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Field Notes

Covering the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest

August 19, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Honoring first salmon caught below Elwha dam – for the last time

With song and ceremony, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe this week honored the first chinook salmon caught below Elwha Dam this year by tribal fishermen. Just five chinook salmon in all, this small catch nonetheless had big symbolism: it’s the tribe’s last chinook harvest before two dams on the Elwha start coming down next month in the largest dam removal project ever, anywhere.

Last year saw a record low run of chinook return to the Elwha River. The five chinook caught and honored in the First Salmon ceremony Monday are from a remnant of the once mighty run of kings on this river, the largest fish of their kind in Puget Sound.

The fish will be cut into pieces and gifted to the tribe’s approximately 70 elders said Lower Elwha Kallam tribal member Rachel Hagaman, who helped lead the ceremony by banks of the Elwha.

As a thick marine fog ghosted over the river, Hagaman and her sister Lola Moses wove a raft of cedar bows atop a folding table set up on the banks.

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Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member Rachel Hagaman, right, helped bring the first salmon ceremony back to Lower Elwha after it had not been practiced for many years. Hagaman, right, and her sister Lola Moses wove rafts of cedar boughs to float the carcasses of chinook salmon, ceremonially returning them to the Elwha, and, as their teachings instruct, to the Salmon People, dwelling in houses under the sea.

Steve Ringman, photo

Ahousaht First Nation member Pat John and Lower Elwha Klallam tribal member Mark “Hammer” Charles raised their voices in a song to honor the first chinook caught this year. The tribe will forgo all fishing in the river for five years once the dams come down, so its next chinook will be harvested from an open river, for the first time in more than 100 years.

The song twined with the mist as Hagaman and Moses worked, preparing a ceremonial platform for the carcasses of the fish. Joining in was four year old Roger Tinoco Wheeler, Charles’ grand nephew. Charles has been teaching him traditional songs since he was born.

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Aniak has been feasting on lots of clams. Here she is having a snack and a swim at the aquarium Monday. Video by Pam Lamon, courtesy, Seattle Aquarium.

Based on normal gestation rates, Aniak is right in the middle as far as her expected delivery date, with delivery typically between 200 and 250 days after implantation of the embryo. Aniak is estimated to be at about 220 days, which puts her right in the comfort zone of normal.

Captive births of northern sea otters are rare and special, so the level excitement around her imminent delivery is high. “All her hormone levels point to this week,” Larson said.

“We must get asked 20, 30 times a day: Well? Well? It’s getting crazy,” Casson said.


Aniak reposes with her paws above an expectant tummy. Photo by C.J. Casson, courtesy, Seattle Aquarium



August 16, 2011 at 7:30 AM

The bone game: a teaching from the animal people

One of the oldest forms of gambling practiced by Indian people is the bone game, and Thursday the public can give it a try at Tulalip.

Also called stick game, hand game or slahal, the bone game predates recorded history and is a traditional form of trade and social networking. It’s also a gift, the tribes believe, of the animal people.

Oral tradition teaches that people originally learned bone game from the animals. Rather then watch people shed blood in disputes over hunting and fishing territory, the animals gave the people this game, to bring tribal members together.

And does it ever.

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Songs are used to distract the other side during a round of bone game. Ancient, beautiful to listen to, the songs are just part of the game tradition that dates back to before recorded history, and is, tribes believe, a gift of the animals. This photo was taken at a tournament at Tulalip last year

Mark Harrison photo



August 15, 2011 at 10:30 AM

Side channels: the fish spas of the Elwha River

Unnamed and, to most visitors, unknown, the side channels of the Elwha River are a special realm: secluded, quiet, sheltered, they are the river’s spa, where fish go to rest, hide and feed.

Clear, groundwater-fed side channels like these on the Elwha River can be ten degrees warmer than the main stem, giving young fish a tranquil, warm, sheltered environment where they can get bigger and faster, boosting their chances for survival.

Not only are side channels productive, nurturing places for fish, they are a haven for other wildlife. On a recent reporting trip to a side channel in the middle river, I encountered a vision of Eden in mid-summer.

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This side channel was entrancing: quiet, but for the sound of birds, and with water so clear it was like a lens

Lynda Mapes video



August 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Abalone sex: Sometimes it’s best to go with the flow

There’s a lot you can learn about human reproduction by spending a little time with shellfish.

Just ask Jeffrey Riffell, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Washington.

Scientists have long known that many species release chemicals to draw sperm to an egg during reproduction. Sponges do it. So do plants. So do humans. And so do shellfish. But much about these chemical attractants is unknown.

Riffell and a colleague took a novel approach to learn more. They studied the chemical cues released by a troubled type of shellfish — the abalone. By choosing to focus on these mollusks they could advance our understanding of human biology — and perhaps find ways to help save some marine creatures.

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The colorful shell of a red abalone. Photo by Ignacio Vilchis



August 10, 2011 at 7:00 AM

Seattle branches out, gives free trees for yards and streets

By staff researcher David Turim

It’s no surprise that there’s not much old growth forest left in Seattle anymore. According to the city’s website, Schmitz Preserve is the only park that still contains trees at least 200 years old.

Local writer and plant expert Arthur Lee Jacobson wrote, “The first settlers arrived in the 1850s and lost no time in beginning their logging operations. Over the hills they roved, everywhere faced with a seemingly unlimited supply of tall timber growing in dense wilderness.” Until they found out, a few years later, that that ancient trees aren’t so easily replaced after all, and the difference between “seemingly unlimited” and “unlimited” is like the difference between a parking lot and a verdant forest.

Here is one of his favorite street trees in Seattle:


This Sierra redwood is at 17th Avenue East and East Prospect Street and leans like the Tower of Pisa. It is massive: 103 feet high and more than 20 feet around.



August 5, 2011 at 10:25 AM

It’s fruit fly season, but how do you get rid of them?

From Times staff researcher David Turim What’s wrong with this picture? Anyone living in Seattle wouldn’t dare do this right now: Leave a nice bowl of succulent, juicy blackberries, or a box of raspberries on the counter uncovered. And you wouldn’t even think about leaving the lid off the counter-top compost bucket. Now is the season…



August 3, 2011 at 2:30 PM

Born to be wild: Rehabbed and wild seal pups behave differently

Researchers who tagged 20 seal pups have discovered that wild seal pups captured, tagged and released behave very differently from seal pups tagged and released from a rehab facility.

“We were blown away,” said Joe Gaydos of the SeaDoc Society, a non-profit research and conservation society based on Orcas Island. “It was pretty dramatic, we were amazed to see that those guys don’t behave like wild seals.”


Seal pups tagged and released from a rehab facility high tail it into the water in the San Juans. The pups are wearing transmitters that enabled scientists to track their movements. Steve Ringman, photo



August 1, 2011 at 3:45 PM

Big predators: Key to the ecosystem

Turns out large predators have large impacts — so big that the decline of so-called apex predators, ranging from wolves to lions, sharks and sea otters, may represent some of the most powerful impacts humans have ever had on Earth’s ecosystems, a group of 24 researchers concluded in a recent report in the journal Science.

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Top predators, such as wolves, have wide influence, scientists have learned. And that’s true in marine as well as terrestrial ecosystems, from the mountains to the sea, from the tropics the arctic. Everything’s connected.

Photo: Courtesy Yellowstone National Park