Orca Network News - April, 2010

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News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2010 through April 30, 2010.

Judge sets aside Wash. standards for salmon farms
April 29, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge has set aside Washington's water quality standards for salmon farms, saying federal regulators didn't use the best available science in approving them.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency and National Marine Fisheries Service ignored the government's own recovery plans for endangered salmon and orcas when they found that a formal environmental review of the state's standards was not necessary.
Under the ruling Wednesday, the agencies must reconsider whether the farms are likely to harm wild salmon. If they do pose a threat - such as by the transmission of sea lice from penned fish to wild ones - the EPA could require stricter controls on aquaculture in Puget Sound.
Wild Fish Conservancy filed the lawsuit that led to the ruling.
More here

'Possessive' killer whale dragged SeaWorld trainer to death: Report
April 29, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
A SeaWorld Orlando trainer was pulled to her death by a killer whale after her long hair became caught in the animal's mouth, according to a report by a Florida sheriff's office on the latest incident involving the orca since it was moved from British Columbia 18 years ago.
Dawn Brancheau, 40, was lying nose-to-nose with an orca named Tilikum on Feb. 24 when her ponytail began floating in the water, the Orange County Sheriff's Office report said. When her hair drifted into the orca's mouth, he dragged her to her death, it wrote.
The 43-page investigative report, released Wednesday, gives a full account of the police investigation.
"Tilikum's past history is that when he obtains a person, he does not let them go," an investigator wrote in the report. The Orlando incident marked the third time Tilikum had been involved in a human death.
More here

Inland Northwest Business and Community Leaders Ask Murray and Cantwell for Leadership on Columbia Salmon Crisis
April 29, 2010 (Fly, Rod and Reel)
More than 50 business owners and community leaders in eastern Washington and bordering Idaho towns wrote to U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell on Tuesday urging their leadership in solving the Columbia salmon crisis. The open letter appears as a full-page ad in today’s Spokane-based Pacific Northwest Inlander.
The business owners and community leaders want the senators to bring together all interests — farmers, fishermen, energy users, business owners and local leaders—to craft a long term science-based and economically viable salmon restoration plan.
More here

WA Salmon: Swimming Upstream?
April 29, 2010 (Public News Service)
More than 50 Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho businesspeople are asking Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to back a new approach to saving Columbia River salmon. They want the two Washington senators to support a new round of discussions with everyone at the table - from farmers and fishermen to utility companies.
Chris Kopczynski, who owns a Spokane construction company, signed the letter to the senators. He says an uncertain future for salmon also means an uncertain future for the region.
More here

Wild salmon need public's support
April 29, 2010 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Broughton Archipelago biologist Alexandra Morton is coming to town. She has stuck her finger in the dike for almost the last score of years on the issue of open-containment fish farming. Now she, and friends, are walking to Victoria.
Fish farms cause huge numbers of lice that kill salmon fry on their way to sea. The simple, straightforward solution -- and many have actually done this -- is to put Atlantic salmon in closed containers on land and treat effluent.
There is a long list of scientific studies from around the world that say open-containment is environmentally unsound. One case is on Victoria's doorstep. Last year, when the Fraser sockeye runs came back in dismal numbers, one of the lead problems was outgoing fry being liced up from Campbell River north by more than 60 fish farms. The predicted run of more than 10 million came back at little more than one million.
But one portion of that run, the Harrison River sockeye, came back in the kind of buoyant numbers that were predicted for the entire run. They migrate past Victoria out Juan de Fuca Strait. There are no fish farms on this route and so good numbers of healthy adults returned. Case closed.
More here

Fewer gray whales traveling by Santa Cruz this year
April 28, 2010 (San Jose Mercury News)
In a normal year, Graham said, she sees about 30 mother/calf pairs traveling north in the spring from the breeding grounds of Baja California to their food supply of the Bering Sea. This year, she said, she's seen five off the Santa Cruz coast. The season typically begins in February ends around the end of the month. The whales travel south again from December to February.
Nancy Black, marine biologist with Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, said she also has noticed a drop in gray whales passing through Monterey Bay. The young calves are a favorite food of killer whales, which hang out in the deep Monterey Canyon waiting for them to swim by, Black said.
"This time of year we really look hard for the killer whales, and look for them hunting these gray whales," Black said. "There just hasn't been as much predation this year."
More here

Salmon recovering in Yakima River basin
April 28, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Fish runs have steadily increased over the past three decades, from 300 to more than 17,000 spring chinook alone expected to return to the Yakima River this year, Tuck said.
An additional 200 or so steelhead are expected to pass the Roza Dam this year, Johnston said.
Three other Yakima River dams - Sunnyside, Wapato, and Easton - also have fish monitors, improved fish ladders and screens.
Hatcheries have also been erected to help restore steelhead - still listed as endangered - and spring chinook and sockeye.
It's all an effort to correct environmental damages and put the land back in its proper order, Meninick said.
More here

3 species of Puget Sound rockfish listed for protection
April 28, 2010 (Seattle Times)
After federal Judge George Boldt in his landmark decision in the 1970s awarded area tribes half the region's catch of salmon, state leaders sought to appease frustrated non-Indian anglers.
Fishermen looking to hook or net more fish were pushed toward Puget Sound's murky depths and a brightly colored family of bottom dwellers: rockfish.
Thirty-five years later three types of rockfish have slid so close to extinction that the government is protecting them under the Endangered Species Act.
Most biologists agree the long-term solution is establishing a system of marine reserves through Puget Sound that limits human activity.
More here

Cracking Orca’s Code: It Comes in Several Types
April 27, 2010 (New York Times)
Orcas have hunting tactics of similar sophistication for other prey, whether fish, seals or whales. But each orca population seems to prefer one kind of prey. Orcas that feed on whales may not even recognize fish as food.
This specialization in diet and hunting tactics, combined with small differences in markings, has long led marine biologists to suppose they might be looking at different orca species, not a single population. But standard DNA tests, based on sequencing segments of the mitochondrial genome, showed no clear divisions in the world’s orca population, according to a team of biologists led by Phillip A. Morin of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The DNA differences between orca groups had not turned up before, in part because the speciation occurred quite recently in evolutionary time. From the number of DNA changes, Dr. Morin estimates that the first split in the orca population, between the North Pacific transients and the rest, occurred some 700,000 years ago.
More here

Whale excrement could help fight climate change
April 27, 2010 (UK Telegraph)
Researchers from the Australian Antarctic Division found that the naturally iron-rich whale excrement encourages growth of algae, therefore drawing more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Advocates of "geo-engineering" have suggesed dumping iron filings in the sea to 'fertilise' the oceans but this offers a more natural process.
Steve Nicol, who helped carry out the research, said a larger population of baleen whales would boost the productivity of the whole Southern Ocean ecosystem and could improve the absorption of carbon dioxide, blamed for global warming.
"The plants love it and it actually becomes a way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere," he said.
More here

New Killer Whale Species Proposed
April 26, 2010 (Live Science)
Killer whales may not be just one species but rather four or more, with each hunting different prey, living in their own kinds of groups, prowling their own unique ranges and speaking in distinct ways, according to new genetic research.
With powerful bodies, sharp minds, and the ability to work together like packs of wolves, killer whales, also called orcas, can hunt down and kill virtually anything — including great white sharks and the largest creature to ever live, the blue whale. Orcas are actually not whales at all, but the largest of all dolphins.
The transients of the North Pacific also seem to be a separate species. The level of genetic differences found between transients and all other types of killer whales suggest their ancestors diverged roughly 700,000 years ago.
It remains unclear whether the resident, offshore, type-A Antarctic and North Atlantic types are a single species, separate species or separate subspecies — that is, a distinct breed within a species that in principle can interbreed with other members of its species.
More here

Killer whales split into three separate species
April 25, 2010 (mongabay.com)
Using genetic evidence scientists have discovered that the world’s killer whales, also known as orcas (Orcinus orca), likely represent at least three separate species.
Scientists have long thought that there may in fact be more than one species of killer whales due to behavior difference, small physical differences, and the animals' primary food source: fish or seals.
Scientists analyzed genetic samples from 139 killer whales and announced their findings in the journal Genome Research.
Morin and his team have identified at least three separate species of orca: a fish-eating species in Antarctica, another in Antarctica that primarily feeds on seals, and a third species that hunts marine mammals in the North Pacific. Further analysis may reveal that killer whales—long classified as a single species—are even more diverse than these three.
More here

Distinct species of orca identified off B.C. coast
April 24, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
A threatened population of killer whales that spends much of the year hunting seals off the British Columbia coast has been identified by an international team of scientists as a distinct species, separated from its fellow orcas in Canada and elsewhere about 700,000 years ago.
The whales, known as the North Pacific Transients, have long been understood to have a different prey preference than their fish-eating cousins, as well as subtle physical anomalies, such as a more pointed dorsal fin.
"It's a very exciting story," said John Ford, a University of B.C. killer-whale expert and federal fisheries scientist. "We've suspected this for many years but just haven't had the strength of evidence that this study has provided."
More here

Mitochondrial DNA Points to Multiple Killer Whale Species
April 23, 2010 (Genomeweb Daily News)
Killer whale "ecotypes," which vary in their choice of prey, behavior, and appearance, represent distinct species, according to a paper appearing online yesterday in Genome Research.
An international research team including researchers from Roche's 454 Life Sciences and Roche Applied Sciences, used highly parallel pyrosequencing to assess the complete mitochondrial genomes of nearly 150 killer whales from the North Atlantic, North Pacific, and southern oceans. In so doing, they identified dozens of mitochondrial haplotypes that point to the existence of at least three killer whale species.
"We recommend that three named ecotypes be elevated to full species, and that two additional types be recognized as subspecies pending additional data," lead author Phillip Morin, a geneticist affiliated with the National Marine Fisheries Service's Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the University of California at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and colleagues wrote.
Link to abstract
More here

Columbia River spring chinook salmon run appears big
April 23, 2010 (TDN.com)
State and tribal officials say they think the monster run of spring chinook salmon forecasted for the upper Columbia River actually will be big this year.
A huge run of 470,000 upper Columbia spring chinook is predicted to enter the river in 2010, but projections of the run have been far off the mark in recent years.
Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said Tuesday the biologists have looked at several models that predict the run from 250,000 minimum "to as high as you want to go."
More here

Report: ocean acidification accelerating at unprecedent rate
April 23, 2010 (Bellingham Herald)
With the oceans absorbing more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide an hour, a National Research Council study released Thursday, April 22, found the level of acid is increasing at an unprecedented rate and threatening to change marine ecosystems.
The council said the oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the start of the Industrial Revolution roughly 200 years ago, and one-third of today's carbon dioxide emissions are absorbed by the oceans.
Unless emissions are reined in, ocean acidity could increase by 200 percent by the end of the century and even more in the next century, said James Barry, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California and one of the study's authors.
More here

At least 3 species of killer whale are found
April 23, 2010 (Everett Herald)
Killer whales may all look alike, but molecular biology indicates there are at least three distinct species of orca and maybe five or more, researchers reported Thursday in the journal Genome Research.
Although all such whales are currently included in a single species, Orcinus orca, biologists had speculated that there were actually more than one, based on behavior, feeding habits and subtle differences in shape and markings. Some killer whales, for example, feed exclusively on seals, and others prefer fish.
More here

Whale Trail project gains momentum
April 23, 2010 (San Juan Islander)
The Whale Trail, a project to establish a network of viewing sites along the whales' trails through Puget Sound and the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest, has gained its first "Whale Trail City" via Mayor Paul Samuelson's proclamation issued this week by the City of Langley.
Langley will be recognized as an official Whale Trail City on Saturday, April 24 on Welcome the Whales Day, the city's annual celebration of the return each spring of gray whales and orcas to Puget Sound waters.
More here

Orcas going through mini baby boom
April 21, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A miniature baby boom has hit Puget Sound's resident orcas.
Seven babies have been born to the three local pods in 2009 and 2010 -- boosting the Sound's southern resident population to 89.
But this is a baby boom with plenty of caveats.
First, seven resident orcas died of various causes in 2008, including two females in their reproductive years, said Howard Garrett, director the Orca Network.
Also, the Sound's three southern resident orca pods tend to fluctuate with the numbers of their main food supply, which is Chinook salmon, said Sightline Daily, which published a story on the baby boom last week. That ties the orcas' population with the ebbs and flows of the Chinook numbers.
More here

Beached whale's stomach found to be full of fresh trash
April 21, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Sweatpants. A golf ball. Surgical gloves. Small towels. Bits of plastic. And more than 20 plastic bags.
A gray whale's last meal in Puget Sound included plenty of trash, and it was fresh enough to indicate the animal took the "eat local" mantra enthusiastically to heart before coming ashore at Arroyo Beach, and later dying about a mile south of the Fauntleroy ferry dock.
In 20 years of examining more than 200 whale carcasses, research scientist John Calambokidis says Tuesday he has never seen so much trash in a whale's stomach. Founding member of the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Calambokidis says he does not yet know what caused the whale's death, and tests are continuing.
Puget Sound is actually cleaner than it used to be, the result of everything from volunteer beach cleanups to state and federal regulation requiring sewage treatment and restricting industrial discharges.
Sediment samples taken in Elliott Bay, the state's most urban waters, showed marked improvement in 2007 over the same sites sampled in 1997, according to Maggie Dutch, a benthic ecologist at the State Department of Ecology.
More here

Feds to follow panel's advice on salmon migration
April 19, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The Obama administration is taking the advice of a panel of scientists on the best way to get young salmon through the three dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington as they make their spring migration to the ocean.
A brief filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Monday says they will spread the risk by carry half in barges and spilling half over the dams by releasing extra water.
More here

Dead gray whale had garbage in its stomach
April 19, 2010 (Olympian)
A gray whale that washed ashore in West Seattle last week at an unusually high amount of human debris in its stomach, marine mammal researchers announced today.
The 37-foot-long whale had more than 50 gallons of undigested stomach contents, including more than 20 plastic bags, small towels, surgical gloves, sweat pants, duct tape, pieces of plastic and a golf ball, according to John Calambokidis of the Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective.
"It's not a very good testament to our stewardship of the marine environment," Calambokidis said.
More here

Four other grey whales wash up
April 15, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
All five that have died in area waters over last two weeks starved
The grey whale that washed up on the beach at East Sooke Park on Easter weekend is among five that have perished in area waters over the last two weeks, and all seem to have died from starvation.
This spate of grey whale deaths is not unusual, say marine biologists. In 1999, more than 100 grey whales died on the West Coast and in 2000, 12 died along the B.C. coast.
The deaths of grey whales stem from poor food supplies in the Bering Sea last year, said Barrett-Lennard. "If they have a poor feeding year, they usually have enough fuel to get all the way south. Where they tend to run out is on the way north again -- they're running on fumes."
Almost all of the 20,000 grey whales in the eastern Pacific make the round trip each year.
Between 100 and 200 choose to stop in B.C. waters and do their feeding there, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
"They know where to go and they find the food and do very well," said Garrett yesterday.
The grey whales who don't know the area come in because they're desperate for food, Garrett said. Grey whales feed in shallow waters by scooping up mud and using their baleens as a filter.
"They turn into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and meander everywhere," Garrett said. "They show up in the most remote, dead-end locations in the labyrinth of inlets, way down in Puget Sound and all over the place. Often they die."
More here

Local orcas' favorite meal: B.C. chinook
April 15, 2010 (Seattle Times)
While here at home in their summer range, Puget Sound's endangered orca whales dine almost exclusively on salmon from Canada, scientists have learned, underscoring the connected nature of the Salish Sea ecosystem.
Examination of the material, including DNA testing, revealed that the orcas select chinook salmon nearly exclusively for food, despite far more abundant numbers of pink and sockeye in the area at the same time.
"They would literally knock pink salmon out of the way to take a chinook," said Brad Hanson, biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, and lead author of the paper, published last month in the online journal Endangered Species Research.
The selection of Fraser River chinook might be because there simply are a lot more of them, Ford said. Other experts agreed.
He noted the strongest Puget Sound chinook run might be 25,000 fish returning to the Skagit River, while strong summertime Fraser River runs number four times that, and more.
Young orcas learn what is food for them from their families, with mothers and siblings in family groups, called pods, cooperating in the hunt and sharing their catch.
Smaller pink salmon may sometimes be used as "training" fish for young orcas in J, K and L pods. But when it's time to eat, chinook is what's for dinner.
Chinook may also be easier to catch. They swim alone, rather than in schools, and go deep, where the water is dark.
"It certainly has raised the question of providing suitable numbers of chinook available to sustain their current needs, both in the U.S. and Canada," Ford said.
More here

Another gray whale dead in Puget Sound
April 15, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A dead gray whale has been spotted near a West Seattle beach.
It's reportedly the fifth dead gray whale found this month - four in Puget Sound waters and the fifth near Vancouver, British Columbia.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based marine mammal advocacy group, says the whales are stressed and hungry and don't have the strength to go on with the rest of the migration. He says they come into inland waters and can't find food here.
More here

Boaters near orcas face more scrutiny
April 15, 2010 (Victoria Times Colonist)
RCMP will join DFO in patrols to keep humans away from whales
Boaters can expect more scrutiny as the RCMP adds its muscle to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' effort to monitor human activity near the endangered southern resident killer whale population.
The police help will allow the DFO to stretch the number of hours officers patrol during the busy spring and summer season.
DFO supervisor Larry Paike said harassment from boats is one of the orca population's top threats, since it interferes with their feeding, making it a high priority for federal fisheries officers. "We've increased our patrols over the last two or three years and we're now branching out to include members of the law-enforcement community," Paike said.
The beefed-up surveillance doesn't impress Ken Balcomb, executive director at the Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor, Wash. Balcomb was stopped by the RCMP for an "extended interview" March 25 while investigating killer whale activity off Victoria. "It is a great federal employment opportunity, but irrelevant to saving the south resident killer whales. They need salmon, and that should be [the] first priority, to manage salmon accordingly," Balcomb said in an e-mail.
More here

5th gray whale found dead in NW waters in 10 days
April 15, 2010 (KOMO News)
The discovery of another dead gray whale in Puget Sound on Wednesday has marine experts wondering whether Mother Nature is taking her normal course, or if there's a mounting problem.
Experts have not determined the cause of the latest whale death.
Experts at the Orca Network say the big problem is that some gray whales are straying into waters too far inland, and getting in trouble.
"They're stressed. They're already nutritionally challenged; they're basically starving. They don't have the strength to go on with the rest of the migration. And they come in and they can't find food here," said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
More here

State budget plan has money to buy controversial Maury Island gravel mine
April 14, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A portion of the money funneled to the state from a bankruptcy settlement with mining-giant Asarco may ultimately be used to buy a controversial mine on Maury Island.
The state budget deal reached Monday night sets aside $15 million toward buying the 235-acre sand and gravel mine. Its owners have sought for a dozen years to build a 305-foot dock to load sand and gravel onto barges near an aquatic reserve.
Last summer, a federal judge ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had not adequately assessed how construction and operation of the pier might harm chinook salmon and orcas, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. He ordered Glacier to do a more detailed environmental review, postponing the project for years.
More here

Orca Update by Lisa Stiffler
April 13, 2010 (Sightline Daily)
There's been a baby boom in the local orca population. Last year five orcas joined the pods that frequent Puget Sound and the waters around the San Juan and Gulf islands. And two more killer whales have been born so far in 2010.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US agency responsible for orca recovery, announced this month that it's doing a 5-year status review, which is essentially a routine checkup on the orca population to see how they're faring since they were declared federally endangered in 2005.
So what explains the orca baby boom? Is there something in the water? In fact, there is. Or rather, was.
About two years ago favorable, non el Nino ocean conditions gave a boost to Chinook salmon -- the orcas' favorite food -- driving populations up for Puget Sound, northern British Columbia and southeast Alaska, though the numbers were down or average for some other important runs. But it seems to have been enough to help the resident killer whales.
“Their populations go up and down according to the fish," said Howard Garrett, director of the nonprofit Orca Network.
The recovery plan gives an example of what that would look like. If the population were to grow 2.3 percent on average beginning in 2001 with an initial population of 81 animals, recovery could be reached by 2029 with 155 orcas.
The population isn't yet on track to meet that goal. So far, the average annual change since '01 is 0.6 percent, not counting this year's increase.
More here

Orcas seen in rare Puget Sound gray whale attack
April 12, 2010 (Washington Post)
Whale watchers in Puget Sound caught a rare and dramatic sight from their tourist boat: a pod of orcas speeding by in attack mode and then ramming a gray whale under water.
After the gray whale dove beneath the water Sunday, the pod of attacking transient killer whales followed suit.
Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, said there have been three other reports of transient orcas attacking gray whales in Puget Sound. The first sighting was March 22.
Garrett said the gray whale was spotted Monday swimming with other gray whales and appeared to be OK. The whale, a male named "Patch," has frequented the Puget Sound for the past 19 years, he said.
Transient orcas are different from the three pods of endangered Puget Sound orcas that feed on salmon. These whales typically eat marine mammals such as sea lions, porpoises, dolphins and gray whales.
Robin Baird, a marine biologist with the Olympia, Wash.-based Cascadia Research Collective, said it's not unusual for transients to attack gray whales but most of the attacks have occurred in California or Alaska, in areas where the grays are particularly vulnerable.
More here

They always get their decomposing gray whale
April 12, 2010 (Whidbey News Times)
Almost one year after Brett Ginther and Terica Taylor towed a gray whale carcass near Camano Island to Whidbey Island’s Polnell Point — a huge effort that lasted more than nine hours and involved several failed attempts by other, smaller boats — the couple received another call from the Orca Network. Another whale was reported dead and beached on Point Yokeko.
Fidalgo Islander Josh Patterson first reported the dead marine mammal to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which in turn notified the Greenbank-based Orca Network.
Late Sunday morning Mira Lutz, a Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer, waded into the chilly water at Yokeko Point near Deception Road and noted the whale’s markings and measurements. From her report, Lutz noted the male whale was approximately 35 feet long with a 6-foot girth. A six-foot-long cut, about one-quarter-inch to one-inch deep, appeared to have occurred within the last week and may have been caused by a motor prop, she wrote.
This was the second deceased gray whale reported last weekend, said Howard Garrett of the Orca Network. The first report arrived Saturday, April 10 for an expired gray whale near Samish Bay.
More here

Scientists don't like NOAA plan to barge salmon
April 12, 2010 (Seattle Times)
An independent panel of scientists does not like the Obama administration's plan to rely on barges, rather than spilling water over dams, to carry young salmon making their spring migration down the Snake River in Eastern Washington.
Their review of the NOAA Fisheries Service plan to rely exclusively on barges due to low water conditions says the best course is still a mix of carrying fish in barges and spilling water.
More here

U.S. hopes dams' demolition will let salmon return
April 9, 2010 (Kansas City.com)
They were known as June Hogs - 100-pound salmon that, when stood on end, were taller than a man.
Up until a century ago, they returned annually to the Elwha River on Washington state's Olympic Peninsula in runs so huge homesteaders reported the river turned into a wiggling mass from bank to bank. One count placed their number at 392,000.
Then, two dams were built across the river, and the spawning grounds were blocked, giving the fish less than five miles of river to breed. Today fewer than 3,000 fish return to the Elwha.
That's about to change.
In what would be the largest dam removal project ever in the United States, the federal government last week requested bids to demolish the two structures - the 105-foot Elwha Dam, finished in 1913, and the Glines Canyon Dam, twice as tall as the Elwha Dam, finished in 1927.
More here

Lower Columbia River spring chinook fishery heating up
April 9, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Got the latest word that the Lower Columbia River below the I-5 Bridge was lights out for spring chinook fishing this morning and yesterday with some getting close to a fish per rod.
Can't get any better than that since the daily catch limit is one hatchery-marked chinook per person.
The commercial fishery went in the water on Wednesday, and according to Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist, "got what they expected which was 6,000 spring chinook (3,200 the week before)."
Through April 4, the preliminary total catch of spring Chinook (all stocks) in the Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam is estimated at 11,100 fish (9,600 kept) from 90,600 angler trips.
More here

Chinook salmon may be barged around dams
April 9, 2010 (Tri-City Herald)
Juvenile steelhead and spring/summer chinook salmon should be collected and barged around Snake River dams during the critical migration time in May because of projected low water flows, a federal agency has proposed.
The Army Corps of Engineers started spilling water last weekend from its Snake River dams and will start spilling Saturday at the dams on the Columbia River to help the migration of the fish to the Pacific Ocean.
But a mild winter and the resulting lower water supply have prompted federal managers to consider halting spills in May at the Lower Granite, Little Goose and Lower Monumental dams on the Snake River and to barge fish to below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia to aid endangered wild steelhead and spring/summer chinook during their seaward journey.
NOAA Fisheries Service filed the proposal in U.S. District Court in Portland, where Judge James Redden is overseeing operations of the dams while deciding a lawsuit involving the salmon recovery issue.
The Northwest Fish Passage Center, which provides technical services to fish agencies and Indian tribes affected by the operation of the Federal Columbia River Power System, disagrees with NOAA's scientific analysis.
In its review, the center said a period of no spills would "adversely impact a significant proportion of the total migration of juvenile salmon and steelhead remaining in-river."
Barging may be detrimental to such species as sockeye salmon, and "what data there are suggests that there is no benefit to transportation for Snake River subyearling chinook," Michele DeHart, center manager, wrote in a memorandum.
More here

Water over the dam works for salmon
April 8, 2010 (Seattle Times editorial)
THE Obama administration is being told by federal fish biologists and fishing groups to keep spilling water over dams in the Columbia and Snake river basins. Heed the advice.
Stick with what has been successful since 2006, when federal District Judge James Redden ordered the spills kept in place, even through a low-flow water year.
Science supports spilling water to help move juvenile salmon quickly and safely toward the Pacific Ocean. Better-than-expected returns have reinforced the decision to expedite fish passage at the dams.
The administration served notice it wants to eliminate spills next month, opting to transport young salmon and steelhead in barges and trucks past the dams. A recommendation is expected soon from the Independent Science Advisory Board of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.
Spring spills move young salmon toward the ocean.
More here

Conservation victory: 7,000 acres along Hoh River permanently protected
April 8, 2010 (Seattle Times)
After nearly 10 years of work and more than $11 million, one of the largest single conservation efforts in Washington has permanently protected some 7,000 acres of land along the Hoh River.
Taken together, the lands purchased, plus those already protected within Olympic National Park, conserve nearly the entire length of the Hoh.
With acquisition of the main conservation corridor complete, what lies ahead now is patient restoration of lands hard used for industrial timber harvest for decades.
Some 30 percent of the forestland acquired by the trust is quite young, including freshly bladed clear cuts. An additional 20 percent of the timber is from 30 to 65 years old, and at least 50 percent is within the channel-migration zone of the Hoh, which is forever changing course, mowing down anything in its path.
Only about 1 percent to 2 percent of the forest land purchased is old growth.
Yet the value of what has been protected will only grow with time, as the trust, using donations and grants from private foundations and government sources, works to heal the land.
More here

B.C. whale likely starved to death: scientist
April 7, 2010 (CBC News)
A young grey whale that washed up on a Vancouver Island beach last weekend likely died of starvation, not from an attack by another whale as was suspected.
Paul Cottrell, marine mammal co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries, said injuries on the whale's body aren't consistent with a killer whale attack.
"They typically attack the tail fluke and pectoral fins to slow the animal down before they usually try to drown the animal," Cottrell said of attacks by killer whales.
More here

Chinook salmon may be barged around dams
April 7, 2010 (Tri-City Herald)
A young grey whale that washed up on a Vancouver Island beach last weekend likely died of starvation, not from an attack by another whale as was suspected.
Paul Cottrell, marine mammal co-ordinator with the Department of Fisheries, said injuries on the whale's body aren't consistent with a killer whale attack.
"They typically attack the tail fluke and pectoral fins to slow the animal down before they usually try to drown the animal," Cottrell said of attacks by killer whales.
He said the injuries on the grey whale's body probably came from sharp rocks as its body washed up on shore Sooke, B.C., south of Victoria.
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Young gray whale dies in south Puget Sound
April 6, 2010 (Olympian)
The young gray whale that stranded and died Sunday at Oakland Bay in south Puget Sound appeared to be a yearling that was starving.
A Cascadia Research team examined the carcass Monday and a spokeswoman, Lisa Schlender, told The Olympian it was "really, really skinny."
It also had scars on its fins from a killer whale attack.
It's common for a few whales to stop in Puget Sound during their annual migration from breeding waters off Mexico to feeding waters off Alaska, and a couple usually die each spring.

Grey whale victim of suspected orca attack, zoologist says
April 6, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
A grey whale that has attracted hundreds of people to an East Sooke beach could have died as a result of an orca attack, a Victoria zoologist suggested Monday.
An autopsy on the whale, known as a necropsy, would have to be done to narrow down the cause of death, said Anna Hall, "but I would think that based on the wounds that I saw it was killer whale predation."
Friday's intense windstorm may have been another factor that led to the near-adult male getting beached at East Sooke Park, said Hall.
But the wounds on its belly seem to indicate it was preyed on by an orca.
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Gray whale's body found near Oakland Bay
April 6, 2010 (Olympian)
A young, emaciated gray whale stranded Sunday in a creek at the northwest end of Oakland Bay has died, according to marine mammal biologists.
“It was really, really skinny,” said Lisa Schlender, a marine mammal researcher and office manager for Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective.
A team of Cascadia scientists returned to the scene of the stranding at low tide early Monday evening to examine the carcass and take samples to further define the cause of death.
This is not the same gray whale that was spotted numerous times in South Sound in March, including at the bottom of Budd Inlet, Schlender said.
“It’s smaller than the recent visitor,” she said.
The gray whale death is the first in Puget Sound during the 2010 spring migration of thousands of gray whales from their winter breeding grounds in Mexico to their summer feeding grounds in Alaska, noted Orca Network co-founder Howard Garrett.
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