Orca Network News - December, 2011

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
December 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.

Gray whales arriving early in record numbers
December 28, 2011 (Los Angeles Times)
Gray whales have shown up so early for their migration through Southern California waters that they are astounding many longtime observers.
Whale spotters stationed at Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes have logged a record 163 sightings so far in December, more than they have seen at this point in 28 years.
By this point in December last year, the observers had spotted 26 gray whales. The previous record was 133, observed in 1996.

Groups sue over Navy sonar use off Northwest coast
December 26, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Conservationists and Native American tribes are suing over the Navy's expanded use of sonar in training exercises off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, saying the noise can harass and kill whales and other marine life.
The environmental law firm Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed the lawsuit Thursday against the National Marine Fisheries Service, saying it was wrong to approve the Navy's plan for the expanded training.
They said the regulators should have considered the effects repeated sonar use can have on those species over many years and also required certain restrictions on where the Navy could conduct sonar and other loud activities to protect orcas, humpbacks and other whales, as well as seals, sea lions and dolphins.

The Elwha River transformed already
December 26, 2011 (Seattle Times)
As of mid-December, the transmission lines were gone, and now the powerhouse, a signature monument to the river's use for hydropower for nearly 100 years, is history, too. The surge tank is toppled, and has been hauled away in hunks. Much of of the material will be re-used or recycled, according to the park service.
The big progress continued on land during the fish window that shut Nov. 1, with work in the river ruled out by the fish migration underway in the lower river. With the salmon runs over for the year, biologists say, demolition on the dams was set to get underway again today.

Newborn orca identified off Kingston
December 21, 2011 (Kitsap Sun)
The new calf, designated J-48, was observed Saturday between Kingston and Edmonds by Brad Hanson and Candice Emmons of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. J and K pods arrived in Admiralty Inlet west of Whidbey Island on Friday and stayed off the northeast corner of the Kitsap Peninsula for most of Saturday.
"Normally when they are traveling, they are spread out," Hanson said, "but this time they were fairly grouped up. Our first thought was that they couldn't make up their minds where they wanted to go."
The whales kept milling about and swimming in circles just north of the Kingston-Edmonds ferry lanes.
"They were probably waiting around for the calf to figure things out and get with the program," Hanson said. "It takes a little time for the mom and her calf to get their footing. The young calves sort of throw themselves up in the air. They are learning to breath and to clear the water."
Orca Network's Susan Berta said Saturday's encounter was the result of shore observers in the area reporting their sightings.
"This is one of the times when the public information really helped us," Berta said. "People told us the whales were coming in, and we were able to get the call to NOAA Fisheries, and Brad and Candi were able to get with them right away."

And Baby Makes 89 (Orcas in Puget Sound)
December 21, 2011 (KUOW)
New baby whale joins pod off Pacific coast
December 21, 2011 (Vancouver Sun)

Study Examines How Diving Marine Mammals Manage Decompression; 'No Evidence They Get The Bends Routinely'
December 21, 2011 (Underwater Times)
"Until recently the dogma was that marine mammals have anatomical and physiological and behavioral adaptations to make the bends not a problem," said MMC Director Michael Moore. "There is no evidence that marine mammals get the bends routinely, but a look at the most recent studies suggest that they are actively avoiding rather than simply not having issues with decompression."

As whale sightings go, this is big
December 21, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Biologist John Calambokidis was tracking humpback whales about 25 miles off Westport late last week when he saw what he presumed was an exhalation from a much bigger species, a fin whale.
Over the course of the afternoon last Thursday, he would snap 100 photographs and watch as six of the glistening light-blue cetaceans glided beneath the surface in pairs and dived repeatedly above a deep underwater feature known as Guide Canyon.

Big spring chinook run forecast for Columbia River
December 12, 2011 (The Columbian)
A very strong run of 314,200 spring chinook — the Northwest's premier salmon — is forecast to enter the Columbia River in 2012 headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam.
The forecast for summer chinook, which return from mid-June through July to waters upstream of Priest Rapids Dam, is a very good 91,200. That compares with 80,600 a year ago.

Ecojustice back in court to defend killer whales
December 4, 2011 (BC Local News)
Ecojustice was before the federal Court of Appeal Wednesday morning to defend a precedent setting ruling that confirmed the federal government is legally bound to protect killer whale habitat.
Ecojustice, a group of nine environmental organizations, successfully argued in federal court about a year ago that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not meet its legal obligation to protect killer whales.

Whale activists sue to free Lolita from captivity
December 2, 2011 (KING5 TV)
Filed in Seattle last month, the lawsuit points out that the official listing of killer whales as an "endangered species" in 2005 officially makes it illegal, under federal law, to "harass, harm, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" members of their species.
Lolita is kept in a relatively confined tank, and despite being a member of a highly social species, she is not granted the opportunity to fraternise with other whales. The lawsuit therefore argues that her current treatment amounts to unlawful harassment. "The fact that the federal government has declared [killer whales] to be endangered is a good thing," Karen Munro, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, told the Associated Press. But, she added, "they neglected to include these captives" in their enforcement of the law.
"The fact that the federal government has declared these pods to be endangered is a good thing, but they neglected to include these captives," said Karen Munro, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who lives in Olympia, Wash. Plaintiffs include two other individuals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
The lawsuit filed in November alleges that the fisheries service allows the Miami Seaquarium to keep Lolita in conditions that harm and harass her and otherwise wouldn’t be allowed under the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit alleges Lolita is confined in an inadequate tank without sufficient space and without companions of her own species.

Captive orca could test Endangered Species Act
December 1, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Forty years after hunters lassoed a young killer whale off Whidbey Island and sold it to a Florida theme park, whale advocates are turning to an unusual tactic to try to force the orca's release: the Endangered Species Act.
In a move legal experts said could have significant implications for other zoos and aquariums, animal-rights activists recently sued the federal government, arguing that the law may require Lolita, the killer whale who still performs at the Miami Seaquarium, be reunited with pod members in the Northwest because Puget Sound's southern resident orcas were listed as endangered in 2005.
They contend that keeping a highly social animal like an orca in a tank on the far side of the country should be viewed as harassment, and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) makes it illegal to "harass, harm, pursue, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect" an animal under its protection.
The suit is part of an emerging trend as experts and lawyers debate the conditions under which animals in captivity should be subject to the ESA.
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