Orca Network News - February, 2002
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2002 through February 28, 2002.
EcoOpinion: What Killed The Whales? An Update
February 28, 2002 (NBC6 TV - Miami) The new information deals with just how much of an impact this new powerful sonar could have on whales and other creatures of the sea.
A key expert in this debate says his new findings show the sonar could be far more damaging than previously thought.
On one dramatic day in March 2000 in the Bahamas just 70 miles east of Miami, fourteen whales mysteriously stranded themselves.
Volunteers managed to get just more than half back into the sea. The others never made it.
How could this happen?
Conservation group: Columbia salmon plan failing
February 28, 2002 (The Olympian) The federal plan for saving salmon in the Columbia Basin failed miserably in its first year, with inadequate funding and little progress toward meeting goals, a conservation group said Wednesday.
The Salmon Plan Report Card issued by the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition blamed the Bush administration, Congress and federal agencies for failing to make progress called for on water quality, habitat, passage over dams, harvest and hatchery operations.
The salmon plan was adopted in 2000 as an alternative to a proposal supported by conservationists and Indian tribes to breach four dams on the lower Snake River to improve conditions for salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act.
With prime ocean conditions sending record numbers of fish back to the Columbia Basin, the federal government should be taking advantage of this rare opportunity to make improvements that will be critical to have in place when ocean conditions go sour, said Jeff Curtis of Trout Unlimited.
Senators asked to help with killer whales
February 26, 2002 (Bremerton Sun) A group of killer whale experts has written to Washington state's two senators, asking that they "monitor" the process of listing Puget Sound's orcas under the Endangered Species Act.
Calling on the big guns of politics cannot hurt at a time when the Bush administration shows signs of trying to weaken the Endangered Species Act, said Brent Plater of the Center for Biological Diversity who drafted the letter.
Scientists who signed the letter to Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell were not signatories to the listing petition, although all have worked with killer whales.
They are Paul Spong and Helena Symonds, both of OrcaLab in British Columbia; Naomi Rose of the Humane Society of the United States; Robert Otis, professor of psychology at Ripon College in Wisconsin; Dr. Astrid van Ginneken of Erasmus University in The Netherlands; Craig Matkin of North Gulf Oceanic Society in Alaska; Catherine Denardo, professor of zoology at the University of Washington; Val Veirs, professor of physics at Colorado College; David Bain of the University of Washington; and Jodi Smith, an independent whale researcher in Friday Harbor.
Fish farms accused of 'biological pollution'
February 25, 2002 (Vancouver Sun) B.C. salmon farms allowing Atlantic salmon to escape, according to Alaskan report. B.C. salmon farms have been practising "biological pollution" by deliberately allowing the annual escape of hundreds of thousands of Atlantic salmon, charges a report by the Alaska department of fish and game expected to be released this week.
Atlantic salmon pose "such an enormous threat to wild Pacific salmon" that farms guilty of such releases should have their licences revoked, says the report, a copy of which has been obtained by The Vancouver Sun.
"It's a dirty secret not being put forward by industry," Bob Piorkowski, the department's scientific program manager, said in an interview. "We're talking about several million fish being lost over the last 10 years certainly."
The white-paper report, prepared by half a dozen biologists in the fish and game department, contends that when B.C. fish farms replace their nets with larger mesh, they knowingly allow the escape of "small or slow-growing" fish that would be uneconomical to raise to full size.
The practice is routine in the industry to reduce the amount of net area that can become fouled with algae, thereby reducing maintenance costs.
The true environmentalists, linking ownership to values
February 24, 2002 (Seattle Times Editorial) The point is that this kind of habitat and farmland protection is coming from people with both Republican roots and a Seattle-based environmental ethic.
The shift from government lands to some kind of private ownership that includes a public stewardship ethic is occurring steadily and nobody knows where it will take us.
Superfund dwindles, cleanup plans cut; Bush would shift most costs from industry to taxpayers
February 24, 2002 (Seattle Times) Congress for years has failed to reach agreement on reauthorizing the tax on industry that used to be the source of money for the Superfund, founded in 1980 under the slogan, "the polluter pays."
The trust fund used the special corporate taxes to clean up contamination at so-called orphan sites, or those where the responsible party could not be identified or could not pay, as well as for recalcitrant companies and emergency action.
Under pressure from the chemical and oil industries, Congress allowed the corporate taxes to expire in 1995. Without them, the trust fund dwindled, from a high of $3.8 billion in 1996 to a projected $28 million next year.
A Perfect Storm of Fish
February 22, 2002 (Tidepool.org) Conditions Are Just Right for Salmon Abundance, But Will It Last?
As the 2001-02 salmon spawning season draws to a close, anyone who has been paying close attention -- from fisheries biologists to riverbank dwellers -- knows that North Coast runs have been about the best since the late 1980s.
Observers agree that the salmon's good fortune has been due to a perfect alignment of factors that favored the fish throughout their lives. But they warn not to extrapolate too much from this year's good fortune.
"It was a good year, but one year doesn't make a trend," says Humboldt State fisheries professor Terry Roelofs.
Recent climate research suggests that the favorable weather patterns which boosted this year's runs are likely to last another couple of decades, but the salmon will need good freshwater habitat to parlay those advantageous conditions into a long-term increase in numbers.
Global Warming Update: Taking Small Steps in Seattle
February 22, 2002 (TomPaine.com) In Seattle this month, between the dazzlingly beautiful, snowy Olympic Range and Mount Rainer, 160 public officials from across the nation gathered for the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives' climate change workshop.
Representatives of forward-thinking businesses and local governments presented numerous cases where they've reduced energy costs and prevented millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other gases from polluting the planet. Kirk Thomson, Environmental Affairs Director at The Boeing Company, described its energy-saving ventures, such as winglets that raise aircraft fuel efficiency by 4 percent. Overall, Boeing has reduced its energy use by 25 percent in the past five years.
The shifting sands of Monterey Bay
February 22, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) Creatures that were thriving primarily in warm Southern California waters off San Diego during Hewatt's day had now moved north to populate a warmer Monterey Bay, Sagarin found. And many species that had filled the frigid tide pools of the Bay in Hewatt's time had now almost vanished.
At the Hopkins Marine Station, scientists have taken the temperature of the coastal surface waters every day for the past 75 years. Those records show that the average summer temperature of the water at Cabrillo Point has warmed by 3.49 degrees Fahrenheit since Hewatt's survey.
"The pattern is strong," Sagarin said recently as he walked through the Hopkins tide pool that is now part of the research station's ecological preserve. "Almost all southern species have increased in abundance, our survey shows, and almost all northern species have decreased. It's striking, and the warming of the climate is the clearest explanation.
Hatchery reform takes big step forward
February 20, 2002 (Seattle P-I) Key lawmakers endorse recommendations by scientific panel to protect wild salmon.
Beginning a series of overhauls to prevent hatchery-bred salmon from overwhelming the wild salmon prized as a Pacific Northwest symbol, a panel of scientists yesterday recommended closing one Puget Sound-area hatchery and changing 22 others.
The report by the congressionally blessed Hatchery Scientific Review Group marks the first systematic attempt to reform Washington's fish-hatchery system, the world's largest.
February 18, 2002 (Washington Post Editorial) THERE WAS more air than substance in the global warming policy President Bush outlined last week, a disappointing program that aims too low, asks too little and waits too long to assess the need for tougher action.
The president offered no convincing evidence to rebut the contention that economic growth could coincide with more ambitious goals to protect the environment.
Divers to remove dumpsters from Columbia River
February 18, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to begin using divers and other workers this weekend to remove the equivalent of 30 Dumpsters full of electrical equipment, some contaminated with PCBs, from the Columbia River.
Bush seeks to reverse habitat designations
February 18, 2002 (Seattle Times) Officials of the Bush administration have asked a federal judge to invalidate protection of several hundred thousand acres of land deemed essential for the survival of two Southern California endangered species.
In addition, officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say they are considering whether to re-evaluate as many as 10 such "critical habitat" designations involving millions of acres of land, primarily in California.
The other federal agency that oversees endangered species - the National Marine Fisheries Service - has asked a federal judge in Washington, D.C., to redo critical-habitat designations for some populations of salmon and steelhead trout.
Get ready for jellyfish sandwiches, scientists warn
February 18, 2002 (Canada's National Post)
Fragile fish stocks being wiped out at 'devastating' speed.
The oceans are being emptied of fish so fast that people may soon be eating ''jellyfish sandwiches,'' say scientists who are calling for drastic action to protect the seas.
Fishermen, guided by satellite navigation systems, spotter planes and unclassified military maps, are homing in on previously unseen canyons and seamounts, he said.
The fishing nets being dragged hundreds of metres beneath the surface are having a ''devastating'' impact on the slow-growing fish -- such as orange roughy, featured on the menus in many restaurants. Roughy can live for 200 years and don't reproduce until they are in their mid-20s to mid-30s.
''This is not a matter of pollution, it's not a matter of environmental change,'' he said. ''The decline is due to fishing, there isn't any question of that.''
Somber opening to science meeting
February 15, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) Warning of future environmental havoc resulting from Western society's lifestyle.
With a bleak assessment of the health of the planet, the president of the nation's largest scientific organization opened its 168th annual meeting here with a ringing call for conservation of resources and expanded use of renewable energy.
In remarks prepared for delivery yesterday evening, Peter Raven, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, warned that the affluent lifestyle of Western society is increasingly unsustainable and unattainable for most of the world's teeming population of 6.1 billion.
Bush proposal on climate gets cool response
February 15, 2002 (Seattle Times) Environmentalists lashed out at Bush's voluntary plan, saying it would do nothing to curb U.S. greenhouse gases. Greenpeace said it looked like the policies would still allow U.S. emissions to rise 29 percent above 1990 levels by the end of the decade.
The United States, which emits around one-quarter of the world's man-made "greenhouse gases," pulled out of the 1997 United Nations anti-pollution treaty (known as the Kyoto Protocol) signed by former President Clinton, saying it would harm the economy. It was never ratified by the Senate, and Bush backed out of it last year.
Pesticides enter salmon picture
February 15, 2002 (Seattle P-I) Dams and trees have dominated the discussion about salmon protection, but local environmental and fishing organizations are trying to put pesticides front and center with a lawsuit filed yesterday against the EPA.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, asks the court to direct immediate steps to protect salmon from pesticides and to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding the effects of pesticides on the endangered fish.
The suit was filed by the Washington Toxics Coalition, Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources.
25 Pacific Salmon Populations May Lose Protection
February 12, 2002 (Environmental News Service) The National Marine Fisheries Service is reviewing petitions to remove federal protection for 14 groups of Pacific salmon and steelhead which are now protected under the Endangered Species Act. The agency's move angered environmentalists and delighted property rights advocates who have been battling water and land use restrictions aimed at protecting the fish.
"These petitions represent little more than an attempt to capitalize on a decision still very much in question and to clog the docket with specious arguments having little, if any, scientific or legal footing," said Kaitlin Lovell, salmon policy coordinator for Trout Unlimited. "NMFS is doing a disservice to the very species it is charged with protecting by spending limited resources on these petitions, especially when they have to turn their backs to their own standards to do so."
NMFS will assemble a biological review team, made up of NMFS scientists from a variety of disciplines, to review new information regarding the salmon populations and consider it in light of NMFS' new listing policy. Based on their review, the team will advise NMFS on the extinction risk of the ESUs being considered.
The team will consult with state, tribal and other fisheries experts, and the public is encouraged to submit comments as well. More information is available at: http://www.nwr.noaa.gov
Fisheries agency to review salmon listings
February 12, 2002 (Tacoma Tribune) The National Marine Fisheries Service on Monday formally announced it will review 24 Endangered Species Act listings of West Coast salmon and steelhead, including Puget Sound chinook.
The move comes partly in response to delisting petitions filed last fall on behalf of farmers, builders, real estate agents and other Washington and Oregon property owners who oppose federal fish conservation measures.
Whether the Endangered Species Act will continue to protect the listed fish hasn't been decided. By law, federal officials have until October to announce whether the fisheries service will propose removal of any of the listings cited.
Monday's notice in the Federal Register states that delisting may be warranted.
Flame-retardant chemical could prove as troublesome a pollutant as PCBs or DDT
February 8, 2002 (Environmental News Service) A chemical flame retardant commonly used in foam furniture padding is accumulating so rapidly in the breast milk of nursing mothers that environmentalists and some scientists are calling for a ban on it.
Little is known about the toxic nature of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE). Early studies show it poses some of the same dangers as PCBs and DDT. Those two chemicals were banned in the United States decades ago for their myriad detrimental effects on animal and human health.
Olympic rain forest doomed by global warming, report fears
February 8, 2002 (Seattle P-I) The rain forest of the Olympic Peninsula appears doomed by global warming, according to a report released yesterday by an environmental group and academic researchers.
With the Bush administration about to do little about the world's changing climate, officials representing local governments from across the nation kicked off a meeting in Seattle where they are planning how to take on the issue at the local level.
A better way to preserve our natural heritage
February 6, 2002 (by Sen. KEN JACOBSEN) Northwest icons show our love of the outdoors. Salmon and orca whales are enduring symbols of the Northwest. We see them on billboards and advertisements, t-shirts and coffee mugs. Other icons – such as loggers, farmers and fishermen – show our continued reliance on nature, and the delicate balance between industry and stewardship.
Sadly, these icons are getting harder to find. Many wild salmon species have been declared threatened or endangered, and orca populations have shrunk dramatically. Rural communities that once thrived are turning to ghost towns as timber and fish are depleted. Family farms face tough times.
These problems will only get worse as the state's population grows. In the past ten years, the population has grown by nearly 1 million people. It's getting harder to find solitude outdoors, and to balance the needs of nature and industry. We see highways and housing developments where there used to be forests.
Clearly, it's time to rethink our approach to stewardship. In the past, we've tried to preserve the state's natural heritage by focusing on individual species. If a plant or animal was in danger of going extinct we'd focus our efforts on protecting it.
Abandoning the tools we've developed to protect endangered species would be a grave mistake. But if we're serious about preserving the outdoors we need to look at whole ecosystems, not just individual species.
Pesticide danger to salmon real, coalition says
February 6, 2002 (Seattle P-I) Pesticides at levels that could harm salmon taint Northwest waterways, and government agencies are doing little to address the problem, according to a study released yesterday by environmental groups.
The Washington Toxics Coalition says 16 pesticides were detected at concentrations that can damage aquatic life in major watersheds in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California. The samples were collected by the U.S. Geological Survey over the last decade.
Landmark salmon study published in science journal
February 4, 2002 (Environmental News Service) The respected international journal Chemosphere has published the results of a pilot study by Dr. Michael Easton comparing toxic contaminant levels in farmed salmon, wild salmon and commercial salmon feed.
Dr. Easton's study shows that the contaminants, known as persistent organic pollutants, are especially dangerous for children, nursing mothers and pregnant women or women considering pregnancy. The samples studied showed that farmed salmon contained much higher levels of the pollutants, including 10 times more Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) than wild fish.
Roving, solitary orcas puzzle researchers
February 4, 2002 (Seattle Times) Among the few things that whale researchers think they know about orcas, particularly resident orcas that frequent a specific region, is that they are family-oriented creatures who rarely stray far from their mothers.
But now researchers are looking at two orcas - one in Puget Sound that's been seen off Vashon Island and one off the west coast of Vancouver Island - that have done just that.
Ecology: 13% of replacement wetlands fully succeed
February 4, 2002 (Seattle P-I) For nearly 10 years, developers who destroyed wetlands have been required by federal law to replace them -- 1.78 acre of replacement wetlands for every acre destroyed.
But a state Department of Ecology study -- reported Saturday by The Herald of Everett -- has determined only about 13 percent of the man-made wetlands in Washington are fully successful.
Of 24 wetlands creation or restoration projects, the study found only three were fully successful. Eight were moderately successful, eight were minimally successful and five were not successful.
Last year, the National Academy of Sciences determined that the government is not enforcing the mitigation requirement. The rule was established because wetlands, dismissed for many years as just useless swamps, are now understood to be critical to watershed health.
Besides providing food for fish, birds, frogs and other animals, wetlands can reduce damage from flooding and help purify water.
Two orcas like peas without pods
February 2, 2002 (Seattle P-I) Scientists puzzle over the lone whales in Puget Sound, B.C.
Two lost baby orcas -- one in a remote Vancouver Island inlet, the other in Puget Sound -- are puzzling scientists who say they have never before seen young killer whales split off from their families that way.
One orca, named Luna, was discovered last July in Nootka Sound along the rugged northwestern coast of Vancouver Island, scientists announced this week.
The second baby orca turned up alone recently in central Puget Sound. Recordings of its underwater calls were used late this week to identify it as coming from a group of whales never before seen there.
"This is something we've never encountered before," said John Ford, head of marine mammal research at the Pacific Biological Station on Vancouver Island. "The fact that there are two is very unusual."
Stray young orcas puzzle scientists (no longer online)
February 2, 2002 (Vancouver Sun) One theory is that toxins could have caused a disorder
Marine-mammal scientist John Ford doesn't know why a young killer whale found lingering alone on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island left its pod. B.C.'s resident orcas normally remain with their family group until they die.
Ken Balcomb, of Washington state's Center for Whale Research, said a body-tissue sample has been taken from another young killer whale in Puget Sound to try to find out whether pollutants could be responsible for that calf being found wandering alone.
Balcomb pointed to studies that link high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls -- a chlorine-based compound once widely used in fluorescent light ballasts and other electrical equipment -- to problems with the fetus, immune system and nervous system. In humans, a lower IQ and a smaller brain size in children has been linked to high PCB levels in the breast milk of mothers.
Balcomb said marine-mammal scientists can't measure the IQ of whales, but it's possible that PCBs may affect the thinking abilities of those mammals too.
"Maybe it's very high in contaminants and has some kind of attention-deficit disorder," he said. "Nervous disorders are not uncommon with high PCB levels."
Experts want to reunite whale with its family (no longer online)
February 1, 2002 (CNN) Marine wildlife experts on Canada's Pacific Coast are puzzling over a whale of a family reunion problem.
A juvenile killer whale has been alone off Vancouver Island since he became separated from his family pod last summer and officials want them reunited since the area's resident orca population is already dwindling.
"If L pod happens to be passing by the entrance of the sound, perhaps L-98 might hear them in the distance and go racing out. That's our hope," Ford said.
Experts want to reunite lost whale with family
February 1, 2002 (Environmental News Service) Scientists have identified a lonely killer whale calf that has spent the past six months in a remote inlet on Vancouver Island's west coast as Luna, an orca that had been presumed dead after disappearing from Puget Sound last summer.
The calf, known to scientists as L-98, was born in L-Pod, a group of "southern resident" orcas that frequent Washington state's inland waters. The whale is about 2 1/2 years old, equivalent to a human toddler, but whale experts say it has been able to hunt for fish and is in good shape.
"To our surprise, he seems to be making a living," said Lance Barrett-Lennard, a marine mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Full speed ahead for fish farms
February 1, 2002 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Province lifts moratorium on expansion; safeguards pledged
B.C.'s salmon farmers will invest between $50 million and $60 million annually in the next decade while creating as many as 8,000 full-time jobs, mainly in coastal communities, said Anne McMullin, B.C. Salmon Farmers' Association executive director.
"This is a very sad day for British Columbia," said Lynn Hunter, the David Suzuki Foundation's aquaculture specialist.
"I think the Campbell government today made a choice and that choice is not for wild salmon. My grandchildren will not be eating wild salmon with this decision."
Blasting Condit Dam wins early backing
February 1, 2002 (Vancouver Columbian) A Portland utility's plan to remove Condit Dam on the White Salmon River got a qualified thumbs-up from the nation's dam-licensing agency Wednesday.
The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission declined to recommend removal of the 89-year-old dam, leaving that decision to the commission itself. But in a draft environmental impact statement, it said that if the dam is breached, PacifiCorp's plan to blast a hole in its base would, with a few modifications, pass environmental muster.
At 125 feet, Condit Dam would be the largest dam ever removed in the United States.
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