Orca Network News - February, 2007
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
Bebruary 1, 2007 through February 28, 2007.
Marked for Duty - Navy Pursues Dolphin, Sea Lion Patrols in Puget Sound
February 25, 2007 (Washington Post) If they are allowed to police parts of Puget Sound, this is how Navy-trained dolphins and sea lions are expected to nab terrorists in wetsuits:
Using its sonar, a dolphin locates a swimmer approaching Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, where Trident submarines with long-range nuclear missiles are based. Swimming through the water in spurts of up to 30 mph, the dolphin seeks out and bumps the swimmer with a "nose cup." The device releases a strobe that rises to the surface. An armed Navy security team speeds toward the flashing light.
Alternatively, a sea lion collars swimmers around the piers of the naval base. Sea lions have excellent underwater hearing and, with their large eyes, can see underwater five times as well as people. Carrying a C-shaped leg cuff in its mouth, a sea lion dives, approaches the swimmer from behind and snaps the cuff around one ankle.
Swimmers participating in the training exercises often do not know where the cuff came from and almost never see the sea lion, the Navy says. After the cuffing, the sea lion darts away and a security officer uses a rope to haul in the swimmer.
To bring its technology north, however, the Navy must finesse its way around climatological, legal and political obstacles.
The water in Puget Sound is at least 10 degrees cooler than Atlantic bottlenose dolphins are used to in San Diego or in their native Gulf waters. So when the Navy tried to bring the dolphins north in 1989 and 1993, judges in Seattle agreed with animal rights groups that the dolphins might be harmed. One judge ordered the Navy not to move the dolphins until it studied the health consequences.
"It is a cruel absurdity," said Jan Bailey, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who met with a dozen concerned friends and neighbors recently at a community center on Bainbridge Island.
Hoping to embarrass the Navy, Bailey and her group are deploying their own "silly absurdity." They are knitting sweaters and mittens for the dolphins and preparing to deploy the dolphin-loving masses in the Pacific Northwest to attend public hearings next month on the Navy's plan.
February 24, 2007 (Indian Country Today) There is only one path that leads to the healing of Puget Sound, and it is one that we all must walk together. Puget Sound is sick. It's becoming filled with poison and starved of oxygen. The eelgrass and other plants that support life in the Sound are dying. Orcas and salmon are not far behind.
The health of Puget Sound is an indicator of your health, whoever you are and whatever you do. If the dead zones that already exist in the Sound and in the Pacific Ocean continue to grow, you will feel it. And so will your children.
When Gov. Christine Gregoire asked me to co-chair the new Puget Sound Partnership effort, along with Bill Ruckelshaus and Jay Manning, I accepted without hesitation. The waters that flow from the mountains to the sea flow through the veins of us all, connecting us to one another.
These things are as true now as they have ever been. It is the truth that everyone who lives here is responsible and accountable for taking care of these great gifts from the Creator. There are no exceptions.
That's why federal, state, tribal and local governments must come together with businesses, conservation groups and - most of all - the citizens of this region to focus collectively on the task before us and forge solutions.
The fate of the Puget Sound Partnership is now in the hands of the legislature and Congress. It is time for us - all of us - to stand up for the Sound.
I believe history will remember this as a time when the people of the Puget Sound region stood tall, a time when we put aside our petty differences in exchange for the great binding power of stewardship.
Sperm whale's quiet return to Mediterranean
February 23, 2007 (The Hindu) They are the shy, square-headed giants of the sea who dive to depths of two miles in search of food. Long thought to have been forced out of the warm waters of the Mediterranean by the voracious appetite of the drift net fishing boats, they are most frequently spotted now in the Pacific.
But Italian scientists say the sperm whale, an endangered species and the world's largest toothed animal, has made a quiet return in 'remarkable numbers'.
Ironically, the discovery that hundreds of the hulking mammals were stealthily living beneath the waves was made by researchers looking for something far smaller but equally elusive. An antenna anchored 300 metres down on the sea bed off the coast of Sicily was designed to measure tiny neutrino particles as they plunge into the water at close to the speed of light after travelling from hundreds of millions of light years away.
But scientists were surprised to pick up a cacophony of strange sonar clicks. Closer investigation discovered that the noise came from sperm whales weighing more than 50 tonnes and travelling at a more sedate pace.
Only a few years ago, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said that herds of sperm whales had vanished from the Mediterranean and deplored the dwindling numbers of the species.
Essential differences between neutrinos and sperm whales:
- Neutrinos are minute subatomic particles and the "closest thing to nothing" that scientists can study. Billions pass through every human body every second.
- Sperm whales are the biggest toothed animal on the planet, up to 60ft long and have the heaviest brains on earth. They weigh around 40 tons and any impact with a human body would be tricky to ignore.
Overfishing imperils fish in deep waters
February 19, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) With declining catches close to shore, commercial fishing is turning to deeper waters, threatening species that live in the cold and gloom of the deep oceans, according to researchers.
A panel at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science said Sunday that overfishing in deep waters is putting at risk the least sustainable of all fish stocks.
"We're not really fishing there. We're mining there. We're taking what appears to be a renewable resource and turning it into a nonrenewable one," said Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash.
"The number of people who want fish is not going down, but the number of fish is," Norse said.
The shift to fishing at depths of more than 600 feet is new. These areas began to be exploited after overfishing caused a decline in catch in more shallow coastal waters, said Norse.
Dolphin mortality high at Mirage
February 17, 2007 (Las Vegas Review-Journal) Eleven of 16 dolphins housed at The Mirage's Dolphin Habitat have died since the facility opened in 1990, according to federal records and interviews with resort officials.
Although most of the dolphin deaths were attributed to natural causes, they nonetheless caused Mirage officials concern. In 2004, the hotel hired a team of outside experts to conduct an audit of the exhibit.
In December 2005, the USDA and The Mirage entered into a settlement agreement in which the hotel agreed to make undisclosed changes as to how it cares for the dolphins at the exhibit.
"It's not simply a case of bad luck that that number has died," said Dena Jones, program manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals' U.S. office in Framingham, Mass. "Captive dolphins die regularly at relatively young ages. The causes are often not determined. The people (at The Mirage) may be well-meaning and the facility may be well-run, but these type of captive environments can't reproduce conditions in the wild."
The average life expectancy for a bottlenose dolphin is roughly 25 years, but they can live to be as old as 50.
But animal welfare advocates contend dolphins never were made for such public displays, and that the exhibit's confines simply are not adequate when compared to the natural habitat of the ocean.
"If these dolphins are being well-treated, we're glad to hear it, but there's still no comparison to their real environment," Jones said.
Toni Frohoff, a marine mammal biologist who specializes in dolphin behavior and stress, said dolphins in captivity do not, on average, live longer than dolphins in the wild even though they face no predators and no shortage of food while in captivity.
"Dolphins are free, wide-ranging animals in nature," Frohoff said. "They are one of the few species of mammals that ... in the wild, rarely encounter barriers of any kind. Even what looks like a naturalistic facility to people, with dolphin pens and seawater, serve as a cage to dolphins. There have been several studies showing that intelligent, wide-ranging mammals do not typically fare well in captive environments."
Environmentalists challenge Puget Sound-area stormwater rules
February 18, 2007 (KING5 TV) Rain that flows off roads, rooftops and construction sites is a major source of pollution in Western Washington waters, but new state rules would do far too little to fix the problem, environmental groups said Wednesday as they filed a challenge to the regulations.
The environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the appeal with the Pollution Control Hearings Board in Olympia on behalf of People for Puget Sound and the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance. The state Department of Ecology finished the rules, called the "municipal stormwater permit," last month.
"Ecology is required to do everything it can to reduce this pollution," Earthjustice lawyer Jan Hasselman said. "But this permit maintains a failed status quo that has brought Puget Sound to the edge of disaster."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires the state to create regulations governing stormwater discharge, and in turn, the state requires city and county governments to write those restrictions into local codes as stormwater management plans.
Among other things, the Ecology Department's new rules call for local governments to conduct public education campaigns, such as by urging people not to change their car oil in their driveways; to map their storm drain systems; to identify and eliminate non-stormwater discharges, such as sewer pipes that may be improperly connected; and to ensure that wherever new development occurs, stormwater runoff is treated.
But any construction sites smaller than an acre are exempt under the new rules, unless they are part of a larger development, such as a subdivision, of at least 5 acres. That's one reason environmentalists are opposing the new regulations.
But their primary point is one that Ecology officials concede: Even if the regulations were followed to a T, they would not be enough to keep the health of Puget Sound from declining. Researchers have determined that Puget Sound chinook salmon, harbor seals and killer whales have much higher levels of harmful chemicals, such as flame-retardant chemicals known as PBDEs, than those species do in other regions.
Ludicrous dolphin plan shows we are scared silly
February 17, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Brenda Peterson) When news of the U.S. Navy's anti-terrorism plan to deploy Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to patrol the Bangor submarine base made headlines here in the Puget Sound region, I was contacted by concerned citizens called Knitting for Dolphins.com. This group is symbolically knitting sweaters to keep the dolphins from freezing to death in our Puget Sound.
"Is this a joke?" I asked Jan Bailey, wildlife rehabilitator and member of Knitting for Dolphins.
"We think it's more a tragic irony," says Bailey, "and not nearly as ridiculous as the Navy believing they can transport and keep warm-water dolphins humanely alive in our frigid waters."
Adds marine mammal biologist Dr. Toni Frohoff, "When the Navy argues that their dolphins 'do very well' because they do not die, that doesn't mean the dolphins may not be suffering unbearable cruelty."
Dolphins have nothing to do with terror. They are antidotes not to terrorists, but to terror itself. While they are distractible and way too playful as soldiers; they are remarkable teachers. Models of strong family bonds, language skills, and altruism, dolphin intelligence rivals humans and other primates in their capacity for self-awareness. Recently researchers discovered that many cetacean brains possess the same spindle cells as humans; these cells produce feelings of love and attachment. It may seem like a no-brainer to say that dolphins, long beloved by humans, are also capable of expressing devotion one to another. The ethical question here is whether we humans have the moral right to impose our own aggression and terrorism on an equally intelligent species?
Port to give environment new emphasis
February 17, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Things have sure changed since John Creighton took over the presidency of the Port of Seattle Commission from Pat Davis five weeks ago.
Creighton has herded the port into a more active environmental role that will be kicked off by a series of motions approved unanimously by the commission Friday.
At the commission's behest, the port staff will:
Report within three months on port environmental programs to protect Puget Sound habitat, reduce polluted stormwater runoff and clean up contaminated sediments.
Create an action plan by the end of 2007 detailing port commitments to reduce air emissions from ships, on-dock equipment and drayage trucks -- or face a possible commission decision to let federal and state legislators have a crack at it.
Continue work to amend an agreement among the port, the NorthWest CruiseShip Association and the state Ecology Department to prohibit sludge dumping in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Record for hottest January isn't broken ... it's smashed
February 16, 2007 (Seattle Times) It may be cold comfort during a frigid February, but last month was by far the hottest January ever.
The new record was fueled by a waning El Niņo and a gradually warming world, according to U.S. scientists who reported the data Thursday. Records on the planet's temperature have been kept since 1880.
Spurred on by unusually warm Siberia, Canada, northern Asia and Europe, the world's land areas were 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than a normal January, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.
The temperature of the world's land and water combined - the most effective measurement - was 1.53 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average of 53.6 for January, breaking the old record by more than one-quarter of a degree. Ocean temperatures alone didn't set a record.
That didn't just nudge past the old record set in 2002, but broke that mark by 0.81 degrees, which meteorologists said is a lot, since such records often are broken by hundredths of a degree at a time.
World leaders reach climate change agreement
February 16, 2007 (Telegraph (UK)) Political leaders from around the world today reached a new agreement on climate change in what is being seen as a significant shift towards greater action.
Leaders from 20 countries, crucially including China and the US, signed a resolution that paves the way for a replacement to the Kyoto protocol, set to expire in 2012.
Although the resolution is non-binding, it is being seen as a "tipping point," that finally sees the US and China take full responsibility for helping to combat global warming.
The forum's closing statement said man-made climate change was now "beyond doubt" - bringing it in line with the stance held in the scientific world.
The forum, organised by the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (Globe), brought together rich countries from the G8 as well as developing countries such as Brazil and Mexico.
Today they agreed that all countries, rich and poor, should aim towards new targets for capping carbon dioxide emissions. Previously it has only been the most developed countries that have worked towards reductions.
Our salmon at risk behind closed doors
February 15, 2007 (Oregonian op-ed by Bill Bakke) Scientists from the United States and Canada are gathered in Portland this week to set salmon fishing policies. While it's certain that Pacific salmon have been in decline in the Columbia Basin for more than a century, the various interest groups in the region are still finger-pointing over the major causes. Who or what is most at fault: harvest, hatcheries, habitat, dams?
The Pacific Salmon Treaty was established 27 years ago as a way for Canadian and U.S. fishery managers to fairly allocate salmon among fishermen from Alaska to California. But in spite of the treaty, overharvest of these fish is still a major problem.
Why is the salmon treaty important? Because it is renegotiated only once a decade. This is our opportunity to bring the lessons of the last decade to bear on salmon management for the next decade.
And we have learned a tremendous amount about salmon recovery over the last decade. We have developed expensive plans to restore salmon habitat, and the federal government is asking for our help across the Northwest to implement these plans.
Yet the United States and Canada opened treaty negotiations this week by agreeing that no reduction in salmon harvest is necessary. Is this the same federal government that is asking for our help in recovery planning?
Poulsen's bills could create roadblock for Glacier
February 14, 2007 (Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber) With support from the Senate's Democratic leadership, state Sen. Erik Poulsen (D-West Seattle) on Monday introduced three bills that could make Glacier Northwest's massive expansion of its mine on Maury Island difficult to impossible.
State Rep. Joe McDermott (D-West Seattle) said Monday he and Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) are close to introducing the same bills in the House.
All three bills, were they to pass, would place significant roadblocks in Glacier's way.
One, for instance, would require a management plan for Maury Island's aquatic reserve that puts habitat protection front and center and expressly forbids "transportation of materials for mining or other industrial activities." Another would require two state agencies and the relevant county to agree before issuing or renewing permits "for dock reconstruction and other activities associated with gravel barging."
Glacier Northwest could not be reached for comment.
But Poulsen, who called the battle against Glacier "the biggest fight of my entire legislative career," said passage of the legislation would not necessarily mean Glacier's death knell.
"I think people should temper their expectations somewhat because the legal resources of Glacier Northwest are enormous, and if we can get any of these bills passed, I imagine they'll fight the new laws in court aggressively," Poulsen said.
Even so, J.W. Turner, president of Preserve Our Islands, a community group opposed to Glacier's expansion, sounded ecstatic.
Glacier Northwest's proposal to increase its gravel extraction off the eastern shores of Maury Island has triggered strong community opposition and has become one of the Island's most high-profile environmental battles.
POI, which has fought Glacier every step of the way, says the expanded operation would harm orca whales, devastate salmon runs, deposit tons of arsenic-laden topsoil into a berm above Puget Sound, destroy one of the region's largest stands of madrones and harm the Island's sole drinking-water source.
POI, which has lost its efforts to stop Glacier at the trial and appellate court level, is appealing its case to the state Supreme Court.
Company officials also say they've gotten a green light from every permitting agency - including the state departments of Ecology and Fish and Wildlife - and that Glacier opponents are trying to throw legal roadblocks in their path because they don't want a mine in their backyard.
Poulsen said his three bills will be heard in committee on Friday. Should they ultimately get passed by the Legislature, he said he's hopeful Gov. Christine Gregoire would sign them into law.
‘Fraser' the gray whale seen near Delta
February 14, 2007 (Peace Arch News) A grey whale has been in the Fraser River for more than three weeks now, last spotted from a houseboat in Delta.
"Fraser" as he or she has been named, was first seen in the river Jan. 22 by Cloverdale's Michael Vanden Born, a tugboat deckhand.
For whatever reason, the 20-tonne mammal veered off its migration from Alaska to the Baja Peninsula in California.
It's the first time in recent memory a grey whale has been seen this far up the Fraser River.
Scientists are concerned about the length of time the whale has been in fresh water, which can damage its tough hide.
If the whale doesn't make its way back out, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) may eventually organize boats to herd it back out to the Pacific.
If you see "Fraser" call the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network at 1-866-I-SAW ONE. [Note: Or call the Orca Network Sightings Network at 1-866-ORCANET, and we'll notify the B.C. Cetacean Sightings Network.]
Deadly fungus prompts B.C. travel alert
February 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A tropical and potentially lethal fungus that has mysteriously made a home on Canada's temperate West Coast has prompted foreign medical experts to issue a worldwide alert to doctors and tourists.
The warning comes after a 51-year-old Danish visitor contracted the rare and life-threatening fungal infection on Vancouver Island. In the January issue of the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases, published monthly by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors in Denmark -- who eventually found clumps of the fungus growing in the man's chest -- have cited the island as a potential health risk to travelers.
Cryptococcus gattii, a microscopic pathogen normally found in tropical or subtropical locales in Australia, Africa, India or South America, was first identified on Vancouver Island in 2001. Many suspect that global warming has recently enabled the one-celled organism to thrive in the trees, soil, water and air along the island's east coast.
The fungus also has infected dogs, llamas, ferrets, pet birds and horses, and the corpses of infected porpoises have washed ashore, making this one of the world's few, true multispecies outbreaks.
PUD aims to explore tidal power
February 13, 2007 (Everett Herald) The Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) is among those trying to secure permits from federal energy regulators to examine harnessing tidal energy in key sites around Puget Sound.
The utility wants to explore planting fields of tidal turbines in such spots as Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet.
It envisions as many as 1,662 turbines on the bottom of Puget Sound, according to permit applications filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
The turbines would be staggered in rows to catch the strongest, most consistent currents. Most would be 100 feet tall with blades as large as 66 feet in diameter.
That many turbines could possibly generate 100 megawatts of electricity - enough for 60,000 homes, proponents say.
For now, the PUD is just seeking to study the economic and environmental feasibility of tidal power. The permits to do that are pending with FERC.
Since April, when energy experts identified potential sites for tidal power in the United States and Canada, energy companies have filed for permits to study key sites, including several in Puget Sound.
A number of environmental groups, especially those concerned with sea life, have concerns.
"I support alternative energy, but there are some real problems with tidal energy, both in terms of sound, as well as the physical disturbance in the water," said Susan Berta of the Orca Network, which tracks killer whales.
While the Tulalip Tribes are staying neutral for now, Daryl Williams, tribal environmental liaison, worries that turbine fields could also harm salmon and whales.
"It's purely guesswork, but 1,000 turbines could look like a big fence to the whales," he said, adding that tidal-energy impacts would need to be studied also in areas like Hood Canal, where oxygen levels are already low.
Mammals face deployment to guard Puget Sound base
February 13, 2007 (San Diego Union Tribune) Dolphins and sea lions trained by the Navy at Point Loma might soon be swimming guard duty at Kitsap-Bangor Naval Base in Washington, home of the United States' largest nuclear weapons arsenal.
Animal activists blocked a similar plan in 1989 when they convinced a judge that the colder ocean in the Pacific Northwest isn't good for dolphins and sea lions. The waters of San Diego Harbor are about 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than those in Puget Sound.
In more recent years, Navy officials have trained the marine mammals in cold-water environments such as Alaska and Scandinavia and gotten encouraging results, said Tom Lapuzza, spokesman for the San Diego-based Marine Mammal Program. The animals would patrol for about two hours at a time around Kitsap-Bangor, Lapuzza said, and then return to heated enclosures.
Environmentalists such as Howard Garrett, president of the Orca Network in the Seattle area, remain doubtful.
"It sounds a bit bodacious [Actually I said "audacious" -hg] to activate a program after it's been blocked for biological reasons," Garrett said. "Those animals don't do well in these cold waters and that does not change."
If sent to Washington, the trained dolphins and sea lions would work together to maximize their effectiveness. The dolphins are adept at spotting objects and swimmers from far away, while the sea lions would help catch suspects by attaching a handcuff-like mechanism to their legs.
Both animals can make repeated deep-water dives without suffering the effects of decompression sickness, the Navy said.
Navy could deploy dolphins, sea lions to Seattle-area Navy base
February 12, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Navy said Monday it is reviving a proposal to send dozens of dolphins and sea lions trained to detect and apprehend waterborne attackers on a mission to patrol a military base in Washington state.
In a notice published in this week's Federal Register, the Navy said it needs to bolster security at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, located on Hood Canal west of Seattle. The base is home to submarines, ships and laboratories and is potentially vulnerable to attack by terrorist swimmers and scuba divers, the notice states.
Several options are under consideration, but the preferred plan would be to send as many as 30 California sea lions and Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins from the Navy's Marine Mammal Program, based in San Diego.
Lapuzza said because of their astonishing sonar abilities, dolphins are excellent at patrolling for swimmers and divers. When it detects a person in the water, a Navy dolphin drops a beacon. This tells a human interception team where to find the suspicious swimmer.
The Navy wanted to deploy marine animals to the Northwest in 1989, Lapuzza said, but a federal judge sided with animal welfare activists concerned about the effects of cooler water, as well as how the creatures would affect the environment. The water is about 10 degrees cooler than in San Diego Harbor, which has an average temperature of about 58 degrees, Lapuzza said.
Since then, the Navy has taken the dolphins and sea lions to cold-water places like Alaska and Scandinavia to see how they coped.
"They did very well," Lapuzza said. If the animals are sent to Washington, the dolphins would be housed in heated enclosures and would only patrol the bay for periods of about two hours.
Stephanie Boyles, a marine biologist and spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said sea mammals do not provide a reliable defense system, and they should not be kept in small enclosures.
Dolphins live for as long as 30 years. Lapuzza said the Navy occasionally gives its retired animals to marine parks but generally keeps them until they die of old age.
Navy Eyes Bottlenose Dolphins for Bangor Security Force
February 12, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) The service announced Monday in the Federal Register its intent to prepare an environmental impact statement for a Swimmer Interdiction Security System at the strategic base.
The action is in response to new directives that arose from the September 11th terrorist attacks that require waterside security measures be put in place to protect Navy assets.
Public meetings will be held in Keyport on March 27 and Seattle on March 28 to take oral and written comments on environmental concerns.
The Keyport meeting will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Naval Undersea Museum, Highway 308 at Garnet Way. The Seattle meeting will be the same hours at Holiday Inn, 211 Dexter Ave.
Comments can also be submitted by phone, mail, fax or e-mail until April 11.
Send comments to Commanding Officer, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, Attn: Mike Rothe 235, 53560 Hull St., San Diego, CA 92152, phone (888) 510-5476, fax (619) 221-5251 or e-mail NBKEIS@spawar.navy.mil.
Puget Sound Cleanup Now Funded on Par With Chesapeake Bay
February 12, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Puget Sound has been recognized for the first time by President Bush as its own entity worthy of support.
But with just $1 million targeted to the waterway in the proposed 2008 budget, Congress will need to take it from there, said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.
"I asked them to put this in," said Dicks of the Environmental Protection Agency. "We have to do a lot better than that to get the kind of money we need."
Dicks recently assumed the chairmanship of a House subcommittee that deals with most environmental appropriations, including those of the EPA and National Parks Service.
For the first time, Puget Sound has been recognized in the EPA budget as its own entity, separate from a great number of other estuaries. It's now in a category with Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes. Chesapeake Bay was proposed for $28.8 million, up $2 million from the previous budget.
This governor's legacy runs on clean energy
February 12, 2007 (Oregonian) Kulongoski's vision: Bustling rural refineries turning canola seeds into biodiesel. Buoys the size of refrigerators bobbing off the Oregon coast, turning waves into electricity. And thousands of people employed in new jobs aimed at slowing the pace of global warming and breaking the nation's addiction to foreign oil.
Kulongoski says he'll keep schools and health care at the top of his priority list, as will every governor who comes after him. But he says he wants "to do something that dramatically changes the way we are, for the better" by making Oregon the leader in alternative, renewable energy.
Kulongoski contends his energy plan would establish the most rigorous requirements in the nation for renewable energy use and offer some of the most enticing tax breaks for things such as wind power and crops that can be turned into biofuel.
The centerpiece is a requirement that the state's largest utilities acquire ever-increasing percentages of their electricity from renewable sources such as wind, geothermal and solar. Specifically, 15 percent of a utility's retail sales would have to come from renewables by 2015, 20 percent by 2020 and 25 percent by 2025.
Flame retardant legislation based on science, thorough study
February 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Jay Manning) The Legislature is considering a bill to phase out a chemical flame retardant known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers. This family of chemicals is toxic, especially for kids, and it's everywhere. It's in a wide variety of products in our homes and offices, including furniture, TVs and computers.
Unfortunately, PBDEs leach out of these products and into air, household dust and eventually our bodies. We at the Department of Ecology are so concerned about the escalating presence of PBDEs that we are requesting passage of this bill phasing out the use of PBDEs in household products, provided equally effective and less toxic flame retardants are available.
In a Jan. 23 guest op-ed, Patrick Moore claimed that PBDEs "are not the issue in Puget Sound" and that the proposed ban on PBDEs would decrease fire safety. I hope the residents of Washington are paying closer attention to this legislation and the science behind it and will question Moore's claims, which are hardly surprising, given his stated financial relationship with PBDE manufacturers.
Two chemical forms of PBDEs, known as Penta and Octa, are no longer produced in the U.S. However, the type of PBDE known as Deca, which is still widely used, is the key focus of the legislation.
Last month, the Puget Sound Partnership, a broad coalition of community leaders, legislators, businesspeople and tribes brought together by Gov. Chris Gregoire to restore the health of Puget Sound, recommended a phase-out of PBDEs -- provided a safer alternative was available. The partnership was clearly concerned about the health of Puget Sound when it reviewed the science showing that PBDEs are found in people, salmon, seals and orcas. We did find Deca in our most recent survey of fish in Washington waters.
Lawmaker's Book Aims to Spark Action on Climate Change
February 6, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Washington state is faced with a decline in the alpine meadows of Mount Rainier and Olympic National Park, increasing water temperature, reducing stream flows and declining snow pack, combined with summer drought.
Inslee has been writing his way toward a solution. In his forthcoming book, "Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Revolution," Inslee offers solutions he thinks can help fix the problem.
"We can't let people feel overwhelmed. They could just seize up and not act. We can't become frozen by this problem, we have to move," Inslee said Monday in his Capitol Hill office. "That's what this book is about. It's really trying to build confidence in our abilities in America to develop a new clean-energy future."
Sea bird tied to logging fight dwindles
February 6, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The marbled murrelet, a threatened sea bird whose rare trait of nesting in old-growth forests made it a factor in logging battles in the U.S. Northwest, is also declining dramatically in Alaska and Canada, where most of the birds live, according to a U.S. government review.
The first comprehensive look at population surveys in Alaska and British Columbia found an overall decline of about 70 percent over the last 25 years, dropping the estimated population to 270,000 birds in Alaska and 54,000 to 92,000 birds in British Columbia.
"Nobody was really expecting that kind of change," Piatt said from Port Townsend, Washington. "Natural influences may be more important than human-caused," changes.
That could be changes in the ocean climate, such as a 1977 shift in the North Pacific that altered the availability of fish and zooplankton the birds feed on, and an increase in predators such as ravens and bald eagles in the forests where the bird nests, which could be related to logging and urban development.
PCBs threaten Duwamish River cleanup near Boeing Field
February 6, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Industrial chemicals banned three decades ago are mysteriously turning up again at north Boeing Field and now seem likely to delay the planned cleanup of a nearby pollution "hot spot" on the Duwamish River.
The polychlorinated biphenyls bedeviling the cleanup effort are being taken seriously because they are known to enter the Puget Sound food web, inhibiting the reproductive and immune systems of orcas, seals and other sea life.
No one is certain where the PCBs are coming from. But their reappearance has the potential to upset a planned swap of the airport to the Port of Seattle by its current owner, King County, although a port spokesman played down that possibility Monday.
Boeing has gone to some lengths to remove PCBs, including replacing all the caulk between concrete sections in a 2-acre section -- only to see the replacement caulk show recontamination by low levels of PCBs.
However, Department of Ecology officials said in a letter to federal officials last week that an 18-acre section of north Boeing Field is the suspected "primary source" of the contamination.
Global warming is real
February 6, 2007 (Seattle Times editorial) Talk about global warming changed this week, from Washington, D.C., to Olympia. A scientific conclusion that the existence of global warming is "unequivocal" has moved discussions from what if to what now?
This time, the message was blunt. Global warming has increased markedly since 1750 as a result of human causes, and its impact on shrinking snowpacks, declining sea ice, rising oceans and wetter, hotter weather will persist into the future, even if the causes stopped now.
The choice that exists is to slow the process so the worst will not happen. That is an outcome for which the globe has time and options. The behavior and leadership of the United States - a nation with 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of CO2 emissions - will certainly be under scrutiny.
Automobile emissions will duel with the coal-burning habits of India, China and Russia for status as the greatest villain. The instinct to protect one's national economy down to the last manhole-cover-sized piece of sea ice will be strong.
Last week's sober news offered a fresh start. Global warming is real. Now move on to coaxing out mitigating solutions.
Sound study explores orca behavior
February 5, 2007 (Juneau Empire) ANCHORAGE - Marine researcher Kelly Newman wanted to learn if transient killer whales were dining on the fur seals that abound in the waters off Alaska's Pribilof Islands.
With limits on what her eyes could contribute to her research, Newman turned to her ears.
Using a sophisticated hydrophone, the graduate student last summer captured the distinctive sound of orcas killing - pouncing on seals, or ramming them like freight trains, often at night, then calling in their companions to share in feeding.
Newman says her work, so far just a pilot project, affirms that visual observations are limited in determining behavior of marine mammals, especially if the animals don't want to be seen.
"You may see a killer whale, and you may see a fur seal, and you may see something going and maybe think there might be predation, but you can't be sure," she said.
Newman is pursuing a doctorate in marine biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The waters off the coast of Alaska have been a focus for researchers because of changes brought on by warming, such as diminished sea ice, and population drops in pinnipeds such as fur seals and Stellar sea lions.
"When I opened that first file and got sound right away, I said, 'This has just got to be luck,"' she said. "I was expecting to get nothing. We weren't sure it was going to work."
Instead, she collected whales sounds on 19 of the 20 days the hydrophone recorded data and soon was listening to the cold, efficient killing of fur seals by orcas, commonly in pods of three to five animals.
The recordings belie the violence in the water. From silence, the sensitive recorder picks up a thump, a pause, another thump, then whale calls, sort of a high-pitch warble. It's the sound of a silent killer whale ramming a seal, flopping on it or even throwing it in the water, then a summons to eat.
The black and white hunters were mostly quiet from early evening until sunset, but active after, which may correspond to the time when seals leave rookeries to catch pollock, herring, capelin or squid.
"The most common call time to catch them was 2 a.m.," Newman said of the orcas.
I left my orca in San Francisco
February 5, 2007 (Whidbey News Times) A recent sighting of Southern Resident orcas off the coast of California near San Francisco is helping researchers gain a better understanding of the whales' winter migratory pattern as they search for sustenance.
Susan Berta, Greenbank resident and co-founder of the Orca Network, said the organization has been working with the Center for Whale Research and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the past few years to increase coastal sightings and reports of the endangered whales.
"It's always exciting when we get calls from the California or Oregon coast with reports that sound like it may be ‘our' whales, the Southern Resident orcas, and even more exciting when someone takes photos that confirm the sighting as a Southern Resident pod, as recently happened off San Francisco," Berta said.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research based in Friday Harbor has been traveling up and down the coast, putting up posters imploring people to report orca sightings to the Orca Network Whale Sighting Network. The posters have effectively increased the number of reports each year, including reports from commercial fishers, crabbers, and charter boats as well as from people living on or visiting the coast.
The Orca Network received a call on Jan. 14 as a result of Balcomb's coastal poster campaign reporting a large pod of more than 20 orcas spread out several hundred yards, heading south in Half Moon Bay, 30 miles north of Santa Cruz, Calif.
I come as a friend, you lovely killer whale you
February 4, 2007 (The Times (UK)) There are many things you want to hear from your guide when you're snorkelling with killer whales, but the phrase "rather you than me" is not top of the list. The good news is that the woman in question, Tiu Simila, is just filling in for the regular guide, and she's new to orca snorkelling.
The bad news is she's Norway's leading authority on killer whales, and she has a PhD in orca behavioural biology - so she probably knows what she's talking about. "They've taken elk before," she chirrups. "And a few years back one nibbled a scientist's flipper. Sooner or later one of them will have a go."
It is horrible. They are silent, beautiful, perfect. Vast. The first one glides directly below, much closer than I'd imagined, close enough that if I weren't pulling my elbows in, tucking my knees up, and generally trying to deny my own existence, I could reach down and touch a fin. Two, three more glide silently below, then another, but this time, instead of swimming past, the killer whale angles up, as if about to charge, tilts to one side and stops, a single disembodied eye staring straight at my face, probably no more than 6ft from my frozen being. I cannot look into its eye and gaze meekly instead somewhere around its fin. And then it goes. I am not sorry.
The one species that has so far seemed largely immune to attack by killer whales is Homo sapiens - in the wild at least. There have, however, been attacks on staff and members of the public in marine theme parks.
Gray whale death raises fear of extinction
February 2, 2007 (People and Planet) A critically endangered Western Pacific Gray Whale (Western Gray Whale) has died off the coast of Japan after becoming trapped in fishing gear. It is a problem which now threatens this rare creatures with extinction.
This is the fourth Western Gray Whale, all female, to be killed in fishing nets on the Pacific coast of Japan in the last two years.
The Western Gray Whale population comprises about 120 individuals, of which only 20 to 25 are reproductive females. If this rate of loss of females continues, it will is likely to lead to the population's extinction, according to a projection prepared by the World Conservation Union's Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel.
The whale, a juvenile female of approximately 9 metres length, was dead when discovered by fishermen on 19 January 2007 in Yoshihama Bay, off the north eastern coast of Honshu. It was reported that scientists from the Institute of Cetacean Research (Tokyo) undertook a detailed analysis of the carcass before it was burned.
U.N. Climate Panel Says Warming Is Man-Made
February 2, 2007 (Washington Post) There is no longer any reasonable doubt that human activities are warming the planet at a dangerous rate, according to a new worldwide assessment of climate science released today by the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
With at least 90 percent certainty, the IPCC's "Summary For Policymakers" concludes human-generated greenhouse gases account for most of the global rise in temperatures over the past half century. Hundreds of scientists from 113 countries prepared the report, which represents the most comprehensive overview of scientific climate research since 2001.
Life as we know it gets blame for global warming
February 2, 2007 (Portland Oregonian) People and the everyday life of modern societies are the main culprits behind the rise in global warming of the past few decades, and they may accelerate heating even more in this century, say hundreds of the world's premier climate scientists.
The finding is the most definitive to date in declaring that natural climate cycles do not account for the sharp rise in temperatures since the onset of the Industrial Revolution.
The claim also has sharp meaning in the Pacific Northwest, which depends heavily on mountain snows and melt-off for its yearlong water supply. Much of that snowpack is now at risk, making this one of the nation's most vulnerable areas to climate change, according to regional scientists contributing to the report.
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