Orca Network News - December, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
December 1, 2005 through December 31, 2005.
December 26, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gray whales already have been spotted heading south on their 6,000-mile trek from Alaska to Mexico. Some 20,000 will make the trip through February.
The migration will peak during the next few weeks, when about 30 whales will pass the coast each hour.
"We've had calm seas recently, which makes the whales easier to spot," said Morris Grover, the ranger in charge of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department's Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay. The whales arrived about a week earlier than usual, he said.
The 28th annual Winter Whale Watch Week begins today and runs through next Monday. About 200 trained volunteers will help whale watchers at 28 locations dotted along the coast, part of the parks department's Whale Watching Spoken Here program.
Last winter's whale-watch week drew 18,000 visitors who spotted nearly 2,100 gray whales.
Whale stranding theories put to test
December 24, 2005 (ABC online) Western Australian researchers are using several stretches of the state's coastline to test new theories about why whales beach themselves.
Researchers from the University of Western Australia have looked at the phenomenon for over a decade, and have come up with several factors that may cause it.
Their findings suggest strandings can occur because of wind or rain before a pod enters an unfamiliar location.
Strong social bonds that prompt whole pods to attempt to help a single stranded whale may also be to blame.
The research also suggests sandy beaches with gentle slopes may create conditions for strandings, because they can cause multiple reflections on the water.
Resident river steelhead to lose U.S. endangered species status
December 24, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Ten groups of steelhead from Southern California to Washington will retain Endangered Species Act protection under a new policy that lists only those that spend time in the ocean, exempting fish that remain in their native rivers, NOAA Fisheries announced Friday.
The change in policy was prompted by a suggestion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has jurisdiction over trout and steelhead that remain in rivers, that the two agencies adopt the same policy for defining steelhead populations. NOAA Fisheries retained the old policy for salmon, said Garth Griffin, fisheries biologist for NOAA Fisheries in Portland.
While steelhead are the same genus as salmon, they are different species and have much different life histories.
Most steelhead migrate to the ocean, particularly from coastal rivers, but some stay behind in the river their whole lives, particular in rivers far from the ocean. While salmon die after returning to their native rivers to spawn, some steelhead survive to return to the ocean and spawn again. Tests have shown steelhead and rainbow trout from the same rivers are genetically identical, despite their behavioral differences.
The decision by NOAA fisheries was applauded by Trout Unlimited and the Native Fish Society in Portland, which said counting steelhead and genetically identical rainbow trout in the same population groups could lead to inflated fish numbers that could result in removing protections for some steelhead that need it.
"I think it was a little bit of bureaucratic infighting that led to this, but I think it was the right result," said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited.
However, David Hogan of the Center for Biological Diversity said it was bad news for steelhead in Southern California, which are in such bad shape that the resident fish need to be protected as well as the fish that go to the ocean, so that none of their genetic diversity is lost.
It's hardly black and white
December 23, 2005 (Los Angeles Times) When a wayward orca adopts local residents as 'friends,' human cultures clash. Now science, spirituality and commerce are at an impasse.
To understand just how volatile the situation has become, consider the primary characteristic of the southern resident orcas of Puget Sound, which were given protection just last month under the Endangered Species Act. The largest members of the dolphin family, these killer whales are remarkably social and have developed tightly knit family structures.
According to Department of Fisheries and Oceans marine scientist John Ford, "It seems to be the key feature to their social structure, where dispersal from the natal group is essentially nonexistent." Put simply, these animals follow their mothers throughout their lives, which is roughly the same lifespan as a human's. Scientists are thus baffled by the infant orca that arrived here on its own in July 2001, about 200 miles northwest of his pod's prime territory in the waters off Puget Sound.
For science writer Michael Parfit, who lives in Gold River, experiencing the orca is more intangible. "When Luna comes up to you, it's obvious that he wants something from you and you don't know what it is. We don't know what he's communicating and can't give him what he wants. But as another living creature, you still respond."
As news of the sociable orca spread, tourists descended upon the docks of Gold River as though it were an amusement park. In response, the law was strictly enforced and three people were arrested for allegedly touching the whale. As quickly as he had become the star attraction, Luna was officially cut off from human contact.
Many observers ridiculed the Muchalaht band for thwarting an effort to reunite the whale with its pod. "We've never been opposed to Luna finding his family or being with his family. That's a misconception," counters tribal Chief Mike Macquinna. "If there is anything that the elders in our nation have expressed, it's that we stand by the whale." Macquinna says that if Luna's pod ventures near the mouth of Nootka Sound, the tribe will not interfere. "If he goes, he goes. If he stays, that's fine. It's just a matter of nature taking its course."
With tensions escalating and captivity or the whale's death as likely scenarios, writer Parfit and his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, submitted a controversial proposal to the DFO. They suggested giving Luna a kind of "foster pod" of select boats to manage him with structured and consistent human interaction. The goal would be to eliminate the haphazard encounters and distract the orca away from fishermen until his pod might eventually swim by Nootka Sound.
"If you can get a system in place that takes care of public safety and Luna's safety on a regular, full-time basis," reasons Parfit, "then aquariums are distanced from the whale. You don't have that looming possibility, and you don't have the looming possibility of his being shot, either."
Judge OKs Summer Spill, Balks At More Flows
December 23, 2005 (NW Fishletter) At the Dec. 15 hearing of oral arguments over the proposal by BiOp plaintiffs to add more flow and spill at federal dams next year, Redden said both sides could work out their differences over flow augmentation during the coming year in the collaborative effort to write the next hydro BiOp.
But the judge OK'd more summer spill for 2006, similar to the operation that the plaintiffs had successfully argued for earlier this year. Federal attorneys had countered by saying that any benefits by barging less fish were still uncertain. But one thing was certain, the strategy cost the region about $74 million in lost revenue.
However, potential costs weren't even an issue during the oral arguments last week, though in declarations, federal agencies had estimated that implementing the entire proposal would cost the region around $450 million if more flows were added to more spring and summer spill.
Judge Redden didn't OK any added spring spill, not yet, anyway. He said he needed another week or so before he made up his mind on the issue. That could add another $46 million to the region's annual spill bill in an average water year, according to BPA figures. The plaintiffs' proposal was estimated to cost an extra $100 million a year, in addition to the added cost of summer spill.
Duwamish River doesn't stay clean
December 23, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Source of new contamination still mystery
A small stretch of South Seattle's Duwamish River where officials spent $10.7 million removing toxic mud from the river bottom has been recontaminated after less than two years by a mysterious influx of chemicals.
The chemicals, widely used in consumer and industrial products, are thought to be washing into the waterway with rainwater that flows off West Seattle, Rainier Valley and other parts of South Seattle.
But even that's not known for sure. King County officials can't find the source.
The new contamination occurred at the first major cleanup of the Duwamish Waterway Superfund site, in front of where two massive pipes continue to dump drainage water -- and sometimes raw sewage -- into the waterway just south of Harbor Island.
But county wastewater treatment officials and the state and federal environmental regulators watching over them say the cleanup was worth doing. It scooped up and safely disposed of about 400 pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a long-lived chemical known to harm orcas and other marine creatures, county officials say.
"Getting those historical PCBs out of the river, that's good stuff," said Rick Huey, a state Ecology Department official. "Trying to keep the river clean, that's good stuff, too. But if you can't reach perfection on the second point, do you stop and walk away?"
Cummings said officials need to do a better job controlling chemicals flowing into the river.
December 20, 2005 (The Oregonian op-ed) Last week, lawyers representing federal, tribal and state governments along with those representing conservation, business and fishing groups descended on the federal courthouse in Portland yet again to ask a federal judge to help strike a balance between the needs of people and salmon in the Columbia-Snake River Basin.
The report documented how we had transformed the Columbia from a river into a machine: a hydropower-producing, barge-accommodating, development-enabling, desert-irrigating marvel of engineering and technological genius. The river became part of the distant history of the machine. The problem was and is: so did its salmon. By the mid-1990s, many populations of the former river's salmon and steelhead had dwindled, only to resurface as listings under the Endangered Species Act.
Trucks and barges transported fish around the dams, hatcheries were built to replace lost spawning and rearing areas, elaborate plumbing was installed to suck baby fish out of the lakes behind the dams and shoot them out below. Decades and billions of dollars later, the salmon continue to decline. Our arrogance has been in thinking our engineering could dominate the simple elegance of the river.
"Return to the River" advanced the radical if obvious notion that the Columbia River is, in fact, a river, and that the solution to the decline in salmon, is to return it to a more natural state, to a vision of the Columbia River as an ecosystem rather than an economic engine. It suggests that compromise between human and natural economies is not only possible but necessary, and that the notion that we could have it all -- abundant salmon, cheap hydroelectricity and the power to transform the desert -- must give way because nature has the final say over human hubris.
Whales and dolphins at risk from warming oceans
December 20, 2005 (The Scotsman) Leading marine experts have given a stark warning that dolphins, porpoises and whales are under threat from climate change.
It follows reports that whales virtually disappeared from their traditional Scottish west coast feeding grounds this summer.
Global warming affecting the supply of feed could now be threatening Scotland's growing £10 million whale-watching industry.
Mark Simmonds, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's international director of science, said the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale - technically Scotland's rarest whale - is particularly threatened by warming oceans.
He also stressed how little was known about the situation of many species and this made initiating conservation plans for them especially difficult.
Cantwell vows Senate fight to stop oil drilling
December 20, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sen. Maria Cantwell vowed Monday to keep the Senate in session until the brink of Christmas to defeat legislation that would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
"If this language is allowed to stand, one of our nation's most pristine wildlife areas will be lost," Cantwell, a Democrat, said as she outlined plans by her party and its allies to defeat language offered by Alaska Republican Ted Stevens to open ANWR.
"This is nothing more than a sweetheart deal for Alaska and the oil companies," Cantwell said. "That's why I am prepared to use every procedural option available to me as a senator to prevent this language from moving forward."
The showdown is likely to come Wednesday when the Senate is expected to vote to force an end to debate. Sixty votes are needed to break a filibuster that Cantwell has promised. Neither side would say whether it had the votes to prevail.
Alaska Republican Ted Stevens triggered the tempest by getting permission to add the ANWR language onto a $453 billion defense-spending bill. Stevens, who has been fighting to open the refuge for 25 years, argued that the provision meshes with the bill because the military is the nation's largest consumer of oil.
Gregoire proposes $42 million to clean up Puget Sound
December 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday proposed spending $42 million to restore and protect Puget Sound, and named a panel of environmental, tribal and political leaders to research cleanup efforts across the country and make recommendations.
As part of the package, Gregoire proposed $26 million to clean up toxic sites, prevent oil spills and continuing toxic contamination, and restore near-shore, estuary and salmon habitats.
Earlier this year, a state Department of Ecology study warned of the changing nature of pollution in the region. Tests on sediment gathered at 10 sites stretching from Bellingham to the Olympia area showed that mud and sand at the bottom of Washington's inland marine waters are increasingly tainted by pollution from vehicle exhaust.
Researchers said pollutants called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, fall into the water from airborne exhaust or are washed into the sound by rainfall. Those chemicals can cause liver lesions and tumors in fish, and can change the growth rates and behavior of sediment-dwelling invertebrates.
And last month, the federal government listed Puget Sound orcas as an endangered species, giving them the highest level of protection available under the law. The designation, which also extends protection to habitat, will help target pollution and other factors that have contributed to the killer whales' decline.
Serving with Gregoire on the panel are U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.; Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr.; King County Executive Ron Sims; University of Washington President Mark Emmert; and Kathy Fletcher, executive director for People for Puget Sound.
"It isn't a case of can we do it. We have to do it," said Franks, a Nisqually elder and longtime advocate for tribal-fishing rights. Franks called on everyone to work together to ensure the sound is a resource for generations to come.
Fate of Puget Sound's orcas hangs in the balance
December 18, 2005 (Bellingham Herald) Researchers estimate that as many as 100 orcas [actually at least 120] used to ply the inland waters south of Vancouver Island looking for now-threatened chinook salmon, their dietary mainstay. But by 1976, the population dropped to 68 after years of marine park captures killed at least 13 whales [and delivered 45 to marine parks], according to the Center for Whale Research.
Lolita is the last surviving orca of about 45 southern resident whales captured. She lives at the Miami (Fla.) Seaquarium.
The 2005 population count is back up to 90 whales [now at 87], according to the center, but the condition of their environment may hinder their chances for survival.
"To see them - they are beautiful and graceful to look at," says Bob Lohn, the northwest regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "They are creatures that in some way we can identify with because they have language, curiosity, feelings, intelligence." And they are mysterious.
Little is known about where the southern resident orcas spend their winters or how they breed, Lohn says. The endangered listing should help funnel more money into much-needed studies. [Please call 1-866-ORCANET (866-672-2638) with whale sightings]
But researchers do know that the southern resident population travels in three family groups, the J, K and L pods. During summer months, the orcas can be seen in Haro Strait off the west coast of San Juan Island, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and in the Georgia Strait near the Fraser River.
"Once you've heard them, it's hard not to recognize them as a creature with emotions who is expressing them," he says.
What finally landed the southern residents on the endangered species list was the recent conclusion that they are different - their diet, territory and family units are distinct from even their close neighbors, the northern residents in Canada.
Other orcas, called transients, might come into resident whale territory, but they don't stick around for long, Lohn says. They often will enter Puget Sound while chasing a sea otter or sea lion meal. Those creatures aren't on the menu for the salmon-chomping resident whales.
Researchers also have learned that the resident whales have a unique language of chirps, squeals and whines, and even specific dialects within the individual pods. Southern residents are believed to return to the Puget Sound area every year because they are wired to follow local runs of threatened chinook salmon.
That uniqueness brings into sharp focus the precarious situation of the orcas, says Lohn. Once they're gone, other orcas won't take their place.
There are at least three official areas of concern: a dwindling supply of salmon for food; contaminants accumulating in whale blubber; and boats and ships physically interfering with whales and disturbing them with engine noise.
The deaths of 11 orcas from an Alaska pod - about half its members - have been blamed on the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that dumped at least 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
"One incident like a major oil spill could wipe them out entirely," Hamilton says.
Ore. governor wants sanctuary for whole coast
December 17, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Ted Kulongoski is urging the conversion of Oregon's entire coastline into a national marine sanctuary to head off oil exploration and other activities that could harm natural and scenic values.
In a letter to Oregon's congressional delegation, Kulongoski said the move would allow state and federal agencies to work with fishermen, tribes, recreational users and others to protect the ecosystem.
Oregon's jurisdiction extends three nautical miles from the beach. The sanctuary proposal would extend protection an average of about 25 miles to cover the continental shelf.
It would be the nation's first such sanctuary.
Coastal states are frustrated that the federal government dominates offshore, especially with moves in Congress to develop floating fish farms and to allow oil and gas exploration in the federal waters, Husing said.
Crapo introduces bill that would reform species act
December 16, 2005 (Idaho Statesman) Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo rolled out his Endangered Species Act reform package Thursday.
The bill, co-sponsored by Arkansas Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, includes new tax breaks and other incentives for the owners of habitat for endangered species. It also creates a new process for recovering species that empowers a panel of interested parties to develop and approve programs to recover the more than 1,800 endangered plants and animals.
The bill also allows the Interior secretary to prioritize decisions on listing species, designating critical habitat and other measures that currently are required solely on biological standards. It shields federal biologists from lawsuits pushing for immediate listings and designations.
Environmental groups generally criticized the bill for reducing habitat protection for endangered species. Farm and industry groups praised its attempt to reward landowners who are good stewards of habitat.
The Endangered Species Act, approved in 1973, has touched the lives of every Idahoan since Snake River salmon were listed in 1991. Pressure to release water for endangered salmon has tightened the water supply for irrigation, power generation and other uses of reservoirs like the Boise River's Lucky Peak and Idaho Power's Hells Canyon dams.
The law reduced timber harvests on national forests, forced farmers to spend millions to protect the habitat of species ranging from slickspot peppergrass to grizzly bears and brought wolves back into the lives of ranchers and hunters.
Anti-Endangered Species Bill in Senate December 15, 2005 (Center for Biological Diversity)
Rare whales face oil project threat
December 16, 2005 (Green Consumer Guide) The endangered Western Grey Whale faces a fight for survival after a controversial oil and gas pipeline project that threatens the feeding grounds of the remaining 100 individuals was granted approval by an environmental impact assessment. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) granted approval for the Sakhalin II project in the Russian Far East on Wednesday.
The project, which will be the largest oil and gas operation in the world, will involve work such as dredging and drilling that opponents claim will devastate the local ecosystem along with the rare whale species.
"The decision to approve this destructive project shows that the EBRD's environmental policies have little value in the face of pressure from oil and gas interests," said Friends of the Earth's New Economics campaigner, Mary Taylor. "It is a scandal that UK taxpayers' money is being earmarked for a scheme that will lead to a massive increase in climate changing gases and which could push the Western Gray Whale into extinction. The EBRD should completely review its funding policies. Public money should be spent on projects that will protect the environment - not ones that destroy it."
Don't mess with salmon success
December 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed) In half a human lifetime man-made impoundments on the Columbia and Snake rivers have reduced the richest anadramous fish factory on our planet into an aquatic graveyard of slack water ponds. When the battle to rescue salmon stocks from extinction reached a "Waterloo moment" in June, it appeared that "best available science" might triumph over the political puppeteering of the Bush administration.
On that turnabout afternoon in Portland, Ore., U.S. District Judge James Redden described the administration's recovery plan for salmon as having been made "more in cynicism than sincerity" and ordered the administration back to the drawing board. In the same breath, he told the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that sells hydroelectric power generated by federal dams in the Pacific Northwest, to spill water from four of its dams to help juvenile salmon reach the sea.
Federal and state fisheries biologists have long advocated "summer spills" as a surefire method of boosting fish survival rates. The spills, they argue, sustain two environmental conditions considered vital to healthy fisheries: They help to flush smolts to the sea and they reduce water temperatures that otherwise become lethally hot to migrating fish in July and August.
That's fine and dandy for the fish, say officials of the BPA, but the spills come at a high cost to electric ratepayers, irrigators and barge operators. The BPA predicted the judge's injunction would cost $67 million in lost revenue.
But lost revenues were not the only numbers the judge had to ponder. Scientific data gathered by an independent agency, the Fish Passage Center, showed that the BPA's strategy of trucking and barging fish around dams has been a $3 billion boondoggle. Under the care of BPA hydrologists, fish survival rates have plummeted. In June, the judge set aside the projected loss and ruled in favor of the fish. Within days, Idaho Sen. Larry E. Craig (named "Legislator of the Year" by the National Hydropower Association) inserted language into a Senate energy bill that would "zero out" funding for the Fish Passage Center.
Anti-Endangered Species Bill in Senate
December 15, 2005 (Center for Biological Diversity) Senator Crapo (R-ID) Introduces Bill to Undermine Endangered Species Act
Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced a bill today aimed at undermining protections for endangered species. The Senate bill, S. 2110, cynically titled the "Collaboration and Recovery of Endangered Species Act," would completely derail the endangered species listing program, remove protections for the endangered species habitat, and cut federal oversight of projects that threaten endangered species. (Overview of the Crapo bill follows below. The text of the bill is available at www.biologicaldiversity.org)
The Crapo bill pays lip service to encouraging landowners to conserve endangered species on private land, an idea long supported by conservation organizations. However, the Crapo bill focuses on giving large tax breaks to large-scale land developers and eliminating habitat protections rather than encouraging or enabling conservation on private land.
Perhaps the most blatant attack on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the provision of the Crapo bill that would eliminate mandatory timelines to place species on the endangered list or designate critical habitat, instead giving the Secretary of the Interior complete discretion to indefinitely postpone listings and habitat designations.
"Senator Crapo's proposal alone would be a disaster for endangered species conservation," said Melissa Waage, legislative advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity. "But the bill introduced today is part of an even bigger plan to gut the Endangered Species Act by teaming up with Rep. Pombo to adopt the worst provisions of Pombo's House bill behind closed doors."
Killer Whales: Protection from us
December 14, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) People can't communicate in a whale dialect but they should raise their voices for orcas.
After a recent decision to declare the Puget Sound killer whales endangered, the National Marine Fisheries Service has released a proposed conservation plan to protect them. The public has until Jan. 3 to comment.
As the Post-Intelligencer reported, environmentalists have expressed concerns that the Fisheries Service will emphasize goals rather than concrete actions. The advocacy groups led the way in pushing the federal government to list the whales under the Endangered Species Act, so their concerns deserve attention.
The groups hope officials will look seriously at controls on shipping routes and curbs on Navy sonar training around orcas. And they are worried about seasonal effects on hungry orca calves from barge operations if a Maury Island gravel mine is allowed to expand.
Fisheries officials say they don't see any immediate tightening of controls on most activities around the Sound. Although decisions certainly must be made on the basis of considered scientific judgments, the plan seems heavy on research.
It is important to be aggressive in protecting creatures whose size often makes them at least as visibly emblematic of the Sound and the Northwest as salmon.
Rebuilding orca populations is about much more than symbolism. The well-being of both the killer whales and salmon provide indicators of how healthy Puget Sound is for people and the society built on the water's edges.
A Flexible, 9-Ft. Whale Tooth With Super-Sensing Power?
December 13, 2005 (National Geographic) For centuries observers have been fascinated and mystified by the majestic spiral tusk grown by the small Arctic whale known as the narwhal.
The extraordinary tooth-extending up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) and textured like a seashell-long evoked the horn of the mythical unicorn and was once sought by royalty as a magical antidote to poison.
Science shed little light on the narwhal tusk, however, and its purpose remained elusive. That is until now.
Martin Nweeia, a Connecticut-based dentist, is expected today to announce two key discoveries that reveal the tusk's unique structure and provide significant clues to its function. The findings may further explain whale species behavior and recast thinking on other mammalian teeth.
Using cutting-edge technology, Nweeia and his colleagues learned that the narwhal's oversize tooth possesses a rare combination of extraordinary strength and extreme flexibility. It turns out that an 8-foot (2.4-meter) tusk, seemingly rigid, can bend 1 foot (30 centimeters) in any direction.
The team also found compelling evidence that the tusk may be a hydrodynamic sensory organ that contains an extensive nerve system and gathers valuable information for survival in Arctic waters.
Researchers say the tusk's nerve system could detect temperature, pressure, motion, and chemical-solution gradients, such as differences in salinity and water particles that would indicate the presence of certain fish prey.
Efforts to protect orcas may have wide impact
December 13, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Public urged to comment on the conservation plan
What do chemicals you wash down the drain, Navy ships, a proposed Maury Island gravel mine and an international treaty have in common?
Each could be affected by the recent protection of Puget Sound killer whales under the Endangered Species Act.
Early next year comes the first step in determining how much punch the "endangered" label will carry for the oft-ogled orcas. Federal officials are asking the public to speak up in the next few weeks.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, which has released a proposed conservation plan, hopes the new listing will lead to better safeguards against oil spills -- the biggest single extinction threat for the orca. The agency is also raising the prospect of tighter controls on development in sensitive areas and restrictions on emerging chemical threats.
"The question is, how seriously do they take this?" said Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Are they going to come up with a recovery plan that's merely aspirational?"
Fisheries Service officials have no direct authority over oil spill prevention, and they don't regulate toxic chemicals, either -- although emboldened environmentalists are now pushing for a hastened cleanup of pollution hot spots around the Sound.
The Coast Guard should also rethink the way ships are routed to be friendlier to orcas that are increasingly viewed by researchers as sensitive to underwater sound, said Patti Goldman of the Earthjustice law firm.
The public has until Jan. 3 to comment on the conservation plan. After that, the agency will embark on a key task -- determining what makes up "critical habitat" for the whales.
"You don't just need swimming space. You have to have the ingredients of life," including lots of salmon, said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. "You're basically looking at the whole Puget Sound ecosystem."
Public comments are due Jan. 3 for the National Marine Fisheries Service's proposed conservation plan for Puget Sound's resident orcas.
For information, visit tinyurl.com/a4yff.
Write to Chief, Protected Resources Division, 1201 N.E. Lloyd Blvd., Suite 1100, Portland, OR 97232; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Killer Whales Most toxic Mammal in Arctic, WWF Says
December 12, 2005 (Environmental Network News) Killer whales are the most toxic mammals in the Arctic, riddled with household chemicals from around the world, the environmental pressure group WWF said on Monday.
Scientists found that the blubber of killer whales, or Orcas, taken from a fjord in Arctic Norway was full of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), pesticides and even a flame retardent often used on carpets.
The finding gives the whales the dubious distinction of ousting polar bears as most polluted Arctic mammal.
PCBs are toxic and highly persistent. They used to be widely used in electrical goods and refrigerators, but have been banned in countries around the North Sea for several years.
They have even been found in the breast milk of Eskimos.
Brominated flame retardents have been linked with nerve disorders and reproductive malfunction.
"This research re-confirms that the Arctic is now a chemical sink," said WWF campaign leader Colin Butfield. "Chemicals from products that we use in our homes every day are contaminating Arctic wildlife."
We all can learn from expert's change of heart
December 9, 2005 (Idaho Statesman) Don Chapman spent years teaching salmon science to students at the University of Idaho.
His most important lesson may be in the need - and the inherent value - of re-examining beliefs. Chapman, who for years argued against removing portions of four dams on the lower Snake River, now says breaching is necessary to save the remarkable fish he calls a "miracle."
It's easy to get caught up in the surprising nature of Chapman's conversion. Chapman is a renowned regional expert on salmon, so when he outlined his change of position in August, in an interview with The Statesman's Rocky Barker, the news rippled through the region. Four months later, it's still startling to hear a longtime consultant for the electric industry argue to remove dams that produce about 5 percent of the Northwest's federal power.
However, it's more important for the region to contemplate Chapman's logical case for breaching. His premise is simple. The region is changing. So must our approach to saving salmon and producing power.
Seattle sets own Kyoto goals for emissions
December 9, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) As international negotiators in Montreal excoriated Americans for failing to reduce emissions of planet-warming gases, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels assured them Thursday that Seattle and nearly 200 other U.S. cities will get their part done.
His trip came as a group of business and environmental leaders in Seattle prepares to recommend to Nickels how Seattleites can change their thinking -- and their ways of getting around -- over the next seven years in order to make the 2012 deadline.
The effort could involve more-expensive parking rates or other "price signals" to get people out of their cars, city officials say, although recommendations are still evolving.
In a tandem effort, Nickels is recruiting mayors around the country to commit to meeting greenhouse gas-reduction targets specified in the international climate-change treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol.
Nickels and a handful of other U.S. mayors went to Montreal to show how local governments can make a difference and to urge the Bush administration to reverse its stance on the international accord.
Stream protections get a boost
December 8, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The buffers around Seattle streams where building is forbidden would get bigger under changes approved by a City Council committee Wednesday, though not as big as environmental groups had hoped.
But a raft of concerns prompted the committee to delay until January a final vote on new rules for the city's ecologically sensitive or potentially dangerous "critical areas."
Those rules typically restrict what homeowners or developers can build near wetlands, steep slopes, flood plains, geological hazards, river corridors and wildlife habitat.
Tim Trohimovich, planning director for Futurewise, which advocates growth management, told city officials that given Seattle's reputation for leading the way on environmental issues, the proposal "doesn't reflect the caliber of your usual work."
Others said the tighter restrictions would make it difficult to build in the city and meet growth management goals. Some homeowners on smaller lots with critical areas could also find it more difficult to build decks, patios, garages or expansions.
The committee, of which Councilwoman Jean Godden is chairwoman, endorsed her proposal to widen development-free buffers from 50 to 75 feet around larger salmon-bearing streams and from 35 to 50 feet around smaller streams.
To learn more about the "critical areas" plan, visit: www.seattle.gov/dpd/Planning/Environmentally_Critical_Areas_Update/index.asp.
Spying on Leviathan
December 7, 2005 (National Wildlife Federation) A 45-FOOT sperm whale struck Bruce Mate repeatedly in the chest as he was snorkeling among a pod off Ecuador's Galįpagos Islands. The whale did not hit the Oregon State University biologist with its mighty flukes, however. In fact, it seemed to lift its tail carefully as it passed just inches from the scientist. Instead, Mate took a pounding from the sperm whale's thunderous sonar. "It was like someone beating on my chest," Mate says. "I was being Brailled, interrogated and investigated. It was a profound experience."
Sperm whale life revolves around the creature's sophisticated sound system, the most powerful in the animal kingdom. The whales use distinctive patterns of clicking sounds in social communication. They also use echolocation clicks to find squid, their most important prey, in utter darkness up to 6,500 feet below the surface. Scientists speculate that these sound blasts may double as stun guns, helping sperm whales catch their slippery quarry, although no one knows for sure. Even the shape of a sperm whale's body is dictated by the creature's need for a massive, oil-filled "click generator" in its snout. In pursuit of this acoustic oil, whalers once slaughtered sperm whales by the tens of thousands.
A Society of Whales
Sperm whale behavior after a 1-ton bundle of joy arrives at the end of a 15-month pregnancy suggests that it takes a pod to raise a calf: The species' social life is based on close-knit nomadic groups of 12 to 30 adult females and their young. Group members take turns baby-sitting to ensure calves are never alone while mothers are making dives that routinely last 30 to 45 minutes and can run as long as an hour. Mothers may even nurse each other's calves. Between dives much nuzzling and rubbing occurs. If threatened by orcas-their only natural predator-pod members form a defensive ring around youngsters and use their tails to fend off attackers.
Plan to help salmon gets city approval
December 6, 2005 (Seattle Times) The City Council endorsed a sweeping plan Monday to restore threatened chinook salmon across a southern swath of the city that drains the Green and Duwamish rivers.
The plan outlines 57 projects to protect existing salmon habitat, 77 to repair degraded habitat, policies to shape future government actions and programs to get the public involved in the effort.
The region affected by the plan includes West Seattle, South Park, White Center and Georgetown and sprawls far to the east and south outside city limits.
The council earlier endorsed a similar plan covering areas that drain the Cedar River watershed. Both plans go to the National Marine Fisheries Service, which will review them and other salmon-rescue plans from around Western Washington.
Cantwell to seek tougher rules for oil tankers in Sound
December 5, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sen. Maria Cantwell promised Sunday to introduce legislation this month significantly toughening federal safety rules for oil tankers operating in Puget Sound -- including a requirement that all large tankers be escorted by two tugboats to head off trouble.
Currently only one tug is required for many tankers, and oil companies have argued that even that single tug may not be necessary for the new generation of oil tankers with double hulls and other safety improvements.
In proposing the new safety measures, Cantwell cited a succession of relatively large oil spills in recent years, as well as a series of articles in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in March exposing recurrent safety lapses in the tanker industry.
"There's no defense like a good offense," said Fred Felleman of the environmental watchdog group Ocean Advocates. "It's important that she's articulating these things.
"My enthusiasm is tempered by the composition of this Congress and the administration."
The proposal would require that all large oil tankers be guided by two tugboats while traveling in Puget Sound and in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Currently federal law requires two tugs only for the single-hulled tankers that are being phased out.
Separately, a Washington state law requires all large tankers to have a single tug escort when they enter Washington waters east of Dungeness Spit, near Port Angeles.
Cantwell's forthcoming bill, the Oil Pollution Prevention and Response Act, would increase the amount of money that companies responsible for oil spills have to pay for cleanup and restoration.
Having new, tougher federal rules in place is important to state and local efforts to protect the Sound from oil spills, said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, an environmental advocacy group.
The Coast Guard plays a significant regulatory role in governing the Puget Sound waterway.
"They have fought us every step of the way on tugs," Fletcher said.