Orca Network News - August, 2009

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
August 1, 2009 through August 31, 2009.

State to restore Port Susan estuary
August 29, 2009 (Everett Herald)
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife plans to restore about 115 acres of estuary along north Port Susan and south Skagit Bay and enhance 72 acres of freshwater wetlands on the project site.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife and Ducks Unlimited want to build two setback levees and remove two old failing levees near Eide Road on Leque Island between Stanwood and Camano Island.
The plan calls for the reconfiguration of existing ditches, culverts and tide gates to better support a freshwater wetland habitat. Parking spots and recreation trails also are planned.
The deadline to comment is Tuesday.
Comments can be mailed to Department of Ecology, SEA Program, Federal Project Coordinator, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504 or e-mail ecyrefedpermits@ecy.wa.gov.*

The Proposed Killer Whale Vessel Guidelines - The 'Why'
August 29, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
The original document, New Regulations to Protect Killer Whales from Vessel Effects in Inland Waters of Washington, is fairly detailed and 163 pages long, so to make it easier I have copied the text (minus references) where the issues are summarized. You might want to download the original document, it may answer many of your questions.
Starting with the one most of us want to know: Why are these new regulations being considered?
More here.

Pacific Ocean garbage patch worries researchers
August 27, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
While scientists have documented trash's harmful effects for coastal marine life, there's little research on garbage patches, which were first explored extensively by self-trained ocean researcher Charles Moore just a decade ago. There's also scant research on the marine life at the bottom of the food chain that inhabit the patch.
Plastics have entangled birds and turned up in the bellies of fish, and one paper cited by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100,000 marine mammals die trash-related deaths each year.
The scientists hope their data gives clues as to the density and extent of marine debris, especially since the Great Pacific Garbage Patch may have company in the Southern Hemisphere, where scientists say the gyre is four times bigger.
"We're afraid at what we're going to find in the South Gyre, but we've got to go there," said Tony Haymet, director of the Scripps Institution.
Only humans are to blame for ocean debris, Goldstein said. In a blog entry posted a day before the science ship arrived in Newport, Ore., she wrote the research showed her the consequences of humanity's footprint on nature.
"Seeing that influence just floating out here in the middle of nowhere makes our power painfully obvious, and the consequences of the industrial age plain," she wrote. "It's not a pretty sight."
More here.

Restoring the Skagit
August 27, 2009 (KUOW)
Last week, 150 acres of farmland were flooded in Skagit County. This wasn't a natural disaster — it was intentional. For decades, public land around Wiley Slough was diked off and planted with corn and barley. Those crops attracted ducks and made a good spot for releasing and hunting Asian pheasants. But since Chinook salmon and killer whales were listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, the state wildlife agency has changed its priorities in the Skagit Delta.
It's the first time in nearly half a century that seawater has been allowed on this tideland on Fir Island. That's near the mouth of the South Fork of the Skagit. It's part of an effort to restore the estuary of the Skagit River and keep Chinook salmon, and even orcas, from disappearing from Puget Sound.
The Skagit is the region's most important river for salmon. All six species of Pacific salmon spawn there. Young Chinook salmon hang out in the salt marshes and other habitats where freshwater and saltwater mix before they swim out to sea. And the orcas feed on the salmon.
Listen here.

For the love of orcas: Vashon Islander gives her all to fight Glacier
August 26, 2009 (Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber)
If anyone could identify the exact individual, Carey could. By her own admission, it's her love of orcas that catapulted her into the fight against Glacier Northwest, putting her at Preserve Our Islands' helm during some of the most dramatic moments in the decade-long, David-versus-Goliath battle.
Carey, 42, follows the orcas' movements with a passion. If they're swimming past Point Robinson, chances are Carey's on the cobble shoreline, binoculars in hand. She knows each pod well and can often identify the individuals. She also knows the state and federal laws — encyclopedically, it seems — that are meant to protect them.
Today, Carey, is relishing a victory that in recent months seemed elusive, at best. Two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court judge echoed words Carey has uttered often, saying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies failed to use science when they issued a critical permit to the mining corporation.
Some on the Island were surprised by the turn of events, an 11th-hour ruling that could have gone either way. Judge Ricardo Martinez, the federal judge who wrote the 28-page opinion, is considered an unpredictable jur-ist whose ideology is hard to categorize. What's more, POI has pursued a course some Islanders considered controversial, choosing not to negotiate with the corporation even during the darkest stretches.
Read more

Seismic testing threatens West Coast whales: lawsuit
August 25, 2009 (CBC)
Federal government lawyers are asking the Federal Court to toss out a legal attempt by a coalition of environmental groups to stop a U.S. research vessel from doing controversial seismic testing off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The ongoing campaign resumed in Federal Court in Ottawa on Tuesday with an injunction application from the environmental law organization Ecojustice, which is representing several groups opposed to the research.
Columbia University researchers want to spend a month mapping the sub-surface of the sea floor where earthquake-causing tectonic plates diverge.
But Ecojustice says the ship's 36-gun towed seismic array would send 180-decibel blasts into the water every couple of minutes, which would create a noise as loud as an army artillery piece going off.
The proposed seismic tests would threaten endangered whales in the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents — a protected Canadian marine area about 250 kilometres off the coast of British Columbia, according to Ecojustice.
Read more

More dolphins may head overseas
August 25, 2009 (Solomon Star News)
IN the face of international condemnation and scientific advice, the government of the Solomon Islands is poised to allow another export of wild-caught dolphins.
Earth Island Institute claims that up to 18 Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins of 30 being held in pens on Gavutu are destined to be shipped to Panama in the Caribbean in the near future.
Christopher Porter, Robert Satu and Francis Chow. Wildlife International Network is reportedly the buyer/broker in the deal.
In April of this year, a working group of CITES, the body that regulates the international trade in endangered species instigated an in-depth review of trade in Solomon Islands dolphins because of its concerns about the status of dolphin populations in Solomon Island waters.
Read more

Trouble for Orcas?
August 24, 2009 (The Daily Green)
The largest member of the dolphin family and a major draw at marine parks, orcas (also known as "killer whales") are highly intelligent and social marine mammals that, because of these traits, have come to be known as ambassadors for nature and marine ecosystems around the world.
But the fact that people love orcas -- most of us only ever see them in captivity -- has no bearing on how well they are thriving in the wild. Many of their habits are still a mystery to science, as the great black and white creatures, which can grow to 26 feet and weight six tons, are fast-moving and difficult to track (they are the most widely distributed mammals on Earth, besides humans).
Orcas may not have a clear-cut conservation status internationally, but the U.S. government is concerned enough about the animals that ply the waters of Washington's Puget Sound and San Juan Islands (known as the "southern residents") to put them on the federal endangered species list. Chief among threats to orcas is loss of food supply, mostly West Coast salmon populations destroyed by hydroelectric dams and other human encroachment. Habitat loss, chemical pollution, captures for marine mammal parks and conflicts with fisheries have also each played roles in the decline of the Northwest's orcas.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the southern resident orca population has fluctuated considerably since researchers began studying it in earnest some three decades ago. In 1974 the group was comprised of 71 whales, but then spiked to 97 animals by 1996. But since then the population fell below 80 and has remained around that level ever since.
Read more

Eco group says US research ship headed for Canadian waters despite legal fight
August 24, 2009 (Google News)
Environmentalists are fuming after learning the federal government has given permission to a U.S. research ship to begin controversial seismic testing in Canadian waters, despite an ongoing court challenge.
Ecojustice, an environmental law group representing groups opposed to the research, says the vessel Marcus Langseth could be off Vancouver Island as early as Monday after the Department of Foreign Affairs issued a permit.
"They've given no reason; they've simply done it."
Researchers from Columbia University in New York want to conduct seismic tests using high-decibel air blasts into the water in a region that includes the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents marine protected area.
The month-long program aims to map the sub-surface of the sea floor where earthquake-causing tectonic plates diverge.
But environmentalists say the acoustic blasts will disrupt marine life, especially threatened and endangered species of whales that feed in the area, about 250 kilometres west of Vancouver Island.
"So even though this has allowed them to get a jump start on us, we're still relying on legal channels, particularly on Tuesday - which is just one single day after they begin - to hopefully get a court decision that will ... put an end to the seismic testing."

In hot water: World sets ocean temperature record
August 21, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
It's not just the ocean off the Northeast coast that is super-warm this summer. July was the hottest the world's oceans have been in almost 130 years of record-keeping.
The average water temperature worldwide was 62.6 degrees, according to the National Climatic Data Center, the branch of the U.S. government that keeps world weather records. That was 1.1 degree higher than the 20th century average, and beat the previous high set in 1998 by a couple hundredths of a degree. The coolest recorded ocean temperature was 59.3 degrees in December 1909.
Meteorologists said there's a combination of forces at work this year: A natural El Nino system just getting started on top of worsening man-made global warming, and a dash of random weather variations. The resulting ocean heat is already harming threatened coral reefs. It could also hasten the melting of Arctic sea ice and help hurricanes strengthen.
The Gulf of Mexico, where warm water fuels hurricanes, has temperatures dancing around 90. Most of the water in the Northern Hemisphere has been considerably warmer than normal. The Mediterranean is about three degrees warmer than normal. Higher temperatures rule in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The heat is most noticeable near the Arctic, where water temperatures are as much as 10 degrees above average. The tongues of warm water could help melt sea ice from below and even cause thawing of ice sheets on Greenland, said Waleed Abdalati, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center at the University of Colorado.
Breaking heat records in water is more ominous as a sign of global warming than breaking temperature marks on land, because water takes longer to heat up and does not cool off as easily as land.

McDermott continues crusade against dams
August 20, 2009 (Olympian)
“This is not some wild, crazy children's crusade," McDermott said of his bill, which requires the National Academy of Sciences and four federal agencies to study whether removing four lower Snake River dams would restore salmon runs in the rivers and authorizes the secretary of the Army to remove the dams, although it doesn't require the secretary to act.
Noticeably missing from McDermott's list of supporters are three of the state's most influential Democrats: Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Rep. Norm Dicks. Aides for all three declined to comment on McDermott's bill.
But all three risk offending environmentalists, a critical part of the Democratic base in Washington state, who strongly support dam breaching.
One of McDermott's few supporters is Jean-Michel Cousteau, the eldest son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, who recently urged the Obama administration to breach the dams in order to restore the salmon runs, which are an important food source for endangered Puget Sound killer whales.
“I strongly urge you to bypass the Snake River dams, whose functions can be fulfilled by other means, in order to save our orcas and our wild salmon," he wrote in a letter earlier this month to Jane Lubchenco, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lubchenco and her boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, are reviewing the Bush administration's plan for protecting Snake and Columbia river salmon runs, which made no mention of dam breaching. The Obama plan has to be submitted to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland by Sept. 15. Redden has suggested that any plan needs to probably include at least a dam breaching contingency.

Federal judge rules against Glacier, halts pier project
August 19, 2009 (Vashon Beachcomber)
Amy Carey had a case of laryngitis when the lawyer representing Preserve Our Islands, the group she heads, called to tell her a U.S. District judge had ruled in their favor.
She screamed so loudly, she said, that her voice came back.
Carey and others in the forefront of the decade-long battle against Glacier Northwest have done a lot of celebrating since Judge Ricardo Martinez handed down his far-reaching ruling Thursday declaring that federal agencies failed to uphold some of the nation's strictest environmental laws in awarding the corporation a permit to move forward.
The judge's ruling halted Glacier's project to build a controversial new pier — a construction project scheduled to resume Saturday — until federal agencies re-examine the pier's impact on chinook salmon and southern resident orcas, both listed as endangered under federal law.
On Friday, Glacier's lawyers filed a notice that they're appealing Martinez's decision, sending the long-running legal battle to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But even with that, Preserve Our Islands (POI) stalwarts like Carey are feeling a renewed wave of confidence, certain, they say, that his decision will stick.
As Carey put it, there's “no un-ringing of that bell."
The federal government used what he called “random reports by a volunteer network" to determine that the region's resident killer whales were found in the project area “only sporadically," didn't linger there and thus would not be harmed by the project.
“What is missing here is science," Martinez wrote.
Finally, according to the judge, the Corps of Engineers failed to fully assess the cumulative impact the project could have on both fish and whale populations and on the overall health of Puget Sound.
“‘Which raindrop caused the flood?' With those closing words..., plaintiffs expressed the central issue here," Martinez wrote. “No single project caused the depletion of the salmon runs, the near-extinction of the (southern resident) orca or the general degradation of the marine environment of Puget Sound."

Return of the Redfish: Snake River Sockeye Salmon Back From The Brink
August 19, 2009 (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
The most endangered run of Pacific salmon is beating the odds this summer.
You can't get any closer to extinction than Snake River sockeye salmon did last decade. This is the run that gave us "Lonesome Larry," so named because he was the one and only sockeye to complete the migration in 1992.
Correspondent Tom Banse reports that Lonesome Larry's descendents are coming back this year -- by the hundreds.
Snake River sockeye are currently performing an incredible feat of migration. They swim upriver for 900 miles. Their route to the spawning grounds in central Idaho crosses eight hydropower dams.
The fish climb to an elevation of about 6,500 feet at their destination, Redfish Lake.
Threatened Chinook salmon are also coming back in numbers not seen since the dams on the lower Snake River were completed in 1975.
Dan Baker: "Everything sort of lined up the last two years to really get these good returns. It's helped all the salmon."
These fish also benefited from a federal judge's order for higher flows and more water spilled over the tops of dams to improve survival. And they must have found plentiful food in the ocean.
Dan Baker: "Then again as the adults are coming back we've had good migration conditions and a little bit cooler water."
Baker says "we're still a long ways from being out of the woods" with these endangered salmon. Those are almost the exact same words used by Bill Sedivy, the director of the environmental group Idaho Rivers United.
Bill Sedivy: "We're hopeful that it's an indicator that we're not going to lose this just incredible species, this incredible marvel of nature forever."
But to achieve what he calls "harvestable, self-sustaining levels," Sedivy argues Snake River dams have to go.
Bill Sedivy: "We're still close to the brink. We haven't gone far enough yet. The lower Snake River is still too far removed from being a natural river."
Dam removal remains hugely controversial, as it has for more than a decade.

Why Maury Island Matters
August 18, 2009 (The Stranger)
Puget Sound is kind of fucked. Among its many problems: Fish in Hood Canal aren't getting the oxygen they need, invasive sea squirts (tube-shaped invertebrates) are crowding out important shell fisheries, and a food chain messed up by pollution and shoreline development means animals are struggling to eat.
Which is why a light-sensitive plant called eelgrass is so important. Eelgrass is one of the few plants in Puget Sound with a life span long enough to really settle in and act as a sustainable source of shade, shelter, and nutrients for low-on-the-food-chain sea creatures. Then when it dies, it feeds bugs and crabs. Eelgrass is like nonstop life support, and protecting existing beds of it is crucial. A lot of it grows in Puget Sound's shallow northern bays, and the rest is scattered in nearshore zones just below steep bluffs like the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, one of just four areas in Puget Sound specifically designated for protection because of the high number of endangered species that live and eat in the area.
"The ESA is a really blunt tool when it comes to protecting salmon and orcas," Mike Sato, communications director for fellow plaintiff People for Puget Sound, told The Stranger. "But it is a tool that can stop some really bad stuff from happening. And in this case, I think it did."
The proposed Glacier dock—shaped like a T and designed to transfer gravel to boats in a large conveyor tube—would significantly alter the sensitive nearshore habitat with construction noise, interrupted sediment drifting patterns along the beach, and ground contamination from the unloading process. But most importantly, the shade cast by the physical structure of the dock and conveyor tube would surely kill off the eelgrass. Doing so would be in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) because of the way it would hurt chinook salmon, orcas, and other species that develop and feed in those eelgrass beds.
But it isn't a done deal. There is still a chance that two major federal agencies (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Corps) will find it worthwhile to reevaluate their permits based on the latest information. However, given the stress that our current economic situation has placed on many government agencies' discretionary spending, that is somewhat unlikely. Even if they do reevaluate the permit, the Corps could find that the project is too harmful to the chinook and the orcas. That would once again spell doom for the Glacier dock.
Bridget Moran, deputy supervisor for aquatics and agency resources with the DNR, describes this instance of halting the construction as a way to help mitigate against the "death by a thousand cuts" ailment that is slowly killing Puget Sound one habitat at a time. "Each one doesn't seem like it has a big impact," she said of the Maury Island issue. "This ruling tells us to look more broadly at the bigger pictures."

Trend is up for 2009 Columbia River salmon, steelhead returns
August 17, 2009 (Oregonian)
The fall chinook and coho seasons are still to come, but after a lackluster start it's shaping up as a good year for fish returns to the Columbia River.
This year's spring chinook run came in far lower than expected, with adult returns of 114,525 over Bonneville Dam, nearly 50,000 fish below the 10-year average. But sockeye and steelhead numbers are impressive so far this season, according to Fish Passage Center reports.
The summer chinook return is about average so far, with about 82,000 adult fish at Bonneville through Thursday, 5,000 above the 10-year average. With both summer and spring chinook, the picture improves if you count relatively large returns of "jacks," or younger-than normal fish.
Biologists are predicting big runs of coho and fall chinook as well, though, as spring chinook illustrated this year, predicted runs don't always materialize.
Sifting through the numbers now: the Obama administration has to decide whether to stick with a 10-year Bush administration plan for endangered and threatened runs of wild salmon and steelhead.
Also interested: U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, who will ultimately decide whether the government's plan is up to snuff.

Save Washington's forests for public and environmental benefit
August 17, 2009 (Seattle Times op-ed)
IN the midst of the Great Depression, a 1934 University of Washington report identified the key problem then facing the state as the rapid loss of productive forestland. This was the result of timber companies who had "cut and run" and were unwilling or unable to pay county taxes or reforest the land.
That report called for an adjustment to the tax system to "conserve all the social values for society of large forested areas."
Seventy-five years later, the UW published another set of reports about the loss of productive forestland to development. Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes wrote about the findings this month in the Aug. 3 news story "New strategy to save the forests: logging."
As in 1934, the 2009 UW reports call for the state to consider tax and other incentives for forestland owners. That's because we need to help them continue to produce "ecosystem services" — biodiversity, carbon sequestration, bioenergy, jobs, recreation and well-functioning watersheds.

Judge stops Maury Island gravel mine
August 14, 2009 (KING5 Video)
A federal judge's ruling stops a controversial mining operation on a Puget Sound island. But the judge didn't rule against the company. He ruled against the government. KING 5's Gary Chittim reports.

Judge rejects Maury Island gravel-mine permit
August 14, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge has thrown out a permit that would have allowed a gravel mining company to get back to work next week building a controversial 305-foot dock on Maury Island.
After 11 years of political and legal wrangling, U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez ruled the Army Corps of Engineers erred by not thoroughly assessing how noise and shading from construction and operation of the pier might harm Puget Sound's chinook salmon and orcas, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
By ordering a longer, more stringent review, the judge ensured it would be at least a year, more likely several, before the project would be built — if ever.
In so doing, both sides agreed, the judge also appears to have set the stage for stricter environmental review on future construction that affects the Sound's sensitive nearshore environment.
It's no longer good enough, Martinez ruled, to merely consider how building a single dock may harm the Sound. The federal government must do a better job evaluating the cumulative impact of hundreds of small changes to the region's signature waterway.
"Which raindrop caused the flood?" Martinez wrote in his ruling. "No single project or human activity has caused depletion of the salmon runs or the near-extinction of the SR [southern resident]orca, or the general degradation of the marine environment of Puget Sound. Yet every project has the potential to incrementally increase the burden upon the species and the Sound."
"I am overjoyed," said Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, a community group created to fight the project. "We have been arguing for 10 years that they were ignoring the science and failing in their duty to protect endangered species. It's incredibly validating to have a federal judge echo our sentiments and find in our favor on every front."

Federal judge halts Maury Island gravel mine work
August 13, 2009 (Newsday - The Associated Press / PHUONG LE)
A federal court judge in Seattle on Thursday halted a controversial expansion of a Maury Island gravel mine and ordered federal studies to consider the consequences to salmon and orcas.
U.S. District Court Judge Ricardo Martinez sided with environmentalists who had sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its failure to formally consult with federal fisheries biologists on the project's impact to endangered species.
The corps had issued a federal permit to a Glacier Northwest subsidiary to build a 350-foot dock for its gravel mine, located in the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve in south Puget Sound.
Preserve Our Islands and other environmental groups sued last fall, saying the barge-loading pier would harm critical habitat for Puget Sound Chinook and other protected species.
They argued the National Marine Fisheries Services should have prepared a so-called biological opinion to look at whether the project harmed endangered species, including Puget Sound chinook salmon, bull trout and killer whales.

Millions of missing fish signal crisis on the Fraser River
August 13, 2009 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
The Fraser River is experiencing one of the biggest salmon disasters in recent history with more than nine million sockeye vanishing.
Aboriginal fish racks are empty, commercial boats worth millions of dollars are tied to the docks and sport anglers are being told to release any sockeye they catch while fishing for still healthy runs of Chinook.
Between 10.6 million and 13 million sockeye were expected to return to the Fraser this summer. But the official count is now just 1.7 million, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Some are pointing accusing fingers at salmon farms, as a possible suspect, because of research that showed young sockeye, known as smolts, got infested with sea lice as they swam north from the Fraser, through the Strait of Georgia.
Alexandra Morton, who several years ago correctly predicted a collapse of pink salmon runs in the Broughton Archipelago because of sea lice infestations, in March warned the same thing could happen to Fraser sockeye.
She said researchers used genetic analyses to show Fraser sockeye smolts were getting infested with sea lice in Georgia Strait.
"I looked at about 350 of this generation of Fraser sockeye when they went to sea in 2007 and they had up to 28 sea lice [each]. The sea lice were all young lice, which means they got them in the vicinity of where we were sampling, which was near the fish farms in the Discovery Islands. If they got sea lice from the farms, they were also exposed to whatever other pathogens were happening on the fish farms (viruses and bacteria), " said Ms. Morton in an e-mail.

Seismic tests near whale habitat must be stopped: eco-groups
August 13, 2009 (Canada.com)
Environmental groups are taking the federal government to court to stop U.S. researchers from conducting seismic tests near endangered whale habitat.
The RV Marcus Langseth, a research vessel owned by the U.S federal government and operated by Columbia University, is expected to be 250 kilometres southwest of Vancouver Island late this week.
Lawyers for Ecojustice, acting for the Living Oceans Society and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, are asking for a hearing in Federal Court in Ottawa Thursday.

Magical times for whale-watchers in Santa Barbara Channel
August 12, 2009 (Los Angeles Times blog)
Blue whales lunged across the surface with mouths fully agape, not wanting to miss one tender morsel of krill (they can consume 8,000 pounds of the shrimp-like critters per day).
Humpback whales swarmed the 88-foot vessel, as if craving attention. Sea lions barked and leaped, likewise wanting to be recognized, but they were essentially ignored because the larger mammals were stars of this show.
It played out on a gray Tuesday before about 100 passengers aboard the Condor Express, which runs from Santa Barbara and plies the outer portions of that city's namesake channel.
In all, we had about 15 blue whales and 20 humpbacks surrounding the vessel. We could see them in every direction. At one point we had five humpbacks milling around the boat, revealing their tail flukes and blowing plumes of stinky whale-breath into our faces.

Is The Government Doing It's Job To Protect Captive Whales And Dolphins?
August 12, 2009 (Center for Whale Research blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
Hopefully the USDA will inspect and measure the concrete bowl where Lolita has lived the past 39 years and will find it unlawful under the Animal Welfare Act...
Those words from Howard Garrett's post really got me wondering about how it is possible that the governmental agencies responsible for animal welfare are able to turn their backs when it comes to the Miami Seaquarium and the substandard tank where "Lolita" (the orca taken from L-pod) is forced to live.
The USDA arm of the government that is responsible is the Animal Plant and Health Service (APHIS). The Regulations read: 9 C.F.R. Sec. 3.104 - Space Requirements -
The primary enclosure for a Killer whale (Orcinus orca) must have a minimum horizontal dimension of no less than 48 ft. in either direction with a straight line of travel across the center.
Lolita's tank is a mere 35 feet from the front wall to the slide out barrier. At its deepest point in the center the tank is only 20 feet deep. She is about 22 feet long.

Killer whales visit 'social clubs'
August 12, 2009 (BBC)
Killer whales create and visit social clubs just like people do, scientists have discovered.
Up to 100 fish-eating killer whales come together in the Avacha Gulf, off the coast of Russia.
But no-one knew why the whales form these huge superpods, when they normally live in smaller groups.
Now scientists report in the Journal of Ethology that these groups act as clubs in which the killer whales form and maintain social ties.
Fish-eating killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the Avacha Gulf live in stable groups called pods that contain an average of ten individuals and up to 20 in the largest pods.
But researchers have seen up to eight of these pods coming together to form large groups of up to 100 animals.
"As far as the eye can see, in every direction you see killer whales surfacing" -Erich Hoyt, WDCS
These large aggregations of pods are seen in numerous places around the world where large numbers of killer whales occur such as British Columbia, Alaska, Iceland and Antarctica.
"As far as the eye can see, in every direction you see groupings of two to six killer whales surfacing, spouting then dipping below the surface."

Maury Island gravel company to defy state lands commissioner
August 12, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A company that hopes to mine gravel from Maury Island intends to resume constructing a controversial 305-foot dock next week — despite being urged by the state's top land manager to hold off.
Glacier Northwest, in a 17-page letter to Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark sent late Tuesday, said it is happy to work "collaboratively" with the state over the government's environmental concerns. But company officials said that in 11 years of permitting and review the project had met all requirements, poses no threat to Puget Sound, and the company would not keep holding up work.
Work on the dock already had been temporarily suspended through most of the summer to protect chinook salmon, but had been scheduled to resume this Saturday.
Then early last month, Goldmark told the company to further delay construction until the state felt satisfied that the company's plans would not harm the Sound's sensitive nearshore areas, which serve as nurseries for threatened chinook salmon. The salmon are prey for threatened orcas.
Angry island residents, meanwhile, have cast the project as a symbol of the greater threats to Puget Sound and argue that the regulatory system itself is broken. They have been undergoing civil disobedience training and may attempt to disrupt construction, according to Bill Moyers, who is helping organize future protests.

"Today Show" interview with Louis Psihoyos, director of "The Cove"
August 12, 2009 (MSNBC Video)

Orcas' Penn Cove capture hard to forget
August 12, 2009 (Everett Herald)
People here have not forgotten the orcas captured and killed in Penn Cove almost 40 years ago.
About 50 people on Sunday gathered to share stories and feelings, and to commemorate the lone Penn Cove survivor, Lolita.
"It was such a traumatic event for people here and for everyone who heard about it," said Howard Garrett, co-founder and director of Orcas Network.
Orcas Network works to educate people about marine mammals and to serve as advocates for the animals. This Sunday marked the 11th year the group hosted the event, Garrett said, "so that people know about the wonder of these orcas that live around us."
People were touched when the heard the cries of the whales. They also witnessed what Garrett called a mystery: The orcas didn't harm any members of the capture team. They could have, easily.
"Not a flick of a fluke toward a human," Garrett said.
Garrett and others are rallying for an important cause, to bring Lolita back to Puget Sound from her home at the Miami Seaquarium.

Giving Snake River salmon a lift
August 12, 2009 (Los Angeles Times editorial)
Trucking the threatened fish past dams isn't working, The Obama administration should call for talks on what will.
Hauling truckloads of hitchhiking juvenile salmon around dams is one silly way to save a species. And it doesn't work either.
As four dams were built along the lower Snake River in southeastern Washington from the late 1950s to early 1970s, it took only a few yearsfor the river's healthy salmon populations to plummet. By the mid-1990s, the populations of four types of salmon had been declared endangered or threatened. The federal expenditure of $8 billion since then for fish ladders, hatcheries, habitat restoration and, yes, trucks and barges to transport the salmon around the dams has not restored the fish.
The salmon must make their way past a total of eight dams, four on the lower Snake River and four older dams on the Columbia River, closer to the ocean. But the fish appeared to thrive despite the Columbia River dams. Since the Snake River dams were built, the loss of salmon has decimated a once-thriving fishery and has been linked to declining numbers of killer whales; chinook salmon make up 80% of the orcas' diet.

Oregon and its allies slam Obama's handling of salmon plan
August 11, 2009 (Oregonian)
The state of Oregon and its allies in a lawsuit over the future of Northwest salmon don't like how the Obama administration is handling the issue.
In papers filed in federal court today, the state, environmental groups and the Nez Perce Tribe of Idaho say they've been effectively shut out of the administration's deliberations over how to run the region's network of big, power-generating dams without pushing salmon closer to extinction.
The criticism comes from some of the same people who not long ago were applauding the Obama team's entry in the decades-long and multi-billion dollar conundrum surrounding the imperiled and iconic fish.
"It just seems that if the intent was to really sit down with the parties and resolve our differences, there certainly has been little or no significant dialogue between us and the federal agencies to lead us to believe that is happening," said Mike Carrier, Gov. Ted Kulongoski's natural resource advisor.
The state and other groups are suing the federal government over a plan introduced during the Bush administration to operate hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without violating federal environmental protections for salmon.
Today they asked the judge overseeing the case for a "status conference" to air their concerns.
Obama administration poised to adopt flawed Bush salmon plan despite scientific, economic and legal failings August 11, 2009 (Save Our Wild Salmon news release)

Obama's Salmon Test
August 11, 2009 (New York Times editorial)
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration must notify a federal court next month whether it will do what is necessary to save endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest. The decision will tell us a lot about how the administration sees its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. The Bush team evaded its responsibilities with amazing acts of legal casuistry.
A dozen salmon species in the Columbia River Basin have been declared endangered or threatened — their spawning grounds destroyed by logging and commercial development, and their route to the sea made more arduous by a gauntlet of hydroelectric dams.
Significantly, he also said that any new plan should leave all recovery options on the table, including the idea of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River. We have long recommended such a course, which many scientists see as the surest means of restoring the fish.
The judge has now given the administration 30 days to get this right. The official who will ultimately make the decision is Gary Locke, the secretary of commerce and former governor of Washington. We would be surprised if he recommended immediate breaching. Ways must be found to replace the power that the dams generate, which amounts to 4 percent of the region's total. But he has to do better than his predecessors, otherwise Judge Redden could well place the operations of the hyrdroelectric system under court order and devise a plan of his own.

An Orca named Lolita - Part 10 - Two events from sea to shining sea
August 11, 2009 (Examiner.com)
One Weekend, Two Events Two events were held over this past weekend to bring attention to Lolita and to remember the awful day 39 years ago when she was captured.
Miami - Walk for Lolita
In Miami, the "Walk for Lolita" was held on Saturday, August 8th. Organized by Shelby Proie, many supporters showed up to walk wearing body paint showing an orca in a fishbowl. Also present was activist Ric O'Barry, who rehabilitates dolphins and returns them to the ocean where they belong. On the subject of Lolita, O'Barry says that while Lolita may never be able to return to her family, she should be retired to a sea pen to live out her days in quiet and dignity. But, he says, "they are going to milk every dollar out of her before she dies."
In the Sun Sentinel, Arthur Hertz owner of the Miami Seaquarium, was quoted as saying, ""Lolita is very special and dear to us and she will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium." Just how can she be an ambassador for her species when she can't do any of the normal activities and behaviors of an orca? She can't use her echolocation to find food, she can't swim 100 miles per day with her L pod family, nor can she feel the cool waters of Puget Sound or the rhythms of the sea and the flows of the tides. And perhaps the worst is that they have robbed her of the joyous experience of motherhood and the freedom to live her life as she was meant to live it.
Coupeville, WA - The Penn Cove Capture Commemoration
Meanwhile, over 3,000 miles away on Sunday, August 9th, the Penn Cove Capture Commemoration was held in Coupeville, WA. This event is held every year and is organized by Susan Berta and Howard Garrett of Orca Network.

Fall chinook season could be approved for Snake River: Fisheries managers propose Sept. 1 start date
August 11, 2009 (TradingMarkets.com)
Fisheries managers for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have proposed fall chinook fishing seasons on the Snake River that could start as soon as Sept. 1.
"It looks like there is going to be one of the largest fall chinook runs, if not the largest run, in over four decades," said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for Fish and Game at Lewiston.
More than 28,000 fall chinook are predicted to return past Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Lewiston. Most of those will be bound for the Snake River above the mouth of the Clearwater River at Lewiston. DuPont said about two-thirds of the run will be hatchery fish and two-thirds of those will be marked by having their adipose fins removed. Anglers will be allowed to keep only those fish without adipose fins.
Both seasons are designed to allow steelhead anglers who incidentally catch fall chinook to keep them and would be the second consecutive on the species that is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Last year Idaho and Washington held short fall chinook fishing seasons on the Snake River. Fewer than 200 chinook were caught.

NOAA gets more time to prepare salmon plan
August 11, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge in Portland has given the Obama administration another month before it must inform him of its plans for improving salmon-restoration efforts in the Columbia Basin.
Acting on a request by NOAA Fisheries Service, U.S. District Judge James Redden on Monday set a new deadline of Sept. 15 for the agency to tell him its new position on balancing salmon against federal hydroelectric-dam operations in the Columbia Basin.

Puget Sound orcas: Pollution, noise and loss of salmon leave their future uncertain
August 10, 2009 (Everett Herald)
There aren't nearly as many real orcas in local waters as there are figurative ones on land. About four years after orcas living in Puget Sound waters were declared endangered, the prospects for their recovery are still unclear.
Their fate is inextricably linked with that of the also-troubled Puget Sound chinook salmon.
By most accounts, as the big salmon go, so go the killer whales that eat them. There aren't enough fish, and those the orcas eat are often contaminated.
Other factors have been cited as possible culprits in the decline of the southern resident orcas, as they are called, such as noise from boats. According to most experts, however, fish are foremost.
"It's the single most important thing," said Ken Balcomb, founder and director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. "If we feed them, they'll be OK. If we don't, they won't."
In December 2005, the three pods of orcas living between the southern end of Puget Sound and the middle of Vancouver Island were listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act. The three pods currently number 85 orcas.
Estimates vary on the number of whales before 1960. The population stood at 70 in 1976, according to NOAA figures. By 1995, it had built back up to 98. After that, though, it dropped to 81 by 2001.
The whales' decline mirrored a drop in the Puget Sound chinook salmon population from the mid-1990s into the early 2000s.
That dip in the numbers of salmon contributed to the fish being declared threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2003.
"The whale population tracks the salmon population by about a year," said Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.

Continued noncompliance with guidelines requires the implementation of orca protections | Guest Column by Kari Koski
August 10, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
With the recent news that NOAA Fisheries has proposed vessel regulations to reduce vessel disturbance to the endangered population of Southern Resident killer whales, it is important that everyone take the time to better understand the very real issues we are facing.
Decisions being made now not only affect how we are able to conduct ourselves both in our businesses and personal lives, but also determine the fate of the killer whales that we relate to as icons and so readily use to market everything from real estate to bottled water. Think about all of the things that have an orca image on it in this region. Think about how important this image is, as well as the whales themselves, to our economy and sense of place. Without them, this would be a very different community indeed.
The decisions we are facing are hard. Vessel regulations alone will not save this population of whales. All of us benefit from their presence here and we owe it to the whales to do everything we can to promote their recovery.

VIDEO: Orca captures, a sad chapter
August 10, 2009 (KIRO TV)

State creates network of marine reserves
August 10, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The network of newly formed state marine reserves is part of a California initiative that conservationists say is the most ambitious coastal marine protection program in the world.
It includes a permanent ban on fishing within 3 miles of the coast in selected areas where populations of rockfish, northern red abalone, seabirds, sea lions and other marine mammals live.
The network, approved by a 3-2 vote, will include Point Arena in Mendocino County, Bodega Head, Point Reyes, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve near Half Moon Bay and the Farallon Islands. In those areas, restrictions on fishing and other activities like spearfishing would extend into the ocean for 3 miles.
The regulations come in the shadow of a collapse of the salmon fishery and a two-year ban on ocean fishing of chinook, but the regulations do not address salmon habitat. The plan is to resuscitate flagging populations of rockfish, a complex of bottom-dwelling fish that was once a mainstay of the state's commercial and sport fisheries. Environmentalists insist that the reserves will also protect crucial habitat for everything from sea slugs to gray whales.

Tough choices in the recovery of Puget Sound
August 10, 2009 (Seattle Times op-ed by Peter Goldmark)
Throughout Washington, people understand that the waters of Puget Sound carry great value. Whether your ancestors have fished here for centuries or you have newly arrived in the region, you know the importance of a clean, healthy Puget Sound.
While we cherish Puget Sound, our actions don't always reflect our values. It makes absolutely no sense to continue to plow our limited dollars into restoration projects unless we also fully commit to current and future protection. We must move forward with the highest standards for protection because, in this case, an ounce of prevention equates to billions more in a cure.
Past policies and decisions illustrate a value system that I believe is not representative of the broader public. It places singular interests above the public good; elevates narrow, short-term benefits for a few over long-term, sustainable benefits for many; and sacrifices our natural heritage. This infectious short-sightedness will be the slow death of the Sound.
What we are witnessing is death by a thousand cuts. It has been all too easy to allow new uses with a slight impact on the health of this tremendous body of water and the orca and salmon that call it home. Far too much is at stake to continue on this path. We need to raise the bar immediately.
We have an imperative to future generations and current taxpayers to ensure the highest standards when it comes to being stewards of this precious gift of Puget Sound. If we really care, and I believe we do, we must take decisive action before it is too late.

Cameraman recalls brutal early '70s whale captures
August 9, 2009 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Thirty-eight years ago, Andrew Jeff Mart was in a Seattle newsroom, his gut wrenched with anger, as he watched footage of southern resident killer whales being captured in Puget Sound.
"I became so incensed," said Mart, then a young cameraman working for KING-TV. "I had Thursday and Friday off and decided I had to do something. I was a scuba diver and I was going to go and cut the nets open."
A friend convinced him it was a crazy idea and suggested he should use his camera instead.
That decision to go to the capture site almost cost him his life -- and helped change the way killer-whale captures were viewed by government and the public.
Some of the dramatic images he filmed during those two days, with commentary by then-KING-TV reporter Don McGaffin, were unearthed recently and will be shown today when the Orca Network holds its annual commemoration of the infamous 1970 Penn Cove orca capture, where five whales died. That happened in the same area the year before the captures Mart witnessed.
Orca Network, a Puget Sound non-profit organization, holds the commemoration at Coupeville, Whidbey Island, each year in honour of the 45 southern resident killer whales captured and 13 killed between 1962 and 1973. About nine others were taken from northern resident pods.
The footage to be shown today is graphic, warns Howard Garrett of Orca Network. "It shows a lot of agitated calls [by the whales]," he said. "It shows the orcas thrashing about in a tiny pen and people with ropes looped around them."
Efforts were sometimes made to conceal deaths, making it difficult to come up with exact numbers.
That came to a head in 1970 when the five killer whales died during a capture led by Griffin and Goldsberry.
The whales, including an adult female who drowned trying to reach her calf, died when they became entangled in the nets. Divers slit the bellies of the whales, filled them with rocks and weighted the tails with anchors, but the bodies surfaced months later.

Activists seek release of killer whale
August 9, 2009 (UPI)
A killer whale at the Miami Seaquarium should be released into the wild rather than forced to live in a concrete tank, animal activists say.
Shelby Proie, one of the more than 30 activists seeking to free Lolita the killer whale, said during a protest Saturday at the Miami tourist site that the 7,000-pound animal does not deserve to be penned in an aquarium.
"Every week one of us goes in to check on her," the 24-year-old Nova Southeastern University student told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I go to the tank and tell her we're trying to get her out."
Activist Simon Hutchins told the Sun-Sentinel Lolita is bored most of the time.
"After the show, the orca just goes and sits in the corner," he said. "It's a nightmare for this orca."

Dam decision poses test for Obama team
August 9, 2009 (Oregonian op-ed)
On Friday, we will learn a lot about the Obama administration's asserted commitment to science and law on environmental matters. The proving ground is in Washington and Idaho on the lower Snake River, the Columbia's largest tributary, where four dams and their reservoirs are salmon killers. U.S. District Judge James Redden, weary from years of evasion by the National Marine Fisheries Service, has called for an aggressive new approach and set the upcoming deadline.
The lower Snake dams are strategically critical because scientists believe that breaching them offers the best hope for reviving the fabled Columbia River wild salmon, which have been decimated by development, especially dams. These four dams have crippled the finest, highest and most expansive salmon habitat in the lower 48 states -- Idaho's wild, pristine country along the Continental Divide and the Wallowa Range in Oregon.
With these dams, the lower Snake is no longer a river. The living currents have been replaced by consecutive reservoirs stretching 140 miles. Young fish heading downriver to the ocean can't handle the slack water, which is warmer and slower than a salmon river should be. With their internal clocks thrown off, their nutrient chains broken, and as easy pickings for predators, about 40 percent of the young fish are destroyed by these dams and reservoirs. Mortality of returning adults is less but still severe.
Breaking from the past will bring out the best in us. These wonders of nature -- the sleek, silvery chinook charging up imposing waterfalls, back from their 5,000-mile life journeys and weighing in at 40 pounds and more -- inflame our imaginations with their strength and beauty. Bringing them back in robust numbers would exemplify our compact to live faithfully with the natural world.

Puget Sound orcas: Pollution, noise and loss of salmon leave their future uncertain
August 9, 2009 (Everett Herald)
There aren't nearly as many real orcas in local waters as there are figurative ones on land. About four years after orcas living in Puget Sound waters were declared endangered, the prospects for their recovery are still unclear.
Their fate is inextricably linked with that of the also-troubled Puget Sound chinook salmon.
By most accounts, as the big salmon go, so go the killer whales that eat them. There aren't enough fish, and those the orcas eat are often contaminated.
"It's the single most important thing," said Ken Balcomb, founder and director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. "If we feed them, they'll be OK. If we don't, they won't."
The listing of the salmon was a factor in the listing of the orcas, Barre said. Orcas prefer chinook, the largest salmon, over other types of salmon because of their size and fat content, experts say. Roughly 80 percent of their diet is chinook salmon, according to Balcomb.
"The whale population tracks the salmon population by about a year," said Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research.
Another threat to orcas — development — reaches them primarily through their food source.
Pollution from a variety of sources is absorbed by salmon and in turn consumed by whales.
High levels of PCBs have been found in dead whales, which likely affects their immune systems, reproductive systems and ability to develop, according to research by research scientists Peter Ross and John Ford of the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Poison accumulates in their systems because they eat up to 200 pounds of fish a day and they're at the top of the food chain.
Fryberg met an orca face-to-face in British Columbia in 2004. Ambrose Maquinna, chief of the Mowachaht tribe, had said he wanted to return as an orca after he died. Shortly after the chief passed on, a previously unaccounted-for orca showed up, Fryberg said.
Fryberg was invited to a ceremony where tribal members called to the orca by venturing out in canoes and singing the chief's paddle song.
"He came at us just like a torpedo" and calmly stopped between the two canoes, Fryberg said. Fryberg and other tribal members placed their hands on the orca.
"I was eye-to-eye with that killer whale, he was making his vocal sound with me," Fryberg said.
"I think that we particularly see the need for them to be protected, and our spiritual connection to them."

Killer whales of the Pacific Northwes
August 9, 2009 (Everett Herald)
Killer whales of the Pacific Northwest - Multimedia presentation

Whale probably struck by ship
August 9, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
The dead whale found Friday in the Port of Tacoma was most likely struck by a ship, according to a necropsy performed Saturday.
A team of eight from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective conducted the 61/2-hour necropsy on McNeil Island. The examination revealed that the animal was a 46-foot-long juvenile fin whale.
Fin whales, the second largest species of whale, grow to nearly 88 feet and feed on small marine creatures by filtering them through sieve-like structures in their mouths.
Broken ribs, hemorrhaging, bruising and associated trauma in the whale's chest cavity indicate that it was alive when the collision happened, said Jessie Huggins, marine mammal-stranding coordinator for Cascadia Research. Crews on tugboats bringing in the cargo ship Ever Uranus on Friday spotted the whale lodged on the ship's bow. It was unclear whether that ship hit the whale.

Activists say Miami Seaquarium should free Lolita
August 8, 2009 (So. Florida Sun-Sentinel)
It's a long way from Puget Sound.
But that is where Lolita the killer whale belongs, say more than 30 animal activists who protested Saturday at the Miami Seaquarium.
Instead, she spends her days in a concrete tank flipping for crowds at the popular marine park.
"Every week one of us goes in to check on her," said Shelby Proie, 24, a Nova Southeastern University student who helped organize the protest. "I go to the tank and tell her we're trying to get her out."
Lolita, the park's 7,000-pound star attraction, has been here since her capture in 1970.
Leading the protest Saturday was Ric O'Barry, the Coconut Grove dolphin trainer turned activist who stars in The Cove, a documentary released Friday about the slaughtering of dolphins in Japan.
O'Barry doesn't believe Lolita should be released into the wild, but rather transferred to a natural sea pen in Puget Sound where she might reunite with her marine family.
"It's about retiring Lolita and letting her live out the rest of her life in quiet and dignity," said O'Barry, a former Seaquarium trainer who has campaigned against using dolphins in marine parks. "But they're going to milk every dollar out of her before she dies."
Lolita typically performs two shows a day. Park managers estimate her age at 42 to 45 years.
Activists claim she spends most of the time resting lifelessly on the bottom of the tank, bored.
"After the show, the orca just goes and sits in the corner," said Simon Hutchins, of Fort Lauderdale, who appears in The Cove as expedition director for the Oceanic Preservation Society. "It's a nightmare for this orca."

Fishermen cast some hope for a 2010 salmon season
August 8, 2009 (San Jose Mercury News)
Salmon fishing may just materialize here next year, regulators say, for recreational fishermen anyway.
The statement comes with a caveat, however, which is that a final decision will not be made until March, once the final fish counts roll in.
"It is based on several indicators, including reports from commercial and recreational anglers and others who spend a lot of time on the ocean," Michaels said. "Apparently, they say they've seen more salmon this year than last."
Ocean conditions are "incredible" for salmon this year, he added, noting it's the water use in the Central Valley that is killing them. A large system to keep the salmon out of deadly San Joaquin River pumps was recently installed, though, he said.
The Central Valley problem was echoed in May by the Santa Cruz-based director of the Fisheries Ecology Division of the National Marine Fisheries Service, Churchill Grimes. According to the agency's Web site, Grimes gave a presentation stating that the poor showing of Sacramento River fall chinook fishery last year was due to poor ocean conditions in the 2004 and 2005 brood years, but that the big problem is found onshore.
"Ultimate blame was attributed to longstanding and ongoing degradation of freshwater and estuarine habitats and the subsequent heavy reliance on hatchery production," Grimes stated. "Degradation and simplification of freshwater and estuary habitats over a century and a half of development have changed the Central Valley chinook salmon complex from a highly diverse collection of numerous wild populations to one dominated by fall chinook salmon from four large hatcheries."

Some salmon success in Strait
August 8, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
The Strait of Juan de Fuca has been smoking-hot for chinook, coho and pinks the last couple of weeks and still is, but such is not the case for chinook in Marine Areas 5 and 6 (Sekiu and eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca). Recreational chinook fishing closed Thursday in both areas due to conservation concerns for wild chinook.
Fishing continues to be exceptional in Marine Areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 2 (Westport-Ocean Shores).
Hood Canal: Some pinks and chinook have been caught in the Aycock, Bald Point and Lilliwaup areas, but the bite has been spotty, said Walt Harvey of Verles Sports.
Neah Bay: Chinook, coho and pink catches couldn't be better. Fishing has been excellent with nearly all anglers catching limits, said Mike Jamboretyz of Jumbo Sport Fishing.
North Sound: Fishing has been very slow for coho and chinook, although some pinks have been caught by anglers trolling small herring baits and bright-colored spoons. Salmon fishing has been much better in the central Sound.
Sekiu: Fishing has been red-hot the past week. A sampling taken Sunday at Olson's Resort showed 305 anglers with 51 chinook, 139 coho and 122 pinks. At the Freshwater Bay boat ramp, fish checkers counted 73 anglers with 52 chinook, two coho and 53 pinks.
South Sound: Chinook and coho are starting to move in. The Devil's Head area at the south end of Key Peninsula has been producing a few chinook and coho, said Mike Zittel of Zittel's Marina. Monday, a 25-pound chinook was caught near Devil's Head and a couple of coho were caught near Johnson Point. There also have been a few chinook caught near the mouth of the Nisqually and Green Buoy area.

Habitat is key to salmon recovery
August 7, 2009 (San Juan Journal op-ed by Billy Frank)
We're starting to see some light on the horizon when it comes to restoring salmon, and we have good management to thank for it.
For the first time in nearly 25 years, the Stillaguamish Tribe was able to harvest a chinook from the Stillaguamish River for a First Salmon Ceremony.
Sport fishermen on the Skagit River are getting a crack at summer and fall chinook for the first time since 1993.
For the past two years, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has opened special "elders only" fisheries for spring chinook, the first harvest of these fish by the tribe since the 1980s.
But despite the ground we've gained, we are losing habitat faster than we can restore it.
I wish I was talking about hundreds of thousands of fish coming back to our rivers every year. All of the numbers I've shared with you are small for a reason: we've failed to take care of the salmon's home. We've limited our fisheries and sharpened our hatchery programs, but the march of habitat destruction continues.
Since the 1970s, the total amount of impervious surfaces - things like roads, parking lots and roofs - in the Snohomish watershed has nearly tripled. This is the nastiest kind of habitat destruction because it changes the way water flows, causing flooding and killing more salmon than an army of fishermen ever could.

One blogger's unsolicited salmon advice for Obama
August 7, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
Dear Mr. President:
You spoke a lot last year about hope and change.
So I hope you will change the dialogue about saving the Northwest's wild salmon. And you have a perfect opportunity to do it.
Mr. President, you should listen to three former governors from the Northwest: Idaho's Cecil Andrus, John Kitzhaber of Oregon, and Mike Lowry of Washington. They know you are reviewing the salmon recovery plan you inherited from the Bush administration; your decision is expected by Aug. 14. They wrote you a letter Wednesday urging you to ditch the plan.
Think about community organizing on a regional scale, and you have a sense of what the governors have in mind. And they're not alone. Three Northwest senators — Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho, and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. — say they are interested in getting the region together to talk about salmon. That's a gutsy move on their part. Your administration's leadership would go a long way to making something happen.
The dialogue is changing, which means it could be time for another idea working its way through Congress. The Salmon Solutions and Planning Act of 2009 has 25 House sponsors — including Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Orca capture noted
August 7, 2009 (Everett Herald)
In memory of the 45 southern resident orcas captured in Washington state, and 13 orcas killed during the captures that began in 1970, a commemoration is planned on Whidbey Island for 4 p.m. Sunday at the Coupeville Recreation Hall, 901 NW Alexander St., Coupeville.
For tickets, e-mail info@orcanetwork.org or call 866-ORCANET.
Some $20 tickets will be available at the door.
It's the 39th anniversary of the first Penn Cove orca capture and Lolita, the only survivor, who lives alone at the Miami Seaquarium where she was delivered in 1970.

Committee aligns with estuary
August 7, 2009 (Olympian)
CAPITOL LAKE: Group wants to restore tideflats
Five of the nine members of the committee have said they favor removing the Fifth Avenue Dam and letting the lake revert to tideflats. The lake was an estuary until 1951.
Supporters say an estuary would improve water quality and return the environment closer to its natural state. They also like the aesthetics of an estuary, which mostly would be full but revert to mudflats twice a day, during low tide.
Lake supporters enjoy the look of a lake and are concerned that mudflats would be unsightly and smelly. Boaters worry that sediment would pile up at their lower Budd Inlet marina and affect their moorage.
Lake proponents have a slight edge over estuary supporters in 118 public comments that General Administration has received, spokesman Steve Valandra said in an e-mail. Chief concerns are about the need to:
• Prevent flooding.
• Restore a natural setting and help wildlife.
• Maintain a viable park/lake setting for the public.

When Lolita Comes Swimming Home Again
August 6, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog)
Hopefully the USDA will inspect and measure the concrete bowl where Lolita has lived the past 39 years and will find it unlawful under the Animal Welfare Act, and $1-2 million can be found to examine her, transport her to a bay pen along the west side of San Juan Island, and set up a care station with a freezer full of fish and professional care staff. It's all been done before and poses no real risk to her or to her family, but many may wonder what will happen then for Lolita.
After her return to her home waters, as she regains her strength and is led out on swims to experience her waters again, Lolita will be the focus of tremendous attention in the Pacific Northwest and far beyond. Of course security at the bay pen will prevent direct observations except by authorized personnel and media, but there is planned live webcam coverage and stories about her can be expected to abound locally, nationally and internationally.
When someone reads or sees a story about Lolita they will usually tend to care a little more about how she's doing. The reports will also tell about her family, L-25 and the L-12 subpod as well as all the Southern Resident orcas. People will learn about the orcas' long lifespans, lifetime bonding and no dispersal traditions. They'll hear about these orcas' selective diet - about 80% Chinook salmon and 15% chum - and the need to restore salmon habitat and reduce Chinook catches all along the Pacific coast to keep the orcas around. This alone justifies her return home.
Scientifically, we'll learn if Lolita's family bonds and memories are so strong that she will be able to travel, catch fish and socialize with her family, and we'll see the process of rebuilding the trust needed to do so. If she's not able to rejoin her family, the care station will always be there for her with food and companionship if needed.
Humans live according to their stories, and whales provide great inspiration for all ages to learn more and then act to protect and restore the natural world. When kids hear about Lolita and her retirement where she was raised decades ago, many will want to know more, and will do research and feel moved to write their views about orcas and create artwork about them, developing important language skills and learning how to do good science.
The benefits of retiring Lolita in the Salish Sea won't be easy to measure in dollars, but as a learning and sharing experience among the human community, and as a motivator toward better stewardship and protection of our precious marine environment, Lolita would be a priceless teacher for us all.

Dolphin hunt film sparks dilemma for tourists
August 5, 2009 (MSNBC)
The affecting cloak-and-dagger documentary "The Cove," which documents a brutal dolphin hunt off the Japanese town of Taiji, is putting would-be amusement park visitors in an ethical bind and park owners on the defensive.
The film's protagonist, Ric O'Barry, who trained the animals that played TV's Flipper before he had a change of heart, indicts businesses like Sea World as being either overtly or tacitly complicit in the cruelty. "The captivity industry keeps the slaughter going," O'Barry charges in movie. If he has his way, the gruesome images of bloody dolphins will keep you from buying a ticket to a marine park, or stepping into a pool of one of those "dolphin encounters" at a tropical resort.
Park owners, on the other hand, are crying foul, insisting they have nothing to do with dolphin slaughter and that buying a ticket helps support valuable education and environmental work.
Though Sea World used to buy from drive hunts and obtained animals through capture, these days about 80 percent of Sea World's marine mammals were born in captivity, Jacobs said, with most of the rest arriving as the result of an animal rescue operation, such as a stranding.
O'Barry acknowledges this. But he indicts the industry on two counts: creating an international market for animals and failing to take action against the drive hunts.

An Orca named Lolita - Part 7 - Keiko and Lolita, Same or Different?
August 5, 2009 (Examiner.com)
A failure? I think not!
People often ask me why Lolita should be freed since they consider the freeing of Keiko a failure. I cannot fathom why they consider it so, since Keiko enjoyed five years of freedom before he died. It's true that he never found his pod, but that is because no one knew what pod he was from.
A failure? I think not!
Before his release, Keiko lived in Mexico in a small tank filled with 80 degree artificial saltwater. His skin was covered with lesions and he was grossly underweight.
He was taken to a rehabilitation facility at the Oregon Coast Aquarium where he felt the natural sea water for the first time in many years. He could feel the rhythms of the sea and experience the tides. He was re-taught how to fish and gained 1900 pounds. The lesions on his skin disappeared and after a little over two years, he is declared healthy and exhibiting the normal behaviors of an orca. The decision was made to release him back to the wild. Keiko was released and enjoyed five years of freedom in the sea. A failure? I think not! If you had to choose between five years of freedom in the sea, or a life of solitary confinement in a small cell, what would you choose?
The differences in Keiko and Lolita's stories
Lolita's story is different from Keiko's. If you have been reading this series, you know that she is from L pod, which is one of the three Southern Resident Orca pods. She was taken from L pod during the Penn Cove captures on August 8, 1970. Her family is one of the three resident pods of Puget Sound and they return every year from May to September. L pod is known to go down to Monterrey, CA during the winter and always returns in the spring.

Proposed orca rules would push boats 200 yards away
August 5, 2009 (Anacortes American)
Whale watching boats, recreational fishermen and kayakers would have to stay twice as far away from Puget Sound killer whales under proposed federal rules the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service says would better protect the endangered marine mammals.
Right now the Be Whale Wise voluntary guidelines calls for vessels to stay at least 100 yards away. The distance would double to 200 yards under the NOAA rules. The proposed regulations would also set up a half-mile-wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island - a popular whale watching spot - from May 1 through the end of September where generally no vessels would be allowed.
"I think our volunteer guidelines have not been working," said NOAA spokesperson Brian Gorman. "Like many things in life, some people pay attention to what they're suppose to do, and others ignore it."
If adopted, the earliest the rules would take effect would be May 2010. How the rules would be enforced is yet to be determined.
Shane Aggergaard, Island Adventures owner and Pacific Whale Watch Association president, said the proposed rules were unexpected.
A distance of 100 yards from whales is a global standard whether that's for orca, humpback or gray whales, Aggergaard said. He also said he doesn't believe the science calls for doubling the viewing distance.
Proposed regulations
Comments on NOAA Fisheries Service's proposed vessel regulations and supporting documents can be submitted by e-mail to orca.plan@noaa.gov, through the Web site http://www.regulations.gov, or by mail to Assistant Regional Administrator, Protected Resources Division, Northwest Regional Office, National Marine Fisheries Service, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.
NOAA Fisheries Service will hold public meetings on the proposed regulations 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Seattle Aquarium and 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 5 in the Grange Hall in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
The Federal Register proposed rule, the draft environmental assessment and other materials are available at regulations.gov and http://www.nwr.noaa.gov/Marine-Mammals/Whales-Dolphins-Porpoise/Killer-Whales/ESA-Status/Orca-Vessel-Regs.cfm.
To report violators of the Be Whale Wise guidelines, go to http://www.bewhalewise.org/report/ or call NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement at (800) 853-1964 or Fisheries and Oceans Canada at (800) 465-4336.

Duwamish River restoration plan moving along
August 5, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Restoring mudflats and marshes to the lower Duwamish River's shore is being studied -- and has begun in one case.
The Elliott Bay Duwamish River Natural Resources Trustees -- representatives from five federal and state agencies plus the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes -- recently took public comments on a draft restoration plan for that area.
The trustees are now reviewing the comments to see if the draft should be modified. No time has been set on when a final report will be unveiled.
Actually, some work on mudflat and marsh restoration has begun on 2.5 acres at the river's North Wind's Weir, not quite seven miles from Elliott Bay. The joint local, state and federal projectis expected to provide good habitat for juvenile salmon in 2010.

Ex-governors urge White House to address Columbia salmon runs
August 4, 2009 (Oregonian)
Three former Northwest governors are urging the Obama administration to reject a Bush-era plan designed to save the region's salmon.
The letter made public today from John Kitzhaber, Cecil Andrus and Mike Lowry is the latest high-profile plea to the president to engage on the persistent problem.
And a coming court deadline means Obama's salmon policy should be clear soon.
The administration has until Aug. 14 to decide whether to defend, amend or ditch a plan put forward last year to run federal power-producing dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers without pushing imperiled salmon closer to extinction.
U.S. District Court Judge James Redden has hinted that the plan, supported by most Northwest tribes and the state of Washington -- but not Oregon or a coalition of environmental and fishing groups -- may not meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.

Salmon bill would put removal of Snake River dams back on table
August 3, 2009 (Oregonian)
A new bill in Congress would require federal agencies to study whether to remove four Snake River dams, but is already drawing opposition from a key river users group.
The Salmon Solutions and Planning Act was introduced Friday by U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Washington, and U.S. Rep. Thomas Petri, R-Wisconsin. It was cosponsored by 20 House members, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, who issued a statement of support.
It requires federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, and Department of Energy, to study dam removal. It does not require removing the dams.

An Orca named Lolita - Part 5 - Why won't they let her go?
August 3, 2009 (Examiner.com)
Why won't they let Lolita retire?
The Miami Seaquarium has had a few offers to release Lolita. One of these was for a million dollars. They have refused. Why? She makes them money. Want to see them change their minds? Don't buy a ticket. Refuse to pay money to see Lolita and the other marine mammals that are kept in captivity.
What do you see? Just what do you see at the Miami Seaquarium? You see an orca who has been forced to perform to be fed. She obeys a hand signal. The whistle blows, and she eats. How pathetic for a creature so majestic.

New El Niņo threatens world with weather woe
August 3, 2009 (Independent)
A new El Niņo has begun. The sporadic Pacific Ocean warming, which can disrupt weather patterns across the world, is intensifying, say meteorologists.
So, over the next few months, there may be increased drought in Africa, India and Australia, heavier rainfall in South America and increased extremes in Britain, of warm and cold. It may make 2010 one of the hottest years on record.
The cyclical phenomenon, which happens every two to seven years, is a major determinant of global weather systems. The 1997-98 El Niņo combined with global warming to push 1998 into being the world's hottest year, and caused major droughts and catastrophic forest fires in South-east Asia which sent a pall of smoke right across the region.

Value of land for animals, agriculture creates issues
August 3, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Compromises between farmers and environmentalists are most difficult in Puget Sound's river deltas, the broad alluvial flood plains where fresh water in the rivers meets salt water in the Sound.
The deltas provide some of the best conditions in the world for farming, but they also provide salt marsh and wetland habitat critical for the health of salmon, shorebirds and other marine life.
Nowhere is the debate over land use more polarized than in the Skagit River delta, so heavily diked and drained for farming that it sometimes is referred to as America's Holland.
More than 70,000 acres of diked farms in the Skagit estuary produce upwards of $200 million each year in raspberries, blueberries, wheat and vegetables.
But scientists say habitat in the Skagit delta is so important it must be expanded if there is any hope of preserving the Puget Sound ecosystem.

Economic stimulus protects Puget Sound's environment
August 3, 2009 (People's Weekly World)
BLYN, WA.-Marine wildlife lovers sliced a chocolate cake and toasted the Obama administration's grant of $4.6 million in economic stimulus funds to hire 40 or more scuba divers to remove derelict fishing nets that have killed untold millions of fish, marine mammals, and birds in the waters of Puget Sound over the past century.
The celebration took place during a meeting of the Northwest Straits Commission (NSC) at the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribal Community Center. Several reports were heard on the environmental crisis that threatens the fish, oysters, crabs, and marine mammals in the waters of the Pacific Northwest and the struggle to implement the NCS's initiative aimed at reversing the decline.
S'Klallam tribal chairman, Ron Allen, welcomed the commission members and Clallam County Commissioner Mike Doherty greeted the crowd noting that environmental trends are so dire "we will be without wild fish within 50 years" if nothing is done to restore the ecosystem.
"We have documented the damage done to a huge variety of species by these derelict nets," Broadhurst continued. "We counted 35,000 underwater animals that were caught in the nets. It is just a snap-shot of the damage imposed on these species by these nets."
Kathy Fletcher, founder of People for Puget Sound reported on President Obama's June 12 memorandum, "National Policy for the Oceans, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes" with field hearings scheduled this fall in Providence, New Orleans, San Francisco, Anchorage, and a Great Lakes city yet to be specified.
Obama's statement lays heavy stress on global climate change as the overriding threat to the oceans, lakes, and shores. The memo announces appointment of an Ocean Policy Task Force and orders it to develop within 90 days "a national policy that ensures the protection, maintenance, and restoration of the health of ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems and resources, enhances the sustainability of ocean and coastal economies, preserves our maritime heritage…" "Now would be as good time to consider an input to the Federal Task Force," Fletcher said, suggesting an appeal to Obama to sign an Executive Order "to speed up" implementation of the national ocean policy.

King salmon vanishing in Alaska, smokehouses empty
August 3, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Yukon River smokehouses should be filled this summer with oil-rich strips of king salmon - long used by Alaska Natives as a high-energy food to get through the long Alaska winters. But they're mostly empty.
The kings failed to show up, and not just in the Yukon.
One Alaska river after another has been closed to king fishing this summer because significant numbers of fish failed to return to spawn. The dismally weak return follows weak runs last summer and poor runs in 2007, which also resulted in emergency fishing closures.
"It is going to be a tough winter, no two ways about it," said Leslie Hunter, a 67-year-old store owner and commercial fisherman from the Yup'ik Eskimo village of Marshall in western Alaska.
Federal and state fisheries biologists are looking into the mystery.
King salmon spend years in the Bering Sea before returning as adults to rivers where they were born to spawn and die. Biologists speculate that the mostly likely cause was a shift in Pacific Ocean currents, but food availability, changing river conditions and predator-prey relationships could be affecting the fish.
People living along the Yukon River think they know what is to blame - pollock fishery. The fishery - the nation's largest - removes about 1 million metric tons of pollock each year from the eastern Bering Sea. Its wholesale value is nearly $1 billion.
King salmon get caught in the huge pollock trawl nets, and the dead kings are counted and most are thrown back into the ocean. Some are donated to the needy.

Bill opens possibility of Lower Snake River dam removal
August 1, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
A salmon restoration bill that includes studying the environmental, infrastructure and economic issues associated with removing the four Lower Snake River dams was introduced Friday in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill, which was sponsored by Reps. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., and Tom Petri, R-Wisc., requires the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce, and Department of Energy to take a look at the controversial issue.
The legislation, which had 20 co-sponsors including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., includes language authorizing the Secretary of the Army to remove the dams to "clarify that lower Snake River dam removal is within the Corps' Authority," Blumenauer said in a statement posted on the website of Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition of conservation organizations, commercial and sports-fishing associations, businesses, and river groups that support restoration and recovery of wild salmon runs in the Columbia and Snake river basins.

Back to Orca News Archives