Washington State

An super-project that refers to all the sub-projects within Washington State

Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) habitation of coastal waters exposes them to frequent interactions with fisheries, pollution, boat traffic and other anthropogenic threats. Many harbor porpoise populations throughout their range are in decline, while others show signs of recovery, with animals commonly sighted in some formerly abandoned portions of their range. Harbor porpoise were the most common cetacean in the inland marine waters of Washington State, including the Puget Sound, in the 1940s.

During the northbound migration, a small number of individually identified gray whales (n=14) divert from the migratory path to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca, travelling >100 miles to northern Puget Sound (NPS), where they feed on dense patches of ghost shrimp. Efforts to photographically identify these whales began in 1990, and most of these whales (71%) have been sighted in NPS in at least ten of the past 24 years. These whales arrive in NPS in the spring and feed for 2-3 months.

The majority of eastern North Pacific gray whales feed in the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort Seas. Photo-ID and genetics have shown that a subset of this population, the Pacific Coast Feeding Group (PCFG), is a somewhat distinct group of about 200 individuals known to feed through the summer and fall from N California to SE Alaska. Recruitment to this group is an important consideration in understanding its status and management. A large scale collaborative effort was initiated in 1998 to monitor PCFG whales.

Based on past genetic and photo-identification data, humpback whales in the North Pacific show site fidelity to distinct feeding areas to which they return annually including an area that encompasses the waters off Washington and southern British Columbia. This represents one of the smaller North Pacific feeding areas both geographically and numerically. Combined with its transboundary status and busy shipping-lane traffic through this area from both US and Canada ports, this is an important but complicated area for management.

Sighting and stranding data are often used to identify patterns in marine mammal occurrence. Here we evaluate the use of public sighting reports, systematic surveys (where available), and stranding data from 1995-2015 to test how well these reflect trends in nine cetacean species in Puget Sound, Washington, USA. In general we found good agreement in documenting trends in occurrence between one of the sighting sources and strandings for 7 of 9 species, though there were often some species-specific considerations.

Common dolphins (Delphinus sp.), specifically long-beaked common dolphins, typically inhabit warmer temperate waters and are not usually present north of California; however, sightings of live common dolphins and dead stranded individuals have been increasing in Washington State waters since the early 2000s. Since 2006, eight common dolphin strandings have been recorded; seven on the outer coast and one inside Puget Sound. Sightings of live dolphins throughout inside waters and Southern Puget Sound have been recorded in 2003, 2011-12, and 2016 –17.

Health assessments of stranded cetaceans are determined from a variety of factors including sex, age class, length, girth, and other such parameters.  Gray whales (Eschrictius robustus) frequently strand along their migration route from Baja to Arctic waters including the waters of the Pacific Northwest.