Healing Migrations Along a Healing Elwha Nearshore
A local landowner let us know that there was a group of brown pelicans feeding on smelt along the Elwha nearshore a week ago. We managed to catch them briefly a few days later as they rested in the Elwha lower river. The next day they were all but gone, continuing their fall migration.
This was the first time many long term researchers have ever seen pelicans along the Elwha River and nearshore. We know that juvenile smelt (as well as herring and sand lance) are filling the shoreline now in numbers that increase year over year. This novel appearance of pelicans in the Elwha is the latest indicator of the healing, growing abundance of the Elwha ecosystem.
CWI senior fellow and sea bird expert Jan Roletto shared the following bits: “Most of the pelicans in these pictures look to be 1 & 2 year olds, meaning it was a good year (productivity) for brown pelicans. At one time hunting and the insecticide DDT (which caused their egg shells to be so fragile they shattered) drove pelican numbers so low they were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA). Through this federal protection—and the elimination of the use of DDT—pelicans have slowly rebounded and have subsequently been ‘delisted’/removed from ESA listing. They are now again thriving and found along the west coast of North America. Bathing in freshwater can be essential to the health of many seabirds and coastal birds.”
“Brown pelican are in their fall migration now (editor’s note: who knew they migrated?!?). Brown pelican usually migrate, and commensally feed, with elegant terns and Heermann’s gulls.” We believe we saw these species along with the pelicans but didn’t manage to get photos. Maybe others did?
After a challenging week of heavy lifting with our collaborators we breath a grateful sigh for the everyday heroes that make ecosystem restoration actions actually happen—including (a decade after) dam removals and the ESA.
Here’s to fall.
Additionally, you can check out the links below about another momentous event on the Elwha:
- Tribe catches coho salmon on free-flowing Elwha River, a first since dam removals. This is literally the day they have been waiting for over a decade for—it is the beginning of the new heartbeat for the Elwha River and Tribe.
- Some photos from the wonderful Elwha fish ceremony on October 11, 2023.
Dr. Shaffer is the Executive Director and Lead Scientist of the Coastal Watershed Institute (CWI), a small, place-based environmental non-profit formed in 1996 that is dedicated to understanding, protecting, and restoring coastal ecosystems thru community-led scientific partnerships. Shaffer and her team conduct world-class ecosystem science and restoration with very modest resources and from a remote base of operations.
Dr. Shaffer and the talented team she leads at CWI are now informing dam removals planning and actions worldwide. Dr. Shaffer has authored over twenty scientific publications on nearshore ecology and dam removal science and regularly presents her scientific work internationally. Her work is featured in Hakai Magazine, National Geographic, New Yorker Magazine, Al Jazeera, PBS (Earth works), and National Public Radio. Dr. Shaffer and her team have received conservation science awards from the Seattle Aquarium, American Fisheries Society, and Society of Ecological Restoration for work on coastal ecosystem science, conservation, and restoration, including the Elwha.
Dr. Shaffer was born and raised in a large family and a small town of eastern Washington struggling to overcome the ravages of WWII. The solitude of wild intact remote coastal shorelines of northwest Washington provided rare moments of peace and healing and instilled a fierce dedication to conserving and restoring wild places. After their first round of graduate school Shaffer and her husband Dave Parks moved to the Olympic Peninsula where they raised two children. Dr. Shaffer then returned to school and earned a PhD in Marine Science from the University of Victoria in 2017. She and her family continue to thrive in their dedication to fight for what matters. Their future focus is to instill a passion in the next generation to do the same.
More information on Dr. Shaffer and her work with the Coastal Watershed Institute can be found at www.coastalwatershedinstitute.org.