Coloring the History of Gig Harbor

Learn about the threatened and endangered species from the Salish Sea featured on the Harbor WildWatch page of Gig Harbor’s newest coloring book. 

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq.) is the primary law in the United States for protecting and conserving imperiled species. Designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation”, the ESA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. 

The purposes of the ESA are two-fold: to prevent extinction and to recover species to the point where the law’s protections are not needed. Two federal agencies are tasked with administering this act – the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

IUCN Red List of Threatened & Endangered Species 

Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species.

Killer or Orca Whale
Orcinus orca

The killer whale, also known as orca, is the ocean’s top predator. It is the largest member of the Delphinidae family, or dolphins. Members of this family include all dolphin species. Found in every ocean in the world, they are the most widely distributed  and recognizable of all cetaceans (whales and dolphins).

Globally, killer whales occur in a wide range of habitats, in both open seas and coastal waters. Taken as a whole, the species has the most varied diet of all cetaceans, but different populations are usually specialized in their foraging behavior and diet. They often use a coordinated hunting strategy, working as a team like a pack of wolves.

Southern Resident killer whales are the only endangered population of killer whales in the United States, ranging from central California to southeast Alaska. Long-term commitments across state and international borders are needed to stabilize the Southern Resident population and prevent their extinction. The Southern Resident killer whale is one of NOAA Fisheries’ Species in the Spotlight. This initiative includes animals considered most at risk for extinction and prioritizes recovery efforts. 

Bocaccio Rockfish
Sebastes paucispinis

Bocaccio are large Pacific coast rockfish that are moderately slow-growing, late to mature, and long-lived (50 years). They range from Punta Blanca, Baja California, to the Gulf of Alaska off Krozoff and the Kodiak Islands, but are most common between Oregon and northern Baja California.

Bocaccio were once part of a vibrant recreational and commercial groundfish fishery in Puget Sound. Unfortunately, rockfish are vulnerable to overfishing because many species do not begin to reproduce until they are 5 to 20 years old, and very few of their young survive to adulthood. These traits make them susceptible to overfishing and habitat degradation – causing Washington State to close many commercial fisheries that caught rockfish incidentally, and completely eliminate direct commercial harvest in Puget Sound. Recreationally, targeting or retaining any species of rockfish in Puget Sound waters east of the Port Angeles area is not allowed. 

Because all rockfish species are an important part of the food web, actions to support rockfish recovery would benefit the Puget Sound ecosystem. For instance, larval rockfish are a food source for juvenile salmon and other marine fish and seabirds. These factors caused the NMFS to list the distinct population segment of bocaccio in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin as endangered under the Endangered Species Act

Sunflower Star
Pycnopodia helianthoides

The sunflower sea star occurs throughout intertidal and subtidal coastal waters of the Northeast Pacific Ocean from the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, to at least northern Baja California, Mexico. They are found to a depth of at least 435 meters on various substrate types, from rocky kelp forests to sand and mud flats. Like other stars, Sunflower stars are broadcast spawners that require close proximity to mates for successful fertilization.

There is no single, systematically collected data set that provides population size or long-term trend data for sunflower sea stars throughout their range. However, from 2013-17, an outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome contributed to precipitous population declines in several areas, with impacts largely progressing sequentially from south to north. Disease, specifically sea star wasting syndrome, is the primary threat to the species. The influence of environmental stressors, including those associated with anthropogenic climate change, on disease risk are unresolved and are a major research focus.

This species is currently listed as “critically endangered” under the IUCN Red List and proposed as being listed as “threatened” on the ESA.