Orca Network News - April, 2011

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2011 through April 30, 2011.

Bellingham's first debate on coal-for-China project reflects growing tensions
April 28, 2011 (Crosscut)
The first public debate on the construction of a giant coal-shipping terminal north of Bellingham made it quite clear that opposing forces are, well, like trains running on separate tracks, with increasing frustrations on all sides.
The skyrocketing demand from China for millions of tons of coal caused it to become the lead commodity in current applications; an estimated 88 percent of the capacity of 52 million tons a year in shipping would be coal.
This emphasis on coal, in turn, generates the huge and frequent coal trains that worry many in Bellingham, and a big increase in the huge cargo ships that would carry the coal to China. Fears of ship collisions with oil tankers that now service two refineries adjacent to the SSA site were expressed at the forum, and brought assurances from SSA Marine that shipping conflicts would be carefully regulated.
An audience member pointedly asked how the final decision would be made, and by whom, concluding, "Do we get a vote?" The answer was in the negative, but materials placed on tables by SSA Marine, ReSources and another opposition group, Communitywise Bellingham, left no doubt that the public and its paid bureaucrats will be lobbied heavily over the next several weeks. SSA Marine has already spent thousands in newspaper advertising and saturation coverage of local radio; opponents are ramping up plans of their own.

Fisheries on the hook for $80,000 in legal costs
April 27, 2011 (Globe and Mail)
The Federal Court of Canada has stuck the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with an $80,000 legal bill because, in a court battle over orca habitat, the government “displayed reprehensible, scandalous or improper conduct that is deserving of reproof or rebuke.”
Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice, a not-for-profit legal foundation, said the decision “is exceptional” and its wording leaves no doubt that Mr. Justice James Russell wanted to scold DFO for its conduct in the case.

Stormwater: a whole lot more than oil runoff
April 27, 2011 (Crosscut)
Even the Exxon Valdez image never obscured the importance of source reduction for some of the most damaging materials. For years that’s been understood to include some forms of dissolved copper that even in almost unimaginably low concentration can damage important aquatic species in their earliest life stages.
Big early payoffs for clean water came years ago when laws and permit restrictions achieved huge reductions at manufacturing and other locations of industrial pollution that previously had been discharged into sewers and through sewage treatment plants. We can follow the same kind of source reduction and control path to improve stormwater conditions. Washington’s legislation was first-in-the-nation. Oregon and California are now poised to follow suit.
With more refined understanding of what’s in stormwater, and how and where it leaves its deleterious effects, we can start building a list of next sensible steps. Like copper, another toxic to target has the tongue-twister name of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs for short. Ecology has been finding an important source and pathway for their damaging distribution: up through chimneys in smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces and out the tailpipes of cars, deposited on the land and washed to sensitive places in stormwater.

New law will enhance state’s response to oil spills
April 21, 2011 (Tacoma News Tribune)
On the one-year anniversary of the BP well rupture that led to a multimillion-gallon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a bill into law Wednesday to enhance the spill response program in Washington.
The new law, which relies on the Ecology Department to make new rules, should make it easier for crews to respond to oil spills in challenging conditions and help ensure volunteers and fishermen are on hand to help, actions supporters said would fill gaps in Washington’s response system that local spills and the BP disaster brought to light.
“My real goal with this is when we have a spill – and we will – that we all know we did the best we could to be prepared for it,” said Rep. Christine Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island Democrat and primary sponsor of House Bill 1186.
Ecology Department spokesman Curt Hart said Washington needs to take the threat of oil spills seriously because 15 billion to 20 billion gallons of oil are transported over state waters each year as cargo in tankers and as fuel.

Leaders agree to program to reduce polluted stormwater flowing into Hood Canal
April 20, 2011 (Kitsap Sun)
A program to track down and reduce polluted stormwater flows into Hood Canal was approved Wednesday by the Hood Canal Coordinating Council.
The council, meeting at the Port Gamble S'Klallam Reservation, agreed that the first step in addressing the stormwater problem is to develop criteria to decide what areas of Hood Canal have the most severe stormwater pollution.
Infiltrating stormwater into the ground before it picks up bacteria and contaminants is considered an effective strategy for improving water quality, protecting shellfish beds, decreasing flooding and increasing aquifer recharge, according to Julie Horowitz, manager of the council's Aquatic Rehabilitation Program.
Much of the stormwater problem occurs in old developments, built before state and federal stormwater regulations were created.

Whale Museum applauds increased protection for orcas | Guest Column
April 20, 2011 (San Juan Journal)
The Whale Museum applauds NOAA Fisheries for exercising their authority to enact federal vessel regulations for killer whales in Washington State waters.
While we acknowledge that vessel disturbance is but one of the three main threats faced by the endangered Southern Resident orcas, reducing acoustic and behavioral impacts will make important synergistic contributions to the recovery of this important icon of the Salish Sea.
The Whale Museum believes that while whale watching provides crucial conservation, education and outreach opportunities important for marine mammal protection, continued boating pressures and noncompliance with the current “Be Whale Wise Guidelines” and the “Washington State Vessel Regulations for Killer Whales” show a clear need for the new federal regulations.

Navy Allowed to Harass Whales With Sonar Tests
April 18, 2011 (Courthouse News)
The U.S Navy will be allowed to harass marine mammals incidentally while testing sonar systems and operating unmanned submarines in the waters off the state of Washington. The activity is to take place at the Naval Sea Systems Command Naval Undersea Warfare Center Keyport Range Complex.
Twenty-four species and subspecies of whale either live in or pass through the complex as do two species of seals and sea lions protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Navy expects no harm to come to any marine mammals, but admits that sonar may affect the behavior of some mammals including temporary loss of hearing sensitivity.
The agency's approval of the Navy's request comes while it is reconsidering its previous approval of Navy preparedness activities off the coast of California between Imperial Beach and Coronado, which resulted in the deaths of three dolphins earlier this year.

Salmon are still too few
April 18, 2011 (Wenatchee World)
The salmon population uptick in the past decade has not come because of a good federal plan — but rather in spite of it. The recently increased returns are largely the result of the court declaring the government’s plan inadequate and mandating additional steps, like water spills over the dams, to protect the fish. Despite strong support among fishermen and scientists, the federal agencies have consistently opposed court-ordered spill in each of these last five years. In their latest plan, they refused to include spill as a permanent, guaranteed measure. Our industry has suffered under a federal pray-for-rain strategy before. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
Favorable ocean conditions in recent years have also helped boost salmon numbers. But these have nothing to do with the federal salmon plan. While we are relieved that current ocean conditions have been favorable, these conditions always fluctuate. We are concerned that the current plan fails to adequately address or compensate for such downturns.

Reclaiming the Duwamish River
April 16, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Ten years into a massive federally directed cleanup effort on the Duwamish, it's hard to ignore that progress has been made. Fresh grass and picnic tables sprout from waterfront parks. Ospreys are back, and their fish diets contain fewer pollutants. Boeing last year settled a long-fought suit with the federal government and agreed to create new wetlands. Contractors are ripping out a World War II-era warehouse that leached poisonous solvents where workers built B-17s.
Today the Duwamish corridor supports 100,000 jobs, including our massive shipping industry. But the river bottom is still contaminated. And each year 3 billion to 5 billion gallons of rainwater rushes across land filled with roads and machine shops, cement plants and fast-food joints. That water picks up another suite of poisonous chemicals. The oil and brake dust from cars, the plastic compounds in glues and lubricants, the banned polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) once used in coolants and solvents that are still found in the paint and caulk of old buildings — all of it spills into the river. As does an amazing assortment of trash.

Learn About Orcas as You Watch from Shore: The Center for Whale Research Launches a New Program
April 15, 2011 (Candace Calloway Whiting)
“The Center for Whale Research is proud to announce a unique partnership with Lime Kiln Point State Park. Local park management has accepted our proposal to operate a park-wide outreach and education program. The focus will be on killer whales and environmental stewardship. Additionally, basic interpretive information about the park’s main historical attractions will continue to be provided.”
“The frequent and regular sightings from this unobtrusive land-based viewpoint inspire many park visitors to better appreciate the environment around them. The unprecedented history of the Center for Whale Research coupled with the park as a platform for education will create a unique and meaningful experience for park visitors. The goal is to inform the public and inspire action to assure a healthy environment for the killer whales and the Salish Sea on which they depend.”

Amazing Navigation Skills Seen in Humpback Whales
April 10, 2011 (Yahoo News)
The giants that migrate farther than any other mammal on Earth, humpback whales, do so with mysterious, extraordinary accuracy, veering off course by less than 1 degree over hundreds of miles, scientists find.
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) regularly swim roughly 3,000 miles (5,000 kilometers) between breeding and feeding grounds. However, a record-setting female humpback was recently discovered traveling from Brazil to Madagascar, a voyage of at least 6,090 miles (9,800 km) — the longest documented migration by any mammal ever.
To learn more about these remarkable migrations, scientists embedded radio tags in the skin and blubber of 16 humpbacks and used satellites to track them from 2003 to 2010. (The tags, about 8 to 12 inches long — 20 to 30 centimeters — were designed to fall off their bodies over time.)
The humpbacks were tracked migrating southeastward from Brazil in the Atlantic Ocean and New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean and west-northwestward from the Pacific island of Rarotonga.
The whales each traveled distances of at least 120 miles (200 km). They moved in astonishingly straight lines, with most straying off course by 1 degree or less. The humpback that swam the most, a 28-day voyage of 1,386 miles (2,232 km), veered just 0.4 degrees off.
It remains a mystery how these whales are capable of such exceptional precision. For instance, buoys along their routes showed that highly variable sea currents were capable of significantly deflecting their headings.

Feds issue new rules to protect Puget Sound orcas
April 10, 2011 (Olympian)
The federal government issued new rules Friday to protect the endangered killer whales. Among them is a requirement that all recreational vessels, including whale watching boats and kayaks, stay twice as far away as previously required – 200 yards instead of 100 yards.
Commercial fishing boats, cargo ships traveling in established shipping lanes, and government and research vessels are exempt.
NOAA Fisheries says noise from boats can interfere with the sensitive sonar the whales use to navigate and find food. The agency’s killer whale recovery plan, released in early 2008, calls for reducing how much vessels disturb the whales.
Other factors threatening the orcas are a shortage of chinook salmon and water pollution, the agency says.

Bolivia enshrines natural world's rights with equal status for Mother Earth
April 10, 2011 (Guardian)
Law of Mother Earth expected to prompt radical new conservation and social measures in South American nation.
Bolivia is set to pass the world's first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country's rich mineral deposits as "blessings" and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.
The country, which has been pilloried by the US and Britain in the UN climate talks for demanding steep carbon emission cuts, will establish 11 new rights for nature. They include: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered.
Controversially, it will also enshrine the right of nature "to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities".

Sardines return by the millions to B.C
April 7, 2011 (Vancouver Sun)
"I've seen them on the west coast of Vancouver Island thick enough to walk on," Barron Carswell, senior manager of marine fisheries and seafood policy for the provincial Agriculture Ministry, said in an interview. "It's incredible. They are all over the place. You can go into little bays and the surface of the water is all sardines."
Sardines, also called pilchards, were at one time a major B.C. fishery, but they mysteriously disappeared in the 1940s. Overfishing along their migration route from California to Alaska is believed to be a prime cause.
Their return is being attributed to changes in ocean conditions.

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