Orca Network News - December, 2009
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
December 1, 2009 through December 31, 2009.
December 31, 2009 (Environmental News Service)
Following negotiations with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the two U.S. producers as well as the primary exporter to the U.S. of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE) have agreed to a three-year phaseout of the chemical.
DecaBDE is a brominated flame retardant that, along with other polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), has long been targeted by environmental and health advocates.
Two chemicals in the PBDE family, the penta- and octa- forms, were eliminated earlier in the decade, but decaBDE has remained in widespread use especially in hard (durable) plastics for consumer electronics and office equipment, upholstery textiles, drapery backings, and plastic pallets. Annual North American consumption was about 50 million pounds (23 million kg) in 2001, according to industry sources, though usage has dropped as much as 50% since then.
Coho salmon's return to Columbia exceeds expectations
December 30, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Fisheries biologists are cheering a record return of coho salmon this year to the upper and middle Columbia River basin, where the fish were virtually wiped out 20 years ago.
Biologists began working in the 1990s to restore coho by introducing hatchery fish from the lower Columbia River and improving dam passage and habitat in tributaries where the fish would spawn. Prospects were uncertain, largely because the lower-river fish would basically have to be trained to swim to upriver tributaries.
Those efforts, combined with improved ocean conditions, are credited with higher returns this year.
Twelve adult coho returned past Rock Island Dam near Wenatchee 10 years ago. This year, 19,805 returned past the dam.
Though most of the returning fish are hatchery fish, returns exceeded all expectations, said Tom Scribner, project leader for the Yakama Nation Indian tribe. An increasing number of returns came from natural spawning, Scribner said, which biologists hope will resurrect self-sustaining wild-coho stocks in the future.
Coho in the lower Columbia River are a threatened species, but upriver coho never received protection under the Endangered Species Act because there were no fish left to protect.
New Acoustic Tools May Reduce Ship Strikes on Whales
December 30, 2009 (Science Daily)
Over the past decade, researchers have developed a variety of reliable real-time and archival instruments to study sounds made or heard by marine mammals and fish. These new sensors are now being used in research, management, and conservation projects around the world, with some very important practical results. Among them is improved monitoring of endangered North Atlantic right whales in an effort to reduce ship strikes, a leading cause of their deaths.
"The tools available to both acquire and analyze passive acoustic data have undergone a revolutionary change over the last ten years, and have substantially increased our ability to collect acoustic information and use it as a functional management tool," said Sofie Van Parijs, lead author and a bioacoustician at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. "These tools have significantly improved monitoring of North Atlantic right whales and enhanced the efficacy of managing ship traffic to reduce ship strikes of whales through much of the western North Atlantic off the U.S. East Coast."
If Hydropower Wins Then Salmon And Orcas Lose
December 27, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Howard Garrett)
The Columbia BiOp does not reflect the current state of fisheries science, for several more reasons.
* The analysis failed to consider differences in spatial distributions of hatchery fish vs. wild fish; that is, hatchery runs do not occupy the same places, at the same times, as wild fish. For millennia Southern Resident orcas have depended on multiple, diverse wild salmon runs throughout every year. Without strong wild Chinook populations, short bursts of monocultured hatchery fish leave weeks or months with few to be found.
* The Calif. BiOp says: "Moreover, some of the current hatchery practices are likely to diminish the productivity, distribution and diversity of CV fall-run over the long term." Hatchery fish harm and reduce wild salmon, by direct predation, by dilution of genetic adaptations, and by raising fishing quotas that inadvertently take wild fish.
* Reduced genetic diversity makes hatchery populations more prone than wild fish to catastrophic failure; given the depressed size of the Southern Resident population and the documented impacts of inadequate prey on mortality rates, one or two catastrophic fish runs could be catastrophic to orcas.
* Even if hatchery replacement were fine, the BiOp did not assess whether there are currently enough salmon coming out of the Columbia/Snake to support Southern Resident Orcas; if there are not, then even maintaining the status quo is jeopardizing orcas.
Researchers and experts on Southern Resident Orcas alerted NOAA to their concerns over the BiOp both before and after its 2008 release and received no answer.
$5.5M to help save salmon
December 26, 2009 (Everett Herald)
Efforts to save habitat for the endangered chinook salmon are getting a huge infusion of cash.
Snohomish County is the second-largest recipient of the $42.8 million going out statewide. Skagit County got the most. The state Salmon Recovery Funding Board announced the awards this month.
Some funds are headed to a controversial project to restore habitat on Smith Island in the Snohomish River estuary. Other portions are slated for the Stillaguamish River basin and Port Susan Bay.
“The rivers in Snohomish County have the second-largest population of chinook salmon in the Puget Sound,” said Susan Zemek, spokeswoman for the funding board. “If we’re going to recover salmon from the brink of extinction, this is an incredibly important area.”
Skagit County has the largest number of chinook, also called king salmon, in the Puget Sound region.
Mile-long oil sheen spreads across Alaska's Prince William Sound
December 25, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A mile-long diesel sheen spread across Alaska's Prince William Sound on Friday, where a tugboat had run aground near the site of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, the Coast Guard said.
Officials had hoped to remove the fuel from the tugboat's tanks early Friday before towing it back to Valdez, but diesel removal was halted after about 10 minutes when workers noticed a new sheen on the surface of the water, said Coast Guard Lt. Erin Christensen, a spokeswoman for the joint information center.
Helicopter flights measured the sheen at 50 feet wide by 1 mile long, Christensen said.
The 136-foot tug Pathfinder had just finished checking for dangerous ice and was heading back to port in Valdez when it hit Bligh Reef at 6:15 p.m. Wednesday.
Boats and whales: Give orcas the right-of-way | Guest column
December 24, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
The endangered Southern Resident orca whales need our help. They need less pollution and many more salmon to eat and they need fewer boats disturbing them and making underwater noise.
For more than 30 years, The Whale Museum has been observing the Southern Residents and has operated the Soundwatch “on-the-water-boater-education” program for nearly 20 years. Soundwatch has worked with the whale-watch industry and the U.S. and Canadian governments to collaboratively develop “Be Whale Wise Guidelines” (www.bewhalewise.org). Some of these guidelines have already become Washington state law. Now, the federal government is seeking to create federal vessel regulations, based in part on these industry supported guidelines.
The Whale Museum is keenly aware that enforcement of the current Washington vessel law has been woefully inadequate. While new federal regulations will not go into effect next summer we are encouraged that the Coast Guard has agreed to our request to increase their enforcement presence on the water during the peak whale watching season.
An immediate action to help protect our orcas from disturbance by vessels would be to dramatically increase funding for the enforcement of the current law. What an opportunity this is for the Obama administration to help the whales by providing support for our state and local enforcement teams!
Researchers call for conservation zone for killer whales in B.C.
December 23, 2009 (Canada.com)
Wildlife researchers have identified the key feeding area for a critically endangered population of killer whales near Vancouver Island and proposed the creation of a unique, miniature conservation zone for the few square kilometres encompassing the animals' favourite seafood restaurant.
The international team of scientists, including University of British Columbia biologist Rob Williams and colleagues from Britain and the U.S., spent four months in the summer of 2006 painstakingly monitoring the movements of a three-pod population of killer whales in waters off B.C. and Washington state that numbers just 87 individuals — so few that every animal has been identified from distinctive markings.
The researchers found the whales were about three times more likely to feast on Chinook salmon — their preferred meal — in a narrow coastal strip south of Washington's San Juan Island than anywhere else in their summer range.
Looking for clues in salmon collapse
December 23, 2009 (BC Local News)
Some fish farms should be shut down to try to open up safer routes for migrating sockeye salmon, a group of fishery scientists has recommended.
The SFU think tank is also pressing for intensified research and better counting to try to pinpoint exactly where salmon are dying off in their life cycle.
“There’s basically a black hole of knowledge of what happens to these fish after they leave the Fraser and begin their ocean migration up the coast,” SFU professor John Reynolds said.
Sockeye returns collapsed in 2009, with just 1.4 million returning to the Fraser – the lowest number in 50 years.
More good news for Columbia River spring chinook returns above Bonneville Dam
December 23, 2009 (Seattle Times)
State Fish and Wildlife now reported today (Dec. 18) that the three main tributaries above Bonneville Dam will also see a much improved adult spring chinook return in 2010.
This comes on the heels of last week's announcement of a huge predicted return of 470,000 upriver spring chinook (169,300 last year) back to the Columbia, and news earlier this week about a big jump of returning fish in the tributaries below Bonneville Dam.
"The Wind River and Drano Lake experienced good jack chinook returns this past spring so they will see substantially improved adult spring chinook returns [in 2010]," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Spring chinook forecasts have been off in recent years so Washington and Oregon fisheries officials are somewhat cautious on predicting these unpredictable spring chinook runs.
How Can Dams in Eastern Washington Affect Puget Sound Orcas?
December 22, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Howard Garrett)
The Snake River is the Columbia's largest tributary. Its watershed drains nearly 110,000 square miles of wilderness, including the best and highest chinook salmon spawning habitat in the lower 48 states. As many as six million spawning chinook used to return to the Snake each year. And chinook, as explained in How Many Fish Do The Orcas Need, are the fish upon which Southern Resident orcas depend.
But Snake River chinook?
Southern Resident orcas tend to reside in the Salish Sea only between May and October (except for a few quick trips back into Puget Sound). The rest of the year, they head out to coastal waters. Their movements are not well known, but scientists believe they forage along the coast, largely for spring/summer and fall Chinook from the Columbia/Snake, Klamath, and sometimes the Sacramento rivers to get them through the winters. The Columbia/Snake Chinook are close to their home waters and were historically the most abundant.
Pesticide runoff impacts salmon recovery
December 21, 2009 (UPI.com)
Reducing pesticide runoff from farms and homes could speed the recovery of wild salmon populations in the western United States, biologists said.
Even short-term, seasonal exposure to pesticides may limit the growth and size of wild salmon, whose numbers have been declining for years, said David Baldwin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Baldwin's team used existing data on the impact of common pesticides on salmon to devise a computer model that calculated productivity and growth rate.
We Can Replace 1000 Megawatts. We Can't Replace Salmon And Orcas
December 20, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Howard Garrett)
Technology is rapidly making the need for complete dependence upon hydroelectric power obsolete, and will help pave the way to remove inadequate dams. Just in the past few weeks Home Depot, Sam's Club, Costco and Lowes have all offered kits for home installation of solar panels. No installation is needed for temporary use, or you can mount the 40-pound panels to the roof, and drill holes - two per panel - into the rafters. After adding a barrier to prevent leaks and a couple of brackets, the panels are bolted to the roof. These affordable panels even manage to wring energy out of our soggy Pacific Northwest skies, and will offset the power used for our holiday lights, or provide power to that new flat screen TV.
Even so, the government continues to drag its feet on the issue of dam removals on the lower Snake River.
Daily News: Alleged drunk driver causes sewage spill in Port Angeles
December 20, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Another raw-sewage spill, this one in Port Angeles, has closed beaches and fouled the water, according to the Peninsula Daily News.
The Clallam County Health Department says Hollywood Beach and Valley Creek Estuary won't open until Monday at the earliest after about 100,000 gallons of untreated sewage spilled into Port Angeles Harbor. Until then, the two areas are considered unsafe for swimming, wading, kayaking and anything else that puts people in contact with the water, the Daily News reports.
The sewage spilled into the harbor when a wastewater pumping station was taken offline for about four hours after an alleged drunken driver crashed into at about 2:30 a.m. Friday. He's been arrested.
Recent Puget Sound sewage spill not as bad as it could have been
December 19, 2009 (Seattle Times)
It's unnerving to consider what poured into Puget Sound last week during King County's worst sewage spill in decades:
Toilet tissue, bacteria, viruses, coffee grounds, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, holiday spices — and untold amounts of human matter better left undescribed.
Yet just days after a malfunctioning switch at a wastewater-treatment plant released an Exxon Valdez-scale dump of raw sewage, contamination levels in Elliott Bay were returning to normal.
Experts said that's because a 10-million-gallon shot of untreated wastewater, while unacceptable, pales when compared with the toxic insults funneled into the Sound legally every day.
Every 24 hours, poisonous heavy metals such as copper splash into bays by the ton in stormwater runoff. In a given year, 123,000 metric tons of toxic oil-based chemicals may wash in off streets and parking lots.
Among the most disturbing ingredients of wastewater for fish and other creatures are the antibiotics and hormones that people flush down sinks and toilets. Those are rarely effectively stopped by treatment plants and can alter how fish and other creatures reproduce and feed.
Equally concerning are heavy metals: mercury, copper, lead, zinc and others. But the amount of those that make it to the Sound through sewage annually ranges from a few pounds, for mercury, to a few thousand pounds for lead.
The amount flushing into inlets through storm drains is exponentially higher. A recent toxics study by the state showed more than 500 metric tons of lead and 1,300 metric tons of zinc are coming into the Sound through stormwater every year.
Forecasts bright for 2010 salmon seasons
December 19, 2009 (Seattle Times)
More than a handful of the preliminary Columbia River salmon forecasts have already been released, and it appears that anglers should be happy with what they'll find next spring, summer and fall.
"After an analysis of the early forecast I'd say there is more good news than bad, and folks can look for improved chinook opportunities off our coast," said Tony Floor, director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association. "I'm not suggesting a bonanza of fish, but an improved population of chinook will be coming our way."
The 2010 Upper Columbia River summer chinook forecast is 88,800.
Acid oceans: the 'evil twin' of climate change
December 18, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
"We're having a change in water chemistry, so 20 years from now the system we're looking at could be affected dramatically but we're not really sure how. So we see a train wreck coming," said Andrew DeVogelaere, the sanctuary's research director, while out kayaking this fall with a reporter in the cold waters.
Nothing in the treaty negotiations specifically addresses the effects of carbon absorption in the oceans on marine life, which studies show is damaging key creatures' hard shells or skeletons.
Oceans absorb about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere from human activities each year, says a new U.N. report released at the Copenhagen talks this week. That helps slow global warming in the atmosphere, the focus of the Copenhagen talks.
But carbon dissolving in oceans also forms carbonic acid, raising waters' acidity that damages all manner of hard-shelled creatures, and setting off a chain reaction that threatens the food chain supporting marine life, including the lumbering sea mammals along the 276-mile coast of the California sanctuary and the rest of the U.S. West Coast.
Duwamish fish freeway gets rest stop
December 18, 2009 (KING5 TV)
Workers didn't have much time to reflect on the Duwamish River site they've spent the last five months restoring, they have to be done and out of there tomorrow.
It's called the North Wind Weir Restoration Project and its goal is to give federally protected salmon a safe resting place on their way from the fresh to salt water. Workers have dug out a two-and-half-acre chunk of Duwamish riverbank to create a large, shallow eddy. Then they positioned and anchored large tree trunks to give it a natural fish rest area.
"They can hide underneath the logs and that way they are protected from predation by herons, and other birds and predators," explained King County project coordinator Dennis Clark.
Killer whales 'body-slam' dolphins in Australia attack
December 17, 2009 (Dawn.com)
SYDNEY: Australian surfers Friday told of their horror as they watched a pod of killer whales attack a large group of dolphins, throwing them into the air and leaping to catch them.
Jamie Kidney said he was surfing off southern Australia’s Eyre Peninsula with his friend Anton Storey when the ocean erupted into a seething mass of white water and ‘all hell broke loose.’
‘(It was) just chaos, you saw monstrous amounts of white water and then dolphins go flying up in the air, a killer whale would jump out of the water, grab it and body-slam it,’ Kidney told state radio.
‘We look up out the back and these killer whales are just ramming dolphins out of the water and grabbing them, and this just kept going on and on and on, it was unreal,’ added Storey.
$1.4 million in funding to improve salmon habitat in San Juan County
December 15, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
Seven organizations will share more than $1.4 million in funding for projects to improve salmon habitat in San Juan County.
All told, the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board today announced the awarding of $42.8 million in grants to protect and restore salmon populations to communities across Washington state.
“Salmon are an important part of Washington’s economy and culture. These grants are helping us reverse the decline in salmon populations we’ve seen over the past two decades,” funding board Chairman Steve Tharinger said in a press release.
10 million gallons of raw sewage discharged into Puget Sound off Magnolia
December 15, 2009 (Seattle Times)
An estimated 10 million gallons of untreated wastewater was discharged into Elliott Bay Monday night from the West Point Treatment Plant in Seattle's Magnolia neighborhood.
The cause of the overflow, which took place over a three-hour period ending at 1 a.m. today, wasn't immediately known.
Cascadia Research marks 30 years of world-class scientific exploration
December 13, 2009 (Olympian)
About 150 people gathered last weekend at The Loft on Cherry Street to party and pay homage to a nonprofit wildlife research group that has grown to become a heavy hitter in the world of marine mammal science.
Thirty years ago, 10 graduates from The Evergreen State College formed the Olympia-based Cascadia Research Collective and parlayed their undergraduate work on harbor seals and Nisqually Delta environmental research into a full-time research gig.
From its modest, uncertain beginning, Cascadia has gained a reputation as a home to rigorous scientists not beholden to anyone, simply going where the science takes them.
Near the end of a string of stories and testimonies spanning Cascadia’s rich and quirky history, Calambokidis received a mighty compliment from Ken Balcomb, the San Juan Island-based scientist who has reached revered status in whale circles for his decades of research and advocacy work on behalf of Puget Sound killer whales.
“John’s been the man of most integrity of anyone I’ve ever worked with,” said Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. “Somewhere out in the ocean, there’s a whale with John’s name on it.”
Another telling tribute came from former Secretary of State Ralph Munro; he and his wife, Karen, became whale conservationists overnight after encountering a SeaWorld capture crew using underwater explosives, buzzing aircraft, power boats and nets to herd and entrap six orcas in Budd Inlet in February 1976.
Have you ever seen a gray killer whale?
December 11, 2009 (Watching Our Waterways)
apt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Charters photographed what appears to be a gray killer whale. The young animal was swimming south of Victoria with a group of seal-eating transient orcas known as the T-11s.
“In over twenty years of viewing orcas in this area, I’ve never seen a gray orca,” he said in an e-mail. “I was flabbergasted!”
I reached Jim by phone and asked him if he had learned any more. He said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research had told him that about three of these gray killer whales have been spotted through the years.
It apparently is some kind of genetic condition, which has proven fatal among the animals that show this coloration, he said. The young orca pictured here is about a year old and may have a few more years to live if history is repeated.
Read more: http://pugetsoundblogs.com/waterways/2009/12/10/have-you-ever-seen-a-gray-killer-whale/#ixzz0ZQNYnuYJ
Huge Columbia River spring chinook run expected
December 11, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The technical committee advising Columbia River fishery managers has released its forecast for the 2010 spring chinook run. If the fish show up as projected, the forecast of 470,000 spring chinook would be the largest return to the Columbia since 1938.
The forecasted run is up significantly from last year's final run of 169,300 fish.
In the past few years, forecasts relying heavily on jack counts from the previous season had overstated the actual return of adult fish by an average of 45 percent. An accurate preseason forecast is necessary to set commercial and recreational harvest levels that meet treaty obligations under U.S. v Oregon and conservation mandates to protect fish runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Asarco to pay $1.8B for cleanup
December 11, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Mining giant Asarco has agreed to pay $1.8 billion to clean up more than 80 toxic sites in 19 states as part of the largest environmental bankruptcy settlement in U.S. history.
Nearly half that money — $810 million — will come to the Pacific Northwest to help pay for environmental restoration already underway outside Tacoma, Everett and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. Roughly $188 million went to the state of Washington, which will mostly cover soil sampling and cleanup around schools, day cares, parks and homes in Pierce and South King counties. That area was contaminated by a century of lead and arsenic from a smelter outside Tacoma.
The agreement brings to a close one of the country's longest and most expensive environmental battles and assures that taxpayers won't be on the hook to pay for Asarco's poisonous legacy.
Fishermen Say Carbon Dioxide Having ‘Really Scary’ Ocean Effect
December 10, 2009 (Bloomberg)
Jeremy Brown, a fisherman from the Pacific Northwest, is pulling things from the ocean he says are so disturbing that he came to Washington to warn U.S. lawmakers about it.
“This is not overfishing, this is something far larger,” said Brown, one of 10 people who met with lawmakers and legislative aides this week on behalf of the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership, a San Francisco-based group that advises seafood producers on fishing practices.
The group said the ocean is becoming more acidic because of carbon-dioxide emissions that are damaging coral reefs, decimating populations of tiny animals at the base of the food chain and eating away at the shells of clams, mussels and oysters.
“Every so often we snag a piece of coral on the gear,” Brown, of Bellingham, Washington, said in an interview. “It doesn’t look healthy, the color has gone out of it. The evidence is that we have instabilities in the system, and this last year was really scary.”
Uncut Video of orcas in Puget Sound today
December 9, 2009 (KIRO TV)
Deep-sea mics broadcast whales
December 8, 2009 (Canwest News)
The sounds of whales singing as they migrate the west coast of Vancouver Island will be a few clicks away starting today, when a major Canada-U.S. marine research project goes online.
Neptune Canada, the Canadian portion of an international project to gather reams of information on the West Coast ocean floor is going live on the Internet today.
That means sounds picked up by underwater microphones in the Barkley Sound area will be downloadable to anyone with high-speed Internet access.
Whale sounds are picked up by sensitive equipment in a "node" of equipment at the bottom of Barkley Sound. It's one of half a dozen such nodes being built, strung out along communications cables stretching hundreds of kilometres out into the Pacific Ocean, forming a loop west of Bamfield and Ucluelet.
John Ford, whale researcher at the Pacific Biological Station, couldn't say if whale sounds will be streamed live onto the Internet or shortly after the sounds are captured. Either way, it will open up a new level of intimacy between humans and the giants of the sea.
"It's tremendously exciting," Ford said. "I've been involved with listening to whales almost 30 years. It's a fascinating field of study and I think for the average enthusiast of marine wildlife it presents a great opportunity to experience it."
Rescuers cut free tangled whale
December 8, 2009 (Maui News)
In what experts called a "textbook" whale rescue, a juvenile humpback was freed of hundreds of feet of plastic rope Sunday, officials from the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary said Monday.
The U.S. Coast Guard located the whale by air Sunday morning, and a 47-foot motor lifeboat took rescuers and their Zodiac boat to its location between Molokai and Oahu, officials said.
David Schofield, the sanctuary's marine mammal stranding response coordinator, said rescuers used old whaling techniques to slow and tire the whale, enabling them to maneuver close enough to position equipment to cut the whale free.
Officials first slowed the whale by weighing it down with buoys and a sea anchor. Then they used a specially fashioned, 24-foot-long pole to position a folding knife around the rope on the whale's back.
Where Can You See The Resident Orcas Now?
December 8, 2009 (SeattlePI.com blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
Throughout the year, Orca Network keeps track of sightings of all types of whales and dolphins, as well as orcas. Based out of Whidbey Island, they are in a perfect place to monitor the whales as they come and go into Puget Sound, and their extensive network of contacts keeps them informed wherever the animals are seen in the Salish Sea.
There were many sightings in November, and the orcas have been seen most days this month as they focus their hunt on the relatively abundant fall/winter run of chum salmon, which make extensive use of Puget Sound tributaries for spawning.
Sense of place important to tribal fishing rights
December 7, 2009 (Bellingham Herald op-ed by Billy Frank)
Our five senses combine in another sense that is important to all of us as human beings: a sense of place. It is a powerful sense, it takes time to develop and can be lost when folks move around a lot from place to place and job to job. I have been blessed with a strong sense of place for my home, the Nisqually River. I know my place, my home. It's where I feel the best. Place is an important part of treaty tribal fishing rights, too. Our rights are place-based.
Multitasking the Nation's Rivers
December 7, 2009 (NOAA Press Release)
The relentless buildup of heat-trapping gases in the air is tilting the global climate toward irreversible climate change. To help slow the pace, low-emissions hydroelectric power is booming around the globe.
In the United States, 7 percent of the total electricity supply is produced from fast-falling water released by dams hundreds of feet high along the nation’s rivers. In the Pacific Northwest, 60 percent of the region's power comes from “hydro” alone.
Unlike the “new kids” on the sustainable-energy block — solar, wind, and waves — hydropower can claim over a century of carbon-neutral electricity production. Dams and reservoirs provide irrigation, drinking water, recreation, flood control, and other benefits. But over time, a more complex story has emerged. For Many Fish Populations, an Upstream Battle to Survive
Each year millions of fish migrating between fresh and salt water to lay their eggs are chewed up in massive turbines, trapped below towering dams, stranded in weak water flows, or “cooked” in too-warm reservoirs. Meanwhile, predators feast on the easy prey.
Elwha fish hatchery project back on track after bidders' protests dismissed
December 4, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
A fish hatchery -- one portion of the project that will result in the removal of two dams on the Elwha River -- is back on track after a delay because of protests from two contract bidders.
The fish hatchery will be owned by the tribe, since it replaces its current hatchery, and will be used to restock the Elwha River fishery after the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams are removed, beginning in spring 2011.
Maynes said the removal date has not changed.
The actual removal of the two dams will take about two to three years.
Blue Whale Song Mystery Baffles Scientists
December 2, 2009 (Wired)
The largest animals on Earth are singing in ever-deeper voices every year. Among the suggested explanations are ocean noise pollution, changing population dynamics and new mating strategies. But none of them is entirely convincing.
“We don’t have the answer. We just have a lot of recordings,” said Mark McDonald, president of Whale Acoustics, a company that specializes in the sonic monitoring of cetaceans.
McDonald and his collaborators first noticed the change eight years ago, when they kept needing to recalibrate the automated song detectors used to track blue whales off the California coast. The detectors are triggered by songs that match a particular waveform. Every year, McDonald had to set them lower.
“It’s a fascinating finding,” said John Calombokidis, a blue whale expert at the Cascadia Research Collective. “It’s even more remarkable, given that the songs themselves differ in different oceans. There seem to be these distinct populations, yet they’re all showing this common shift.”
Because only male blue whales sing, the answer may involve mate choice and sexual selection. The researchers hypothesize that as larger, ostensibly more virile whales tend to produce deeper songs, other males may be trying to emulate them, just as human guys might lower their voices when trying to impress a woman.
Hal Whitehead, a Dalhousie University biologist who specializes in cetacean communication, emphasized that whale song is a cultural affair. Humpback whales are known to learn from each other, and whales have extraordinarily large and complex brains. They appear to share many social and cognitive traits with people.
Cook Inlet Beluga Whale to Gain Habitat Protection: Federal Agency Proposes to Protect 3,000 Square Miles as Critical Habitat for Endangered Whale
December 1, 2009 (Center for Biological Diversity)
The federal National Marine Fisheries Service today took an important step toward protecting critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act for the Cook Inlet beluga whale in Alaska by proposing to designate more than 3,000 square miles of the imperiled whale’s habitat for protection. The overdue proposal comes on the heels of a formal notice of intent to sue by the Center for Biological Diversity.
Once habitat is designated, federal agencies are prohibited from taking any actions that may “adversely modify” it. Species for which critical habitat has been designated have been found to be more than twice as likely to be recovering, and less than half as likely to be declining, as those without it.
“If we quickly act to designate and protect the critical habitat of the Cook Inlet beluga, this highly imperiled whale has a real chance of recovery,” said Brendan Cummings, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.