Orca Network News - August, 2008

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats

August 1, 2008 through August 31, 2008.

Precious metals unearthed in gravel mine rubble
August 30, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Opponents of the planned expansion of a Maury Island sand and gravel mine have struck gold. And silver.
The citizens group Preserve Our Islands has discovered small amounts of precious metals taken from samples of the rubble being mined from the island by Glacier Northwest.
In the latest twist in the lengthy fight over the site, Preserve Our Islands said its discovery is further evidence that the state Department of Natural Resources is giving away valuable raw materials that should support schools and other public needs.
Agency officials say the findings raise "an important issue."
"It's a state resource," said Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands. "This is to build schools. You can't have this corporate giveaway because it's easy, or you don't want to upset your friends or something like that."
Pete Stoltz, permit coordinator for Glacier, said the company had never considered trying to recover the metals.
"Gold and silver are present in small amounts throughout the Earth's crust in different materials," he said. "It's not all economically extractable."
Gold aside, Preserve Our Islands maintains that historic records documenting the transfer of the state land into private ownership did not include the right to minerals including sand, gravel, gold or silver. The state, the group claims, still owns those rights.

CO2 and Acid Oceans
August 27, 2008 (Science Central)
Research is showing carbon dioxide is not only causing global warming, it's also causing sea water to become more acidic. As this ScienCentral video explains, the question of what this means for sea life is becoming a hot topic for everyone from scientists to filmmakers.
After years of concern over what so-called greenhouse gasses might be doing to warm our atmosphere, researchers studying our oceans are now starting to find that one of those gasses, carbon dioxide, has made the ocean about 30 percent more acidic in the last 200 years.
In addition, that same research is projecting that without major changes, it could become a 150 percent increase by the end of this century. "This is a larger change in the acidity of the ocean than has been observed through geological time, for at least 20 million years," says Richard Feely, supervisory oceanographer at the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory." He adds, "We're changing the acidity of the oceans faster than the organisms have ever experienced."
Beyond that, research recently published is describing a phenomenon where the ocean is working to make waters in some coastal areas that are important to fishing even more acidic than elsewhere in the ocean.
Feely and fellow NOAA oceanographer Christopher Sabine started measuring carbon dioxide (CO2) in the ocean starting in the 1990s. Sabine says, "We had approached all of this (research) with the idea that the oceans are performing a service for mankind." They thought the ocean taking up carbon dioxide might be a good thing that could dampen the impact of global warming.
Their research has shown that since the start of the Industrial Revolution, around 1800, the ocean has taken up 118 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. Sabine likens a metric ton to a small car. He says, "We put the equivalent of 118 billion VW bugs worth of carbon into the oceans." That's about one-third of the CO2 produced by industry.

Alaska: Climate-change frontier
August 27, 2008 (Washington Post)
The world is warming. Average global temperatures have increased by 1.36 degrees F. since the 19th century, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In the past 50 years, the rate of warming has nearly doubled. The warming trend is even more pronounced at high latitudes. Temperatures in Alaska have risen 3.6 degrees F. in the past half-century. The warmer conditions are changing marine and terrestrial ecosystems and forcing human communities to adapt as well.
Warmer winters have resulted in spruce bark beetles eating through vast tracts of forest. Some wetlands appear to be drying out. Several coastal villages previously protected by sea ice now find themselves exposed to the ocean's full fury. They'll have to relocate.
"What's happening with climate change – it's not speculation" says Colleen Swan, a tribal administrator of Kivalina, a 399-person Inupiat community on the Chukchi Sea. "It's our reality."
Alaskan glaciers are thinning at a rate of 1.8 meters yearly, according to laser measurements taken from aircraft.
"We're measuring almost a doubling in the rate of mass loss over the last decade," says Anthony Arendt, a postdoctoral fellow at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Low level of Arctic sea ice indicates a "tipping point"
August 27, 2008 (Washington Post)
More ominous signs Wednesday have scientists saying a global-warming "tipping point" in the Arctic seems to be happening before their eyes: Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is at its second- lowest level in about 30 years.
"We could very well be in that quick slide downward in terms of passing a tipping point," said senior scientist Mark Serreze at the data center in Boulder, Colo. "It's tipping now. We're seeing it happen now."
Within "five to less than 10 years," the Arctic could be free of sea ice in the summer, said NASA ice scientist Jay Zwally.
"It also means that climate warming is also coming larger and faster than the models are predicting and nobody's really taken into account that change yet," he said.
Five climate scientists, four of them specialists on the Arctic, said it is fair to call what is happening in the Arctic a "tipping point." NASA scientist James Hansen, who sounded the alarm about global warming 20 years ago to Congress, said the sea-ice melt "is the best current example" of that.

Scientists Report Further Shrinking of Arctic Ice
August 27, 2008 (Washington Post)
Arctic sea ice has shrunk to the second-lowest level since record-keeping began three decades ago, a group of international researchers determined yesterday, a revelation underscoring how rapidly climate change is transforming ecosystems in northern latitudes.
The extent of Arctic sea ice is now 2 million square miles below the long-term average for Aug. 26, according to the International Arctic Research Center and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, a figure that is within 400,000 square miles of the all-time record low set in September 2007. This figure is already below the long-term average for September ice cover and because the ice traditionally reaches its minimum level in mid-September, researchers warned that a new low might be recorded within weeks.
"If we continue to lose ice at this rate, we will best" the 2007 record, said Julienne Stroeve, an research scientist. "We're going to lose that ice, so we've got to understand what this means for the rest of us."
"It is very unusual to see so many bears in the open water at one time during a short flight period," Williams said, noting that government scientists spotted the bears over a six-hour period. "It's very worrisome. It's what we had anticipated, but it's happening right before our eyes."

Krill rebound - key link in ocean food chain
August 27, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
After three lean years, the ocean off California's coast this summer is suddenly rich in nutrients, and creatures - from microscopic krill to humpback whales - are thriving anew.
But whether this abundance will continue in coming seasons or is merely a bright blip in an otherwise discouraging picture year-after-year can't be predicted, say scientists monitoring the sea's productivity. The cycles of life in the Earth's warming climate are changing.
For the time being, many species of sea birds, fish and marine mammals are flourishing, and the reason lies largely in an unexpected change in two features of the ocean: The California current, flowing down the Pacific coast from Canada to Mexico, is colder than it has been in years, and strong northwest winds have increased the upwelling of cold water from just above the sea floor to the surface.
From his perch on the Farallones, Bradley can survey the ocean as far as the horizon, and this year, he said, he is seeing far more humpback whales than he has in many years. "They're going where the krill is," he said, "and there's plenty of that this year."

Whale-protection cutbacks sought by Bush administration
August 26, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The Bush administration Monday proposed scaling back protected zones for endangered whales in the Atlantic Ocean, yielding to cargo companies' concerns about new speed limits for ships in these areas.
The proposal, unveiled Monday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, could end more than a year of wrangling between federal fisheries scientists and the White House over new measures to protect the North Atlantic right whale.
About 300 of the whales remain, and researchers say their tiny population has been reduced further by fatal collisions with large ships.
In July 2006, NOAA announced plans to create 30-nautical-mile buffer zones off of several East Coast ports, in which ships would be required to slow to 10 nautical miles per hour during certain times of the year.

Japanese scientists teach whale to talk
August 25, 2008 (Telegraph UK)
Scientists in Japan have given a beluga whale a vocabulary of three words, the first time a marine creature has been able to link a sound to an object and then repeat the sound as a 'word'.
Nack, a 23-year-old beluga whale at the Kamogawa Sea World aquarium in Chiba Prefecture, has been taught to make different noises for a bucket, diving goggles and a pair of diving fins, said Takashi Murayama, a professor at Tokai University who has been training the creature for the last five years.
"Beluga whales are very intelligent, friendly and they enjoy being trained in this way," he said.

Whales Reveal Climate Information
August 23, 2008 (KPLU radio)
The gray whales that migrate along the west coast may be "canaries in the coal mine" that can help scientists track climate change in the Pacific Northwest. That's according to a new government study. KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty explains.

Bottom trawlers to get less access to Bering Sea
August 23, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Large areas of the Bering Sea off Alaska's coast will soon be off-limits to bottom trawling, a practice involving fishing vessels that drag huge, weighted nets across the ocean floor.
Come Monday, nearly 180,000 square miles of the Bering Sea will be closed to bottom trawling, bringing the total in the Pacific Ocean to 830,000 square miles - an area more than five times the size of California.
Other newly restricted areas are off Washington, Oregon and California.
Conservation groups have long fought the practice of bottom trawling, calling it an outdated form of fishing that pulverizes delicate corals and sponges living on the sea floor. Scientists say it can take centuries for the slow-growing corals and sponges to recover, if they ever do, after bottom trawlers move through an area.
"It basically is taking a net and raking it on the bottom, and anything that sticks up from the bottom gets bulldozed over. It is similar to forest clear-cutting," Chris Krenz, Oceana's arctic project manager, said Friday.

Dead whales on Olympic beach likely hit by ships
August 22, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The carcasses of two humpback whales found this summer on an Olympic National Park beach showed signs of being hit by ships.
A biologist for Cascadia Research of Olympia, Annie Douglas, says both whales had blunt force trauma. One carcass was examined in June and one last week near Cape Alava.
Douglas says feeding whales could be struck by ships off the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
For details: Cascadia Research

Judge denies independent review of salmon plan
August 22, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A federal judge denied a motion Thursday for an independent scientific review of the latest government plan to protect Columbia River Basin salmon, saying he first wants to determine if the plan is flawed and to fix it if it is.
U.S. District Judge James Redden has twice rejected plans intended to balance salmon preservation with hydroelectric power production, calling them inadequate. He said he doesn't want to take the same action he did in 2004 and 2006.
In June, the environmental group Earthjustice filed suit, claiming the plan issued in May ignores the best possible science and relies too heavily on restoring habitat and reforming hatchery operations instead of dealing with the dams, which kill large numbers of salmon.
Redden warned last year he would give the job of restoring Columbia Basin salmon to an independent panel of experts if the government failed again.

Michael Phelps Returns To His Tank At Sea World
August 21, 2008 (The Onion satire)
Fourteen-time Olympic gold medalist and SeaWorld main attraction Michael Phelps returned to his seven-million-gallon water tank Wednesday to resume his normal schedule of performing in six shows a day for marine park crowds every day of the week.
Phelps, the 6'4", 200-pound aquatic mammal, and the first ever SeaWorld swimmer to be raised in captivity by foster swimmers (Mark Spitz and Dara Torres), was recaptured by trainer Bob Bowman in a hoop net baited with an entire Dutch apple pie following Phelps' final Olympic event last Sunday. Phelps was then tethered to the rudder of a container ship bound for St. Petersburg, guided down local waterways, and introduced back into his home habitat, the tank in SeaWorld's 5,500 seat stadium, known to park officials and visitors alike as "Phelps' Happy Harbor."
"Michael seemed really excited to be back," said Bowman, adding that the male swimmer became playful upon entering his tank, breaching the water and sounding repeatedly. "He just started swimming freestyle and backstroke, and only stopped to slide belly first onto the tank's platform so he could be fed dozens of fried egg sandwiches."

A whale's tale
August 21, 2008 (New Statesman UK)
Whale watchers mourn the suspected death of a matriarch of the seas.
Lummi, thought to be 98 years old and the leader of a family group known as "K pod", was last spotted in Puget Sound near Seattle on 23 December last year.
Orcas, or killer whales, if you really want to annoy aficionados of the species, are thought to live in particularly stable social groups in this region. Up to five generations, taught and led by an ageing female, have been observed living and hunting together, ensuring social continuity.
The matrilineal pods have developed a sophisticated vocal system to communicate with and guide one another. This is partly thanks to the great ages that many of the females reach; males usually die decades earlier.
Erin Heydenreich, of the Centre for Whale Research in the San Juan islands of Washington State, said that Lummi's last photograph at the centre, showing the two distinctive notches in her dorsal fin, had been tinted grey in mourning. There is a slim chance she could still turn up - that perhaps she had, for some reason, decided to join other family groups in the region for a short period - but as the summer wears on it seems unlikely.

Puget Sound: Treat the whole patient
August 21, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
It's been said that Puget Sound is like a patient in ill health needing immediate attention if it is to be saved.
Unfortunately, others are putting forth a "triage" concept that focuses protection and restoration resources in certain areas at the expense of the rest as the only sensible and practical strategy. This usually means saving rural areas and writing off the health of more developed areas.
Let's put the wooden stake into the heart of that kind of thinking. It's this kind of thinking that gets us museum pieces of protected natural areas, such as "islands" of wilderness, while the larger ecosystem necessary to sustain life goes down the tubes.
This is the kind of thinking that gets us beautiful places to visit but unhealthy places to live. This is the kind of thinking that gets us places for salmon to spawn but nothing for the salmon to eat when they leave the rivers. This is the kind of thinking that gets us lovely areas to observe orca whales as they die out because of contamination in our urban bays, and not enough salmon to eat.

Seaquarium Activists Push to Free Lolita the Whale
August 20, 2008 (Miami News Times)
It's Miami's aquatic equivalent of "Free Mumia." Activists hold protests and send urgent e-manifestos. But they succeed in swaying all but the two guys who could do anything about it. And Lolita, Miami Seaquarium's long-captive orca, goes on munching chum and belly-flopping in her bathtublike tank.
The 38-year-old killer whale has sparked controversy since she was first sold to Seaquarium for $6,000 in 1970 after being snatched from her family pod in Puget Sound - a practice now effectively banned there. Lolita's defenders decry not only confining such an intelligent marine mammal, but also the size of her tank, which is less than two of her body lengths wide at any point. "That's like living your whole life in your closet," activist Shelby Proie says.
Adds saccharine-sweet Seaquarium general manager Andrew Hertz: "Lolita will remain at Seaquarium surrounded by people who love and protect her."
Feeling masochistic and plum out of nipple clamps, Riptide decided to play Humbert Humbert. So we headed to Seaquarium and paid $43 for parking and entry, but passed on the seven-dollar Coke in a souvenir cup. After watching spandex-clad volunteers ride sea mammals around a tank to "Surfin' U.S.A.," we skulked over to Lolita's stadium. While the meager crowd mostly cheered the flopping whale, Wanda Campbell left midshow, trailing her young son. "It's just sort of sad, isn't it?" she said.

River sentinels: Ospreys used to gauge health of waterways
August 19, 2008 (Vancouver Columbian)
The trio were on a mission with the U.S. Geological Survey: to collect blood samples from young ospreys in the lower Columbia, Willamette and Boise rivers.
Worldwide, scientists use ospreys as "canaries in the coal mine" for pollution entering rivers.
"Osprey are fish-eating hawks at the top of the aquatic food chain," USGS researcher Jim Kaiser explained. "Thus, they are useful in monitoring the health of the waterways."
Researchers studying osprey on the Columbia have documented a steady decline of legacy pollutants such as DDT and polychlorinated biphenyls in eggs over the past couple of decades, Henny said.
Yet, newly emerging pollutants continue to pop up.
This summer, researchers aboard the small boat cruised the Columbia, Willamette and Boise rivers looking for evidence of a chemical flame retardant used to fireproof furniture foam, televisions and other consumer products. While the chemical effectively suppresses the fire risk, it is also showing up in birds, fish and even human breast milk.
These chemicals share a nasty characteristic with PCBs: They don't break down quickly in the environment, and they "biomagnify" as one creature eats another right up the food chain.

Orca Lummi presumed dead at 98
August 16, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
They call her Lummi, a matriarch's matriarch, the unquestioned ruler of her 19-member, multigenerational brood. When Lummi breaches and resoundingly splashes down on her side, every family member drops what he or she is doing and swims to her.
Orcas - killer whales, as they are mistakenly called - have been likened to wolves. They live in pods of related animals, dominated by the alpha female. Lummi has played that role for the K-pod, which summers in the once salmon-rich waters around the islands in northern Puget Sound, for all of the 32 years that scientists have been studying the pod.
Lummi could predict where salmon would be when the waters cooled or warmed, and lead her family unerringly to the schools that sustained them. She knew the coastal currents, the unique sounds made by the surf crashing on the rocks at each point along the coast, and the sounds that echoed back from the bottom. This knowledge created what we would call maps in her memory that guided the family's journeys.

Man fined for disturbing whale pod with speeding boat
August 15, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
A Sidney, B.C., man has been convicted and fined for driving his boat at full speed through a pod of killer whales off the coast of the B.C. mainland.
On Aug. 25, 2007, Xi Chang Gao was seen travelling at high speed in Boundary Passage near South Pender Island in his boat, the Vien Dong. The incident was videotaped by someone aboard a nearby whale-watching vessel.
The DFO said the videotape clearly showed Mr. Gao either colliding or nearly colliding with a southern resident pod. Mr. Tomlin said Mr. Gao told investigators that he sped through the pod because he was afraid his boat might be tipped over by the whales.
"His explanation was that in his home of origin, there are stories of whales capsizing boats," said Mr. Tomlin, who wouldn't comment on the validity of the explanation. Mr. Gao is from Vietnam.
The matter came to Provincial Court in April in Duncan, on Vancouver Island. The conviction for driving through the pod came with a fine of $3,000. Under Fisheries Act legislation, Mr. Tomlin said, Mr. Gao faced a maximum $100,000 fine for cutting through the pod. Mr. Gao was also fined $500 for failing to keep his log books current.
Ms. Spaven said a monitoring program along the coast between government and environmental groups has helped to keep an eye on what's happening on the water. She said it is not just whales that are threatened: Seals, sea otters and porpoises are also at risk. Following through on allegations, she said, will make a difference in boaters' behaviour.

PETA Donor Offers to Buy SeaWorld From New Owner--To Set the Animals Free
August 15, 2008 (PETA news release)
Today, PETA sent a letter to Carlos Brito, CEO of Belgium-based beverage giant InBev, offering on behalf of a donor to buy one or more SeaWorld theme parks. InBev will inherit the parks as part of its $52 billion takeover of Anheuser-Busch, and word has it that InBev will unload the franchise to help finance the deal.
If Brito accepts the offer, PETA's donor plans to rehabilitate the orcas and other species in coastal sanctuaries and then release them. The exhibits would be replaced with state-of-the-art, virtual marine mammal displays that use technology similar to that of "Walking With Dinosaurs," a nationwide traveling show in which giant animatronic dinosaurs interact and move about the stage.
"This could be the end of the injustice at SeaWorld, where orcas and other dolphins are imprisoned in tiny tanks and forced to do silly tricks," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. "We have no objection to InBev keeping the Budweiser flowing, but we'd love to see the company can the 'whale jails.'"

Ocean "dead zones" spreading
August 15, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Many coastal areas of the world's oceans are being starved of oxygen at an alarming rate, with vast stretches along the seafloor depleted of it to the point where they can barely sustain marine life, researchers are reporting.
The main culprit, scientists said, is nitrogen-rich nutrients from crop fertilizers that spill into coastal waters by way of rivers and streams.
A study to be published today in the journal Science says the number of these marine "dead zones" around the world has doubled about every 10 years since the 1960s. About 400 coastal areas have periodically or perpetually oxygen-starved bottom waters, many of them growing in size and intensity. Combined, the zones, one of which is in a bay off a Skagit County island, are larger than Oregon.
"What's happened in the last 40, 50 years is that human activity has made the water-quality conditions worse," said the study's leader author, Robert Diaz.

Newborn orca spotted off San Juan Island excites researchers
August 15, 2008 (Seattle Times)
For now, it's called L111. It'll have to live a year to earn a less cryptic name.
Just a few hours after the orca calf's birth, whale researchers discovered it off the west coast of San Juan Island on Tuesday afternoon.
"Every new addition to the population is always positive," said Erin Heydenreich, staffer at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. "It's fairly rare to find a calf so soon after it was born."
For now, it's called L111. It'll have to live a year to earn a less cryptic name.
Just a few hours after the orca calf's birth, whale researchers discovered it off the west coast of San Juan Island on Tuesday afternoon.
"Every new addition to the population is always positive," said Erin Heydenreich, staffer at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. "It's fairly rare to find a calf so soon after it was born."

Orca calf makes first appearance
August 14, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
What's pink and black and wrinkled? Answer -- a newborn killer whale.
And the sight of a brand new baby swimming with L Pod, one of the three endangered pods of southern resident killer whales, is causing celebratory waves among whale watchers.
The calf was spotted Wednesday by researchers with the Center for Whale Research of Friday Harbor, Wash., and appeared to be only hours old as fetal folds were still visible, said senior staff member Erin Heydenreich.
"They are folded up on their side when they are in the womb and the folds are still visible 24 hours after birth," she said.
The mother, L47, had been seen the previous day without a calf, so the birth apparently took place overnight.
"It is really exciting to see the calf so soon, really lucky, and everything looks good so far," said Heydenreich.
"This is the sixth calf for L47 and the last three didn't survive. There's no real reason that we know about, but she's 34, so she's approaching the age when she will be post-reproductive," Heydenreich said. But, for now, the calf appears healthy and is swimming with sisters L83 and L91, she said.
This summer, L Pod has spent much of its time swimming in the area west of Sooke and up the west coast of Vancouver Island, instead of the more usual summer stomping grounds off Victoria and the San Juan Islands, possibly because they have found better fishing in that area.
The two missing whales are L101, Luna's brother, who was born in 2002, and L21, a grandmother, born in 1950.

3 pesticides singled out in report as threat to salmon
August 13, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
From Los Angeles to the Canadian border, three pesticides synthesized in the 1950s and '60s are increasing the chance of extinction for more than two dozen imperiled salmon stocks, says a draft study by federal fisheries experts.
"Overwhelming evidence" suggests the pesticides are interfering with the ability of salmon to swim, find food, reproduce and escape bigger fish trying to eat them, says the evaluation issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The fish in question, all protected under the Endangered Species Act, include threatened Puget Sound chinook.
If the pesticides are used as currently authorized by regulations, "all (threatened salmon) populations will likely show reductions in viability," the 377- page study concludes.

Navy agrees to limit use of sonar in Pacific
August 13, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The Navy will restrict the use of low-frequency active sonar during training to prevent possible harm to whales and other creatures, under an agreement reached with environmental groups Tuesday.
The accord, approved by a federal court in San Francisco, would restrict the use of a type of sonar in areas in the Pacific Ocean that are known to be whale breeding grounds and key habitat, such as the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary off Hawaii.
The Navy and environmentalists have been jousting in court for several years over the risk to whales and other marine life posed by underwater noise from sonar exercises. A separate lawsuit, not involved in Tuesday's announcement, involves midfrequency sonar. That case is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Navy officials insist that the sonar exercises are essential for sailors to train to detect ultraquiet submarines being developed by nations such as Iran and North Korea. Environmentalists say the Navy is needlessly harming whales and other marine mammals and training can be conducted where whales are not common.
"Limiting sonar use in breeding grounds and other key habitat areas is essential for the conservation of whales, dolphins and other marine mammals," said Naomi Rose, marine-mammal scientist for the Humane Society of the United States. "This agreement protects both national security and our most treasured natural resources."
A Navy spokesman at the Pentagon said the agreement was reached Friday and signed by the judge Tuesday. "We get some areas to train, and they get some areas that are off-limits," the spokesman said.

As spotted owl's numbers keep falling, some fear it's doomed
August 13, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Buffeted by years of logging and the invasion of a tougher owl, populations of the northern spotted owl are falling year after year, despite sweeping protections for the old-growth forests it inhabits. Now, genetic problems are adding to the reasons for worry. A just-released study found the remaining birds are so genetically similar, they are at risk of entering an "extinction vortex."
The situation is particularly bad in Washington, where the rate at which owls are found at nesting sites has fallen by nearly half since 1994. Scientists blame the decline largely on the invasion of a tougher owl and the loss of much habitat to decades of logging.
The decline of the birds is forcing a rethinking of long-held strategies to save the spotted owl. Ideas under consideration include the distasteful prospect of shotgunning one owl species to save another.
It could also rekindle the old-growth logging debate. Since the bird was a chief tool for environmentalists to block logging, what happens if there are no spotted owls left in a forest?
With little fanfare, federal scientists in July publicly released a study warning that northern spotted owls, particularly in Washington, have reached a "population bottleneck."
The remaining birds are genetically similar enough that there's a heightened risk of inbreeding, the study found. The bottleneck also threatens the genetic diversity that helps a species adapt to changing circumstances.
With little fanfare, federal scientists in July publicly released a study warning that northern spotted owls, particularly in Washington, have reached a "population bottleneck."
The remaining birds are genetically similar enough that there's a heightened risk of inbreeding, the study found. The bottleneck also threatens the genetic diversity that helps a species adapt to changing circumstances.

Nature group says humpback whales recovering
August 12, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The humpback whale, nearly hunted into history four decades ago, is now on the "road to recovery" and is no longer considered at high risk of extinction, an environmental group said Tuesday.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature - the producer each year of a Red List of threatened species - also upgraded the status of the southern "right" whale from vulnerable. The right whale gets its name from whalers who deemed it a particularly good species to hunt, because it floats after being killed.
"Humpbacks and southern right whales are making a comeback in much of their range mainly because they have been protected from commercial hunting," said Randall Reeves, an expert on marine mammals for the conservation organization.
"This is a great conservation success and clearly shows what needs to be done to ensure these ocean giants survive," he said in a statement.
Bill Perrin, another expert at the group known by its acronym IUCN, said the humpback whale population dropped to the "low thousands" when it was finally banned from commercial hunts in 1966. Its numbers have since risen to at least 60,000, Perrin said, adding that the population is growing at a healthy rate of 5 percent each year in the North Pacific.
While the right whales that hug the southern coasts of Argentina, South Africa and Australia are also recuperating, their cousins in the north are struggling.

Endangered Species Act Changes Give Agencies More Say
August 12, 2008 (Washginton Post)
The Bush administration yesterday proposed a regulatory overhaul of the Endangered Species Act to allow federal agencies to decide whether protected species would be imperiled by agency projects, eliminating the independent scientific reviews that have been required for more than three decades.
The new rules, which will be subject to a 30-day per comment period, would use administrative powers to make broad changes in the law that Congress has resisted for years. Under current law, agencies must subject any plans that potentially affect endangered animals and plants to an independent review by the Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service. Under the proposed new rules, dam and highway construction and other federal projects could proceed without delay if the agency in charge decides they would not harm vulnerable species.
Bob Irvin, senior vice president of conservation programs at the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, questioned how some federal agencies could make the assessments, since most do not have wildlife biologists on staff.
"Clearly, that's a case of asking the fox to guard the chicken coop," Irvin said, adding that the original law created "a giant caution light that made federal agencies stop and think about the impacts of their actions." He said, "What the Bush administration is telling those agencies is they don't have to think about those impacts anymore."
White House to Eviscerate Endangered Species Act August 12, 2008 (Daily Kos)

Arctic meltdown could set new record
August 11, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
The Arctic Ocean ice cover, which appeared earlier this summer to be headed for a moderate recovery after last year's record-setting retreat, has begun disintegrating so rapidly in recent weeks that experts now say the ice loss by mid-September could exceed even 2007's history-making meltdown.
The melting Arctic ice has been dramatically highlighted in Canada in recent days by the collapse of portions of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf off the north coast of Ellesmere Island and the evacuation of tourists from Baffin Island's Auyuittuq National Park - an Inuktitut name meaning "Land that never melts" - after glacial runoff and slumping permafrost created risks of flash flooding.

Whale maternity ward discovered
August 11, 2008 (Perth Now - Australia)
HUNDREDS of baby whales have been discovered in a bay in the Kimberley, making it one of the world's biggest humpback whale nursery grounds.
WA scientists say the natural maternity ward, 160km north of Derby, is being used by humpback whales to teach their calves important marine lessons.
Uncovered in Camden South, one of the Kimberley's largest bays, 381 pods were found schooling their calves to feed, ride the tides and breach.
WA Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) chief executive Dr Steve Blake said the movement of pregnant whales, whales with young calves and bulls into the region was astounding.
"It is a natural maternity ward, the place where mothers teach their calves how to feed and how to utilise the tides and currents."
"We believe it surpasses the number found in the Caribbean's Silver Banks region, which is usually listed as one of the world's main humpback whale nursery grounds.

Inadequate policing puts state's water quality in jeopardy
August 11, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
When the Department of Ecology – the state agency that watches over polluters – recently tallied how many folks it needed to protect the health of Puget Sound and local lakes and rivers, officials came to a startling conclusion.
The number of people policing water quality is less than half what's needed to do the job.
Statewide, there are more than 6,500 construction sites, sewage treatment plants, machine shops, sand and gravel businesses and others holding permits limiting how much they can pollute. But there are only about 114 Ecology staffers to oversee them. The department estimates that about 280 employees are needed.
"The permits are really important; it's really our core work," said Sandy Howard, Ecology's Water Quality Program spokeswoman. "They're our primary tool for preventing pollution."
The trouble is that funding comes almost entirely from fees collected from the businesses and governments participating in the program.
Ecology is limited by public initiatives and state laws as to how fast and by how much the fees can be raised. Over the years, the fees haven't kept up with program costs as the permits have become increasingly complex and controversial, frequently resulting in lengthy court battles that chew up scarce resources.

Whales mourn if a family member is taken: scientists
August 10, 2008 (ABC Australia)
Tasmanian scientists are examining the teeth of 100 whales and believe their research shows whaling impacts the mental health of other whales in the pod.
In February 1998 more than 100 sperm whales from three pods beached and died on Tasmania's north and west coasts.
Scientists are now sawing their teeth in half to find out more about the species.
The University of Tasmania's Mark Hindell says the teeth have provided vital information about the demographic structure of pods, and explained social behaviours.
He says closely related pods have such tight bonds that when one whale strands, they all follow, because they don't want to leave the whale on its own.

New rules on stormwater ordered
August 9, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Developers building everything from homes to shopping centers could soon be forced to take extensive steps to keep polluted stormwater out of streams and Puget Sound.
Picture housing developments built to soak up rainwater with special gardens, roofs covered with plants, narrower streets paved with asphalt that absorbs water, or foundations that leave topsoils undisturbed.
A ruling released Friday by the state Pollution Control Hearings Board means the Ecology Department must rewrite regulations governing stormwater control in the biggest cities and counties in Western Washington.

Whale Dies on Molokai
August 7, 2008 (Molokai Times)
The community was out in full force last week Monday when a Cuvier's beaked whale was found injured and sick along the Kawela coast, but despite the efforts of many, the day ended with a death.
Local residents, marine specialists and firemen spent hours in and around the water trying to help the whale as it struggled just off the coast around mile markers five and six on the East End.
However, on the recommendation of a veterinarian, the whale was eventually put down before being flown to Oahu. While speculations emerge on the possible causes of what is a rare occurrence for a Cuvier's beaked whale, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has begun analyzing the results of an autopsy performed last week in Honolulu.

Great-grandmother of familiar orca pod presumed dead
August 7, 2008 (Seattle Times)
One of the oldest matriarchs of an orca pod with ties to the Puget Sound has not been seen for eight months and is presumed dead, whale researchers said today.
Lummi, a great-grandmother estimated to be in her late 90s, was the leader of the eight-member K-pod, which considers the Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca its home waters, said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
Orcas are suffering in general because of a salmon shortage, he said.
"We're seeing a huge change in their behavior," he said. "The whales are rarely coming to the inside waters now. It's like going to a grocery store that's empty."
After observing the orcas for more than 30 years, he said, it's painful when one of them dies.
"They are like family members," Balcomb said. "But there is a life span of all things. What's going to be interesting to find out is how the rest of the pod gets along without her."

Orca matriarch in K pod apparently has died
August 7, 2008 (Kitsap Sun Watching Our Waterways)
"One of the two oldest killer whales among the Puget Sound pods is missing and presumed dead.
"At an estimated 98 years old, K-7, nicknamed "Lummi," was the oldest female in K pod and the recognized leader of the 20 whales in the group…
Howard Garrett of Orca Network wrote a tribute to L-7 that I'd like to share, with his permission:
We don't really know how important K7 was to her extended family these past nine or ten decades. We do know that K7 was a great-great grandmother since 2004 when her great granddaughter K20 gave birth to her great-great grand son or daughter, K38. But there's no hard evidence to tell us how orcas treat each other or how their roles develop as they grow in wisdom over the years.
It's apparently all done with subtle suggestions based on the profound influence of the longest-lived, most richly experienced females. K7 must have been highly regarded as one of the most reliable sources of traditional knowledge among Southern Resident orcas. May she be remembered respectfully and fondly by humans and orcas alike.

Estuary restoration effort is under way
August 7, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Restoration of 762 acres of the Nisqually estuary is under way in a project that will re-create almost the entire estuary by returning diked areas back to tidal influence.
Construction on a new exterior dike began in July, with work expected to last three to four years. Some trail closures will be required during construction. After completion, the new exterior dike is expected to take a year to settle.
A pamphlet available at the refuge Visitor Center features a map of the plan and describes why the restoration is important not only for migrating waterfowl and other wildlife but also for the health of Puget Sound.
Because current dikes that include trails will be removed in a couple of years, a new trail and boardwalk will be built to allow visitors to walk to the far northwest corner of the refuge above the estuary, regardless of the tide level.

Oldest Puget Sound orca believed dead
August 7, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
The oldest orca among the pods that frequent Puget Sound and the waters of the San Juan Islands has been missing since December and is believed to be dead.
That's according to Friday Harbor's Center for Whale Research, as cited in this story from the Victoria Times Colonist.
The whale, called Lummi and believed to have been born in 1910, must be missing for a year before officially declared dead.
If the death of Lummi -- a great-great grandma from the orcas' K pod -- is confirmed, Granny takes over as the elder orca of what's known as the Southern residents.
In 2006, P-I reporter M.L. Lyke wrote an amazing narrative tracking the trials and tribulations of Granny, a member of the J pod thought to have been born in 1911.
In the meantime, the center's family tree photo of Lummi, or K7, has been turned to a faded black-and-white to represent her likely demise.
B.C.'s orca matriarch believed dead at 98 August 7, 2008 (CBC)

Killer whale loses its dorsal fin - and possibly its life
August 6, 2008 (The Pilot - Newfoundland, Canada)
Perry Young, skipper of the M.V. Daybreak 93, a tour boat operating out of Twillingate North, was still amazed a couple of days afterwards at what had occurred while on a tour on July 17.
With several tourists aboard he had come across a pod of killer whales just off Twillingate Harbour, he recounted, and had stopped for his passengers to take photos. He said it was obvious that the whale were about to feed on a school of salmon. Mr. Young said with no icebergs in the area, tourists are anxious to sight whales and take souvenir photos.
"There were eight whales altogether, made up of two adult males, four adult females and two young ones," he said.
Because of Mr. Young's experience on the water his identification of the killer whales was not contested since that specie is known to inhabit the waters around the coast. He explained that the young ones were some eight to 10 feet in length, while the adult males were 20-25 feet long and the adult females slightly smaller.
The whales, he said, like a pack of wolves were in the act of herding some salmon into a smaller area before attacking. When they finally made the rush to get the salmon one of the adults bit off the dorsal fin of one of the younger whales.
"I can't say that it was intentional," said Mr. Young. "But it might have been in the excitement of the moment that the young one got caught in the cross fire.

Elderly Orca Presumed Dead
August 6, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
One of the two oldest killer whales among the Puget Sound pods is missing and presumed dead.
At an estimated 98 years old, K-7, nicknamed "Lummi," was the oldest female in K pod and the recognized leader of the 20 whales in the group.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said he suspected that K-7 had died when nobody saw her in June, after the whales returned from their winter travels. It was possible, but not likely, that she was with L pod, he said.
L pod has not been fully evaluated since its return, but Balcomb said he got a pretty good look at the group on Tuesday.
J-2, the leader of J pod known as "Granny," was listed as one year younger than Lummi, but there is no way to know which female was really older, Balcomb said. Both were born more than 60 years before researchers began keeping track of the births and deaths.
Lummi and Granny were known to be in the same generation, and Lummi became a great-great-grandmother in 2004, when K-38, "Comet," was born.
Killer whale society is based on a matriarchal social structure, where the elder female becomes the leader of the entire group. Orcas tend to stay with their mothers and grandmothers for life. Lummi's daughter, K-11 or "Georgia," will probably take over the leadership role, but the whales have been so spread out this summer that it's is hard to say whether there is a leader, Balcomb said.
Balcomb said Tuesday's encounter with L pod failed to turn up another missing whale, L-101 or "Aurora." This 6-year-old animal is the brother of L-98, "Luna" - the orca that gained fame when he spent several years alone in Canada's Nootka Sound, where he was killed by a boat propeller in 2006.

Orca matriarch, 98, missing and believed dead
August 6, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
The oldest orca in the three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales is believed to have died.
K7, known as Lummi, was the matriarch of K Pod, and it is estimated by the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor that she was born in 1910.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, in an online post, said the wealth of knowledge possessed by older killer whales apparently guides the pod.
"K7 must have been highly regarded as one of the most reliable sources of traditional knowledge among southern resident orcas," he said. "May she be remembered respectfully and fondly by humans and orcas alike."
The final number will not be confirmed until later this summer, when all new babies and missing whales are identified, but it is believed the three southern resident pods have 87 members.

"New" Killer Whale Types at Risk From Antarctic Warming
August 5, 2008 (National Geographic)
Two newly identified types of killer whales that hunt prey off of Antarctic sea ice risk losing food sources to global warming and melting, according to a new study on the whales' movement patterns.
The study reveals that killer whales that feed primarily on fish that congregate under ice shelves are more or less "homebodies," sticking close to the ice, whereas seal-eating killer whales wander wide and seemingly aimlessly.
For example, fish-eating whales can stay local because the main anti-predator strategy of fish is to bunch up into schools, often under the ice shelves, according to researchers. On the other hand, the seal-eating whales chase prey with a wider range, as seals wash off of ice floes and travel farther.
To date, the researchers have identified three "types" of killer whales, each with distinct looks, habits, and diets, and perhaps even unique genes.
One type swims under the cracked ice and eats fish and another feeds on seals and other mammals, such as penguins, from ice floes. The third, a more transient and more studied species, swims in the open ocean and preys primarily on minke whales, which are a small filter-feeding species of marine mammal.
Until the 1970s, Pitman noted, all killer whales, also known as orcas, were considered one species that occurred around the world from the Antarctic to the Arctic and ate anything they could find.
The picture changed when researchers identified three types of killer whales in the North Pacific.
The three types do not interbreed. "In fact, they completely avoid each other," said Pitman, whose studies of Antarctic killer whales are revealing patterns similar to those in the North Pacific.

Orca calf's carcass raises more pollution questions
August 5, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The carcass of a prematurely born orca calf turned up on a beach in the San Juan Islands, raising further questions about the effects of industrial contaminants on local orcas' reproductive systems, researchers announced Monday.
The find at Open Bay on Henry Island, just north of San Juan Island, is significant because few dead orcas are recovered, usually just about seven per year worldwide, said Joe Gaydos, regional director of The Seadoc Society, a research institution affiliated with the University of California-Davis.
But the orca calf's carcass was so badly decomposed and picked over by scavenging animals that it's questionable how much can be learned by studying the remains, said Gaydos and Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
PCBs are known to interfere with orcas' reproductive and immune systems and their growth rates. The local orcas carry some of the highest levels of PCBs of any marine mammals worldwide.
The calf's death "raises some eyebrows about what's really going on. We know that with the level of contaminants that they have they're probably susceptible to some disease, and we want to see what we can do to help with that," Gaydos said.

K-7, oldest of Southern resident orcas, believed dead
August 4, 2008 (Journal of the San Juans)
K-7, the oldest orca in the Southern resident pods, is believed dead. She is believed to have been 98 years old and was the matriarch of a line that extended five generations.
The whale, also known as Lummi, was last seen Dec. 23 and has not been seen since K pod returned in spring, according to the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. All other K pod whales are accounted for, including K-42, a calf born in June.
The Center for Whale Research, which has monitored the local orca population since 1976, puts the whale population at 88. That's 26 in J pod, 19 in K pod and 43 in L. Research assistant Courtney Smith said the estimated population of L pod is "soft" because L pod has spent most of the season along the west coast of Vancouver Island. "We haven't accurately identified everyone in L pod yet," she said.
K-7, believed born in 1910, was an important symbol. When she was born - to parents undoubtedly born in the 1800s - the local orca population was possibly over 120. In her lifetime, she survived bullets from fishermen that saw orcas as competition for salmon. She survived the marine park era, in which 50 whales were captured or died during capture. She survived despite depleted salmon stocks and increased marine pollution.
The Center for Whale Research says the whales' biggest threats are pollution in Puget Sound and declines in salmon. The center says the Navy may also share the blame.
"The whale population decline is coincident with the deployment of (Destroyer Squadron) 9 to Everett in 1995," the center's Web site states. "The destroyer squadron's exercise area is nominally off the Olympic Peninsula but has included Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait."
The whales are called Southern residents because they spend a lot of the year in this region. J is here much of the year, while K and L travel as far as California but return in the summer.
"These orcas are icons and indicators of the quality of Puget Sound and coastal waters," Balcomb said in an earlier interview. "How they fare in coming years will tell us a lot about our own fate."
With K-7's death, the oldest Southern resident orca is J-2, also known as Granny, believed born in 1911. The matriarch of L pod is L-25, also known as Ocean Sun, born in 1928.
K-7's descendants include a daughter, K-11, believed born in 1933; a granddaughter, K-13; four great-grandchildren, K-20, K-25, K-27 and K-34; and a great-great-grandchild, K-38.

Sonar triggers adverse behavioural changes in whales
August 4, 2008 (Times of India)
LONDON: A report has confirmed that sonar leads to behavioural changes in whales, with the animals subjected to sonar, neither diving nor feeding.
According to Nature News, this report was issued by the UK military, though it remained unpublished.
The impact of sonar on whales has become an increasingly fraught issue in recent years, with submarine exercises being linked to several high-profile mass strandings.
The US Navy has admitted concerns over sonar's effects on marine mammals, although actual evidence for harm has been in short supply.
But military-sponsored tests now suggest that low levels of sonar, which do not cause direct damage to whales, could still cause harm by triggering behavioural changes.
The UK military report details observations of whale activity during Operation Anglo-Saxon 06, a submarine war-games exercise in 2006. Produced for the UK's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, it states the results are "potentially very significant".
The study used an array of hydrophones to listen for whale sounds during the war games. Across the course of the exercise, the number of whale recordings dropped from over 200 to less than 50.
"Beaked whale species appear to cease vocalizing and foraging for food in the area around active sonar transmissions," said the report.
The report also references a second military document from 2005, which explains that these second- and third-order effects could include starvation and then death, depending on the severity of the sonar's initial effect on the whales.

Group campaigns for return of penned orca
August 3, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
It was 38 years ago this Friday that life changed forever for the southern resident killer whales.
As members of the three resident orca pods travelled up Puget Sound, explosives were thrown into the water from aircraft and about 100 frantic animals were driven into Penn Cove on Whidbey Island and netted.
At least four whales were killed and about seven others were captured and taken to aquariums.
The only survivor of the southern resident captures is Lolita, a member of L Pod who, for 38 years, has lived in a cramped tank at Miami Seaquarium.
Each year on Aug. 8, in a grim commemoration at the Captain Whidbey Inn at Penn Cove, the Orca Network holds a ceremony to remember the capture and make yet another plea for Lolita's release.
After an evening of special presentations, there will be a waterside ceremony, said Susan Berta of Orca Network.
"We make a wreath out of cedar and native plants and, at the end of the event, we go and put the wreath in the water," she said.

Cause of whale stranding under investigation
August 2, 2008 (Molokai Times)
Navy sonar transmissions responsible, says organization
The beaching of a whale off Molokai's coast has some pointing fingers at the U.S. Navy and its use of mid-frequency sonar transmissions.
The 15-foot male - a Cuvier's beaked whale - was found close to the Kawela shore early morning on July 28.
National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials flew to Molokai to assess the whal's condition.
Although the animal attempted to return to the open water a couple of times, it kept swimming back to the shore, said Chris Yates, head of the Protected Resources Division for NOAA Fisheries.
Those present at the scene, including a veterinarian from Honolulu, decided euthanizing the whale would be the most humane thing to do, said Yates.
NOAA officials conducted a necropsy on the whale on July 29.
"It's impossible to say conclusively at this point but all the indications are that it was connected," said Earthjustice attorney Paul Architoff.
"If there was ever a circumstance where it appeared that sonar was responsible, this is it."
The effect of sonar transmissions on beaked whales has been the subject of much research, especially after 13 beached themselves during Navy exercises in the Bahamas in 2000, according to the Center for Whale Research.
Colin Crosby, a Maui-resident who came to Molokai with his son during the July 26 weekend, was at Papohaku Beach the day before the whale beached itself.
He said he and his fellow campers heard an electronic sounding screech when they dove into the water.
Crosby said the noise started off soft and kept getting louder until a very loud pitch could be heard both in and out of the water. It then died down a bit and echoed through the water before the sequence started up again.

Back to Orca News Archives