Orca Network News - December, 2007
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
December 1, 2007 through December 31, 2007.
December 26, 2007 (Scotsman) BOTTLENOSE dolphins in Scotland are sinking their teeth into humans, because of a shortage of fish. Scientists studying the behaviour of the mammals in the North Sea have been bitten by the hungry animals desperate to find food. The dolphins also are attacking harbour porpoises in the battle for food.
Professor Monty Priede, of Aberdeen University who has been studying the dolphins for ten years, said he has never seen them so vicious.
"The population of cod in the North Sea has fallen by half, and this takes away the dolphins' main source of food," he said.
"This is mainly due to fishermen catching huge amounts of fish, so the dolphins are searching for other forms of food."
Researchers who have been following the movements of the creatures in the Moray Firth have been shocked when the normally calm-natured animals have attacked their flesh. Prof Priede said: "The creatures have a reputation for being cute and cuddly, but they do have very sharp teeth that can cause damage.
"Researchers have reported several injuries where the creatures have bitten them. They are predators, and when they are hungry they will feast on what they can find. We also have discovered porpoises and other sea life which has been attacked by the sharp teeth of a dolphin in a fight."
Researchers at Aberdeen University also claim the bottlenose dolphins are abandoning their home in large numbers to fight starvation. It is thought a quarter of Scotland's resident dolphins have left the Moray Firth and have been spotted as far south as England.
A mother's tale about decline
December 26, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Howard Garrett) In early November an orca was born into J pod in Puget Sound. The first baby picture, taken from Lagoon Point on Whidbey Island, showed a one-day old newborn tucked securely between mom, J14, and her 12-year old son, J30.
That lucky photo, shown on TV, newspapers and Web sites, shows the gentle but firm care given to this relatively tiny infant, and the indelible bonds among family members in this endangered population of now 88 orcas.
Most interesting is this infant's 12-year old brother helping mom take care of the little one. The next day a TV news chopper recorded the young male again next to mom, with baby still nestled in between them. At this age J30 has begun to sprout that tall male dorsal fin and his adolescent hormones are starting to kick in, and yet there he is, taking care of baby. It's not like he's practicing for motherhood.
In any other mammal, as males grow to maturity they tend to split off on their own or travel in bachelor groups. Or sometimes the females may move away, but never do both genders stay with their mothers permanently. Yet three decades of continuous field studies have shown that all male and female Southern Resident offspring stay with their mothers for life. The whole community is bonded together. Pods part company for weeks or months at a time, but when they meet again they often celebrate with energetic reunions called superpods. Mating takes place exclusively within the clan, across pods.
But they could disappear in a geologic second. Between 1995 and 2001, this small clan dropped by 20 percent, and has only partially recovered since then. Those losses were directly correlated with depletion of chinook salmon all along the whales' range. In particular, the once massive runs of chinook that spawn up the Columbia River basin are nearly extinct. Federal and state biologists have concluded: "perhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s has been the decline of salmon in the Columbia River basin." As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.
Whale watchers pack coastal bluffs to see animals migrate
December 25, 2007 (Seattle Times) The annual migration of the Pacific Northwest's largest mammal, the gray whale, is under way as the aquatic beasts make their way from feeding grounds in the Bering Sea along the coast to Mexico.
Along the Oregon coast, trained volunteers will host thousands of visitors at sites along Highway 101 today through Jan. 1.
But breeching, blowing whales can be seen in Washington, too, from high ground in Ilwaco, Long Beach, Westport or Pacific Beach.
While the main body of whales can be several miles off shore, many come in close to land, visible from elevated perches near the mouth of the Columbia River, such as the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center at Cape Disappointment State Park or the nearby 65-foot North Head Lighthouse.
"Gray whales can travel right along the surf," Ken Balcomb, executive director at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, said Tuesday.
Some killer whales, too, migrate through winter, but they typically travel much farther out.
The gray-whale migration typically lasts up to four weeks, from mid-December to mid-January, but travel through the Pacific Northwest typically peaks in early January.
Scientists speculate about what the whales think of these human patterns - and some think the whales may be laughing. Whales, after all, have the biggest brains on Earth, marked by the convolutions associated with intelligence.
Whales make 'rare' appearance in RAK
December 25, 2007 (Gulf News) Ras Al Khaimah: Two Emirati fishermen found themselves face to face with three Orca whales about 12 kilometres off Al Rams shores.
Fahim Obaid and Ahmad Al Harsh were on a routine fishing trip when they encountered the whales that were at least 10 metres long.
"We were scared and taken by surprise, but we come over our fear and followed them for about a kilometre," said Fahim Obaid. "We were as close as 20 meters from these scary creatures to picture them," he added.
The Emirati fishermen said Orca whales are rarely spotted in UAE waters, and warned fishermen to be careful during their fishing trips. They said these whales are capable of capsizing a small fishing boat.
Tribe banking on grant money to save chinook run
December 25, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Few of the Northwest's struggling salmon runs are as close to extinction as the chinook that spawn in the south fork of the Stillaguamish River.
With only 100 to 200 adult fish returning each year, some fish biologists say the population could die off at any time.
To make a last-ditch effort to save the run, local fish experts plan to tap into $4.5 million in salmon recovery money that Snohomish County recently won from the state.
The Stillaguamish Tribe plans to use about $634,000 to capture 15 to 20 male and female wild returning salmon each fall, collect eggs and sperm and fertilize them and let them hatch and grow into fry at a tribal hatchery in Arlington.
"We're in danger of losing that population," said Tim Walls, a senior planner for Snohomish County who heads up the county's salmon recovery efforts. "It's absolutely critical that we get that population back on track immediately. The work that the tribes are doing is going to help do that."
Wild fish have never been pulled into a hatchery on the river's south fork, but a similar strategy has worked for two decades on the north fork, where 1,500 to 1,600 chinook return to spawn each year.
On the north fork, the Stillaguamish Tribe catches and breeds 50 to 60 wild males and females, which produce about 250,000 eggs; most of them survive and are released each May as fingerlings big enough to head out to Puget Sound, said Pat Stevenson, the tribe's environmental manager.
Ferry speed called key to collisions with whales
December 24, 2007 (Honolulu Star Bulletin) As humpback whales arrive in greater numbers for their winter breeding season, concerns rise commensurately about collisions with boats, including the Hawaii Superferry.
A worldwide study of the problem confirms that collisions are a greater risk when vessels are moving fast.
Almost half of 24 documented collisions between whales and ferries over a 30-year period involved fast ferries, researcher Mason Weinrich reported in 2004 to the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee.
Australia welcomes Japan's suspension of killing humpback whales
December 21, 2007 (China View) Australia on Friday welcomed Japan's suspension of its plan to kill humpback whales, but Canberra's protest is still expected.
The Japanese government announced Friday that humpback whales will not be part of the annual hunt in the waters around Antarctica. It had planned to kill 50 humpbacks in the total hunt target of 1,050 whales.
"While this is a welcome move, the Australian government strongly believes that there is no credible justification for the hunting of any whales and will vigorously pursue its efforts, announced earlier this week, to see an end to whaling by Japan," the Australian Associated Press (AAP) quoted Smith as saying.
The new Labor government has voiced its strong opposition to Japan's hunt of whales in the name of scientific research and announced to send a ship and aircraft to monitor Japanese fleet in the season.
The AAP report said Australia's ambassador in Tokyo, Murray McLean, will present the Japanese government with Australia's formal protest later Friday night.
Acting on climate from ground up
December 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) Isn't it odd that (if you believe the scientists) we're on the verge of fundamentally disrupting the climate patterns of our planet, and yet no one has called us? Our phones are not ringing off the hook.
Renowned venture capitalist John Doerr says, "I'm scared. I don't think we're going to make it."
Isn't it extremely odd that we're not meeting every night, that neighborhoods are not organizing by block, that the bells atop town halls are not clanging, that our elected leaders have not called us into special emergency sessions to plan a mobilization? If you believe the scientists, as I do, this silence is so odd, so ridiculously absurd, that it must mean we are finally coming face to face with some profound blind spot.
The fact is, we don't know how to govern the commons. Our governance model is broken. We convene "stakeholder processes," and try to squeeze compromise out of those with the most hardened, vested interests -- a recipe for frustration and inaction, not for discovering what is in the public interest. We are failing to protect the common wealth that underlies our prosperity.
It's obvious now that only citizen participation on a large scale is going to make bold climate action politically possible. But will we do it in time? You can join us in getting this started. The Greater Seattle Climate Dialogues is a grassroots, science-based process that aims to bring the whole community into this crucial conversation. Find us at www.ClimateDialogues.org.
Environment: A rush to pander
December 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) Leave it to the Bush administration to use a modestly worthwhile energy measure as cover for pandering to the auto industry, putting the climate at greater risk and trying to derail the innovative efforts of well-meaning Republicans and Democrats in this state and elsewhere to deal with their own major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
In exercising a rarely used power to stop California and other states from imposing tougher emission standards, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson debased his office's integrity so badly he ought to resign. The timing of his decision just after President Bush signed the energy bill was a transparent attempt to cater to the auto industry.
Sound recovery effort gets $24 million
December 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Puget Sound region is getting an infusion of federal cash to help return the waterway to better health.
The more than $24 million included in the federal budget will help raise the recovery of the Sound to national prominence, environmentalists said.
"This is great. It shows that our congressional delegation, Norm Dicks and others, have really stepped up," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound. "This is a sign that Puget Sound is on the national agenda."
Gov. Chris Gregoire presented a blueprint a year ago for recovering the Sound's health by 2020. Participants repeatedly say that to reach their goals of making the Sound safe for fishing, swimming and collecting shellfish -- an effort that will cost billions -- the project needs to be elevated to the level of widely known projects such as Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.
The budget approved Wednesday includes $20 million for the Environmental Protection Agency to pay for research and remediation of the Sound.
State will sue EPA over emission decision
December 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday that Washington will join other states in suing the federal government over the Environmental Protection Agency's decision preventing the adoption of stricter rules limiting vehicle greenhouse gas emissions.
Without the tighter regulations, "we cannot achieve our goals" for cutting carbon dioxide and other planet-warming pollutants, Gregoire said at a news conference.
On Wednesday, the EPA announced that more stringent greenhouse gas rules from California -- which were going to be used by Washington and 15 other states -- would not be allowed.
The EPA said everyone would have to follow new vehicle efficiency standards approved this week by President Bush. EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said that prevents a "patchwork" of rules.
Gregoire challenged that characterization, considering the number of states committed to or considering following the California standards.
"We're talking about half of the automobiles sold in the country," she said.
Because nearly half of Washington's greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, leaders here emphasize the importance of curbing vehicle pollution
Wave-energy firm granted a license for Makah Bay project
December 21, 2007 (Seattle Times) The waters off Makah Bay near the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula could become home to the world's first commercial wave-energy project.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday issued its first license for a so-called hydrokinetic energy project to British Columbia-based Finavera Renewables, a company working to develop wind- and wave-energy projects in the U.S., Canada, Ireland and South Africa.
If all goes as planned, Finavera's Makah Bay Wave Pilot Project would begin generating enough electricity to supply at least 150 homes by 2011.
This fall, the company deployed its first test wave-energy buoy off the coast of Newport, Ore.
The 75-foot-tall prototype buoy performed well, Bak said. But when the company was trying to retrieve the buoy, it began taking on water and sank.
The company hopes it can figure out what went wrong after it retrieves the buoy during the first good weather break next month.
New IMAX Film: Dolphins and Whales - Tribes of the Ocean
December 19, 2007 (ENN) Filmmakers and environmentalists Francois and Jean-Jacques Mantello and ocean explorer Jean- Michel Cousteau are pleased to announce they have joined forces on the brand new 3D film "Dolphins and Whales 3D: Tribes of the Ocean", which will be released at IMAX Theatres beginning on February 15th, 2008. The documentary film will deliver a strong and compelling conservation message while bringing audiences on a close encounter, for the very first time in 3D, with small and giant cetaceans such as humpback whales, orcas and dolphins.
"Dolphins and Whales 3D: Tribes of the Ocean" will show a large variety of cetacean species, filmed exclusively in the wild, as they really are in their daily lives: interacting socially, playing, communicating through their highly complex system of sound, feeding, breeding, migrating and perpetually fighting for their survival," explains the film's director, Jean-Jacques Mantello. "Although each encounter with these wild creatures was truly magical and highly emotional, this marks one of the most challenging and epic productions I have ever taken on."
Scientists track down the whale's walking ancestor
December 19, 2007 (Times UK) A small deer-like mammal about the size of a modern fox or racoon was the ancestor of whales and dolphins, according to research that fills a missing link in their evolutionary history.
The creature, indohyus, which lived in what is now India around 48 million years ago, may have been the land animal that first took to the water to escape predators, leading ultimately to the evolution of the cetaceans - the order that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.
While it had long been understood that cetaceans are mammals that had forerunners that lived on land, and a series of intermediate fossils have been found, scientists had not previously identified a species from the era in which cetacean ancestors took up an aquatic lifestyle.
Whale Sightings on Oregon Coast At Record Levels This Year
December 19, 2007 (Beach Connection OR) The weather may be cold but the whale viewing will be hot between Christmas and New Year's Eve, as the Whale Watching Spoken Here" week gets ready to kick into high gear, running December 26 to January 1.
During this week, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., volunteers will be stationed at overlooks and parks all over the Oregon coast, helping the public learn about gray whales, and spot them in the ocean. Volunteers will be at the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
This time around could be an especially engaging one, as officials say whale sightings have been running at record levels all year. Morris Grover, with the Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay, said the rush is already on, with whales well on their way during their southbound migration.
In a press release, Grover said sightings of whales have been smokin' all year long, and it could mean a bonanza of whales and their tails for tourists to the Oregon coastline.
Barge runs aground near Magnolia marina
December 19, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A barge carrying more than 284,000 gallons of heavy bunker fuel ran aground on rocks north of downtown Seattle on Tuesday night, but a Coast Guard search did not find any spilled fuel.
Coast Guard spokesman Shawn Eggert said strong winds about 8:15 p.m. broke one of the barge's tow lines, blowing it into the Elliott Bay Marina breakwall and grounding it on rocks. It was being towed by a tugboat when the line snapped.
The 271-foot, double-hulled barge, Shauna Kay, was pulled off the rocks about 8:45 p.m., Eggert said. It was moved to Pier 91.
The miracle at Swan Creek
December 18, 2007 (Tacoma News Times) Not many city dwellers actually get to watch spawning salmon without leaving town. But Tacomans – and anyone else in these parts – can watch this marvel amazingly close to home. Years of effort by volunteers and the Puyallup Tribe have established a successful chum s almon run in Swan Creek, at the eastern edge of the city just off Pioneer Way East near its intersection with Waller Road.
During a Dec. 8 Salmon Celebration sponsored by Friends of Swan Creek, visitors were thrilled by the sight of dozens of fish migrating upstream. In shallow places, with their bodies half out of the water, the fish thrashed furiously to make headway. Farther up a creekside trail, families were mesmerized by salmon pairs engaging in the timeless spawning ritual, the female digging gravel with her tail, the male waiting to fertilize the eggs.
King County's new flood philosophy: Stop fighting nature
December 18, 2007 (Seattle Times) It's a sight only a biologist - or a fisherman - might love: a very big, and very ripe, spawned-out king salmon, tucked under a log in a side channel of the Green River.
This fish, this log and this meander wouldn't have been here even a year ago. A levee used to fence the river and the fish out. Then King County did what until recently was unthinkable: It ripped the levee out and gave this bit of land north of Highway 18 in Auburn back to the river.
The project, completed last year, reconnected the Green River with a side channel to provide refuge for salmon and water to recharge the aquifer. The county planted native vegetation on the banks, and hauled in woody debris to slow the current and create hidey holes for fish.
Where it's still possible, the county is giving the river some space to flood. In those places, instead of disaster, floodplains can actually deliver benefits: aquifer recharge, open space, recreation, wildlife habitat and farmland preservation.
The county also has severely restricted new development in the floodplain. Some new construction is banned, and new fill in the floodplain must be offset by excavation at the same elevation. The policy is intended to help prevent an increase in flooding due to new development.
Our View: Redden won't let the salmon debate end easily
December 17, 2007 (Idaho Statesman editorial) Salmon are not just falling victim to dams, natural predators, fishing and uncertain ocean conditions. Their most stubborn enemy may be a have-it-all mindset. Protecting endangered salmon will require the region to make tough decisions. To agree to sacrifices and accept tradeoffs.
To do more than we are doing now.
By illustrating this fact once again, U.S. District Judge James Redden has positioned himself as the conscience of the Northwest salmon debate.
If - or, we hope, when - the Northwest agrees on an effective strategy to bring salmon back from the verge of extinction, this will happen because the Portland-based judge has refused to settle for less.
By making the region confront a menu of tough choices, Redden keeps the focus on another, better alternative: breaching the four lower Snake River dams.
Redden didn't say much about breaching in his most recent letter, and didn't need to. For Idaho's salmon, which must navigate around the lower Snake dams, breaching remains the best bet. As biologists have said for years, breaching may provide Idaho salmon with their only chance at recovery. As we have argued since 1997, breaching reduces the need to use precious Idaho water to flush salmon downriver.
Breaching is not easy. The dams produce about 5 percent of the region's power and give Idaho a seaport link to the Pacific. The power would need to be replaced. Idaho shippers would need another way to get their goods to the Pacific ports.
But no painless options exist. Redden - the conscience of the salmon debate - makes this point clear.
New idea to clean Sound
December 17, 2007 (Tacoma News Tribune) Research like this and hundreds of other studies being done by various agencies and local governments are meant to be the answer on how best clean up the troubled waters of Puget Sound. While research has been ongoing for decades, a cohesive, organized plan to reverse the decline of the state's famous body of water has been more evasive.
Now the Puget Sound Partnership, created by lawmakers this year, hopes to succeed where others have failed.
"We know a lot about the problems in a lot of parts of Puget Sound," said David Dicks, the executive director of the new agency. "What's never really happened is somebody standing above it all and rolling that all together."
The agency is responsible for determining the health of the Sound, and setting priorities so that the state can meet the goal of a healthy Sound by 2020. A preliminary report is due to lawmakers by next September.
Kathy Fletcher, who led the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority back in the '80s and is now executive director of People for Puget Sound, said that success will be measured by a change of thinking on development, enforcing water quality permits and turning down projects that may be harmful to the Sound.
"It's not just money and ribbon cutting for projects," she said. "It's actually getting tough and making changes that are controversial. There is no way, with our growing population, that we're going to save Puget Sound if we don't take a dramatically different approach."
Why Do Whales Get the Bends?
December 14, 2007 (Science) The Cuvier's beaked whale is a master of the ocean's crushing depths. It can dive as deep as 2 kilometers in search of prey, the deepest known for any mammal. So scientists have been at a loss to explain why, in response to naval sonar testing, this champion cetacean sometimes succumbs to the same decompression sickness that afflicts scuba divers. A new mathematical model suggests that, by replicating the sounds of a predator, sonar forces the whale to adopt a risky diving pattern.
Researchers have suspected a link between sonar testing and whale deaths for nearly 20 years. In 2000, the U.S. Navy said its sonar exercises led six beaked whales to fatally beach themselves in the Bahamas, and stranded whales have died near sonar-testing sites in at least five other cases since then. It hasn't been clear how the sonar disorients the animals and causes such strandings, but some marine biologists suspect that the intense sound waves force whales to shoot to the surface, and they've found evidence that tiny nitrogen bubbles expand in the whales' tissues and damage vital organs (Science NOW, 9 October 2003). The same thing happens when scuba divers surface too quickly--a condition known as the bends. But a whale holds its breath when diving, preventing nitrogen buildup, so the theory didn't seem to hold water. A group led by marine biologist Peter Tyack of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts suspected that whales alter their diving behavior in some other way.
Orca whales hunt eider ducks for practice
December 14, 2007 (Telegraph UK) Grey seals are the main targets of orca pods venturing regularly into the inshore water of Scotland's Northern Isles but isolated attacks on groups of swimming eider have also been noted in recent years.
This happens during the late summer period when these largest of UK sea ducks can't take to the air through moulting their flight feathers - so making them vulnerable to one of the fiercest of marine predators.
At this point two adult whales, accompanied by a calf, split from the pod and began a manoeuvre that was clearly intended to herd the eider towards two older youngsters with them.
The ducks tried to escape but, flapping their flight featherless stumpy wings, could do no more than run across the water's surface - and the two immature orcas began seizing and swallowing them one-by-one.
"I gained a distinct impression they were not hunting the eider because they were hungry", Harrop added. "Instead it seemed as if the adults were teaching the two immatures how to catch prey.
Unique orca hunting technique documented
December 14, 2007 (Nature) A pack of killer whales uses waves to knock seals off the ice.
Some Antarctic orcas use the cunning tactic of regularly hunting in packs and making waves to wash seals off floating ice, researchers have confirmed.
The behaviour was first seen in 1979, but at the time it was considered a one-time moment of orca ingenuity. Now, Ingrid Visser of the Orca Research Trust in New Zealand and her colleagues report on six further observations of the animals using group hunting behaviour to divide ice floes, push them into open water, and create waves to wash animals off them into their waiting jaws. The behaviour has been seen only along the Antarctic Peninsula and nowhere else in the world, they note, including other icy orca habitats in the Arctic and Antarctic. The report is published1 in the journal Marine Mammal Science , and a recent video of the behaviour is available on You Tube (with the key moment happening 2 minutes 40 seconds into the tape).
"This is orca culture," says Visser.
The unique cultural characteristics of different orca pods may spur a reconsideration of their conservation status says Astrid van Ginneken at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington.
Orcas (Orcinus orca) are not considered an endangered or threatened species; they are found in all the world's oceans. Some local populations, however, are threatened by changes to their habitat. Whether subsets of orcas with unique cultures should be considered separately is a matter that has not really been dealt with, he says. "Distinct social populations with specialized traditions are far more at risk than the genetic population, and our conservation policies need to reflect that," says van Ginneken.
Fish farms will make local wild salmon extinct in a decade: study
December 14, 2007 (CBC) Parasitic sea lice found in salmon farms are driving nearby populations of wild salmon toward local extinction, according to a scientific paper published Thursday.
Researchers from the University of Alberta, Dalhousie University and the Salmon Coast Field Station in Echo Bay, B.C., said that if outbreaks of sea lice continue at their present rate, the population of wild pink salmon will drop 99 per cent in four salmon generations, or about eight years.
Martin Krkosek, with the centre for mathematical biology at the University of Alberta, said the rate of decline is so steep "it's arresting."
"Something has to happen immediately to turn this situation around," he said in a podcast accompanying the study, which was posted online Thursday in advance of Friday publication in the journal Science.
Judge extends salmon-proposal deadline
December 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A federal judge has given the government an extra two weeks to submit a better plan for making Columbia River Basin dams safe for endangered salmon, but he warned the consequences "could be harsh" if he has to reject this plan after rejecting two others.
U.S. District Judge James Redden on Wednesday extended a March 1 deadline until March 18 for a new biological opinion that would balance demands of dams and threatened or endangered fish runs.
He also extended the deadline for public comment by four days to Jan. 4.
Redden has thrown out two previous biological opinions as inadequate and wrote this week that a draft of a third effort does not look much better.
Disagreements arose Wednesday over whether the draft used the best available science, as the law requires.
True, however, said more could be done to protect the fish and said his group may seek a court order to increase river flow through the dams before the end of the year, in time for the spring salmon runs.
Dolphin meat obtained in Japanese drive fisheries: Toxic to humans
December 11, 2007 (Blue Voice) The brutal annual slaughter of dolphins at places like Futo and Taiji, Japan is not only an act of extreme cruelty to highly sentient animals. It is deceptive and harmful to the consumer of the meat derived from these kills. These slaughters resumed in October, 2000.
Dolphin meat contains naturally high levels of mercury. But mercury levels in dolphin meat sold in Japan is far higher than would occur in nature and certainly higher than is allowed under the health standards of any developed nation. There are also high levels of cadmium and PCBs as well as chemicals of the dioxin group.
In some cases the levels of mercury are 1,600 times the allowed quantities in meat for human consumption. The consumption of mercury in the quantities that exist in whale and dolphin meat can impair immune response and cause neurological damage leading to loss of coordination, vision, hearing and can produce mental retardation, especially in the young.
Judge rips latest plan to help salmon
December 11, 2007 (Oregonian) The federal judge holding the government's feet to the fire to restore Northwest salmon says the latest federal strategy to help fish falls so far short it may be worse for salmon than the plans he's already rejected.
In a blunt letter to attorneys who will appear in his Portland courtroom Wednesday in a landmark salmon lawsuit, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden signaled that the government is close to fumbling its last chance to help fish hammered by federal hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.
He also offered an unsettling glimpse of what that would mean for the Northwest: a dam system that suddenly becomes illegal to operate and is taken over by the courts, with orders to divert extra water for protected fish and perhaps even drain reservoirs at what would likely be tremendous cost to the region.
He wrote attorneys late Friday outlining issues he wants to discuss Wednesday. He said federal agencies appear to have not only produced another faulty plan, but they also ignored his instructions to consider all options for helping salmon -- including tearing out four hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River.
"I instructed federal defendants to consider all mitigation measures necessary to avoid jeopardy (to salmon), including removal of the four lower Snake River Dams, if all else failed," he wrote. "I also instructed federal defendants to ensure that any mitigation measures were reasonably certain to occur."
"Despite these instructions," the judge wrote, the federal plans "again appear to rely heavily on mitigation actions that are neither reasonably certain to occur, nor certain to benefit listed species within a reasonable time.
Fin Whale at Feeding Time: Dive Deep, Stop Short, Open Wide
December 11, 2007 (New York Times) The word "big" doesn't do justice to whales. Humpback whales can weigh up to 40 tons. Fin whales have been known to reach 80 tons. Blue whales, the biggest animals to have ever lived, reach 160 tons - the same mass as about 2,000 grown men or 5 million grown mice.
It takes a lot of food to build such giant bodies, but how exactly the biggest whales get so much has long been a mystery. "We don't have much of a sense of these animals in their natural environments," said Nick Pyenson, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. For decades, whale experts had only indirect clues. "It's primarily from dead animals or from a few people standing on a ship seeing whales come to the surface," he said.
With so little information, scientists have struggled to make sense of several enigmas about the biggest whales. "It's always been a mystery why they have really short dives for their body size," Mr. Pyenson said. The bigger a marine mammal is, the longer it should be able to dive for food, because it has more muscle tissue in which it can store oxygen. Other species follow this pattern, but the biggest whales do not.
It turns out that a fin whale dives very deep for food. It plunges more than 600 feet below the sea surface, most likely in search of giant swarms of krill. What the whale does next came as a complete surprise to the scientists. "It was still swimming, but it was slowing down really fast," Mr. Goldbogen said. Even as the whale pumps its powerful tail, it comes to a compete stop in three seconds.
For all this effort, a bus-size gulp of water yields a fin whale only about 20 pounds of krill. But fin whales can gulp every 30 seconds. In about four hours a whale can catch a ton of krill, which provides enough energy to fuel its gigantic body for an entire day.
Judge threatens to take over Columbia Basin salmon plan
December 11, 2007 (Seattle Times) The federal judge overseeing efforts to balance salmon against dams in the Columbia Basin has told federal dam operators their latest effort does not appear to be any better than two previous failed plans, and said he will take over the process rather than send it back to them a third time.
In a letter, U.S. District Judge James Redden told parties in the long-running case to come to court Wednesday prepared to answer tough questions, such as whether the plans for running dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers so they don't harm salmon were based on the best available science, a demand of the Endangered Species Act.
The judge wrote that the plan appears to rely heavily on $1.5 billion worth of projects, with no assurance that Congress will pay for them or that they will help salmon.
On the upper Snake River in Idaho, the federal agencies don't appear willing to consider significant change to the status quo of running the dams, the judge added.
Redden also reminded the parties that he wants to see an analysis of removing four dams on the lower Snake River, a last-chance option adamantly opposed by the Bush administration that was not included in the current plan.
Judge: Salmon plan isn't looking good
December 9, 2007 (The Columbian) The federal judge who has twice rejected federal plans to balance imperiled salmon against dams in the Columbia River basin signaled Friday that dam managers are doing no better with their latest plan - and consequences could be severe. U.S. District Judge James Redden raised the possibility that, without substantial changes in favor of salmon, federal dam operators could even be held criminally or civilly liable.
Redden, in a letter sent Friday in advance of a status conference scheduled for next week in his Portland courtroom, wrote that he is unlikely to send the latest plan - a biological opinion, or BiOp - back for federal agencies to try again, and hinted at repercussions if he doesn't.
"If I decide not to remand the BiOp, but decide to simply vacate the opinion instead, would this not result in wrongful 'taking' by the Corps of Engineers, the Bonneville Power Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation?" Redden wrote. "What are the consequences of such 'takings?' "
To "take" under the Endangered Species Act means to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect a member of a threatened or endangered species.
The law provides for both civil and criminal penalties for taking a species protected by the law, with criminal fines up to $50,000 and/or a year in prison. Civil fines of as much as $25,000 per violation are also possible.
Thirteen stocks of Columbia basin salmon and steelhead have dwindled nearly to the point of extinction, and Redden has made it clear he expects federal authorities to ensure dams do not jeopardize their survival. He's ruled two federal dam management plans illegal, one submitted by the Clinton administration in 2000 and one by the Bush administration in 2004.
"Moreover, Federal Defendants seem unwilling to seriously consider any significant changes to the status quo dam operations."
The hot air and cold facts that show we've wasted a decade since the Kyoto global warming conference
December 7, 2007 (Willamette Week) A decade ago, the world's leaders jetted to Kyoto, Japan, on a mission to do something more than gripe about the weather. They aimed to negotiate a compact to fight global warming.
And this week, 130 nations have sent their reps to Bali, Indonesia, on a similar sortie.
Why? Because the protocol that emerged from the Kyoto conference in 1997 hasn't come close to turning off the carbon emissions heating our planet. It's so bad, we're having post-apocalyptic visions of our great-grandchildren someday splashing about in oceanfront property on Burnside.
Though 169 countries ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the United States did not. (Australia was the only other developed nation not to do so, though its newly elected prime minister inked it on Monday.)
We continued to emit greenhouse gases on the premise that the science wasn't quite in on global warming. Meanwhile, developing mega-nations like China and India are, well, developing with all the pollution-belching that growth entails. Both nations ratified the treaty but got "get out of jail free" cards as developing nations that don't actually have to achieve fixed emissions reduction targets.
Whale's diet revealed in its doo-doo
December 1, 2007 (New Scientist) One of the reasons given by the Japanese government for its "scientific" whaling programme is to learn more about the animals' diet. Now Stacy DeRuiter at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and her team have developed a way of investigating diet by identifying mitochondrial DNA from the remains of the prey in a whale's faeces.
The team has collected samples from several cetacean species and discovered, for example, that faeces from Blainville's beaked whale contain DNA evidence of bony fish, including gulper eel. It had been thought to dine primarily on squid.
"It's now certainly the case that we can get as good diet information from DNA analysis of faeces as we can from dead whales - probably better," says Simon Jarman of the Australian Antarctic Division.
Stormwater's damage to Puget Sound huge, report says
December 1, 2007 (Seattle Times) Every year, Puget Sound suffers an oil spill equal to more than half an Exxon Valdez. It just happens drop by drop.
Stormwater from roads, parking lots and elsewhere carries between 6.3 million and 8 million gallons of petroleum into the Sound every year, according to a report issued Friday by the state Department of Ecology. The 1989 Valdez accident in Alaska dumped 11 million gallons.
And the flow into Puget Sound dwarfs the amount of oil that comes from accidental spills, which add up to 270,000 to 340,000 gallons each year.
The findings of the new report underscore a long-standing problem of stormwater pollution as a push to clean up Puget Sound gets under way. It also shows the difficulty of corralling contamination that comes from the region's pavement and storm drains, instead of pipes from a handful of factories.
Oil is just one in a list of well-known contaminants winding up in the Sound. Others include heavy metals such as lead and mercury, along with pesticides, potentially toxic flame retardants and PCBs, the industrial chemical banned in the 1970s.
While runoff is the biggest single source, toxic chemicals also waft through the air before winding up in the Sound, especially hydrocarbons from car and truck exhaust, and woodstoves, among other sources. And the report may underestimate the amount of toxic chemicals coming from factories and wastewater plants, partly because they don't routinely test for some of the chemicals, Baldi said.
The study comes as the newly created Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency, crafts a plan to clean up the Sound by 2020. The new report is meant to give policymakers ideas about where the biggest problems are and what approaches might work best.
Runoff called top pollutant in the Sound December 1, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)