In trying to untangle a mysterious herring collapse from the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists in Prince William Sound are revealing just how resilient—and unpredictable—marine ecosystems can be.
On a cold day in June, Scott Pegau leans toward the passenger window of a Cessna floatplane and peers out at the teal waters of Prince William Sound. The glacier-rimmed pocket of seawater on the southern coast of Alaska is protected from the open ocean by a string of rugged islands. It is both moody and alluring. Clouds dally on the snowy peaks and fray against the forested hillsides. The sea is flat and frigid, except for a single row of waves lapping at the rocky shore.