Herring spawn is an exciting time for sea birds and other critters of the near shore ecosystem in the Salish Sea. I was tipped off by one of our local birders that there was a herring spawn going on with a great deal of ado involving thousands of birds. So, off I went. Although the sighting was in our county, I had to drive north through British Columbia and then back south into US territory to see this spectacle. But it was worth it.
The Daily Bucket is a regular feature of the Backyard Science group. It is a place to note any observations you have made of the world around you. Insects, weather, meteorites, climate, water, birds and/or flowers. All are worthy additions to the bucket. Please let us know what is going on around you in a comment. Include, as close as is comfortable for you, where you are located. Each note is a record that we can refer to in the future as we try to understand the patterns that are quietly unwinding around us.
The trip started in Bellingham WA. I went up Interstate -5 into Canada where it becomes BC 99. Then drove up to Delta BC, just south of Vancouver, and then south to Point Roberts, the little piece of the US cut off by the 49th Parallel.
Point Roberts is a little jut of US land nestled on the edge of the Georgia Strait, part of the Salish Sea. Across to the West and South are the Gulf Islands, Canada’s extension of our San Juan Island group with Vancouver Island further to the west.
Cherry Point Herring Stock
This particular Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasii) stock is one of 21 localized stocks in Puget Sound but this one is genetically diverse from the other twenty. Until the 1970s, this stock was the most prolific herring fishery in Puget Sound. This one might be the proverbial canary in the coal mine.
Since 1973 when the State started counting this stock, it took a precipitous 92% collapse while most others remained relatively stable. There are several theories about what happened or is happening to this stock, but at this point nothing is conclusive. The usual suspects loom large such as the fact that there is a large coal shipping port within a couple of miles, that there are two oil refineries in part of the specific herring spawning grounds, and an aluminum smelting plant. These industries, along with increasingly heavy ship cargo and container ship traffic just off shore are suspected as contributing the the collapse.
I don’t yet know yet whether this particular spawn is large or is part of the dwindling stock. But, in any event, I do know that there are millions of herring eggs floating out in the eel grass, red algae, and anything else that it can cling to.
What the whole thing was about is shown here. The pebbly shoreline was littered with rafts of red algae that had broken free and washed ashore with the tide, each matted with hundreds/thousands of tapioca-like herring eggs attached. Imagine what is still out in the water.
This couple of week spawn sets up a feeding frenzy for all sorts of critters. They come not only for the eggs, but for the herring that lay them such as the sea lion that was cruising by. I only saw the one, but others said that there were four around.
Then the birds of all stripes and species. I was able to ID about 20, many of which are illustrated below. Other birders with scopes reported ID-ing as many as 30 shore and surf bird species.
All three of our scoter species were there for the party:
|“Spotlight on green news & Views” will be posted every Saturday at 5:00 pm pacific time and every wednesday at 3:30 pacific time on the daily kos front page. be sure to recommend and comment int eh diary.
What is hatching in your area this spring? Let us know. We know trees are spawning - too bad for allergy sufferers. And we know frogs are hatching. There must be more.