Tag Archives: Washington

A Rare Marine Mammal Washed In

What do COASST staff do on their time off?  Walk the beaches, of course!

And it was on such an excursion that Charlie Wright, the COASST verifier, and his wife Linnaea – both expert birders and natural historians – happened upon a Blainville’s beaked whale.

The dolphin-like "beak" and absence of large teeth helped us conclude that this was a female Beaked whale.

The dolphin-like “beak” and absence of large teeth indicate that this is a female beaked whale.

A what?!?

Beaked whales are one of the oldest and most speciose lineages of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), with 22 species documented to date.  Smaller than the large whales, and sometimes mistaken for dolphins, beaked whales have, as the name implies, a dolphin-like “beak” (or rostrum).  Vaguely sausage-shaped, they also sport short stubby flippers (front limbs), a small dorsal (back) fin, and a plain un-notched tail (also known as a fluke).  Males have two enormous teeth that look more like spade-shaped tusks, which they apparently use to fight other males for access to females.  These teeth vary by species and allow easy identification of males.  With no teeth to examine, the whale Charlie and Linnaea happened upon was a female.

Note the small dorsal fin!

Note the small dorsal fin.

Relatively unseen and unknown animals that range widely across the world’s oceans, beaked whales are deep divers that can submerge in the hunt for squid and deep-sea fish for over an hour.  No wonder people don’t often see them.  But they do wash ashore.  In fact, in 2014 a previously unknown species of beaked whale washed up on Zapadni Beach on St. George, Pribilof Islands (a COASST beach!).

All of the excitement over this rare find got us wondering, what kinds of marine mammals have COASSTers been recording over the years?  Although COASST doesn’t “officially” collect marine mammal data, since 1999 COASSTers have often reported what they find.  From 2000 through the present, just over 1,200 marine mammals were reported, most to group, like “seal” or “dolphin/porpoise.” Just over half (644) were identified to species.  In our new COASST protocol, we’ve added specifics about how to record and take photos of any beached marine mammal observed.

What can we say about these data?

First, we focused on the marine mammal carcasses identified to species.  These data are presented with numbers in parentheses under each photograph indicating the total count.  The winner?  Harbor seals, followed by sea otters and California sea lions.  Not a single beaked whale!  Notice that although there are slightly more species of cetaceans (8 in total compared to 7 pinnipeds), COASSTers are far more likely to find a pinniped (420 individuals versus only 63 for cetaceans).

Marine mammals reported by COASST volunteers and identified to species from 2000-present.

Marine mammals reported by COASST volunteers and identified to species from 2000-present.

Second, we mapped all of the species groups, from large whales to sea otters, as a function of location, from northern California north to the Bering and Chukchi Seas.  The “image collage” adjacent to each mega-region (we’ve combined the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands into “Salish Sea”) shows which species groups are found where.  The size of the photograph is proportional – bigger photos literally mean more of that group is found, and the image indicates which species in the group was identified most often.

In California, the group “sea lions and fur seals” dominate, with the vast majority of identified finds being California (of course!) sea lions.  North in Oregon and coastal Washington, “true seals” become more abundant in the finds identified to species.  In the Salish Sea, as many COASSTers can attest, harbor seals dwarf all other marine mammal finds. In fact, the chance of finding a harbor seal is not that much different from the chance of finding a beached bird (the recent Rhinoceros Auklet mortality event being an exception).

Sea otters, unknown from our California beaches and a true rarity along Oregon, become relatively more abundant along the Washington outer coast, and dominate the Gulf of Alaska beaches.

And then there are the finds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas.  Notice that the only photograph in common with the other COASST mega-regions is the sea otter, everything else is different.  “True seals” dominate, but the species isn’t harbor, it’s spotted.  Rather than sea lions, COASSTers in these regions are more likely to find fur seals.  Not surprising when you consider that the Pribilof Islands (home to 8 COASST beaches) support breeding rookeries of Northern fur seals numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Marine mammal species abundance as a function of location, from northern California north to the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

Abundance by location, from northern California north to the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

Documenting beached marine mammals is an important objective for COASST.  So keep an eye out for the odd flipper, fluke or paw as you’re searching the beach.  With marine mammal populations shifting in abundance throughout the COASST range, we’re in the perfect position to create the definitive baseline.

What’s Washed In – March 31, 2015

Hi COASSTers,

Hope you’re all enjoying the start of Spring! It’s been a busy month at COASST, with national and regional media attention. Executive Director Julia Parrish was recently featured on the March 20 edition of Science Friday, COASST data were featured in the recent Pacific States Fisheries Management Council Meeting, as #9 of the 12 main highlights in the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment (CCIEA), State of the California Current Report, 2015, and a number of COASSTers were featured in recent news coverage. A big thanks for all of your hard work! Check out the latest on our website in the COASSTal News section. We’re so proud to have all of you representing COASST!

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anchor River Recreation Area (AK) 03/14/15 found by Lisa

Bill: 45
Wing: 20
Tarsus: 39

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, slender and featureless, upperwing is dark –check out these four species:
Common Murre (AL3)
Thick-billed Murre (AL5)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL7)
Black Guillemot (AL7)
Look carefully – the face has a dark eyeline, or “tearline” – (see key character 2 on the AL3). The Thick-billed Murre has a dark face with a white chin. Non-breeding guillemots with white underparts lack this eyeline; the bill, wing and tarsus measurements for this bird do not fit for the PIGU or BLGU. Common Murre – correct!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer left – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, smooth/slender and featureless, investigate these two options:
Common Murre (AL2)
Pigeon Guillemot (AL10)
The bill, wing and tarsus measurements do not fit for Pigeon Guillemot and the underwing is white – Common Murre – great work!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby South (WA) 1/20/15 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 17 mm
Wing: 13.5 cm
Tarsus: 18 mm

Alaska Foot Key – page 34
West Coast Foot Key – page 22
Choose webbed (go to Q2), choose completely webbed (go to Q3), choose three toes: all webbed (go to Q4), choose foot not huge – STOP: Alcids.

Alaska Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is less than 15cm. Bill is dark, without a spot – one of the murrelets:
Marbled Murrelet (AL17)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL19)
Bill is too long for a KIMU and the eye is within the dark part of the face – Marbled Murrelet – nice!

West Coast Guide
On AL1, veer right – wing chord is more than 15cm. Bill is dark, so we’re left with a few options:
Common Murre-juvenile/chick (AL4)
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
* Ancient Murrelet (AL16)
* Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
* Least Auklet (AL24)
* Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
(* = rare, included in the 2002 version only)
Not a Common Murre chick – it’s January! And besides, this bird has white shoulder patches and dark secondaries and no dark eyeline. Measurements fit for Marbled Murrelet, but let’s examine the rarities:
Ancient Murrelet – nope, dark shoulder
Kittlitz’s Murrelet – nope, bill too small
Least Auklet and Whiskered Auklet – nope, bil and wing too small
Yep, it is a Marbled Murrelet.

  

Mike and Chiggers’ marine debris surveys at Norwegian Memorial (WA) tell an interesting story. Their beach consistently catches  A LOT of bottles and bottle fragments, many with Asian writing. Seen here is the haul from a single zone in a single transect. A well weathered Puma shoe also washed up for their December survey. The stitching and lace holes make us think these are “vintage”. Do they remind anyone else of basketball practice in the 70s?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington COASSTers Lee and Sue were lucky enough to come across this Humboldt squid during their February survey of Three Crabs Beach.

Also referred to as Jumbo squid, these giants are able to swim with speeds of up to 15 miles per hour and are known to eject themselves from the water to escape predators. While the coloring of this squid is mostly white, these cephalopods are able to change their appearance in shades of purple, red and white.

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Updated Cassin’s Auklet – Dec

cassinaukletsJan22

We’ve updated the Cassin’s Auklet graphic to include December’s monthly encounter rate, with surveys received through Jan 22, 2015. A few more weeks into February and we’ll be able to add January as well. Currently, January totals are the highest of the four months, but that may change as the number of entered and verified surveys grows.

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(c) T. Johnson. All rights reserved.

We figured COASSTers would want to check out this photo (which Charlie rounded up from Tom). Did you note the COASST ID characters on this one?

  • Short, stout bill with pale spot at base
  • White spot(s) around eye
  • Gray underwing with pale central band

Woo hoo! That’s how we know it’s not a Kittlitz’s or Marbled Murrelet, nor a Rhinoceros or Parakeet Auklet. And this late into the year (Nov-Jun), juvenile murres are all teenagers – at least the same size as adults – so it’s not one of those, either.

Keep on going, COASSTers! At this rate, Cassin’s Auklets might surpass Northern Fulmars for the number two spot on the COASST species list – if so, you’ll be the first to know!

Cassin’s Auklet Die-off Continues

For the full story, see the North Pacific Cassin’s Auklet Wreck fact sheet, posted to our website.

Following the Dec 20/21 weekend, COASST participants have seen a wave of Cassin’s Auklets hit the beaches, from Clallam County, Washington to Humboldt County, California. Combining reports from beached bird programs across North Pacific (see previous blog) preliminary estimates suggest that tens of thousands of these birds are washing ashore, at the rate of 10-100 times “normal.”

Cassin's Auklet off the Washington coast. (c) R. Merrill

Cassin’s Auklet off the Washington coast. (c) R. Merrill

The Cassin’s Auklet, Ptychoramphus aleuticus is a small (about 200g, or 7 oz) krill and larval fish-eating seabird that breeds along the West Coast of North America from Alaska south to Baja California, Mexico. A majority of birds ( ~80% of the world’s population) breed in the Scott Island group, off the Northwest tip of Vancouver Island. Need more info? Check out BC’s Coast Region Species of Conservation Concern Fact Sheet.

Over 50 birds documented by a COASST team outside of Lincoln City, OR. (c) COASST

Over 50 birds documented by a COASST team outside of Lincoln City, OR. (c) COASST

As of Jan 6, 2015, the northern coast of Oregon (Columbia River south to Heceta Head) has had the highest regional per kilometer counts, at 4.3 Cassin’s Auklets/km (Nov) and 5.2 Cassin’s Auklets/km (Dec). The highest per kilometer encounter rate on a COASST survey is from Bayocean Spit (near Tillamook, OR) at 71 birds/km.

Cassin’s Auklet Wreck

Cassin's Auklet wreck data as of November 21, 2014.

Cassin’s Auklet wreck data, October 1 – November 21, 2014.

Beginning in late October and continuing through mid November, we've witnessed an uptick in Cassin's Auklets. In collaboration with West Coast beached bird partners Beach Watch (San Francisco - GFNMS) and BeachCOMBERS (Monterey Bay - MBNMS), and British Columbia Beached Bird Survey we know this event extends from Washington State south to Monterey Bay. The highest per kilometer counts occurred in Oregon North (30 Cassin's Auklets per kilometer at McPhillips Beach in Tillamook County). 

Why Cassin's, why now? Cassin's Auklet colonies in British Columbia (75.9% of the North American population) fared well this season with high (the highest?) reproductive output recorded from decades of monitoring. Lots of young-of-the-year out in the Pacific this year! Ocean conditions, may (though we don't have evidence yet) be deteriorating more than normal. Storm activity November 15/16 preceded a wave of beaching - not unusual - the combination of young birds and difficult conditions predictably lead to wrecks, like those we see most years, at the end of a good Common Murre breeding season.
Just two of the 179 birds Patty counted on 12/23 near Neskowin, OR.

Just two of the 179 birds Patty counted on December 23 near Neskowin, OR.

UPDATE: A new wave of Cassin's Auklets hit the coast of Washington and Oregon beginning Sunday, December 21 with up to 100/km on some beaches. These small, fist-sized birds have a dark bill (pale spot at base), dark back and wings, white belly. Fresh specimens show blue-ish feet (3 webbed toes, no hind toe).

What’s Washed In – November 18, 2014

Hi COASSTers,

Hope that all of you are staying warm on your beaches this month! This past weekend, COASST staff conducted trainings in Washington and Oregon, catching up with many current COASSTers and adding some new COASSTers to the team. It was great to see some of you in Long Beach (WA), Charleston (OR), and Port Orford (OR)!

It’s hard to believe that November is more than halfway over.  As you get ready for your next survey, take a quick look at your supply kit and let us know if you need any additional cable ties, chalk, datasheets, etc.  We’d be happy to send more your way. Also, if you have any completed datasheets sitting around, please send them our way! We can’t wait to see them.

Let’s take a look at What’s Washed In:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buldir Island – B (AK) 6/27/14 found by Alaska Maritime NWR staff

Bill: 14 mm
Wing: 14 cm
Tarsus: 27 mm

Dark underwing, dark heel, orange bill. Let’s check out our options using the wing key.

Alaska wing key (page 44):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to Q2), simply dark (go to Q5), underwing linings not white (go to Q9), wing chord less than 35cm (go to Q10), none (go to Q11), wing chord less than 16cm (go to Q12), underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL17)
Crested Auklet-CRAU (AL25)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL23)
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s Alaska range (16-21mm). Flipping to the Crested Auklet, measurements fit, but plumage is mostly dark. Not in the similar species section – Parakeet Auklet has a white breast, belly and undertail (all dark plumage for the Crested). See that white bit of fluff between the two wings? Bingo – Parakeet Auklet.

West Coast wing key (page 33):
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose dark (go to 2), choose upperwing simply dark (go to Q3), underwing gray-to-dark (go to Q6), underwing simply dark (go to Q7), wing chord less than 17cm (go to Q8), and select underwing simply dark. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet-MAMU (AL14)
Parakeet Auklet-PAAU (AL18).
The tarsus of this mystery bird is too long for MAMU’s range West Coast (14-18mm), so Parakeet Auklet it is!

West Coast wing table (page 32)
You’ll have to trust us on the upperwing, but…
Choose row = tiny (wing chord less than 18cm) and column “dark upperwing” – no pale underwing linings. We’re left with:
Marbled Murrelet (AL14)
Leach’s Storm Petrel (TN11)
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel (TN9)
Parakeet Auklet (AL18)
Kittlitz’s Murrelet (AL20)
Crested Auklet (AL22)
Whiskered Auklet (AL26)
Four of these don’t fit because of the tarsus measurement Marbled Murrelet, Leach’s Storm-Petrel, Kittlitz’s Murrelet, Whiskered Auklet.  Of the remaining three, only one has some white plumage (see that tuft between the two wings?) and an orange, upturned bill: Parakeet Auklet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruby South (WA) 10/10/14 found by Janis and Jody

Bill: 44 mm
Wing: 27 cm
Tarsus: 48 mm

Alaska foot key (page 34), West Coast foot key (page 22):
Webbed (go to Q2), complete (go to Q3), 3 webbed toes 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus less than 1mm across (go to Q6), 4th toe has flap extending to tip of nail­­­­–Waterfowl: Diving Ducks.

Alaska: WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on sides: one of the scoters (WF5, WF9, WF7) or eiders (WF 21, 23, 27). Bill too large for any of the eiders except for the Common Eider. Wing too large for any of the scoters besides the White-winged Scoter. Between Common Eider and White-winged Scoter, measurements fit only one perfectly – dark plumage, white speculum and white eye patch – White-winged Scoter.

West Coast (2013): WF1: Bill with knob or feathers on top or sides – one of the three scoters, and only one has a wing chord that large: White-winged Scoter

West Coast (2002): WF1: White in wing! Feathers or knob on bill: White-winged Scoter or one of the eiders. Only the Common Eider is a contender, but its secondaries are dark (vs white in the White-winged Scoter).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keith and Anita find a lot of interesting “large” debris at OR Mile 460. Although marine debris pilot COASSTers are not yet surveying for objects larger than 50cm, but these two couldn’t help but share several examples of “mortise and tenon” joinery, common to Japanese architecture but also used elsewhere and throughout history. This type of joint involves a mortise hole, several shown here, and a tenon tongue on an adjoining piece, that is inserted into the hole and glued, pinned or wedged in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Albert and Kathie went on their first marine debris survey on November 14th at Graysmarsh. They didn’t find any debris but did turn up an unusual find: an Ocean Sunfish, also known as Mola mola.

The Mola mola is the largest known bony fish in the world. An average adult individual typically weighs over 2,000 lbs, and they can reach up to 5.9 ft. in body length and 8.2 ft. fin to fin. Sunfish are most often found in temperate and tropical waters that are 50°F or warmer. They are often seen swimming on their sides, basking in the sun at the surface of the water to warm themselves after deep dives. Prolonged periods spent in water colder that 50°F can lead to disorientation and death for the sunfish, which most likely happened to this guy found in the Strait!

Seen something on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

Cheers,
Erika, Julia, Jane, Hillary, Charlie, Heidi, Jenn, and the COASST Interns

What’s Washed In – Sept. 19

It’s hard to believe how fast summer has flown by! Here in the COASST office, we’re getting ready for a busy fall season, with upcoming trainings and refreshers in California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska over the next month.  If you’re considering attending a refresher training near you, we highly recommend it – it’s a great way to brush up on your identification skills and meet other COASSTers in your community – and we’d love to see you!

Thanks so much for all of your datasheets, photos, and fun stories over the past few weeks.  Let’s take a look at what’s washed in lately:

A.Bill: 44 mm, Wing:  32 cm, Tarsus: 53 mm

Carl and Terry found not just one, but TWO of these rare birds at Griffith’s Priday State Park in Washington on their July 26 survey.

Foot is webbed (go to Q2), completely webbed (go to Q3), 3 webbed, 4th free (go to Q5), tarsus not more than 12mm across (go to Q6), nail only (go to Q7), flat heel (go to Q8), small foot – Tubenose: Petrels.

Wing chord greater than 20cm – True Petrels.

Alaska guide: select bill color “pale w/ dark tip – Pink-footed Shearwater, rare)

West Coast guide: select bill “thin and long,” tarus “flat” – review TN5, TN7, TN15.

Of these, only the Pink-footed Shearwater (TN15-16) has a pale bill with dark tip and white belly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bill: 37 mm, Wing:  18 cm, Tarsus: 32 mm

Charlotte found this bird at North Hartney Bay in Alaska on September 4.

Since the wing is well-profiled here, let’s use it.

Alaska Wing Key (page 44): Choose “w/ light or dark speculum and/or one or more white patches” (go to Q17), dark speculum (go to Q24), “green w/ buffy stripe above and white below” – bingo – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Key (page 33): Select “secondaries contrasting and dark” (go to Q18), “green w/ tan stripe above and white below” – Green-winged Teal.

West Coast Wing Table (page 32): We’re in the ”small” row. Pan across to “patch/speculum,” aka “like a patch but always found in the secondaries, often iridescent with lighter bordering stripes.” Two species: Pigeon Guillemot (PIGU – AL10-11), or Green-winged Teal (GWTE – WF7-8). The PIGU has a white upperwing patch, green in the upperwing? – Green-winged Teal.

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Hank and Linda found this very small piece of plastic on their trial survey of the marine debris protocol. Fragments like these can wash-up in great numbers but easily overlooked and difficult to remove from the environment.

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In July, Velella velella hit the shores big time, but for Stone Lagoon beach in California, a different story: Pacific Sand Crab (aka Pacific Mole Crab, or if you’re a bit more geeky, Emerita analoga). These burrowing crustaceans stick their rear into the beach and use their antennae to catch plankton and scrape it into their mouth.

Seen something like this on the beach you’ve always wondered about? Send us a photo!

What’s Washed In – August 22

Hope that all of you are enjoying sunny beach walks this month! It’s an exciting time at COASST.  Tomorrow, we are holding our first marine debris pilot training session in Ocean Shores, Washington, and last week we met up with COASSTers in Neah Bay, Washington for a refresher training on the beach. We’re also getting ready for upcoming trainings in California and Oregon next month. A big thank you to all of you for your hard work. If you have any datasheets or photos lying around, please send them our way! We can’t wait to see them.

Let’s take a look at what’s washed in recently:AtopAbottom

Katie found these wings on Peterson Bay in Alaska on July 5th. Wing:  64 cm

Can we get to the species with just two wings? Sure!

Alaska wing key (page 44): A smidgeon of the upperwing is visible in the top photo– select “dark, some species w/ white spots or edging.” Upperwing dark (go to Q5). Underwing linings not white (go to Q9). Wing chord more than 35cm (go to Q14). Q14 asks us to check individual primaries: look at the bottom photo – the last primary is super short – must be a Bald Eagle.

West Coast wing key (page 33): A smidgeon of the upperwing is visible in the top photo– select “primarily dark, some species w/ pale spots of thing stripes (go to Q2).” Upperwing simple dark (go to Q3). Underwing is dark (go to Q6). Check the wing for smudges – nope. But the “outermost primary IS more than a feather width shorter than the next – a Bald Eagle.

West Coast wing table (page 32): Too rare! This species, if included would fall into dark upperwimg, HUGE (wing chord >43cm).

BLani and Betty found this bird on August 4th at Harbor Mouth in Alaska.
Bill: 28 mm, Wing: 21 cm, Tarsus: 30 mm

Since the foot is hidden, let’s use the wing – it’s unique!

Alaska wing key (page 44): On Q1, select “gray, some species w/ dark tips and/or dark stripe(s) on mantle (go to Q25). Aha! “Broken dark diagonal stripe from wrist to elbow (go to Q26). No idea about the underwing, so we’re left with BLKI-i (LA14) and BOGU-I (LA18). Note the immature Black-legged Kittiwake has white secondaries and the immatyue Bonaparte’s Gull has dark secondaries – this must be an immature BLKI – a young chick, not yet fully grown.

West Coast wing key (page 33): Select “gray, some species w/ dark tips and/or dark stripe(s) on mantle, go to Q10.” Wing tips DO contrast (go to Q12). Aha! “mottled ‘stripe’ from elbow to wrist” – two species: BLKI-j (LA13) and CATE-j (LA19). The mottled “stripe” is definitely black, not brown – Black-legged Kittiwake!

West Coast wing table (page 32): Wing is 21cm, so we should consider Med (21-24cm), one row up Small (18-20cm) and one row down, Med-Lg (25-28cm). Upperwing is mostly gray, so scan across to the next page where “Gray Mantle” appears as a column header. Yikes! Nothing in any of these size classes. Let’s take it down one more row, where we find BLKI (LA13) and RLKI (LA23). Between the two, the Black-legged kittiwake is the one with the paler mantle, black wing tips and black diagonal wing stripe.

bottles

Is a bottle just a bottle and a cap just a cap? This photo taken by Kari on her August survey at Duk Point (WA) demonstrates the variety of shape, color, size, material and condition of what we might think of as “beverage bottles”. The variety matters: shapes are sometimes particular to country of origin and tell us how far and where a bottle may have come from.

bottlecap

Bottle caps that are in the red end of the color spectrum like this one, found by Janis and Judy on Ruby South Beach (WA) in April, are often confused for food by many seabird species.

 

 

Speaking of marine debris, thanks to Paul at Ocean Park South in Washington for helping us to identify the black piping featured in What’s Washed In on August 8.  These black tubes appear to be the remains of a net pen called a polar circle, which is used in salmon farming.

Sturgeon

Not a bird, but quite an interesting carcass! Candace found this sturgeon at Otter Point on May 28. White sturgeons, also known as Pacific sturgeons, are found along the West Coast. Sturgeon are anadromous fish, meaning they start their lives in freshwater and then migrate to saltwater. Sturgeon may return to freshwater to spawn multiple times over their life. They can live up to 100 years, and they are also the largest freshwater species in North America, growing up to 20 feet in length!

Lucky Duck #245

Over spring break, marine debris student intern, Abby, spent the day hunting for petroglyphs and marine debris on the three-mile stretch of beach from Cape Alava to Sand Point.

By far the most interesting find was a weathered blue plastic duck, found among some seaweed in the wrack, with a large sharpie-marked “#245” on the bottom of it. Abby guessed it might have been a part of some project, so she brought it back to the COASST office to investigate. 

Blue Duck Profile

Maybe #245 is its race number and this little guy made it a lot farther than the finish line.

Was #245 its race number and this guy made it a lot farther than the finish line?

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a local oceanographer whose work revolves around modeling ocean currents, popularized the use of marine debris as a type of tracking movement of water on the ocean surface. He got his start after a large shipment of 29,000 plastic “Friendly Floatees” bath toys were dumped into the Pacific Ocean in 1992 and for the next 15 years or so people were finding toys from this specific spill washing up on beaches all over the world.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck. You won't find this guy in the COASST field guide.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck, but you won’t find this guy in the COASST field guide!

Picking up on this idea, schools, cities, and various non-profit organizations have taken to releasing batches of rubber ducks into streams and oceans, and relying on helpful beachcombers to report where and when they’re found. While COASST won’t be releasing any ducks or wood blocks (the slightly more eco-friendly version), future marine debris participants will collect information on where and when an object was found, material size, markings and identity to provide insight into source and movement patterns for all debris.

As to the little blue duck? After some CSI sleuthing on Google we found a “vintage” duck of the same style for sale on Etsy. Heidi did mention the Annual Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby, a good and local contender, but recent releases feature classic, yellow ducks. Finally, a potential match – could it be from the San Clemente (CA) Ocean Festival, about 1,740 kilometers south of the spot Abby found it on the North Coast of Washington?

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What’s Washed In

Hope that you’re all enjoying Spring! We’ve had a lot of interesting photos in our inbox, including some iconic species. Here’s a look at what’s washed!

MalelN 2014 SUSC 778bCalifornia-to-Washington: Look at that bright red/orange foot! Front toes are webbed, hind toe is lobed: Waterfowl: Diving Ducks. All dark wing and no white plumage – Surf Scoter or Black Scoter. (In the Alaska Guide, without a head, we’ll turn to the Wing Key… see below) For the Black Scoter, the last primary is much shorter – not the case here – “normal” wing with the last primary longest – SUSC! (Found by Sara and Peter, Humboldt, California)

Alaska: Dark upperwing (trust us on this). Upperwing simply dark, and underwing linings not white. Wing chord is 24cm, and wing is “simply dark” no outercuts, innercuts, smudges, bright primaries or short outer primaries. NOW we can use the foot. Harlequin Duck, shearwaters, Northern Fulmar, Black Oystercatcher, Surf Scoter  – only one with a redish foot – SUSC!

Wa-atch 2014 0327b

All regions: Okay! This one is certainly recognizable, but let’s go through the steps to verify our answer: four free toes, 3 in front and 1 in back. No toes fused, and the tarsus is less than 150 mm. We definitely have claws here (= nails as long as toes = talons)! The bare tarsus tells us that this is a raptor (as opposed to an owl) – a Bald Eagle. (found by Paul and Sally, North Coast, Washington)

OcnPrkSth 2014 0409 DUNL 079 a

OcnPrkSth 2014 0409 DUNL 079 b
All regions: This is a great example of countershading (dark on back, light on tummy).  Looking closely at this tiny wing: white stripe along the mantle edge when the wing is outstretched and the innermost secondaries are predominantly white. With a wing chord of 12 cm, this is a Dunlin (rare in Alaska). The long (39 mm), droopy-tipped bill separate this DUNL from two other common shorebirds: Sanderling and Western Sandpiper. (found by Paul and Janet, South Coast, Washington)