Orca Network News - August, 2006
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
August 1, 2006 through August 31, 2006.
August 31, 2006 (Tyee) The most effective solutions will often not be dramatic ones -- nor require the heavy engineering and environmental disruption associated with "big pipe" projects of the past. Instead, they will be creative, often subtle and integrated with other goals, including aesthetic ones. And they are as likely to come from innovations in the marketplace as from massive investments in public works.
Groups rally for orcas
August 30, 2006 (Oak Bay News, Canada) Representatives of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, the Georgia Strait Alliance and the Western Canada Wilderness Committee will join American groups to protect the southern resident orcas as an endangered species.
The Northeast Pacific southern resident orca population is protected in Canada under the federal Species at Risk Act, which lists them as endangered. They are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the U.S.
In March 2006, the Washington State Farm Bureau and the Building Industry Association of Washington brought a lawsuit arguing that the endangered species listing is unlawful. The industry groups argue the southern resident orcas do not fit the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency's definition of species as a "species, subspecies or distinct population segment of a species."
The Georgia Strait Alliance and The Western Canada Wilderness Committee have been given standing in this lawsuit as friends of the court.
Sierra Legal will present a brief to the court on her association's behalf, explaining the broader factual context, including that the southern resident orcas have been listed in Canada as an endangered species. Sierra Legal's brief is set to be filed by Aug. 31 with the case to be heard early next year.
The Canadian Government is currently finalizing a recovery strategy for the southern resident orcas and has committed to publishing it by the end of August 2006.
Portland going 100% renewable
August 30, 2006 (Marketplace) Portland, Ore., has a reputation for being a very environmentally conscious city. Great public transportation, recycling programs, things like that. With all the talk about global warming, Portland has decided to take things a step further. Mitchell Hartman reports.
But starting next year, the juice that runs City Hall will be 100 percent renewable. In a complex deal between power broker Sempra Energy Solutions, local landowners, and a regional wind developer, all city operations will run from wind power.
Oil spill detected off Edmonds ferry dock
August 31, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A mysterious oil spill that covered as much as 11 acres of Puget Sound near the Edmonds ferry terminal was spotted by chance early Wednesday. Efforts to corral it before it dissipated were unsuccessful.
A search for the source is likely to prove difficult because investigators didn't arrive until it was too late to get samples of the oil that could be chemically fingerprinted.
Although the oil dissipated, "any amount of oil is toxic to the environment. I wouldn't want to minimize that," said Curt Hart, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology. "This is a spill that should have been prevented."
Ballard group pushing plan to help fight global warming
August 31, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Can Ballard become the first carbon-neutral community in the country? The first to fully neutralize its contribution to global warming?
A gathering of politicians, environmentalists and businesspeople on Wednesday answered that question with a definite "yes."
All it takes is a couple of mouse clicks of an online calculator to figure out the size of a home or business' carbon dioxide footprint, with the householder or business owner then offsetting that effect with a donation to a non-profit organization that will use the money for projects aimed at slowing global warming.
Carbon dioxide is a major contributor to global warming and is produced by cars, trucks and factories -- in fact, any time fossil fuels such as gasoline are burned.
Renewable energy revolution
August 29, 2006 (Eugene Register Guard) The days of guilt-free electricity in the Northwest are long gone.
Those hydro dams lauded by folk balladeer Woody Guthrie may have put Depression-era laborers to work and electrified the rural West, but they also turned out to be salmon killers.
Not that the dams power Oregon like they used to. Nowadays, fossil fuels produce almost half the state's electricity.
But a push is on to give Oregonians more electricity they can feel good about again.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski wants to require by 2025 that 25 percent of Oregon's power comes from pollution-free, environmentally friendly and inexhaustible sources. They could include the wind sweeping across Eastern Oregon, the debris from logging and forest-thinning sites up and down the Cascades, and the waves surging relentlessly toward Oregon's coast.
If Kulongoski's plan is adopted, it would make Oregon the 21st state with a "Renewable Portfolio Standard," or RPS. Washington voters will make a similar choice, with an initiative on their state ballot proposing a 15-percent-by-2020 RPS.
Minke whale dies in Puget Sound
August 26, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A young minke whale beached itself and died after several days wandering around south Puget Sound -- an unusual detour for the deep-water species. Scientists were trying Friday to figure out what the whale was doing in Puget Sound and why it died.
"Witnesses said it was swimming around in the inlet in the morning, and then seemed to head directly for shore," said Brent Norberg with the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
The whale's body was covered with cuts from the shells, sustained in its death throes on the beach, but showed no other sign of external trauma. Clam and oyster shells and other debris were found in its mouth, and may have contributed to its death, said research biologist Robin Baird of the non-profit Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia. He was at the site with state Department of Fish and Wildlife scientists.
"We don't have a cause of death yet," Baird said Friday. "But the animal was obviously very fresh. If there was anything unusual going on, we'll be able to tell."
"The question is whether it went into the south Sound because it was sick, or blundered into the south Sound and got lost," Baird said.
The stranded whale was 22 feet 8 inches long -- a female who had never had a pregnancy and was likely about 5 years old, he said. Adults of both genders are 30 to 33 feet long.
Minkes are baleen whales, which include bowhead, humpback, sei, fin and right whales - among the largest mammals on the planet. They eat tiny marine creatures strained through baleen plates in their mouth. Baird said this whale had fish bones in its stomach, and did not appear to have starved.
The other class of whales is toothed whales, including sperm whales and the many varieties of beaked whales.
Orcas, also called killer whales, are actually a kind of dolphin.
Puget Sound's red tide blamed on hot weather
August 25, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A neurotoxin that can be deadly is closing down Puget Sound's shellfish beaches faster than you can dig a geoduck.
Blame the weather, said Frank Cox, marine biotoxin coordinator for the Department of Health. Cox said the calm, hot, sunny days water skiers love are also ideal for the growth of the algae that produce paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. "I don't think it's going to stop until we have a major change in weather."
In 2000, nine people gathered mussels in a closed area and they all got sick, Cox said. Three were hospitalized for a week. They were on respirators, so paralyzed that they couldn't blink. They did recover, but if their families hadn't called 911 immediately, they might not have been so lucky.
While these blooms of algae are sometimes referred to as "red tides," Cox said they don't necessarily make the water red. In fact, there is a visible red tide that isn't poisonous.
Killer Whale Barked Like Sea Lion, Tapes Reveal
August 25, 2006 (National Geographic) A lone killer whale near a Canadian fishing village was a skilled mimic that barked just like a sea lion, a new study reveals.
Researchers say the barking calls of the killer whale, or orca, known as Luna proves killer whales can learn to produce novel sounds in the wild, a skill considered rare among mammals.
But the finding is a posthumous one, as Luna, who gained celebrity after taking up residence near the village, was killed in a collision with a tugboat's propeller in March.
Researchers say an analysis of recordings of Luna's underwater calls confirms that the popular orca-which often followed boats and interacted with local residents-has left behind an important scientific legacy.
"Luna has certainly helped to increase our knowledge of how killer whales learn their extensive repertoires, which are specific to each pod or family group," said researcher Andrew Foote of the University of Durham in England.
The team says Luna's barks are examples of vocal learning, whereby an animal is able to alter the way it makes sounds after listening to other noises.
Rare among animals, vocal learning is known in humans, dolphins, elephants, and certain species of birds.
The study suggests that Luna also mimicked other killer whales he occasionally came across. Sound recordings link his calls to a different pod than those of the one he was born into.
Life Without The Orca?
August, 2006 (NW Indian Fisheries Council op-ed by Billy Frank) Life just wouldn't be the same without the orca.
For thousands of years, these magnificent mammals have splashed through the ocean waves and skipped playfully through the serene waters of Puget Sound. Tribal culture has been greatly inspired by these awesome black and white giants who have always been a wondrous sign of purity and vitality in the Northwest.
Now our brother orca is listed as an endangered species, a fact almost too tragic to perceive. Orcas will disappear from our waters unless we all work together to make sure we have an environment that will sustain them. As it is, we don't.
Our waters are riddled with toxic filth and it is slowly killing them. If orcas - who accompany humans at the top of the food chain – are in trouble, it's a clear signal that creatures farther on down that chain are having problems, too. Take chinook salmon, for instance – a favorite food of both orcas and people. Does anybody out there truly believe it's just a coincidence that Puget Sound chinook is also on the endangered species list? A recent poll conducted for the Puget Sound Partnership revealed that 80 percent of the people in our region think Puget Sound is clean and healthy. If only it were true.
Warm Fraser raises worries for salmon run
August 24, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail) All summer fisheries researchers have been plotting the movements of the Adams River sockeye run, one of the biggest and most important salmon stocks to enter the Fraser River this year.
With several million fish expected to return, a lot is on the line as the Adams run makes it way down British Columbia's west coast, heading for the Fraser, where soaring water temperatures are raising survival concerns.
In past years, high temperatures have caused massive mortalities of Fraser River stocks, with up to 80 per cent of salmon dying in the river before they had a chance to spawn. In a normal year only 10 per cent die en route.
In 2004, water temperature on the Fraser ranged between 18 and 20 and 1.6 million salmon died during migration up the river.
This year the temperature has hovered around 19 -- but temperature modelling by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans indicates it could climb even higher to record levels in the next few days, just as the leading edge of the big Adams run reaches the river mouth.
Bert Ionson, DFO's regional resource manager for salmon on the Fraser, said he is keeping a careful watch on water temperatures and on the late-summer sockeye.
"It is extraordinarily hot. These are record temperatures," he said.
Shellfish from Everett to Olympia off-limits
August 24, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The worst red tide in perhaps a decade has shut down shellfish beds all along Puget Sound and prompted serious public health worries, state officials said Wednesday.
Expanded beach closures have not reached the heart of Washington state's large farmed shellfish industry, and the state said commercial shellfish on the market have been tested and should be safe to eat.
But industry officials worried that more bad news could further damage businesses already reeling from a separate bacterial outbreak.
The state Health Department said the newest round of beach closures means virtually the entire shoreline from Everett south to the Nisqually River just north of Olympia is off-limits for shellfish harvesting.
The eastern Kitsap Peninsula also has been affected, along with areas near Port Gamble, Port Ludlow and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, said Frank Cox, a Health Department marine biotoxin coordinator.
"I don't think we've ever had anything quite to this scale," Cox said Wednesday.
Canadian group to present evidence in U.S. killer whale case
August 22, 2006 (Vancouver Sun) The U.S. Federal Court in Seattle will allow Canadian environmental groups to present evidence in a lawsuit filed by industry representatives who want to overturn a ruling that has placed 80 or so killer whales on the U.S. government's endangered species list.
The whales known as the Southern Resident Orcas roam an area from Puget Sound to the Georgia Strait and were granted endangered species protection in 2003 after U.S. and Canadian environmental groups sued the National Marine Fisheries Service for withholding the designation, said Sierra Legal Defence Fund lawyer, Lara Tessaro.
Now representatives of the agricultural and land development industries want the decision reversed, she said, and are suing the U.S. Federal government and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We're not sure why they want to do this. They've not made any economic argument in their lawsuit. We can only assume that it's an attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act in the U.S. and that the object is to prevent the federal government from listing smaller populations threatened with extinction," said Tessaro.
Listen to the belugas
August 22, 2006 (Seattle Times op-ed by Nancy Lord) My Cook Inlet summers used to be, always, filled with beluga whales, their shining backs rising and falling as they shared in the salmon bounty. When I used to fish commercially in the inlet, belugas sometimes surrounded me in such numbers that their rising backs looked like a sea of whitecaps.
Now it has been years since I've seen a beluga.
Today, Cook Inlet's isolated and genetically distinct population of beluga whales, which was surely more than 1,000 in the 1980s - no one was counting then - is thought to number fewer than 300. Moreover, the whales no longer travel widely through the inlet but have confined themselves to a shrunken range in the most human-populated and industrialized part of Cook Inlet, the area around Anchorage.
Alaskans would like Americans to believe that we're good, responsible stewards of our land and resources. In fact, our Legislature hired an Oregon public-relations firm to convince you of that, so that you'll think it's a good idea to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
I'm here to tell you that Alaska is, as it has been ever since the first Russians laid claim to it, a colony of business and corporate interests and not-so-benign neglect by distant rulers.
Which brings me back to the beleaguered belugas. The reason the Cook Inlet belugas are now critically endangered is because the agency in charge of managing them has failed to do that. And one reason it has failed is because business and corporate interests would find it inconvenient to have to do anything different than what they have always done in and around Cook Inlet, and the politicians those interests influence have acted to make sure they don't get inconven-ienced.
To be sure, the road to near-extinction for Cook Inlet belugas was not paved by the oil companies and others doing business. The National Marine Fisheries Service, in charge of managing whales, first failed to regulate what was an unsustainable level of subsistence hunting by Alaska Natives.
Adventurous orca calf reappears with its pod
August 21, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A baby orca that went missing from the Northwest's struggling killer-whale population turned up Sunday, triggering cheers and family photos at the Whale Research Center in the San Juan Islands.
"J, K and L pods have been pretty much together this (past) week when they've been seen," Balcomb said. "He didn't show up with any other pod."
There were a couple of possible sightings, but no documentation until Sunday.
"He's an adventurous little guy," an exuberant Balcomb said. "But he was there today, nice and tight" with the other orcas.
"He's moving around," the researcher added. "He'll surface way ahead of Mom. Very unusual for that small of a baby."
The "southern resident" orca population, which frequents Puget Sound and nearby waters, is believed to have numbered 140 or more in the past century. It has suffered several major periods of decline since the 1960s, when the whales were caught for aquariums.
A similar inland population, called the northern residents, summers between Canada's Vancouver Island and the mainland. Both feed primarily on fish, though many other orca populations eat seals, young whales and other marine mammals.
Missing orca calf resurfaces "alive and well"
August 21, 2006 (Seattle Times) A baby orca that vanished from sight last week was found Sunday, ending fears that the calf, believed to be just 8 days old, had died.
Researchers were delighted to see the baby swimming with K pod, as its birth increased the size of the southern resident orca group to 90 from fewer than 80 in 2001. The animals were listed in February as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.
But a day later researchers spent 90 minutes with the mother and didn't see the calf. The day after that, no pod members were seen.
Researchers now believe the pod swam from the Straight of Juan de Fuca to the open ocean. The pod returned later in the week and was seen Friday by commercial tour groups. The next day, members of the pod were seen off the west side of San Juan Island on their way to the Fraser River in British Columbia, where they feed on salmon. But the baby, known as K-41, was still missing.
"It seems to be very precocious and moving around a lot," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the center. "It doesn't surface with the pod. It's often totally out of sync."
Noxious weed signals an ocean out of balance
August 18, 2006 (Seattle Times) When fishermen touched it, their skin broke out in searing welts. Their lips blistered and peeled. Their eyes burned and swelled shut. Water that splashed from their nets spread the inflammation to their legs and torsos.
As the weed blanketed the bay over the past decade, it stained fishing nets a dark purple and left them coated with a powdery residue. When fishermen tried to shake it off the webbing, their throats constricted, leaving them gasping for air.
After one man bit a fishing line in two, his mouth and tongue swelled so badly that he couldn't eat solid food for a week. Others made an even more painful mistake, neglecting to wash the residue from their hands before relieving themselves over the side of their boats.
Scientist Judith O'Neil put a tiny sample under a microscope and peered at the long black filaments. Consulting a botanical reference, she identified the weed as a strain of cyanobacteria, an ancestor of modern-day bacteria and algae that flourished 2.7 billion years ago.
The venomous weed, known to scientists as "Lyngbya majuscula," has appeared in at least a dozen other places around the globe. It is one of many symptoms of a virulent pox on the world's oceans.
In many places - the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fjords of Norway - some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading. Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.
Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.
Noonan Finds Killer Whales Kiss And Make Up
August 17, 2006 (Canisius College) A new discovery by Canisius College Professor of Animal Behavior, Michael Noonan, PhD, has found killer whales to be among those species that reconcile their differences.
In most animal species, periods of aggression are thought to be followed by cooling-off periods, during which behavior gradually returns to normal. Humans use special pro-social behaviors that can accelerate the process of moving past post-agonistic hostility in a process termed reconciliation. Similar behaviors that appear to play such a role have also been identified in some primate species such as chimpanzees and macaques.
In Noonan's study, the aftermath of aggressive outbursts in a captive population of orcas was researched to investigate the possibility that reconciliation might exist in this species, as well. Although aggressive behavior between killer whales is reported to be rare, Noonan and his colleagues identified 21 squabbles. Many of these involved several whales and were complicated interactions. Eight were unambiguous quarrels between a father and a mother. Each time, mom chased her partner, who would flee to evade her. This would continue intermittently for several minutes, after which the two would separate for a cooling off period of approximately 10 minutes and then engage in a six to 10 minute period of close echelon (synchronous) swimming, side by side.
"The sudden, close, physical proximity and precise coordination that occurred during the echelon swimming bouts suggest a re-establishment of social bonds in a way that is compatible with the notion of post-agonistic reconciliation," says Noonan. "If so, this behavior adds to the ways in which killer whales show convergence with humans and other primates, and offers a window for studying the evolution of peacemaking in complex societies."
Lolita's closer to coming home
August 16, 2006 (Whidbey News Times) Whale lovers migrated to Coupeville last week to pay tribute to the majestic gentle giants slain or captured during the infamous Penn Cove orca captures of the 1970s.
The Orca Network's annual commemoration was both melancholy and optimistic. Attendees remembered the late orca Luna, who was tragically killed in a March tug boat accident in Canada, and learned that Lolita, the sole survivor of the Penn Cove captures, may one day be returned home from her current confinement at Miami Seaquarium.
The long-running Lolita campaign previously hit a major roadblock when the facility owner refused to part with the whale, who has been a major moneymaker. Now, with two prominent Miami businessmen pledging their support to the cause and the Seaquarium owners shifting their focus to dolphin shows, the timing is opportune to make a push for Lolita.
"Maybe the time is right for them to be the good guys and let her come home," said Susan Berta of the Orca Network.
Orca Network members will meet with the businessmen in Miami next month to discuss the next step. Additionally, space is being set aside for a local orca specialist to set up camp in Miami as the campaign gains steam.
"Killer" Fossil Find May Rewrite Story of Whale Evolution
August 16, 2006 (National Geographic) The discovery of a bizarre species of fossil whale from Australia with huge eyes and flesh-ripping jaws provides valuable new insights into the evolution of whales, researchers say.
The previously unknown species lived about 25 million years ago and was an early ancestor of modern baleen whales, which feed by filtering plankton from seawater. This group includes the blue whale, the largest animal ever to inhabit the planet.
But the newfound predatory whale likely hunted sharks and other fish despite its relatively small size and suggests that baleen whales weren't always the toothless gentle giants we see in our oceans today.
The new species, Janjucetus hunderi, had a maximum body length of about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) and sharp, serrated teeth measuring up to 1.4 inches (3.5 centimeters) long.
Yakamas, utility OK deal to save fish
August 16, 2006 (Spokane Review) The Yakama Nation and the public utility district that runs the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams on the Columbia River have signed a deal aimed at protecting migrating salmon, steelhead and other species.
After nearly two decades of discussions, Yakama officials signed the agreement with the Grant County Public Utility District during a gathering at the utility district's headquarters in Ephrata on Monday.
The accord was part of the PUD's relicensing agreement to operate the Wanapum and Priest Rapids dams. The PUD's license to operate both dams expired in October 2005.
The new agreement calls for replacing turbines at both dams with ones that are more efficient and allow more fish to pass. Fish passages for fish migrating downstream will also be installed at both dams, and water flows will be adjusted to accommodate spawning.
Crews are replacing the second of 10 turbines at the Wanapum dam. The $150 million project is expected to be completed by 2012. Once it's finished, the 10 turbines at Priest Rapids will be replaced, said Grant County PUD spokeswoman Sarah Morford.
Because they'll need less water to generate power, the smaller turbine blades will allow for safer fish passage and generate about 14 percent more power, Morford said.
The agreement also calls for installing passages in which salmon and steelhead can freely migrate without any obstructions. Work on that type of passage has already begun at the Wanapum Dam and should be finished sometime next spring, Morford said.
Tribal leaders described the fish passages as a significant part of the agreement. "That's what we've been fighting for for a long time," Olney said.
Under the agreement, minimum water flows will be extended in the Hanford Reach area during fall chinook spawning and rearing.
Currently, more than 93 percent of fish passing through both dams survive, and that number will increase to more than 97 percent once the modifications are made, Morford said.
Newborn orca has disappeared
August 16, 2006 (Seattle Times) An orca calf born into one of Puget Sound's endangered killer-whale pods has gone missing.
Researchers at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island were elated Sunday to see a newborn orca calf swimming with K pod in Haro Strait, between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island.
If it survives, the calf would push the total southern resident population to 90, up from fewer than 80 orcas in 2001. That's good news for the animals, listed in February as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
But Monday, researchers observed the K pod for hours and did not see the baby. Then Tuesday, none of the members of the pod were seen.
It is possible the calf is dead. About 40 percent of all orca calves do not survive their first year.
Orca Baby: Here One Day, Gone the Next?
August 15, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Killer whale researchers might be wondering if they were seeing things Sunday, when they spotted a new calf in K Pod, one of three endangered groups of orcas that frequent Puget Sound. As of Tuesday, the little whale was missing.
If not for a clear photograph of the baby -- complete with the orange coloring of a newborn -- the researchers might have a hard time proving that the population reached 90 orcas, at least for a time. The population has not been that high since 1997, the year 19 members of L Pod visited Dyes Inlet.
It was clear from observations on Sunday that the calf belonged to K-22, a 19-year-old female named Sekiu, Balcomb-Bartok said. The two were swimming with Sekiu's first calf, 5-year-old K-33 or Tika. The rest of the pod was about three miles ahead, he noted.
The newborn was designated K-41 and will keep that number even if it is never seen again, he said.
Orcas are about eight feet long when born and weigh about 400 pounds. They know how to swim at birth and are nourished with milk from their mother. The white parts of the black-and-white orcas are flushed with an orange coloration, and observers often see "fetal folds" before the skin stretches tight.
Long-dead Puget Sound orcas may be exhumed
August 13, 2006 (Oregonian) Several orcas that died during captures for marine parks more than three decades ago may provide a wealth of information about Puget Sound's remaining killer whales.
Three to five orcas are believed to be buried in various sites on Whidbey Island, about 48 miles northwest of Seattle. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Washington and the Orca Network, working jointly, want to find and exhume the remains for DNA analysis.
Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist involved in the effort, said ground penetrating radar was used at the end of June to mark two potential sites that are expected to yield three remains. Other sites are being sought. Excavation won't begin for several months, he said.
Measures to save orcas likely to rile businesses
August 12, 2006 (Contra Costa Times) Declining numbers of whales in Puget Sound may put limits on development, industry and shipping interests
Their favorite food, chinook salmon, also are threatened with extinction. Puget Sound is loaded with toxins and pollution, and its shorelines are encrusted with housing, industrial development, farms and pavement.
Before 1800, there may have been more than 200 southern resident orcas. Today, there are about 89. And the federal government has brought in a hammer -- the Endangered Species Act -- to protect the orca.
But recovery will be difficult. Orcas are at the top of the Puget Sound food chain, and their depletion is an indicator of a deeply troubled ecosystem, many scientists say.
Any proposals to save the orca are guaranteed to rile development, industry and shipping interests, along with many others who depend on the Puget Sound for their living. Building, property rights and farming interests already are suing to throw out the listing.
As a first step, the recovery plan could call for rebuilding salmon runs and other food sources for the orcas.
Adults must eat up to about 34 adult salmon a day, and they prefer big, fat and nutrient-rich chinook. Juveniles have big appetites as well, devouring as many as 17 adult salmon a day.
But Puget Sound chinook are listed as a threatened species. Runs have dwindled, and fish are smaller and more contaminated by pollution than ever.
Orca recovery could mean reductions in commercial and recreational fishing within the designated critical habitat -- as much as 5 percent to 50 percent.
The recovery plan might suggest bolstering other salmon-recovery efforts across the region, including the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Lack of oxygen in Pacific waters killing fish, crabs
August 12, 2006 (Seatle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists say the oxygen-starved "dead zone" along the Pacific Coast that is causing massive crab and fish die-offs is worse than initially thought.
Scientists say weather, not pollution, appears to be the culprit, and no relief is in sight. However, some say, there is no immediate sign yet of long-term damage to the crab fishery.
Oregon State University scientists looking for weather changes that could reverse the situation aren't finding them, and they say levels of dissolved oxygen critical to marine life are the lowest since the first dead zone was identified in 2002. Strong upwelling winds pushed a low-oxygen pool of deep water toward shore, suffocating marine life, said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at OSU.
She said wind changes could help push that water farther out but current forecasts predict the opposite.
August 11, 2006 (The Stranger) I-933 is the latest effort by conservatives to roll back land-use regulations. In an attempt to make voters connect tangible, negative consequences to the property-rights initiative, the I-933 opposition has latched onto simple sound bites like "Traffic!" "Loopholes!" and "Farmland!" (Another sign reads "Save Washington's Remaining Farmland.") But with competing I-933 supporters hollering simple, populist lines about the importance of protecting private property, will voters get the environmentalists' message and reject I-933?
The anti-I-933 campaign is trying not to make the same "cerebral" mistake and is instead focusing on easy-to-understand, practical reasons for land regulation. "We're just talking about the outcome," says Aaron Toso, one of eight full-time staffers on the No on 933 committee, "Traffic is something that's a real consequence people can connect with." Toso is right about going specific, but "traffic" and "farmland" are not specific enough. Indeed, traffic might seem like a non sequitur to voters who don't make the fairly sophisticated men tal leap from opening the door to backyard gravel mines and farmland subdivisions to the consequential increase in traffic.
Scientists search for remains of orcas from 1970 hunt in Puget Sound
August 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Several orcas that died during captures for marine parks more than three decades ago may provide a wealth of information about Puget Sound's remaining killer whales.
Three to five orcas are believed to be buried in various sites on Whidbey Island, about 48 miles northwest of Seattle. A joint effort by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Washington and the Orca Network wants to find and exhume the remains for DNA analysis.
"We're trying to add to our material that we have for the southern residents," said Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who is involved in the effort. "Like a lot of things in science, you don't know what it's going to yield until you get a hold of it."
Orcas, often called killer whales but actually a kind of dolphin, are found in all the world's oceans.
The remains in question are believed to be from a 1970 hunt at Penn Cove off Whidbey Island, where more than 80 orcas were rounded up and seven were captured and sent to marine parks. Up to five whales got tangled in nets and drowned.
Orca Network co-founder Susan Berta said that for years, she had heard stories about whales buried on the island. Earlier this year, she asked Hanson whether they should try to find them.
She said she wanted to do something "to honor those deaths or make some good come of it."
Hanson said ground penetrating radar was used at the end of June to mark two potential sites that are expected to yield three remains. Other sites are being sought. Excavation won't begin for several months, he said.
Last year, the federal government declared Washington state's three resident orca pods - dubbed J, K and L - endangered under federal law, which calls for habitat protection.
The three pods number 89 whales, down from historical levels of 120 or more in the last century but up from a low of 79 in 2001. Their numbers have gone through three periods of decline since the late 1960s and early 1970s, when dozens were captured for aquariums, with each decline followed by a slight rebound.
Berta said at least 13 orcas were killed during those captures, and 45 were delivered to marine parks around the world. Only Lolita - who is at the Miami Seaquarium - remains alive. Believed to be between 40 and 42, Lolita is the oldest whale in captivity.
Orca Network has been working on its Free Lolita Campaign since 1995, and is still seeking to get the Seaquarium to release the whale back to Washington state.
In a written statement this week, the Seaquarium said to release Lolita back into the sound would "jeopardize her health and safety, especially given the fact that scientists have added the members of Lolita's pod, who reside in the waters of Puget Sound, on the endangered species list due to a distressed ecosystem."
The capture of orcas off the Northwest coast was stopped in 1976, after Washington state sued Sea World in federal court over a hunt near Budd Inlet in the south sound. In a settlement, Sea World agreed to never collect orcas again in Washington state.
Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island has the skull of an infant whale that a Whidbey Island resident found after the 1970 capture, and is offering it up for DNA analysis as well.
Balcomb said that any information gleaned from this whale, or others that are found on Whidbey Island, could help explain why the orca population continues to struggle.
Pollution and a decline in prey are believed to be their biggest threats, though stress from whale-watch boats and underwater sonar tests by the Navy are also concerns.
Orcas are a matriarchal society, and Hanson said they are interested in using DNA to determine lineages.
"Some of the questions are, was this a much larger population with more branches on the family tree?" Balcomb asked.
Berta said the network is reaching out to people on the island to see if there may be any other whales buried on the island.
"We're excited to have something positive come out of a very negative part of our history here," she said.
Salmon fishing in California, Oregon declared a failure
August 11, 2006 (Seattle Times) Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez on Thursday declared commercial salmon fishing a failure off Oregon and California this year, based on sharp harvest cutbacks imposed to protect struggling returns to the Klamath River.
The formal declaration under federal fisheries law, the first since 1992 to come before the end of the fishing season, makes it possible for members of Congress from the two states to move forward on seeking up to $80 million in aid that has been stymied for lack of a declaration.
Gutierrez blamed five years of drought in the Klamath Basin for low water and growing infestations of parasites that are diminishing salmon returns there.
During a drought in 2001, water was shut off to most of the 1,000 farms on the Klamath Reclamation Project straddling the Oregon-California border east of the Cascade Range to protect threatened coho salmon in the Klamath.
The next year, the Bush administration restored full irrigation to the farms, and more than 40,000 adult chinook salmon died in the lower river of gill-rot diseases as they were stranded in warm pools by low water.
Greenland's ice is melting at faster rate, report says
August 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The huge Greenland ice pack, which contains 10 percent of all the ice on Earth, has begun to melt at a dramatically faster rate in the past two years, scientists said Thursday.
Using data from a pair of NASA satellites that measure small variations in the Earth's gravity, University of Texas scientists said Greenland is losing ice into the ocean at the rate of about 57 cubic miles a year.
That would mean a net loss since the summer of 2004 of about as much water as is in Lake Erie.
The same satellites measured a net loss -- the amount of ice that melts into the ocean during the summer, minus the amount that is replaced by winter snows -- of only around 20 cubic miles per year during 2002 and 2003.
"It's kind of sobering when you look at the rate Greenland is depositing water into the ocean," said Byron Tapley of the UT Center for Space Research.
The findings confirm other calculations pointing to accelerating Greenland ice melt, and are consistent with computer models that predict the course of climate change. They are being reported today in Science Magazine by Tapley and UT scientists C.R. Wilson and J.L. Chen.
If all of Greenland's ice melted -- a process scientists say would take centuries, even at the current rate -- the additional water would raise the global sea level by about 20 feet.
Killer whales have own 'caller ID'
August 10, 2006 (Scotsman) KILLER whales sing with their own distinctive style of song, new research has revealed. Group calls to signal changes of movement while hunting and other messages have been found to be delivered with an "individual signature", according to a team of academics from St Andrews University and two American institutions.
This communication ability appears to put killer whales on a par with chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins, who similarly customise group signals.
The animals were tracked as they swam in the Johnstone Strait, off British Columbia, and their calls were recorded by an underwater array of "hydrophones". Laser range finders were also used to help identify which animal was making any given call.
Anna Nousek, the lead researcher who works at both St Andrews and Florida State universities, says the study has produced the "first indication that shared killer whale calls contain some degree of individual signature information".
In a Royal Society paper published today, she writes: "This study has shown variations within shared call types, with strongly recognisable group signatures and less prominent individual signatures, which may allow both efficient transmission of group-level information and individual identity discrimination.
"Less-distinctive cues may suffice for individual recognition, as a receiver has only to discriminate among a few group members.
"Calls of individuals from different matrilines [groups related through the female line] were much more strongly distinguishable."
They live in highly stable family groups, called pods, that share a common female ancestor. Pods that share any calls are said to belong to the same clan.
"Signatures at different social levels must ultimately be tested using playback experiments to determine whether killer whales themselves perceive and respond to the reported differences," the paper says. "However, the presence of individual signatures strong enough to be distinguished with statistical analysis suggests the potential for individuals to acoustically distinguish between the highly similar shared calls of their matrilineal relatives."
Rough Weather Ahead
August 10, 2006 (Tyee) How global warming will hit BC.
In this special series funded by a Tyee Fellowship for Investigative Reporting, veteran science journalist Chris Wood reports on how global warming threatens to harm British Columbia's environment, economy and way of life -- and what can be done to minimize the damage.
Up-close view of dead zone shows "it's just a wasteland"
August 9, 2006 (Seattle Times) ABOARD THE ELAKHA, off the Oregon Coast - In years past, the reef a few miles from Oregon's Cape Perpetua was a small underwater gem. It was favored by the quillback, black and canary rockfish, which darted among boulders bedecked with sea stars and anemones.
On Tuesday, underwater video cameras remotely operated from this research vessel sent back a starkly different view - a reef barren of fish but littered with what researchers estimated as thousands of carcasses of decaying crabs.
Worms, normally dug into sea sand, drifted dead along the bottom.
"It's just a wasteland down there," said Francis Chan, an Oregon State University marine ecologist aboard the Elakha. "I didn't expect to see anything quite like this."
Although this reef appeared to be a worst-case scenario, oxygen-poor water now stretches along 70 miles off the Oregon Coast. Oxygen-poor water also has been detected off the coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
Scientists first detected the phenomenon in Northwest waters in the summer of 2002, and it has appeared every year since then.
Video: Plan to bring captured orca to Puget Sound
August 7, 2006 (KIRO-TV)
Plummeting oxygen levels threaten fish in Hood Canal
August 7, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Oxygen levels in Hood Canal have been plummeting this year, raising concerns about the potential for a massive fish kill.
Jan Newton, a University of Washington oceanographer, says it's hard to predict how high that potential is.
In 2004, oxygen levels in the narrow channel between the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas reached a record low, but no wide swaths of fish suffocated. In 2002 and 2003, there was more oxygen in the water, but fish died by the thousands.
"That's the dynamic we're trying to understand," said Newton, who is leading an intensive, multimillion-dollar research effort into the cause of the low-oxygen problem.
In the presence of sunlight, plankton feed on available nitrogen, which comes from many natural and human-made sources. When the plankton die, they sink and decompose, using up oxygen other sea creatures need.
Newton said researchers always understood that the shape of Hood Canal -- long, deep and enclosed at one end -- constrains mixing of the water layers. As a result, plankton blooms start earlier and last longer than in the main part of Puget Sound.
"What's new," Newton said, "is how early they might start and how late they might go."
In most areas of Puget Sound, the plankton season generally lasts from May to October. In Hood Canal, plankton blooms might stretch from February into the fall, then come back strong as late as December.
Much of oil spilled in estuary recovered
August 7, 2006 (Seattle Times) About two-thirds of an estimated 7,700 gallons of oil that spilled from a cargo ship into an ecologically sensitive estuary have been recovered, officials said Sunday.
A small number of oil-soaked birds have been found, said Dave Smith of the Canadian Wildlife Service. He noted there aren't many birds nesting in the marshy area this time of year.
The spill occurred Friday afternoon after the cargo ship Westwood Arnette hit a pier while leaving a terminal, puncturing two holes in a fuel tank.
Thick bunker fuel spilled into the water and was quickly pushed by the wind about 1,640 feet into Howe Sound, a stretch of water along the highway between Vancouver, Squamish and Whistler.
The heavy oil also seeped into the Squamish estuary, a marshy area that is home to many species of birds and wildlife.
‘Dead Zone' Reappears Off the Oregon Coast
August 6, 2006 (New York Times) For the fifth year in a row, unusual wind patterns off the coast of Oregon have produced a large "dead zone," an area so low in oxygen that fish and crabs suffocate.
This dead zone is unlike those in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, which result from fertilizer, sewage or runoff from hog or poultry operations carried by rivers. The Oregon zone appears when the wind generates strong currents carrying nutrient-rich but oxygen-poor water from the deep sea to the surface near shore, a process called upwelling.
The nutrients encourage the growth of plankton, which eventually dies and falls to the ocean floor. Bacteria there consume the plankton, using up oxygen.
The dead zone, which appears in late spring and lasts a matter of weeks, has quadrupled in size since it first appeared in 2002 and this year covers about 1,235 square miles, an area about as large as Rhode Island, Dr. Lubchenco said.
Seattle's Green Mayor Brings Kyoto to the Backyard
August 4, 2006 (Environmental News Service) On the frontier of the fight against global warming, the mayor of Seattle boldly goes where the U.S. president will not -- like right to America's backyards.
As the mayor spearheading a drive to get U.S. cities to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Greg Nickels is proposing a host of "green" initiatives, like urging Seattle dwellers to build rental units in their backyards to stem city sprawl and get people to live closer to downtown.
"We have lots of jobs downtown and we want to balance that with having a lot of new residents so that people are literally walking to work," Nickels told Reuters in an interview this week in his energy-efficient City Hall overlooking Puget Sound.
Nickels is the mayor who first urged U.S. cities to adhere to the targets of the Kyoto Protocol, the 164-nation agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions. President Bush pulled the United States out of the treaty in 2001.
Utility might remove dams to restore salmon
August 3, 2006 (Seattle Times) The new president of PacifiCorp's power-generating division says the utility could agree to removing five dams from the Klamath River to help restore salmon if it doesn't require raising electricity rates.
"We have heard the tribes' concerns," PacifiCorp Energy President Bill Fehrman said in a statement posted Wednesday on the utility's Web site. "We are not opposed to dam removal or other settlement opportunities as long as our customers are not harmed and our property rights are respected."
The company said the statement reflected its position all along in talks over a new 50-year license to operate the dams, but Indian tribes called it an encouraging move toward restoring salmon to 350 miles of rivers blocked by the dams for nearly 100 years.
"The company is behaving differently under the new management," said Craig Tucker, coordinator of the dam-removal campaign for the Karuk Tribe.
Scientists seek buried orcas on Whidbey
August 2, 2006 (Whidbey News Times) A research project being carried out on Whidbey Island by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries scientists could yield vital information about the orca community decimated by captures for marine parks three decades ago.
The scientists are working feverishly to recover skeletal remains of the four or five orcas killed during the infamous 1970 Penn Cove orca capture. If the remains are successfully located, DNA testing should provide insight into the mystery of the Southern Resident orca community's decline.
Fifty-eight orcas were captured or killed between 1965 and 1976, the period referred to as the "capture era." Removing a significant portion of the population, estimated at one-third or one-half of the entire community, placed the group on fragile footing, leading to its current tenuous existence.
The bones of the orcas killed locally in 1970 could augment the information scientists already possess. Testing would provide answers about nutrition, genetics, toxins, and more, helping bring several positives out of a decidedly negative piece of Penn Cove's history.
Several of the whales are believed to be buried north of Oak Harbor. Orca Network is appealing to the public to offer information about the whereabouts of the burials, photos, or other anecdotal material about the captures.
"We are hoping there may be News-Times readers out there who were present during this time, and have information about burial sites that would help scientists locate the whales," said Susan Berta of Orca Network. "Or if someone knows of any orcas that may have died naturally and washed up on Whidbey shores and were buried over the years, we would truly appreciate any leads we can get."
The organization can be reached at 1-866-ORCANET or email@example.com.
Orca Network will hold its annual commemoration of the 45 Southern Resident orcas captured in Washington and the 13 whales killed during the capture on Tuesday, Aug. 8, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Island County Historical Society Museum in Coupeville. The museum is located at 900 NW Alexander St. and admission is $20.
Tuesday marks the anniversary of the Penn Cove Orca Capture in which Lolita, the sole survivor, was taken. Lolita is now confined to a tank at the Miami Seaquarium, where the facility's owners have refused to relinquish ownership of the whale.
"The park owners refuse to acknowledge that Lolita still calls out using certain vocalizations that only her L pod family uses, which indicates she still remembers her time as a member of the Southern Resident community," said Howard Garrett of Orca Network.
Suzanne Chisholm of Mountainside Films will give a presentation at the commemoration remembering the late orca Luna, or L98, who was killed by a tug boat in March. Chisholm and her husband Michael Parfit spent more than two years with Luna in Nootka Sound, working on a book and documentary about the sociable orca.
Additionally, attendees will view an award-winning documentary on the Penn Cove orca capture produced by Coupeville High School students Connor Tasoff and Megan Smith.