Sea’s SCUBA diving conditions may not resemble those of the tropics, it offers some of the most spectacular diving in the United States. The flora, fauna, and seafloor topography of this area are sensational. However, there has been little information regarding the economic benefits that this recreational sector provides the state of Washington.

Led by Dr. Katharine Wellman at Northern Economics, a SeaDoc-funded study found that the 975 Washington residents who belong to SCUBA clubs alone contribute five million diving dollars to the local economy each year. And there are an estimated 100,000 certified divers in the state! Diving, together with other activities like fishing, kayaking, wildlife and whale watching, contributes billions in direct and non-market benefits.

Photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Photo by Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Offering scientific input on farmed salmon escape

In August 2017 over 100,000 farmed Atlantic Salmon escaped from a net pen in the Salish Sea. “SeaDoc provided legislators with critical scientific information about the risk that net-pen-released Atlantic salmon posed to wild salmon,” said Washington Senator Kevin Ranker, who was one of the legislative leaders of the effort to address the issue.

This information, provided in a timely manner, helped Senator Ranker and Representative Kris Lytton, who led in the house, educate their colleagues, speak to the press and to the public about the event and, ultimately provided the scientific support needed for Sen. Ranker and Rep. Lytton to champion and pass a state law permanently banning commercial net pens used for farming invasive Atlantic salmon in Washington state waters (HB 2957).

Toxins & Southern Resident Killer Whales


The three major threats to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales are contaminants, a lack of their food (salmon), and increased underwater noise caused by boat traffic. A SeaDoc Society-funded paper demonstrated the role that Chinook salmon play in transmitting PCBs to endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and people. Washington state and British Columbia are actively working to reduce PCBs in the marine environment.