Four Aquarium staff members and one volunteer recently traveled to Neah Bay on Washington’s coast to survey rockfish populations. We visit the same sites each year, where divers swim a 50-meter transect line in both directions, counting and catching on video each rockfish that crosses their path. Why swim a transect? It’s a proven method for studying the abundance of sessile species like rockfish. A rockfish may spend its whole life on one single pile of rocks. Why study rockfish? We’ve exhibited them since the Aquarium opened, they are commercially important, and 32 species of rockfish live in Washington waters. Thirteen are listed as species of concern. Seattle Aquarium Curator of Conservation Research Shawn Larson, shared these photos from the trip and answered our questions.
Q: How long have we been studying rockfish at Neah Bay and what trends have we found?
A: Eleven years. Adult rockfish have been stable over time; young-of-the-year rockfish (this year’s babies) have been variable and we have been able to document significant recruitment events in 2006, 2012 and 2013. Overall fish abundance has been slightly increasing over the years.
Q: Did you have any expectations before you started this research about what you would find?
A: We didn’t have any expectations. Our goal was to document a baseline and any significant changes, and we achieved it.
Q: You visit the same site every year. Is each trip quite similar or do some stand out?
A: We do visit the same sites annually, but each trip is different based on the people, the water conditions, the dives and the animals that we see. This year the water conditions were great (good visibility and minimal current), we saw lots of cool animals (whales, sea otters, porpoises, octopuses, rockfish, wolf eels and a halibut!), and the divers were amazing.
Interested in learning more about rockfish? Read our fact sheet!