It has been surprising to me how quickly the new term “Salish Sea” has come into usage to describe the inland waterways that comprise the areas we still call Puget Sound, the Georgia Strait, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Salish Sea comprises the inland waters around Puget Sound, the Georgia Strait, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The Salish Sea comprises the inland waters around Puget Sound, the Georgia Strait, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Even the name of this blog suggests that the environment of our region of the world is more than simply the lands and waters on one side of a map line or another.  The term “Cascadia” implies that the area around Washington and Oregon, as well as those in lower British Columbia, share many common needs.  Despite the international boundary, the whole region has a similar climate, similar ecology, and similar needs.  In the same manner, the term “Salish Sea” recognizes that an issue in Puget Sound is quite often also an issue that affects the entire region.  Thus, it makes sense to give a name to the total of the inland sea in our region.

While the existing names for these waters will continue to be used as they always have, more and more people in the region have been using the new name when referring to the whole area.  This was recognized when Washington’s Board of Geographic Names approved the name at the state level Oct. 30 ,then the Federal Board on Geographic Names approved the idea Thursday, November 12.  These votes mean Salish Sea can be now added to U.S. maps and other materials.  It has been approved in British Columbia by the province’s names board, and Canadian national approval is expected soon.

Incidentally, there is some opposition to the name.  A few people are opposed because the word Salish, while being a word used to describe the some of the coastal Indian tribes native to the area, was not the actual word used by the natives of the region to describe these waters.  The other is the mistaken belief that the name Salish Sea will replace the names Puget Sound, Georgia Strait, and Strait of Juan de Fuca.  Of course they will not be replaced.  The new name simply refers to the area as a whole.

In fact, in an article a year and a half ago, I stated my objections to using the name.  While I still maintain the new name could have been more historically accurate, the new name has come into common usage.  It also tends to unify our region and show thet we really do share the same issues.  I now support the name.

In the meantime, the public seems to be taking to the new name, which has been growing in usage since the early 1990’s.  Some people who offer marine tours of the area are using the name.  It is handy when referring to the pods of orca whales that live in the area.  They are in the Georgia Strait or in Puget Sound, depending on the time of year, now the Salish Sea whales live in their home all year.  It makes sense to use the name when dealing with, say, fisheries issues.  A Puget Sound salmon differs from a Georgia Strait salmon only in which side of an imaginary line it happens to be on at the moment.  It gives the people who work in these industries something to call the entire area when referring to its needs.

Historically, there have been issues with the boundaries of these areas anyway.  The San Juan Islands were alternately part of the British or American territory, depending upon which map you believed. The fact is that historically, geographically, and environmentally, it is all part of the same region.

The individual waterways will always retain their original names and identities.  This change only reflects the ages old reality that this is truly a single inland sea.