Orca Network News - December, 2010

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

Long-awaited Glacier deal complete as county takes possession of Maury Island property
December 29, 2010 (Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber)
Glacier Northwest's 250-acre parcel on Maury Island went into public ownership Thursday, transforming what might have become the nation's largest sand and gravel mining operation into an expansive King County park.
Documents finalizing the real estate transaction were signed Thursday morning and King County took possession of the land, according to an announcement by King County Executive Dow Constantine.
The transaction marks the culmination of a 13-year struggle to keep the once-small mine from significantly expanding its operation. With the battle finally reaching an end, those closest to the effort say they can hardly fathom what the Island has accomplished.
Amy Carey, head of Preserve Our Islands (POI), the grassroots organization that formed to fight the expansion, said that although she didn't doubt the deal would close Thursday, she and the others at POI were still thrilled to see the sale completed.
More here

Navy tests off West Coast to endanger whales, environmentalists fear
December 27, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Environmentalists worry that plans to expand Navy testing off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts will pose a danger for whales.
A proposal for increased sailor training and weapons testing, as well as underwater minefield training for submarines in the Navy's Northwest Training Range, has been approved by the Obama administration.
"They're all very susceptible," said Howard Garrett, the president of Orca Network, a nonprofit group based in Washington state. "The Navy is single-minded and they're focused, and the whales are very much a secondary concern to them."
The group is among the many opponents in Washington and California lining up against the Navy's plan.
Navy officials have been assuring the public that the marine life will be safe.
"We are not even permitted to kill even one marine mammal. ... What people don't seem to understand is we share the environment with everybody," said Sheila Murray, a Navy spokeswoman.
"It's our environment, too. Of course we want to take care of it. The Navy goes to great lengths to protect the marine environment."
Of the Navy's expanded operations at the site, Murray said: "This training is important. It allows naval forces to be prepared."
Opponents fear that missile and sonar testing and the dumping of depleted uranium could hurt the whales.
The Natural Resources Defense Council worries the Navy will release hazardous materials into coastal waters, including "thousands of rounds of spent ammunition and unexploded ordnance containing chromium, chromium compounds, depleted uranium" and more.
The council also believes the midfrequency sonar used to detect submarines and underwater objects interferes with whales' ability to navigate and communicate, and that the chronic noise can interfere with whales' brain development and depress reproductive rates.
"I'm not convinced by the assurances that the Navy gives that there will be no effect," Garrett said. "I can't imagine that there won't be mortalities."
"The Navy's been training on that range since before World War II: 70 years. Nobody was even aware that the Navy was there. And if what they were saying was true, they would see dead marine mammals floating up on shore. It's not true," Murray said.
HG Comment: The Navy is tasked with defending the homeland against enemies because of our country's failure to normalize relationships with foreign leaders. It's not the Navy's fault that our government has failed to honor past treaties, or to proactively arrange cultural exchanges or any real attempts to build trust. President Nixon made peace with China, but would President Obama have the support of the reactionary right-wing if he reached out to North Korea and Iran?
There is a very strong current among powerful political circles that global hostilities are normal, inevitable, and for some military contractors, desirable. The Navy must defend against the resulting hostile nations, and the whales and other marine life must be sacrificed to satisfy the need to train against potential incursions by their silent submarines. To save the whales we'll need to work for peace as a unified nation, but the right wing noise machines have made sure we're no longer united.

Expanded Navy tests off Washington coast will endanger orcas and fish, critics say
December 27, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)

Orca advocates, researchers oppose dart tagging of Southern Residents; support expanded use of hydrophones and observation
December 22, 2010 (San Juan Journal)

Tagging poses threat to orcas
December 16, 2010 (BC Local News)
A team of U.S. biologists are darting killer whales with satellite tracking devices and angering local researchers, conservationists and eco-tourism companies.
The issue is whether the risks of infection and the stress caused to the animals outweighs the benefits of darting the devices into the orcas' dorsal fins.
The American researchers were targeting the transient orca population but now intend to point their air guns at the southern resident orcas which scientists say is the most threatened of the four orca communities.
More here

Environmentalists outraged at increased Navy training
December 15, 2010 (ABC News)
The Obama administration has approved a U.S. Navy plan to increase military training along the Northern Pacific Coast and many environmentalists are outraged. The Navy says it needs to try out new technology critical to national security, but critics say the training threatens whales and other species and they want the Navy to stay out of the most sensitive underwater habitat.
The Navy's northwest training range stretches from Humboldt County in Northern California up to the Canadian border and more than 280 miles west into the Pacific Ocean.
A Navy video shows the training that has been going on there for decades. Now the Navy wants more frequent exercises involving aircraft, submarines, and new advanced weapons -- such as underwater mine fields and air to air missiles.
The Navy uses shipboard lookouts to watch for animals that may be too close.
ABC7 then asked Mosher, "Whales can be underwater and tough to spot. Is that just a P.R. move to placate critics?"
Mosher said, "We feel it is a very effective mitigation right now with the information we have. It's not just a simple lookout on the deck of the ship, it's multiple lookouts and if we are using active sonar, then the number of lookouts is increased. The lookouts have very specific training in what to look for."
More here

Orca tags would track B.C. killer whales' routes
December 10, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
Scientists are walking a tightrope as they consider whether the benefits of discovering how endangered whales spend their winters outweigh possible risks of attaching tiny satellite transmitters to their dorsal fins.
Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has applied to the U.S. government for permission to expand the satellite tagging program - already used on other species of whales - to the endangered southern resident killer whales.
"We feel this technology has matured enough that it's safe for use on southern resident killer whales," said Hanson, who has seen no ill-effects from satellite tagging transient killer whales or resident killer whales in Alaska.
More here

Why Women and Whales Share a Rich Post-Breeding Life
December 1, 2010 (Live Science)
Women who have gone through menopause are not alone in living far past their ability to reproduce. This trait also been documented among killer whales and pilot whales.
A new demographic model offers an explanation for why these whales and humans share this unusual characteristic: They live in family groups, and, over time, females develop an increasing stake in helping raise the offspring of others in their community.
The work, the latest collaboration by a pair of scientists in England, provides a supplemental explanation to the grandmother hypothesis, which suggests that evolution favored older women who used their knowledge and experience to benefit their relatives' children.
The reasoning behind the grandmother hypothesis isn't foolproof, said Michael Cant, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Exeter, who teamed up with University of Cambridge behavioral ecologist Rufus Johnstone. "It's always better to reproduce offspring yourself in evolutionary terms," Cant said.
But once a female has offspring and those offspring have bred their own, all within the same community, it becomes more advantageous for the female to help raise those offspring than to continue having her own children, Cant and Johnstone said.
More here

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