I’m in Love with a Spiny Lumpsucker

Sandi Friel - Orcas Island Real Estate brokerBy Sandi Friel

And no, that’s not my latest nickname for my husband! I’m smitten with a tiny fish that looks like a living Christmas ornament. This bobble-eyed bottom-dweller is called the Spiny Lumpsucker and it gets my vote for the cutest among the thousands of fascinating critters that call our Salish Sea home.

It’s easy to forget while enjoying our beautiful islands that the majority of San Juan County is below sea level, along with the vast majority of its inhabitants. Here are some of our more colorful and unusual neighbors. Click on any photo to enlarge and start a slideshow:

The underwater world here is so varied because a rich stew of nutrients from both mainland rivers and Pacific ocean waters is stirred and dispersed by strong tidal currents to feed the Salish Sea’s plankton, which in turn supports an incredible diversity of marine life from shrimp to humpback whales.

My husband, a long-time diver with a background in marine science, frequently surveys the area sea-life with researchers from the SeaDoc Society. SeaDoc does serious science to monitor the health of the Salish Sea. Most recently they’ve been examining a die-off of starfish caused, they suspect, by a combination of factors, including a naturally occurring virus.

The Salish Sea includes Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and Juan de Fuca Strait, and it washes along the shores of Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma and Bellingham as well as the San Juan and Gulf Islands. That’s a lot of people, and one thing we all need to be conscious about – both out here in the islands and along the mainland coast – is controlling stormwater runoff, which is the leading cause of pollution in Puget Sound.

We can all do our part, from picking up pet waste, fixing oil leaks, repairing failing septic systems, curtailing use of fertilizers, keeping culverts clear, and using Low Impact Development (LID) techniques such as rain gardens when developing new homesites. San Juan County Public Works even has a new website where you can identify any stormwater issues you notice along the roadside.

Stormwater management is not a sexy topic, but understanding the downstream impact to our undersea neighbors helps us to act. Just remember the Spiny Lumpsuckers out there, Orca whales or whatever critter melts your heart. They’re depending on us to keep our shared ecosystem intact.

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