Orca Network News - February, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2005 through February 28, 2005.
February 25, 2005 (ABC News) Fears for the future of rare whales will not halt the Shell-led Sakhalin-2 gas project in Russia's far east, Shell's country manager said on Friday.
John Barry told Reuters the $10 billion venture, one of Royal Dutch/Shell's biggest, was on track to deliver its first cargo of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) in 2007 as planned.
The consortium recognized environmentalists' concerns and was considering measures such as re-routing pipelines to avoid damage to the gray whales' habitat, he said in an interview.
"The project is going ahead. I want to be unambiguous about that," Barry said.
He said some statements in a report last week by environmentalists, which was requested by Shell, had been taken out of context, in particular a recommendation to halt the project to take stock of its effect on the whales.
"What it said was, the most precautionary approach would be to stop and gather further data," he said. "But it did say that if the project went ahead, mitigation measures were needed.
Gray whale blows into town, decides to stay
February 25, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) A young gray whale hanging around downtown Bremerton since Monday might not be in the best of health, according to Erin Falcone of Cascadia Research who photographed the whale from a boat Thursday.
"It appears to be a little thin, not a real robust-looking animal," said Falcone, who estimated the whale to be less than 20 feet long.
Adult gray whales often grow to 40 feet or more.
The gray whale has been sighted frequently off Bremerton's waterfront near the destroyer Turner Joy. On Monday, it swam under the Manette Bridge.
The animal appears to be the only gray whale in Puget Sound at the moment, although the annual migration from Mexico to Alaska has reached the Washington coast.
Those who spot this or any other gray whale are asked to report sightings immediately to Cascadia Research at (800) 747-7329. [Note: Or call Orca Network at (866) ORCANET, and Cascadia will be immediately notified.]
Lawmakers want to crack down on broken septic tanks
February 24, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Spurred by scenes of dead fish floating in Hood Canal and reports of Puget Sound shellfish beds closed by pollution, the Legislature is considering cracking down on broken septic tanks.
Legislation being rewritten this week calls for a system to ensure that septic tanks are inspected, maintained and repaired. It would apply near Puget Sound-area marine waters closed to shellfishing because of pollution, or where water-quality violations are serious enough to trigger a cleanup.
Bruce Wishart, lobbyist for the environmental group People for Puget Sound, said he remembers arguing about the same topic in the late 1980s. Since then, the problem has gotten worse.
"We know this is a problem out there across the Sound. The problems are growing," Wishart said. "There is no systematic way of evaluating septics, and we have not taken the next step in that area."
At least some of the problem can be attributed to the conversion of homes built as summer cabins in the 1950s, '60s and '70s into full-time residences, with use of the home and the septic tank much higher now than envisioned.
"We're finding there are significant failure rates and in many cases systems are just not being maintained properly," Wishart said.
Rules already require that septic tanks be inspected every three years, but all concerned acknowledge that homeowners are often unaware of this requirement.
In many cases, all that's required to keep a septic tank functioning properly is regular pump-outs, Adair said.
Unwitting accomplice to killing Sound
February 21, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed) But up next to the bulkhead, all that was left was hard clay and a few rocks. The bulkhead was failing the life it sat on. Gone was the sand that held the moisture for the eggs of surf smelt and sea lance, tiny fish juvenile salmon need for food. Gone was the sand at low tide line that used to hold the roots of eelgrass, home to herring eggs, a refuge for salmon fingerlings. The bulkhead had cut off the gradual flow of sand from the bank to the beach.
I realized then I was an unwitting accomplice in killing Puget Sound. The water looked the same, reflecting the changing sky. It smelled the same, tickling my nose with its salty bite. It was so easy to forget the Sound was ailing. Salmon and seabirds declining in numbers; shellfish beds closed from contamination.
That day was an awakening. I started researching Web sites such as Puget Sound Action Team-PSAT, which includes "Ten Simple Things You Can Do," and People for Puget Sound.
I found that 800 miles of Puget Sound shoreline are armored with bulkheads and ramps, cut off from the natural flow of life. But property owners can take steps to minimize impact. The state Department of Ecology Web site is full of information to help. Shoreline residents can get involved in People for Puget Sound's Shorewatch Program, which even has Septic Socials, a fun way to learn.
Last fall, I joined a hundred people planting snowberries, pines and willows to restore Coho salmon habitat along the bank of Hamm Creek, a Duwamish River tributary. I'm trying to consolidate trips in my car. And I'll never again wash my car in the street. There's a lot to do. It's a complex problem. Please join me.
Hood Canal warning requires action
February 20, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) The 2005 Legislature has all the warning it needs about the condition of Hood Canal.
The canal's oxygen levels have remained at perilously low levels with no sign of returning to a healthy state. The oxygen dead zone already has led to three major fish kills in recent years. Marine bird populations are well below those of a few decades ago. In August, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission permanently closed a host of fisheries in the canal.
It's time for serious legislative action.
World's oceans once teemed with whales
February 20, 2005 (The Independent UK) The oceans once teemed with many more now endangered marine mammals than previously thought, new genetic studies of whales suggest.
Whalemeat samples bought from a Japanese sushi market and analysed by scientists indicate that experts have seriously underestimated the size of the populations that roamed the seas before industrial-scale hunting began more than a century ago. The numbers of some species may have been 10 times greater than previously calculated.
The findings refute suggestions by whaling nations such as Japan that a resumption of hunting is justified by the increase of many whale populations beyond their natural size, the researchers said this weekend.
"Whales have shown remarkable resilience to cataclysmic events, until the last one, which is us.
"Ice ages, sea level change and even loss of local food sources did not interrupt their lives."
Secrets of Whales' Long-Distance Songs Are Being Unveiled
February 19, 2005 (Newswise) Why do whales in the North Atlantic Ocean seem to be moving together and coherently? What is impelling them forward. How do they communicate with each other, seemingly over thousands of miles of ocean? And how can this acoustical habitat be protected?
"We know very little about whale communications. That is why we are looking for patterns of association and coordination. The problem is that the whales are spaced so far apart," says Clark. However, the SOSUS system is providing a wealth of new data. In weeklong soundings at the U.S. Navy's Joint Maritime Facility in St. Mawgan, Cornwall, England, Clark has obtained thousands of acoustical tracks of singing whales for the different species throughout the year. "We now have the ability to fully evaluate where they are and how long they sing for," he says. "We now have evidence that they are communicating with each other over thousands of miles of ocean. Singing is part of their social system and community."
Using SOSUS, Clark can move a cursor around a screen and listen in on different areas of the North Atlantic. If he hears a whale singing, he can fix its location and position it in space and time and observe animals that are many tens of miles apart -- cohorts of humpback singers moving coherently -- and watch the collective migration of species in large portions of the ocean basin. "So if I am a whale off Newfoundland, I can hear a whale off Bermuda," says Clark.
"Whales will aim directly at a seamount that is 300 miles away, then once they reach it, change course and head to a new feature. It is as if they are slaloming from one geographic feature to the next. They must have acoustic memories analogous to our visual memories," he says.
Seattle draws up a plan to protect natural resources
February 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The city of Seattle yesterday unveiled its first stab at achieving that balance, in a state-mandated update of regulations protecting "critical areas," such as streams, wetlands, wildlife habitat and steep slopes. The original rules are more than a decade old.
Urban areas across the Puget Sound region have been wrestling with protecting scarce natural resources, while allowing enough development for new housing and jobs that cities are supposed to create under state growth-management rules.
Seattle's updated rules would rein in exemptions granted to homeowners wanting to build large decks, garages, patios or additions in ecologically sensitive areas.
They would increase the size of development-free buffers around wetlands that do a good job of filtering pollution and providing a home for wildlife. Those buffers would increase from 50 to 125 feet for the healthiest wetlands, which are rare in paved-over cities.
But developers would be able to fill in and destroy isolated wetlands that are smaller than 1,000 square feet and don't provide as much ecological benefit.
But Futurewise -- a group formerly known as 1,000 Friends of Washington that advocates for compact growth and livable communities -- said the new critical areas rules have "serious deficiencies."
Futurewise planning director Tim Trohimovich said the proposed buffer widths are too small across the board. They fall far short of protecting stream corridors and green oases that are important to urban residents and help prevent flooding, he said.
Under Seattle's proposed changes, buffers alongside the city's larger streams where development is not allowed would remain unchanged at 50 feet. On smaller streams, they would increase from 25 to 35 feet.
But new regulations will apply in a larger limited-development area extending 100 feet from the stream bank. Those include limiting hard surfaces such as roofs, driveways or patios that cause water runoff and flooding to 35 percent of the area.
In the Northwest: Scientist sees changes from warming firsthand
February 18, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) "I never wanted to find climate change. I just wanted to study seabirds ... As I was studying, things just started to change," said Divoky, who has spent 30 years tracking a colony of black guillemots in the land of the midnight sun.
Divoky has enjoyed a front seat from which to detail the rapid pace at which the Arctic is warming.
"Enjoyed" is perhaps the wrong word in view of what happened in the summer of 2002. "The pack ice blew offshore rapidly in August and dumped 100 polar bears on the beaches; 20 polar bears walked through our camp," said Divoky, who winters in Seattle.
"It was terrifying," he said. "We had a mother bear and two large cubs wandering toward our campsite. I shot into the air to drive them off. A 3-year-old bear essentially drove us out of camp. I hit the button on our emergency locator beacon."
The hungry bears also took to eating black guillemot chicks.
The recent Arctic Climate Impact Assessment -- the work of 300 scientists from 15 countries -- found that the polar region is warming almost twice as fast as the rest of the world.
The assessment warned of immense impending ice melts, rising ocean levels, possible depletion of the Gulf Stream and other currents, higher ultraviolet radiation and dislocations in the food chain.
Ocean, Arctic Studies Show Global Warming Is Real
February 17, 2005 (Reuters) A parcel of studies looking at the oceans and melting Arctic ice leave no room for doubt that it is getting warmer, people are to blame, and the weather is going to suffer, climate experts said on Thursday.
New computer models that look at ocean temperatures instead of the atmosphere show the clearest signal yet that global warming is well underway, said Tim Barnett of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
£6bn pipeline threatens endangered whale
February 17, 2005 (The Independent UK) A massive oil and gas drilling project planned by Shell off the eastern coast of Russia could lead to the extinction of the Western Pacific grey whale, a report has warned.
The study, commissioned by the oil company itself, recommended operations be halted in the oil and gas fields off the north-eastern coast of Sakhalin Island. The project, which will cost $12bn (£6.4bn), is thought to be the biggest private-sector energy scheme in the world.
A consortium led by Shell is seeking some $5bn of public cash to help fund the initiative, including money from the British taxpayer. The Department of Trade and Industry's export credit guarantee scheme and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, which is based in London and partly funded by the UK government, are among leading potential backers of the project. The independent report, by the highly respected IUCN-World Conservation Union, said there were only about 100 western grey whales left, leaving the species "on the edge of survival".
The study said: "It is particularly unfortunate the only known foraging grounds for the population lie along the north-eastern coast of Sakhalin Island, where existing and planned large-scale offshore oil and gas activities pose potentially catastrophic threats to the population."
Shell insisted yesterday the project could go ahead, with modifications but it was unclear whether the EBRD and the DTI would still fund it.
Nick Rau, of Friends of the Earth, said: "We don't believe public money should be funding a project that might lead to extinction of the western grey whale. We would also argue no company has the right to eliminate a species - at what price should projects like this be allowed to go ahead?"
Orcas seen along Kitsap shoreline
February 16, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) A half-dozen killer whales, which have been visiting Hood Canal the past three weeks, were spotted Tuesday along the Kitsap Peninsula shoreline from Bangor to Holly.
Sightings of the seal-eating "transients" have been rare in that area, possibly because the seal population is lower on the Kitsap side of the canal.
A team of orca researchers from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor arrived Monday afternoon on Hood Canal. On Tuesday, after learning of a sighting near Misery Point, south of Seabeck, the researchers found the whales near Tekiu Point and followed them to about Holly, said researcher Kyla Graham.
Judy Dicksion, a volunteer with Cascadia Research, has watched the orcas almost every day the past three weeks. She said she has seen them on the Kitsap side of Hood Canal but generally farther south than Seabeck.
The six orcas - two adult females, each with two offspring - are familiar to researchers in Southeast Alaska. The older animals may be teaching the younger ones to hunt, observers say.
In a written report to Orca Network, Dicksion recalled, "We saw a double-breach, tail slaps galore, and one of the larger females did six in a row, then some reverse tail slaps, a 'headstand' with the tail straight up out of the water several times, and some magnificent leaps clean out of the water with three doing it at the same time.
Sighting reports can be found at the Web site: www.orcanetwork.org. People can sign up for e-mail alerts to locate the whales from shore. Researchers discourage casual observers from following the transients in boats, since extraneous noise and distractions may disrupt their hunting.
Kyoto global warming pact takes effect
February 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Kyoto global warming pact went into force Wednesday, seven years after it was negotiated, imposing limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases scientists blame for rising world temperatures, melting glaciers and rising oceans.
The landmark agreement, negotiated in Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto in 1997 and ratified by 140 nations, targets carbon dioxide and five other gases that can trap heat in the atmosphere, and are believed to be behind rising global temperatures that many scientists say are disrupting weather patterns.
The United States, the world's largest emitter of such gases, has refused to ratify the agreement, saying it would harm the economy and is flawed by the lack of restrictions on emissions by emerging economies China and India.
"We have been calling on the United States to join. But the country that is the world's biggest emitter has not joined yet, and that is regrettable," Japan's top government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda, told reporters.
How Washington can fight global warming
February 15, 2005 (Tacoma News Tribune) Think globally, act locally" would be an apt description of the current effort to tighten this state's vehicle emissions standards.
Two companion measures – Senate Bill 5397 and House Bill 1397 – propose to have Washington adopt California's restrictions on what comes out of the tailpipes of cars, SUVs and pickups.
Under SB 5397 and HB 1397, those standards would be phased in here, beginning in 2009.
Air quality is part of the argument for this legislation; Washingtonians would be better off breathing less benzene, formaldehyde and other carcinogens. But global warming is another big concern. Washington's motor vehicles dump an estimated 134,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere – roughly as much CO2 as is generated by all other human activities combined.
Cutting Washington's emissions would not, by itself, affect global warming, which is a planetary phenomenon. But Washington would not be alone. Eight other states have adopted the more stringent standards, including California, New York and New Jersey. Other states will follow.
Shell Sakhalin pipeline faces blow over threatened whales
February 15, 2005 (Daily Telegraph UK) A $12 billion (£6.7 billion) gas pipeline project in the frozen waters of Russia's Sakhalin Island, which is vital to one of Shell's largest investments, could be dealt a serious blow this week.
On Wednesday an independent investigation is expected to conclude that the route of the pipeline could threaten the 100 remaining western grey whales. The pipeline is scheduled to cross the main feeding grounds of the whales, which eat small organisms in the mud of the sea floor.
If the report, which has been commissioned by Shell and conducted by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), is critical of the pipeline it could give environmental groups more ammunition to attack the project's lending banks. Environmentalists have been quick to remind the financiers of the Sakhalin project that they would be held responsible for the extinction of the whales.
Two oil spills are reported
February 15, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Two oil spills were reported yesterday in Washington's inland marine waters, the Coast Guard reported.
The second and larger spill was reported shortly before 8 p.m. at the ConocoPhillips refinery near Ferndale, Petty Officer Jeff Pollinger said.
About 50 gallons of intermediate fuel oil spilled while a Canadian-flagged barge was being refueled, he said.
The spill was believed to be contained, but any environmental damage assessment would not be available until a pollution-response team could get on scene. The spill was attributed to a "breach in the hull."
Earlier in the day, an oil sheen was reported near Bremerton, involving 10 gallons or less of an undetermined petroleum product.
Makahs will seek whaling waiver
February 14, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Nearly six years ago, a team of Makah Indian hunters sparked controversy worldwide with the harvest of a gray whale off Washington's Olympic coast -- the first successful whale hunt by the traditionally seafaring tribe in more than 70 years.
But almost ever since, the tribe's whale hunts have been put on hold, thwarted in the courts by a string of successful legal challenges from an international coalition of animal-protection activists.
With the filing of documents today with a federal agency, the Makah Indian Nation will begin anew its effort to re-establish tribal whale hunts -- an effort that, instead of fighting the court's rulings, will have the tribe trying to comply with them.
"The bottom line is, we support the tribe's treaty right to hunt whales," said Brian Gorman, a NOAA spokesman in Seattle.
The tribe hopes that within two years, all necessary approvals and paperwork will be in place to allow Makah whalers to legally return to the Pacific's waters with a plan to harvest as many as 20 whales over five years, with no more than five whales taken in a single year.
"This could absolutely be precedent-setting," said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society of the United States, one of several plaintiffs that succeeded in court in delaying the tribe's hunts.
"If they win (a waiver to the law), it's not just the Makah that will be impacted," Rose added. "This will lay the ground rules for anyone who tries to seek an exception to go whaling in the future. So yes, we'll definitely dog the process."
Council votes to expand ban on Aleutian trawling
February 11, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In a move to protect deep-sea coral beds and other sensitive fish habitat, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has proposed closing bottom trawling over more than half the fishable waters off Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
Meeting in Seattle, the 11-member council voted unanimously yesterday to ban trawling on more than 370,000 square miles around the Aleutians and several pockets in the northern Gulf of Alaska.
Conservation groups wanted a larger area protected, but hailed the decision as a huge step in the right direction.
"This council showed the leadership today to say if we're going to have healthy oceans, we're going to need to be precautionary about protecting them," said Susan Murray, a spokeswoman in the Juneau office of Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works to protect and restore the world's oceans.
Environmentalists argue that coral beds, sponge gardens and underwater peaks known as seamounts will be ruined without more protection from bottom trawlers, which scrape the ocean floor with weighted nets.
"We know this is the most destructive form of fishing on sensitive seafloor habitat, so stopping it in its tracks is a responsible move," Murray said.
GOP lawmakers mount new push against wildlife protections
February 11, 2005 (Contra Costa Times) Four leading GOP House members and senators announced a joint effort Thursday to rewrite the Endangered Species Act to toughen up habitat and scientific provisions. Environmentalists criticized the plan as the latest attempt to gut the law.
Joining Pombo were Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.; Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; and Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.
The lawmakers said they had no specific language yet, but listed goals including increased involvement by states, more incentives for private landowners, and strengthening scientific reviews before species are listed or critical habitat is designated.
They contended the law now creates unreasonable regulatory hurdles for property owners while failing to help many species.
Environmentalists said the act works as written.
Economist says restoring fishing seasons for salmon would pay off
February 9, 2005 (Idaho Statesman) If Idaho were to return to the year-in, year-out salmon and steelhead fishing seasons throughout their range it had until the late 1960s, the state would see an additional $544 million in economic activity annually, Reading said. Most of the money - $330 million - would go to rural river communities like Salmon, where fishermen would hire guides, stay in hotels, eat in restaurants and buy equipment.
But businesses elsewhere in Idaho would see $214 million annually in jet boat manufacturing and sales, travel agencies, sporting good sales and general business activity.
"The bottom line is fish are worth money," Reading said.
This is the fourth study Reading has done examining the impact of salmon and steelhead fishing on Idaho's economy and the first sponsored by Idaho Rivers United, a salmon advocacy group that supports breaching dams in Washington to help endangered salmon.
However, the local officials who endorsed the study during the news conference said they do not support breaching.
Hybelos Waterway cleanup agreement forged
February 9, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Port of Tacoma, Occidental Chemical Corp. and two other companies have agreed to pay about $36.5 million to clean up contaminated sludge at the bottom of the Hylebos Waterway in Tacoma, according to papers filed in federal court yesterday. For decades, industries dumped chemical waste into the shipping channel and Commencement Bay, leaving the area a Superfund site. The agreement requires the port, Occidental, Marianas Properties Inc. and Pioneer Americas LLC to dredge 625,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediments.
In the Northwest: We must wake up to realities of global warming
February 9, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The thermometer on Whidbey Island last weekend hovered in the high 30s, and a cold rain was pounding our corner of the Puget Sound convergence zone.
"Isn't this terrific?" exclaimed landscaper Ginny Snyder as the drops poured down our faces.
Hardened Northwest residents have learned a basic truth: Gray is beautiful. The rains sustain us in a multiplicity of ways. We ski on the winter snow pack. Gradual runoff, lasting through early summer, makes the Columbia Basin bloom and generates inexpensive electric power.
Melt from glaciers and ice fields as far distant as the Canadian Rockies keeps up the flow through fall, when October rains send salmon up rivers and begin the cycle all over again.
It is disturbing, then, that our region is starting to feel effects of global climate change in a drip, drip, drip kind of way.
The climate impact researchers at the University of Washington have made gloomy not-so-long-term predictions: The snow pack will shrink. The runoff season will grow shorter. Glaciers will disappear.
Somehow, public opinion has been slow to respond. "Global warming" isn't a term to elicit worry: Many of us head south to warmer climes during the winter.
The search for clues to 'the dead zone'
February 8, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) The hunt for nitrogen sources has begun in Hood Canal, where septic systems have been singled out as the largest cause of a low-oxygen "dead zone."
That dead zone, which grows and shrinks in southern Hood Canal, was declared responsible for massive fish kills in the fall of 2002 and 2003.
The project, funded with a $44,000 grant from Puget Sound Action Team, is seeking out areas of high bacterial pollution. Where pollution is found, further tests will be conducted. Once a source of pollution is identified, property owners will be asked to make corrections, such as repairing their septic drainfields. Properties are being checked from Anderson Landing, northwest of Seabeck, to the Kitsap-Mason County line.
Nitrogen has received a lot of attention because it appears to be the driving factor in an annual plankton bloom associated with the dead zone. The leading theory is that nitrogen feeds plankton, which eventually die and sink to the bottom. As plankton decompose, they consume whatever oxygen is available, making it difficult for fish and other sea life to survive.
W.R. Grace, executives indicted
February 8, 2005 (The Missoulian) The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday the indictment of W.R. Grace and Co. and seven current and former executives for knowingly endangering residents of Libby and concealing information about the health effects of its mining operations there.
"A human and environmental tragedy has occurred in Libby," U.S. attorney for the District of Montana Bill Mercer said Monday from the front steps of the Missoula County Courthouse. "This prosecution seeks to hold Grace and some of its executives responsible for the misconduct alleged in the indictment."
Libby residents welcomed the announcement.
Asbestos contamination in Libby was brought to the nation's attention in 1999 after newspaper reports linked the vermiculite mine's pollution with the deaths of nearly 200 people and illness in hundreds more. The EPA has since declared the Libby area a Superfund cleanup site.
The vermiculite mined in Libby was used in a number of household products, including home insulation and potting soil. With the vermiculite, though, came a deadly airborne byproduct - tremolite asbestos.
11 killer whales die in Hokkaido ice floes
February 8, 2005 (Mainchi Daily News) Eleven killer whales were found dead on Tuesday after a pod became trapped between ice floes near the shoreline in Rausu, Hokkaido.
Local divers are tried to free one killer whale that survived, but had failed to do so as of Tuesday morning due to its enormous weight, which is estimated to be four to seven tons.
The surviving killer whale apparently managed to leave the area in the afternoon, local people said.Experts have said that it was unusual for killer whales to be trapped between ice floes due to their speed.
"Apparently they became trapped because patterns in the ice floes changed beyond their expectations or that they were not accustomed to the area," said Hidehiro Kato, a researcher at the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries.
UC Berkeley, French Scientists Find Missing Link Between The Whale And Its Closest Relative, The Hippo
February 7, 2005 (Science Daily) A group of four-footed mammals that flourished worldwide for 40 million years and then died out in the ice ages is the missing link between the whale and its not-so-obvious nearest relative, the hippopotamus.
The conclusion by University of California, Berkeley, post-doctoral fellow Jean-Renaud Boisserie and his French colleagues finally puts to rest the long-standing notion that the hippo is actually related to the pig or to its close relative, the South American peccary. In doing so, the finding reconciles the fossil record with the 20-year-old claim that molecular evidence points to the whale as the closest relative of the hippo.
In a paper appearing this week in the Online Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Boisserie and colleagues Michel Brunet and Fabrice Lihoreau fill in this gap by proposing that whales and hippos had a common water-loving ancestor 50 to 60 million years ago that evolved and split into two groups: the early cetaceans, which eventually spurned land altogether and became totally aquatic; and a large and diverse group of four-legged beasts called anthracotheres. The pig-like anthracotheres, which blossomed over a 40-million-year period into at least 37 distinct genera on all continents except Oceania and South America, died out less than 2 and a half million years ago, leaving only one descendent: the hippopotamus.
This new analysis finally brings the fossil evidence into accord with the molecular data, showing that whales and hippos indeed are one another's closest relatives.
Bad news for Puget Sound's resident fish
February 5, 2005 (KING-5 TV) The majestic orcas of Puget Sound have long carried the unfortunate reputation as being among the most contaminated of all killer whales.
Researchers who are trying to figure out the reason concentrated a new study on what the whales eat.
New study results have just been compiled and when added to the existing studies, these new numbers leave no doubt any more about the levels of dangerous PCBs in Puget Sound.
This information may lead to new advice on human consumption of Puget Sound salmon.
The Chinook salmon help to tell the story and the story is not a happy one.
"On average for Puget Sound salmon, ours are about three times more contaminated for PCB's," said Sandy O'Neill, Washington Fish & Wildlife researcher.
"This was actually a killer whale study, southern resident whale study, but from that data, we can glean some information," said Gina Ylitalo, Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
Most notably, Puget Sound itself has a major PCB problem.
This new study compares fish that lived their whole lives in Puget Sound with those that travel through it and those that never been here.
The PCB levels in resident fish is consistently much higher than the others'.
And because PCBs are persistent chemicals that have adverse health affects on anything that consumes them, many species may have a problem.
Makahs defend 20,000-chinook catch
February 4, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Makah officials are defending the tribe's larger-than-expected winter catch of 20,000 chinook salmon, saying it will not put a dent in future fishing on the North Olympic Peninsula.
Under state guidelines, the tribe was supposed to take about 1,600 chinook, Fish and Wildlife spokesman Doug Williams told the Peninsula Daily News, correcting a previous report from one of the agency's coordinators that the limit was 500.
"Our biologists think this signals the increasing abundance of chinook salmon in the area," Sones said. "It seems that our stocks are recovering, which, if it turns out to be the case, will lead to more liberal fishing in the future."
The Fish and Wildlife Department is set to unveil salmon forecasts for Puget Sound, coastal Washington and the Columbia River on March 1 in Olympia. The final salmon fishing season for 2005-06 will be announced April 4-8 in Tacoma.
Salmon plan set to go to the feds
February 2, 2005 (Skagit Valley Herald) An effort to find public consensus on a plan to improve survival prospects for salmon in Puget Sound has reached an important milestone, and that could be good for farmers as well as fish.
Now, Shared Strategies, a Seattle-based organization working to develop a salmon recovery plan with broad support, is preparing for its next step - presenting a proposal to the federal government.
A draft report was presented last week at a "salmon summit" at the Tacoma Dome, drawing about 500 community leaders, scientists and lawmakers from around the sound.
The draft regional recovery plan will be submitted to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this June. By working with all groups with a stake in the issue, Shared Strategies is hoping to produce a fish plan backed by farmers, tribes, and the general public.
Farm and fish interests have conflicted since chinook salmon were listed on the Endangered Species List in 1999, the report said. Bull trout and summer chum salmon are also listed.
Nowhere has that conflict been more heated than in the Skagit Valley, where tribal fishing rights backed by federal agencies have collided at times with the interests of farmers, who have fought requirements to create wide buffer zones between the river and cultivated land.
The Shared Strategies draft report says, "farming which is done in an environmentally sensitive manner is a good neighbor for fish."
The document recognizes the economic challenges faced by most farmers and proposes that recommendations be developed for local governments to reduce or remove "fiscally based impediments" for agriculture.
"It's probably the first time (tribes) have sat down and tried to craft a solution for fish and farms," Cladoosby said.