Pacific Northwest
In this undated file photo provided by NOAA Fisheries, NOAA researchers pour a sample of sea water containing a brownish toxic algae into a jar aboard a research vessel off the Washington Coast.

Scientists See Improving Ocean Conditions Off West Coast

Ocean conditions are improving for salmon entering the ocean this year, several years after The Blob, an unusually warm water event that began forming in 2014, scientists announced Friday.

Research surveys in 2018 confirmed tiny animals that stoke the food chain were nice and fatty. Anchovies, an important forage fish, were increasing in number. Sea lion pups were numerous and growing well, and fish-eating sea birds going strong.

However, subsurface sea temperatures were still warmer than average in some areas. Pyrosomes, a warm-water animal that is not supposed to be in Northwest waters, were still numerous.

Forecasts for chinook salmon in 2019 also were for below-average salmon returns to the Columbia River. Extensive ocean acidification and poorly oxygenated waters off both Washington and Oregon also were predicted for this year.

"We are seeing several signs of recovery, but not all of them. We are not quite out of the woods yet," said Chris Harvey, research biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center of Seattle, in a conference call with reporters.

Conditions for salmon abundance in general, while improving, are still mixed, and the outlook guarded.

Salmon begin their life in freshwater but must fatten and grow at sea before returning to their natal streams. Conditions in the sea greatly affect how many salmon come back for fishermen and killer whales alike.

Lack of food is the single biggest threat to the survival of endangered southern resident killer whales that frequent Puget Sound.

Poor ocean conditions that depress salmon survival have added to the whales' troubles.

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