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PBI Expands Acoustic Monitoring for Harbor Porpoises

burrows pass

Additional "ears in the water" are helping document what may be a growing presence of harbor porpoises in local Salish Sea waters.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) has joined the Harbor Porpoise Monitoring Network, established by PBI. The Network recently deployed an underwater acoustic monitoring device to record the presence of harbor porpoises in the waters near the Science Center in Port Townsend, on Washington's Olympic Peninsula.

With boat assistance from the Port Townsend Salish Rescue Group, Dr. Cindy Elliser, a PBI marine biologist, installed the device—called a C-POD—which records harbor porpoise echolocation night and day, year-round. The porpoises' sonar signals—inaudible to the human ear—are essential to marine mammals for navigation and foraging.

"Pacific Biodiversity Institute is thrilled to have such a prestigious new member in our Harbor Porpoise Monitoring Network," says Aileen Jeffries, PBI Harbor Porpoise Project director. "PTMSC is a leading marine science education center and will contribute significantly to this project." Dr. Gary Nelson, a PBI acoustic advisor, was instrumental in developing the partnership between PTMSC and PBI.

“This project will provide valuable information about an important sentinel species in the Salish Sea,” notes Jean Walat, PTMSC program director. “We hope to get funding to set up a human component, where volunteers will document sightings of harbor porpoises from the bluffs at Fort Worden, as observers are doing in Anacortes. Doing so allows us to correlate the C-POD’s recorded sounds with the number and behavior of porpoises that volunteers observe.”

harbor porpoise

Since 2011, Pacific Biodiversity Institute has been using both acoustic monitoring and citizen scientist observers in Burrows Pass, between Fidalgo and Burrows Island near Anacortes, to monitor harbor porpoise activity. PBI recently deployed an additional C-POD in Rosario Strait off Cypress Island. Now, three locations are covered by the C-PODs and continuously monitored. Further expansion of the PBI Harbor Porpoise Monitoring Network is planned for the near future.

Because of the harbor porpoise's reclusive nature, little is known about this small, shy marine mammal—found around the world, including the Salish Sea. Unlike its more gregarious and visible porpoise and dolphin relatives, the harbor porpoise avoids interaction; it does not ride the waves at the bow of boats.

Abundant in local waters into the 1950s, the harbor porpoise had almost disappeared by the 1990s. Now, it may be making a recovery. Anecdotal reports indicate it has been seen as far south as the Nisqually reach and beyond.

The goal of the PBI Harbor Porpoise Project is to understand the population dynamics, behavior, and ecology of the harbor porpoise—and, by extension, its relation to the health of regional waters.

"Because our resident harbor porpoises don't migrate beyond the Salish Sea, they can provide valuable information on the health of our local waters," says Chrissy McLean, PTMSC Marine Program coordinator. "This project helps us answer that baseline question we need to know before we can do other studies—'Just how many porpoises are here?'"

A change in the porpoise population is important information, according to the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP), the agency leading Puget Sound cleanup and recovery efforts. PSP is considering this marine mammal as an indicator of the health of its ecosystem. If the porpoise population is shown to be recovering, it could indicate the Sound is getting cleaner.

The study now has four years of visual data and three years of acoustic recordings. The recent additions of recording locations at Port Townsend and Cypress Island expand efforts to quantify population trends and ocean health in the greater Puget Sound and Salish Sea ecosystem.

The PBI Conservation Science
Intern Program

gisella peralta debbie lewis
We are pleased to welcome Gisella Peralta as a
2014 intern, working in Argentina.
Thanks to Debbie Lewis, 2013 intern, for her great work on the Western Gray Squirrel Project.

We welcome Gisella Peralta, a young biologist in Cordoba, Argentina as our first conservation science intern in 2014. Gisella has been involved with PBI’s biodiversity research as a volunteer for the last 6 months and now has started a more in-depth program of training and involvement in PBI’s South America project. We are excited that our internship program has expanded to another continent and look forward to working with Gisella.

We are also about to select two or three interns to receive advanced training and work experience in conservation science here in Washington State. We are incredibly fortunate to have some stellar young scientists to choose from. All we need is a little help from you to make it possible to give these talented young people the training and opportunity to start a career that makes a long-term impact in nature conservation. PBI’s internship program provides a meaningful and rich internship experience for young conservation scientists, providing them with the skills and real-life training to do meaningful conservation work and to advance scientific knowledge related to biodiversity. The long-term impact of this program has been demonstrated by the numerous PBI intern alumni who are now working throughout the world in advanced professional capacities to help protect nature, biodiversity and enhance human communities.

We started our conservation science internship program in 1998 and have hosted over 50 interns from the USA, Canada, Europe, Latin America and Asia in the last 16 years. We need your help in continuing this great program! You can donate online by clicking here, or by sending a donation to Pacific Biodiversity Institute, PO Box 298, Winthrop, WA, 98862. You can also learn more about the internship program on our website. If you know someone that is looking for a great opportunity to hone their skills and learn more about conservation science while doing important conservation work, please let them know about this program.

Photos: Courtesy of Craig Olson; Steven Gnam; Aileen Jeffries, Peter Morrison, Sarah Knudsen: Pacific Biodiversity Institute.

Pacific Biodiversity Institute

Blazing the trail for conservation in the 21st century
PO Box 298, Winthrop, WA 98862


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Pacific Biodiversity Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
PBI works throughout North and South America, with a home-base in Washington's Methow Valley.

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Pacific Biodiversity Institute

a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization

April 2014

craig olson

Thanks to Dr. Craig Olson for
Service on PBI Board

PBI board member Craig Olson is off on an adventure of a lifetime. He will be spending the next two years in Mexico with the Peace Corps. He is helping with forest and fire management in the Mexico program which focuses on climate change and biodiversity. He has already been spotted with his binoculars out, observing the great bird diversity of Mexico.

Craig’s good spirits and knowledge will be missed on the PBI board. Besides nurturing western gray squirrels he was an inspiration to the data analysis for the harbor porpoise project. Craig served in many capacities: he served on our budget and finance committee, our planning committee and our nominating committee. He freely shared his expertise in forest measurement, statistics and biometrics to our research projects. He supplied us with his excellent photographs and wildlife sightings as well as serving as PBI vice president for several years. And his great philanthropic generosity continues to support PBI’s programs. Thank you, Craig!

We look forward to hearing more about Craig’s adventures and contributions while in the Peace Corps and look forward to his return in about 2 years.

western gray squirrel

WDFW asks for input on
status of Western Gray Squirrels

Please comment on the listing decision that Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife is now undertaking related to the western gray squirrel. Here is a link to an article in the Methow Valley News that discusses PBI's research work with the squirrel, ponderosa pine forests and the listing decision.

Written information may be submitted through March 28, 2015 at WDFW's website, via email to or by mail to: Penny Becker, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

OCCF logo

Grant from Orange County Community Foundation

PBI is pleased to announce the generous support of the Orange County Community Foundation. This recent funding will allow us to purchase camera equipment for our photo identification work with harbor porpoises and expand this successful program element.


Skagit Beach Watchers
Training Event

The Harbor Porpoise Project leadership team of Aileen Jeffries and Dr. Cindy Elliser will present at a Skagit Beach Watchers training event on Wednesday, May 7, at 1:30pm in the Padilla Bay Lecture Room - 10441 Bayview-Edison Rd., Mount Vernon, WA. Questions? Contact Catherine Buchalski, Beach Watcher Coordinator -

A Special Thanks to PBI's
Major Funders

Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation
Charlotte Martin Foundation
The Orange County Community Foundation
The Mountaineers Foundation
The Center for Biological Diversity
WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife
The Craig and Jean Olson Fund

We would also like to thank all of our generous individual donors!