Orca Network News - February, 2008

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2008 through February 29, 2008.

Darcie Larson named Whale Watch Association Executive Director
February 29, 2008 (San Juan Islander) The Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest (WWOANW), named Darcie Larson executive director on January 17, 2008. The Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest is an international organization of 31 member companies that operate from Seattle, Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Anacortes, Bellingham, Everett, La Conner, Port Townsend, Victoria, Vancouver, Duncan, Richmond and Sidney.
Founded in 1994, the Association provides a cohesive structure to the whale watching industry that operates in the trans-boundary waters of Washington and British Columbia. One of the Association's major objectives is to assist in the conservation of all marine species in these waters, but particularly to contribute to the conservation of the Southern Resident Killer Whales.
The executive director is responsible for guiding the Association's conservation agenda, and will represent the Association at meetings and workshops addressing issues of concern to the industry throughout the region.
"In addition to advocating for responsible whale watching and maintaining high standards for our members in that regard, my goal is for the Association to be at the forefront of conservation initiatives that will benefit the whales. Restoring abundant wild salmon is a top priority, as is cleaning up toxic contaminants found in the marine environment," said Larson.

Killer whales roam Monterey Bay
February 26, 2008 (Santa Cruz Sentinel) But the commotion was not gray whales. The boat had come across an uncommon pod of killer whales. About 40 giant black-and-white predators were 4 miles off Pacific Grove; the crew's resident biologist Nancy Black quickly identified them as "resident" killer whales from Washington and British Colombia.
Less than a week later, the crew would see another 40 resident killer whales, this time a mile off Monterey. Black is still unsure if they were the same whales, but she is sure the community of killer whales that once remained primarily in the Pacific Northwest is no longer a stranger to points south.
This is the fifth year since 2000, Black says, that these resident killer whales have been spotted in the Monterey Bay, and the sixth year they've been seen in California, a migratory behavior some researchers think the whales have adopted because they're not finding enough salmon, their food of choice, in their native waters.
"They've always been thought to move around in the winter but not as far as California," says Black, one of the state's leading killer whale experts. "If they had been here before, we would have seen them."
The presence of the killer whale this far south has left Black and other researchers wondering what it means for the massive ocean creature, which like many marine creatures is being forced to confront changing conditions to meet its basic needs.
There are several communities of killer whales around the globe, each biologically distinct with its own diet, range and social behavior, and some are regular visitors to the Central Coast.
"Transient" killer whales, which are distinguished by their long ocean passages in small groups, feed exclusively on other marine mammals and are known to hunt in the Monterey Canyon.
The resident killer whales, however, are different, according to researchers. The Puget Sound natives, which are believed to feed solely on fish, are an endangered variety, numbering less than 100.
"The question now is are they getting enough to eat," says Howard Garrett, who runs Orca Network, a Greenbank, Wash., non-profit that tracks the killer whales and seeks to raise awareness of their plight. "There are signs that they're not."
Recent sightings reveal what Garrett calls a "peanut head," a depression behind the orca's skull that indicates a lack of blubber - and a possible food shortage.
"They're getting skinny," he says.
Which explains why the resident whales, or at least some of them, have traveled more than 600 miles from the Puget Sound to the Monterey Bay, where they've been spotted at least twice this year, on Jan. 27 and Feb. 2. Their presence in California has been confirmed through photographs sent to Garrett's brother Ken Balcomb, who runs the Center for Whale Research and has been watching the killer whales in Washington for 30 years.
Balcomb's work points to the dwindling population of chinook salmon in the Pacific Northwest as the reason for the killer whale's expanding range.
"If California's proactive effort to recover salmon stocks by setting aside large parcels of ocean as marine reserves prohibiting fishing is successful, the killer whale might just stay there," Balcomb wrote on his Web site recently.

Environmentalists hatch plan to ferry wild salmon past fish farms
February 22, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail) A group of ecotourism businesses, native organizations and environmentalists have a wild plan to save salmon on British Columbia's central coast.
They are proposing to round up hundreds of thousands of young salmon emerging from a spawning river this spring, load them into boats, and shepherd them past fish farms that they say threaten wild species with sea lice infestations.
The proposal is clearly a tactic to put pressure on the government to support a campaign to move salmon farms off the migration routes used by wild, young salmon on the West Coast.
But Alexandra Morton, a research scientist and environmental activist who focuses on the impact of salmon farms on wild stocks, said the plan to "medevac wild fish" is workable.

Dead dolphin was near site of Navy sonar tests
February 22, 2008 (Los Angeles Times) A deep-diving dolphin died on the beach of the Navy's San Nicolas Island late last month during the final days of Navy exercises using a type of sonar that has been linked to fatal injuries of whales and dolphins.
Although researchers have yet to determine a cause of death, a dissection of the northern right whale dolphin's head revealed blood and other fluid in the ears and ear canals. Those same symptoms were found in deep-diving whales that washed ashore in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas after military sonar exercises.
Unlike the mass strandings of whales on the Canary Islands in 2002 and the Bahamas in 2000, only the one dolphin washed ashore Jan. 29 on San Nicolas. That occurred just as the Navy's Third Fleet in San Diego was wrapping up sonar training that has become the focus of a federal court fight and elicited an effort by President Bush to intervene.
Teri Rowles, the lead veterinarian with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, cautioned against jumping to conclusions until a panel of expert radiologists can review magnetic resonance images of the dolphin's head and federal pathologists can scrutinize various tissues for disease as well as for air and fat bubbles associated with sonar-related injuries.
The initial review, Rowles said, confirmed increased fluid in the ears.
"That could be blood; it could be infection or parasites -- those are the three more common causes of fluid in the ears," she said. Or it could be trauma related to sonar.
"The lesions that we have seen to date are consistent to what has been found in whales in the Canary Islands and the Bahamas," Rowles said.
The microscopic analysis of most tissues should take about a month, Rowles said. It could take as long as a year to examine the ears because the bones must be slowly dissolved in fluid to peek at soft tissues inside.

A new threat for traditional dolphin hunt
February 21, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For years, Western activists have traveled to this remote port to protest the annual dolphin drive. And for years, local fishermen have ignored them, herding the animals into a small cove and slashing them until the tide flows red.
But now, a new menace may succeed where the activists have failed: mercury.
Last June, laboratory tests showed high levels of mercury in dolphins and pilot whales, a small whale that resembles a dolphin, which were caught and sold here. Schools stopped serving pilot whale meat for lunch, and some local supermarkets removed it and dolphin from their shelves.
The scare has divided the community. Most local officials and the fishermen's union insist that the mercury danger is overblown, while others have begun to question a tradition.
The problem is hardly limited to Taiji. Japan is one of the world's largest whale- and dolphin-consuming nations, yet the Health and Agriculture ministries, as well as the news media, have said little about the growing mercury levels found in whale and dolphin meat. Indeed, the whaling industry seems to enjoy a protected status, mainly as a mark of tradition to be defended against foreign interference.
"There is a real danger in whale and dolphin meat, but word is not getting out," said Tetsuya Endo, a professor at the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and an expert on mercury in sea animals.

Sonar implicated in whale stranding
February 21, 2008 (Stuff.co.nz) New Zealand - Dolphin tour operator John Chisholm of Mangonui, who watched last week's stranding of three Gray's beaked whales at Taupo Bay, says he has noticed a change in the behaviour of dolphins this summer and he is concerned that use of low frequency sonor could be disorientating whales and dolphins in the South Pacific.
Samples of two adult females and a juvenile Gray's beaked whale were taken by Ngatiwai and AUT research officer Emma Beatson, before the dead whales were buried at Taupo Bay.
Department of Conservation officer Mita Harris says this species does not strand often.
The Gray's beaked whale – mesoplodon grayi – lives in the Southern Hemisphere. Strandings of more than one beaked whale at the same time are said to be uncommon.
According to the the International Whaling Commission, evidence linking sonar to a series of whale strandings in recent years is ‘very convincing and appears overwhelming'.

Fisheries Department scientist studies killer whales as way to assist humans
February 20, 2008 (Canadian Press) Toxic chemicals in killer whales and other marine wildlife are a crucial area of scientific study because they provide an important signal about the types of chemicals humans may be exposed to, says a marine scientist.
Peter Ross, a toxicology research scientist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C., has studied the majestic creatures and other wildlife to determine the level of chemicals in their bodies - and the eventual exposure to humans.
"The killer whales are telling us that we have a pollution problem on a global scale," said Ross, who published a scientific paper called Fireproof Killer Whales.
That's primarily because the study, in part, examined the effects of polybrominated didphenyl ethers, a fire retardant chemical (PBDEs) found high up in the food chain.
"Killer whales can give us an amplified signal of the kinds of chemicals that humans might be exposed to," he said. "They can give us an early warning sign."

Judge dismisses 1 charge against Makah whalers
February 20, 2008 (Seattle Times) The federal prosecution of five Makah tribal members who killed a gray whale last September will go forward, though part of the case against them has been dismissed.
Chief U.S. Magistrate Kelley Arnold granted a motion Tuesday to dismiss a charge against the whalers brought under the Whaling Convention Act, ruling the act did not appropriately apply to a criminal case.
But Arnold let stand charges against the whalers brought under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The federal trial is to begin in April.
The five whalers also face prosecution soon by the tribe for violating tribal restrictions on whale hunts. McCarty said the tribe would rather settle its case against the five than see it go to trial.
Will Anderson, of Friends of the Gray Whale, an animal-rights group, said he wants a trial. "The public needs to see what it takes to kill a whale. They are trying to keep it out of the light of day."

What is behind the salmon decline?
February 19, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle op-ed) California's most abundant salmon run suddenly dropped this season to an historic low. Fishing groups and many environmental organizations were quick to point the finger: The pumps in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that move water to grow half of the nation's fruits and vegetables and provide a key water supply for two out of every three California residents. "It's proof that the operation of these water projects is harming salmon," one environmentalist told the Associated Press.
But what if this treasured salmon run is in trouble for other reasons? What if government scientists were increasingly suspecting changing conditions in the ocean as the primary factor? And what if environmental groups were publicly reluctant to blame another human activity - recreational and commercial salmon fishing - because the groups were allies in court skirmishes against the water projects?
And then there's a fourth "culprit"- Mother Nature. Changing ocean conditions have dramatically lowered food sources for salmon in recent years. "The ocean environment has a strong influence on how many survive the initial period at sea and how many come back to spawn three to four years later in the Sacramento River," a biologist with the Farallon Institutes for Advanced Ecosystem Research told The Chronicle. Climate change will exacerbate these problems in the ocean. Indeed, this is not a problem unique to the Sacramento salmon runs, populations have crashed in rivers all the way up to Alaska.

'Our last, best chance' to save Puget Sound
February 19, 2008 (Olympian) All eyes are on the Puget Sound Partnership, the new state agency viewed by many as the last chance for saving Puget Sound.
• Bringing about 40 threatened species - from the mighty orca to the iconic chinook salmon - back from the brink of extinction by restoring water quality and habitat.
• Convincing the public that a healthy Puget Sound is vital to a healthy Puget Sound basin economy.
• Revamping land use patterns and transportation to curb stormwater runoff from the 4 million people already living in the region, and the 1.4 million headed here in the next 15 years.
• Sustaining the cleanup and protection effort with dedicated funding measured in the billions of dollars.
"We still need to build public support for Puget Sound before making the case for funding," Ruckelshaus said.

Ship noise may hamper whale communication
February 19, 2008 (Eugene Register-Guard) One-third of a mile below the surface of the Santa Barbara Channel sits a microphone on the ocean floor, recording every pop and song, whistle and moan, hum and click that echoes through the water.
It turns out, the ocean is a noisy place, and few places as much as the watery world off Ventura County's coast.
"The ocean is getting noisier," said Megan McKenna, a doctoral student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, who is studying how the noise from ships affects marine life and its ability to communicate.
During the past 40 years, the number of commercial ships across the world doubled, the tonnage quadrupled and the horsepower also increased. The bigger and faster the ship, the more noisy it is.
If whales are communicating with one another about feeding opportunities at the same frequency as the ship's noise, there's a chance the whales won't have the knowledge of food sources they normally would, McKenna said. The ships could be drowning out what the whales have to say, she said.
Ship noise could be loud enough to drown out whale calls about three hours a day, she said, when the most ships are present.
John Calambokidis, a blue whale expert who has studied the animals in the channel, said the noise could be a factor in the deaths of a number of animals that were struck by ships last year. At least three of the five blue whales that died in Southern California were hit by ships.

Spring salmon bag limit cut in half
February 19, 2008 (Eugene Register-Guard) One and done.
That will be the story this season for spring chinook salmon anglers in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.
A one fish daily bag limit in both rivers was included in 2008 regulations approved Friday by the Columbia River Compact, a joint Oregon-Washington authority formed by Congress to oversee fishing in the Columbia.
The limit traditionally has been two salmon per day.
Management of this year's fishery was complicated by the fact that the upper Columbia spring chinook run is forecast to be very strong while the run destined for the Willamette River is weak.
Forecasts call for 269,300 "upriver" Columbia chinook, which would be the third-highest run since 1977. Only 34,000 Willamette spring chinook are expected, the smallest run since 1997.

Oceans: Dead zone threats
February 19, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) Humans have always thought of the oceans in strong terms: vast, mysterious, life-giving. The study showing the development of oxygen-depleted dead zones off Washington, Oregon and California provides a startling illustration of the breadth of today's threats to the environment.
If we are changing the very oceans around us, we have every reason to worry. Scientists think global warming may be the main culprit, with changing wind patterns leading to the development of large areas with almost no oxygen along the Pacific Coast for parts of recent years. Oregon State University scientists believe the condition, experienced in some other parts of the world's oceans, is essentially unprecedented here.

Senate approves mining freeze on Maury Island
February 18, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Senate reversed its Saturday decision on a bill that attempts to block Glacier Northwest's plan to expand a gravel mine on Maury Island, approving the freeze on Monday with a close 25-23 vote.
The measure now heads to the House.
The mine on Maury Island, in Puget Sound between Seattle and Tacoma, has been a contentious issue in Olympia for the last two years, occasionally splitting majority Democrats.
The site has operated since the 1940s and is next to an aquatic preserve protected by the state along the island's eastern shore. The project would include construction of a large new dock to load barges.
Environmentalists say an expanded mine would threaten Puget Sound, which is the focus of a multibillion-dollar government cleanup effort. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe McDermott, D-Seattle, would block the mine expansion while state officials sort out the ownership of mining rights.

Maury gravel mine bill passes Senate
February 18, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth blog) My colleague Chris McGann in Olympia reports that the bill to make it a lot harder for Glacier Northwest to re-open and expand a gravel mine on the eastern edge of Maury Island has passed the state Senate.
The bill (SB 6777) had an odd path in that it actually failed by a narrow margin on Saturday, then was pulled back up again today and approved when Democratic Sen. Ken Jacobsen of Seattle switched to the side of those trying to at least delay the opening of the mine.
Amy Carey, president of the anti-mine group Preserve Our Islands, noted that the legislation doesn't, as her group would prefer, shut down Glacier's plans entirely:
"It's nothing that kills the mine. That's not its intention and that's not what it does but certainly you have legislators that properly decided they have this fiduciary responsibility, and before they start giving away millions of dollars worth of resources, they should figure out who owns it."

Using science to inform ecosystem restoration in Puget Sound
February 18, 2008 (Huliq) In Puget Sound, scientists and managers must restore endangered orca populations and Chinook salmon populations as they work to restore an entire ecosystem. The needs of these two species present a prime example of how previous single-species strategies do not work in ecosystem restoration.
"The orca's main source of food is Chinook salmon. And the whales are suffering from malnutrition," said NOAA Fisheries Scientist Mary Ruckelshaus. "But by increasing salmon production in hatcheries, the whales' appetites may be fed at the expense of recovering wild Chinook. Releasing large numbers of salmon raised in hatcheries can lead to the decline of wild salmon."
Ruckelshaus will discuss how scientists assist managers with the difficult choices needed to restore the Puget Sound ecosystem in her talk as part of the symposium, "Embracing Change: A New Vision for Management in Coastal Marine Ecosystems" at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston.
Ecosystem restoration of Puget Sound is a mandate of Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state legislature. Puget Sound is also one of four pilot studies by NOAA of integrated ecosystem assessments, a new way of using science to identify indicators of ecosystem health and to prioritize strategies that will contribute to measurable marine restoration goals. The other pilot studies are taking place in the Northeast Shelf, Alaska and the California Current ecosystems.-NOAA Headquarters

Pesticide Brew Spells Trouble for Salmon
February 19, 2008 (Science Now) Salmon in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and elsewhere, have been in a world of hurt for decades. One of their main enemies is agricultural chemicals, such as chlorpyrifos. The pesticide interferes with salmon brains and harms their ability to feed, according to studies by zoologist Nathaniel Scholz of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. Now Scholz's research is showing that mixtures of pesticides are even worse for salmon and can be surprisingly lethal. Chlorpyrifos and other so-called organophosphate pesticides kill cells by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that helps neurons communicate. These pesticides are sprayed on crops and are widespread in streams in the Northwest; half of the waters sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey contain six or more pesticides. In their previous work with salmon, Scholz and his colleagues had only looked at the effects of one pesticide. To get a more realistic idea of exposure, they designed lab experiments to test effects of mixtures of chlorpyrifos and four other pesticides, exposing juvenile salmon to two compounds at a time.
The biggest surprise was the strength of the synergistic punch from the pesticides diazinon and malathion, which killed all the salmon exposed to them. Even at the lowest concentration, fish were extremely sick, Scholz says. "It was eye-opening," Scholz says. "We're seeing relatively dramatic departures" from what happens with each pesticide by itself.

An undersea adventure
February 16, 2008 (Metro West Daily News) The 3-D format heightens this experience so viewers feel like they can reach out and touch the mammals, according to Hannah. "How many people get to swim next to a creature bigger than a school bus? It's a wonderful feeling," she said.
The film also depicts how much dolphins and whales have in common with humans, according to Hannah. "There's the way they care for their young, the way they form communities," she said. "And we both breathe the same air."
In addition, the film "highlights how our actions have had such a detrimental impact on their chances for survival," Hannah continued. "Some species, there are less than 300 of them left in the world, and it's up to us to try to protect their habitat and their food sources."
The movie focuses on 11 species of dolphins and whales, many of which have never been filmed before in the 3-D format, as well as the West Indian manatee. Unlike other IMAX-type films, the movie was shot completely in the wild and consists of only underwater footage.
Other film "stars" include the sperm whale, short-finned pilot whale, beluga whale, Risso's dolphin, killer whale, common dolphin, southern right whale, bottlenose dolphin and the aforementioned manatee. The latter eats mostly sea vegetation, with its diet contributing to a proclivity for flatulence. Just another reason to love this creature.
"Dolphins and Whales 3D: Tribes of the Ocean" opens in IMAX theaters in 30 cities nationwide. For more information about the film, visit www.DOLPHINSandWHALES3D.com.

Puget Sound: the silent crisis
February 16, 2008 (Seattle Times editorial) The new state agency created to restore and protect Puget Sound needs your help to return a beloved, complex body of water to robust health.
Puget Sound Partnership is holding an opening series of workshops in nine communities to acquaint the public with the current condition of the Sound and identify the greatest threats to it.Information collected will be used to help develop an action agenda to be presented next fall to Gov. Christine Gregoire.
A fundamental challenge for David Dicks, executive director of the Partnership, is convincing Puget Sound residents there is a problem. The scenic beauty of the Sound belies deeper, persistent problems.
An updated report, State of the Sound 2007, describes the current condition "to be one of decline, with continuing harms to the clean water, abundant habitat and intact natural processes that are the foundations of a healthy environment."
List of the public workshops and conversations, which begin Feb. 27 in Seattle and end March 7 in Sequim.

Orca recovery effort: more of the same
February 15, 2008 (Crosscut) A plan to save Puget Sound orcas calls for $50 million spent over 28 years but amounts to doing no more than we're already doing. Meanwhile, no one knows why the orca population is declining, and the only clear culprit is a lack of their favorite food: chinook salmon. A moratorium on chinook fishing may be the only solution.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has come up with a "plan" for the recovery of southern resident killer whales - a.k.a. Puget Sound orcas - but the agency doesn't really know what the problems are, and it doesn't really know how to solve them. Is there a kids' joke that begins, "When is a plan not a plan?"
Yes, it's "killer" whales. The feds use the K word, even though "killer whales" as a term has been largely abandoned out of political correctness. You rarely hear that phrase these days. We know that people started thinking differently about the animals when they got acquainted with captive Namus and Shamus and their relatives in the 1960s and 70s, and that the whole species got a big public relations boost from the "Free Willy" films in the 1990s. We know that the animals aren't really whales; they're big dolphins. But when did everyone start saying "orca"?
The 2005 endangered species listing suggested - plausibly - that the population might still be feeling the effects of the pursuit, capture and incidental killing of orcas in the 1960s and 70s - before it was illegal - by people acquiring them for aquariums. The whale catchers took half the population. And it's not just a question of raw numbers. Long-lived animals with lives shaped by what many people consider a culture might in fact have felt the effects of the captures and incidental killings for a long time. But the whales have probably gotten over it by now, suggests Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, much as Japan's society and our own have largely recovered from World War II.
At any rate, the appearance of L pod off California should have made clear that saving Puget Sound's "resident" orcas is not just a Puget Sound problem. It's all well and good to talk about preserving the entire ecosystem, but what, exactly, is that? How do you define it? For the orcas, it includes roughly 1,000 miles of coast. Fish that spawn in and pollution that flows from not only the Sound and its tributaries, but the rivers of British Columbia's Inside Passage, the Columbia, the Rogue, the Klamath, and the Sacramento may all have impact on orcas' survival.
Balcomb has suggested a moratorium on salmon fishing. His essay, quoted in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, suggested that a moratorium might be the only way to save the chinook. He knows that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. The people at the table making fishery policy are, by and large, people who make money by catching fish. He believes that "the stakeholder concept hasn't worked." Fisheries are managed for the benefit of human fishers. He thinks that if society is serious about saving killer whales, it will put them first in line. "If I succeed in anything," Balcomb says, "what I would like the public to do is become the advocate for wildlife being the first user on the list."

Orcas Spotted North of St. Croix
February 15, 2008 (St. Thomas Source) Carl Holley was tooling along on his 36-foot charter fishing boat, Mocko Jumbie, with six guests on board when he spotted birds circling over what he thought was a school of fish. He was about eight miles north of St. Croix Feb. 11 when the St. Croix resident got a big surprise.
"My dad said it looks like killer whales, but I said 'we don't have killer whales around here. They're in colder water.' But I saw a real tall dorsal fin," Holley said.
They were killer whales all right, and Holley and his guests came home with the pictures to prove it.
He said that in the 20-plus years he's been accumulating reports of orcas, he's received word of about a half-dozen sightings.

Scientists fear 'tipping point' in Pacific Ocean
February 15, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Where scientists previously found a sea bottom abounding with life, two years ago they discovered the rotting carcasses of crabs, starfish and sea worms, swooshing from side to side in the current. Most fish had fled -- and those that didn't or couldn't joined the deathfest on the sea floor.
Extraordinarily low oxygen levels were to blame -- swept up from the deep ocean into normally productive waters just off the Pacific Northwest coast by uncharacteristically strong winds.
On Thursday scientists announced they had documented that low oxygen levels that killed the sea life in 2006 were the lowest in a half-century -- and that for the first time, parts of the ocean off our coast were measured with zero oxygen in the water; 2007 looked only a bit better.
Strong winds and low oxygen levels have persisted for eight summers now, leading scientists to conclude that the ocean may be "poised for significant reorganization"-- their way of saying an ecosystem gone awry.
It looks like the Pacific has reached a "tipping point," a threshold where low-oxygen levels are becoming the rule, researchers said. And while scientists can't prove it's caused by a changing climate, that's consistent with what is predicted by computer projections built to anticipate global warming.

Scooping Up Behind Killer Whales
February 13, 2008 (KPLU Radio) In some ways, the Puget Sound's orca whales are very familiar. We've even given them individual names. But there's still a lot we don't know, like where the whales go and what they eat. Now that they're listed as endangered, those have become important questions. KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty accompanied a research crew trying to get answers.

The Fellowship of the Ping
February 13, 2008 (Grist) Judge rules Navy must comply with sonar rules
A federal judge has ruled that the Navy must comply with earlier restrictions imposed on its use of sonar near the California coast despite a recent attempt by President Bush to exempt the agency from relevant environmental laws. The judge said that Bush's Navy exemption last month was "constitutionally suspect," but that she didn't need to rule on its constitutionality to reinstate the injunction. Bush and the Navy had argued that sonar training exercises were a matter of national security that also constituted an emergency, allowing the agency to ignore environmental laws.

Court hears sonar dispute
February 12, 2008 (Honolulu Advertiser) A federal court judge in Honolulu heard arguments yesterday in a lawsuit seeking to stop a series of Navy anti-submarine warfare sonar exercises off Hawai'i unless additional precautions are taken to protect whales and dolphins.
U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he had received "top secret" information from the Navy, as well as nonclassified materials, as he noted the complexity of the case.
Forty-five minutes were allotted for the hearing, but Ezra said the issues "couldn't be digested in 45 hours, quite frankly." Ezra and attorneys for both sides in the lawsuit will board the Pearl Harbor destroyer USS O'Kane this morning to observe midfrequency sonar operations.
The court case follows two recent rulings on the West Coast that dealt the Navy setbacks in its use of active sonar, which sends sound waves into the water. Its effect on marine mammals is hotly debated by the Navy and environmental groups.
The Navy said it already takes measures to keep a lookout for whales and dolphins off Hawai'i, while environmentalists say more needs to be done, including not training within about 15 miles of the coastline where humpback whales congregate.
Yesterday's hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed in May 2007. The Ocean Mammal Institute, Animal Welfare Institute, KAHEA, Center for Biological Diversity and Surfrider Foundation filed a legal challenge to the Navy's plan to use high-intensity sonar in a series of undersea warfare exercises in Hawai'i's waters.
Ezra asked for additional information from the Navy by Friday, and asked the plaintiffs to provide comments on it by Feb. 20. The plaintiffs want a preliminary injunction to prevent the training.

Government-funded group switches sides on risks of fish farms
February 11, 2008 (Vancouver Sun) Pacific Salmon Forum now agrees sea lice are killing salmon
In a major blow to British Columbia's salmon farming industry, a government-funded research group says it now accepts a recent scientific study that warns of mass extinctions of wild pink salmon on the central coast due to salmon farming.
In an uncirculated "communique" obtained on Friday by The Vancouver Sun, the Pacific Salmon Forum has acknowledged that sea lice infestations contributed to plummeting pink salmon populations in the Broughton Archipelago from 2001-2005 -- as noted in a recent article in Science, a leading international research journal.
The article by Martin Krkosek, co-researcher Alexandra Morton and others, drew international attention. It warned that wild pink salmon could be extinct within four years on the B.C. central coast due to sea lice infestations arising from salmon farms in that area.
Last year, a provincial legislature committee studying fish farming also recommended the industry switch from open-net sea pens to closed-containment pens that would prevent lice infestations at farms from spreading to wild fish migrating in the vicinity.
Both recommendations have been ignored by the province.

Numbers Can Tell a Story About Puget Sound
February 10, 2008 (Kitsap Sun) A team of scientists is trying to paint a picture of Puget Sound with numbers.
The numbers, called "ecosystem indicators," might include concentrations of toxic chemicals, populations of wildlife or possibly the extent of degraded habitat. Taken together, these numbers will describe the health of Puget Sound and tell whether the problems are getting better or worse over time.
The team of scientists is on a fast track to identify a set of indicators that can be used by the Puget Sound Partnership to develop its Action Agenda for restoring Puget Sound to health. The Action Agenda is scheduled for completion Sept. 1.
If the right indicators are chosen, they could help the public understand the problems with Puget Sound, said Tracy Collier of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He's one of the team leaders on the project.
PCBs in Puget Sound chinook salmon have been found to be three to five times higher in concentration that fish found in other areas from California to British Columbia.
PCBs are among the chemicals that biologists say could affect the health of killer whales, which eat chinook. Because the fish may cause reproductive and immune problems, the Washington Department of Health in 2006 urged people to eat no more than one meal of Puget Sound chinook each week.

Killer whales loaded with fire retardant
February 10, 2008 (Victorial Times Colonist) They wow tourists and remind people of the mysteries and majesty of the ocean, but killer whales swimming around the waters of Vancouver Island are the most contaminated animals on Earth.
Information, which is slowly and painstakingly being gathered about the whales that live along the coast of North America, reveals alarming trends and offers a graphic illustration of looming environmental problems.
Blubber studies on the two salmon-eating populations of resident killer whales -- the endangered southern residents with 88 members and the threatened northern residents with 230 members -- have found a significant buildup of toxins in their systems.
A growing concern is the rapid buildup of PBDEs, the chemicals found in fire retardants, says Peter Ross, toxicology research scientist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney.
If nothing is done to curb it, PBDEs are poised to surpass PCBs as the predominant chemical in killer whales by 2025, according to research.

Killer whales
February 10, 2008 (Victorial Times Colonist) The striking black and white markings of killer whales can bring small boats and whale-watching vessels flocking and make B.C. Ferries passengers run for the rail.
The best known whales around Vancouver Island are the salmon-eating resident killer whales.
Endangered southern residents have 88 members in three pods - 43 in L Pod (not including Lolita, an L Pod whale who has been at Miami Seaquarium since her capture in 1972), 26 in J Pod and 19 in K Pod.

Accidental chinook catch among pollock is an issue
February 9, 2008 (Seattle Times) The Bering Sea trawl fleets last year set a new and unwelcome catch record: Their vessels accidentally snared more than 120,000 chinook salmon as they dropped their nets in pursuit of pollock in North America's biggest seafood harvest.
The chinook are the largest of Pacific salmon, a prized catch in coastal and river harvests in Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Last year's big accidental haul by the pollock fleet has prompted Alaska native groups, the Canadian government and conservationists to push for new restrictions on Bering Sea trawl operations.
"It's unbelievable that there is not a cap on the amount of salmon the pollock fleets can kill," said Jon Warrenchuk, a marine scientist with Oceana, a fisheries conservation group. "It's time for action."
Since 2005, researchers have conducted genetic testing of about 1,600 of the trawl-caught chinook to find out where they were from. Initial results indicate that a sizable percentage would have returned to western Alaska, where the chinook are important fish for Alaska natives.
The studies also indicate about 40 percent of the fish caught in a prime summer harvest zone of the Bering Sea would have returned to British Columbia or the Pacific Northwest, according to Jim Seeb, a University of Washington fishery professor who helped conduct the genetic testing.
"For these fish, it does not appear that the trawl harvest is a major factor impeding recovery," said Bill Tweit, a Washington state representative to the Federal Fishery Council. "But that doesn't let us off the hook. You have to address every source of mortality in order to get recovery."

Corps backs gravel-mine plan
February 9, 2008 (Seattle Times) A massive pier proposed to unload gravel from a mine on Puget Sound's Maury Island would not cause serious environmental damage, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has concluded.
The Corps released its draft findings Friday, making them available for public comment.
If the Corps sticks by that conclusion in its final report, that would help clear the way for a controversial expansion of a gravel mine on the island and construction of a pier extending into a state marine aquatic reserve.
Environmentalists and nearby residents have fought expansion of the mine owned by Glacier Northwest, arguing, in part, that it could destroy important underwater habitat and disturb noise-sensitive, endangered orcas.

If you love Puget Sound, you'll help clean it up
February 8, 2008 (Seattle Times editorial) A whole lot of people are waiting for David Dicks to get the lead out - and the mercury and other toxins eroding the marine habitat of Puget Sound.
Dicks is executive director of Puget Sound Partnership, a new state agency and the evolutionary byproduct of years of organizational shuffling in Olympia to rescue the Sound. He was plugged into the top job in August by Gov. Christine Gregoire, with a charge to shake things up administratively and produce measurable results. So far, he has delivered on the first half.
So, be honest, did your eyes read right over the word "rescue" in the previous paragraph? Dicks is acutely aware one of his biggest challenges is convincing a Puget Sound-loving public that the sparkly body of water is in trouble.
He did not need to motivate any of the 535 people signed up last Saturday for Sound Waters, an annual one-day extravaganza of seminars presented by the WSU Island County Beach Watchers at Coupeville, on Whidbey Island.
A brisk description of the territory covered by the Puget Sound Partnership is from the "snow caps to the white caps." That covers 14 major rivers, 2,500 miles of shoreline, 4 million people and another 1.5 million on the way.
Explain the problem, take away the mystery and threat. Create ways to help. Make a clean Puget Sound a matter of pride of ownership.
Dicks knew it coming in, but he really got it after a day with Beach Watchers.

Bill aimed at protecting Sound from chemicals
February 8, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A bill that could further protect people, salmon and orcas from toxic industrial chemicals dumped into Puget Sound with dredged mud is winding its way through the Legislature.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, asks the state Department of Ecology to review and consider changing the levels of PCBs permitted to be cast into Elliott Bay and other Puget Sound sites within mud and sand dredged to deepen marine navigational channels.
In September, the Seattle P-I published a story that examined a Port of Seattle dredging project in a Superfund site west of Harbor Island to make room for the larger container ships they plan to lure with a revamped terminal by spring 2009.
"They bioaccumulate as they get to people who eat the fish that eat the little things," White said, adding the agency may learn things that could apply to PCBs as well.
Wildlife scientists are concerned that PCBs working their way up the food chain are compromising the immune system and reproduction of Puget Sound's endangered orcas.

Film festival: Tale of orphan whale gets standing ovation
February 5, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist) There's a great scene in Saving Luna where the endearing and outgoing orca of the title repeatedly surfaces to affectionately nudge a Department of Fisheries and Oceans official as she tries sternly to explain to boaters there's a $100,000 fine for touching the whale.
"This is not a watchable whale!" a steward says elsewhere, warning onlookers they could face fines for making eye contact with the most famous whale since Moby Dick. They were enforcing a DFO "tough love" policy deemed beneficial to Luna.
As passionate as these journalists were about Luna's story, they didn't expect to become so involved in it. The couple became advocates for human interaction, amazed by the benefits of the heart-rending bond between Luna and First Nations steward Jamie James.

Navy loses round in sonar dispute
February 5, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Navy must follow environmental laws placing strict limits on sonar training that opponents argue harms whales, despite President Bush's decision to exempt it, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Navy is not "exempted from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act" and a court injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote in a 36-page decision.
"We disagree with the judge's decision," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "We believe the orders are legal and appropriate."
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said the military was studying the decision.
The president signed a waiver Jan. 15 exempting the Navy and its anti-submarine warfare exercises from a preliminary injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California. The Navy's attorneys argued in court last week that he was within his legal rights.
Environmentalists have fought the use of sonar in court, saying it harms whales and other marine mammals.

NOAA proposes to keep bowhead whale hunt
February 5, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Villages along Alaska's western coastline where residents hunt bowhead whales would see no reduction in their subsistence-hunt quota under a plan preferred by a federal agency.
The option preferred by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration essentially keeps in place the status quo.
If approved, it would allow a total of 255 bowhead whales to be harvested from 2008 through 2012, and it would set a maximum yearly strike quota of 67 with up to 15 unused strikes allowable carry-over to the next year, said Steve Davis, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Anchorage, who worked on the plan. The fisheries service is a division of NOAA.
Last year, Alaska Natives harvested 42 bowhead whales.

Judge: Navy Not Exempt From Sonar Ruling
February 4, 2008 (Earthlink) The Navy must follow environmental laws placing strict limits on sonar training that opponents argue harms whales, despite President Bush's decision to exempt it, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Navy is not "exempted from compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act" and a court injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper wrote in a 36-page decision.
"We disagree with the judge's decision," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. "We believe the orders are legal and appropriate."
Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Cindy Moore said the military was studying the decision.
The president signed a waiver Jan. 15 exempting the Navy and its anti-submarine warfare exercises from a preliminary injunction creating a 12 nautical-mile no-sonar zone off Southern California. The Navy's attorneys argued in court last week that he was within his legal rights.
Environmentalists have fought the use of sonar in court, saying it harms whales and other marine mammals.
"It's an excellent decision," said Joel Reynolds, attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, which is spearheading the legal fight. "It reinstates the proper balance between national security and environmental protection."

Scientists closer to finding impact of noise on whales
February 4, 2008 (inthenews.co) Writing today in the Institute of Physics journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, the researchers say they have discovered a new pathway for sound entering the head and ears of a specific type of whale.
They used finite element modelling (Fem), computed tomography (CT) scanning and computer processing to simulate the environment and anatomy of a Cuvier's beaked whale when a sonar signal is sent out or received by the whale.
Researchers chose this type of whale as over recent years there have been instances when it has stranded after exposure to intense sound.
Since the 1960s scientists have believed that noise vibrations travel through the thin bony walls of toothed whales' lower jaw and on to the fat body attached to the ear complex.
But the latest research shows that the thin bony walls do not transmit the vibrations, which instead enter through the throat and then pass to the bony ear complex via a unique fatty channel.

Orca Pods: Seeking salmon
February 4, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) Good times on one visit can lead a family to annual California trips. But there's something very worrisome about the new travel habit of the local orcas' L pod.
Scientist Ken Balcomb suggests the most likely explanation is that shortages of salmon in Washington have led to the sixth straight year of California travel. Since the federal government has just proposed a recovery plan for the imperiled orcas, that is a sign of the challenges ahead for a species emblematic of the Northwest.
As a recent story noted, Canadian research has shown a strong correlation between orca death rates and drops in chinook runs. It turns out chinook salmon runs in California are plunging dramatically. While the orcas may settle for other food sources there, the development is one more reason to concentrate aggressively on doing everything possible to restore their food sources here, along with improving the overall health of Puget Sound.

Killer whales seem to be moving farther south
February 1, 2008 (Los Angeles Times) How far south members of the L-pod family of endangered southern resident killer whales may have ventured after Sunday's dramatic sighting off Cypress Point is unknown.
But this much is clear: They were a long way from home and did not seem inclined to return any time soon.
Several were confirmed as belonging to the L-pod, one of three family groups of the southern residents that historically have thrived off the Pacific Northwest, feeding chiefly on salmon.
This marks the sixth consecutive winter they've been documented off California and the fourth time they've been identified off Monterey, said Nancy Black, a prominent researcher who owns Monterey Bay Whalewatch.
Southern resident killer whales have not been documented south of Monterey.

Ore. Judge again extends deadline for salmon plan
February 1, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist) U.S. District Judge James Redden has postponed for a second time a deadline for a plan that meets his standards for balancing operations of Columbia Basin dams with threatened or endangered fish runs.
At a December status hearing Redden moved the deadline for a third biological opinion from March 1 to March 18 but threatened unspecified consequences "that could be harsh" if he rejects it.
On Tuesday he extended it to May 5, said Brian Gorman, spokesman for NOAA Fisheries in Seattle.
Redden has thrown out two previous opinions as inadequate and wrote in December that a draft of a third effort looks little better.
Gorman said the government sought the newest extension because of the volume of comments received after the release of the last draft opinion.
"The judge granted our request," he said Thursday. "We are pleased, it gives us more time to produce a final biological opinion."
Redden has suggested he may take over the task of balancing salmon protection and power generation if a third effort falls short of his standards.

Boycott Budweiser, free a killer whale
February 1, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist) As part of a campaign to persuade SeaWorld in San Diego to release Corky the killer whale, Spong wants supporters to stop drinking Budweiser beer because SeaWorld is owned by Anheuser-Busch, the company that brews Budweiser.
"No Bud until Corky's out," said Spong, who would like to give the northern resident killer whale a chance to live out her days in a sea pen off northern Vancouver Island, where she will be able to hear the sounds of her family.
A simultaneous campaign by OrcaNetwork to have Lolita released, is gaining steam as more celebrities come on board, said spokesman Howard Garrett.
The supporters range from Placido Domingo to 50 Cent.
Lolita, a member of the endangered southern residents, was captured in 1970 near Whidbey Island and is at Miami Seaquarium. The aim of the Free Lolita campaign -- which has already been dismissed by the aquarium -- is to bring Lolita to a sea pen off San Juan Island, a plan supported by Ken Balcomb, director of the renowned Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor. Lolita is living in a small pool, with only dolphins for company.
This week, members of L Pod -- Lolita's family -- were reported off the coast of Monterey, meaning they have travelled almost 1,000 kilometres down the Pacific coast from Puget Sound since last month.

Wales becomes popular spot for whales
February 1, 2008 (icwales.com) The orca – or killer whale – was spotted off the coast of Pembrokeshire at least twice last year and joins a growing list of more exotic marine animals to be identified off the Welsh coast.
Dolphins in Cardigan Bay are already well documented, with the area known to some as "Dolphin Coast", while the less common Risso's dolphin was seen off Strumble Head near Fishguard on New Year's Day.
Meanwhile, coastguards and marine experts received numerous reports of a 40ft humpback whale off the Swansea coastline in December. Just days later a dead humpback whale was brought ashore at Port Talbot by coastguards. Elsewhere, large groups of basking sharks were spotted off the Cornish coast during an aerial survey in August.
But experts remain unsure as to what the killer whales are doing in Cardigan Bay. The creatures are found in all oceans and most seas, but generally prefer cooler temperate and polar regions and are particularly concentrated in the north-east Pacific Basin.

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