Orca Network News - April, 2002
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2002 through April 30, 2002.
Keiko to remain at island base; funding plunges
April 30, 2002 (Eugene Register-Guard) Keiko the killer whale will stay put in his remote home base in the Westmann Islands off Iceland's south coast instead of moving as his handlers had considered.
The orca also will soon resume "ocean walks" in search of a pod that will accept him, but the Keiko team will scale back the operation because of a smaller budget.
Keiko appears to be in better shape than ever this spring, he said, but if he stops progressing, Ocean Futures may reconsider moving Keiko and further scale back the reintroduction effort.
Asia's Wind-Borne Pollution a Hazardous Export to U.S.
April 27, 2002 (Los Angeles Times) Air: Dust, chemicals travel a long way. 'We're a small world,' one scientist says.
Note: An estimated 50% of the PCBs and other persistent toxic contamination that is accumulating in the bodies of Pacific orcas originates in Asia, according to Peter Ross of Canada's Dept. of Fisheries.
Wind-borne pollution from China and neighboring countries is spreading to California and other parts of the nation and Canada as a result of surging economic activity and destructive farming practices half a world away, according to new scientific studies.
The research shows that a mix of pollutants, from dust to ozone to toxic chemicals, travels farther than once realized.
In one severe dust storm in spring 1998, particle pollution levels in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia soared. In Seattle, air quality officials could not identify a local source of the pollution, but measurements showed that 75% of it came from China, researchers at the University of Washington found.
"A larger fraction of the haze we see is Asian, far more than we ever dreamed," said Tom Cahill, professor of atmospheric science and physics at UC Davis. "We're a small world. We're all breathing each other's effluent."
Mixed with all the dust is another menace: Toxic and industrial pollutants from farms, factories and power plants.
Birds dying, but coho bounce back
April 24, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Some populations of Puget Sound birds are dying off, showing reductions of more than 90 percent during the past two decades, and rockfish in the region also are registering "alarming" declines, a state agency reported yesterday.
But the bad news was tempered by some encouraging developments: Coho salmon are making a comeback from their depressed numbers of a few years ago. And cooler temperatures were recorded at one-quarter of the locations regularly checked around the Sound, which is good for salmon because they thrive in cold water.
Among animals in trouble, water birds showed the steepest declines.
The action team said anyone living across wide swaths of Western Washington can help protect the local marine waters by taking certain steps:
- Use less water.
- Reduce use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
- Fix cars' leaks of oil and transmission fluid.
- Pick up pet waste.
- Properly maintain septic systems.
- Protect shorelines from erosion by using natural materials such as logs and native vegetation instead of bulkheads made of metal, concrete or wood.
Puget Sound Health 2002 April 24, 2002 (Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team.)
Sound water quality improves but some bird species decline April 24, 2002 (Seattle Times)
U.S. Senate kills Bush plan for Alaska drilling
April 19, 2002 (Environmental News Service) In a big defeat for the Bush administration's national energy plan, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate on Thursday killed a White House proposal to let oil companies drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A Stinging Repudiation Engineered by 3 Democrats
April 18, 2002 (Washington Post)
Neah Bay tug runs out of money again
April 19, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) State money has run out again for the oil-spill-prevention tug at Neah Bay, at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. After a busy seven months, the rescue tug Barbara Foss is gone until September, when $1.4 million appropriated by the Legislature will cover 200 more days.
From September through last Friday, the Barbara Foss aided eight ships that had experienced engine failure and other problems on the coast and in the strait -- the maritime gateway to Puget Sound and to refineries in northwestern Washington. With the tug no longer around, environmental activists contend that the seasonal approach puts the state's northwest waters at risk.
Salmon Threatened by Pesticide Contamination of Northwest Watersheds
April 19, 2002 (Whatcom Watch Online) Pesticide contamination of rivers and streams in the Northwest is extremely widespread and is causing harm to salmon. That's the conclusion of Poisoned Waters, a new report published by the Washington Toxics Coalition and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.
The two groups completed a first-time analysis of government studies on pesticide contamination of salmon streams, and obtained definitive evidence that pesticides pollute salmon streams at levels that cause harm. The groups also analyzed the Environmental Protection Agency pesticide registration documents and found glaring deficiencies in the agency's actions to protect salmon.
EPA Settles Pesticide Lawsuit
April 19, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to consider for the first time in a decade how 18 commonly used pesticides may affect endangered salmon and woodland plants.
Agency officials said the review is part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit that will be signed Friday with three California environmental groups.
The groups sued over the EPA's approval of the pesticides, used in fields, forests, orchards and to control weeds along highways and irrigation canals. Several million pounds of the pesticides are used each year, mainly in the Central Valley and along the Pacific coast, the environmental groups said.
The EPA, working with the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, will analyze the pesticides' affect on seven salmon species and 33 endangered forest plants. The agency also agreed to find ways to minimize the pesticides' effects.
YEAR 2100: Scientist tries to focus locally the effects of warmer world
April 19, 2002 (Anchorage Daily News
) Homer will be wetter but warmer a century from now, with more rain in winter, earlier breakups and one-third less snow. Water in Kachemak Bay will be 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and reach a foot higher on the beach as world ice melts.
Using what he called the most conservative estimates of global warming, Barnett predicted Homer's summers will be 5 degrees warmer and its winters 15 degrees warmer. Worldwide, temperature averages won't increase as much, but warming is expected to concentrate in northern latitudes.
Warm water could drive Pacific Northwest salmon to extinction, he said. And while Alaskans may understandably have mixed feelings about a warmer climate, other people have reasons to fear it, Barnett said. Regional computer runs for California foretell power and water shortages and wholesale ecological loss, he said.
Orca listing still uncertain
April 18, 2002 (Bremerton Sun) A draft report by federal biologists lays solid groundwork to list Puget Sound's killer whales under the Endangered Species Act - but that may or may not be the outcome, officials say.
"Large oil spills probably present the greatest short-term threat to coastal organisms," the report says. "Coastal cetaceans (whales) may contact petroleum during migration feeding or breeding."
If Orca is captured, officials vow to return her to elements
April 18, 2002 (Tacoma News-Tribune) If federal officials decide to intervene in the case of a young orphan orca hanging out near the ferry dock, every effort will be made to return her to the wild.
"If we go in, there will be a rehabilitation phase," he said, explaining intervention would only occur if the whale is found to need medical attention. She is eating and active, but a skin ailment, common among killer whales, is worsening.
Scientists also are concerned about a paint thinner-like odor on her breath, a condition called ketosis. It can indicate starvation or diabetes, both considered unlikely, or a possibly genetic metabolism problem that can be serious, said veterinarian Dave Huff of the Vancouver Aquarium.
"We see this one little whale as a messenger of the larger problems" - pollution, habitat encroachment and vessel traffic - facing whales in Puget Sound, organizer Kathy Fletcher said earlier.
Plan to rescue orca orphan gains favor in U.S., Canada April 18, 2002 (Seattle Times) (link lexpired)
Feds spell out orca intervention plans April 18, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Dead whale apparently a member of offshore pod
April 17, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Injuries indicate that female died at sea; new orca calf likely was ready to wean.
The battered 4-ton corpse of an orca hauled off a southwest Washington beach yesterday appears to come from a mysterious group of killer whales that usually stay well offshore -- a find that has piqued the interest of orca activists and researchers.
The orca appears to have died before washing ashore near Long Beach, said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor. The orca, about 20 feet long, had internal bruising around its head and underside. "It died a traumatic death of some kind, but we don't know yet what caused it," said Balcomb, who attended a necropsy -- an animal autopsy -- of the creature performed at Fort Stevens State Park near Astoria, Ore.
This was clearly not a transient whale or a southern resident. There is a small chance it could be a northern resident, Balcomb said. Genetic tests will tell for sure.
The offshore whales are the most closely related genetically to the southern residents featured in whale-watching cruises around the San Juan Islands.
But the two groups don't appear very closely linked, Balcomb said, "probably like Apaches came from Siberians.
Salmon projects get $5M
April 17, 2002 (Bremerton Sun) The West Sound region obtained more for salmon than most anywhere in the state.
Seventeen salmon-restoration projects involving West Sound streams and shorelines have been granted more than $5.2 million in federal and state funds.
The Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board has approved 128 projects across the state for a total of $36.8 million.
Species recover from spill, report says – Some disagree with updating ecosystem barometer
April 17, 2002 (Anchorage Daily News) Killer whales, pink salmon, common murres and four other species or habitats damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill have rebounded and should be considered recovered, a new report concludes.
But the region's leading killer whale researcher said he disagrees with listing killer whales as recovered, especially the well-known AB pod. That whale group lost 14 of 36 members in the first two years after the spill and splintered into two groups.
"I think it gives a false sense that that group is back to normal, and it's not at all," said biologist Craig Matkin of the North Gulf Oceanic Society. "Although we've seen increases in the AB pod over the past couple of years, there's still no assurance that they will recover to pre-spill numbers."
Over the past few years, the AB killer whale pod has slowly rebuilt, reaching 26 whales last summer.
Another killer whale group that frequented the Sound -- a genetically unique family of marine mammal eaters called AT1 -- lost at least 11 of 22 members in the years following the spill and has not yet reproduced.
Measuring What Matters
April 16, 2002 (Northwest Environment Watch) To measure well what really matters--particularly things such as the status of the region's natural ecosystems and northwesterners' satisfaction with life--will require better data and further research, building upon the many indicators of progress developed since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In the Pacific Northwest, the nonprofit group Sustainable Seattle's indicators are perhaps best known, but indicators projects have also sprung up at different times in small towns such as Vanderhoof, BC, and Sitka, Alaska; rural areas around bodies of water such as Willapa Bay, Washington, the lower Columbia River, and Flathead Lake, Montana; small cities such as Missoula, Montana, and Olympia, Washington; suburban areas such as Sonoma County, California; and even vast watersheds such as the Fraser River basin. Major metropolitan counties such as Oregon's Multnomah and Washington's King and Pierce have indicators of their own. British Columbia and Washington each have multiple sets of indicators in print.
The Northwest has surprisingly little systematic information about the status of its natural capital--the communities of plants and animals that make human life possible and, to many northwesterners, define their chosen land. Even the evolving status of the region's cultural icon and indicator animal, the salmon, remains--despite listings under the US Endangered Species Act and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in their aid--a great unknown in much of the region. At best the Northwest has snapshots of the abundance of some wild runs--usually those of commercial importance--from some time in the last decade. Vast stretches of salmon country in Alaska and British Columbia go unsurveyed for the fish. The dozens of distinct life histories that wild salmon follow in each watershed are disappearing even before they can be documented. And fisheries managers rarely monitor the underlying biological condition of the region's streams. Better, and regular, assessment of salmon status would serve as a rough proxy for the health of the ecosystems through which they travel, just as the status of other migratory species, such as songbirds or whales, indicates the status of the habitats they traverse.
The Arctic meltdown: Quick thaw alarms natives and scientists
April 15, 2002 (Seattle Times) (link expired) The native elders have no explanation. Scientists are perplexed as well. The icy realm of the Eskimo - the tundra and ice of Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland - has started to thaw.
Strange portents are everywhere.
In the last century, parts of the Arctic have warmed by 10 degrees Fahrenheit - 10 times the global average. Sea ice covers 15 percent less of the Arctic Ocean than it did 20 years ago, and that ice has thinned from an average of 10 feet to less than 6.
Report buoys orcas' advocates
April 15, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Puget Sound's orcas face their biggest short-term threat from an oil spill. They appear genetically different from other killer whales. They inhabit a unique geological and biological niche. And their population has likely been reduced by half or more from its natural level.
Those are some of the conclusions reached in a draft report prepared by scientists to assist federal fisheries officials in deciding whether to protect the orca population under the Endangered Species Act.
At least 34 orcas -- and more likely up to 48 -- were either captured or killed while being captured for display at aquariums and water parks in the 1960s and 1970s, the report says.
DNR under pressure to limit logging
April 15, 2002 (Tacoma News-Tribune) Neighbors of state forests test their influence as agency calculates future timber harvest.
Activists, such as Marrom, executive director of Citizen Advocates for Whatcom, have compelled the state to make big changes, in some cases dramatically reducing the amount of land available for logging.
That's particularly important now as the department calculates its timber harvest for the next 10 years, which affects the amount of money placed in trust for various government uses.
"These lands have become so valuable for so many other uses. We really can't justify just cutting them for money anymore," added Lisa McShane of the Bellingham-based Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.
SeaWorld killer whale Winnie dies
April 13, 2002 (San Antonio Express-News) The death late Thursday marked the seventh demise of a killer whale at the 14-year-old park, and the first since another female killer whale named Haida died last August.
In mid-March, trainers noticed inattentiveness in Winnie's behavior. Veterinarians began administering antibiotics after blood samples showed a high white-cell count, often a telltale sign of an infection. The 4,200-pound, 16-foot whale did not respond to treatment.
Marine biologists believe killer whales live 25 to 35 years on average, although biologists have only about 35 years of data on the species, Wigdahl said.
Some animal advocates say killer whales live more than 50 years in the wild, but seldom longer than 25 years in captivity, because confinement limits their development. Little data exists on the number of orcas in the wild killed by disease, predators, pollution and fishing nets.
Note: The correct figures are just out in the National Audubon Society Field Guide to Marine Mammals of the World, released April 2, which states that killer whale females live to 80-90 years, and males live to 50-60 years. Winnie died in her prime years, comparable to a 26 year old human.
Orca patrol starts service
April 12, 2002 (KING5 TV) Federal fisheries officials have hired a team of whale researchers to start shooing away boaters who stop in the area near Vashon Island where an orphaned killer whale has been hanging out for weeks.
The Soundwatch program of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor will begin patrols Saturday, handing out pamphlets to boaters warning them that allowing the orca to get too close to boats could reduce the chances she can eventually be reunited with members of her family.
Authorities don't want the whale to grow too accustomed to humans, but as long as she remains healthy they are reluctant to move her back to her more remote home waters in Canada.
Whale Researchers Shooing Boaters Away from Orphaned Orca April 12, 2002 (KIRO7 TV)
Hydropower, protecting environment collide on dam licensing
April 11, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) At issue is a proposal by the hydroelectric industry to reshape the rules for relicensing dams.
The industry's biggest complaint is a requirement that any proposed revision to the operating license be thoroughly studied.
Environmentalists, however, say it is hard to generalize because dams, and the environment surrounding them, must be considered individually.
Salmon to Feed the Soul
April 11, 2002 (Tidepool Dispatches) A Northwest Icon Gets the Art Treatment to Aid Restoration Efforts
A flatbed of salmon figures is just par for the course for Johani, a folk artist whose projects have included everything from watershed trading cards to "chum charms"-- porcelain amulets in the shape of that species of salmon. Through her art, she aims to bolster citizens' sense of connection to salmon. Not only would this improve humans' relationship to the fish, it would thereby promote the recovery of the region's salmon runs.
The sculptures are the harvest of the Soul Salmon project, launched two years ago by Johani and her husband, sculptor and essayist Tom Jay. The project culminates this weekend with an auction of thirty sculptures at Seattle's Bell Center, as a benefit for salmon restoration and advocacy on the West Coast.
Bush administration decides against making it easier to eliminate more toxic chemicals
April 11, 2002 (Environmental News Service) President Bush plans to ask Congress to support a global treaty phasing out a dozen of the world's most highly toxic chemicals but won't back a provision making it easier to eliminate more toxins, administration officials said Wednesday.
Bush's originally supported a treaty provision calling for expanding the list of chemicals that would be covered. But administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that would now be left for lawmakers to decide. "The intention is to work with the Congress on the process of adding additional chemicals," said one official.
Soundwatch to monitor young orphaned orca
April 10, 2002 (San Juan Islander) Kari Koski and Dr. Richard Osborne of The Whale Museum's Soundwatch Boater Education Program will be keeping boaters away from an orphaned orca juvenile in lower Puget Sound this month. The National Marine Fisheries Service has contracted with The Whale Museum to observe the whale, as well as to educate boaters and urge them to stay away from her.
April 10, 2002 (Seattle Times) "Spring Cleaning the Natural Way" is the name of a King County public-education session offering household tips on less-toxic cleaning products and the best ways to dispose of leftover hazardous products. It will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Issaquah PCC, 1810 12th Ave. N.W. Shoppers can enter a drawing to win a free natural-cleaning gift basket.
The session will be repeated from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 20 at the Tukwila Larry's Market, 3725 S. 144th St., and April 27 at the Kirkland Larry's Market, 12321 120th Place N.E. Spanish-speaking volunteers will be at the Tukwila event.
Orphan orca to be subject of forum on Vashon Island
April 10, 2002 (Seattle Times) The condition and possible fate of an orphaned Canadian orca in Puget Sound, including a rescue plan involving Canadian scientists and aquarium officials, will be the subject of a public forum next week on Vashon Island.
People for Puget Sound, which sponsored a similar forum in West Seattle last month, will hold next week's forum from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Chatauqua School, 9309 S.W. Cemetery Road. Experts from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and other scientists will discuss recent efforts to monitor the whale's condition and the criteria NMFS would use in returning the whale to its native waters off Vancouver Island.
Groups try new tactics in salmon campaigns
April 10, 2002 (The Olympian) Gone are the public hearings where environmentalists wearing salmon costumes called on Congress to breach dams.
A substantial part of the effort has shifted to Washington, D.C., where groups such as Save Our Wild Salmon are patiently gathering votes in Congress and counting the ways federal salmon recovery plans are being shortchanged.
"This work is a little less visible because it's not about mobilizing large numbers of people," he said.
The big push, however, will be next year, when the federal government will have to show how well its salmon recovery programs are working.
"We will by then have documented fairly thoroughly a failure to implement" salmon protections, Ford said. "We will certainly do something to make that a very visible event."
Arsenic & slow pace: Asarco cleanup could take years
April 9, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A dozen years after arsenic and lead contamination was discovered around a long-demolished copper smelter in Everett, the state yesterday ordered mining giant Asarco Inc. to clean up more than 500 homes in the neighborhood.
But debt-burdened Asarco has vigorously challenged the constitutionality of the law under which the state Department of Ecology made the demand. Yesterday's order by Ecology sets the stage for continued legal wrangling -- and a slow-paced, state-funded cleanup that residents fear will take 50 years at its current rate.
Arsenic, in sufficient doses, can cause cancers of the lung, bladder and skin, and may be related to other cancers as well. It also causes stomachaches, skin abnormalities and other maladies. Lead reduces the ability of children to learn.
Bush will overhaul Northwest Forest Plan
April 8, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) The Bush administration thinks the Clinton-bred forestry plan that has governed -- and limited -- Northwest logging since 1994 is a failure and needs overhaul or replacement.
Dale Bosworth, Bush's chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told The Oregonian that the Northwest Forest Plan's cumbersome and costly procedures have held logging far short of projected levels and rendered the Forest Service ineffective.
It is the first clear sign that the Bush administration is taking action to rework the Northwest Forest Plan, which has left loggers idle and frustrated with laborious surveys for rare forest species and environmental lawsuits that seek to protect the old growth trees that the plan aims to cut.
The Northwest Forest Plan, approved by the Clinton administration following a 1993 forest summit in Portland, was the first attempt to manage a broad ecosystem across an entire region. It set aside millions of acres of federal forests for protection of the threatened northern spotted owl and other wildlife while permitting logging of nearly 1 billion board feet of federal timber each year.
In The Northwest: Wind power now a lot more realistic than 'exotic'
April 5, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Energy production is blowing from a different direction these days. Nearby, in hills above the Walla Walla River, nearly 400 towers -- each 242 feet high including giant revolving blades -- are being installed in the largest wind energy farm of the western United States.
The four Snake River dams that made Lewiston, Idaho, a barge port -- Ice Harbor Dam is visible from the wind farm -- destroyed once-abundant salmon runs. Environmental groups now want them breached.
Salmon, the 'silver needle that sews us all together'
April 5, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The amazing story of salmon is familiar enough to Northwest natives.
But not the way the Salmon Fool tells it. Not the story told with clay and fabric, folklore and perspective. Not with hues of purple and red and azure blue, or names such as Wrong Way Finnegan, Salmon a la King, Luna Lox and Salmon-Chanted Evening.
They're lovely sculptures that give you some idea of the energy and resiliency of the fish. But to better understand their magic, pull up a bucket and sit with me in Tom Jay's studio in the woods of Chimacum, a little town south of Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula.
Listen as the sculptor and his wife, fellow artist Sara Mall Johani, tell about their efforts to capture the history, beauty and legacy of the fish.
Salmon are more than just a Northwest icon. They're "the silver needle that sews us all together."
"When people value salmon as a community asset," Jay said, "there is reason for optimism."
Most U.S. Coastal Waters Polluted
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April 2, 2002 (Environmental News Service) Almost half the nation's coastal waters are so polluted that their usefulness to humans and their ability to support aquatic life are impaired, finds a new report by a quartet of federal agencies. The study, the first environmental report card on the condition of the nation's coastal waters, rates the quality of these resources as fair to poor.