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News Archives - 2013

News © 1994 Dave Ellifrit

2013 Orca News News, updates and events about the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats

Births/Deaths | Sonar and whales | Events Page | Orca News Archives

Orca News is updated when there is news to report.

Current News

January 1, 2013 through July 23, 2013.

Site was being updated second half of 2013 so new news was posted during this time.

Researchers Find More Evidence That Dolphins Use Names
July 23, 2013 (Wired)
For decades, scientists have been fascinated by dolphins’ so-called signature whistles: distinctive vocal patterns learned early and used throughout life. The purpose of these whistles is a matter of debate, but new research shows that dolphins respond selectively to recorded versions of their personal signatures, much as a person might react to someone calling their name.
Combined with earlier findings, the results “present the first case of naming in mammals, providing a clear parallel between dolphin and human communication,” said biologist Stephanie King of Scotland’s University of St. Andrews, an author of the new study.

Orphan orca Springer now a first-time mother
July 8, 2013 (Seattle Times) Springer, the orphaned orca rescued near Vashon Island in 2002, was spotted with her first calf, which hasn’t been named.
Spotted on a routine population survey in the waters off the central coast of British Columbia, Springer, also known as A-73, was seen Thursday accompanied by a calf, her first.
She apparently gave birth last winter, said John Ford, biologist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The gender of the killer-whale calf was not known, and it has not yet been named.

BREAKING: U.S. Government Hits SeaWorld With Safety Violation - Again
June 10, 2013 (Take Part)
Following the death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, OSHA handed the entertainment giant with a “willful” safety violation, a $75,000 fine, and orders to keep all orca trainers out of the pools (i.e. during “water work”) and for them to maintain a safe distance or physical barrier when the whales sidle up to the stage or haul themselves out of the water in the slide-out area (i.e. during “drywork”).
SeaWorld agreed to end its water work, but still allows trainers to come into extremely close physical contact with the killer whales (except Tilikum), as evidenced in numerous photos and television news accounts showing trainers hugging, kissing, and massaging orcas—with no barrier or distance at all. According to OSHA, captive orcas could easily hit or grab a trainer and drag them into the water.

OSHA fines SeaWorld $38,500 for safety violation
June 10, 2013 (Click Orlando)
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has fined SeaWorld Orlando $38,500 and labeled the park a repeat offender, saying the entertainment giant continues to operate a workplace that can "cause death or serious physical harm to employes."
The fine is the result of a follow-up inspection OSHA conducted at Shamu Stadium on December 11, 2012.
In order to protect its employees, OSHA has recommended that SeaWorld take steps such as "prohibiting animal trainers from working with killer whales ... unless the trainers are protected through the use of physical barriers or the trainers are required to maintain a minimum safe distance.”

Fearing cruelty, environment ministry says no to dolphin parks
May 8, 2013 (Hindustan Times)
The environment ministry rejected the plan to develop dolphinariums in different locations in India, including Delhi's neighbourhood of Noida, Kochi in Kerala and Mumbai.
Dolphinarium is an artificial, commercial facility where the aquatic animals are kept in captivity and displayed for amusement of audience at a high price by taking away their right to live in their natural habitat. India's only brush with dolphinarium was in 1990s with a park in Chennai, which closed soon after the death of all captive mammals.
Places such as United States and Dubai have big dolphin parks and are branded as an effort to create awareness about recluse creature. But, Brazil, United Kingdom and Chile have banned dolphins in captivity.

Feds to weigh whether captive whale deserves 'endangered' status
April 28, 2013 (San Juan Journal)
The "Free Lolita" movement has gained a foothold.
Eighteen years after Howard Garrett, Ken Balcomb, and then-Governor Mike Lowry [note: should also include Sec. of State Ralph Munro] initiated the movement to return L-pod member Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium to her native Northwest waters, the National Marine Fisheries Service accepted a petition to consider whether Lolita should be included as part of the Endangered Species Act listing of Southern Resident killer whales, now numbered at 84 - plus Lolita.
Jared Goodman, an attorney with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which spearheaded the ESA petition, said that Lolita's continued captivity is illegal, as well as inhumane.
Howard Garrett, chairman of Orca Network, says the upcoming review by NMFS may be the best chance that Lolita has to return to her home waters. Garrett said Orca Network and Ken Balcomb's Center for Whale Research have prepared an extensive plan for rehabilitating Lolita in Kanaka Bay, on the west side of San Juan Island, and possibly returning her to her pod - though he adds that other supporters are prepared to care for Lolita "indefinitely" if necessary.
A division of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, NMFS must complete its review by January of 2014, after publishing a proposed rule, expected next week, for conducting its review and accepting comments and other information from interested parties on both sides of the issue.
That still won't end the controversy. The Fisheries Service explained on its website: "By January 25, 2014, we’ll make a determination on whether the petitioned action is warranted. If we propose to include Lolita in the Southern Resident killer whale distinct population segment, that action would be subject to public comment."

Animal rights group fighting to free orca
April 27, 2013 (Victoria Times Colonist)
A small victory has been scored by animal rights organizations fighting to free Lolita, a member of the endangered southern resident killer whales.
The U.S. federal government has accepted a petition from groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, asking that Lolita be included in the U.S endangered species listing.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network said acceptance of the petition is a step in the right direction.
“But it’s only one hurdle and there are so many still on the track ahead of us,” he said.
It seems logical that, if Lolita is eventually included in the listing, she would be freed, Garrett said.
“They can’t hold a member of an endangered species captive for business reasons,” he said.

Orca-tagging project comes to an end for now
April 5, 2013 (Watching Our Waterways - Kitsap Sun blog by Chris Dunagan)
A research project that involved tracking the travels of K pod for more than three months in the Pacific Ocean apparently has ended, as the transmitter seems to have run out of battery power, according to research biologist Brad Hanson.
K-25 is a 22-year-old male orca who was implanted with a satellite tag on Dec. 29. The battery was expected to last for 32,000 transmissions, and it actually reached about 35,000, said Hanson of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. No data arrived yesterday during the normal transmission period.
The three months of satellite tracking data will be combined with fecal and prey samples from a 10-day research cruise to serve up a wealth of information about where the Southern Resident killer whales go and what they eat during the early part of the year, Brad said. Until now, this has been a major blank spot in the understanding of these whales, he noted.
By Jan. 13, the whales had reached Northern California, where they continued south, then turned around at Point Reyes north of San Francisco Bay. They continued to wander up and down the West Coast, including Northern California, into early March. After that, they began to stay mainly off the Washington Coast with trips into northern Oregon. They seemed to focus much of their attention near the Columbia River, where early runs of salmon may be mingling.
The research cruise, originally scheduled for three weeks, ran from March 1 to March 10, cut short by the federal budget sequestration. By following the whales, researchers were able to collect 24 samples of prey (scales and/or tissues of fish) plus 21 fecal samples from the whales themselves. Shortly before the cruise, K pod met up with L pod, probably off the Washington Coast.
During the cruise, another whale, L-88, a 20-year-old male named Wave Walker, was tagged as an “insurance policy” to allow the whales to be tracked if K-25′s transmitter failed. A shorter dart was used on L-88, and the tag apparently fell off about a week later.

Tribes’ court win may flow beyond culvert repairs to protect fish
March 31, 2013 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge has ordered culvert repairs to ensure tribes have fish to catch, as guaranteed by their treaty rights. The ruling could have broader impact on other types of development.
Martinez ordered the state departments of fish and wildlife, parks, transportation, and natural resources to accelerate work to remove, replace and repair about 1,000 culverts to help restore salmon runs within 17 years.
Allowing salmon runs to decline further is a fundamental violation of promises made in the treaties of 1854 and 1855, Martinez wrote, under which tribes ceded most of what is present-day Western Washington.

Shh! Will US Navy Turn It Down for Whales and Dolphins?
March 26, 2013 (Truthout)
People who care about such animals have long had difficulty imposing limits on exercises operated by the U.S. Navy. “National security issues often seem to trump environmental issues,” says Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity in California.
But several signs suggest that may be changing. On March 8, the California Coastal Commission, a management agency created by state law, rejected a plan proposed by the U.S. Navy for sonar and explosive weapons training off the coast of Southern California, deeming it negligent and dangerous to marine life. And, while that decision is not binding, 500,000 signatures on an online petition were delivered to the commission requesting the rejection of the proposal.
This seems to show widespread support for the idea that the military needs to be more careful about how its activities affect ocean life.

Van De Wege's net pen bill gets hearing
February 18, 2013 (Peninsula Daily News)
Zachary Hiatt, a Seattle attorney representing statewide net pen farm operator American Gold Seafoods, spoke in opposition to the bill, saying that net pen facilities already are highly regulated by the state to ensure they do not hurt surrounding waters.
“Our state environmental regulators have looked at these issues repeatedly, and they've determined these environmental impacts do not warrant banning net pens in Puget Sound's waters,” Hiatt said.
Jefferson County commissioner Johnson, however, raised concerns about the potential negative environmental effects of net pen farming, and Sullivan made the point that fish farming does not necessarily have to be a water-dependent use but could instead be accomplished in upland areas.
“Technology is allowing us to move away from a water-dependent situation with fish farming to a water-independent one,” Sullivan said at the hearing.
Jefferson County's shoreline management program update has been on hold for two years while county officials negotiate with Ecology.
Jefferson County officials want to ban net pen farming, while Ecology, which regulates such facilities statewide, has said they do not have the right to do so.
The bill's other supporters at the hearing included an environmental advocacy group based on Whidbey Island and the Washington State Association of Counties.

Federal court dismisses suit against Elwha hatchery; tribe drops nonnative steelhead stocking plan
February 18, 2013 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge has dismissed a suit against the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe’s hatchery plan as moot, and the tribe has terminated its plan to stock the Elwha with nonnative steelhead.
The tribe backed away from one of the programs it sought to run at its hatchery: stocking Chambers Creek steelhead, which, while not native to the Elwha, have provided a fishing opportunity for tribal fishermen for years as native stocks in the Elwha declined because of the dams.
With the dams coming out, however, wild-fish advocates no longer wanted the nonnative fish stocked in the river. The tribe, while not conceding that the fish cause harm to wild stocks, announced in December to federal officials that it has ended its Chambers Creek program and will not be reviving it.
A moratorium is in effect on fishing in the river for five years while populations rebuild. The tribe is negotiating with federal fisheries officials to be able to fish native Elwha steelhead after the moratorium even if those fish are still listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, if doing so does not set back recovery.

No clue to what killed baby orca found in Dungeness
January 9, 2013 (Peninsula Daily News)
Results of tests conducted Tuesday in Seattle to determine why a newborn orca washed up dead on Dungeness Spit on Monday are expected in two to three weeks, said wildlife biologists.
The killer whale underwent a necropsy and DNA testing at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Western Regional Center in Seattle's Sand Point to find out why it died and if it was born alive, said Sue Thomas, wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, and Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist for NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Center.
If the orca was a resident, said Howard Garrett, director of the nonprofit Orca Network, it could produce valuable information about the viability of the resident pods.
“As far as the health of the population, we very much want all the information we can get about their reproductive success,” Garrett said.
The Orca Network, said Garrett, received reports of a pod of resident killer whales off San Juan Island over the weekend.
A group of transients also was reported off the coast of Victoria over the same time frame.

Newborn orca found dead on Dungeness Spit beach
January 8, 2013 (Seattle Times)
A newborn orca was found washed up on a Dungeness Spit beach Monday morning, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The 7.5-foot male calf was found about a day or two after its death, said Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Hanson rushed to the area this evening with other center staff to lift the whale from the beach in the dark.
Its body has been taken to NOAA’s Western Regional Center in Seattle’s Sand Point for a necrospy and DNA testing to be done on Tuesday. Results of the procedures should indicate whether the calf was a resident or transient orca, but they won’t be ready for another two or three weeks, Hanson said.
“We’ve had residents and transients in the Strait of Juan de Fuca simultaneously recently, so it’s hard to say which it is right now,” Hanson said.
Veterinarian experts will also study whether the whale, which had fetal folds and vibrissae, was born alive. At first glance, Hanson said it had probably been alive for a few days before it died.
The non-profit Orca Network is asking anyone who may have taken photos of orcas in the Puget Sound Sunday to send them in. The non-profit said on its Facebook page that the pictures could help researchers identify where the calf came from. The non-profit can be e-mailed at The information will eventually be shared with NOAA researchers as well.

Satellite tags helping track killer whale pod down the coast
January 5, 2013 (Kitsap Sun)
Federal biologists have attached a small satellite transmitter to one of Puget Sound's killer whales, and a week of tracking may have revealed some important information, they say.
The tag was attached to a K-25, a 21-year-old male orca named Scoter, as the orcas passed through Colvos Passage off South Kitsap on Saturday, Dec. 29. Within two days, the male orca — presumably swimming with the rest of K pod — was on his way into the open ocean, according to an online map posted by NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
By Saturday morning, the whales were 25 miles south of Newport, Ore., according to NOAA researcher Brad Hanson.

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