Orca Network News - December, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
December 1, 2004 through December 31, 2004.
December 31, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) This month, the state Department of Transportation bought a 27-acre wetland site in Federal Way on the West Hylebos Creek. The state plans to restore the area, the best spawning ground for Chinook salmon on the creek, said Chris Carrel, executive director of Friends of the Hylebos Wetlands.
"I'm absolutely elated," Carrel said. "It will give us the ability to restore a significant amount of salmon productivity for the stream."
The state bought the Spring Valley Ranch for $1.75 million this month to offset the impact the HOV lane project will have on wetlands adjacent to the freeway. It bought the land from a private owner, who had lived on the site which includes two houses.
The state is required by law to carry out wetland mitigation for the highway project.
Carrel said the Spring Valley Ranch property has been his group's highest priority for land to restore in the West Hylebos Creek. The shallow stream grade and the presence of gravel make it the best spawning habitat for Chinook, chum and coho salmon in the entire Hylebos, he said. Of the three, Chinook is the only one labeled threatened by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
He's seen all three species spawn in that section this year, and restoring the creek will increase spawning. Once the eggs hatch, the fish develop and migrate to the Pacific Ocean through Commencement Bay.
We must reverse complacency over oil-spill management
December 28, 2004 (Seattle Times Op-ed by Fred Felleman) The National Marine Fisheries Service has recognized that our 88 resident orcas - including Luna in Nootka Sound and two new calves - are threatened with extinction. Their small population, unique genetics, foraging behaviors and linguistic distinctions justify such protection. However, "threatened" is an understatement: A single major spill could render them extinct.
Citizen oversight is the best way to reverse the complacency plaguing maritime industries and agencies in Washington. In Alaska, they rise to huge logistical challenges and embrace real public involvement. Meanwhile, representatives of Washington's Department of Ecology testified before the Legislature about the difficulty of responding to a spill adjacent to Washington's largest port and the lack of need for further public oversight.
Consequently, the state of Washington needs to:
• Pass our own salvage regulations, as California has done;
• Make funding for the Neah Bay rescue tug permanent, requiring more horsepower, firefighting, spill response and salvage equipment;
• Require the maritime industry to stockpile and be prepared to promptly deploy additional spill-response equipment in its Contingency Plan Rule, including pre-booming ships before transferring fuel;
• Prevent catastrophes by banning risky tanker transits such as the quarter-mile-wide passage between Saddlebag and Huckleberry islands next to ecologically rich Padilla Bay;
• Embrace a more meaningful role for public oversight of maritime industries and agencies.
While U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell has carried the late Sen. Warren Magnuson's torch for orca research and conservation, the new governor and the Legislature must do more to protect the habitat from oil spills. That way, the grandchildren of Washington's residents may have the privilege to see the grandchildren of our resident orcas.
Alaska oil spill damage now looks worse
December 28, 2004 (Seattle Times) More than 600 oiled seabirds have been spotted near a broken ship off Alaska's Aleutian islands, and federal biologists now suspect hundreds or thousands more will be discovered in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, water samples in bays surrounding the two sections of the broken cargo carrier the Selendang Ayu have shown enough oil contamination that Alaska state game agents yesterday shut down a commercial crab-fishing season that was to open in January and will close that area to commercial fishing for Pacific cod and rockfish.
Three weeks after a freighter ferrying soybeans from Seattle to China lost engine power and ran aground in a wildlife sanctuary off Unalaska Island, the first detailed attempts by state and federal agencies to quantify effects on wildlife show the damage is greater than initially thought.
"What we were hearing about before were the birds in the hand, so to speak - the ones we'd caught or found dead on the beaches," said Greg Siekaniec, head of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge. "Now they're pulling together the limited information from folks on the scene, and starting to say, 'Oh my gosh.' "
Deep-diving whales may get bends
December 24, 2004 (Seattle Times) Sperm whales routinely dive more than two miles below the ocean surface to hunt for giant squid, but a study shows the huge mammals suffer a chronic loss of bone tissue from the bends, a painful condition well-known to human divers.
It long has been believed that sperm whales and other deep-diving mammals are immune from decompression illness, or the bends, which human divers encounter when they surface too rapidly and force nitrogen bubbles into their blood and tissues. Sperm whales have been known to dive as deep as 10,500 feet and stay down as long as an hour.
Michael Moore and Greg Early of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution found evidence of the bends in bones of modern sperm whales, but they also found the same damaged skeletons in whale bones up to 111 years old.
This suggests, Moore said, that sperm whales are neither anatomically nor physiologically immune from the effects of deep diving, even though they spend much of their 70-year lifetime at great ocean depths.
A report on the findings appears this week in the journal Science.
Moore said sperm whales apparently avoid decompression injury by controlling how rapidly they surface to breathe and how long they spend on the surface.
As a result, he said, any human activity that changes behavior could cause the whale to be injured further by the bends.
For instance, he said, if acoustic signals from submarines or other human activities caused a sperm whale to surface too rapidly or to remain on the surface too long, it could trigger the bends.
Huge spill feared as ship's bow sinks
December 24, 2004 (Seattle Times) The bow section of a grounded freighter off Unalaska Island has sunk, and the 176,473 gallons of oil inside are thought to have already spilled into the Bering Sea.
A violent storm kicked up Monday, stranding cleanup crews in Dutch Harbor for days. Yesterday was the first time officials were able to fly over the wreckage and determine how the harsh weather conditions had further damaged the ship.
Up until now, most of the oil was presumed to be still on board the Selendang Ayu and possibly salvageable. The storm, which came in from the northeast, may have dispersed much of the oil out to sea, but it also could be washing up on shore. The extent of new damage to wildlife and shorelines will depend largely on wind direction, wave action and how widely the oil has dispersed.
Tanker blamed for oil spill off Vashon
December 24, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Alaskan crude oil from the cargo hold of a 31-year-old oil tanker soiled the shorelines of Vashon and Maury islands and parts of Puget Sound last month, the Coast Guard reported yesterday, citing results of "oil fingerprinting" laboratory tests.
The Polar Texas, owned by the ConocoPhillips subsidiary Polar Tankers, has been the focal point of an investigation at least since early November. But lab tests weren't available until this week, officials said.
At the time of the spill Oct. 14, the Texas was on one of its last sailings before being retired from the oil trade in favor of more modern, safer vessels.
Criminal charges are possible under federal law. The Coast Guard estimates 1,500 gallons spilled.
ConocoPhillips, notified of the findings through its attorneys, continued to deny responsibility for the spill but admitted it doesn't have all the facts. The company has petitioned a Superior Court to try to get access to government information allegedly linking the Texas to the spill.
New orca babies seen in Puget Sound pods
December 23, 2004 (Kitsap Sun) Two newborn killer whales are being welcomed into the J and K pods, two of the major Puget Sound orca groupings, according to whale researcher Mark Sears of Seattle.
"They are pretty glued to their mothers right now," said Sears, who observed the J calf on Tuesday and the K calf Wednesday.
One mother is J-14, a 30-year-old female known as Samish, who is the granddaughter of J-2 and the great-niece of J-1, two of the oldest members of the Puget Sound pods. This is her third calf. The other mother is K-20, an 18-year-old female known as Spock, who was believed for many years to be a male because of her large dorsal fin. This is her first calf.
Sears said the K calf was born late Tuesday or early Wednesday, whereas the J calf was born while the pod was outside Puget Sound the past three weeks.
"Both of the calves are getting a lot of attention, surrounded by juveniles and other females," Sears said.
Because of the large number of chum salmon in central and southern Puget Sound, the whales are not locked into their typical traveling or feeding patterns right now, he said.
In October, two other baby orcas were born to L Pod, which has not been sighted lately and may be gone from Puget Sound for winter travels up and down the coast.
The Center for Whale Research reported that K-18, a 55-year-old female, was not seen this year and probably has died.
Counting all four newborns and the one death, the population of the three pods now stands at 87 -- not including Luna, L-98, who is living alone in Nootka Sound in Canada, or Lolita, who is living in a Miami aquarium.
Orca newborns spotted near Vashon Island December 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Volunteers will help winter whale watchers
December 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Volunteers will be at 28 sites along the Oregon coast next week to help spot gray whales making their winter migration to Mexico.
More than 20,000 gray whales averaging about 30 tons each are expected to make their annual move south from their Alaska summer feeding grounds to their winter mating and birthing areas off Baja California in Mexico.
Last year, the volunteers helped nearly 13,000 visitors spot 848 whales off the Oregon coast during the peak of their migration.
The counting results will be posted online.
To see them, along with more information on the gray whale migration, visit www.whalespoken.org.
Stronger oil-spill protection pushed
December 23, 2004 (Seattle Times) Washington state's Department of Ecology wants an additional $2.2 million in the next two years to boost oil-spill protections after a spill in South Puget Sound in October.
Gov. Gary Locke has earmarked $2 million for the request in his two-year budget proposal. It would be paid for by an existing tax on crude-oil imports.
The plan calls for spending the money to train volunteers to help with oil-spill cleanup; buy equipment to corral spills and ease communication between agencies; improve planning for oil-spill response; and study ways to improve citizen involvement.
Bush relaxes forest wildlife protection
December 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Replacing rules written by the Reagan administration to govern national forest plans, the Bush administration has adopted sweeping new regulations that relax protections for wildlife and eliminate a requirement for the public to weigh in on mining, logging and other activities.
The new rules covering more than 191 million acres -- including more than one-fifth of Washington -- undo an obligation at the heart of the battles over Pacific Northwest old-growth forests and spotted owls: that federal managers "maintain viable populations" of wild animals in national forests.
Unveiled yesterday to criticism by environmentalists but approval by the timber industry, the new rules also allow forest supervisors to skip a complicated "environmental impact statement" providing a detailed look at different options for managing a forest. Instead, forest managers gain more discretion to simply pick the plan they think is best.
Instead of the requirement dating to the Reagan administration to maintain "viable populations" of all vertebrates on national forests, the new rules say federal forest officials should "provide a framework for maintaining and restoring ecosystem conditions necessary to conserve most species."
In the Northwest, supervisors of individual forests still were taking in the new regulations and couldn't say how they might affect rules here. In Washington, three national forests east of the Cascade Range -- the Wenatchee, Okanogan and Colville -- are in the midst of rewriting their forest plans. They might switch to the process outlined in the new rules.
December 22, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial)
Puget Sound's orcas are receiving well-deserved respect from their human neighbors. Credit belongs to federal officials, a judge and a whale of a lot of other shore-dwelling folks.
The National Marine Fisheries Service recently proposed listing the Sound's resident orcas as a "threatened" species. The protection under the federal Endangered Species Act could trigger a host of new safeguards for the beloved orcas. It's possible some added federal spending will follow.
It's vital that the federal government follows through and lists the orcas for protection, as proposed. But we trust that will happen after a 90-day comment period.
Fisheries scientists and Bob Lohn, the head of the service's Northwest office, reached a well-reasoned and well-articulated decision. They were pushed in that direction by a ruling a year ago from U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik. The case would not have gone to court if it were not for the good work of environmental groups in challenging an earlier NMFS decision against protecting the orcas.
Ideally, of course, people would like to see much easier and quicker decisions on environmental protection -- without the frequent use of the courts. But on this issue, and many others, the best decision often comes from the contention among well-meaning parties on all sides.
Patti Goldman, an attorney for Earthjustice in Seattle, told the Post-Intelligencer that the NMFS' proposal is "a great decision for us, a great decision for the killer whale and a great decision for science."
In explaining his agency's decision, Lohn described the local killer whale population as having a "significant biological difference" from other orca groups in terms of breeding habits, markings, diet and a unique language. Those traits and the orcas' power, beauty and grace resonate emotionally as well. All around the Sound, the protection of the orcas is a cause to embrace.
Fishing groups plan legal fight in dam decision
December 22, 2004 (Oregonian) The Bush administration's recent conclusion that dams pose no threat of driving endangered salmon extinct is facing a federal court challenge by conservation and fishing groups.
Opponents, including the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, assert that the policy set by the National Marine Fisheries Service fails to protect and restore salmon and steelhead as required by the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit, to be filed in 60 days, is part of the groups' larger effort to have four dams removed on the lower Snake River in order to restore once-abundant fish stocks.
Bush administration officials have dismissed dam removal from consideration, arguing that the Endangered Species Act authorizes the fisheries service to consider only how the dams will be operated, not whether they should exist.
U.S. District Judge James Redden, presiding over the ongoing legal battle of the dams, raised several questions about the legal and scientific footing for the government's position earlier this year.
Natural-gas pipeline scrapped
December 21, 2004 (Bellingham Herald) A proposed natural-gas pipeline from Sumas to Vancouver Island will not be built, Williams Pipeline Co. and BC Hydro announced Monday.
The two companies went public in 1999 with plans for a $209 million pipeline to serve three planned power plants on Vancouver Island. The line would have run 33 miles from Sumas to Cherry Point, then under the Georgia Strait.
One of those plants is unlikely to be built, and there are cheaper alternatives to serve the others, BC Hydro spokesman Stephen Bruy-neel said. BC Hydro officials also thought the pipeline could serve another power plant on the British Columbia Lower Mainland, but that did not happen.
The decision to build the pipeline had been on hold since September 2003 pending a review of energy needs on Vancouver Island, Williams said in a statement. Bruyneel said the utility wrote off the $34 million spent on the project against last year's earnings. Opponents of the pipeline, who had raised a variety of environmental concerns, celebrated Monday's news.
"Ding dong the witch is dead," said Fred Felleman, president of Fuel Safe Washington.
It was obvious from the start that there were cheaper and less damaging alternatives, such as pressurizing an existing pipeline, Felleman said. "Why were we put through this process in the first place?"
Solitary whale wanders seas, calling, calling, to no avail
December 21, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intellligencer) Imagine roaming the world's largest ocean year after year alone, calling out with the regularity of a metronome, and hearing no response.
Such, apparently, is the situation faced by a solitary whale, species unknown, that has been tracked since 1992 in the North Pacific by a classified array of hydrophones used by the Navy to monitor submarines.
The animal is called the 52 hertz whale because it makes a distinctive stream of sounds at around that basso profundo frequency, just above the lowest note on a tuba.
Its sonic signature is clearly that of a whale, but nothing like the normal voice of the giant blue or the next-biggest species, the fin, or any other whale for that matter, said Mary Ann Daher, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod, Mass.
Pounded by waves, grounded ship spews more oil into the sea
December 18, 2004 (Seattle Times) Rough waves battered the remains of a grounded freighter yesterday, causing more heavy oil to spill into the Bering Sea off the coast of Unalaska Island.
"The seas are coming in, and the waves are apparently creating some more release from the vessel," Capt. Ron Morris said.
The Selendang Ayu broke in two, rupturing a tank that held 40,131 gallons of fuel and creating a spill that has washed into the sea and onto shore in wildlife habitats that support sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, tanner crabs and halibut.
Two other fuel tanks in the bow and stern sections of the ship contain about 280,000 gallons of fuel. A salvage team has been hired to remove the fuel from the tank in the stern by carting it out by helicopter in 2,000-gallon containers.
An attempt to remove the bow section was initially determined to be unsafe, but officials since have said the salvage team would try to find a way to do it.
The airlift removal is expected to get started by Jan. 1 and should take up to three weeks to complete, said Howard Hile, the incident commander hired by the vessel's operator, IMC Group.
Fuel has spilled onto shore and into marshland, while soybeans were piled knee-deep in pockets along the coast, officials said. A shoreline cleanup that began Thursday near Skan Bay had to be halted yesterday because of inclement weather, Hile said.
Eleven birds covered with oil have been found alive so far, and another six were dead, conservation officials said. One dead sea otter has been found.
Further disintegration of the ship is possible if the sea continues to pound it, Hile said.
Locke unveils Columbia River proposal
December 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Water users and conservationists have been battling for decades over water rights for the Columbia and its tributaries, with one side seeking more water for communities and commerce while the other side fights for sufficient water for threatened fish.
Locke made finding a solution a priority in his second term, working to resolve hundreds of water-rights applications and reduce litigation on the issue.
The new plan, released during his last weeks in office, seeks to achieve that goal, although it was unclear whether the Legislature or his successor would act on it.
Spill task force makes recommendations
December 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A task force formed in the aftermath of a spill that fouled South Puget Sound made final recommendations yesterday designed to prevent oil spills and improve the response to them.
The group did not go as far as recommending the formation of a citizens oil-spill advisory council -- a move environmentalists had been pushing for.
The task force approved recommendations for updating spill plans that highlight fragile and ecologically important marine features, improving volunteer opportunities for reporting and helping clean spills and buying equipment to detect spills during the night or bad weather.
Fog and darkness were blamed for the delayed response to the October spill, which soiled beaches on Vashon and Maury islands. The task force was directed to focus its attention on what happened the first 12 hours after the spill.
Orcas get closer to federal protection
December 17, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Puget Sound's resident orcas are on track to win protection under the federal Endangered Species Act, thanks to a government reversal that delighted environmentalists and legions of whale worshippers.
The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed yesterday that the region's struggling orca pods be declared "threatened" under the law. Final approval could take up to a year.
The state of Washington and the Canadian government have already listed the iconic whales as endangered, but the federal action would trigger more safeguards.
Environmentalists and some government officials predict the designation will spur action to better preserve the Sound, as well as coastal areas and rivers and streams important to salmon -- the killer whales' favorite food.
Federal protections may also spark stricter regulation of the release and cleanup of hazardous chemicals and funnel additional funding to the region. Guidelines for keeping boats a safe distance from orcas could become law.
"It gives us the hope we can do the right thing for the orcas," said Patti Goldman, a Seattle attorney with Earthjustice. "It gives us the hope and the tools."
Bob Lohn, who heads the NMFS' Northwest office, said the resident orcas don't interbreed with other orca populations, have distinct markings and dorsal fins, eat different foods and inhabit different areas, and have a unique language of chirps and clicks.
Orcas May Make Protected List December 17, 2004 (Los Angeles Times)
Federal agency proposes threatened status for orcas December 17, 2004 (Seattle Times)
Shoreline protection efforts get a 'D' rating
December 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Calling on the Legislature to save the "ribbon of life" that nourishes Puget Sound, an environmental group gave the state and local governments failing grades yesterday in protecting ecologically crucial shorelines.
Drawing on government studies, People for Puget Sound issued an overall grade of "D" to efforts to protect the Sound's beaches.
The group's pronouncement drew backing from a King County scientist who has studied shorelines and an executive of an oyster-growing company who linked healthy shores to a healthy rural economy.
People for Puget Sound said top threats to shorelines include oil spills -- they cited two major ones in the past year -- as well as shoreline development, polluted water running off paved surfaces, construction of docks and loss of natural vegetation.
But there's hope for turning things around, said the group's director, Kathy Fletcher.
"The Puget Sound shoreline is the ribbon of life that rings Puget Sound, and it's really where the action is, ecologically speaking," Fletcher said at Golden Gardens Park against a stunning backdrop -- the sun-dappled Sound and snow-covered Olympics.
"All the creatures of Puget Sound depend on a healthy shoreline. By protecting and restoring the health of the shoreline, we will protect and restore the health of Puget Sound," she said.
Mary Getchell, a spokeswoman for the Puget Sound Action Team, the state agency coordinating efforts to restore the Sound, said the agency wasn't ready to respond immediately to the specifics of the report. But she applauded the effort.
Washington's salmon plan is first to state minimums to restore runs
December 16, 2004 (Oregonian) Specifics on the number of fish needed for viable stocks in the lower Columbia Basin aim to guide federal decisions on delisting
For the first time, a Pacific Northwest state has specified how many salmon will be needed in streams and rivers to get the fish off the Endangered Species List: an average of 10 times as many chinook salmon in key spawning areas in the lower Columbia River.
That and other detailed goals for lower Columbia salmon runs were spelled out Wednesday in the first of many long-awaited recovery plans for the 19 salmon populations listed as threatened or endangered across the Northwest since 1991.
Washington Gov. Gary Locke presented the plan to federal fisheries officials, who will use it as a foundation for deciding the criteria for ending federal protection of salmon under the Endangered Species Act. In the Columbia River Basin alone, the costs of protecting salmon have surpassed $700 million a year.
The numbers show a wide gulf between existing degraded conditions and the ultimate goal, which could take many years to reach: rivers churning with enough coho, chinook and steelhead not to only avoid extinction, but also be capable of supporting viable fisheries for Native American tribes, commercial fleets and sport anglers.
To get there will require great leaps in productivity -- the ability of one generation's spawn to return in larger numbers. Gains as high as 200 percent are called for in the case of one fall chinook group and 1,000 percent for one critical group of chum salmon. The plan's authors divided salmon into small subpopulations, sorted by the streams and creeks where adults return to spawn. They then assigned recovery goals for each of the subpopulations based on significance for the viability of the overall population of the lower Columbia.
Among the challenges will be balancing the economic burden imposed on the people and industries that must change their ways: developers, dam operators, agricultural water users and fishing fleets.
On second look, feds give 'threatened' listing to San Juan orcas
December 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The federal fisheries agency on Thursday proposed giving Endangered Species Act protection to a struggling community of killer whales that spends much of the year near Washington's San Juan Islands.
The National Marine Fisheries Service said it plans to list the whales, known as the Southern Resident population, as threatened. The designation could become final a year from now, following a period of public comment.
It was the second time the agency has considered whether to list the whales. Two years ago, it concluded the orcas did not warrant protection because the population did not meet the definition of being biologically distinct from other killer whales.
A federal judge last year ordered the agency to reconsider, after eight environmental groups and concerned individuals filed a lawsuit.
"This is a victory for sound science, the orcas, and the people of the Pacific Northwest," said Brent Plater, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, a plaintiff group based in San Francisco.
"This is a close-knit family of highly intelligent whales that have been living cooperatively with each other in Puget Sound for thousands of years," said attorney Patti Goldman of Earthjustice in Seattle. "The federal government refused to protect this remarkable family of whales until the people of Puget Sound came together, and with one voice, demanded it."
"Habitat protection is key," said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy, a Seattle-based plaintiff in the case. "Conservationists know that you can't save a species by protecting individuals."
Worsening weather threatens salvage
December 15, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Worried that worsening weather will further damage a freighter that's already broken in two and leaking fuel off the coast of Alaska, U.S. Coast Guard officials met with marine salvagers yesterday in hopes of finalizing a plan to stabilize and tow the wreck.
A Coast Guard helicopter airlifted representatives from three salvage companies to the 738-foot Selendang Ayu, where they assessed the extent of the damage and considered the possibility of floating and towing the ship's forward section. The bow of the ship is believed to be holding nearly 180,000 gallons of viscous bunker fuel. The stern is thought to be holding an additional 190,000 gallons. Roughly 40,000 gallons already has spilled into Unalaska Island's Skan Bay, a sensitive marine zone replete with commercial fisheries and protected wildlife.
The Coast Guard hopes to have a salvage team in place, possibly as early today.
Experts scramble for way to drain oil from split ship December 15, 2004 (Seattle Times)
Sighting of Luna's pod lifts hopes for reunion
December 14, 2004 (Victoria Times Colonist) Luna lovers are hoping a miracle will allow the solitary orca to be reunited with his family.
Members of L pod, probably including Luna's mother, were spotted off Bamfield Dec. 2 reigniting hopes they may be heading past the entrance to Nootka Sound, where the five-year-old whale has lived on his own for almost three-and-a-half years.
But, even the most avid supporters of a natural reunion between Luna and his family admit it would take a whole bunch of luck for Luna and L pod to find each other.
It is not known where the pod spends winters, although they have been spotted as far afield as California and the Queen Charlotte Islands, so the sighting off the west coast of Vancouver Island is being regarded as a rare opportunity.
Reporting sightings of whales is now more important than ever, said Susan Berta of OrcaNetwork, one of the groups tracking the southern residents.
The whales can travel up to 160 kilometres a day, so it is not easy keeping tabs on them, she said. Anyone spotting an orca should phone 1-866-ORCANET.
The good news is that hydrophones placed around Nootka Sound show that Luna is making lots of noise, Berta said.
"If the whales hear him I'm sure they will go and investigate."
Whale Researchers in Communications Breakthrough
December 14, 2004 (The Scotsman) Scientists studying killer whales claim the mammals' communication depends on the type of prey they hunt, it emerged today.
The research suggests the whales' communication is shaped by the risk of warning off their prey at feeding time.
Whales rely extensively on underwater sound to orientate themselves and stay in touch with one another, and killer whales have a particularly complex system of underwater communication, the experts said.
The researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and British Columbia University in Vancouver, Canada, studied two distinct forms of killer whale – residents and transients – which feed on different types of prey.
The team discovered fish-eating whales are more likely to talk to each other while mammal-eating killer whales have to restrict underwater communication
This is because fish are hard of hearing and cannot detect the calls at any distance.
But mammal-eating killer whales hunt prey which has excellent underwater hearing and can "eavesdrop" on whale calls to make their escape.
Effects of oil spill in Alaska could linger in remote bay
December 14, 2004 (Seattle Times) It took a few hours for the Selendang Ayu to spill thousands of gallons of oil into a remote Alaska bay.
The effects could linger for years.
The immediate damage has already become apparent, as biologists tell of at least one sea otter and various birds swimming amid oil and thick goo along the western side of Unalaska Island.
But the toll of oil lingering amid rocks or settling on the sea bed could prove much harder to gauge, measured in damage to otters' livers and subtle survival problems for fish.
"Long-term effects is kind of a black box," said Jeep Rice, a biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service's Auke Bay Laboratory in Juneau. He has spent much of his career studying the effect of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
For those plotting ways to reclaim oil that has spilled from the Selendang Ayu as well as the larger amount still aboard the freighter, the biggest concerns are sea otters and marine birds.
The oil can rob otters and birds of insulation by matting-down fur and feathers, potentially lethal in the harsh Bering Sea winter. When the animals try to clean themselves off, they might swallow the oil.
The problem could be made worse by the type of oil, known as "bunker C," which is particularly sticky.
The most vulnerable birds include crested auklets, murres, cormorants, bald eagles, ravens and several sea ducks, including eiders, mergansers, black and surf scoters, and harlequins, said Greg Siekaniec, manager for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, which includes Unalaska Island.
Bacteria enlisted to gobble water toxins
December 13, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail) How do you get rid of the most common toxic contaminants in the ground water of the industrialized world?
Until recently, you didn't. Dumped in open waste pits for decades and left to evaporate (instead of being safely recycled, as they mainly are now), these chlorine-based chemicals sank beneath the ground, collected in toxic blobs and then seeped into the water table to persist for centuries.
If people consume even minute amounts, or breathe tiny volumes of the gases they give off, the legacy can be nerve damage or cancer.
Now scientists, led by University of Toronto chemical engineer Elizabeth Edwards, are trying a novel approach to get rid of the toxins.
They are injecting naturally occurring bacteria into underground sludge to consume the toxins, leaving behind benign substances. When the toxins are gone, the bacteria go to sleep, to be awakened only if more sludge turns up.
Restoring the Elwha River could change public thinking about America's rivers
December 12, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed) In August, the city of Port Angeles, the Lower Klallam Elwha Tribe and the National Park Service signed an agreement that put in motion one of the most revolutionary river restoration projects ever undertaken -- removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams from the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula.
Dismantling the 108-foot-tall Elwha Dam and the 210-foot-high Glines Canyon Dam will make these the largest dams ever removed. This audacious restoration effort is more than 20 years in the making and, if all goes on schedule, the Elwha River will run free and salmon will -- sometime in 2010 -- have access to the whole river for the first time in nearly a century.
In stark contrast to what's happening on the Elwha comes the Bush administration's Nov. 30 announcement of its latest plans for threatened and endangered Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead. The plans eliminate any possibility of Columbia and Snake River dam removal, declaring such action outside the scope of what the federal agencies can consider.
Further, the administration said it would reduce by more than 80 percent the area designated "critical habitat" -- a requirement of the Endangered Species Act -- restricting such protection for these fish to include places only where the fish are now found, not where they used to live. Both decisions indicate an apparent lack of vision and understanding of river restoration as it's been playing out around the country.
Before completion of the Elwha Dam in 1912 and the Glines Canyon Dam in 1927, the Elwha was one of the most productive salmon rivers of its size in the region. From its Olympic Mountains headwaters to where it meets the ocean at the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Elwha nurtured prolific runs of chinook, chum, coho and sockeye salmon and steelhead and cutthroat trout.
Fears of oil spill disaster grow
December 11, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Heavy oil washed ashore in an Alaska wildlife refuge yesterday as huge waves, unrelenting winds and bone-chilling temperatures stymied efforts to keep a smashed-up freighter from spilling more fuel into the Bering Sea.
The 738-foot freighter, the Selendang Ayu, had been headed to China carrying soybeans when its engines failed early Tuesday morning, leaving the vessel adrift. A Coast Guard helicopter plucked the six crew members off the foundering ship Wednesday, but it then crashed amid high seas and heavy winds.
Now cleaved in two and resting partly submerged just off Unalaska Island, about 800 miles southwest of Anchorage, the Selendang Ayu is oozing thick, sticky bunker oil that will be difficult to clean up and could harm endangered sea lions as well as sea otters, diving sea ducks, loons and salmon in the area.
Officials said there was also concern that birds would eat oil-coated soybeans, now floating in the water near the ship.
The spill in the Aleutian Islands is potentially the worst in Alaska since the Exxon Valdez spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil in 1989.
There are untouched streams that support numerous salmon runs. Seabirds and ducks feed and nest on the island.
"This one stands to be an order of magnitude larger in quantity," said Siekaniec. "But we don't know if it's left the ship yet or not."
Broken freighter is spilling oil
December 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fuel leaking from the hull of freighter that broke in two in the Bering Sea is being called a major spill that could take months to clean up.
The search for six crew members lost in the sea continued in the dark yesterday, a day after the rescue helicopter attempting to lift them to safety crashed.
The shorn freighter spilled thousands of gallons of fuel into the water, and the oil is threatening sensitive wildlife habitats on the western side of Unalaska Island in the Aleutian chain, 800 miles southwest of Anchorage.
"You've got bunker oil streaming from a ship that's broken in half," Kurt Fredriksson, acting commissioner for Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation, said yesterday. "We are in winter and in a very difficult Aleutian Island environment that will put everybody to the test."
The 738-foot freighter Selendang Ayu was cleaved neatly in two, both pieces grounded about 200 feet from shore.
Devastating spill feared December 10, 2004 (Seattle Times)
Rules on fuel shippers may be tightened
December 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Spurred by an oil spill that slimed a pristine and productive Puget Sound marsh, the U.S. Coast Guard is considering adopting a nationwide rule designed to minimize damage from such blunders.
Much as a house painter lays a drop cloth or a home cook lines a cookie sheet with tin foil, fuel shippers would have to tow a floating plastic curtain known as "boom" around ships being loaded with the thick, dark oil that fuels most vessels.
In case of a spill, the oil would be contained, averting environmental harm.
A Coast Guard report containing the recommendation, which was highly critical of a venerable Puget Sound marine-services company and a major oil company involved in the spill near Edmonds last December, was obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer this week. The report is scheduled for presentation today to a local congressman and a state legislator.
Credible spill plans begin with action
December 9, 2004 (Seattle Times Editorial) The U. S. Coast Guard and the state Department of Ecology ought to be acutely embarrassed by their languid response to the October oil spill near Vashon Island.
Instead of four-point plans to institute five-part policies, the first, best improvement is a change of attitude: Respond to oil-spill reports more aggressively. Call in help sooner. The state already contracts for professional cleanup services. Use them to handle what the Department of Ecology cannot investigate with its own resources.
Oil-spill prevention always trumps the best cleanup efforts. That is what has made the rules and regulations about rescue tugs and tanker escorts so encouraging. The oil industry and shippers wrestle about who should do what and who pays, but there has been progress with training and contingency funding. Even the state and Coast Guard have had their legal wrangles to clarify watery turf and cleanup primacy.
Gov. Wants Washington to Adopt California Emission Standards
December 8, 2004 (Oregon Public Broadcasting) Outgoing Governor Gary Locke says Washington should adopt California's tough automobile emission standards.
Governor Locke says he thought about his own children's future as he crafted a package of legislation and executive orders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The mantlepiece is a proposal that Washington follow the lead of several New England states in adopting California's automobile emission rules, set to take effect in 2009. Those rules are tougher than the federal government's.
Gary Locke: "By adopting the California standards we can reduce our overall Greenhouse gas emissions in Washington State by five percent by the year 2020 and save six million tons of greenhouse gases every year."
Governor Locke also wants to make energy companies use more green energy, track greenhouse gas emissions by industry, and require stricter efficiency standards for commercial appliances like refrigerators.
Locke has also banned state agencies from buying four-wheel-drive SUVs except for law enforcement or emergency use.
Lonesome whale's high-pitched voice baffles biologists
December 8, 2004 (The Scotsman) A lone whale with a mysterious voice that matches no other species has been discovered roaming the Pacific, it was revealed yesterday.
The whale has been wandering across the ocean for the past 12 years. Researchers identified it after listening to recordings made by the United States Navys submarine-tracking hydrophones.
Mary Ann Daher, a marine biologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, used the partly declassified records to trace the movements of whales in the north Pacific. They show that one whale singing at a frequency of about 52 hertz has cruised the ocean every autumn and winter since 1992.
Its calls do not match those of any known species, though they are clearly those of a baleen, the family that includes blue, fin and humpback whales.
Blue whales typically call at frequencies between 15 and 20 hertz. They do use some higher frequencies, but not 52 hertz, New Scientist magazine reported.
The tracks of the lone whale also do not match the migration patterns of any other species.
New Scientist reported: "Over the years, the calls have deepened slightly, perhaps because the whale has aged, but its voice is still recognisable. Ms Daher doubts that the whale belongs to a new species, although no similar call has been found anywhere else, despite careful monitoring."
Sea wall is a-tumbling down
December 8, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Neighbors appeased as feed-the-salmon project reclaims beach
It took about two years to convince neighbors that the best thing to do would be to lower the gabion and save the smelt.
Not that people living near Seahurst Park have anything against smelt or other forage fish that rely on sandy beaches to spawn and grow to become a key food source for salmon.
Neighbors just didn't want the disruption particularly caused by sand and gravel trucks rumbling through the neighborhood.
But as Seahurst Park's gabion sea wall -- a pile of metal-meshed rock baskets -- increasingly deteriorated, it became clear that something else had to give if habitat was to be saved.
Environmentalists say that in the 32 years since King County built the sea wall, much has been learned about shoreline and habitat protection. As the sea wall has been eroded by waves, its 10-pound rocks breaking apart on the beach, the needed spawning conditions for smelt, sand lance and other forage fish have diminished, said Mark Plunkett, conservation coordinator for the Seattle Aquarium.
Removing the sea wall and grading the shoreline to create a more gradual and natural slope to the beach will also improve a key migratory corridor for juvenile chinook salmon, fish biologists said. Fish prefer shallower water than what exists against the sea wall, experts said.
"With this project, we're reclaiming 1,000 feet of shoreline and beach."
New plan for dams aims to improve salmon runs
December 8, 2004 (Seattle Times) Two hydroelectric dams once blamed for harming Skagit River and Baker River salmon runs would be managed in a more fish-friendly way under an agreement reached by Puget Sound Energy, tribes, state and federal environmental agencies and environmental groups.
The deal would set stricter limits on how much water should be released from two dams on the Baker River, which flows through the North Cascades town of Concrete, Skagit County, before joining the Skagit River.
The energy company, which owns the dams that have a combined output of 175 megawatts of power, also would pay for expanding a fish hatchery, transporting fish around the dams, improving habitat, redeveloping a resort along Baker Lake and protecting tribal cultural sites.
The dams presented myriad problems for salmon. On the Baker River, they flooded habitat and blocked the upper reaches, except when the fish were moved by truck. On the Skagit River, the dams also created sharp river fluctuations. High water could cause spawning salmon to lay eggs in places that later would be left dry.
Low water could strand young salmon in small pools of water. In early 2001, after the reservoirs were drawn down, the company stopped water flow below the dams, sparking criticism. Skagit River chinook are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Under the agreement, the company would release at least 1,200 cubic feet per second of water. Flows would be capped at certain times of the year. The limit under the last license, issued in 1956, required at least 80 cubic feet per second and had no upper limit.
Asarco's smoke hit four counties
December 7, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Polluted smoke from the Asarco smelter left a footprint of tainted soil that spans 1,000 square miles, according to the state Department of Ecology.
The information released Monday represents the state's efforts to pinpoint the outer borders of the geographic area affected by the Tacoma smelter, which shut down in 1985. New test results show spots of arsenic and lead contamination in areas of Pierce, King, Thurston and Kitsap counties.
While the study shows that contamination is not high enough to qualify as a health emergency, the state remains interested defining its boundaries. In some cases, contamination levels exceed state cleanup thresholds. Arsenic is a chemical toxin linked to cancer, while lead, a metal, can cause developmental disabilities in children. The state expects to release a final report in spring 2005 that will define the boundary of the contaminated area and summarize five years of study.
Inquiry is urged into ability to react to big spill
December 7, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) An independent investigation should be launched into whether the Puget Sound region has enough equipment readily available to contain a big oil spill, a government panel recommended yesterday.
The Oil Spill Early Action Task Force, which is examining the recent spill near Vashon Island, also advocated getting citizens more involved in planning to prevent spills. The group called for an in-depth look at how to do that in time for action by the 2005 Legislature.
One idea favored by some task force members -- and expected to be considered by the Legislature early next year -- is creating an independent citizen-run agency such as the one in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Residents of Vashon and Maury islands were angered by the slow response to the Oct. 14 spill in Dalco Passage, and frustrated as they watched oil coat their beaches.
Critics ask: What if a spill even half as big as the 11 million-gallon Exxon Valdez disaster happened here?
Settlement gives Everett the OK for shoreline-development plan
December 7, 2004 (Seattle Times) City leaders and environmentalists have reached agreement on how to develop about 25 miles of shoreline after a two-year dispute over proposed land designations and policies.
The Washington Environmental Council and the Everett Shorelines Coalition announced the settlement yesterday, about two years after filing suit with the state's Growth Management Hearings Board. The settlement, which will allow Everett to proceed with its shoreline master plan, was filed yesterday with the state Court of Appeals. Signers included the city, the two plaintiffs and the state Department of Ecology, whose approval of the shoreline plan is ultimately required.
Topping the dispute was whether to allow development of about 300 acres of city-owned property known as the Marshlands, between the Snohomish River and Larimer Road.
But environmentalists believed the city was missing a greater opportunity to restore the property to its original state of prime wildlife and fish habitat.
Similar concerns were raised over shoreline use of private property at Smith and North Spencer islands, at the northwestern tip of the city.
"Any park facilities would be subject to getting washed out periodically by floods," Toepel said. "And the other aspect was that the land was historically perforated with side channels for the river, providing fish and wildlife habitat."
"We're in a much better place today in perspective to the trust we've developed," Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said yesterday. "We have development and economic growth and are still protecting the environment."
Speedier response to spills is sought
December 6, 2004 (Seattle Times) Nearly two months after an oil spill fouled 21 miles of south Puget Sound shoreline, a consensus is emerging that federal and state agencies need to respond to such spills more aggressively and investigate getting more high-tech equipment to detect oil on water, especially at night and in fog.
Today, a task force created after a spill in Dalco Passage of an 1,000 gallons is scheduled to decide on its recommendations for improving performance in the first hours after a spill is discovered.
The Dalco incident triggered concerns partly because a check on the spill wasn't launched until more than five hours after it was first reported shortly after 1 a.m. Oct. 14. The delay allowed the oil to spread.
A more-robust response to oil sightings, technology that can pierce darkness and fog to gauge a spill's size and location, and use of citizen volunteers to scout for oil are among the recommendations that appear to have widespread support on the 14-member task force.
But the group is divided over the need for a local citizen council to make sure governments and industries are vigilant.
Kathy Fletcher, a task-force member and executive director of the environmental group People for Puget Sound, said a group like one created in Alaska's Prince William Sound after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 would ensure that citizens have an equal seat at the table.
Expansion of Maury Island gravel mine appealed
December 4, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The battle over the expansion of a gravel mine on Maury Island isn't over. Three environmental groups and King County filed appeals this week in an effort to stop the controversial project, which has been in the works for six years.
The groups are appealing a decision by the Shoreline Hearings Board to allow Northwest Aggregates Co. to build a pier and operate an expanded sand and gravel mine on the southeastern side of the island.
Northwest Aggregates, a subsidiary of foreign-owned Glacier Northwest Inc., seeks to expand its mining operations from about 15,000 tons to up to 7.5 million tons per year. Barges would transport the material.
The island boasts long stretches of undeveloped shoreline inhabited by a wide range of marine life and seabirds, such as salmon, geoducks and Western grebes.
Last month, the state Department of Natural Resources designated the island's public tidelands as a state aquatic reserve. The preserve rings most of Maury and includes Quartermaster Harbor, where a large herring population annually spawns.
The reserve designation does not prevent the operation of the sand and gravel mine.
Separate appeals by the county and Preserve Our Islands, People for Puget Sound and Washington Environmental Council were filed with King County Superior Court.
In the Northwest: Canada's fish-farm boom is a blow to wild salmon
December 3, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) "Aquaculture is now the leading agricultural product of British Columbia," author Betty Keller, told a symposium here Tuesday night.
In 1997, for the first time, production of farmed salmon exceeded British Columbia's catch of wild salmon. By last year, the Canadian province had become the globe's fourth-largest producer of farmed salmon.
The number of active salmon farms has grown to more than 100: They are concentrated in great fjords along the West Coast of Vancouver Island -- with about 20 active pens in famous Clayoquot Sound -- and in the Broughton Archipelago off the island's northeast coast.
Salmon farms can sometimes be smelled before they are seen, as this writer discovered riding a friend's Zodiac boat up Bedwell Sound a few years back.
Hence, salmon farming is being allowed to move up the coast, even into proximity of such river systems as the Skeena and Bella Coola, homes to major wild salmon runs.
Where do farmed salmon come from? Not our ocean: Atlantic salmon are used to stock 70 percent of the pens in British Columbia.
Who gets fed by these floating farms? "The States," of course: Nearly 90 percent of production goes to the U.S. market.
One more statistic sends chills down the spines of fishermen, outdoors groups and conservationists: The commercial catch of wild salmon in British Columbia has declined by 80 percent over the last two decades.
Sport fishing in famous angling streams has dropped as well. "The Cowichan River (on eastern Vancouver Island) is simply a ruin of what it once was," said Stephen Hume, a Vancouver (B.C.) Sun columnist.
A whale researcher, Alexandra Morton, began examining the effect of tiny parasite sea lice -- an unwanted byproduct of pens -- on salmon fry. She shares findings in the new book:
"Everywhere I went near the farms, the fish were covered with sea lice when I took them out of the water. Coho salmon smelts were so frantic to escape the sea lice that they were jumping into boats. I noticed bleeding at their eyeballs and bleeding at the base of the fins, which are classic symptoms of fish disease."
Bush administration proposes 80% cutback in protected salmon habit
December 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Bush administration yesterday proposed scaling back Endangered Species Act protections for salmon across four Western states, drawing cautious applause from development interests and derision from environmentalists.
The proposal would drop safeguards for four-fifths of the waters previously designated "critical habitat" for dwindling salmon and steelhead runs across the Pacific Northwest -- Washington, Oregon and Idaho -- and half the waters previously protected in California.
Additional reductions may be authorized after a series of public hearings, federal officials said.
The rule change would make it easier in many cases to develop alongside streams and rivers, as well as areas of Puget Sound where the protected fish live. It also could affect much of what federal agencies do around imperiled salmon, such as operating dams that provide electrical power and handing out water to irrigate crops.
A key disagreement is about the meaning of a single word in the Endangered Species Act: the "conservation" of a species. NMFS is allowed to protect areas beyond where fish live now if they are considered "essential for the conservation" of the species.
Environmentalists contend this includes areas not currently used by the fish, but which would be needed for them to rebound from current levels, which are paltry compared with historical populations despite a recent turnaround.
Nineteen areas around Puget Sound were determined worthy of being designated critical habitat -- except for one thing. After NMFS economists looked at the cost of the protections to society, they said it outweighed the benefit to the salmon.
Environmentalists bitterly criticized the agency for failing to tote up all the benefits, a contention that NMFS officials did not deny.
NMFS' proposed rules were drafted with help from Mark Rutzick, a former attorney for the timber industry now working in NMFS' Washington, D.C.-area headquarters, Lohn said.
Dam removal isn't an option under Bush's plan
December 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) The Bush administration yesterday finalized a plan that seeks to protect Columbia River Basin salmon without resorting to removing any dams - even as a last-ditch option.
The plan represents a controversial policy shift from the Clinton administration, which ruled four years ago that dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers jeopardized runs of salmon classified as threatened and endangered. That plan left open dam removal as a final option for saving salmon, and environmental and tribal groups said yesterday it should remain an option.
The plan is the blueprint for a multibillion-dollar effort to safeguard 14 runs of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. In the plan, federal officials call for installing a new generation of devices they say will help more young salmon survive the downstream migration to ocean feeding grounds. Those devices ease fish in their passage across the dams, and could cost up to $6 billion over 10 years.
Federal officials yesterday portrayed the plan as a step forward and noted that many salmon runs have substantially improved in recent years.
But environmentalists and tribes questioned whether the new fish-passage devices would substantially benefit the runs. And they also said the plan scaled back the goals for recovery, setting a troubling precedent for future restoration efforts under the federal act.
The plan likely will face close scrutiny in U.S. District Court, where a judge last year found flaws in the 2000 Clinton administration plan and ordered the government to come up with a new document. In a September hearing, Judge James Redden, reviewing a draft of the new plan, said he was "concerned about whether or not there is a train wreck in the future."