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The Northwest’s Salish Sea comes alive in new book

“The Salish Sea”

Audrey DeLella Benedict & Joseph K. Gaydos

Perhaps you remember the squabbles a few years ago over the effort to incorporate a new name, “the Salish Sea,” into the cartography of inland waters running from Olympia up to Campbell River, British Columbia. This was an international issue of identity – or lack thereof.

As Audrey DeLella Benedict and Joseph K. Gaydos suggest in their new book, “The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest,” the matter arose when environmentalists, concerned by the impact of oil tankers on the inland waters, found it hard to gain traction with their arguments – it was difficult to assert there could be a problem in a place that doesn’t even exist on a map.

A professor of environmental and marine science at Western Washington University, Bert Webber, proposed that the waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Strait of Georgia be given a single moniker to reflect the fact that, despite political boundaries, they are an integrated ecosystem.

In 2009, state, provincial, and national authorities worked together to approve the name, and since then the Salish Sea has come into popular usage as a term that has both environmental and geopolitical meaning, as well as poetic resonance.

In this offering from Sasquatch Books, Benedict and Gaydos attempt to describe this vast body of water, illustrating its biological magnificence and its vulnerability.

Adding to the worries about ocean-going oil tankers, there are new threats related to climate change, ocean acidification, habitat loss, busier-than-ever shipping lanes, underwater noise pollution and new types of potentially hazardous cargo.

The authors contrast photographs taken by Edward S. Curtis a century ago with recent satellite images provided by NASA to show the profound impact our population of eight million humans is having on this inland sea.

But the book focuses primarily on reasons we ought to continue to care about the stunning biodiversity of the Salish Sea, from microscopic, jewel-like plankton species, to fish, birds, marine invertebrates and marine mammals.

Gaydos is a wildlife veterinarian and chief scientist for the SeaDoc Society, a marine conservation program. Benedict is a biologist and conservation activist. Each has a base in the San Juan Islands and intimate acquaintance with the wildlife of the Salish Sea.

I confess I was surprised that they chose to refer to orcas as killer whales – I thought that term had pretty much been left behind in the last century. And there were a few missteps that one wouldn’t expect of locals – calling a salmon nest a “red,” instead of a redd, for example, and referring to Seattle’s Elliot (it should be Elliott) Bay. Of course, it’s possible these latter errors were induced by the tyrannies of an overzealous spell check system.

I’ve saved the best for last – the book’s inclusion of nearly 200 color images from more than four dozen photographers, including Art Wolfe and neurologist/underwater photographer Marc Chamberlain. These enhance and inform the text more eloquently than I can describe – they are stunning illustrations of the magical place we call home.

The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at bkmonger@nwlink.com

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