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Births in Spring Street Aquarium could be sign of cleaner water

Live birth is taking place in the Spring Street Aquarium. Live-bearing surf perch are producing babies. Bob Freeauf, port maintenance, took this photo of a birth taking place. - Bob Freeauf / Port of Friday Harbor
Live birth is taking place in the Spring Street Aquarium. Live-bearing surf perch are producing babies. Bob Freeauf, port maintenance, took this photo of a birth taking place.
— image credit: Bob Freeauf / Port of Friday Harbor

Dr. Mike Kaill, manager of the Spring Street Aquarium, reports live birth is taking place in the aquarium.

"Live-bearing surf perch are producing babies," Kaill reported by e-mail.

Bob Freeauf of the Port of Friday Harbor took a picture of a perch giving birth Tuesday. Kaill said about three females are pregnant.

The live birth could be a positive sign. For more than a year, Kaill — a retired research supervisor for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game — and the Town of Friday Harbor have been working to identify the sources of detergents detected in sediment in the aquarium; water for the aquarium comes from the harbor. In 2008, several filter feeders in the aquarium, including some older anemonies, died.

In response, the Town of Friday Harbor purchased a catchment system for town and non-profit use. The system fits into standard-size storm drain openings and catches detergents and other runoff and pumps them through a hose to a nearby sanitary sewer for conventional wastewater treatment.

The catchment system is being used regularly by the town Fire Department and is available for use by non-profits hosting fund-raising car washes.

In addition, the town traced some detergents to an incorrectly plumbed sink on Spring Street.

"We can safely say it's better, but we're not out of the woods yet," Kaill said of the aquarium's health. "We're still testing the stormwater outfall and taking silt samples, and it still has surfactant."

Last year, Kaill measured detergent levels at one storm drain at well above the legal limit of .5 parts per million (ppm), with one drain near B Street and Nichols Street at over 3.0 ppm. A reading of 1.5 ppm is toxic to trout.

Kaill is skeptical that the perch births would be taking place without improvement in water quality.

"I doubt it. But there's no way of testing that. Fish are not so much affected, because the soap settles to the bottom. The things that got hurt are animals that live on or near the bottom."

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