This photo, taken last fall, is an indicator of things to come, according to scientists. The warm blob of water off the coast has conspired with low precipitation to amplify problems in Puget Sound. The result: more jellyfish. 
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This photo, taken last fall, is an indicator of things to come, according to scientists. The warm blob of water off the coast has conspired with low precipitation to amplify problems in Puget Sound. The result: more jellyfish.
Credit: Courtesy of Eyes Over Puget Sound, Washington Department of Ecology

Puget Sound Salmon Losing, Jellyfish Winning

Puget Sound is going through a lot of changes. And a trend we reported on earlier this year has accelerated: Salmon are losing while jellyfish are winning.

TRANSCRIPT:

When Lewis and Clark were exploring the Pacific Northwest, they talked about salmon running so thick you could cross the river on their backs. You don’t see salmon like that around Puget Sound anymore.

What you do see are jellyfish.

Krembs: "We were circling in our float plane. And we saw a lot of big patches but there was one patch that was really dense. And so we decided to land on it."

That’s how Christopher Krembs found himself standing on the pontoon of his float plane north of Olympia in the middle of a seething mass of mating jellyfish.

Krembs: "I thought, 'Wow, how would that be if I just walked over it?' And I thought, 'No, maybe not.'"

That was last fall.

This year, jellyfish are on track to break all known records. In June, one sampling found them 24 times more abundant than usual.

University of Washington scientist Jan Newton said the problem is in the water.

Newton: "What we’re facing right now are some extreme conditions in Puget Sound. No matter whose data you’re looking at."

Newton said parts of Puget Sound are too acidic, too salty and too warm. And there’s not enough oxygen.

Jellyfish are eating up many of the tiny creatures that fed the small fish that salmon eat. So salmon are starving.

One scientist suggested we might want to eat more jellyfish. He says it tastes a little like tofu. But Krembs said we should hold off turning jellyfish into an entree.

Krembs: "Here’s the funny thing. They have no brain. But yet, they have stuck around for so long evolutionarily speaking. And so, I think they have something up their slimy sleeve that we don’t know."

What scientists do know is that jellyfish tend to show up in stressed environments. Scientists want to study them more to understand their place in the ecosystem.