Orca Network News - August, 2010

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
August 1, 2010 through August 31, 2010.

Contract to remove Elwha dams goes to Montana firm
August 26, 2010 (Seattle Times)
It was the Elwha Klallam Tribe that first pushed for dam removal, back in the 1980s, when the license for the upper dam was up for renewal by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The lower dam was never licensed and was built despite laws even then against blocking fish passage without providing a fish ladder.
Removal of the dams will be gradual, in order to contend with some 18 million cubic yards of sediment backed up behind the dams. Contractors will begin cutting a pilot channel in a delta of sediment above the upper dam next week, in a first step toward removing the structures.
Before the dams, chinook salmon returning to the Elwha reached enormous size, even as much as 100 pounds. Descendants of those fish persist today, as a distinct run of fall chinook, unique in Puget Sound. The Elwha was once home to all five species of salmon and steelhead.
With three-quarters of the Elwha watershed within the intact habitat of Olympic National Park, it's expected that salmon and steelhead will vigorously recolonize some 70 miles of the river and its many side channels and tributaries.
More here

Huge salmon runs bring cash bonanza for U.S. and Canadian fishermen
August 26, 2010 (Seattle Times)
These fish are part of the biggest sockeye run in nearly a century to head back to British Columbia's Fraser River and its tributaries. An estimated 25 million fish have returned, more than double preseason forecasts.
Over the past decade, Fraser River runs have been more bust than boom. Last year was especially painful. Fewer than 2 million fish showed up, a fraction of the predicted run of more than 10 million, and the fishing grounds were closed.
Other years also yielded paltry catches and prompted some fishermen to abandon the harvest.
More here

What does this dam phrase really mean? (For starters, lakes drain next summer) -- ***Gallery***
August 24, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
The first big change comes in about a week, when Lake Mills closes to the public for eight weeks while a pilot channel is dug to route sediment once 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam and 108-foot Elwha Dam do come down.
The dams' actual demise will not begin until Sept. 15, 2011. That project is scheduled to end by March 2014.
More here

BP's record shows Northwest waters need greater protection
August 22, 2010 (Crosscut)
BP has much more of a record and presence in the Northwest than many realize. How and where could BP's troubled oil drilling practices affect Washington citizens, their environment, Puget Sound, and the Salish Sea? It became official about 100 days after the sinking of the Horizon drilling rig: BP, the oil company that proclaimed itself to be "beyond petroleum," is responsible for the world's largest oil spill. On top of the 210 million gallon spill, BP added another 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants to the water column and an untold volume of drilling muds that have leaked out. What might the oil company's record-setting ways mean for Washington state, where BP has large interests? The oil giant's record in the Gulf of Mexico, its eagerness to move past questions about its record there, and its own record in the Northwest suggest unsettling potential for problems here. No sooner was the gusher temporarily capped then BP's new U.S. CEO called for the cleanup to "scale back," according to The Seattle Times, and our federal agencies have already concluded that most of the oil is gone. While relieved the well has been capped, there's little comfort in knowing that even under these optimistic projections at least five Exxon Valdez's worth of oil have yet to be accounted for. This unprecedented catastrophe has put the ecological and economic viability of the Gulf of Mexico on the line. BP's failure to contain the spill and unprecedented application of dispersants, creating subsurface toxic plumes of unknown dimensions, leaves much uncertainty as to when the Gulf will, to paraphrase former BP's head, get its life back.
More here

Appeals court: mud from logging roads is pollution
August 17, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A federal appeals court Tuesday decided that mud washing off logging roads is pollution and ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to write regulations to reduce the amount that reaches salmon streams.
A conservation group that filed the lawsuit said if the ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stands, logging roads on federal, state and private lands across the West will eventually have to be upgraded to meet Clean Water Act standards.
More here

Salmon, Steelhead Numbers Surge In Some Northwest Rivers
August 16, 2010 (Oregon Public Boradcasting)
Banner runs of salmon and steelhead are migrating up some Northwest rivers this summer. Not since dams were constructed on the Columbia and Snake Rivers have this many sockeye salmon returned.
Meanwhile, it looks like the 2010 summer steelhead run on the Columbia may be the second highest on record. The modern record for steelhead was set in 2001. Tom Banse reports on some possible explanations for these unexpectedly high salmon numbers.
Tribal fisheries biologist Stuart Ellis sees benefits from a court order to spill more water over the tops of dams in the summer. That's instead of running the water – and young fish -- through the power turbines.
Stuart Ellis points out that for every Northwest salmon run that's exceeded the pre-season forecast, he can find one that's struggling.
For example, this year's run of Lake Washington Chinook is falling way short.
Stuart Ellis: "You have to have enormous humility to work in this business, because these fish are masters at faking you out. As soon as you think that you've got some real understanding of what these fish are doing and what kind of factors are influencing their survival, something will change."
More here

Toxic PFCs Found in Washington Water and Fish
August 12, 2010 (KUOW)
The study found PFCs are widespread in lakes, rivers, fish and wastewater treatment plants. But they're at low levels. Carol Kraege with the Washington State Department of Ecology:
Kraege: "We wanted to know if this particular chemical — which is not manufactured in Washington — if it was showing up in Washington's environment. And that's a characteristic of these kinds of chemicals. They get out into the world and then you find them everywhere, even in remote places."
Kraege says these types of chemicals are the worst of the worst.
Kraege: "They persist, that means they stick around in the environment. They bioaccumulate. It means they get more concentrated as they move up the food chain. And they're toxic."
More here

NOAA approves reform of West Coast fish harvest
August 11, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
NOAA's Fisheries Service on Tuesday approved a new approach to managing the harvest of certain West Coast fish that it says will lessen competition among fishermen and reduce overfishing.
NOAA officials said the new catch-shares system - expected to take effect early next year - allows fisherman to better plan their season and fish more efficiently while reducing bycatch.
More here

The Legacy of the Gulf Spill: What to Expect for the Future?
August 9, 2010 (Environment 360)
Though there are some crucial differences, Ixtoc I is the closest historical analog to the Deepwater Horizon spill. Both took place in the Gulf of Mexico in similar climates and ecological circumstances. Both were seemingly uncontrollable for a time and poured huge amounts of oil into Gulf waters. Both hit nearby coastal and underwater environments hard. As for the aftermath, history offers encouragement: The post-Ixtoc recovery was robust, indicating that the Deepwater Horizon spill's impacts, though harsh in the short term, will dissipate over time.
Circumstance has played a role in limiting the damage: The outflow from the Mississippi has kept some oil away from the shoreline, and an unexpected eddy in the Gulf's loop current kept it from being carried much further east or south.
The biggest unknown, scientists say, is the oil that remains out in the open sea, mostly underwater, where it might remain for a long time. Oil spewing from the well and on the surface was treated with nearly 2 million gallons of dispersants, which created droplets of differing densities that now float throughout the water column, some in plumes, some in lower concentrations. "By dispersing, you end up spreading it out over a much wider area" said Doug Rader, the chief ocean scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund. "It's like a volcano's cone of ash, but moving more slowly. Some rises, then rains back toward the bottom."
No one is quite sure what kind of damage this mixture of dispersant, oil, and its constituent chemicals can do to marine organisms. The deeper down these droplets are, the less likely they are to be metabolized or otherwise degrade, and the more mischief they may cause, especially if a storm churns them up and sends them someplace new. The toxicity of the dispersant BP has used, Corexit 9500, is hotly debated. Kendall says he believes the use of dispersants facilitated the release of toxic oil components - including benzene, a carcinogen, and toluene, which can cause neurological damage - that remain in the water.
More here

Flood program must consider salmon and whales
August 7, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The federal government's flood insurance program that had mostly been concerned with protecting homes and businesses must now protect salmon and killer whales.
Federal fisheries experts have told the Federal Emergency Management Agency that - by underwriting thousands of flood insurance policies in Puget Sound - it encourages construction in floodplains in ways that harm federally protected species.
In response, FEMA is now drafting new building rules for about 122 communities in Puget Sound to minimize the harm to salmon and endangered whales that feed on them.
More here

Navy plans could affect more marine mammals
August 4, 2010 (USA Today)
The Navy plans to increase ocean warfare exercises, conduct more sonar tests and expand coastal training areas by hundreds of square miles — activities that could injure hundreds of thousands of marine mammals or disturb their habitats, federal records show.
Training areas already are established along most of the continental U.S. coastline, so the Navy is seeking federal permits to broaden an existing range off the Pacific Northwest and dramatically expand exercises and sonar use in the Gulf of Alaska.
However, the Navy's plans have ignited a debate with environmental groups that say the service underestimates the long-term impact of its activities and fails to restrict training sufficiently in marine sanctuaries and other areas where it is likely to affect sensitive species. The plans to expand training off the Pacific Northwest, where the service's exercise areas reach into the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, have drawn about 3,500 public comments, most in opposition.
More here

Gulf spill impact on whales studied
August 4, 2010 (Florida Sun-Sentinel)
But the 93-foot Odyssey is a floating biology laboratory that soon will head to the Gulf of Mexico to study the impact of the BP oil spill on whales. It is operated by the environmental group Ocean Alliance, founded in 1971 by the biologist Roger Payne, a pioneer in researching the songs of humpback whales.
To locate whales, the ship will tow a 300-foot tail of hydrophones, a technology developed in the 1950s to allow U.S. destroyers to track Soviet submarines, with instruments sensitive enough to detect a whale 20 miles away.
A key target will be the 1,600 sperm whales of the Gulf, although the scientists also will attempt to take samples from Bryde's whales, humpback whales and killer whales.
More here

A Sad Whale Tale
August 4, 2010 (Monday Magazine)
Here in Victoria, Diane McNally is heading up the local effort to see Lolita retired into freedom, and is organizing a downtown awareness demonstration on Sunday, August 8 at the corner of Government and View Streets from noon to 2 p.m. to build local support on the issue. McNally has been keeping an eye on cetacean—that means marine mammal—capture since Sealand of the Pacific was a 1970s Victoria fixture, and continues to be appalled by the living conditions, behaviour modification and psychological destabilization that are part and parcel of keeping giant creatures in small pens.
I hope we can influence Arthur and Andrew Hertz, the owners of Miami Seaquarium (the most substandard and inadequate orca tank in North America), to acknowledge that what they are providing is actually torture of another species, presented as entertainment. That’s unlikely, but they could still agree that Lolita should be able to retire, after 40 years of daily performing on cue and bringing in millions of dollars for them.
More here

With some sea-lion populations in swift decline, feds call for closing Aleutian fisheries
August 3, 2010 (Seattle Times)
But it's also the latest evidence that sea lions have become a proxy in a simmering war over fishing in Alaska. Both the industry and environmentalists are eyeing the future of the $1 billion-a-year pollock industry in the nearby Bering Sea, a fishery that supplies half the country's catch of fish.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, insist the administration isn't doing enough to curb the use of massive factory trawlers, which drag giant nets through the water and sometimes hop along the seafloor.
"We're still trawling way too much in too many places," said Mike LeVine, counsel for the environmental group Oceana in Alaska. "And sea lions are telling us that trawling and fishing are unbalancing the whole system."
"The situation, we believe, is critical in the extreme western portion of their range, where declines are really startling," said Doug Mecum, deputy administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska. "We're compelled to take action as soon as we can."
More here

Oysters a sign of trouble from Puget Sound acidity
August 1, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Pacific oysters in the wild on Washington's coast haven't reproduced in six seasons. Scientists suspect ocean-chemistry changes linked to the fossil-fuel emissions that cause global warming are helping kill these juvenile shellfish.
The oceans are becoming more acidic, and that corrosive water is finding its way into Puget Sound.
No one knows how it will impact the Sound's sea life. But scientists in laboratories around the globe increasingly find corrosive water can alter marine systems in strange, subtle and sometimes worrisome ways.
More here

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