2012 Orca News
News, updates and events about the
Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
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Orca News is updated when there is news to report.
Orca News Archives
Gateway tanker noise could drive whales away from B.C.'s north coast
December 24, 2012 (Vancouver Sun)
New study predicts a major increase in noise levels in critical whale habitat caused by Enbridge and other large shipping projects
A study headed by Christine Erbe, director of the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University in Perth, Australia, predicts total underwater shipping noise could increase 10-fold in B.C.’s northern fiords if Northern Gateway proceeds.
“The levels would be way above anything these animals would ever have experienced naturally,” Erbe, a former research scientist with Canada’s federal Fisheries department, told The Vancouver Sun.
“There is a worry they will go away and not come back to these fiords. This is critical habitat, important to them. Are they going to be able to feed elsewhere? We can only answer that with long-term monitoring.”
Whales use sound to hunt, communicate and identify ocean features for navigation.
Wash. considers banning gillnets on Columbia River
December 15, 2012 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Commercial fishermen in Washington and Oregon say a proposal to ban gillnets from the main stem of the lower Columbia River would destroy their livelihood, while supporters say the plan would protect endangered salmon.
The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission heard from dozens of speakers on the issue at a public hearing in Tumwater on Saturday.
Commissioners are considering a contentious proposal that would phase out the use of gillnets by non-tribal fishers on the main river by 2017 and give priority to recreational fishing there. The proposed rules would move the centuries-old practice of gillnetting, the primary commercial-fishing tool, to side channels and tributaries.
Washington state commissioners are scheduled to vote at its next meeting set for Jan. 11-12 in Olympia.
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission approved similar rules on Dec. 7.
NOAA fisheries takes first step toward building consensus on Columbia Basin salmon recovery
December 12, 2012 (Oregonian)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees Northwest salmon and steelhead listings under the Endangered Species Act, has hired two university consensus-building groups to interview Columbia Basin leaders about how to best recover wild salmon in the long term.
The Oregon Consensus program at Portland State University and the William D. Ruckelshaus Center in Washington will conduct hourlong interviews of more than 150 people, with a first report due late next summer.
Leaders of tribes and myriad interest groups in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana will be among those interviewed. The interviewers will be neutral, NOAA says, and responses will not be attributed to specific people to promote candid conversations.
Setting the killer whale record straight, yet again
December 12, 2012 (Pacific Legal Foundation)
Over at the Seattle PI blog, Howard Garrett of the Orca Network criticizes PLF’s petition to delist the Southern Resident population of orca whale from the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately, Mr. Garrett's criticisms, like those of many others, are either irrelevant or innacurate.
Mr. Garrett contends that the courts have already rejected the petition's legal argument, namely, the ESA does not allow the listing of distinct population segments of subspecies. I am aware of no published decision holding so. It is true that the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument, but it did so perfunctorily, without analysis, in a footnote, and in an unpublished, non-precedential memorandum decision. So, it’s really not quite accurate for Mr. Garrett to conclude that our legal argument is a non-starter. Also, PLF did file a lawsuit several years ago to delist the whale, but it was dimissed on standing grounds and the district court never reached the merits.
Southern Resident Orcas are Targeted by Those Who Want to Demolish the Endangered Species Act Entirely – Orca Network Weighs in on This Issue
December 12, 2012 (Candace Calloway Whiting blog)
Why would anyone want to remove ESA protections from Southern Resident orcas?
Last August the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a property-rights group with a long record opposing Endangered Species listings, environmental regulations, and healthcare reform, filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to remove the Southern Resident orcas from their endangered status under the ESA. The PLF was acting nominally on behalf of farmers who wanted Sacramento River water needed by endangered Chinook salmon, which the Southern Residents depend on, along with other Pacific coast Chinook, for their survival. In 2009 the orcas were included in NMFS’s ruling on water management as further rationale for conserving water to restore salmon. On November 26, NMFS announced they will review PLF’s petition over the next year. The public comment period on the merits of the petition is now open and will continue until January 28, 2013.
Setting the killer whale record straight, part II
December 7, 2012 (Pacific Legal Foundation)
Earlier this week, Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity, writing on the Huffington Post, criticized Pacific Legal Foundation’s effort to delist the Southern Resident population of killer whale from the Endangered Species Act. Of course, this is not CBD’s first criticism of our delisting petition. But, as you’ll see below the break, CBD’s latest salvo has no more merit than its earlier, baseless criticisms.
California farmers want protections for southern killer whale residents removed
November 27, 2012 (Vancouver Sun)
Complaints by two farmers in California's Central Valley have sparked a U.S review of whether southern resident killer whales should be removed from the endangered list.
Pacific Legal Foundation, a conservative U.S. law firm, argued that classification of the fish-eating southern resident killer whales as a separate population from the marine-mammal-eating transients was based on junk science.
The petition exasperates Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a Washington state-based non-profit advocacy group for Pacific Northwest whales, but he believes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is simply doing due diligence.
"I think NOAA is duty-bound to review it, but I don't think they are going to do anything about it," he said.
"[The Pacific Legal Foundation] is dressing it up as science ... but it's way out of the consensus of geneticists."
The group is anti-government, anti-environment and anti-regulation, he added.
"They just don't like our planet much at all."
Garrett said he can understand how some people who have not studied whales can be confused by resident and transient orcas sharing the same habitat, but never interbreeding.
However, almost all scientific reviews classify them as distinct populations.
Groups go to court to fight release of Elwha River hatchery fish
November 26, 2012 (Peninsula Daily News)
Four conservation groups have ramped up their efforts to prevent the releases next spring of hatchery-bred steelhead and coho salmon smolts during the ongoing $325 million Elwha River salmon restoration project.
The groups filed requests last week in federal District Court in Tacoma for a preliminary injunction and a partial summary judgment to prevent the releases, saying the plans should be reviewed for compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act, or ESA, and that they would harm species listed as threatened under the act.
In their request for an injunction, the groups want to halt a planned April release of about 175,000 steelhead smolts and about 425,000 hatchery coho salmon smolts from the Lower Elwha Klallam hatchery into the Elwha River, much of which is in Olympic National Park.
“The large-scale releases of hatchery fish proposed to occur this spring will have severely deleterious effects on the wild fish population and their recovery potential,” said the injunction request, adding that several species are protected under federal law.
The releases would do “irreparable harm” to those species — Puget Sound bull trout, Puget Sound chinook and Puget Sound steelhead — that will be “significant and enduring,” the groups claim.
NOAA to review endangered status of orcas
November 26, 2012 (Seattle Times)
The federal government is reviewing whether Puget Sound orcas should keep its endangered status.
NOAA Fisheries said Monday the review was prompted by a petition from the California-based Pacific Legal Foundation seeking to delist the killer whales. The petition asserts that orcas aren't in danger of becoming extinct because they're part of a larger population of thriving whales.
Mammal-eating 'transient' orcas may be named after researcher
November 26, 2012 (Seattle Times)
Some marine-life experts want transient killer whales to be declared their own species, and they want them to have a new name: Bigg's killer whales, in honor of Michael Bigg, the researcher whose observations off British Columbia and Washington state led to the identification of transients. They're mammal-eaters, a way in which they differ from resident orcas.
If whale expert John K.B. Ford has his way, schoolchildren one day will study a kind of North Pacific killer whale that preys on warm-blooded creatures — mostly harbor seals and sea lions, but also gray whales and seabirds.
They roam as far north as the Arctic Ocean and are now known as "transients" to distinguish them from fish-eating "resident" killer whales.
Ford and colleagues from Alaska to California want transient killer whales to be declared their own species, and they want them to have a new name: Bigg's killer whales, in honor of Michael Bigg, the researcher whose observations off British Columbia and Washington state led to the identification of transients and whose mentoring inspired a generation of researchers still uncovering the mysteries of the animal at the top of the marine food chain.
Tokitae, AKA Lolita, selected as name for one new ferry
November 15, 2012 (South Whidbey Record)
The Washington Transportation Commission decided Tuesday to name the two new state ferries now under construction the Tokitae (Toe-key-tay) and the Samish.
The names keep the tradition of giving ferries regional tribal names. Tokitae was submitted by the Whidbey Island based nonprofit Orca Network, and Samish was submitted by the Samish Tribe.
Deb Lund, Whidbey Island author of children's books, first suggested Orca Network submit the name Tokitae for one of the new Washington State Ferries in 2010. The name was not chosen, but was popular and ranked in the top five of all names submitted, so Orca Network again proposed the name in 2012.
The name symbolizes both the cultural and natural history of Washington, and meets all of the criteria for a WSF name. In the announcement on Tuesday from the State Transportation Commission, it was stated the name "Tokitae" came in as the number one choice of all the people, committees, and State Ferry staff surveyed.
First Olympic class ferry shares name with an orca
November 13, 2012 (Watching Our Water Ways)
A female killer whale named Tokitae remains in an aquarium in Miami, but a future Washington state ferry will carry her name for years to come.
The Washington State Transportation Commission named two new ferries today, choosing Northwest Indian names. And both names — Tokitae and Samish — are associated with killer whales, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who attended the commission meeting. See the WDOT’s news release (PDF 29 kb).
Garrett is leading an effort to return Tokitae — known in Miami as “Lolita” — to the waters of Puget Sound, where her extended family still lives. See “Proposal to retire the orca known as Lolita.”
He says naming the ferry could indirectly help the cause of relocating Lolita/Tokitae, although the action carries no endorsement of any kind.
“It demonstrates an understanding and awareness of her predicament, and it honors her and her family,” he said. “I think that goes a long way.”
2 new WA ferries named Samish, Tokitae
November 13, 2012 (Miami Herald)
Next Washington State Ferry to be Named: Tokitae (Lolita’s name at Capture)
November 13, 2012 (SaveLolita.com)
2 new Washington ferries named Samish, Tokitae
November 13, 2012 (KING5 News)
Report calls for freeze on fish farms off Vancouver Island
October 31, 2012 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Salmon farm development in the Discovery Islands should be frozen and existing farms should be shut down if they pose any risk to wild stocks, says a massive report by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen.
However, fish farms are one of many stressors and there is no smoking gun explaining the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, he said.
The Discovery Islands, in a narrow passage near Campbell River, are on the migration path for young salmon and Cohen highlighted concerns about the potential for introduction of exotic diseases and pathogens.
“Salmon farms in the Discovery Islands should immediately be capped at current levels,” Cohen said at a news conference after submitting his 75-recommendation report to the federal government.
More research is needed, but the fisheries minister should prohibit net pens in the Discovery Islands by September 2020 unless he is convinced they pose minimal risk of harm to Fraser River sockeye, Cohen said.
“In the meantime, if there is any sign that there is a more than minimal risk, they should be prohibited immediately,” he said.
Feds to reconsider petition aimed at freeing orca Lolita
October 15, 2012 (Seattle Times)
The federal government has agreed to reconsider a petition aimed at freeing the orca Lolita from captivity at Miami Seaquarium.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) plan to file a new petition asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to include the captive whale within its endangered-species listing for Puget Sound orcas.
Lolita has been performing at Seaquarium since she was captured from Northwest waters in 1970.
Under a settlement agreement filed Friday with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the federal government must decide by specific time periods whether protection for Lolita is warranted. In return, the groups agreed to dismiss its appeal.
"This is what we wanted all along. We believe they acted illegally all along in excluding Lolita," Jeff Kerr, general counsel for PETA, said Monday. "Our belief is that she'll be included (in the listing)."
Feds Agree to Reconsider Plight of Orca at Miami Seaquarium
October 12, 2012 (PETA/ALDF news release)
Six orcas identified swimming off west Seattle
October 9, 2012 (Bellingham Herald)
More than a dozen killer whales swimming past West Seattle gave residents a spectacular sight Monday, Oct. 1 as the sun set.
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network says six identified from photos represent all three Puget Sound pods - J, K and L. He says this is the farthest south the orcas have been seen this year, and it may indicate a typical fall shift.
The orcas spent May-September around the San Juan Islands, apparently feeding off Fraser River Chinook. Garrett says this time of year they follow chum salmon south into Puget Sound.
Opposition as Aquarium Seeks Import of Whales
October 9, 2012 (New York Times)
A proposal to import 18 beluga whales for popular interactive park attractions in the United States is drawing fierce opposition from animal rights advocates and others who object to their removal from the wild.
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta has applied for a federal import permit on behalf of a group of marine parks, saying the aquariums need the Arctic whales for captive breeding efforts, research and education. Approval would end an import hiatus of nearly two decades that is rooted in misgivings about removing intelligent and social marine mammals from their native waters and their families.
Complicating matters, the federal government’s decision will be based not on bioethics but on the language of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which recognizes a benefit in winning the hearts and minds of paying customers who become attached to animals like the beluga, a facially expressive whale with a distinctive white hue.
Thirty-one beluga whales, some that are too young to breed and others that are nearing the end of their 35-year life spans, are now on display in the United States. Worldwide, a few hundred are thought to be in captivity.
For Hal Whitehead, a marine mammal expert at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, there is not much need for debate. “We know that they are intensely social mammals with complex and lengthy migrations, and that they use a whole bunch of different habitats in different times of the year, and that they are acoustic communicators,” he said. “There is no way even the best captive situation has even the slightest approximation to that.”
But Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University who studies whale intelligence, said she saw the aquarium’s main incentive as “to keep people entertained.”
While the acquisition would infuse the captive population with more genetic variety and keep it “going a little while longer,” she said, “there is no scientific purpose.” The Georgia Aquarium and the Utrish Marine Mammal Research Station in Russia, where the belugas are being held, declined to disclose how much the American aquariums had agreed to pay for the whales.
Injury To SeaWorld Killer Whale Sparks PETA Battle
September 29, 2012 (KTLA.com)
SAN DIEGO (KTLA) -- A killer whale at SeaWorld in San Diego is recovering from an injury that is the subject of dispute between the park and animal rights activists.
The whale, an 11-year-old male named Nakai, was found with a gaping injury to the lower jaw.
But officials from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed a complaint with the Department of Agriculture regarding the incident, claiming that a whistleblower said the orca was attacked by two other whales.
PETA accuses SeaWorld of violating the Animal Welfare Act, which says mammals that are not compatible shouldn't be kept in the same space.
"Yet SeaWorld parks have a long history of housing incompatible orcas from widely divergent groups together in enclosures--and the result has been stress, agitation, aggressive and bloody raking, serious injury, and death," PETA said in a statement.
Killer Whale Harassment and Disturbance Results in Successful Conviction Under Both The Species at Risk Act and the Fisheries Act
September 27, 2012 (Press Release: Fisheries and Oceans Canada)
A recreational boater from Campbell River has been convicted under the Species At Risk Act of harassing killer whales and under the Fisheries Act of disturbing killer whales. This is the first time that an individual has been found guilty of harassing orcas under the Species At Risk Act.
Carl Eric Peterson was found guilty in Campbell River Provincial Court on two counts of harassing and disturbing killer whales. The Fisheries Act, Marine Mammal Regulations specifically prohibit any disturbance of marine mammals, while under the Species At Risk Act it is illegal to harass a member of a wildlife species that is listed as extirpated, endangered or threatened. Sentencing will take place later in the fall.
Howard Garrett and the Orca Network
September 27, 2012 (Orca Aware)
It's interesting to monitor the shifting scientific paradigms for understanding orcas. Currently biologists are documenting and describing observable data from the field, like photo-identification, demographics, ecotypes, social associations and cooperative behaviour, prey preferences and hunting techniques, travel routes, acoustics and genetics. Meanwhile some activists are talking about the inner lives of orca, both captive and free-ranging, to help people understand that they feel emotions and loyalty toward one another, and mourn their losses, and they are acutely aware of their surroundings whether that's a vast marine habitat or a concrete box. Unbeknownst to both, there is a well-established science that can bridge that gap and scientifically describe the inner lives of such highly evolved, cognitively aware and culturally advanced mammals, but that science has so far been applied only to humans.
Industries gear up for the epic fight over NW coal ports
September 27, 2012 (Crosscut)
Bellingham will lead off the scoping public hearings on Saturday, Oct. 27, and the four-hour event will test a new hearings format. The remainder of the meetings, as announced by Ecology, include: Friday Harbor, Nov. 3; Mount Vernon, Nov. 5; Seattle, Nov. 13; Ferndale, Nov. 29; Spokane, Dec. 4 and Vancouver, Dec. 12.
Traditional public hearings are held before a governing body, augustly settled on a dais, with the folk addressing them from podiums; project proponents lead off, opponents respond and finally "the public" has its say. By this time both the bottoms and heads of the notables are asleep, but the requirement of "public input" has been satisfied.
Scoping on Gateway Pacific will be different, beginning with the acceptance of written statements this week (Monday, Sept. 24) and continuing until Jan. 21. Online testimony will be taken 24/7 and logged by the agencies.
Japan may scrap whale hunt
September 25, 2012 (ABC Australia)
A media report in Japan says the government is considering abandoning this year's whale hunt in the Antarctic.
The Asahi newspaper is reporting the annual round of research whaling could be suspended because of the poor condition of the fleet's ageing factory ship.
Soundings: Death of People for Puget Sound sets mission adrift
September 14, 2012 (Olympian)
In one camp there are those who think the work of the group will be successfully absorbed by other environmental stewards. The official plan calls for shifting People for Puget Sound's policy, advocacy and educational work over to the Washington Environmental Council. Restoration project would move to EarthCorps, a nonprofit affiliate of AmeriCorps dedicated to environmental service projects for young adults.
In another camp are those who think the loss of People for Puget Sound could be a setback for cleanup and recovery efforts. They note that the state agency that oversees Puget Sound cleanup, the Puget Sound Partnership, seems to lack focus and purpose compared with the original Puget Sound Water Quality Authority. And Chris Gregoire, the governor who embraced the goal of a clean and healthy Puget Sound by 2020, leaves office at the end of the year with the job far from complete. Just how committed either gubernatorial candidate is to making Puget Sound recovery a top priority isn't clear.
Sato agreed these are tough financial times for nonprofits and businesses alike. But he questions whether Bancroft and the current board explored all their options before throwing in the towel.
Killer whales live on after menopause to protect sons
September 13, 2012 (BBC)
Females give birth in their thirties but can live for a further 50 years after having their offspring.
In killer whale society, the young never leave their mothers, remaining in a single group.
"Our research shows that, for a male over 30, the death of his mother means an almost 14-fold-increase in the likelihood of his death within the following year," explained Dr Croft.
But for females, the chances were only three times greater for the over 30s, and remained unchanged for those that were younger.
People for Puget Sound shutting down after 20 years
September 12, 2012 (Seattle Times)
To the distress of supporters and former staff, People for Puget Sound, the nonprofit that just last year celebrated its 20th anniversary, has announced it is shutting down for good at the end of the month.
The nonprofit was a civic voice for Puget Sound and helped shepherd a high tide of change for the region's most signature body of saltwater.
Whether it was legislation to get a rescue tug permanently stationed near the state's outer coast to respond to oil spills; or petitioning for endangered-species protection for orcas; or regulations to restrain pollution and shoreline development or habitat restoration, People for Puget Sound was on the front lines.
Whale surveys spot killer whales in Alaska Arctic
September 10, 2012 (Fairbanks News Miner)
Scientists counting marine mammals off Alaska's Arctic Ocean coast spotted two large groups of killer whales last month, but orca experts are not ready to say the species has increased its numbers in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
An aerial survey crew Aug. 20 spotted 13 killer whales 6.2 miles northeast of Barrow, America's northernmost community. The flight was part of a bowhead whale survey sponsored by the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and other federal agencies.
Five days later, crew members aboard the Westward Wind, a vessel in the Chukchi Sea Environmental Studies Program, which is conducting research on behalf of oil companies, spotted 25 to 30 orcas near Hanna Shoal, a shallow-water area northwest of Barrow.
Do You Hear What I Hear? Researchers Record Orcas Underwater
September 6, 2012 (NPR)
The waters of Puget Sound are a pretty noisy place, if you're an orca. But what does a passing tanker ship or motorboat sound like to a killer whale? How does it affect their behavior? Ashley Ahearn reports researchers are trying to find out.
Brad Hanson is a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This week he'll be heading out into Puget Sound to catch up with some of the region's most illustrious marine residents.
And when he does, he's going to attach an underwater microphone to them. The goal is to hear what the orcas hear.
Orca Tribes of the Salish Sea and Beyond
September 9, 2012 (Read The Dirt)
A review of the 3 or 4 dozen orca communities found worldwide – each with its own vocabulary of vocalizations and genetically distinct from all the others – shows that each group long ago narrowed its diet to just a few species of fish or mammals among the vast marine smorgasbord they are capable of eating, thus avoiding competition with neighboring orca communities.
The realization that orcas develop sophisticated cultures is very new to the scientific community.
We human residents of the Salish Sea watershed are fortunate to live near shorelines with occasional views of two of these ancient traditional orca cultures traveling throughout these waters, foraging for their respective prey, socializing and communicating, as they have for millions of years.
Activists file lawsuit challenging Miami Seaquarium license
August 23, 2012 (Miami Herald)
Several animal rights groups concerned with the living conditions of Miami Seaquarium’s famous resident, Lolita, have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture challenging the renewal of the marine park's federal Animal Welfare Act license.
In their court filing, PETA, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and other animal rights groups say that the orca's living conditions at the Seaquarium are in violation of several Animal Welfare Act compliance issues. According to PETA, Lolita lives in a tank that fails to meet federal minimum requirements. They also point out that Lolita's tank does not comply with federal guidelines for adequate protection from the elements.
According to Seaquarium officials, the USDA has certified that Lolita’s habitat meets the space requirements for orcas and far exceeds the minimum requirement established by the Animal Welfare Act regulations.
"Lolita has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for more than 42 years, and is as active and healthy as ever," said Andrew Hertz, the general manager for Miami Seaquarium. "Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."
Miami Seaquarium’s Animal Welfare Act license is reviewed and issued by the USDA on a yearly basis. In April, the license to hold and view marine mamals at the park was approved. However, PETA says the USDA has the authority to approve some parts of the license and revoke others.
"First and foremost we believe the USDA should revoke the license that allows for Lolita to live in these conditions," said Jeff Kerr, general council for PETA. "And then we believe Seaquarium should do the right thing and release Lolita from 40 years of captivity."
Animal Legal Defense Fund, PETA Sue USDA for Renewal of Miami Seaquarium's Federal License August 23, 2012 (Opposing Views)
New baby Orca born to J Pod
August 7, 2012 (Seattle Times)
The birth of a baby to a young mother can sometimes cause consternation among human animals, but not so when it's in our local pods of orcas.
The report on Monday of a new calf born to the J Pod, one of the area's “most stable and successful” families, is being hailed far and wide, according to Howard Garrett, director and co-founder of Orca Network.
A picture of the baby, wedged between its mother and grandmother, was posted on the Network's Facebook page last night and had already garnered nearly 800 “likes” and hundreds of comments in 12 hours.
"There's a lot of excitement," said Garrett. "We're celebrating."
Research into the endangered Orcinus orca species shows that the mammals are highly intelligent and live in complex and ancient cultures based on descent through the female line, Garrett said. Male and female offspring typically stay with their mothers their entire lives, he said.
Even during adolescence, the mothers seem to “just enjoy their children all the time. They don’t worry about house cleaning.”
SeaWorld eases orca trainers back into the water
August 2, 2012 (San Diego Union)
SeaWorld marine parks, including San Diego's, are starting to acclimate killer whales to the presence of trainers in their pools, a critical first step toward possibly resuming water work during performances.
While there has been no prohibition against close interaction in the water between the orcas and trainers outside of Shamu shows, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has taken its time doing so since the death two years ago of a trainer at the Orlando park.
Group: PNW orcas shouldn't be listed endangered
August 2, 2012 (Seattle Times)
The orcas in question live in Puget Sound and nearby Canadian waters. They were listed as endangered in 2005. There are about 85 whales divided into three different pods, according to the Center for Whale Research.
Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said "the petition argues that the Endangered Species Act does not allow listing of distinct population segments of a subspecies, rather only a species, but have already lost this argument in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals."
Fringe Property-rights Group Seeks to Remove Protection From Puget Sound's Beloved Orcas
August 2, 2012 (Center for Biological Diversity)
“Southern resident orcas are truly unique — an irreplaceable treasure for the Puget Sound region,” said Greenwald. “I’m astounded by this callous move on the part of Pacific Legal Foundation and others to have their protections stripped.”
West-side Valley farmer challenges orca protection
August 2, 2012 (Fresno Bee)
The iconic orca, or killer whale, should swim free of federal protection, a farmer from California's San Joaquin Valley urged in a petition filed Thursday.
Backed by a conservative legal advocacy group based in Sacramento, Calif., Fresno County farmer Joe Del Bosque and his allies argue that the population of killer whales often found in Pacific Northwest waters doesn't deserve defending under the Endangered Species Act. Protecting the whales also costs farmers precious water, growers say.
"It seems almost outrageous that a whale out in the ocean is restricting our water," Del Bosque said. "Restrictions in the water flows are definitely affecting us."
The petition further contends that the southern resident population isn't scientifically distinct from other killer whale populations that aren't afforded Endangered Species Act protections. Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Damien Schiff charged Thursday that officials essentially had "invented a subspecies" simply by virtue of where it lives.
Federal protection of orcas is challenged
New Threat to Southern Resident Orcas – Farmers Sue to Remove Endangered Status
Effort Launched To Strip Protection For Puget Sound Orcas
Complex thinking goes beyond primates: Dolphins understand zero, elephants rescue each other
June 24, 2012 (Washington Post)
It’s not just man’s closer primate relatives that exhibit brain power. Dolphins, dogs and elephants are teaching us a few lessons, too.
Dolphin brains involve completely different wiring from primates, especially in the neocortex, which is central to higher functions such as reasoning and conscious thought.
Dolphins are so distantly related to humans that it’s been 95 million years since we had even a remotely common ancestor. Yet when it comes to intelligence, social behavior and communications, some researchers say dolphins come as close to humans as our ape and monkey cousins.
“They understand concepts like zero, abstract concepts. They do everything that chimpanzees do and bonobos can do,” said Lori Marino, a neuroscientist at Emory University who specializes in dolphin research. “The fact is that they are so different from us and so much like us at the same time.”
In recent years, animal researchers have found that thought processes in critters aren’t a matter of how closely related they are to humans. You don’t have to be a primate to be smart.
Dolphin brains look nothing like human brains, Marino said. Yet, she says, “the more you learn about them, the more you realize that they do have the capacity and characteristics that we think of when we think of a person.”
These mammals recognize themselves in the mirror and have a sense of social identity. They not only know who they are, but they also have a sense of who, where and what their groups are. They interact and comprehend the health and feelings of other dolphins so fast it as if they are online with each other, Marino said.
Petition to Department of Labor Asks for New Rule to Protect Workers from Animal Attacks
June 14, 2012 (ALDF)
Animal Legal Defense Fund Asks OSHA to Require Barriers Between Trainers and Dangerous Animals at Facilities Like SeaWorld
For immediate release:
Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Washington, D.C. – This morning, the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a petition with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), asking the agency to fill a perilous regulatory vacuum by setting standards to protect employees who are required to work with dangerous and wild animals, such as killer whales at marine parks and tigers, elephants, and bears at circuses and zoos.
Dwindling fish supply stresses endangered killer whales
June 7, 2012 (Sacramento Bee)
Lack of food - not noise from whale-watching boats - is most stressful to Puget Sound's endangered killer whales, researchers have learned.
Levels of certain stress hormones decreased in samples of orca scat gathered during the time of highest vessel traffic, instead of increasing, researchers found. They surmise this is because at the same time, the whales' favorite food, chinook salmon, was most abundant.
Interestingly, the orcas' stress-hormone levels only increased when vessel noise was higher if there also were lower levels of food available at that time.
For Safety, Ballet Between Human and Killer Whale Loses Some Intimacy
June 7, 2012 (New York Times)
The electrifying in-water duet between trainer and killer whales at SeaWorld will never be quite the same after a judge ruled recently that animal trainers must be better protected from the fearsome mammals during performances.
The animal trainers — who not so long ago kissed, rode on, hugged and were thrust into the air by the killer whales — must either remain at a greater distance from them, stand behind a physical barrier or use other devices to keep them safer during performances.
The ruling last week by Ken S. Welsch, a federal administrative law judge for the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, came more than two years after the death of Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was dragged underwater and killed by a killer whale, or orca, at the SeaWorld park in Orlando. Visitors who were leaving the “Dine With Shamu” event watched the terrifying scene unfold.
10 years later, Springer the killer whale still defies the odds
June 7, 2012 (Vancouver Sun)
But, this month, celebrations are being held in Seattle and Vancouver, with a reunion at Telegraph Cove in July, marking the 10th anniversary of Springer's unique rescue, which saw the orphaned whale brought back to health, transported to northern Vancouver Island and released as members of her pod swam through Johnstone Strait.
Springer, now 12 years old, returns to the area each year and some of the rescuers hope she will soon turn up with her own calf. "It's a little on the early side, but who knows," said Lance Barrett-Lennard, Vancouver Aquarium senior marine mammal scientist.
Orca calf spotted in B.C. waters gives hope to researchers
May 31, 2012 (The Province)
The baby, designated L119, believed to be weeks old, was spotted this week when all three pods appeared in Juan de Fuca Strait for the first superpod meeting this year.
"The new calf appeared healthy and vigorous and we are hopeful that this one will make it," said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research based in Friday Harbor, Washington.
Mother is 25-year-old L77, also known as Matia, who previously gave birth to a calf that did not survive.
"It appears there may be a couple of older females missing from L Pod," Balcomb said.
The two were not seen this week, but L Pod has now disappeared off the west coast of Vancouver Island, so nothing can be confirmed until they reappear, he said.
It also looks as if JPod has lost a young male, Balcomb said.
J30, a 17-year-old, has not been seen since December.
If all three are missing, it means the population is down to about 83. "It isn't improving. It has been wobbling around that number for a decade," Balcomb said.
Did a judge in Florida just put an end to SeaWorld's famous killer whale shows? A ruling issued yesterday may change the way marine amusement parks work forever.
May 31, 2012 (Outside)
A decision released yesterday by Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Welsch in Florida will fundamentally change SeaWorld's killer whale shows. In a landmark case, Judge Welsch ruled in favor of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), concluding that the only way to keep Seaworld trainers safe is to either keep them away from close contact with the killer whales (which means no waterwork in the pools with them during shows), or to use physical barriers or other safety modifications to provide the same level of protection. Unless SeaWorld appeals Welsch's ruling and manages to win, the world-famous Shamu Shows—featuring trainers performing in the pools with killer whales—will likely become a spectacle of the past.
OSHA's case was prompted by the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who, on February 24, 2010, was pulled into the water and brutally killed by SeaWorld's largest killer whale, a male called Tilikum who weighs about 12,000 pounds. After Brancheau's death, OSHA took a hard look at the safety of SeaWorld's killer whale training methods and high-intensity killer whale shows, which feature trainers swimming with, riding, and leaping off whales. Following a detailed investigation, OSHA hit SeaWorld with a series of safety citations, the most serious of which said SeaWorld knowingly exposed killer whale trainers to being struck or drowned by killer whales when it had them work closely with Tilikum and other killer whales. The only way to abate the dangers, OSHA said, was to either stop working in close contact with the killer whales, or keep physical barriers (or equivalent measures) between trainers and killer whales. In short, OSHA said that SeaWorld's killer whale program was dangerous and needed radical changes.
ALDF, PETA Appeal Court's Dismissal of Lawsuit Seeking Lolita's Freedom
May 30, 2012 (Animal Legal Defense Fund)
Case Against Government for Excluding Captive Orca From Endangered Species Act Protections Goes to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
Miami — The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and PETA have appealed the recent dismissal of the groups' lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for wrongly excluding orca Lolita from the endangered listing of the Pacific Northwest's southern resident orcas. The exclusion has allowed the Miami Seaquarium to hold Lolita alone in captivity in a tiny concrete tank for more than 40 years with impunity despite Endangered Species Act (ESA) prohibitions against harming and harassing southern resident orcas. The case's dismissal was based solely on the timing of the filing of the lawsuit—in their federal appeal, ALDF and PETA contend that the government received the required notice of intent to sue and that the case was wrongfully dismissed.
Navy raises sonar impact on dolphins, whales dramatically
May 11, 2012 (MSNBC)
New Navy estimates showing many more dolphins, whales and other marine mammals could be hurt by sonar off Hawaii and Southern California caused alarm among environmentalists on Friday. The Navy, for its part, emphasized those were worst-case estimates and that the numbers cover a much larger testing area than before.
The numbers are in the Navy's new draft environmental impact statement for exercises planned from 2014-2018. In it, the Navy says that, under its preferred alternative, sonar training and testing might unintentionally harm marine mammals 2.8 million times a year over five years.
"The numbers are staggering and there is absolutely no corresponding mitigation to account for this harm," Zak Smith, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told msnbc.com.
Turkey dolphins finally released into the wild
May 10, 2012 (Wildlife Extra)
Rescued from death's door and the confines of a filthy festering ‘swimming pool' in Hisaronu, Turkey, and after nearly two years of careful care and preparation, two dolphins were finally set free when the gate to their sea pen was opened for the first time and the dolphins swam Back To The Blue.
The international team of marine mammal experts from the US, UK and Turkey, led by Jeff Foster, masterminded the release every inch of the way. Jeff said, "Twenty months of intensive rehab work looks like they have paid off! Tom and Misha are looking great. We took two dolphins with perhaps only weeks to live and brought them back to full health and fitness, worked to teach them the essential skills required for survival, such as catching live fish from the local seas which they now hunt enthusiastically. In my experience, if any former captive dolphins can make it back in the wild where they belong then Tom and Misha can."
New Navy study says use of sonar, explosives may hurt more marine mammals than once thought
May 10, 2012 (Washington Post)
The U.S. Navy may hurt more dolphins and whales by using sonar and explosives in Hawaii and California under a more thorough analysis that reflects new research and covers naval activities in a wider area than previous studies.
The Navy estimates its use of explosives and sonar may unintentionally cause more than 1,600 instances of hearing loss or other injury to marine mammals each year, according to a draft environmental impact statement that covers training and testing planned from 2014 to 2019. The Navy calculates the explosives could potentially kill more than 200 marine mammals a year.
The larger numbers are partially the result of the Navy’s use of new research on marine mammal behavior and updated computer models that predict how sonar affects animals.
The Navy also expanded the scope of its study to include things like in-port sonar testing — something sailors have long done but wasn’t analyzed in the Navy’s last environmental impact statement. The analysis covers training and testing in waters between Hawaii and California for the first time as well.
Built-in Ear Plugs: Whales May Turn Down Their Hearing Sensitivity When Warned of an Impending Loud Noise
May 8, 2012 (Newswise)
Now researchers have discovered that whales may protect their ears by lowering their hearing sensitivity when warned of an imminent loud sound.
“We think – based on much of our echolocation work – that it is much more than a simple reflex,” he says.
Finding answers to complex orca-salmon connection
May 8, 2012 (Watching Our Waterways)
Once you begin to challenge the assumptions — as a seven-member scientific panel has done — a more complex picture emerges. It is not easy to sort out predator-prey interactions, especially considering that the prey may include hundreds of individual salmon stocks, some of which are doing quite well.
The independent panel (PDF 144 kb), made up of U.S. and Canadian scientists, tackled the question of whether cutbacks or elimination of salmon fishing could help rebuild the killer whale population at a faster rate. The panel’s preliminary conclusion is that reducing fisheries could have a slight benefit, but only if certain assumptions hold true.
Judge dismisses suit to free orca from captivity
May 7, 2012 (Seattle Times)
Judge Benjamin H. Settle last week ruled that orca activists who sued the federal government didn't give proper notice and failed to state a valid claim. He granted motions by the government and Seaquarium to dismiss the case.
Speculation continues over unsafe sonar practices
May 7, 2012 (Islands Sounder)
Councilwoman Lovel Pratt charged that of 60 local whale deaths documented over the past 15 years, only 35 would be expected from natural causes. During this same time frame, Pratt said, the Navy detonated an estimated 150 bombs in local waters as part of its training exercises.
Because southern Puget Sound orcas are an endangered species, no killing – accidental or not – is permitted, and non-lethal contacts are severely restricted. The death of even one whale from testing or training could be a major impediment to the Navy's authorization and permitting process.
Summer Fun or Slick Stunts at SeaWorld?
May 4, 2012 (Hightower Report)
Based in Orlando, Fla., this giant outfit pocketed record profits of $380 million last year, but paid zero taxes on it.
This is because SeaWorld is owned by Blackstone Group, a multibillion-dollar private-equity giant that specializes in acrobatic accounting and spectacular twistings of our tax laws.
Navy Representatives Openly Discussed Bombing Activities in the Marine Sanctuary
May 1, 2012 (Candace Whiting blog)
Below is a partial recording of the Navy’s direct response to the San Juan Council’s inquiries: Answering the Council’s questions is John Moser, project manager for the environmental impact statement (eis) of the Northwest Training and Testing project.
Fatty Ears May Help Baleen Whales Hear
April 17, 2012 (Live Science)
This is the first study to describe the fat beside the ears as a potential sound reception pathway for baleen whales, Yamato and colleagues write in a study published online April 10 in the journal The Anatomical Record.
Whalefest a whale of a time
April 8, 2012 (Juneau Empire)
The Prince of Wales Whalefest and Beachcombers Fun Fair was held March 30 through April 1 and was a great success. The annual event, a part of the Out in the Rain program of outdoors activities, had approximately 600 people participate in a series of events on Prince of Wales Island.
Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, an internationally known oceanographer, spoke at area schools and at a public presentation about marine debris and the Japanese tsunami.
Howard Garrett, a whale researcher from Washington, spoke about Orca (killer whale) behavior and culture.
They spoke to approximately 250 students at area schools over the course of the week, and about 225 people in the public presentations at the Craig High School Auditorium.
About 80 people went out on the water Saturday morning to watch whales from fishing vessels and kayaks near Klawock. The whales, sea lions, herring, eagles and other sea birds cooperated by putting on a great show for all who were able to come out.
Approximately 30 people participated in a beach cleanup on Sunday morning, with Dr. Ebbesmeyer present to interpret found objects. Debris was found with Japanese markings, but it could not be conclusively said it was a product of the tsunami. One lucky man from Craig found a glass fishing float as he cleaned the beach on St. Ignace Island.
This event would not have been possible without the work of a dedicated group of volunteers, including boat skippers and artists, and generous donations from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), the Quality Schools/Quality Students program of the Alaska Association of School Boards, the City of Craig and many others.
SEACC and the US Forest Service have partnered to present a series of recreational opportunities on Prince of Wales Island. The program, “Out in the Rain,” brings people together to do something fun in the woods or waters that surround our communities, and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world. For more information on Whalefest, contact Bob Claus of SEACC at 755-2321 or Victoria Houser with the U.S. Forest Service at 826-1614.
Robert Barron: Killer whales need our protection
April 7, 2012 (Oregon Public Radio)
Officials are investigating the controversial death of a young female orca from a pod of the endangered mammals in Puget Sound. The orca washed up near Washington’s Long Beach in February.
Preliminary reports suggest the whale suffered extensive hemorrhaging in the soft tissues of the chest, head and right side of her body.
That has some orca experts suspecting the injuries may be from an underwater explosion or other human activity.
Now, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement has launched an investigation.
Robert Barron: Killer whales need our protection
March 24, 2012 (Nanaimo Daily News editorial)
It appears that the threeyearold female orca, which was a member of L-pod, a endangered group that lives in Canadian waters during the summer months, may have been killed in an explosion during military exercises that were being carried out in the area by the Canadian and American navies.
A necropsy found the marine mammal died from highly unusual injuries.
"The entire body showed evidence of massive blunt trauma, some sort of pressure wave that was very blunt in nature and not the pointed bow of a ship or anything," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, Washington.
Balcomb suspects the animal was killed by an explosive device, one of 96 the U.S. Navy deployed in the area in 2011.
Balcomb said he's worried that ongoing naval exercises could wipe out entire pods, including the fewer than 90 orcas that make up the endangered resident population in the southern end of the Strait of Georgia and in Juan de Fuca Strait.
Could young orca have been 'blown up' by navy?
March 23, 2012 (Pete Thomas Outdoors)
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., has implied that sonar alone could not have caused such extensive damage. The researcher is quoted in the San Juan Journal as saying, "Clearly the animal was blown up."
Balcomb, in Canada's CBC News, explained that the blunt force trauma did not appear to have been caused by the bow of a ship and added that he suspects the orca was killed by an explosive device deployed by the U.S. Navy during training exercises.
"I suspect she died in U.S. waters. And probably from an explosion," said Balcomb, who is hoping a National Marine Fisheries Service investigation will provide more insight into recent naval activities. "We're seeking information about what explosions at least the navy would be aware of."
The U.S. Navy has denied using explosives in the area in February.
Details of live-fire exercises requested after orca killed
March 23, 2012 (Vancouver Sun)
The U.S. and Canadian navies are being asked to hand over details of live fire exercises and sonar use around southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound in February, when an endangered southern resident killer whale died.
Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, believes three-year-old L112, also known as Sooke, was killed by an explosion — and said she may not be the only fatality.
“She always swam very close to her mother and brother, and not too far away from her aunt and cousin,” said Balcomb, who was present at an on-beach necropsy, but is not part of the team of U.S. and Canadian scientists examining tissue from the whale, which washed up near Long Beach, Washington, on Feb. 11.
“It’s probable that other animals were killed,” Balcomb said.
Military bombs are regularly dropped in Juan de Fuca Strait and sonar and live fire exercises are common, Balcomb said.
Mystery of orca’s death only deepens with new info
March 22, 2012 (Watching Our Waterways)
“It is baffling to demographers why this (Southern Resident) population is doing so poorly compared to the northern population,” Ken told me. “Something weird is going on, and that’s a consensus.
“In the early days, Mike Bigg (a Canadian orca researcher) and I were amazed that females seemed to be immortal. We just didn’t have many female deaths, and it was clearly related to their long life spans.”
The story has changed over the past 35 years, Ken said, and the number of recent deaths of females is driving the species closer to extinction.
Ken is clearly worried. Years ago, he would not have been so outspoken. I recall when Ken was a typically reserved, cautious scientist. But actions taken to shift environmental factors in favor of the orcas have been slow or nonexistent. Meanwhile, the future of these killer whales — a genetically distinct population — still hangs in the balance.
Whale death leads to call for ban on navy exercises
March 22, 2012 (Victoria Times Colonist)
An initial necropsy showed L112, also known as Sooke, died of "significant trauma," but scientists who took part in the necropsy said it was unlikely the whale had been struck by a vessel or attacked by another whale.
A CT scan and virology, contaminant and bacteriological analyses are being conducted, but conclusive results may not be available for several months.
However, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, believes that Sooke's death was the result of naval activity, and that the orca may have been blown up.
Killer whale possibly killed by U.S. military explosion
March 22, 2012 (CBC)
Some U.S. scientists believe a killer whale that washed up off the coast of Washington last month might have been killed by a military explosion.
The three-year-old female orca was a member of L-pod, a group that lives in Canadian waters during the summer months.
The killer whale's carcass washed ashore at Long Beach, Wash., Feb. 11.
A necropsy found the marine mammal died from highly unusual injuries.
"The entire body showed evidence of massive blunt trauma, some sort of pressure wave that was very blunt in nature not the pointed bow of a ship or anything," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, Wash., about 15 kilometres east of Victoria.
Balcomb suspects the animal was killed by an explosive device, one of 96 the U.S. Navy deployed in the area in 2011.
"I suspect she died in U.S. waters. And probably from an explosion," Balcomb said. "We're seeking information about what explosions at least the navy would be aware of."
He said he's worried that ongoing naval exercises could wipe out entire pods, including the fewer than 90 orcas that make up the endangered resident population in the southern end of Georgia Strait and in Juan de Fuca Strait, between Vancouver Island and Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
"Chances are some other whales got killed too," said Balcomb.
March 21, 2012 (CHEK News Video)
'Draconian' chinook cuts loom for anglers
March 17, 2012 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Fishermen in Greater Victoria are reeling after being told the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is looking at "draconian" restrictions on the summer chinook salmon fishery in Juan de Fuca Strait.
Members of the Victoria-South Island Sport Fishing Advisory Board and industry representatives, who took part in a conference call with DFO Friday, say plans to further restrict or even close the chinook fishery in the peak season of June, July and August could cause the collapse of the southern Vancouver Island sports fishing industry.
Rare whale passing near Island festival
March 16, 2012 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Varvara thought to be headed home.
Varvara, a rare western gray whale, is speeding up the west coast, probably on her way home to Russia's Sakhalin Island.
The nine-year-old female was near the Washington-B.C. border Friday, travelling north at a speed of about 160 kilometres a day, which should get her to Tofino in time for the whale festival, which runs until March 25.
"There's great interest in Varvara's journey in Tofino," said Jim Darling, a director of the Pacific Wildlife Foundation.
Elwha River back in its natural channel; first time in a century
March 16, 2012 (Seattle Times)
At 7:30 Friday morning, contractors started shifting the Elwha River back into its natural channel. Within four to five days, the river will be fully back in its native channel -- for the first time in a century.
Within four to five weeks, the final draw down of Lake Aldwell, the reservoir behind Elwha Dam, will also be complete -- and the dam, and its reservoir, will be history.
Barb Maynes, spokeswoman for Olympic National Park, said Glines Canyon Dam could be down ahead of schedule, too. Once forecast to take up to three years, nobody thinks the dam removal project will take that long anymore. Glines may be gone as soon as June of 2013.
Monitoring of out-migrating smolts, or baby salmon by the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe so far shows that the young fish headed to salt water this season have been unaffected by elevated levels of sediment in the river, said Mike McHenry, habitat biologist for the tribe. Chinook, chum, and pink salmon found in the smolt trap maintained in the lower river by the tribe all look normal, McHenry said.
Death at sea: speculation swirls over sonar
March 14, 2012 (San Juan Journal)
With a body of evidence still under scrutiny, local biologists remain guarded about whether the recent death of a 3-year-old killer whale is the result of unnatural causes.
But some local killer whale experts are drawing their own conclusions.
“It didn’t die of disease or starvation,” Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said of the young female killer whale, known as L112 at the center. “Clearly the animal was blown up.”
Balcomb, director of the San Juan Island-based killer whale research center, contends that the signs of trauma on the body and on the head and, more importantly, among the tissues in the rear of the killer whale’s jaw are strikingly similar to the injuries that he witnessed in a group of stranded beaked whales several years ago in the Bahamas. He said those whales stranded themselves on a beach shortly after a military ship traveling in the same vicinity passed by with its sonar engaged.
“Basically it’s what happens when you blow up the head of a whale,” Balcomb said of L112 injuries.
The body of L112, also known as “Sooke” was found on a beach just north of Long Beach, Wash., on Feb. 11. Its body was battered, bloodied and bruised, and biologists estimate it had been dead several days at the most. Sooke was a member of the Southern resident killer whales, which make their seasonal home in the San Juans and were declared endanagered under federal law in 2005.
Sonar testing raises whale worries
March 13, 2012 (Everett Herald)
Whale watchers and tour-boat operators are concerned about the effect the latest round of sonar testing at Naval Station Everett could have on marine mammals.
A loud "pinging" sound has been heard on board several different boats in the area, including the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry, over the past week and a half.
"It's disturbing, it's very disturbing," said Susan Berta, co-founder of the Orca Network in Greenbank.
The testing was first heard Feb. 29 and has been heard several times since. It originated on the USS Shoup, a destroyer stationed at Naval Station Everett, said Sheila Murray, a spokeswoman for the Northwest region of the U.S. Navy.
The testing has been done on and off for years but is relatively infrequent and only takes place with special permission of the Pacific fleet commander in Hawaii, she said.
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network said he heard the sound onboard a boat with others in Possession Sound on Wednesday. The group put a hydrophone -- a device used for listening to sounds from underwater -- into the sound and connected it to a microphone.
"It still hurts my ears," Garrett said the next day, adding that the volume was turned all the way down. "They slowly ramped up and lengthened the duration" of the pings over about three hours, roughly from 2 to 5 p.m., he said.
The group also saw at least one gray whale -- he's not sure if it was the same one seen twice or two separate whales, Garrett said.
At first, the sonar showed no apparent effect on the whale, which seemed to be feeding in the water near Tulalip Bay, he said. When the sonar grew louder after about 20 minutes, though, the whale turned and swam north toward Port Susan, Garrett said.
Navy's Northwest Range faces federal lawsuit
March 10, 2012 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, and the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit Jan. 25 on behalf of six environmental groups, including the People For Puget Sound, challenging the Navy’s underwater warfare training exercises in the Northwest Training Range.
"The area where the Navy trains includes the Dabob Bay Range Complex Site on Hood Canal and the Quinault Underwater Tracking Range Site situated along the Pacific Coast in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The lawsuit focuses on the Quinault range which was expanded to 38 times its original size within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in 2011.
'Olympic Coast was designated as a sanctuary and should be off limits,' Boyles said. She added that the increased frequency and intensity in the Navy’s training in that area since 2010 is 'a big issue'."
If One Orca Whale Was Blown Out of the Water, How Many More Died?
March 10, 2012 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
These whales are familiar to those who live in the Pacific Northwest – the orcas spend much of the summer in the inland waters of the southern Salish Sea, and cruise down to the Seattle area in the fall. They swim close to shore and up to our boats, and we know them all by name or number. They have received endangered status and as such are highly protected as well as highly cherished, but their population hovers below 90 total, stubbornly refusing to grow. Some years they are thin and suffer from a shortage of salmon, but this year have appeared to be robust, signalling that they are finding fish (these whales never eat marine mammals).
I wonder, now, as I look at the graph and the map – are we struggling to save them with one hand, and destroying them with the other? Could it be that with all the sophisticated sonar systems the Navy uses for security that they can’t locate a pod of whales? Or perhaps a curious young whale explored the wrong thing…
Another sonar incident in Puget Sound
March 2, 2012 (San Juan Islander)
A letter signed by 16 regional scientists and sent to leaders on both sides of the border March 1 asking for silencing of military sonar in the Salish Sea was especially timely as another sonar incident occurred on February 29. Washington State Ferries Operations Center called the Whale Museum to report ferry workers and passengers on the Clinton-Mukilteo route heard sonar sounds above water. More information about the incident is available here.
The open letter was motivated by the Feb 6, 2012, use of sonar by the Canadian Navy in U.S. critical habitat of the endangered southern resident killer whales, and the observation 36 hours later of southern residents in Discovery Bay where they had never before been sighted.
The letter signed by scientists who research killer whales is posted below.
Turn It Down: How Human Noise Is Disturbing the Whales
March 1, 2012 (Time Magazine)
The residents of California’s Santa Monica Bay have some rather noisy neighbors—and they’re not happy about it. That is the conclusion of a new study which shows that blue whales feeding off the coast of California stop calling to each other when a nearby naval base powers up its sonar for training exercises.
It’s not exactly news that sonar can disturb whales. What’s different about this study, conducted by a team from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego for the journal PLoS One, is that it shows an underwater sound outside a baleen whale’s vocalization range can still affect its calling behavior. (Baleen whales – which include the blue, humpback and right — emit deep bass notes well below the ping of sonar.) Because the endangered blue whale may depend on communication to keep its family group together and alert them to the presence of food, the effects of that sonar are a serious concern.
Orca's head scanned for internal damage
February 29, 2012 (Courthouse News Service)
A federal judge ruled that the Miami Seaquarium can intervene in a case filed by orca advocates who want a federal agency to set aside a rule that kept captured killer whales off the endangered list.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suedthe National Marine Fisheries Service in November 2011, after the agency refused to grant captured Southern resident killer whales and their offspring endangered species status.
The animal activists' case centers on Lolita, a killer whale who's lived at the Miami Seaquarium for more than 40 years.
Plan to stock Elwha River with non-native hatchery fish put off
February 28, 2012 (Seattle Times)
The Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe has signed a legally-binding agreement to hold off planting any non-native Chambers Creek hatchery fish in the Elwha River in 2012.
The tribe was on a course to plant the non-native steelhead in the Elwha as soon as April.
The agreement applies to the Elwha and its tributaries, and was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tacoma. The interim agreement, signed with the Wild Fish Conservancy, The Conservation Angler, the Federation of Fly Fishers Steelhead Committee and the Wild Steelhead Coalition, grew out of a lawsuit filed by the four groups Feb. 9.
Orca's head scanned for internal damage
February 24, 2012 (KING5 TV)
A CT scan was performed on the 250-pound head of the orca known as L-112 at the Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle. The scan will help scientists look for evidence into what may have caused her death.
L-112's body washed up on the shore near Long Beach almost two weeks ago. Born in 2009, she was part of the southern resident L Pod. L-112 was a healthy young orca, often photographed with the rest of the L Pod near the San Juan Islands.
Initial inspections by Cascadia Research and other groups found obvious signs of trauma to her head, neck and right side, but no outward signs of broken bones. That opened the door to the possibility that the member of the endangered L Pod had been exposed to some major underwater noise.
Whale tagging under way on Puget Sound orcas
February 24, 2012 (Seattle Times)
Up to six members of the Southern Resident population of killer whales will be tagged this year under the research program -- probably fewer, due to the difficulty of the operation and restriction on tagging only post-reproductive females and males.
The agency intends to tag up to two orcas in each of the three southern resident pods per year. The first tag was darted in to an adult male in J Pod on Monday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The fisheries service in an announcement and question and answer press release stated one of the orcas in J Pod had already been tagged. The agency also posted a map of the path traveled by the tagged orca.
Researchers launch winter tracking of killer whales
February 21, 2012 (BBC)
A team of killer whale researchers is tracking J pod by satellite, after attaching a special radio tag to J-26, a 21-year-old male named “Mike.”
Brad Hanson, who is leading the research team from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, said the tagging occurred Monday without incident as darkness fell over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The goal is to learn where the Southern Resident killer whales go in winter, what they’re eating and why they choose certain areas to hang out. Until now, these questions could not be answered well, because winter sightings were fairly limited.
Why whales and dolphins should qualify as 'non-human people'
February 21, 2012 (BBC)
Psychologist Dr Lori Marino, from Emory University in Atlanta, told how scientific advances had changed the view of the cetacean brain.
She said: "We went from seeing the dolphin/whale brain as being a giant amorphous blob that doesn't carry a lot of intelligence and complexity to not only being an enormous brain but an enormous brain with an enormous amount of complexity, and a complexity that rivals our own."
Dolphins had a sense of self which could be tested by the way they recognise themselves in mirrors, she added.
"When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and know that's you, you have a sense of 'you'," said Dr Marino.
"They have a similar sense. They can look in a mirror and say, 'Hey, that's me'."
Why whales and dolphins should qualify as ‘non-human people’
February 20, 2012 (MacLeans)
They can understand numbers and abstract concepts and have their own distinct culture and traditions
Lori Marino of Emory University, who’s spent over 20 years studying cetacean brains, pointed out that whales and dolphins have among the biggest (for their size) and most complex brains on the planet. Dolphins, she said, have shown evidence that they can understand numbers, abstract concepts, and can recognize themselves in a mirror—they’ve even been seen using tools to catch fish. Whale species, too, have their own distinct culture and traditions. Marino cited the work of Dalhousie University’s Hal Whitehead, a pioneer in sperm whale research, whose work unraveling these whales’ cultural traditions has been previously covered in Maclean’s.
ari Koski of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, Wash. spoke about the killer whale populations that live off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, noting that they have their own ceremonies and traditions, too. As the University of British Columbia’s John Ford has shown, different groups of killer whales can have their own distinct dialects, much like sperm whales and other species do. According to Koski, killer whales have been observed participating in birth and death rituals, like a grieving mother who stayed with her stillborn baby while other members of her group swam beside her.
Expert says data may link sonar to orca death
February 17, 2012 (KING5 TV)
Scott Veirs of the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network is up to his ears in marine mammal detective work this week.
Since the discovery of a dead endangered southern resident orca on the Washington coast last weekend, Veirs has been investigating the possibility of a link between the death of the orca and exercises conducted by the Canadian Navy. He said he has married sounds from his network which revealed sonar use by the Canadians near the San Juan Islands last week, and the locations of the Navy ships, available online to anyone.
Dead orca whale washes ashore near Long Beach
February 12, 2012 (Oregonian)
A dead orca washed ashore Saturday near Long Beach, Wash., just weeks after two other whales were found dead on the beach.
The 12-foot female orca washed ashore about a mile north of the Cranberry approach, Tiffany Boothe of the Seaside Aquarium wrote in an e-mail. She said that obvious external signs of decomposition confirmed the whale had been dead for a while, and the animal was moved for a necropsy, which was performed Sunday by Portland State University biology professor Debbie Duffield and Cascadia Research biologists.
The necropsy revealed hemorrhaging, indicating major trauma, Boothe wrote.
Dead orca found near Long Beach member of L Pod
February 13, 2012 (KING5)
A Canadian Navy frigate used sonar in the enclosed waters of Juan de Fuca Strait this week, but marine mammals were not endangered, the ship's commanding officer said.
Everyone wants to avoid another incident like the USS Shoup, which used sonar in the same area in 2003, he said.
"It caused a panic among the killer whales, driving them into shallow waters. It caused porpoises to evacuate the area en masse and a large minke whale was seen literally thrusting out of the water," he said. "I understand the navy's need for flexibility, but we wouldn't put a firing range next to a school and this is the environmental equivalent of that."
Howard Garrett, of Orca Network, said unusual patterns of behaviour were seen among some resident killer whales several hours after the sonar was heard, but it is not known whether there was any link.
"I hate to raise speculation, but several K and L pod whales went way into Discovery Bay [between Sequim and Port Townsend]," Garrett said. "We haven't heard of them being there before."
Judge: SeaWorld's killer whales aren't 'slaves' — PETA lawsuit tossed
February 10, 2012 (Orlando Sentinel)
An effort to free whales from SeaWorld by claiming they were enslaved made a splash in the news but flopped in court Wednesday.
A federal judge in San Diego dismissed an unprecedented lawsuit seeking to grant constitutional protection against slavery to a group of orcas that perform at SeaWorld parks, saying the 13th amendment applies only to humans.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller stopped the case from proceeding two days after he became the first judge in U.S. history to listen to arguments in court over the possibility of granting constitutional rights for members of an animal species.
"As 'slavery' and 'involuntary servitude' are uniquely human activities, as those terms have been historically and contemporaneously applied, there is simply no basis to construe the Thirteenth Amendment as applying to non-humans," Miller wrote in his ruling.
U.S. judge dismisses PETA claim that SeaWorld's killer whales are ‘slaves’
February 10, 2012 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Captive killer whales aren’t “slaves” and have no right to be set free, a U.S. judge has ruled – quickly tossing out the long-shot legal effort by animal rights activists to have the orcas released by claiming they had constitutional rights.
The case, filed by PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – made a splash attracting widespread attention, just as PETA’s blood-spattered anti-fur activists create controversy – but failed to persuade U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller, who ruled two days after initial arguments.
How plastic bags are poisoning the planet's greatest predators: 65ft long sperm whales are being killed by human pollution
February 4, 2012 (Daily Mail)
As it prepares to dive, the sperm whale undergoes one of nature’s most amazing transformations. Its characteristically square head is in fact an extended nose. Fifteen feet long from nostril to shoulder, it contains a massive reservoir of spermaceti oil.
This waxy oil has remarkable bio-acoustical properties. It is used to amplify the sonar clicks that echo along the animal’s head and out into the ocean.
The result is the loudest noise created by any animal — 230 decibels, as loud as a jet engine and powerful enough to be heard six miles away.
Each sperm whale must consume up to 1,000 squid a day — that’s 1,100lb or half a ton of calamari! Although it has a 10ft-long jaw studded with 42 of the biggest teeth in the animal kingdom (each up to 2ft long), it does not bite its prey.
Instead, it sucks up its food like a giant vacuum cleaner, swallowing the squid whole. We know this from the stomach contents of dissected whales.
Such supreme adaptability means that sperm whales live to great ages, at least 100 years old. Bowhead whales, their cousins, live to even greater ages — up to 300 years and perhaps even older, making them the planet’s longest living mammal.
We know this from ancient harpoons that have been found embedded in the blubber of bowheads, and which have been Carbon-14 dated to 235 years and older.
Killer whales are the sea wolves of Arctic
February 4, 2012 (Alaska Dispatch)
“By combining (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) and scientific approaches we provide a more holistic view of killer whale predation in the eastern Canadian Arctic relevant to management and policy,” wrote Ferguson and his two co-authors in their conclusion. “Combining scientists and Inuit knowledge will assist in northerners adapting to the restructuring of the Arctic marine ecosystem associated with warming and loss of sea ice.”
“There is little evidence that Canadian Arctic killer whales eat fish, and interviewee responses suggested that predation on fish, if it does occur, is extremely rare,” the authors wrote.
The Phocid “ice” seals (mainly ringed seals, but also harp, bearded, and hooded seals) were the most common prey, reported by 70 percent of the hunters. Narwhal was next (60 percent,) followed by beluga whales (52 percent) and bowhead whales (46 percent.)
Several hunters reported killer whales creating big wakes to knock seals from the safety of ice floes into the ocean.
Mysteries of Killer Whales Uncovered in the Antarctic
February 2, 2012 (Environment 360)
But what has driven the men to pursue killer whale research is not the minutiae of markings or migration routes, but rather the extraordinary culture and habits of these cetaceans, whose cooperative hunting behavior and intergenerational transmission of knowledge is rivaled only by humans, Durban and Pitman contend.
Killer whales — Orcinus orca — are long-lived, with females surviving for up to 90 years or more. The whales travel in extended family groups, with offspring generally remaining with their mothers their entire lives. Stable groups of whales join together in pods composed of different matrilines (a dominant female and her offspring), and these related whales all communicate in a distinct dialect using an array of clicks, whistles, and pulsed calls. Killer whales — which gestate for 17 months — are believed to recognize their mother’s calls in utero and are born with the ability to immediately communicate.
“You’ve got individuals that are spending 50, 60, 80 years together, and you can do a lot of things when you’re spending a lot of time with your family and related individuals,” Pitman told me in an interview. “You can hunt cooperatively. You can make sacrifices that other animals wouldn’t make. If you kill 50,000 seals in your lifetime, you get pretty good at it. And if you learn a few things you pass them on to your offspring. It makes them quite remarkable and very human-like in the things they do.”
Ingrid Visser: Orca have rights too
January 29, 2012 (Northern Advocate - New Zealand)
These eating habits are important because they are examples of orca culture, Visser says. Around the world orca have different cultures and even different dialects.
Traditions are passed down through the generations, just like humans, she says, stretching an arm towards the Poor Knights Islands in the distance to make another point.
She says what we do know about the animals is that they are self-aware, sociable and extremely intelligent.
Her point is this: an orca in captivity is a miserable orca.
She has agreed to join with Peta, America's biggest animal welfare organisation, to take on powerful US marine park SeaWorld.
In the coming months, if a judge allows the motion, she will be a key part of an unusual and controversial court case designed to challenge the captivity of five captive orca in the US (there are thought to be 42 captive orca worldwide and possibly thousands of dolphins) by using the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which bans slavery.
Professor Steven Wise, who visited New Zealand a few years ago to speak to Auckland University law students, has long been investigating using the law to get rights for imprisoned animals but says the 13th Amendment is not the way to go. He fears a judge will simply rule orca are not slaves under the constitution and thus deal a blow to all future legal challenges.
Plan to dart tag Puget Sound orcas raises concerns
January 25, 2012 (Seattle Times)
Federal biologists plan next month to attach tiny satellite devices on Puget Sound's endangered orcas off the West Coast to better understand where they go during winter. But some whale experts worry the tags - about the size of a 9-volt battery with two darts - could injure the orcas.
The orcas spend summer months in Puget Sound, but "that's only half the story," Hanson said, adding "we don't know where they spend the bulk of their time."
Tracking the animals in the winter would pinpoint their range of travel and help inform their critical habitat, he said. Visual sightings and ship surveys have shown the animals travel as far south as Monterey, Calif., and as far as the north coast of British Columbia during winter, but the information isn't sufficient, Hanson said.
Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., said the dart tags are too invasive.
"I don't believe the injury to the animals is warranted," said Balcomb, who keeps a running census of the orcas. "It's an injurious process. It sticks barbs in the whales that are serious attachment devices that do cause injury and can potentially become infected."