Orca Network News - August, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
August 1, 2004 through August 31, 2004.
August 31, 2004 (Washington Post) Navy Changes Story but Still Denies Responsibility
The Navy has acknowledged that vessels on maneuver off Hawaii last month used their sonar periodically in the 20 hours before a large pod of melon-headed whales unexpectedly came to shore in the area. The acknowledgment added to an already contentious debate over whether the sound from sonar has been causing marine mammals to strand.
Navy officials said that a review of the July 3 incident indicates that two ships turned on their sonar between 6:45 and 7:10 a.m., by most accounts just before the unusual movement of almost 200 deep-water whales to the shoreline of a Kauai bay. The Navy had said earlier that no sonar was used until more than 90 minutes later, well after the animals came ashore.
"Every time the Navy changes its story, it reduces its credibility on this issue," said Cara Horowitz, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has sued the Navy over a related sonar issue. "The Navy would be better off spending more time developing commonsense ways to protect whales from sonar and less time denying a connection that is unfortunately been repeatedly shown."
Navy officials are adamant about the need for sonar training. They say there is a substantial and growing threat from "quiet" diesel submarines that could menace the United States from coastal waters, and that only active sonar use can detect them. The Navy is planning a sonar training ground in the Atlantic Ocean, off the Carolinas.
Another incident occurred off the coast of Washington state last year, where harbor porpoises unexpectedly came ashore after a sonar exercise. The Navy concluded that there was no connection between the two, but NOAA is still reviewing the incident.
The International Whaling Commission said in a report last month that there is "compelling evidence" that Navy sonar is harming some species of whales, but Navy officials dismissed the conclusion as "unscientific."
$5,000 a month for Luna safety
August 31, 2004 (CBC) The federal government will spend $10,000 over the next two months to keep Luna the killer whale safe and out of trouble in the waters off Gold River.
CBC has obtained a copy of the Luna Stewardship Plan – an agreement between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation.
It details a series of measures to keep the orca away from boaters and the public docks – including underwater noise devices and broadcast warnings to boaters on the marine weather channel.
The agreement is expected to be signed this week. It expires at the end of October, but can be extended.
Major temperature rise recorded in Arctic
August 28, 2004 (ABC News) German scientists probing global warming say they have detected a major temperature rise in the Arctic Ocean this year and linked it to a progressive shrinking of the region's sea ice.
Temperatures recorded this year in the upper 500 metres of sea in the Fram Strait - the gap between Greenland and the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen - were up to 0.6 C higher than in 2003, they said. The rise was detectable to a water depth of 2,000 metres, "representing an exceptionally strong signal by ocean standards," it said.
The experts, from the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, have been recording temperatures aboard a specialised vessel, Polarstern (Pole Star), for the past six weeks. The sampling has been taking place in the West Spitsbergen Current, which carries warm water from the Atlantic into the Arctic Ocean.
The institute said water in the Fram Strait has been warming steadily since 1990 and over the past three years, satellite images had documented "a clear recession" of sea ice edges, both in the strait and the Barents Sea. The latest data "point towards a further warming tendency," the institute said.
In the earth's distant past, climate change has occurred naturally, by emissions of CO2 disgorged by volcanoes and other phenomena.
But the overwhelming majority of climate experts say CO2 levels are rising fast today because of the unbridled burning of oil, gas and coal. Opinions differ, though, as to how fast the effects will occur and how bad they will be.
Maturing orca endangers boats
August 28, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) 'Stewardship plan' aims to ease contact between Luna, public
Days after Luna, the lonely killer whale, damaged three boats during separate encounters off Vancouver Island's west coast, a Canadian fisheries official said yesterday that his agency will issue a formal "stewardship plan" early next week that spells out ways to ease contact between the public and the wayward orca.
In late June and early July, the Canadian fisheries agency's efforts were thwarted by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, a local band that regards Luna as the embodiment of its late chief. During efforts to lead the orca into a holding pen for capture, members of the band paddled canoes nearby, leading the whale out to sea.
Since scrapping its plans, the fisheries agency is now negotiating with the tribe on a cooperative agreement for the whale, which remains undecided.
To some, though, such as environmental activist Fred Felleman, president of the Seattle-based Orca Conservancy, the Canadian agency "should have had active management in place" to deal with such issues much earlier.
Radford, the fisheries manager, yesterday disputed criticisms such as Felleman's, saying his agency and the tribe have made great efforts to educate the public about Luna. He noted "there have been a number of non-interactions" between Luna and boaters because of such action.
The tribe has posted warning signs, has restricted some dock access and has distributed brochures to the public about the whale, Radford said. And Fisheries and Oceans continually issues radio broadcasts over maritime frequencies, he said.
Still, Luna continues to seek out contact. And his latest encounters were highly publicized in Canadian media reports.
The Victoria Times Colonist carried an Aug. 21 story headlined, "Growing ever more wild, Luna menaces gillnetters." And The (Vancouver) Province characterized the whale's recent 12-hour encounter with a sailboat as an "attack."
Luna's frolics leave fisherman all at sea August 28, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Toxic fire retardants turn up in orcas
August 27, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Toxic chemical flame-retardants used in manufacturing everything from car parts to computers are now turning up in Puget Sound orcas -- raising concern among scientists and environmentalists that a long-standing icon of robust Northwest wildlife is fast becoming one for an increasingly polluted region.
Killer whales tested by Canadian fisheries scientists found troubling levels of polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- the chemical cousins to carcinogenic PCBs that were banned decades ago.
The study's findings, recently published in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology, raise concerns that the long-term health of area orcas is at risk, unless a host of steps are taken that include banning the use of PBDEs, which remain widespread in worldwide manufacturing.
"Killer whales may be one of the first species that really sounds the alarm to the risks that these types of chemicals may pose," said Peter Ross, a marine mammal toxicologist for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans who co-wrote the study.
Because orcas are top-of-the-food-chain animals, Ross added, the detection of such chemicals indicates the utter pervasiveness such toxins have had in their environment -- and by extension, ours -- over a relatively short period.
What's consistent among such studies, she said, is that "wherever you look for PBDEs, you're finding them."
Although PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been banned for decades, PBDEs remain in production around the world. Bans in Europe, California and Maine will take effect during the next few years, and U.S. manufacturers voluntarily are stopping production of some forms of the fire retardant.
Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, policy adviser for the environmentalist group People for Puget Sound, said yesterday the latest study on orcas only underscores the need for Washington to take action "before it's too late."
"If we wait, the orca will be gone," she said.
"It's not going to be easy," he said. "But protecting killer whale habitat will benefit not only them, but all wildlife and people, too."
Fire retardant shows up in killer whales August 26, 2004 (CBC)
Administration Shifts on Global Warming
August 27, 2004 (Washington Post) A Bush administration report suggests that evidence of global warming has begun to affect animal and plant populations in visible ways, and that rising temperatures in North America are due in part to human activity.
The report to Congress, issued Wednesday, goes further than previous statements by President Bush. He has said more scientific research is needed before he imposes new restrictions on greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
"The administration is finally admitting what the National Academy of Sciences and virtually every other scientific body has concluded: Climate change is happening now," Petsonk said. "It's time for the United States, the world's biggest greenhouse gas polluter, to step up to the plate and start cutting emissions."
EPA: U.S. Waterways Contain Polluted Fish
August 24, 2004 (ABC News) EPA Says Some U.S. Lakes, Rivers Contain Fish That May Be Contaminated With Mercury, Dioxin, PCB
One of every three lakes in the United States, and nearly one-quarter of the nation's rivers contain enough pollution that people should limit or avoid eating fish caught there.
Every state but Alaska and Wyoming issued fish advisories covering some and occasionally all of their lakes or rivers in 2003, according to a national databased maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency and updated every year.
Nearly all the advisories involve contaminants such as mercury, dioxins, PCBs, pesticides and heavy metals, including arsenic, copper and lead. Currently they cover 35 percent of the nation's lake acreage and 24 percent of river miles.
Leavitt said mercury pollution from industry is decreasing, though he cited figures only as recent as five years ago. Primary sources of mercury pollution include coal-burning power plants, the burning of hazardous and medical waste and production of chlorine. It also occurs naturally in the environment.
The latest figures troubled frequent critics of the Bush administration, including environmentalist groups such as the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council. They want stricter limits imposed on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
El Niņo stirring, salmon at risk
August 23, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) An El Niņo stirring in the Pacific Ocean could pose a threat to Northwest salmon and provide a crucial test of the federal plan to revive runs on the Columbia River and elsewhere.
The record or near-record runs of the past several years are primarily the result of favorable ocean conditions. An El Niņo event, even a moderate one like that currently predicted, could reverse the trend, scientists say.
Earlier this summer, a string of weather buoys stretching across the Pacific from New Guinea to the Galapagos Islands detected a warming in surface waters, the first signs of a possible El Niņo, a disruption of the prevailing oceanic and atmospheric trends.
Though the increase was slight, roughly 1 degree above normal, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center said it could "indicate the possible early stages of a warming episode."
Last year, more than 900,000 chinook salmon passed Bonneville Dam on their way to upstream spawning grounds, the largest return since the dam on the Columbia River was completed in 1938. Steelhead and coho returns on the Columbia also have been well above their 10-year average. Healthy runs have been reported on other streams and rivers in the region, including those along Puget Sound.
No one knows if a new El Niņo will be strong enough to spread its warm water along the Northwest coast. If it does, salmon, which spend two or three years in the ocean, could face a less hospitable environment.
Offshore fish farming roils growing debate
August 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Supporters looking at Strait of Juan de Fuca as possible aquaculture site
Fish farms in deep ocean water will shrink the United States' growing trade imbalance with other nations, he says, and will help meet the world's growing demand for fish that can't be met by depleted wild stocks.
"It's a concentrated animal operation in the water. It's a feedlot operation," said Mosness, Western regional coordinator for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a non-profit group that has reservations about corporate farming and genetically engineered food.
"The difference is, on land there are requirements for manure lagoons and containment. In the ocean there has not been a serious evaluation of the consequences. ... They are going to go three miles offshore so they can circumvent state regulations," she said.
Swecker and Mosness represent opposing viewpoints of a debate that has been gaining intensity over the past few months as the federal government moves forward with plans to allow large fish farms in a zone that extends from three miles offshore to 200 miles.
"I have spent most of my time looking at the Strait of Juan de Fuca," said Swecker, who owns Swecker Salmon Farm Inc. in Rochester.
The pens would be placed in water between 100 and 200 feet deep and they would "float" off the ocean floor but well below the surface.
The agency pushing the idea is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, an arm of the Commerce Department that, in addition to predicting the weather, regulates fisheries. NOAA has been working to create legislation to regulate and oversee offshore aquaculture. Agency officials hope to have legislation ready to introduce when Congress returns next month.
Going offshore, Grader said, "is mostly to get around land-based constraints, getting out-of-state jurisdiction so you don't have to go through state permitting, you don't have to comply with various state laws.
Grader points out that offshore aquaculture may not help the world since it takes roughly 5 pounds of feed fish to produce 1 pound of farm fish.
They also worry that the large, underwater pens holding millions of farm fish could be a perfect breeding ground for parasites and diseases that could devastate wild stocks.
"Escape is obviously one issue. Another is the spread of disease. We have pretty good evidence that a sea-lice infestation of wild stocks came from farm-raised fish in British Columbia," Grader said.
Growing ever more wild, Luna menaces gillnetters
August 21, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist) Fears are growing that Luna the lonely orca will be harmed by an angry or frightened boater or that the whale will accidentally hurt or kill someone on the water after a week of orca mayhem.
A gillnet fishery in Nootka Sound, off Vancouver Island's west coast, was thrown into disarray and two gillnet boats disabled by Luna Wednesday evening.
The thousands of dollars of damage to the commercial fishing boats and loss of fishing time for the owners came the day after Luna broke the rudder off an expensive sailboat and continued to play with the disabled vessel for 12 hours.
But, so far, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans says it has no plans to embark on another capture attempt and a yet-to-be-signed joint stewardship program with the Mowachaht-Muchalaht band will continue as the main method of managing the wayward whale.
Greg Savard, DFO director of conservation and protection, said he hopes the stewardship agreement will be signed next week, but in the meantime, some elements are already in place.
A brochure is being distributed on the Gold River dock by First Nations, more signs have been put up warning people to stay away from Luna and marine advisories are going out on the vessel traffic channel and the weather channel, he said.
Gillnetters in the area have had only five days fishing this year so far, so the loss of the day's fishing for the boats broken by Luna is a huge hardship, said Les Rombaugh, president of the Area D Gillnetters Association.
The next fishing opening for the gillnet fleet in Nootka Sound is likely to be in October, for a chum salmon fishery.
More has to be done to protect fishermen, recreational boaters and the whale, Rombaugh said.
"I think we have a very serious problem here. I'm afraid someone is going to get killed or someone will kill him," he said.
Most fishermen realize the orca is playing, but, financial consequences are escalating and people in small recreational boats may feel they are threatened, Rombaugh said. "It would be along self-defence lines."
The chinook fishery this week was a good one and anyone who missed out is probably looking at a $10,000 loss in addition to the cost of repairing the boat, he said.
Most of the gillnet boats are about 13 metres long and travel between 12 and 15 knots, but Luna was able to keep up, said one observer. Boats would set off at top speed attempting to get away, but Luna apparently regarded it as part of the game, said Rombaugh.
In June, DFO and scientists from the Vancouver Aquarium teamed up in an effort to catch four-year-old Luna in a net pen and truck him to Pedder Bay to reunite him with his pod.
But the plan was scuttled after members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, who believe the whale embodies the spirit of their dead chief, led Luna away from the net pen with canoes.
Chief Mike Maquinna could not be contacted Friday.
Savard said the question of Luna's future will be revisited this fall, although no date has been set. Options could include another shot at relocation.
In the meantime, although DFO is concerned about the safety of the whale and the public, liability does not fall on any particular group, he said.
"We look at this as a wild animal that we don't necessarily have any control over," he said. But, as Luna's love of boats intensifies, the chance of a successful reunion with his family is shrinking and fears are growing that he could end up in an aquarium.
Clint Wright, Vancouver Aquarium vice-president, who helped organize the aborted relocation, said he does not believe it is viable for Luna to remain in Nootka Sound, but it is increasingly unlikely he will give up his boat habit, even if he is with other whales.
"Whales don't live in a Disney sort of world and people who know whales say he will keep doing these behaviours over and over again," Wright said.
Wright is worried that Luna or a boater will get hurt. "It really is an accident waiting to happen . . . We all want a happy ending, but it's beginning to look like a dead end," he said.
Whale's crush on boat breaks rudder
August 20, 2004 (CBC) Luna the lonely killer whale is once again trying to get friendly with boats in B.C.'s Gold River, with disastrous results.
The provincial fisheries department was warning boaters to stay away from the river after the orphaned animal nearly sank a sailboat earlier this week.
Greg Middleton said Luna started throwing his boat around, breaking the rudder in the process.
"The whale came out of nowhere," he said.
Middleton was able to get his disabled craft ashore and rig a makeshift rudder, but when he tried to leave the wharf, Luna came right back.
The young whale has been in the Gold River area for several years since being separated from his pod.
He quickly developed a liking for boats, often rubbing them as though they were fellow whales.
Middleton's sailboat isn't the only vessel Luna has been after lately.
He has also been chasing fishing boats, leading to renewed calls to remove the killer whale from the area.
Orca habitat at risk if barging allowed, UW scientist testifies
August 20, 2004 (Seattle Times) A proposal to barge sand and gravel from a large mine on Maury Island could endanger Puget Sound's depleted population of orcas, a scientist told the state Shorelines Hearings Board yesterday.
David Bain said an environmental-impact statement on Glacier Northwest's mining proposal failed to consider recent research that shows noise from boats may be a factor in the decline of the marine mammals.
Bain, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington who is studying the effects of noise on orcas for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), said the waters off Maury and Vashon islands are an important part of the winter habitat of three whale pods with 84 individuals.
In order to effectively chase fish while females are calving and nursing their young, Bain said, both male and female orcas, also known as killer whales, must be able to use the waters on both sides of Vashon and Maury islands.
If a lengthened pier and noises from tugboats and barges disturb the whales, Bain said, "They won't want to go past it. That could eliminate their use of the Vashon Island area altogether."
Bain said a number of steps - such as limiting the times of year gravel barges visit Maury Island - could reduce the risk to orcas.
NMFS has labeled orcas a "depleted stock" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and has been ordered by a federal judge to reconsider its earlier decision not to protect the species under the Endangered Species Act.
Global warming's surprising fallout
August 19, 2004 (Christian Science Monitor) The buildup of carbon dioxide (CO2) is forcing scientists to rethink their expectations - not only about the buildup of heat on Earth but also about the implications for the natural world far beyond warming.
Take those powerful Alaskan earthquakes. We expect land to rise as the weight of glaciers melts away. Should we also adjust our assessment of earthquake risk?
Another nonwarming implication of global warming is plant growth. Because plants use the carbon in CO2 to make their food and structures, they should grow faster as concentrations of the greenhouse gas go up. Many experts hope this will take some of the excess CO2 out of the air. They count on increased nitrogen fixation to supply the extra nitrogen to fertilize the plants.
Not so fast, warn Bruce Hungate at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. The experiments of Dr. Hungate and his collaborators show that this expected boon soon turns sour.
After burgeoning for a couple of years, the nitrogen fixers begin to lose their fixing ability. It looks as though molybdenum - a key nutrient - becomes less available as elevated CO2 levels change soil chemistry.
Wetland restoration close to taking flight
August 19, 2004 (Vancouver Columbian) Now, on top of the commerce to be expected near such a heavily populated urban center, bulldozers are moving mountains of dirt.
It's all part of a project to restore a semblance of the natural habitat glimpsed by the Corps of Discovery two centuries ago.
Sponsored jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ducks Unlimited and local government agencies, the $600,000 restoration project will create several small lakes and marshes interspersed with oak-dominated woodlands south of Vancouver Lake. The project, covering 337 acres, is converting old farmland acquired by the Vancouver-Clark Parks and Recreation Department beginning the 1980s, regional parks planner Jeroen Kok said.
By the time the project is finished next month, planners figure it will resemble the prime wildlife habitat witnessed by Lewis and Clark.
"It would have been a fabulous place to be if you were a hungry bird," said Randy Van Hoy, an engineer working on the project for the conservation group Ducks Unlimited.
Planners envision 120 acres of marshes, 43 acres of streamside habitat and 174 acres of grassland ideally suited as a food source for waterfowl. Biologists say shorebirds, amphibians, songbirds and small mammals should be able to take advantage of the new habitat.
Lone orca attacks boat in Nootka Sound
August 19, 2004 (Vancouver Province) A young orca separated from his pod attacked a 32-foot sailboat several times in Nootka Sound Tuesday, causing major damage and leading the skipper to fear for his life and that of his crew.
Greg Middleton says the lone orca's attacks on the Cat Paws II lasted for hours. The whale, believed to be Luna, damaged the steering gear and propeller and snapped off the rudder. Luna was so aggressive that Middleton thought his boat would sink.
"The whale came out of nowhere. We didn't know he was there, he was just suddenly appeared in front of the boat, came right around the back, hit the back of the steering and disabled the boat immediately," Middleton says. "It shattered that quadrant and I had no steering. And he was just picking the back of the boat up and throwing it around."
Middleton says politicians have to do something about Luna.
"I don't want to see the whale harmed, but I spent 24 hours having my boat bashed around."
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now discouraging sailboats from entering Nootka Sound at all. The Coast Guard is broadcasting marine advisories warning boaters they risk being overturned by the dangerously playful orca.
The orca has become a tourist attraction in Nootka Sound, but the increased contact with people has made Luna more of a nuisance than a novelty.
Luna first appeared in Nootka Sound three years ago. Then only two years old, he had been separated from the rest of his pod. Luna was very friendly, swimming up to boats and rubbing up against them, even letting people pet him.
Scientists became afraid Luna's natural instincts and social skills were going to be affected by the human contact, preventing him from reuniting with his pod. The DFO warned people to keep their distance from the orca, but Luna had other ideas.
The young whale bumped up against float planes during take-off and landing. He received a gash above his eye, possibly from a boat propeller. And people continued to pat Luna when he appeared within arm's length of a dock.
The DFO planned to reunite Luna with his pod, but was thwarted by the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation.
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht claim Luna, who they call Tsux'iit, is the reincarnation of their chief and belongs near Gold River. When the DFO went to capture the whale so they could relocate him near his pod, the natives sang to Luna, luring him away from the DFO's pen.
The DFO is still working with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nations on a stewardship plan for Luna, who will remain in Nootka Sound at least until the fall.
Fish spills backed by appeals court
August 16, 2004 (Vancouver Columbian) The Army Corps of Engineers must continue releasing water at Columbia and Snake River dams this summer to help young salmon migrate downstream, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.
In a setback for the Bush administration, the court refused an Aug. 3 emergency request from the Bonneville Power Administration to stay a July order from U.S. District Judge James Redden that required the corps to continue releasing water at the dams through the month of August.
Because the merits of the case won't be argued until fall, Friday's ruling effectively resolves the contentious issue for this year.
Maury Islanders rally against expanded mining
August 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On the eve of 10 days of hearings scheduled before the state Shorelines Hearings Board to allow Northwest Aggregates Co. to expand mining operations on the island, Ottmertz worried the mining and expanded barging would slash the island's peace with "industrial lights, industrial sounds (and) industrial activities."
In March, King County's Department of Development and Environmental Services denied the company's application to expand its mining from 10,000 tons to more than 7 million tons per year. Northwest Aggregates Co., a subsidiary of Glacier Northwest Inc., is appealing the denial to the state board.
Maury Island resident Libby McLarty displayed a model at the rally. It showed a huge chunk of the hillside overlooking the beach and Puget Sound that opponents say would disappear if the company's original plans were approved.
The islanders describe this is a David vs. Goliath kind of fight in which citizen activists are taking on a multinational corporation. Glacier Northwest's parent company is Taiheiyo Cement of Japan.
Major political figures -- including Rep. Jim McDermott, Sen. Maria Cantwell, King County Councilman Dow Constantine, state Sen. Erik Poulsen and former Gov. Booth Gardner -- showed their support yesterday for the island residents' definition of Maury Island's regional importance.
Developer doesn't want heron plan to fly
August 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Advocates of the great blue heron had called the decision a victory for the bird, but a developer plans to appeal a city hearing examiner's ruling halting the construction of a 65-home neighborhood near the Black River Riparian Forest.
The 60-acre forest is home to the Seattle area's largest colony of blue herons, with about 130 nests. Over the past 15 years, parts of the forest, which is surrounded by 20 acres of marsh, have been bought with $8 million of public money, mostly from King County grants and sewer impact fees.
Suzanne Krom, who heads an organization called Herons Forever, plans to protect the nesting area.
"This place and these grand birds are just the kind of thing that make the Northwest special," Krom said. "It would be such a waste to let unrestrained development destroy this beautiful spot after we've invested so much in it."
Noise and humans often cause the sensitive birds to abandon their nests.
And Krom fears that single-family homes nearby -- with children and pets playing and pesticide and fertilizer runoff -- will do just that.
August 16, 2004 (Business Week) Consensus is growing among scientists, governments, and business that they must act fast to combat climate change. This has already sparked efforts to limit CO2 emissions. Many companies are now preparing for a carbon-constrained world
The idea that the human species could alter something as huge and complex as the earth's climate was once the subject of an esoteric scientific debate. But now even attorneys general more used to battling corporate malfeasance are taking up the cause. On July 21, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and lawyers from seven other states sued the nation's largest utility companies, demanding that they reduce emissions of the gases thought to be warming the earth. Warns Spitzer: "Global warming threatens our health, our economy, our natural resources, and our children's future. It is clear we must act."
Stabilizing the global 'greenhouse' may not be so hard
August 15, 2004 (Christian Science Monitor) Humanity has the hardware in hand to halt the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gases it pumps into the atmosphere and forestall the worst effects of global warming projected for the end of this century.
The goal could be achieved within the next 50 years by more widespread use of a portfolio of at least 15 approaches - from energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind power to nuclear energy and the preservation or enhancement of "natural" sinks for carbon dioxide such as rain forests, or the conservation tillage techniques on farms worldwide, say two Princeton University researchers in a study published Friday.
"How do you get these [technologies] into the system?" asks Eileen Claussen, president of the Pew Center on Global Climate Change and Strategies for the Global Environment in Arlington, Va. The problem, she says, is more one of politics and cost than whether key technologies currently exist at industrial scales.
Ninth Circuit Upholds Lower Court Injunction to Protect Salmon
August 14, 2004 (Environmental News Network) Today, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused the government's emergency request to stay an order from U.S. District Court Judge James Redden that requires the Army Corps of Engineers to continue releasing water at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers during August for the benefit of migrating salmon. As scientists across the region have said repeatedly, these water releases are the safest way to help young salmon get downstream past the dams to the ocean. While these water releases have occurred during the summer months for years, this year the Bonneville Power Administration sought to curtail them. BPA touted large savings for electricity customers as its main reason; however, those large savings would have been only seven to ten cents per month for residential customers in Portland and Seattle.
Toxic salmon just another tainted food
August 13, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed by Jeremy Brown) Following an extensive study earlier this year that identified significant levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in farmed salmon, the same authors have now released a follow-up study of the widely used flame retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in salmon.
Although Indiana University's Dr. Ronald Hites and colleagues found a similar pattern of contamination, with highest levels from European salmon farms, what should alarm us particularly is that these potential carcinogens are showing up where we should least want to find them, in wild salmon caught off the Oregon and British Columbia coasts.
The casual response might be simply to not eat fish, which Americans in general don't eat often anyway despite the health benefits of long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids that cannot be derived from non-marine sources.
But further inquiry shows us that traces of PBDEs also are found in milk, beef and other far more staple parts of the American diet.
In November of last year, the journal Environmental Health Perspectives detailed the presence of PBDEs in the most vital meal in the human diet; breast milk.
There is no adequate substitute for breast-feeding an infant, and the health benefits of eating fish are well documented. Discouraging those practices likely would increase malnutrition, especially in poor and minority communities that have less access to alternatives.
Rather, we must insist that all efforts are made to clean up existing pollution and to remove chemicals from production.
Federal panel concedes to Alaska on aquaculture
August 13, 2004 (Juneau Empire) A federal advisory panel on Thursday called for more public input and more environmental and economic analysis before aquaculture can be expanded to U.S. federal waters.
Alaska fishermen's advocate Mark Vinsel - alarmed that fish farms in the open ocean could steal the livelihood of Alaska fishermen and ruin the marine ecosystem - arrived angry but ended up with a big smile on his face Thursday after the panel's unanimous vote on the matter.
A number of environmental groups have called for a legislative environmental assessment, which Hogarth and some of the panel members oppose. The panel did not vote on that matter Thursday.
Groups push plan for Hells Canyon dams
August 13, 2004 (Idaho Statesman) Nez Perce Tribe, conservationists want to aid fish
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will ultimately decide what Idaho Power Co. needs to do at its three Hells Canyon dams to help endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead.
But on Thursday Idaho's Nez Perce Tribe, Idaho Rivers United and American Rivers made another pitch for two projects they believe would help the fish.
The tribe and the groups released an economic study that says it would cost Idaho Power Co. about $12 million a year to do fish passage and install a temperature control device on Idaho Power's Brownlee Dam. The study concluded Idaho Power could cover the cost of the projects through existing profits or by charging customers about $1 extra a month on their bills.
The improvements, they argue, would allow fish to return to historic habitat above Hells Canyon dams and allow for the regulation of water temperature to improve salmon spawning downstream of Hells Canyon.
Craig Jones, Idaho Power's Hells Canyon relicensing manager, said studies show the historic habitat for fish above the Hells Canyon projects is no longer able to support fish, so the costs of passage and a temperature control structure aren't warranted.
Gravel company claims a point in dispute
August 12, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Glacier Northwest claims it has scored a point in its ongoing dispute with King County and preservation advocates over the proposed expansion of the company's Maury Island gravel pit.
The pier decision on Wednesday was part of a preliminary response to Glacier's appeal. An eight-day hearing on the central issues raised by Glacier, plus a related appeal by project foes, begins Monday.
Attorney Ralph Palumbo, who is representing King County before the shorelines board, discounted the significance of the pier decision. "We still believe this use within a conservancy environment is not consistent with the policies of the King County shoreline master plan," he said.
Glacier's dock site, on the southeast shore of Maury Island, is part of a conservancy zone where officials aim to protect the natural shoreline.
Glacier had requested a county permit to ship as much as 7.5 million tons of sand and gravel off the island every year. Among potential buyers are contractors for SeaTac Airport's third runway construction project.
Libby McLarty, president of Preserve Our Islands, the 1,000-member group that opposes Glacier's proposed expansion, said she could not comment on the pier ruling. "There's going to be more to the story. It's gone seven years and it will keep going," she said, referring to the length of the dispute.
Bush expected to promise funds to deepen river
August 12, 2004 (Oregonian) President Bush on Friday is expected to promise $15 million to begin deepening the Columbia River shipping channel, personally delivering a controversial, if politically potent project to a region he hopes to win in November.
Bush is set to visit Portland on Friday, and he is scheduled to announce the funding in Portland, the inland end of the 103-mile project, said people familiar with the event.
Plans developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers call for the channel to be dredged to a minimum of 43 feet from its current 40 feet, from Portland to the Pacific Ocean. The deepening would allow ships to load more fully, cutting operating costs.
The project has been mired in controversy for more than a decade. Environmentalists claim dredging would damage habitat for endangered fish. And in 2002, a panel of experts hired by the corps raised questions about claims of economic benefits.
Bush's announcement would complete an election-year reversal of a White House policy against new starts of civil works projects by the corps.
August 12, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) Hood Canal needs big help.
The problems in Washington's treasured fjord won't go away any time soon. The state Fish and Wildlife Commission acknowledged that reality last week.
The commission ordered permanent closures for a host of Hood Canal fisheries, including bottom fish, smelt and squid. They all suffer from the low levels of oxygen caused by pollution and algae blooms.
The permanent closure is more honest than a series of temporary orders for a problem that shows no signs of being resolved. Like the commissioners, many people along the canal have also begun to acknowledge the challenges, caused in part by septic tank and farm manure problems.
Making changes will require concerted efforts by residents and local, state and federal authorities. But any help for Hood Canal will pay dividends elsewhere.
Periodic fish kills have focused attention on Hood Canal. But similar problems could emerge in other parts of Puget Sound, which face a variety of challenges despite fewer obvious signs of trouble.
To a significant degree, politicians avoid a larger truth. All of Puget Sound needs more help.
Fossils Show How Whales Evolved to Hear Underwater
August 11, 2004 (National Geographic) Starting 50 million years ago, modern-looking whales began to evolve from terrestrial wolflike ancestors. Their transition to fully fledged aquatic behemoths took 15 million years. It is one of the best-recorded examples of an evolutionary transition in the fossil record.
A well-preserved series of fossils from India and Pakistan have already helped scientists understand how whales rapidly evolved limbs, teeth, kidneys, and other organs to cope with the pressures of the marine environment.
Now newly described fossils, with tiny ear bones intact, reveal for the first time how the ancestors of whales and dolphins developed their finely tuned underwater hearing.
U.S. judge affirms tuna rules
August 11, 2004 (San Fransisco Chronicle) He rejects Bush dolphin standard
A federal judge has rejected the Bush administration's attempt to relax the nation's "dolphin-safe'' tuna labeling standard in a scathing decision that accuses the administration of sacrificing science -- and dolphins -- for politics.
In 24 years on the bench, said U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson of San Francisco in a ruling made public Tuesday, he has never seen a record of action by a government agency that "contained such a compelling portrait of political meddling."
Agency helping fight invaders from the sea
August 11, 2004 (Seattle Times) It is hoped that by cataloging the DNA of aquatic organisms big and small, from Puget Sound and some day the rest of the world, he may be able to develop a system to catch invasive species in ship ballast water before they are unleashed into the Sound to choke out native species and disrupt delicate ecosystems.
It's only one of dozens of ground-breaking research projects under way at the USGS laboratory at Sand Point.
All focus on protecting and restoring the ecosystems of Puget Sound.
This weekend, the scientists are throwing their lab doors open to the public to show off some of their methods and perhaps educate people on the ways government technology is being used to help things as simple but important as eelgrass and herring.
In one room, a scientist analyzes video of eelgrass dancing in the tides of the San Juan Islands, hoping to discover how the underwater plants help prevent erosion.
Down a short corridor, another scientist is searching for parasites that might be adding to the troubles of Northwest salmon.
In still another alcove, a technician dissects a young salmon, looking for a tiny organ behind its brain to slice up and study under a microscope for signs of ill health.
New Hypoxic 'Dead Zone' Found Off Oregon Coast
August 10, 2004 (Science Daily) For the second time in three years, a hypoxic "dead zone" has formed off the central Oregon Coast. It's killing fish, crabs and other marine life and leading researchers to believe that a fundamental change may be taking place in ocean conditions in the northern Pacific Ocean.
The event appears similar to one in 2002, when an area of ocean water with low oxygen content formed in the nearshore Oregon coast between Newport and Florence, causing a massive die-off of fish and invertebrate marine species. The fact that it's happening again is triggering concern among marine scientists.
These hypoxic events are intimately connected to upwelling, the researchers say, which is the movement of cold, nutrient rich water to the surface near the ocean shore. Normally, upwelling is valuable - the nutrients it brings up are critical for much marine life and key to productive fisheries.
But in the hypoxic events, the upwelled water is coming from the sub-Arctic, and is even colder, more nutrient rich and lower in oxygen than usual. Upwelling-favorable summer winds bring this water closer to shore. And in this situation, the high nutrient waters support even more growth than usual of microscopic marine plants, which ultimately sink and decay, leading to consumption of even more of the remaining oxygen in the water.
Tainted chinook found in wild
August 9, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fish testing shows wide spread of chemicals used as fire retardant
Wild chinook tested in Oregon and British Columbia had levels of the chemicals -- polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- that were as high or higher than farmed salmon, according to a global study released today.
The research was the latest blow to the good-for-your-body reputation of salmon, which is packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. A prior study by the same researchers recently found troubling levels of PCBs, a known carcinogen, in farm-raised salmon.
Although PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been banned for decades, their chemical cousin, PBDEs, are still in production around the world. Bans in Europe, California and Maine will kick in over the next few years, and U.S. manufacturers voluntarily are stopping production of some forms of the fire retardant.
For now, though, PBDEs are still being added to a long list of common household and workplace items -- from computers and other electronic gear to foam seat cushions and synthetic fabrics.
And evidence is mounting that the chemicals in the products are being released into the environment at an alarming rate.
PBDEs can harm neurological development and function in babies and young children -- just like mercury and PCBs, Duff said.
It's unclear exactly how the PBDEs leach out of products, but they've have been turning up in everything from household dust to women's breast milk.
In both studies, the scientists generally found that farmed fish were more contaminated than wild fish. But the fact that the local chinook were as contaminated with PBDEs as the farmed variety "was a real surprise to us," said the study's lead author, Ronald Hites, a professor at Indiana University.
PBDEs and PCBs concentrate in the fatty tissue of the fish, so removing the skin and using cooking methods that allow fat to drip off can reduce exposure.
Elwha dam removal gets final go-ahead
August 6, 2004 (Seattle Times) After years of negotiations, the biggest dam-removal project in history is about to begin, promising to restore one of Washington's legendary salmon rivers.
Today, with Rep. Norm Dicks looking on, the City of Port Angeles, the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe will sign an agreement allowing the $182 million Elwha Restoration Project to go forward.
Congress approved the dam removals in 1992. Following an environmental review process, the project stalled as negotiations dragged on over federally funded mitigation of the project's impact on local communities.
Today, fish still swim up the river and school at the base of Elwha Dam, looking for a way upstream. Fisheries biologists estimate that the current annual wild run of fewer than 5,000 fish is 1.3 percent of its historic level.
"When the fish leave the river, they're the size of your little finger, but when they return, they're as big as your thigh," Duda says. The difference between thigh and pinky size represents the net amount of nutrients that each spawning fish brings from the ocean to the river ecosystem.
"Tribes consider themselves a part of the environment," Elofson says. "There's some shame that will be removed when the dams are gone, even though we couldn't have done much to stop them from being built in the first place."
Agency to review listing Cherry Point herring for protection
August 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The federal agency in charge of protecting marine life agreed yesterday to review whether Cherry Point herring deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act.
The fish, a crucial part of the food chain that supports salmon and killer whales, have suffered a steep population decline at Cherry Point, near two oil refineries and a smelter in the Bellingham area.
Their population has dropped 90 percent over the past three decades, according to the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, one of the environmental groups urging NOAA Fisheries to list the species for protection.
Brian Gorman, a spokesman for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, said that in the past four years, the Cherry Point herring population has risen to its highest level since 1996.
Their spawning grounds have been sullied by industrial pollution from the refineries and smelter, dock construction, vessel traffic, and disease and foreign species introduced from ship ballast water, the groups said.
El Nino conditions may be developing in the Pacific
August 5, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Warming water temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific last month may indicate the start of a new El Nino.
El Nino, which can affect weather conditions around the world, is often first seen as increased sea surface temperatures in the Pacific along with changes in wind patterns.
Sea surface temperatures rose nearly 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal in July, with even higher readings to the east, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center said on Thursday.
The temperature increases, the agency said, "indicate the possible early stages of a warm episode."
NOAA Climate Prediction Center - Warm Episodes (NOAA Climate Prediction Center - Warm Episodes)
Oxygen chokes off most fishing for good
August 5, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Hood Canal, the scenic waterway that has become a hellhole to most kinds of fish that swim in it, is about to be closed to all fishing, except for salmon, until further notice.
In a half-century of record-keeping, the level of dissolved oxygen in the waters of southern Hood Canal has never been as low as it is today, according to Jan Newton, an oceanographer with the state Department of Ecology.
And the oxygen levels continue to decline, creating dangerous conditions for fish.
On Saturday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife will consider new fishing regulations to permanently close Hood Canal to sport and commercial fishing for all bottom fish, smelt, herring, anchovy, squid, octopus and sea cucumbers.
Plans to deal with the low-oxygen problem are moving forward. Puget Sound Action Team is about to announce early-action education and demonstration projects for reducing the amount of nitrogen going into Hood Canal.
Ocean Researchers Take Fish Farming Off Shore
August 5, 2004 (NPR) Environmentalists Warn of Dangers of Commercial Fish Farms
People around the world are eating a lot more fish -- global consumption doubled in a recent 25-year period, to more than 90 million tons.
Some 30 percent of the seafood eaten in the United States this year will come from "aquaculture" farms, most of them in Asia. But now several universities are working with the U.S. government to improve fish farming practices -- and tap into a billion-dollar industry in which the United States lags its competitors.
University of New Hampshire professor Richard Langan directs one such project, raising fish six miles off the coast. That distance is crucial, say advocates of aquaculture. By placing large fish-farm cages in water that's 180 feet deep -- and miles away from shore -- researchers hope to improve the efficiency and lessen the environmental impact of fish farms.
But that environmental impact is a leading cause of concern for groups like Environmental Defense. Becky Goldburg, a scientist with the group, says the problem with aquaculture is that many of the larger, more lucrative fish to sell are predators, such as cod, halibut and salmon. Even farmed predators eat other fish -- which Goldburg says puts pressure on the ecosystem.
Park wants male orca
August 4, 2004 (Vallejo Times-Herald) Six Flags Marine World Vallejo plans to import a male orca from Argentina for breeding and research and, possibly, entertaining crowds with show-splashing maneuvers. A prime attraction at Marine World now is Shouka, a black-and-white killer whale that weighs more than 5,000 pounds and graces billboards and TV ads.
General manager Joe Meck said the goal is to get Shouka and the 16-year-old male, Kshamenk, together and let nature take its course.
But plans to move Kshamenk have created controversy. The whale swam with its family pod off the waters of Patagonia before it was captured in 1992, and activists insist Kshamenk was caught under questionable circumstances and should be set free.
The orca now is kept at Mundo Marino, a theme park in Buenos Aires that took control of him after he and four other orcas became beached.
Mark Berman, Earth Island Institute's associate director, said Kshamenk lives in isolation and is showing signs of distress from being in captivity, and the Humane Society of the United States claims on its Web site that Mundo Marino boats forced Kshamenk and the three other whales ashore with nets.
Berman said the male orca is a great candidate for release because for the first years of his life he lived in the wild.
Tribe receives grant to improve salmon runs
August 4, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In an effort to improve Dungeness River salmon runs, the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe has received one of 14 federal Environmental Protection Agency grants awarded nationwide this week to help protect local watersheds.
The tribe plans to use the $984,000 award to fund several projects aimed at improving water quality and stream flows in the Olympic Peninsula's Dungeness Watershed, including efforts to improve management of septic systems, storm water run off and irrigation systems.
In recent years, poor water quality has forced closure of shellfish harvests in Dungeness Bay, as well as harmed native fish populations. Dungeness chinook and chum salmon, as well as bull trout, remain "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Chairman Ron Allen and Gov. Gary Locke co-sponsored the tribe's application for the grant, which is part of the EPA's Targeted Watersheds Grant Program.
Bringing back the tide
August 3, 2004 (Vancouver (WA) Columbian) One day in 2005, when the tide is low, a backhoe will bite into a 12-foot-high dike along the Willapa River that has held back the Pacific Ocean for 92 years.
Over a period of six weeks, 10,620 feet of dike will be removed. Pumps will drain the meandering ditch that was dug to build the dike so long ago. Bulldozers will push 45,780 cubic yards of hard-packed dirt back into the pit.
Saltwater will inundate 300 acres of cattle pasture, killing all existing vegetation and creating a broad tidal flat. Channels will be excavated to allow for natural tidal flow and fish passage to the interior of the site. Two new cross-dikes will protect neighboring properties from flooding.
Within a year, if predictions by scientists prove accurate, the long-dormant seeds of salt-tolerant plants Lynbey sedge, tufted hairgrass and salicornia will begin colonizing the flat.
And the restoration of a saltwater marsh that once nurtured salmon, shellfish and shorebirds in this Pacific County estuary will have begun.
The Willapa Estuary Restoration Project, located a pleasant 21/2-hour drive from Vancouver, will be one of the largest salt marsh restoration efforts ever undertaken in Washington and one of the largest on the West Coast outside San Francisco Bay.
The land also is nearly pristine. A study by Battelle Marine Science Lab found no trace of pesticides, petroleum, nitrates or heavy metals.
Nearly 90 percent of all intertidal wetlands in the lower Willapa River have been diked to make room for towns and farms. In the 1960s, when most of the timber cut from the nearby Willapa Hills was being exported, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged the lower river to provide access to log ships and dumped the dredge spoils on the diked property.
Sea otters' revival in state waters brings new concerns
August 3, 2004 (Seattle Times) "They look like little logs," Stafford prompts, attaching his spotting scope to a tripod and zooming in on a slumbering male floating belly-up, chin resting on its chest.
Then Stafford, too, settles into a comfortable perch for his day's work: quantifying the remarkable rebirth of a species eradicated by fur traders a century ago.
The summer sea-otter count is an annual ritual for Stafford and a dozen other biologists; this year, they tallied about 700 animals from Destruction Island, near the Hoh river, to the western end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The first census, in 1977, found 19 animals.
While most people welcome the otters' return, they already have become a nuisance to others.
Voracious eaters, the otters decimated sea urchins in Neah Bay, wiping out a lucrative fishery. A large group of animals then headed down the strait toward Port Angeles, picking the rocky reefs clean and forcing the state to cut back quotas for sea-urchin fishermen.
Wildlife managers expect those kinds of conflicts to increase as otters expand their range, possibly into the rich crab habitat around the San Juan Islands or the popular razor-clam beds near Grays Harbor.
NOAA SCIENTISTS SIGHT BLUE WHALES IN ALASKA
August 2, 2004 (NOAA) NOAA scientists made a rare sighting this month in Alaskan waters. From the deck of the NOAA research vessel McArthur II, they spotted and positively identified rare and endangered blue whales, Balaenoptera musculus, the largest animals known to live on Earth. "For whale researchers, this is huge," said Jay Barlow, NOAA's chief scientist on the research cruise. "There have been many marine mammal surveys in Alaska by ship and aircraft, and countless years of small boat research on humpback whales in Alaska, and yet, these are the first fully documented sightings of blue whales here in the past three decades."
Scientists saw the first blue whale about 100 nautical miles southeast of Prince William Sound where the ocean is approximately two miles deep. The next day, two more blue whales were sighted a little further offshore, about 150 nautical miles southeast of Prince William Sound. The recent sightings were in an area where blue whales were commonly harpooned in the days of pelagic whaling.
Notebook: Pink salmon fishery even better
August 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) Pink salmon, which usually return during odd-numbered years in local rivers, are streaming into the Snohomish river system, and the first-time fishery opens today.
"The forecast this season is 80,000 pinks, and that is not bad at all," said Chad Jackson, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "We have some early indications that we're going be sure of hitting that forecast, if not exceeding it."
Fisheries biologists first noticed an even-year pink run in the Snohomish river system back in 1978, and since then the return rate has soared.
Fisheries began monitoring the pink return in 1980, when an estimated 151 fish were counted. The bust-out year was 1986, when 1,000 returned. Since then it gradually increased to the point where in 2000 it was 13,000, then about 21,000 in 2002.
The Snohomish system is the sole river in the United States south of Alaska to host an even year of pinks, but they are not uncommon in parts of British Columbia and Alaska.
The Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group seeks volunteers to help with the summer chum salmon project on the Union River.
Last year's Union River return was a record-high 11,916 wild chum, which are listed on the Endangered Species Act.
Supplementing the species has been an HCSEG priority since 2000. Each year, the group collects 64 pairs of chum for spawning. Eggs are raised in incubators, then half are released to the Union River, the other half into the Tahuya River system.