Orca Network News - April, 2008
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2008 through April 30, 2008.
April 30, 2008 (Boston.com)
Undersea detection system helps to guard against collision with ships
In the deep, cold waters off Massachusetts, the world's last 350 or so North Atlantic right whales search for each other with soft, drawn-out "whoops" and "moos." The ethereal sounds travel for miles in the dark undersea to help the leviathans meet to mate and share feeding grounds. more stories like this
Now, scientists are using those calls to help the whales survive.
They have developed a cutting-edge underwater listening system to protect the creatures from their number one killer: ships. The Massachusetts Bay network can track right whales by their signature call - and in as little as 20 minutes warn mariners to slow if they're too close.
The devices are also giving scientists unprecedented insight into how the creatures change behavior to respond to the cacophony of man-made noises in the bay.
Cheney's Office: (Do Not) Save The Whales
April 30, 2008 (TPM Muckraker)
The latest contribution to good government from Vice President Dick Cheney: preventing the implementation of rules to protect the endangered right whale.
This comes from a letter House sleuth Henry Waxman (D-CA) sent to the White House today, requesting that the administration quit delaying the rules, which would restrict the speed of ships near American ports. Faster moving ships hit the whales, causing injury or death, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say.
But not so, says Cheney's office and other White House officials, who have delayed approving the NOAA's submitted rules.
Congress finally OKs Wild Sky Wilderness
April 30, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Washington is on the verge of getting its first new wilderness area in more than two decades, 106,000 acres of forest in the Cascade Mountains, just a short drive from Seattle.
With a House vote Tuesday evening, Congress sent the long-awaited and long-debated Wild Sky Wilderness plan to President Bush, who is expected to sign it.
But when hikers return this summer to the mountains above Skykomish and Index, they probably won't notice much change.
And that's exactly the point for Tom Uniack, who has spent the past five years lobbying to create Wild Sky.
Land Use a Sticky Issue for Partnership
April 29, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
Tensions began to emerge Monday between the goals of protecting habitat for fish and wildlife in Puget Sound and upholding the diverse interests of landowners.
Puget Sound Partnership has been focusing its attention on developing a series of topic papers on issues such as human health, water quality and species diversity. Drafts of the papers are being refined in consultation with scientists and members of the public.
Much of the discussion so far has been on biology and ecology, but the human factor was in play Monday in a Bremerton meeting attended by nearly 200 people.
The discussion was on a draft of a paper called "Habitat and Land Use," and some people were less than enthusiastic about the recommendations.
For example, the paper calls for a "fundamental change" in how the region manages its natural resources, including "a governance structure charged with and capable of ensuring that the policy goals are met."
A single set of rules, the draft suggests, would incorporate all requirements under the State Environmental Policy Act, Shoreline Management Act, Growth Management Act and others. Local governments would update their existing regulations to meet the state guidelines, and a single overarching state agency would make sure the rules are enforced.
Chris McCabe of the Association of Washington Business said his organization would oppose some of those ideas.
Gray whales make annual visit to Puget Sound
April 29, 2008 (KING5 TV)
EVERETT, Wash. – A small band of whales is making waves in Puget Sound, something they do about this time every year.
California Gray Whales are feeding near the shallow waters of the Snohomish River Delta. They are young males who show up every year and have no problem showing off for whale watchers.
Biologists with Cascadia Research know who these whales are, but that's about it. The whales are mysterious regulars who show up here every year, but are nowhere to be seen after they leave.
"They've never been identified anywhere else, other than here. Nowhere along the migratory corridor between Mexico or Alaska. Just right here in our North Sound waters," said Lisa Schlender, Cascadia Research biologist.
Salmon decline is a wake-up call
April 29, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Doug Howell, NWF)
The dramatic decline of salmon stocks is a wake-up call. If we heed the warning and act now to implement concrete and coordinated solutions, we can achieve success for salmon and the people, wildlife and communities that depend on them.
A recent report by local and national conservation groups laid out a comprehensive strategy for recovering federally listed salmon in the region's Columbia and Snake River Basin (LightInTheRiver.org). The principles identified in this report can easily be applied to all of Washington, Oregon and California's struggling salmon stocks: First, we must curb greenhouse gas emissions; second, we need to invest in solutions such as reconnecting salmon to high headwater habitats and protecting health flows and cool waters in headwater areas to help those species cope with changes already under way.
Five more sea lions trapped at Bonneville Dam
April 28, 2008 (Columbian)
State authorities trapped another five California sea lions at Bonneville Dam on Monday, sending four of them to their new home at the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. A fifth was branded and released.
Fishery managers remain concerned about sea lions eating endangered salmon. They plan to stage similar trap-and-haul operations twice a week for another month.
With the bulk of the spring salmon and steelhead run still to arrive at the dam, state officials say they remain concerned about sea lions eating fish protected by the Endangered Species Act. The fish are being attacked where they're most vulnerable, before passing the dam.
"We'll probably go toward the end of May," said Rick Hargrave, spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Washington, Oregon and Idaho state fishery managers received approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service last month to kill as many as 85 California sea lions per year at the dam.
Warming greater risk to narwhals than polar bears
April 26, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The polar bear has become an icon of global warming vulnerability, but a new study found an Arctic mammal that may be even more at risk to climate change: the narwhal.
The narwhal, a whale with a long spiral tusk that inspired the myth of the unicorn, edged out the polar bear for the ranking of most potentially vulnerable in a climate change risk analysis of Arctic marine mammals.
The study was published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Applications. Polar bears are considered marine mammals because they are dependent on the water and are included as a species in the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Scientists: Rescue plan for Sound falls short
April 26, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
For a quarter-century, government agencies have been birthing plans to rescue ecologically ailing Puget Sound. They didn't work.
And neither will the latest blueprint, a brand-new stab at the task unveiled by a brand-new agency that fails to deal with the biggest source of pollutants entering the Sound, leading scientists charged on Friday.
That pollution source is stormwater, the fetid mixture flowing off streets and parking lots and other hard surfaces, carrying oil, pesticides, antifreeze, pet waste and so much more into the Sound and its tributaries.
The Puget Sound Partnership's 43-page "internal discussion draft" on how to start cleaning up the waters of Puget Sound devotes just one tentative paragraph to what scientists advising the agency identified as the best solution: "low-impact development."
Scarce salmon run predicted
April 25, 2008 (Surrey Now - BC)
With Fraser River salmon returns expected to be lower than average, the fate of this year's sockeye season remains up in the air.
The announcement of low expected returns on the Fraser River comes on the heels of a complete closure last week of commercial and sport Chinook salmon fisheries off the coast of California and most of Oregon.
Gray Whale is In Danger
April 25, 2008 (American Chronicle)
California´s Gray Whale is in danger. The California Fish and Game Commission has erroneously listed the Gray Whale population as "recovered." But that same whale, while traveling off the coast of Washington is listed as "sensitive". When it reaches Oregon, it´s considered "endangered". That makes no sense. California is supposed to be a leader on environmental issues including the protection of species, yet we lag behind other states on this issue.
Because of the scientific findings regarding past whale populations and recent observations that many Gray Whales are unhealthy and at risk, there is no doubt that the time for action is now. For this reason I authored Assembly Joint Resolution 49. AJR 49 asks Congress and the President to take action to ensure that this species is not reduced further. The resolution first asks Congress and the President to call upon the National Marine Fisheries Service to undertake an immediate comprehensive assessment of the California Gray Whale including threats to the species and the status of their habitat.
Whale stranded at Sandwood
April 25, 2008 (Northern Times (Scotland))
A STRANDED orca, or killer whale, has been found at Sandwood Bay on the John Muir Trust's Sandwood Estate in North-West Sutherland.
About eight and a half metres long, the adult is thought to be a male and had been stranded for too long to establish the cause of death.
According to Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust this is an unusual find. "Since 1992 there have been only 11 killer whale stranding incidents in Scotland, so this is quite an unusual occurrence. The last reported killer whale stranding in Scotland was a juvenile in the Firth of Forth in May 2007," said Susannah Calderan, biodiversity officer with the trust. In the past month large groups of killer whales have been seen around the northern coasts of Scotland and the Isle of North Rona, some of which have been seen taking seals.
Bluebirds off to San Juans
April 24, 2008 (Olympian)
The second year of the Western bluebird relocation project continued Wednesday, with a few minor tweaks.
That's because three of the eight mating pairs transported from this bluebird-rich Army post to the San Juan Islands last spring flew back within a few days.
Only one pair from last year was spotted nesting at its new, northern destination, Fort Lewis fish and wildlife biologist Jim Lynch said.
"Having one pair nesting on the islands isn't necessarily a failure," he said.
The long-range goal is to take advantage of a burgeoning bluebird population at Fort Lewis to repopulate the San Juans, as well as Vancouver and Whidbey islands. The medium-size songbird gradually vanished from those areas because of habitat loss 15 to 70 years ago, said Gary Slater, research director for Ecostudies Institute, a Mount Vernon-based nonprofit conservation group.
Orca calf born last fall did not survive winter
April 24, 2008 (Beachcomber)
The only orca whale calf born to the J Pod last fall died as long ago as November, when it was only a few weeks old, according to whale experts who confirmed the death earlier this month.
It was likely due to food scarcity rather than habitat contamination or mother-baby bonding issues, according to Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
The calf was first spotted Nov. 6, 2007, and was thought to be only a few days old.
Balcomb added that it was not unusual for the orca to die, as 40 percent of calves do not survive.
On November 21, 2007, independent researcher Mark Sears saw the J Pod without the calf.
"The pod was acting kind of strange that day; they weren't foraging," he said. "They just came down and turned around, even though there was a lot of chums (salmon) around."
Humane Society gets partial victory in fight to save sea lions
April 24, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A federal appeals court Wednesday gave the Humane Society of the United States a partial victory in the dispute over the fate of California sea lions in the Columbia River, allowing some to be trapped but none to be killed this spring.
The Humane Society filed a request for an emergency injunction last week to contest federal authorization for Oregon and Washington to trap or kill up to 85 sea lions a year for five years because of the amount of salmon they eat at the base of Bonneville Dam.
Last week the Humane Society lost a bid for a preliminary injunction.
To fix Puget Sound, fix the streams that feed it
April 22, 2008 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Everyone wants Puget Sound cleaned up, but that can't happen while development along streams hurts water quality. Some streams aren't even on the maps.
The serious environmental challenges facing Puget Sound reach beyond its deep inlets and sinuous shorelines all the way to the crest of the Cascades and the Olympics, into the rivers and streams that are the Sound's capillaries. The streams that flow into the Sound form an integral part of its physical, biological and chemical integrity. When those streams are compromised by land-use practices, the consequences flow into Puget Sound as surely as water flows downhill.
When development occurs too close to streams, fall and winter stormflows increase in magnitude and frequency, and summer baseflows reduce or disappear altogether.
When streamside plants are removed, summer water temperatures go up. Erosion, aggravated by the removal of streamside vegetation and altered streamflows, can cause dramatic unraveling of stream channels.
Increased impervious areas accumulate and deliver automotive, household and industrial pollutants, channeling them into streams through stormwater infrastructure. Septic drainfields built too close to streams result in excessive nutrients leaching into them, with subsequent ecological and human health concerns.
Ultimately, sediment- and contaminant-laden stormwater is delivered to our nearshore habitats during the fall and winter, and warmer (and less) water is delivered to our nearshore habitats during the summer.
The mystery of Oregon's missing salmon
April 21, 2008 (Oregonian)
When water managers in the center of California throw the switch to send water south toward thirsty Los Angeles and farms and cities along the way, rivers start to run backward.
Roaring pumps gulp from the once-vibrant maze of waterways in the heart of the state known as the California Delta. Today it's the center of a gargantuan plumbing system stretching from one end of California to the other.
It's also the cradle for fish that Oregon depends on.
They are Sacramento River fall chinook salmon, and this is what the young fish negotiate as they swim to the ocean. If they make it beyond the pumps to the ocean, and thrive there, they fill the holds of Oregon fishing boats, supply grocery store fish cases and thrill sport anglers who pile onto Oregon charter vessels every summer.
More than half the salmon caught off the Oregon coast typically come from the Sacramento.
"When conditions in one place or the other are bad, they may be able to suffer through it," Swanson said. "When conditions in both places are poor, it's when you see these dramatic drops."
Puget Sound: One man's indictment, love poem and call to arms
April 21, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Like a subconscious id, Puget Sound is a repository not only of all the runoff of pollutants and problems from the crest of the Olympics to the Cascades, but of the hopes and fears of Pacific Northwest civilization. It reflects, unmercifully, who we truly are: stewards or wastrels, deep thinkers or merely deep-sixers.
Puget Sound is in danger of becoming a liquid desert, its sun-lit surface hiding the fact that what's underneath is increasingly dominated by ratfish, a bottom-feeding species one biologist estimated now makes up three-fifths of the fish biomass of our waterway.
THE POPULATION OF the Puget Sound basin has doubled since 1960 to 4 million, and we're projected to grow to about 5.5 million by 2025. Never before has nature been asked to absorb this many people, this quickly. An example: Between 1991 and 2001, 190 square miles of Puget Sound basin forest were converted to housing and stores.
We also know what flows downhill. Puget Sound is our chemical toilet, and we hope it all sinks out of sight. Except it doesn't. Collapsing species tell us what's going on. Puget Sound chinook salmon have five to 17 times the PCB concentration of other West Coast chinook, the state says. Harbor-seal pups have seven times more PCBs here than those in Georgia Strait.
And what is the Puget Sound Partnership? The Legislature last year replaced the "Action Team" with the even-nicer-sounding Partnership, following Gov. Chris Gregoire's 2005 Puget Sound Initiative. The new agency will come up with a more detailed plan of what we're trying to accomplish, but it has no real regulatory or taxing authority, and is apparently supposed to encourage local and state government to do right by the Sound, once they decide what right is.
That means coordinating the 12 counties, 115 cities, 15 tribes, at least 26 agencies and scores of citizen groups that work on Puget Sound.
But if Puget Sound's death is a precursor to the death of the oceans which leads to the extinction of our species, we might be more alarmed. If a continued collapse of Puget Sound species means not just the death of the sports-fishing industry but of resorts, boating and the quality of life that draws software geniuses to Microsoft, then maybe the playing field is leveled.
I think there is also a spiritual and moral dimension to Puget Sound as both a mirror of our own behavior and a window to higher powers. Who remains unmoved by a flight of seabirds or breeching of a whale? Who doesn't take pride in a place of beauty preserved for generations yet unborn? And if you're looking for the purpose of life, isn't one to contribute to the lives of others: not just humans, but plants and animals who can't speak for themselves? I suggest that in saving Puget Sound we save ourselves, and in restoring natural grace we earn inner grace.
And if the immensity of Puget Sound has you sucking your thumb, then tackle Port Townsend Bay, or Admiralty Inlet, or even some side lagoon the rest of us don't even know exists. Adopt a creek and make it yours. Then let your enthusiasm infect the world.
Puget Sound is going to be saved ... because it has to be. If a place as rich and fertile as this collapses, then our civilization and our species are doomed.
'Baffling' rise in beached whales
April 20, 2008 (Independent UK)
WHALE and dolphin watchers are puzzled and alarmed at an unprecedented spike in the number of deep-water species being stranded and found dead on Irish beaches in the last 14 weeks.
There has been a similar worrying increase in the number of strandings on UK coasts -- especially in Scotland -- according to Mick O'Connell of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group (IWDG).
The species involved include pilot whales (Globicephala melas) Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris), and Sowerby's beaked whales (Mesoplodon bidens).
The IWDG have been in contact with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the US as well as the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (UK) and the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, to determine if military or seismic operations were being carried out during the first few months of this year.
One theory is that beaked whales are vulnerable to new ultra-loud anti-submarine sonar, which may force them to surface too quickly and then die from the bends. However, the large number of Pilot whales stranded may suggest there is another reason for the increase in dead cetaceans washed up on our shores.
Tribal judge rejects whalers' plea deal
April 19, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
All five men who killed a gray whale last fall will face tribal charges after all, after a tribal judge this week rejected a plea bargain three of the whalers entered in federal court.
Stanley Meyers, chief judge for the Makah Nation, on Tuesday refused to accept the deal under which three of the whalers pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act in return for the tribal charges being dismissed.
He ordered all five men to stand trial, but he also threw out the most serious charge.
The whalers had faced stiff charges in tribal court for violating the tribe's whaling-management plan. If convicted, they faced up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
But Meyers dismissed that charge, finding the plan had expired anyway when the men went on the rogue hunt last September.
The men still face tribal charges of jeopardizing public safety for discharging a firearm too close to town in Neah Bay, Clallam County, and charges of hunting in a marine sanctuary.
Further exercises despite possible links to whale deaths
April 18, 2008 (Stornoway Gazette UK)
A MAJOR military exercise is to begin off the west coast of Scotland tomorrow (Saturday), despite concerns over the unprecedented number of recent whale deaths in this area and possible links to previous exercises involving the use of naval sonar.
Exercise Joint Warrior 081, a major UK/NATO multi-force exercise, is scheduled to begin in the sensitive marine habitats off the west coast of Scotland, home to a number of the UK's whale and dolphin species.
Since February, the area has also been the site of an unusually large number of whale deaths, with at least 11 Cuvier's beaked whales, 10 pilot whales and 3 Sowerby's beaked whales stranding on Scotland's west coast, a further 17 of these deep diving offshore species have stranded in Ireland and at least 2 more in Wales.
Mass strandings of Cuvier's beaked whales have been associated with naval activities involving mid-frequency active sonar. The pattern is becoming all too familiar. Evidence of sonar-related whale deaths has been mounting worldwide, including multiple incidences in the Canary Islands. However, the recent strandings could represent the first known case in the UK.
Sarah Dolman, spokesperson for WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said: "It seems likely that a number of these whales died at sea, in which case we have to ask how many more died and were not recovered, either because they were lost at sea or because they stranded on remote, inaccessible beaches and rocky shorelines of west Scotland and its many hundreds of islands?"
NW drivers cutting back big time on gas consumption
April 18, 2008 (KING5)
On the day that Washington state's attorney general is set to announce the findings of a year-long investigation into high gas prices, a Seattle-based think tank says people in the Northwest are leading the nation in cutting back on gas consumption.
The Sightline Institute says residents in Washington, Oregon and Idaho have cut back their per-capita consumption by 11 percent from 1999 to 2007. The study, released Thursday, says that translates to nearly a gallon a week on average.
Now the bad news. Even with the decline, population growth has offset the per-capita decline in gas consumption. That means even though drivers are buying less gasoline, more people are here buying gas, period. The study says total gasoline consumption and related greenhouse gas emissions in the region have remained roughly flat since 1999.
Solitary dolphins living near shore need better protection, study says
April 17, 2008 (Telegraph UK)
Solitary dolphins who take up residence close to shore and become local celebrities need better protection, a new study says.
People often cannot resist jumping into the water and swimming with a dolphin because of its playful and sociable nature.
But contact can end in injury for the dolphin while swimmers are at risk of disease or even being fatally attacked by the hugely-powerful mammal.
The phenomenon of solitary cetaceans - the group of marine mammals that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises - is on the increase, rising by 80 per cent since 1980 and there are now 91 cases recorded worldwide.
Usually they are bottlenose dolphins but orca and beluga whales, various other types of dolphin and even a narwhal have also become solitary.
The study from Marine Connection, the charity set up to protect whales and dolphins, says current laws do not offer enough protection for creatures who seemingly prefer people to their own kind.
It describes them as the lone rangers of the sea, who choose a solitary existence and who may roam from town to town, or take up residence in one small area.
Margaux Dodds, Director of Marine Connection, said: "Protection often falls to local groups of people who do an incredibly difficult job in trying to look after the animal without any formal powers and without being backed up by legislation.
Judge rejects request to stop Oregon, Washington from killing sea lions to protect salmon
April 17, 2008 (Oregonian)
A federal judge on Wednesday refused to stop Oregon and Washington from trapping and killing California sea lions at Bonneville Dam this spring to keep them from gobbling endangered salmon.
The Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit against the plan and asked for a preliminary court injunction to stop it.
Humane Society attorneys argued that culling sea lions won't significantly benefit threatened salmon and steelhead runs. Shooting the animals would harm Columbia River kayakers and others who have relationships with individual sea lions, they said.
But U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman rejected the injunction request. The judge agreed that it appears somewhat arbitrary to crack down on sea lions when fishing kills more salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act. But initial evidence indicates that sea lions do "very serious" harm to endangered and threatened salmon, Mosman ruled.
Killer whales bring the hunt onto land
April 17, 2008 (Reuters Canada)
A six-ton orca, or killer whale, torpedoes toward the beach, its dorsal fin cutting the Patagonian sea. It launches itself onto the sand in an explosion of water and foam.
Before the waters die down, the orca is shaking its immense head from side to side with a sea lion pup clamped between his jaws.
Then the orca wriggles into position to catch a wave to carry it back out to sea.
This is a rare occurrence, in which a whale seems to defy its instincts by coming onto land, risking death if it becomes stranded on the inhospitable beach.
They use sonar -- orcas are members of the dolphin family -- to hunt, and only beach themselves in high tide, on steep and pebbly beaches that help them roll back.
Orcas are highly social and long-lived: females can live up to 80 years and males almost 60. But the pods grow slowly because orcas take at least 15 years to mature, the females have calves only every five years or so, and many of the calves die young.
"It's a culture at risk," Roberto Bubas, a ranger with 15 years of experience observing orcas in Patagonia, said of the hunting method, noting that of the seven, only five are teaching the technique to younger members of the pod.
Mel, the 30-foot (9-meter) male who caught the baby sea lion on the beach was shadowed by a smaller apprentice, who shared the spoils of the hunt and followed the big expert up near the sand, but did not dare to beach itself.
Crew of HSU vessel untangles gray whale
April 16, 2008 (Eureka CA Times Standard)
The crew of the Humboldt State University research vessel the Coral Sea performed an impromptu animal rescue over the weekend after the Coast Guard notified them of a nearby gray whale caught up in fishing lines and buoys.
While taking HSU wildlife students on an open-ocean bird-watching field trip in the Eel Canyon, 12 nautical miles west of the Eel River on Saturday, the crew was asked by Coast Guard officials to keep an eye out for the entangled whale. A nearby fishing vessel, the Triple Star, then radioed the Coral Sea with the whale's last known coordinates.
Shortly after traveling to the location, the crew spotted three buoys and allowed the boat to drift toward the entangled whale.
"We hung back a bit and watched to see if it was alive," said Coral Sea Captain Scott Martin. The whale -- a youth, 15-20 feet long -- was floating near the surface, trailing three buoys and about 30-50 feet of fishing line, Martin said.
The whale spouted, but it appeared to be several tons underweight and uncharacteristically docile.
"I thought it was going to die right there on the spot," Martin said. "It just lay there like it wanted us to help it."
Gray whales are bottom feeders, and the buoys were preventing the whale from diving to its normal feeding grounds.
The crew was able to maneuver next to the whale, then retrieve and cut loose the buoys along with all but about 20 feet of the fishing line.
The owner informed them that the buoys had been attached to a king crab pot set near the Pribilof Islands, 230 miles north of the Aleutian Islands in the Bering Sea. The crab fisherman set the pot in October or November of last year.
Right whales put on a show
April 16, 2008 (Provincetown Banner)Record numbers of the rare cetacean feed in Cape Cod Bay
"It's a remarkable time. It's the greatest concentration we've seen in all the 23 years of our work ... and Provincetown is at the center of it," said Charles "Stormy" Mayo, senior scientist and director of right whale research at the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies. The right whale bonanza began about two weeks ago, and Mayo predicted it would continue for another week or so. He attributed the high density of whales to the "extremely rich food source" that is available to them right now.
"I imagine if you could count them you'd be seeing as many as 80 animals, maybe more," Mayo said. In just one flight, the center's air survey team counted 60 of them. They are spread out across the eastern two-thirds of Cape Cod Bay, he said, and on Friday a group of 16 right whales spent the afternoon at the mouth of Provincetown Harbor.
Mayo said the right whales that are in the bay right now equal about a third of the population of North Atlantic right whales left in the world, and that seeing one is a privilege Cape Enders shouldn't take for granted.
"This is one of the rarest mammals on earth," he said. It's so rare that many cetacean experts haven't been able to add the North Atlantic right whale to their "life lists" yet. "Even for people who work on whales this would be a remarkable event, just to say they've seen them."
Beach trash: 7 million items
April 16, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The world's beaches and shores are anything but pristine.
Volunteers scoured 33,000 miles of shoreline worldwide and found 6 million pounds of debris from cigarette butts and food wrappers to abandoned fishing lines and plastic bags that threaten seabirds and marine mammals.
A report by the Ocean Conservancy, to be released today, catalogs nearly 7.2 million items that were collected by volunteers on a single day last September as they combed beaches and rocky shorelines in 76 countries from Bahrain to Bangladesh and in 45 states from Southern California to the Maine coast.
"This is a snapshot of one day, one moment in time, but it serves as a powerful reminder of our carelessness and how our disparate and random actions actually have a collective and global impact," said Vikki Spruill, president of the Ocean Conservancy.
Candidates not ready to take sides on salmon, dams
April 15, 2008 (Idaho Statesman)
None of the three remaining major-party candidates for president will rule out breaching dams to save Columbia and Snake River salmon. But they don't support dam breaching now, either.
Republican John McCain made the strongest pitch for preserving the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington, citing concerns about energy security and climate change. Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama say they want to see stronger efforts to restore salmon habitat before removing dams is considered.
The candidates recently responded to questions about salmon and dams sent to the campaigns by the Idaho Statesman.
McCain's campaign expressed support for the dams during the Washington GOP primary. But the Democrats have not yet been asked publicly about salmon and dams, despite both Democrats having campaigned in Oregon in advance of the May 20 primary.
The lack of attention is surprising, given the deep divisions created in the Pacific Northwest in the 1990s when 13 species of salmon and steelheads were declared threatened or endangered.
The Neah Bay tug is smart insurance
April 15, 2008 (Seattle Times editorial)
Six times during the past winter season, the rescue tug at Neah Bay was called out to help ships in distress on Washington's busy outer coastline and the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Paying for a tug to be on call is expensive, but it pales before the cost of ships drifting onto the rocks and causing major oil spills.Such recognition helped convince the state Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire to provide $3.7 million for year-round coverage. A contract extension was signed Monday, and the service begins in July.
Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell is pursuing congressional support for 12-month coverage of the strait. This topic will not go away, and without federal help it will be back before the Legislature in 2009.
Nine-thousand ships pass through the strait each year. History informs us it takes only one grounding or collision to do vast environmental damage and consume truly spectacular sums of money.
Oil Spill Response Reaches New Level
April 14, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
Worries about a disastrous oil spill along Washington's outer coast have been eased somewhat, thanks to two vessels that will be stationed in Neah Bay.
On Monday, Crowley Maritime Corporation extended its contract to protect the coastline with a heavy, oceangoing tugboat scheduled for a yearlong deployment beginning July 1. In years past, state funding covered the tug only during winter months.
In another development, a 73-foot oil skimmer has been moved to Neah Bay to serve as a first-response vessel if a spill were to occur in the northwest corner of the state.
The two vessels are unrelated in purpose and funding, but together they provide a major advancement in protection, said Fred Felleman, a longtime advocate for increased spill-response capabilities in the Neah Bay area.
Neah Bay is considered the only safe port between Grays Harbor and Port Angeles. Oil-spill experts have long been concerned about the lack of emergency response equipment along a pristine coastline as well the treacherous entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Celebrities rally to free killer whale
April 14, 2008 (MSNBC)
Hollywood producer Raul Julia-Levy's current project involves an impressive cast ranging from Johnny Depp, Lindsay Lohan, and Harrison Ford to Elton John, 50 Cent, and Plácido Domingo. He's attracted high-powered producers including Cameron Crowe, Ed Elbert, and Ron Howard. It's a veritable A-list role call, and he's still recruiting.
But the brightest star in Julia-Levy's lineup -- and no doubt the biggest, at 7,000 pounds -- is Lolita, a 40-year-old killer whale living in a 20-foot-deep tank at the Miami Seaquarium.
Taken from her family while still a juvenile, Lolita has been performing for sunburnt tourists twice a day over the last 37 years. The tank she lives in is just four times her size at its widest; she'd have to circle it more than 600 times to travel the same distance her still-wild family members might in an average day. Her only companion -- another killer whale from her pod, or family group -- died 20-some years ago after repeatedly bashing his own head against the enclosure walls. In her native Pacific Northwest waters, whales like Lolita have lifespans similar to humans; in a tank, that life expectancy is cut in half.
Killer whales blamed for decline of Scottish seals
April 13, 2008 (Independent UK)
Attacks by killer whales may be helping to drive the sudden and mysterious decline of seals around the northern coasts of Scotland, new research suggests.
British populations of harbour seals (also known as common seals) are falling steeply, with numbers in Orkney and Shetland dropping by 40 per cent in the five years to 2006.
So far, the declines are unexplained, but a new theory is that killer whales, or orcas, the bulky, black-and-white predators which are in fact the largest members of the dolphin family, have increased their taking of seals to such an extent that it may be causing populations to shrink.
Orcas are among the fiercest animals on Earth, but in contrast with sharks and terrestrial predators such as tigers and lions, there is no record of them ever attacking people. One of the most gripping pieces of natural history footage ever shot was the scene in David Attenborough's The Trials of Life where killer whales hurled themselves out of the sea and up on to a beach in Patagonia to catch unsuspecting sea lion pups.
Now is the time to go whale watching
April 12, 2008 (Peninsula Daily News)
It's happening now: Gray whales, which make one of the longest migrations of all mammals, averaging more than 10,000 miles round trip, are now headed along the Pacific coast to feed in the waters off Alaska and Siberia.
As they move north from Baja California, where they breed and produce their calves, LaPush is an ideal spot on the North Olympic Peninsula to catch a close-up glimpse of these magnificent beasts which weigh 30 to 40 tons and grow as long as 45 feet.
Whales that frequent the waters off LaPush are easily seen through mid-May and often into June.
It's thanks to the calves, in fact, that LaPush-area beaches offer so many close-up views of the whales.
Mother whales with calves often roll just beyond the surf, while the males swim further out and don't get as close to the shore.
Gray whales feed primarily on bottom-dwelling organisms, taking in mouthfuls of sediment and sieving through it for their prey.
Salmon 'emergency' spawns new limits
April 11, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Calling flagging numbers of salmon an emergency, federal fisheries managers slapped unprecedented restrictions Thursday on West Coast salmon fishing.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council virtually eliminated fishing for salmon in the ocean alongside most of Oregon and all of California, and substantially restricted fishing for coho along the Washington coast.
Fishing for chinook along Washington survived relatively unscathed, though.
The council's action was prompted by the precipitous collapse of chinook salmon from the Sacramento River, the backbone of California's salmon fishery. While fisheries managers look for at least 122,000 of those fish to return and spawn every year just to repopulate the run, they're expecting less than half that number this year.
As recently as 2002, some 775,000 of those fish returned to spawn.
Wild Sky wilderness bill passed by Senate
April 11, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A long-stalled plan to wall off more than 106,000 acres of Washington state wilderness from motorists and loggers moved one step closer to becoming law Thursday when the Senate passed a bill authorizing the project.
The measure, which would create the Wild Sky Wilderness Area, now heads to the House, which is expected to pass it quickly and send it to President Bush. The president has not indicated whether he would sign the legislation.
This is the closest the measure has come to enactment since supporters began championing Wild Sky in Congress nine years ago.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a proponent of Wild Sky, called the vote a major step forward.
If the legislation passes the House, the Wild Sky bill will confer the highest level of protection afforded federal property on 106,577 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, about 90 minutes by car from downtown Seattle.
Wild Sky would become the first new wilderness area in Washington state in 23 years. Roughly one-third of the protected area would be low-altitude lands under 3,000 feet with forests and salmon-bearing streams.
Joyful day for backers of state's Wild Sky proposal April 11, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
First fish in 100 years swims past dam site
April 10, 2008 (Missoulian)
The first documented fish to swim upstream past the old Milltown Dam site in 100 years made the journey Tuesday, slipping through the dark waters and into the pages of history.
A rainbow trout tagged as part of a telemetry study migrated from the Clark Fork River below the dam and into the Blackfoot River less than two weeks after the defunct hydroelectric facility was breached as part of the Milltown Superfund cleanup project.
The trout is the vanguard of a mass migration coming this spring, when tens of thousands of fish reconnect with their historic spawning grounds on rivers flowing freely for the first time since 1908.
Disagreement surfaces about $900M fish plan
April 10, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A deal unveiled this week commits federal agencies to spend $900 million to help imperiled Northwest salmon - but just $540 million would go to new projects.
The Bonneville Power Administration said Monday four Indian tribes would get the $900 million for salmon restoration in return for dropping out of a lawsuit challenging operations of hydroelectric dams.
At least 40 percent of the money - about $360 million - would go to existing programs over the next 10 years that don't have dedicated funding sources, said BPA spokesman Scott Simms.
Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based group that is part of the federal lawsuit, said she was disappointed that only 60 percent of money being spent by the BPA and other federal agencies would go to new projects.
But Patton said a bigger problem is that much of the money apparently will not go to help endangered salmon, as the lawsuit intends. Instead the money appears to target lamprey and other salmon species that are not listed as endangered.
Snake River dams again in cross hairs
April 9, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The collapse of the California salmon stocks makes people wonder: Could it happen here?
The Sacramento River is a prime source for the fish caught on the California coast. The Columbia River is the backbone for Washington.
The Sacramento is No. 2 and the Columbia No. 1 in the contiguous United States for salmon production from a river system.
Both have seen huge declines in their salmon populations from historic levels. Both ideally are managed to balance human needs with the needs of fish, which return as adults to spawn and leave as juveniles for the ocean. The Sacramento is squeezed for water used in agricultural irrigation, while the Columbia and its tributary the Snake River are home to massive dams that provide most of Washington's energy.
The rivers also are harmed by pollution, habitat damaged by development and shrinking snowpacks as the climate warms.
"We need to solve these problems in all these major river systems because if we leave any of them behind, it will hurt us coastwide," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a commercial fishing interest group.
The perilous drop in salmon stocks could renew calls by Washington environmentalists, commercial fishermen and others for the removal of four dams on the Snake River. Already the groups are in a legal battle with the government over how the existing dams are being operated -- specifically, how much water is spilled over the dams and when -- in order to protect fish.
"We still think the only solution that's been biologically demonstrated as capable of not just letting fish tread water in terms of their numbers, but to get them restored, is the removal of the lower Snake River dams," said Michael Garrity of the Seattle office of American Rivers, an environmental group.
Bush administration proposes drilling in whale's critical habitat
April 8, 2008 (Fort Mill Times)
The Bush administration has issued a formal proposal to allow oil and gas leasing in an area of the Bering Sea designated as critical habitat for the world's most endangered whale.
The administration proposal was published Tuesday in the Federal Register by the Minerals Management Service. It would allow oil development in an area north of the Aleutian Islands near Bristol Bay.
The Center for Biological Diversity, which is fighting the proposal, says the problem is that part of the area is critical habitat for the North Pacific right whale - long believed to be on the road to extinction.
There are fewer than 100 of the whales, perhaps fewer than 50.
Lundeen Creek regains its glory
April 8, 2008 (Everett Herald) Once forced into a ditch, the stream near Lake Stevens is again lined with plants and full of fish
County crews carved 1,300 feet of new stream channel and restored another 1,100 feet of the creek. Plans call for planting more than 21,000 trees, shrubs and marshy wetland plants along the creek's route, and volunteer crews are about halfway done.
The creek flows downhill into Lake Stevens and is home to spawning kokanee salmon.
Lundeen Creek now meanders naturally through a greenbelt 100 feet wide and is lined by acres of trees and bushes meant to shade the water and cool it for spawning salmon and their eggs.
The creek is no longer the straight-shot ditch that carried rising floodwater to the doorsteps of nearby houses for years.
A dozen nearby property owners agreed to the county's plans to better steer rising floodwaters and restore fish habitat, Garric said.
2 more convictions in rogue whale hunt
April 8, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Two Makah tribal members who led an unsanctioned gray-whale hunt last September have been convicted of federal misdemeanor charges.
U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Kelley Arnold on Monday found Wayne Johnson and Andy Noel guilty after the pair waived their right to a jury trial and admitted their roles.
The two were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Marine Mammal Protection Act and unlawfully taking a marine mammal.
U.S. and tribes in salmon accord
April 8, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) $900 million to improve habitat; dams will stay
Settlements reached Monday with four Northwest Indian tribes would commit federal agencies to spend $900 million over the next decade on improving conditions for endangered salmon, but leave intact hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin that environmentalists say kill fish.
The settlements would end years of legal battles between the Bush administration and the four Northwest tribes, but would not affect a fifth tribe that is party to a lawsuit nor environmental groups that vowed to press on in their efforts to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River.
But environmentalists said the deal fell far short of what is needed to recover threatened salmon, an icon of the Northwest that is protected by the Endangered Species Act and costs the government billions of dollars to protect.
"This deal defies the decades of salmon science that say salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake River Basin is not possible with habitat and hatchery programs alone," said Bill Shake, a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service official who advises a Northwest sportfishing group.
Any scientifically sound plan must include increased spill at the two dozen dams and irrigation projects along the Columbia and Snake rivers as well as removal of four outdated dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington, Shake said.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission also agreed to the settlement, although one of its member tribes, the Idaho-based Nez Perce Tribe, declined to sign the agreement.
The tribe said in a statement that it still wants to see the four lower Snake River dams taken down.
Historic agreement on Columbia River salmon - Dateline Earth blog April 7, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Salmon recovery: working in unison April 9, 2008 (Seattle Times editorial)
One Good Tern Deserves an Island
April 7, 2008 (Eugene Weekly)
They are Caspian terns - 20-inch, gull-like, grey and white birds with black heads and sharp red beaks. They've been living it up on an island in the Columbia River, but if they like their square new island, some of them will be moving to Lane County this month.
While sea lion shooting is in the news, the Caspian tern saga comes from the same problem - whom or what do you blame for low salmon numbers in the Columbia River? Rather than logging or dams, some of the blame is placed on these fish-eating migratory birds. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers thinks that they can solve the tern problem by relocating the birds to other islands. Fern Ridge Reservoir is now the site of one of these islands, and while some people look forward to the possible bird colony, others think relocating the terns is not a solution to the salmon problem. Brian Sharp, who worked for Fish and Wildlife for 20 years as a wildlife biologist, says, "The whole thing is a farce."
Salmon disappearance could bring fishing ban
April 7, 2008 (CNN)
The stunning collapse of one of the West Coast's biggest wild salmon runs has prompted even cash-strapped fishermen to call for an unprecedented shutdown of salmon fishing off the coasts of California and Oregon.
"There's likely no fish, so what are you going to be fishing for?" asked Duncan MacLean, a fisherman from Half Moon Bay. "I have no problem sitting out to rebuild this resource if that's what's necessary."
The Pacific Fishery Management Council meets in Seattle this week and will likely vote to impose the most severe restrictions ever on West Coast salmon fishing to protect California's dwindling chinook stocks.
The Sacramento River chinook run is usually one of the most productive on the Pacific Coast, providing the bulk of the salmon caught by sport and commercial trollers off California and Oregon.
But only about 90,000 adult chinook returned to the Central Valley last fall -- the second lowest number on record and well below the number needed to maintain a healthy fishery. That number is projected to fall to a record low of 58,000 this year. By contrast, 775,000 adults were counted in the Sacramento River and its tributaries as recently as 2002.
Whale risks rise in Robson Bight
April 7, 2008 (Victoria Times-Colonist)
Governments' poor performance in dealing with a truck full of diesel fuel on the bottom of Robson Bight raises concerns about proposals for more tanker traffic and offshore oil and gas development.
The federal and provincial governments have expressed support for both, although the Harper government has not lifted the offshore drilling moratorium in place since the early 1970s. Both governments promise tough environmental controls as part of any change.
Given their response since a barge sank last August in the Robson Bight ecological reserve off the Island's east coast, it's hard to take the promises seriously.
The barge's cargo included logging equipment and vehicles -- one a fuel truck holding 10,000 litres of diesel. There was immediate concern about the threat to northern killer whales and other marine life.
But agencies charged with protecting the coast responded slowly and ineffectually. Officials first said the barge sank outside the reserve, which was created because of the need to protect the endangered killer whales. That proved to be false.
Biologists and environmentalists urged immediate inspection of the wreckage to assess the damage and the risk of spills. The coast guard said that was unnecessary. The diesel tanker would have been crushed by the pressure and the oil released, it said. Using a submersible to inspect the wreckage could cost $300,000, the coast guard said.
Almost six months after the sinking, the governments revealed that the photos showed the wreckage was sitting intact on the bottom. The diesel tanker was full of fuel. The hazard was real. That was seven weeks ago. The governments are still trying to figure out whether the wreckage can be raised, with no timeline for a decision.
Paul Spong of OrcaLab, a nearby research station, says the delay is putting the killer whales at risk. They will return for the summer in June. The diesel truck, which could begin leaking at any time, is a time bomb.
Navy sonar blamed for death of beaked whales found washed up in the Hebrides
April 7, 2008 (Independent)
Anti-submarine sonar may have killed a group of whales found dead in the Hebrides in one of Britain's most unusual strandings, scientists believe.
Five Cuvier's beaked whales, a species rarely seen in British waters, were discovered on beaches in the Western Isles on succeeding days in February. Another animal from a related species was discovered at the same time.
Experts consider such a multiple stranding to be highly abnormal. They calculate, from the state of the carcasses inspected that the whales died in the same incident out in the Atlantic to the south and west of Britain, and then drifted towards the Scottish coast over two or three weeks.
The main suspect in the case is sonar, as it is known that beaked whales are highly sensitive to the powerful sound waves used by all the world's navies to locate underwater objects such as submarines.
Groups of beaked whales have been killed, with sonar suspected as the direct cause, several times in recent years; well-documented incidents include anti-submarine exercises in Greece in 1996, the Bahamas in 2000 and the Canary Islands in 2002. In 2003, an American judge banned the US Navy from testing a new sonar after a court case brought by environmentalists to protect marine life.
The 21 species of beaked whale include some of the world's most rarely seen mammals; they are also the deepest-diving air-breathing animals. A Cuvier's beaked whale set the record for a deep dive two years ago: 1,899 metres, or 6,230ft, beneath the surface, holding its breath for an astonishing 85 minutes.
The animals use these deep dives to forage, but when sonar gets involved, their remarkable habit may be their undoing. One theory is that the whales are so distressed by the intensely loud sound waves that they return too quickly to the surface, and in doing so, fatally suffer "the bends" – the formation of nitrogen bubbles in the blood which can kill human divers.
Killer whale sighted off coast of Nova Scotia
April 4, 2008 (Sou'wester)
Jamie Peterson will never forget the sight he saw in late March while aboard the Gladiator 3 fishing on the Scotian Shelf.
A killer whale spent two days cavorting about the long liner while Peterson and other crewmembers, Kelly Chase and Ricky Carrigan, hauled up halibut.
"He was playing around the boat. He'd come up and slap his tail in the water," said Peterson.
"We never had the camera ready and we were steaming away and he was behind the boat and he came right straight out of the water, flipped on his side and landed back in the water. It was quite a show actually. He was showing off for us."
Navy sonar in state waters concerns whale scientists
April 4, 2008 (KTUU Anchorage AK)
Environmentalists are sounding an alarm about the Navy's plans to use high-powered sonar in Alaska waters.
The Navy needs to train here to protect the United States, according to its senior officials, but some scientists believe whales could become an innocent casualty.
The North Gulf Oceanic Society of Alaska is particularly concerned. Craig Matkin, a scientist with the group, believes whales in Alaska waters could face serious danger from the sonar equipment used by military warships.
"They did some sonar work in Puget Sound and there was immediate reaction by the killer whales in the area," Matkin said.
But a federal judge in San Francisco blocked the Navy in early February from using sonar off the southern California coast.
And environmentalists suspect the Navy is now looking at Alaska so it can fly under the public's radar.
"One of the reasons they want to use this area is because it's pretty much out of sight and out of mind of most people in the United States," Matkin said. "I think that's the main reason they want to use this."
Migrating gray whales visit Puget Sound, feed off Whidbey Island
April 3, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Some of the gray whales migrating along the West Coast are again stopping in Puget Sound.
A biologist with Cascadia Research in Olympia, John Calambokidis (cal-um-BOH'-kee-dis), says they include a group of about a half-dozen whales that have been returning to Whidbey Island since at least 1990. They are individually identified by markings.
They typically spend two or three months in the sound before rejoining the annual migration of 20,000 whales from Baja breeding waters to the summer feeding waters off Alaska.
The Whidbey whales were sighted again last month, feeding on shrimp. Calambokidis says they sometimes can be seen from Langley or from the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry.
Gray whales return to waters off Whidbey Island
April 3, 2008 (Skagit Valley Herald)
Gray whales Dubnuck, Patch and at least four of their whale pals have returned to the waters off Whidbey Island, a stop on their annual migration.
The six whales were sighted in March and are expected to remain in the area as late as early June, according to Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based nonprofit group that advocates for whales and other marine mammals. Most years, between six and eight California gray whales spend spring dining on ghost shrimp in the shallow areas of Saratoga Passage and South Whidbey Island.
Among the returnees are Patch, designated by scientists as 49; and Dubnuck, designated as 44; said John Calambokidis, a research biologist with Cascadia Research in Olympia. Scientists have studied gray whales off Whidbey and the Pacific coasts of Oregon and Washington since 1991. Gray whales designated with higher numbers were identified more recently than those lower numbers.
Patch is a Whidbey islander favorite, and he was first seen at Whidbey 17 years ago, said Susan Berta of Orca Network.
"He is easily identifiable by the large white patch on his right side, back toward his flukes," Berta said.
In Langley, a "whale bell" will be mounted at Music for the Eyes, a rug shop on First Street, near where the whales tend to hang out offshore, Berta said. Fred Lundahl, shop owner and president of the Langley Chamber of Commerce, will ring the bell when he receives reports of whales offshore. He'll also post the sighting times so visitors will know when they might see whales.
Langley will celebrate the arrival of the grays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 19 at Orca Network's Fifth Annual Welcome the Whales Day Festival and Parade.
Group files new suit against toxic retardants on forest fires
April 3, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A watchdog group is keeping the heat on the U.S. Forest Service to change the way it fights wildfires, particularly the use of fire retardant that kills fish when it is dumped in streams.
The Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, based in Eugene, Ore., filed a new lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District court in Missoula, Mont.
It claims environmental reviews that allow the Forest Service to continue using toxic fire retardant violate the Endangered Species Act and other laws.
In an earlier lawsuit from the group, a federal judge recently stopped short of finding Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, the Bush administration official in charge of the Forest Service, in contempt for dragging his feet on an environmental review of fire retardant.
Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the Forest Service finding of no significant environmental impact from using toxic fire retardant, despite findings by scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries Service that the survival of dozens of threatened and endangered species is jeopardized, particularly fish.
Building a bridge over common waters
April 3, 2008 (AP)
Put this area all together in your head, and you have one of the world's largest, richest inland waterways - a broad, deep, protected sea, ringed by madrona and Douglas fir and Cascade volcanoes that create their own microclimate. The sea is home to orca whales, giant geoduck clams, surging waves of silvery salmon, packs of frisky otters and, down deep, solitary giants like the Pacific octopus and the occasional lumbering six-gilled shark.
It's a sea with lower salinity than the ocean at large, thanks largely to the pumping heart of British Columbia's Fraser River, which, most people would be shocked to know, supplies up to 80 percent of the freshwater content of Elliott Bay.
But here's the problem: Most of the 5 million of us living on its shores really can't put this all together in our heads, because on mental maps, the sea doesn't exist - at least in one chunk.
"The Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound are a defined ecosystem," he proclaimed at the time to anyone willing to listen. "We're tied into the ecology of a larger system. That larger system has boundaries. It doesn't have a name."
Webber, in a nod to the first peoples to live upon its shores, chose "Salish Sea." It caught on with some folks - orca huggers in the San Juans, a handful of artists and academics. But Webber, who submitted the name to governments in both Olympia and Victoria, admits it never really caught on.
In the two decades since his proposal, the need for a common perception of the big waterway out back seems more critical than ever. Local salmon stocks and orca pods have fallen under protection of the Endangered Species Act. Rockfish and other bottom-dwelling species have nearly vanished.
Whale songs harder to hear above ships' din
April 2, 2008 (Cape Cod Times)
With each uptick in the world's population, the Earth becomes a noisier place. Not just above ground, but also under the sea as more large tankers and freighters cruise the world's oceans.
The impact of this traffic noise on marine animals and fish is poorly understood. But scientists are hoping that a network of acoustical buoys deployed on Stellwagen Bank will help them find out how some sea creatures respond to the clatter.
Van Parijs said there is concern that man-made noise pollution is masking the sounds whales and dolphins use to locate food and each other.
The three-year, $1.5 million project is funded by the National Oceanographic Partnership Program that pools money from 15 federal agencies for ocean research. The Bioacoustic Research Program at Cornell University provided hardware and software for the 10 acoustical buoys that were deployed this past December within the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
The buoys are tethered to the ocean bottom by sandbag anchors, recording ocean sounds for three months at a time. Researchers then send a coded message to the buoy, which detaches itself from the anchors and floats to the surface.
"Most of the time, there is boat noise, and it's like living near a highway, and then every now and then you hear a whale coming through, like a bird flying by, singing," she said.
Researchers hope to use all this technology to put together a three-dimensional, real-time picture of just how these animals react to boat traffic. Van Parijs said the hope was to make the Stellwagen Bank project a model that could be exported to other parts of the country and the world.
B.C. sea lice infest juvenile sockeye and herring: report
April 1, 2008 (CBC)
The latest scientific report on sea lice off the British Columbia coast says an infestation near Campbell River fish farms has spread beyond pink and chum salmon to juvenile sockeye and herring.
The study, published online in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management, said the spread of lice will have devastating implications for these other marine species.
Researcher Alexandra Morton said the results were discovered during testing of 47,000 young wild salmon in 2005 and 2006.
When initial results showed lice infestations among sockeye and herring, Morton checked live fish populations, she said.
Older herring are prone to lice but this is the first documentation of lice on herring that have not yet formed scales, leaving the juveniles highly vulnerable, said Morton.
The sockeye in the study were not specifically identified as species from the Fraser River, but fish from those runs pass through the same waters, said Morton.
The study suggests lice may be able to account for last year's low sockeye returns on the Fraser River, she said.
DOJ Asks High Court Review on Navy Sonar
April 1, 2008 (Associated Press)
The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to review a federal appeals court decision limiting the Navy's use of sonar off the Southern California coast because of potential harm to dolphins and whales.
The Justice Department petition argues that the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco jeopardizes the Navy's ability to train sailors and Marines for service in wartime.
The agency also contends that national security interests can trump those of marine mammals, and that its use of mid-frequency sonar in training exercises hasn't caused any documented harm to dolphins or beaked whales in the waters where they're conducted.
"We believe that this is an issue that is absolutely essential to national security and that a Supreme Court review of this case is warranted," said Cmdr. Jeff Davis, a Navy spokesman. He said sonar was the only way to detect quiet diesel electric submarines used by potential adversaries. The Navy has argued the restrictions could possibly prevent certification of some naval strike groups preparing to deploy to the Persian Gulf.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued the Navy over the issue, contends that exposing dolphins and beaked whales to sonar can hurt them by disrupting their feeding and mating patterns and, in the worst case, can kill them by causing them to beach themselves.
NRDC attorney Cara Horowitz noted that lower courts had concluded there would be near certain harm to marine life in Southern California if the Navy went ahead with sonar exercises as planned. The appellate court said the Navy has estimated that its Southern California exercises would expose more than 500 beaked whales to harassment and would result in temporary hearing loss to thousands of marine mammals.
Feeding the fascination for orcas
April 1, 2008 (Everett Herald)
Monika Wieland's facination with orcas was sparked during a family trip to Alaska when she was 12.
A year ago, the 2007 graduate of Reed College in Portland, Ore., published her first book, "Orca Encounters: Images of Southern Resident Killer Whales."
She is scheduled Wednesday to sign copies of her book and narrate a slideshow on the giant marine mammals at Everett Public Library.
She plans to talk about what makes local orcas so revered and to share stories of recent research and sighting.