Orca Network News - February, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2004 through February 29, 2004.
February 28, 2004 (Seattle Times) A day after the company responsible for a 4,800-gallon oil spill removed its heavy equipment and ended most of its cleanup efforts, Suquamish tribal elder Marilyn Wandrey sprinkled herbs in the waters of the Doe-kag-wats estuary, a sacred place her ancestors first used for spiritual ceremonies.
Some 30 Suquamish tribal members and friends sang, drummed and prayed yesterday as they attempted to lift a pall they say has settled over their Indianola, Kitsap County, estuary inundated with heavy marine oil from a Dec. 30 Foss Maritime spill.
As tribal members burned sage sticks stuck in the wet sand, eagles soared overhead - a positive sign to the tribe that redemption for the land was close at hand.
"The ceremony cleansed the air and left a blessing on the land, but we need a lot of help yet," Wandrey said. "Physically, we can still see the imprint of this spill."
DFO TO BEGIN RECOVERY PLANNING FOR PACIFIC KILLER WHALES
February 27, 2004 (DFO Press Release) Vancouver, BC – Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is pleased to announce the launch of killer whale recovery planning for the northern and southern resident populations as required by the Species At Risk Act (SARA).The northern resident population was designated as threatened, and the southern resident population designated as endangered in November 2001 by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). Both populations are listed in Schedule 1 of SARA.
A core group of technical experts has been selected by DFO to form the Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team. Their mandate is to assess the threats to the northern and southern resident killer whale populations and to provide advice to the Minister on effective measures for recovering these populations. Team members bring expertise from various relevant fields such as killer whale biology, population assessment, genetics and health, in addition to environmental pollution, acoustics, prey resources, ecotourism and management.
The team includes U.S. expertise, recognizing the trans-boundary nature of the southern residents and our common goal of protecting and recovering resident killer whales.
"We are excited to bring together this extraordinary team of experts that will ensure any new protective measures are practical, effective and sustainable," said Marilyn Joyce, Marine Mammal Coordinator for Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Chair of the Northern and Southern Resident killer whale Recovery Team.
Early in the process, DFO will provide a formal opportunity through a technical workshop for killer whale researchers, stewardship groups, communities and industry representatives to provide their expertise and perspectives on recovery objectives to the Recovery Team. The workshop is planned for the spring of 2004 and attendance will be by invitation. Anyone interested in participating in this process should consult the DFO Species at Risk killer whale website for information on submitting an application to participate.
Consultations are expected to commence in the fall of 2004, providing an opportunity for members of the public, First Nations communities and other government and non-government organizations to express their ideas and views on killer whale recovery objectives and the approaches under consideration.
For more information on the recovery planning process for resident killer whales, including recovery team memberships and consultation information visit the DFO Species at Risk killer whale website: www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca
Reworked ordinance offers break on waterside buffers
February 27, 2004 (Seattle Times) King County farmers may not have to create wide buffer zones around creeks and wetlands under a proposed ordinance if they provide other protection to those waterways, County Executive Ron Sims said yesterday.
An earlier draft of a revamped "critical-areas ordinance" angered many landowners by requiring a "no-touch" zone of as much as 300 feet around wetlands and 165 feet beside streams.
The law also would severely restrict how much logging or land-clearing rural property owners could do.
Sims' staff drafted those tough proposals after the federal government's finding that Puget Sound chinook salmon is a threatened species. Concern about local fish runs grew further with Sims' announcement last fall that a run of freshwater salmon has gone extinct in Lake Sammamish.
Under the latest reworking of the critical-areas proposal, farmers could avoid waterside buffers altogether and other rural landowners could submit plans to reduce their size.
Bill on cruise-waste rules dies
February 26, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A measure to more tightly regulate pollution from cruise ships calling on Puget Sound has died in the legislative committee where it was introduced, but its chief sponsor vowed to try again.
Introduced in January, the bill couldn't muster the votes to get out of the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee by the Feb. 6 deadline.
The measure would have imposed $25,000-a-day penalties against cruise ships that discharged a variety of wastes into state waters, including untreated sewage, sludge from ship toilets and sinks and oily liquid from bilges. It would have allowed state inspectors onto ships.
Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, and committee member Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, said there was concern that the bill would conflict with federal law, which limits state regulation of waste discharges.
Ruling means these salmon won't get any special protections
February 25, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Citing jurisdictional grounds, a federal appeals court yesterday let stand a ruling that took Oregon coastal coho off the threatened species list because hatchery fish did not get the same protection as wild fish.
Property rights advocates called it an important victory.
The key issue is whether, when considering how many fish are in a salmon stock being considered for protection under the Endangered Species Act, the more-numerous hatchery fish should count.
They should, says the Pacific Legal Foundation, and that should mean that many fewer stocks qualify for protections that lead to restrictions on property use.
Yesterday's ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals left the National Marine Fisheries Service no clear statement whether federal actions such as timber sales on national forests, which could affect salmon, can now go forward, said Brian Gorman, a Fisheries Service spokesman.
Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
February 23, 2004 (The Guardian (UK)) Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters..
A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.
The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.
'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'
The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defence is a priority.
Restoring an urban salmon stream Vision, volunteers and elbow grease
February 23, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Bits of faded plastic survey tape - some red, some pink, some orange - flutter from the fragile limbs of thousands of native trees and shrubs at the bottom of Puget Gulch in Tacoma's North End.
In the bleak, gray days of winter, the eye-catching strips alert visitors to restoration within the 66-acre ravine. Several hundred thousand dollars in grants and donations plus a fortune in donated labor have turned a neglected dumping ground into the home of one of Tacoma's only salmon-bearing streams.
The revival campaign is aimed at 1,648-foot-long Puget Creek, which is narrow enough to jump over and empties into Commencement Bay.
Many familiar with Puget Creek's transformation applaud Scott Hansen for his vision and commitment. Hansen, 50, of Puyallup, is a disabled former contractor with a college degree in wildlife ecology who cheerfully devotes all of his time to creek stewardship.
Eventually, he'd like to create an interpretive center in the gulch to teach people about salmon and their habitat.
"It's a lifetime project," he said.
Marine center looks to Tacoma
February 19, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Backers of a proposed $20 million to $25 million marine biotechnology research center are looking to the City of Tacoma to put up nearly half the money required for the project. But the payoff could be big, they say.
The proposed Puget Sound Center for Urban Bay Research, which evolved out of a failed attempt to build a downtown aquarium as a tourist attraction, could make Tacoma home to one of the nation's only facilities studying the restoration of polluted urban waterways similar to the Thea Foss Waterway, supporters said.
Unprecedented $3.3 million whale study planned
February 18, 2004 (The Olympian) Hundreds of researchers from 10 Pacific Rim nations will take part in a $3.3 million project to study the humpback whale population, federal marine officials announced Tuesday. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said the three-year project will be the most comprehensive study ever of the endangered mammals.
Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA's National Ocean Service, said the study -- called SPLASH, for Structure of Populations, Level of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks -- will provide information to better protect the whales in their habitat and rebuild their population.
Researchers from the United States, Japan, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Philippines, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua and Guatemala will be involved in the project.
The humpback whale was listed as an endangered species in 1973. The whales migrate from summer feeding grounds off Alaska, spending their winters in the Hawaiian Islands.
$3.3 million whale study launched February 18, 2004 (Maui News)
Hunters fear losing favored spot if island returned to wild
February 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Faced with spending a half-million dollars to repair decomposing dikes and culverts here, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is considering a plan to breach the dikes and let the area return to the tidal marsh it once was.
Already, dikes and other structures used to control flooding have deteriorated to the point that popular hunting spots such as the "first puddle" have turned into inaccessible lakes.
The proposed plan essentially would finish the job nature already has started, inundating much of the northern half of the island.
It would make great habitat for salmon but tough walking for people who hunt, walk dogs, bird watch or trail run on the secluded, tranquil 400-acre island that's just a stone's throw from Interstate 5.
February 16, 2004 (Tacoma News-Tribune) The Nisqually Tribe and others have been working to revive this creek. The state and federal governments paid some of the bill - part of $161 million they spent over the last four years for fish habitat protection and restoration across Washington.
Federal oversight also hovers over all kinds of activities in Washington - from paving a new road to building a house or a sewer plant - to ensure the fish aren't killed. Thirty years ago last week, U.S. District Judge George Boldt ruled from his Tacoma courtroom that the state must properly manage the fish.
Why do we care so much, spend so much, regulate ourselves so much, for these creatures?
"Salmon is a Northwest icon," said Jeff Koenings, head of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Indeed, salmon are a way to make a living, and a barometer of our environment.
Fifteen salmon populations in Washington are federally listed as "threatened" or "endangered." The watersheds where they live encompass 70 percent of the state's geographic area and 90 percent of its population.
Global warming hitting Northwest hard, researchers warn
February 16, 2004 (Seattle Times) To find the most compelling evidence to date that global warming could shrink damp Cascade snows by half in coming decades, Seattle scientists first took a step back in time.
They picked through a half-century of snow data from Arizona to British Columbia to better grasp how an atmospheric stew of greenhouse gases may shape our region for years to come.
Their conclusion: Their earlier warnings about future water shortages in the Northwest were more accurate - perhaps even understated.
"If you think the water fights we have now are intense ... you ain't seen nothing yet," University of Washington professor Ed Miles said yesterday during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Miles said the moisture in snow that nourishes the West and gives life to its network of rivers has been steadily declining since at least World War II.
And the hardest-hit region has been the Cascades, where battles to provide enough water for fish, agriculture and power have been worsening for years.
But in coastal regions, such as the Cascades and parts of northern California, where winter temperatures are balmier, warming during the same period actually reduced moisture in spring snows by more than 30 percent.
Bush air-pollution change opens door to coal-fired plant February 16, 2004 (Seattle times)
Action to save oceans backed
February 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Poll finds Americans in favor of treaties, ready to eat less seafood
Most Americans favor international treaties to rescue the ailing oceans and say they are willing to eat less of certain kinds of seafood threatened by overfishing, a national poll released yesterday in Seattle showed.
Just under half of Americans questioned in the poll support regulations restricting coastal development and -- despite what scientists say -- only one-third believe their own actions have a large impact on oceans and coastal areas.
The poll of 2,400 Americans was released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world's largest scientific society, whose five-day annual conference concludes here today.
The time to act is now, said Usha Varanasi, director of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, a government lab in Seattle run by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We need to act as we get information, and we must not put the burden on scientists to be completely certain before we take action," Varanasi said in her address at the meeting. "The policy-makers need to be brave enough to make decisions."
Coastal development, scientists say, harms the oceans in a number of ways, including shunting tainted water into nearshore areas when rain washes oil, animal feces and many other pollutants off streets and other hard surfaces. Automobile exhaust and scrapings of toxic copper from brakes find their way into nearby waterways and ultimately the ocean.
Even development far inland can have this effect. A "dead zone" the size of New Jersey has developed in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of pollutants washed down the Mississippi River from as far north as Canada.
"When it comes to oceans, what happens on land is as important as what happens in oceans," Lubchenco said.
"We're losing coastal habitats at a frantic pace."
A sea of activity: Project aims for by-the-moment account of ocean floor
February 13, 2004 (Seattle Times) At a price tag of $250 million, the North-East Pacific Time-Series Undersea Networked Experiments, or "Neptune," would wire the entire Juan de Fuca Plate, which runs along the Washington coast between Oregon and Vancouver Island. About 2,000 miles of fiber-optic cable would stream data from the seafloor at gigabit-per-second speeds across a land mass the size of Oregon.
Every 70 miles or so, sensors, cameras and robots wandering up, down and around would plug into the network to send data back to scientists on dry land. On the Internet, the public could access that information, just like the images coming from the rovers on Mars. For instance, students could watch an underwater volcano erupting or blue whales migrating via live video.
If the U.S. government approves funding in two years, Neptune could be under construction in 2008 and light up in 2009. The Canadian government has committed one-third of the money.
The Monterey Bay Research Institute and the University of Victoria will install test networks in 2005, and scientists are discussing what kind of equipment the network will require for experiments. The project's partners also include heavyweights such as the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California .
Open oceans being sought to save variety of species
February 13, 2004 (Seattle Times) When Yellowstone National Park was created in 1872, Congress ordered it protected "from injury or spoliation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders within said park, and their retention in their natural conditions."
That decision is hailed as a good part of the reason the United States still has bison, grizzly bears and a place with habitat rich enough to support reintroduction of gray wolves in the mid-1990s.
Scientists learning more about the loss of ocean predators such as marlin, cod and sharks to fishing are turning to national parks as a model in calling for vast, open-ocean preserves.
Today, scientists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle will unveil advances in technology that are allowing them to track the movement of sea creatures.
That, in turn, is providing greater evidence of the important open-ocean places the world's largest predators use to feed and breed - places that, if protected, could help such creatures thrive.
Oceans in peril: 'We have to change course,' say scientists
February 12, 2004 (Seattle Times) Next month, a report from a panel appointed by President Bush is expected to paint a stark picture of oceans in trouble, and will call for sweeping new oversight measures to reverse decades of ecological decline in marine waters.
"We have major problems," said Andrew Rosenberg, dean of life sciences and agriculture at the University of New Hampshire, and a member of the president's U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, which has been working for three years on the report. "Whether you label it a crisis or not, we view the issues as very severe. We have to change course."
At least one-third of fish stocks measured by the National Marine Fisheries Service are considered "overfished," including several Pacific groundfish species that will take decades to rebound. The journal Nature reported last year that the estimated number of large ocean predators globally - tuna, marlin, sharks and halibut - has plummeted 90 percent in half a century. Nutrient-filled runoff has polluted at least 38 separate U.S. coastal waterways with enough algae that they're starved of life-giving oxygen - waters ranging from portions of nearby Hood Canal to a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey.
"If you need an example where plain inattention to man's impacts on a marine species' habitat has put something in jeopardy in a generation, look no further than salmon."
Even today, federal fisheries managers in Seattle are still trying to gauge with precision what's wrong with the 27 species of Northwest salmon now listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Navy report clears Shoup in porpoise deaths
February 11, 2004 (Everett Herald) The Everett-based destroyer's sonar is not to blame, it says, but others remain skeptical.
The USS Shoup did not kill or hurt marine mammals when it used its sonar in May during routine training in Haro Strait, a just-released Navy report concludes.
The inquiry comes on the heels of a preliminary report published Monday by the National Marine Fisheries Service that studied the deaths of 11 porpoises that washed ashore near the time the Shoup passed through the strait.
While some whale watchers and marine mammal experts thought the porpoise strandings were tied to the Shoup's passage through the area between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island, the fisheries service report was inconclusive. It said scientists could not find any definitive evidence of ear damage in the porpoises that could be linked to the Shoup's sonar.
The Navy report, however, was more clear-cut.
The inquiry also said the Shoup's sonar did not harm killer whales in the area.
That's significant, because southern resident orcas were designated a depleted stock by the National Marine Fisheries Service last year. The agency has begun work on a recovery plan to restore the orcas, an icon of the Pacific Northwest.
The Shoup came closest to the orca J-Pod as it passed Andrews Bay on San Juan Island in Haro Strait just after 2:30 p.m. May 5. The killer whales were about 1.5 nautical miles away, and experts who reviewed videotapes of the orcas taken as the Shoup passed by said the orcas appeared to act normal.
Report on porpoise deaths splits Navy, whale groups
February 10, 2004 (Everett Herald) An examination of harbor porpoises that washed ashore in Puget Sound last year showed no apparent ear damage from the USS Shoup's sonar, Navy officials said Monday.
More certain, the Navy said, the Shoup did not cause a deadly stampede of marine mammals onto seashores when the Everett-based destroyer used its sonar during routine training in Haro Strait in May.
"We did not cause a mass stranding," said Navy Rear Adm. Len Hering, commander of Navy Region Northwest.
Some marine mammal experts, however, said the report was inconclusive.
The report states that the noise emitted from the Shoup's sonar "could not be ruled out" as a contributing cause of the porpoise deaths.
For that reason, members of the community of scientists that track killer whales and other marine wildlife rejected the notion that the Navy should now be able to walk away from blame in the porpoise deaths.
"I'm absolutely certain that they caused virtually every whale, dolphin and porpoise in Haro Straight on the fifth of May distress to the point of panic," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
"There is no doubt that there was a massive response," he said.
No Evidence Of Sonar-Caused Trauma On Dead Porpoises February 10, 2004 (KOMO TV)
Questions reverberate about sonar incident February 10, 2004 (Bremerton Sun)
Inconclusive sonar report fans debate
February 10, 2004 (Seattle Times) Even with expensive, high-tech tests, scientists found no evidence to prove that a Navy destroyer's sonar echoes near San Juan Island contributed to the deaths of several Puget Sound porpoises last spring, according to an eagerly awaited report released yesterday.
But the scientists wouldn't rule it out, either.
The inconclusive quality of the National Marine Fisheries Service report served to inflame the longstanding and bitter debate between the Navy and Puget Sound environmentalists over sonar testing in the Sound.
The Navy yesterday took the offensive, declaring the study clears the destroyer USS Shoup in the deaths of the harbor porpoises. And the admiral in charge of the Navy's Northwest operations affirmed the Shoup would continue to occasionally test its sonar in Haro Strait, under certain conditions.
That prompted environmentalists to complain the Navy was wrongly assuming its sonar posed no threat to marine mammals. And they again urged the Navy to halt all sonar testing here.
"If this proves anything, it's that the Navy isn't going to give up anything," said Ken Balcomb, who heads the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. He turned over one of the dead porpoises for the study, but the cause of its death couldn't be determined.
"And this will happen again." Balcomb said. "There's no doubt, especially if the attitude is that, 'We're exonerated and we'll practice sonar anytime we damn well please, anywhere we damn well please.'"
Role of Navy sonar in porpoise deaths still unclear February 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Public campaign targets Hood Canal's dirty secret
February 10, 2004 (Seattle Times) Hood Canal, a scenic and seemingly pristine arm of the Pacific Ocean, is polluted, and government needs to quickly identify the culprits and reverse the damage before the fjord becomes a dead sea, Gov. Gary Locke and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks said yesterday.
The two announced a crackdown that will include federal, state, local, tribal and volunteer efforts, underwritten by millions in state and federal dollars. They're hoping to announce a plan of attack by April.
Hood Canal is one of the worst pollution hot spots on the West Coast, said Brad Ack, chairman of the interagency Puget Sound Action Team.
Monitoring shows the problem is growing worse, Locke said.
"It's the development," Dicks added.
As population and the trappings of civilization spring up along the shoreline, pollution seems to follow, he said. It's not a single industrial polluter or U.S. Navy operations on the canal or some other installation causing the bulk of the problem; "It's us," he said.
'Unified effort' sought for gasping Hood Canal February 10, 2004 (Bremerton Sun)
Proposal would spend millions to save Hood Canal from pollution February 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Ruling reshaped fishing, tribal rights
February 9, 2004 (The Olympian) If the landmark court ruling known as the Boldt decision has an epicenter, it very well could be the lower Nisqually River watershed on the Thurston County border.
That's the home of the treaty tree, which stands sentinel over the site where Washington Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens and South Sound tribes signed the Medicine Creek Treaty of 1854.
Thirty years ago this Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge George H. Boldt handed down a shocker of a decision, relying on that treaty to all but assure Western Washington treaty tribes a right to half of the harvestable salmon and steelhead in the region.
It's also the home of Frank's Landing, a 6-acre riverfront parcel where Indian activists, borrowing a page from the civil rights movement, staged fish-ins in the early 1960s to draw attention to their yet-to-be-accepted treaty right to fish.
And it's the birthplace of Billy Frank Jr., the charismatic, leather-faced Nisqually Indian who has devoted his life to keeping his tribe and others connected to the salmon and their rivers.
Legal scholars call the Boldt decision -- based on U.S. vs. Washington -- one of the most significant natural resource rulings in Pacific Northwest history, reshaping state fisheries and the way salmon are managed.
For Western Washington treaty tribes and nontribal fishers alike, the ruling hit home in much the same way the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education did 50 years ago in the Deep South, said former state Department of Fisheries director Bill Wilkerson.
But in many respects the promise of the Boldt decision is unfulfilled. Salmon are in decline. Prices for fresh-caught fish are rock bottom. And many tribal members remain shackled in poverty.
"We're getting further away from salmon recovery," Frank said. "Natural resources are so low on the totem pole, nobody cares."
Summary of the Preliminary Report on the investigation of harbor porpoise stranded in Washington around May 2003 coinciding with mid-range sonar exercises by the USS Shoup
February 9, 2004 (NOAA Fisheries) During the period of May 2, 2003, to June 2, 2003, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) Northwest Marine Mammal Stranding Network received reports of 14 stranded harbor porpoise in Washington, an abnormally high number when compared to the average stranding rate of 6 per year recorded over the past decade. The reports coincided with the use of mid-range sonar by the naval vessel USS SHOUP transiting Haro Strait on 5 May 2003, and observations by researchers and the public who reported altered behavior of marine mammals in the area. Eleven of the 14 porpoise were collected for examination.
NOAA Fisheries assembled a multi disciplinary team of biologists, veterinarians, veterinary pathologists, research scientists and a neuroanatomist who conducted extensive classical forensic necropsy examinations from 22 July through 24 July, followed by laboratory diagnostic and histological analyses and complemented by high resolution computerized tomography scans. Samples were taken for a variety of analyses, including disease screening, parasitology, chemical contaminant and lipid analyses, aging studies, prey identification and domoic acid analysis.
The Preliminary Report presents a summary of past porpoise stranding reports, information on the discovery and collection of porpoise during the May-to-June timeframe, gross and microscopic findings from the necropsy examinations, analysis of the high resolution image data, and discussion on the possible causes of mortality.
More than 70 percent of the specimens were in moderate to advanced states of decomposition, which made interpretation of the cause of death difficult. The cause of death was determined for 5 of the 11 porpoises examined by the multi disciplinary team. Of these five animals, two were found to have suffered blunt force trauma, while illness was implicated in the remaining three cases. No cause of death could be determined for the remaining six animals. The examinations did not reveal definitive signs of acoustic trauma in any of the porpoises examined. The possibility of acoustic trauma as a contributory factor in the mortality of any of the porpoises examined could not be ruled out. The multi-disciplinary team noted that lesions consistent with acoustic trauma can be difficult to interpret or obscured, especially in animals in advanced post-mortem decomposition.
Uncovering Secrets of Blue Whale's Song
February 7, 2004 (National Geographic) The haunting call of the blue whale is the most intense of any animal alive. These rhythmic pulses and deep moans are so loud they travel across entire oceans, yet the frequency of these calls is often so low that they are totally inaudible to human ears.
Though marine biologists are still at a loss to explain exactly what purpose blue whale calls serve, deciphering this lonely song could assist in conserving the endangered species. Despite being perhaps the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, the blue whale's low numbers, elusive nature and tendency not to follow consistent migration paths make it difficult to study.
Now, in an effort to glean new insights into calling and other behaviors, National Geographic Crittercam documentary makers have teamed up with Francis and whale expert John Calambokidis to capture both audio and video footage from blue whale-worn cameras for the first time. That unique footage, captured off the coasts of California and Mexico, has helped shed light on vocalizations, and provided novel insights into swimming dynamics and feeding behavior.
Alaska's sea otters to receive federal protection
February 6, 2004 (Seattle Times) Southwest Alaska's sea otters, which have undergone dramatic and mysterious declines in recent years, will receive Endangered Species Act protection under an Interior Department proposal announced yesterday.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton said scientists are not yet certain what is driving the sea otters around the Aleutian Islands toward extinction. "But," she said, "listing this population as 'threatened' under the Endangered Species Act will be an important step in discovering the reasons and reversing the decline."
The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Arizona, petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the otters in 2000, and in December, two animal-welfare groups sued, seeking to force a listing decision.
Southwest Alaska's ocean ecosystem has collapsed in the past decade, scientists say. A variety of once-abundant sea mammals has nearly disappeared.
Alaska's sea otters were nearly driven to extinction a century ago by commercial fur hunters, but the population rebounded after hunting was banned in 1911. By the 1980s, the region was again a stronghold for otters, the waters' thick kelp forests home to more than half of the world's population.
But since then, the otters' numbers have dropped by an average of about two-thirds.
A group of scientists, led by James Estes of the U.S. Geological Survey, has theorized that the otters are being eaten by killer whales.
Fishermen defend the slaughter of the dolphins
February 6, 2004 (The Times of London) The dolphins thrash in pain as they bleed to death, emitting whistles and cries. The shallow waters of the lagoon in which they are trapped turn red with blood.
It has always been done this way in Taiji, and for four centuries the world paid little attention. Now, however, this obscure spot on the southernmost tip of central Japan has become the site of a remarkable confrontation.
Environmentalists from around the world have used press releases and websites to denounce the hunters. Some activists have descended on the town to obstruct the killing. The fishermen have been defiant. There have been scuffles and arrests.
To the people of Taiji, the foreigners are racist hypocrites, maliciously interfering with a legitimate business rooted in centuries of tradition.
To the activists, the annual dolphin hunt is a barbaric anachronism verging on murder. The atmosphere in Taiji, in a country in which face-to-face confrontation is almost taboo, is tense.
Wild salmon see glimmer of hope
February 5, 2004 (The Oregonian) Since the dramatic turnaround in ocean conditions, the risk of extinction for many wild salmon stocks in the Pacific has diminished, according to the latest status reports from the federal government.
Of the dozen Columbia Basin salmon stocks listed under the Endangered Species Act, all except Snake River sockeye are "clearly in less jeopardy of extinction" than they were three years ago, according to the October reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Federal officials said improved prospects for threatened fish by no means amount to recovery. Wild spawning populations remain a fraction of their historic abundance, before decades of habitat destruction, dam-building and overfishing.
Without hatcheries -- which release about 200 million artificially produced salmon each year in the Columbia Basin -- the number of returning adults would drop by more than 80 percent for some stocks.
Federal biologists reported that many wild spawning groups are not reproducing quickly enough to increase their population. Population growth rates have remained negative for nearly all spawning groups of chinook and steelhead in the lower Columbia, upper Columbia and upper Willamette rivers.
Since 2000, population growth rates have moved closer to the replacement rate for most stocks. But growth rates declined for at least three populations, including Snake River spring and summer chinook. The future of Snake River sockeye depends entirely on a captive breeding effort.
Hill CT scan tells whale of a tale
February 5, 2004 (Hilltop Times) Although located hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, technology at Hill may help unlock the mysteries of how whales use and are affected by sound.
Computed Tomography equipment, normally used to scan Minuteman missile parts to detect cracks, voids or separations, was recently used for something much different - to scan a baby fin whale's head.
The 500-pound, frozen whale head arrived by FedEx from Sea World in San Diego, accompanied by Dr. Ted Cranford, San Diego State University Department of Biology adjunct professor of research, and Megan McKenna, research assistant and graduate student.
"Currently, I am working on a project to investigate the impact of high-intensity sound in large whales with a group of colleagues from Scripps Institution of Oceanography," Dr. Cranford said.
Through this research, Cranford has made many discoveries about how marine animals make and use these sounds. However, after beaked whales began stranding themselves on beaches and dying, the focus of his research has changed course.
Uncertain currents - Geophysical studies paint a complicated picture of the Pacific Ocean patterns that influence salmon populations
February 4, 2004 (The Oregonian) To explain the stunning, continuing rebound of Northwest salmon, experts have zeroed in on an enigmatic climate cycle at work in the Pacific Ocean.
Since at least 1890, the Pacific has abruptly alternated patterns every 20 to 30 years. One phase is strongly favorable to young salmon entering the sea. The opposite phase is not so kind, as shown by the consistently poor survival of salmon during most of the 1980s and '90s.
As if on cue, the Pacific seemed to undergo its latest "regime shift" in 1998, moving into a favorable cool cycle last seen from 1949 to 1976. That has stoked optimism for another quarter-century of abundance from the sea.
Indeed, some salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia Basin -- supplemented by tens of millions of hatchery-propagated fish released each year -- have reached the highest numbers since completion of Bonneville Dam in 1938. Last year's spring chinook run more than tripled the 10-year average.
But recent studies, including several presented last week at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Portland, paint a more complicated picture. Intense observation since 1998 shows that key climate and ecosystem conditions don't match previous phases. The latest findings suggest the Pacific might revolve through more than two modes of long-term behavior.
Whale of an idea if it works
February 3, 2004 (The Globe and Mail) Aboard the RV New Horizon - In a boat off the central California coast, scientists huddle around a computer screen sprinkled with slow-moving white dots, each representing a migrating whale detected with sonar.
The researchers are testing an experimental sonar system, designed to detect any Pacific gray whales within a 1.5-kilometre radius using high-frequency sound waves that are believed to work above their normal hearing range.
Researchers at Scientific Solutions Inc., the New Hampshire firm that developed the system, say the sonar appears to work, detecting marine mammals more reliably than other methods without causing the whales to break away from their migratory path or otherwise show signs of injury.
The navy's role has fed a darker fear for environmentalists - that if it proves successful, the new sonar will make it easier for the military to declare an area of the deep sea to be relatively free of protected species, and thus open to more destructive activities.
"This sonar will be used as an excuse to engage in activities harmful to whales," said Lanny Sinkin, an attorney for the environmental groups. "It helps them escape responsibility for disrupting the normal activities of whales, by saying they're not injuring or killing them."
The sonar's backers say they share the same goal of protecting difficult-to-locate whales and other marine mammals that could be unintentionally injured or killed by human activities.
Salmon study reinforces need to restore habitat
February 2, 2004 (The Olympian) A sizeable number of the young chinook salmon cruising the shallow waters near South Sound shorelines were born in other places, according to recent field research by the Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribes.
Fish from the Green, White and Puyallup rivers and their tributaries in King and Pierce counties are using the South Sound near-shore habitat to feed and rest when they leave the freshwater and migrate to saltwater.
Recent studies identifying young salmon caught in nets cast from beaches found that 20 percent to 25 percent of the fish were from rivers and streams outside South Sound, tribal officials said.
Coded wire tags implanted in the fish at hatcheries tell researchers where the fish are from.
"The numbers surprised us," said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Tribe. "The prevailing wisdom is that most salmon leave their natal streams and generally head north toward the ocean."
The discovery adds import to efforts to restore and protect South Sound estuaries and shoreline habitat, Troutt said.
"It tells us the Nisqually River estuary is a regional nursery that is incredibly important to young salmon," he said.
Sperm whales steal black cod from hooks
February 2, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fishermen marvel at animal's dexterity and intelligence
Sperm whales have learned to pluck sablefish hauled from the black depths of the Gulf of Alaska, showing a dexterity that belies their enormous size and toothy, underslung jaws.
"They somehow just pick them off like grapes," said Sitka longliner Dick Curran, who has fished the gulf's deep waters for decades. "I don't know how they do it, and I don't know the depth. ... Sometimes you get the heads back, sometimes you just see lips, and sometimes they're just shredded."
No one knows how they're cueing into the sablefish, also called black cod, whose oily, rich flesh has become a lucrative product in Japanese markets. But a coalition of commercial fishermen and biologists have begun to investigate with about $200,000 from the North Pacific Research Board.
"We don't want the fishermen to have an economic loss, plus it's a biological loss, because we don't know how many sablefish are being taken," said Sitka-based whale specialist Jan Straley, a lead investigator in the project. "My interest is biological, and I really want to understand what these whales are doing."
What Straley and her partners have found after one season suggests that male sperm whales may patrol the edge of the continental shelf, where the water is 1,200 to 3,000 feet deep.
Sperm whales are the largest toothed cetaceans, reaching more than 35 tons and 50 feet in length. That's longer than a city bus and three times as heavy. Their body is about 40 percent head.