Marine Life of the Puget Sound
The Puget Sound
The Puget Sound, a waterway stretching over one hundred miles through Washington State, is host to a complex and vibrant ecosystem. While the residents of Seattle, Tacoma, and the Peninsula enjoy life on the water, countless organisms below struggle for survival in a deep, cold world.
Displaying every species found in the depths of the Sound would be impossible, but I have listed one or two notable members of the groups inhabiting the Sound.
Growing up to two hundred feet in length, bull kelp is the fastest growing seaweed species on Earth. Residents will be well familiar with these kelp washing up on shore in the Winter- resembling nothing so much as huge bullwhips. Bull Kelp colonies provide shelter for birds, otters, fish, and many other animals in the water, as well as prevent beach erosion.
A master of disguise, the crystal jellyfish is almost invisible under normal lighting conditions. They are not dangerous to humans and are common along the West Coast. They are capable of bioluminescence - emitting a flash of blue light.
Research on the crystal jellyfish led to scientists winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008.
Giant Plumose Anemone
A large, beautiful anemone which graces the shallows of the Sound. Generally, the varieties in Washington are white, although they can come in reds and browns. At full extension, it can reach over three feet long.
Giant Pacific Octopus
The largest of all octopi, the giant Pacific octopus is a magnificent specimen of marine life in the Pacific Ocean. The average weight of an adult is about thirty pounds, although there have been individuals recorded at one hundred and fifty. The octopus is capable of changing its skin color to blend with surroundings, and hunts fish, crabs, shrimp, and anything else that can fit into its mouth. The giant Pacific octopus lives only five years, at a maximum, and serves as an important source of food for larger predators. The octopus is generally found deep in the Sound, but young individuals can sometimes be found stranded in tidal pools.
Pronounced "gooey-duck," this odd specimen is actually a huge clam. It's 'neck' reaches an average of 3 feet in length, although six foot long individuals are on record, Originally, the geoduck was not prized as a food, but lately it has become regarded as a delicacy and aphrodisiac in Asia, leading to a booming industry in the Northwest. Geoduck farms are becoming more and more popular on Pacific Northwest beaches. But geoducks are more than just giant clams- they are also exceptionally long-lived. The oldest geoduck ever found was 168 years old, with most living about a century. Although you may never see one on the surface, beach goers must be wary, lest a geoduck give them a squirt from underground!
The largest starfish in the world, the sunflower starfish has up to 24 arms and can grow to be three feet in diameter. They come in many different colors, from pinks and purples to a bright red or orange. They live off of sea urchins and anything they can catch, being fast hunters and nearly impossible to escape once they latch on to something, If the prey is bigger than a sunflower starfish's stomach, it will simply extend the stomach beyond its mouth to make room.
A mainstay of the Washington State fishing industry, salmon participate in an annual migration from the Pacific to lay their eggs and die. The baby fish, or fry, live in streams and lakes for years before making the journey to the ocean. Salmon are highly sought-after seafood, and because of this have been over-fished. Species such as the Sockeye are now considered endangered and special care must be taken when building bridges or dams in their migratory paths.
Double Crested Cormorants
A common sight to ferry passengers, the cormorant hunts by diving almost ten feet underwater to capture prey. The cormorant is known for standing in a strange pose, wings outstretched. This is actually to dry their feathers, which are not waterproof.
Delicious and plentiful, Dungeness crabs are another big part of the fishing industry. Named after a Washington State port, they grow largest in the waters of Puget Sound and the Washington Coast, growing about two inches smaller elsewhere. These crabs bury themselves in the sand when threatened, only resorting to its claws when cornered.They are hardy survivors and a good example of sustainable seafood.
Most often seen on buoys, barking at random passerby, harbor seals are a staple of the Sound. The spots on a harbor seal are like fingerprints, being unique to each individual. Although they may look cute, its best to leave these sea puppies alone; they can be quite aggressive and are a formidable match for an adult human.
The orca, or killer whale, is the unofficial mascot of the Puget Sound. Feeding off of seals and other large prey, orcas travel in highly stable family groups known as pods, hunting together in a pack. Orcas can be found in every ocean around the world, but prefer colder climes. Different vocalizations and hunting techniques are seen in different populations, passed down through the family lines. The whales can live to be almost a hundred years old, meaning many generations travel together at once. They are highly intelligent animals and hunt in premeditated, complex patterns. Because of their community structures, orcas are thought to be prime examples of different cultures in an animal species.
Orcas play a significant role in Native American myths in the Pacific Northwest, featuring in stories, religion, and artwork. Their reputation for viciousness is unfounded, as there has never been an orca-caused death in the wild. They are the most socially complex creatures in the ocean, giving cause for concern about keeping them in captivity. The recent rash of orcas slaying their handlers at amusement parks is a good example of this. Removed from their families and driven out of their minds by boredom, it's no surprise that they turn vicious.
These are only a few of the many, many organisms found in Washington's Puget Sound. The region is well worth a visit for nature lovers, as the only continental rainforest in the USA is also just a few hours' drive away. Orca Viewing and Salmon Fishing Tours are available, as well as plenty of county, state, and national parks to visit. Life is teeming in the Puget Sound, just waiting for you to discover it!