Orca Network News - February, 2009
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2009 through February 28, 2009.
February 28, 2009 (3 News New Zealand)
There has been a sad ending to the story about a whale languishing in the waters off Whangaparoa Peninsula north of Auckland.
The Department of Conservation and Project Jonah have been observing the rare gray's beaked whale for about three weeks. But today, despite the efforts of up to 100 volunteers to save it, the decision was made that the whale's condition had deteriorated to the extent that it should be euthanized.
Ottawa Issues Order To Protect Besieged Orcas
February 26, 2009 (Epoch Times)
The 85 remaining southern resident killer whales off Canada’s west coast received a gift from the federal government this week in the form of legal protection for the endangered species’ habitat.
This marks the first time Canada has issued an order under its Species at Risk Act to protect critical habitat, and something environmentalists are saying is a complete reversal of policy for the government.
Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund, launched a lawsuit last year on behalf of nine of the country’s leading environmental organizations. It alleged that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) had failed to protect critical habitat for southern resident killer whales and the threatened northern resident killer whales—both listed under the Species at Risk Act.
The release said the “complete turnaround” by the government marks a victory for the groups behind the lawsuit, which include Environmental Defence, Raincoast Conservation Society, Dogwood Initiative and Greenpeace.
However, the order does not reference threats to critical habitat documented by scientists in the government’s Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy. DFO is scheduled to announce an action plan within the next four years, but still has not created an action planning team with independent killer whale scientists, according to the release.
California ban on salmon fishing likely for '09
February 26, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Prospects are not good this year for the folks who fish for salmon off the California coast - or for the people who like to eat it.
The number of chinook in the ocean right now is barely enough to meet the minimum sustainable goal when the fish return to spawn in the Sacramento River system this fall - and that's assuming no fishing is allowed this year, according to a forecast Wednesday by a federal agency.
The ominous news, contained in the Pacific Fishery Management Council's report on ocean salmon fisheries, comes on the tail fins of last week's announcement that fewer salmon than ever recorded swam through San Francisco Bay last fall to spawn in the Sacramento River.
Scientists believe warmer ocean conditions have reduced the food supply for the fish, while record exports of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta coincided with major declines in chinook.
Rare whale visit at Auckland beach
February 26, 2009 (New Zealand Herald)
An almost unheard-of visit from an elusive beaked whale has conservationists torn between rejoicing about the rare guest and fretting for its safety.
A gray's beaked whale has made a temporary home in the shallow waters off the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, confounding experts who say the deep-sea, squid-hunting whales are almost never seen near shore unless they are dead or dying.
Te Papa marine mammal specialist Anton van Helden said yesterday that he had studied beaked whales for 20 years and never seen one alive. "This is the first record that I know of of an animal frequenting a fairly shallow coastal beach for any period of time."
Project Jonah chief executive Kimberly Muncaster said the whale appeared to be young and underweight and was far from the deep ocean where it would normally hunt and roam. The 4m-long creature had been mistaken for a dolphin by some locals because of its long beak and dark grey body.
Green groups welcome protection of killer whales
February 25, 2009 (24 Hours Vancouver)
Environmental groups concerned about the future of killer whales welcome an order issued by the federal government that will help protect the mammals' threatened habitats.
The order was issued in Ottawa earlier this week under the federal Species At Risk Act, giving legal protection to both Northern and Southern Resident killer whales that travel the waters off the B.C. and Washington State coasts.
The order comes after several environmental groups launched a lawsuit last fall against the Department of Fisheries.
The lawyer for Ecojustice, Lara Tessaro, says the lawsuit will now likely be abandoned.
She also says the order means that it is now an offence to destroy the critical habitat of the whales and legally designates their habitat as an area that attracts legal protection.
Committee guts Gregoire's emissions-cap plan
February 25, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposal to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases linked to global warming is facing serious challenges in the Legislature.
The Senate Committee on Environment, Water and Energy today passed a version that gutted the heart of the plan by making it voluntary for businesses to participate.
The governor's proposal would require major industries, from Boeing to Kimberly-Clark, to limit the greenhouse gases they emit, starting in 2012. The plan would create a regional market to let polluters buy and trade pollution credits.
The goal is to reduce overall carbon dioxide and other emissions in the state to 1990 levels by 2020, and to half that level by 2050. The state adopted those targets in 2008.
Is Seattle's growth unstoppable?
February 23, 2009 (Crosscut)
Walling off migration is not possible. But there are ways to downsize our ambitions to a Lesser Seattle, which might be good for America and the environment.
In recent years, Seattle has grown at a fast clip. The city's population is pushing 600,000. It's not due to the birthrate — in fact, the Pacific Northwest has one of the lowest in the country and Seattle one of the highest percentages of childless households of any major U.S. city. It's mostly due to in-migration, people moving here from elsewhere in Washington or other states.
But is growth unstoppable? And is it good for us, for the planet? Today's apostles of "smart" urban development argue that cities are environmentally the best route to take. They "prevent" sprawl, they use land and resources more efficiently, they reduce carbon footprints by putting more of us on mass transit or in walkable neighborhoods. Greens argue that growth is inevitable, so we'd better make it greener growth than we've had in the past.
But growth here has also been the result of government policies, not simply the "free" market, or destiny or happenstance. From speeding up permitting by the county to increasing the heights of skyscrapers to issuing demolition permits and zoning variances, local officials work to encourage development, the answer to our prayers in hard times, the hay to be made in good ones.
Sprawl and density have both occurred, indeed, been encouraged with the Growth Management Act. Traffic congestion has worsened and Seattle has priced out much of the city's working and middle class. The recession reminds us of something important that many urban greens have pushed aside in embracing the high-growth ideals of the Vancouver, BC urban model: The consumer economy itself is not sustainable, even a marginally greener version of it. Cutting consumption is important, but we live in a world of limited resources and may not be able to innovate ourselves out of the trouble we're in.
Rural renewal would also have tangible benefits for cities like Seattle, which is doing well in being a good customer of local producers. Farmer's markets are proliferating here, but good urban policy should include supporting strong agricultural policies so we can move toward 100-mile diets. If push comes to shove, our urban pea patches will never keep us fed. Strong farms are part of our security.
Such a partnership could also help us by fostering a fuller spectrum of life choices that are healthier and more sustainable than simply scrambling to accommodate "unstoppable" urban growth. It is not enough to preserve adjacent farm lands, we ought to be thinking more about scale, including downsizing the ambitions of Pugetopolis while helping to restore potential and hope in other regions. Steering growth elsewhere could help us make environmental progress without undercutting our best intentions. The essence of sustainability is knowing when to say "enough."
A Lesser Seattle, not a Greater Seattle, could be part of the recipe for a better country.
Washington century: Salmon
February 22, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial)
At the end of this century, will the Pacific Northwest's salmon still be an icon? Or will the chinooks, silvers and other migrating fish of the great runs be a mere memory?
It's up to us.
The start of President Barack Obama's administration is a hopeful time for environmental policy, nationally and in this region. Obama will bring better judgment to such Northwest issues as forests, roadless areas and energy. But even with sustained, widespread progress on the environment generally, saving salmon will require a wide variety of aggressive measures.
Ideas for urban growth controls and dam removals might even be considered radical. But after eight years of an administration with a stunted vision for the health of the nation's environment, the need for bolder salmon measures is at a peak, all along the Pacific Coast.
We think one starting point for the Obama administration is an honest assessment of whether to tear down four Snake River dams. The Bush administration turned science, the law and facts on their heads to avoid even considering removal of the dams. U.S. District Judge James Redden, who has attacked unscientific federal decisions, will hold a hearing next month on a federal salmon plan that could lead to him assuming significant control over dam operations.
Oregon State and an Environmental Protection Agency lab have taken leading roles in the Salmon 2100 Project. The study suggested that population growth and development will contribute to further reductions in salmon numbers along the Pacific Coast this century. Even so, the study concluded, society could put in enough environmental protections to save salmon.
Killer Whale Researcher wins Salish Sea Science prize
February 20, 2009 (Islands Weekly)
Killer whale research-er Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research is the first recipient of the Salish Sea Science Prize, a $2,000 cash award given to recognize a scientist whose work has resulted in the improved conservation of marine wildlife and the Salish Sea marine ecosystem.
The first and only award of its kind, the Salish Sea Science Prize will be bestowed biennially by the SeaDoc Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the Salish Sea ecosystem. The award is given in recognition of, and to honor the spirit of the late Stephanie Wagner, who loved the region and its wildlife.
Balcomb was selected from among many worthy individuals and groups nominated for the Prize. Collaborating with Canadian colleagues, Balcomb pioneered the use of photo identification to study and individually identify killer whales and has conducted an annual census of the southern resident killer whales since 1975.
Balcomb’s annual census was the basis of the population assessments that ultimately lead to the Canadian and US listing of the southern resident killer whale community as endangered. His work served as a foundation for our understanding of resident killer whale longevity, toxics loading in killer whales, and the implications of disease on the long-term viability of this population. Other findings stemming from Balcomb’s work included facts that today are understood by scientists and school kids alike: killer whales can be individually identified; Salish Sea killer whales belonged to 2 ecotypes – fish eaters and marine mammal eaters; and resident fish eating whales have a non-dispersing matrilineal society.
Pristine future envisioned for Duwamish River Valley
February 20, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
At a cove on the Duwamish River heavily polluted by cancer-promoting PCBs, envision instead a kayak rental shop, a fish market and a water taxi stop.
At the site of the old Malarkey asphalt plant -- tainted not only by PCBs, but also by dioxins -- picture a park cuddling small water channels where young salmon safely rest on their journey to sea.
At Boeing's hulking riverside Plant 2 -- where workers once cranked out a "Flying Fortress" bomber about every two hours, leaving behind PCBs as well as heavy metals, phthalates and hydrocarbons -- visualize a wide swath of wildlife -- and people-friendly greenery.
Those are the kinds of ideas being promoted in a vision for South Seattle's Duwamish Valley in a report released Thursday by a group of neighborhood associations, environmentalists, and business and tribal representatives. It comes weeks before federal authorities plan to unveil options for restoring the Duwamish River, which is so polluted it's being cleaned up under the Superfund process.
Smallest fall run of chinook salmon reported
February 19, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The smallest number of Pacific Ocean salmon ever recorded swam back to the Sacramento River via San Francisco Bay last fall, the latest evidence of the decline of the storied fish along the West Coast, officials said Wednesday.
The Pacific Fishery Management Council, a federal body that regulates commercial and sport fishing, estimated that only 66,286 adult salmon returned to the Sacramento River to spawn. Six years ago, the peak return was 13 times higher.
In 2007, only 87,881 of the fish returned to spawn in the river, falling far short of the agency's goal of 122,000 to 180,000 fish.
The latest count comes as officials consider imposing fishing restrictions off California's coast again this summer.
Scientists believe warmer ocean conditions in 2005 and 2006 led to a lean food supply as young salmon were entering the ocean. That played a part in the low spawning returns in 2007 and 2008.
In addition, in 2004 and 2005, the years the chinook were born and traveled to the ocean, the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project exported record amounts of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water to urban and agricultural customers throughout the state, documents show.
The system in the Klamath and Trinity rivers had 31,000 returning spawners, a better return than in the Central Valley, but still short of its management goal of 40,700 fish, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
But the ultimate cause of the decline is "sort of by 1,000 cuts" related to habitat destruction of the delta, once 1,500 square kilometers of rearing habitat, he said.
"It was a huge marsh, habitat for all of the runs. Now it's been diked, levied and rip-rapped until it's not more than a big ditch," Grimes said. Dams, pumping water by the state and federal water projects and the operation of hatcheries all contribute to the problem, he said.
Whale watching guidelines
February 19, 2009 (Canada.com)
On Valentine's Day people around Ucluelet harbour were treated to a sighting of a pod of five orca whales.
Presumably a gang of transients, these whales came into the harbour in search of sea lion victims, and apparently made a kill in front of many spectators. They were actively hunting and tail slapping for a few hours before heading back out of the harbour. Observers believe there were five whales, but this was not confirmed.
With less than one month to go to the Pacific Rim Whale Festival, several reports have recently been made of traveling whales off the coast of Pachena Point and the Ucluelet peninsula.
Pachena lighthouse keeper Sylvia Harron recently emailed the Westerly to report she saw her first returning grey whale of the season off Pachena Point on Fri., Feb. 6. Orcas were also spotted in the Broken Group Islands Feb. 15 and on the morning of Feb. 17.
Opposition surfaces to Navy plan to use dolphins, sea lions for Bangor security
February 19, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The U.S. Navy wants to use Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, along with California sea lions, to protect against terrorists along Naval Base Kitsap at Bangor on Hood Canal.
The Navy has used these animals for similar stints around the world and to protect another naval base in Georgia. But some scientists and residents oppose the Navy's plan for its Puget Sound base and characterize use of the marine mammals as animal enslavement. At a public hearing in SeaTac last week, the dozen or so who spoke were all against the plan.
"I believe that these animals are being treated like produce," said Toni Frohoff, a Seattle biologist who has studied wild and captive marine mammals.
But some question whether it's humane to keep dolphins captive and trust them with high-level security operations. Naomi Rose, senior scientist for Human Society International, said dolphins experience stress each time they are removed from water or transported on missions. Chronic stress can lead to sickness or earlier death, she said.
Dolphins don't have a perfect performance record, either. It's normal for the playful animals to become distracted, she said.
"Do you really want to entrust security of a naval base to animals that think it's a game?" said Rose, a marine-mammal biologist. "They do not know they're recruits in the military."
Two new orca calves, but one adult whale is missing
February 18, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
Researchers have confirmed the birth of two Southern resident orca calves, bringing the population to 85.
However, the news comes as one 31-year-old male orca is believed missing, emphasizing the challenges the endangered whale pods face in their recovery.
The latest newborns were spotted swimming with J and L pods off Victoria on Feb. 6 and off Nanaimo Feb. 8. The parentage is not yet known.
"We like to have several encounters before know if (the calf) was hanging out with an auntie or grandma for a while," said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research.
Two baby killer whales spotted off B.C. coast
February 18, 2009 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Two new baby killer whales have been spotted swimming in the waters off Victoria, giving a welcome boost to the endangered local population.
“It’s very exciting,” said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., which tracks the three resident orca pods and keeps photographic records.
The newborns were seen off Victoria on Feb. 6 and off Nanaimo a few days later.
They appear to be vigorous and in good shape, Balcomb said.
“They are both probably January babies,” he said.
“The fetal folds haven’t filled out yet from being born.”
The births bring the number of whales in the three pods up to 85, but the mortality rate for calves in their first year is 50 per cent.
Balcomb said he is worried one of the males, a 31-year-old whale, was not seen with the other creatures.
The preferred food for resident killer whales is chinook salmon, and chinook stocks in California have nosedived.
Last year, seven resident whales died — an unusually high number — and some were showing signs of malnutrition before they disappeared.
An added threat to the killer whales is that chinook are heavily contaminated with chemicals such as PCBs and flame retardants.
Historically, there were about 120 whales in the three resident pods. The lowest point, after decades of shooting and capture, was 71 in 1973.
Puget Sound orca pods sport 2 newborns
February 18, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Good news for Puget Sound's endangered orca whales: Two newborns have been spotted.
The newest babies, J44 and L112, were spotted off the waterfront of Victoria, B.C., earlier this month. They are probably only about a month old, said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, who photographed the animals.
The births bring the population of southern-resident killer whales that frequent Puget Sound to 85, still too low for comfort. The animals were listed as endangered in November 2005.
Balcomb keeps track of the population under a contract with the federal fisheries service, reporting twice a year with counts in July and October. It is too soon to say whether all the known animals have made it through the winter. But Balcomb said he has concerns about L57, a 31-year old male who has not been photographed lately — even though the orcas he tends to swim with have been.
Balcomb was heartened at how healthy the babies looked. He described them as well-fleshed-out — not skinny — and vigorous and adventurous.
Locally Well-Known Killer Whale Goes Missing
February 16, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
A 31-year-old killer whale name Faith — a large male who was the most recognizable orca among the "Dyes Inlet whales" — has gone missing, portending the likelihood that another Puget Sound killer whale has died.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research says he will hold out hope until spring for L-57, as he is known among researchers. But it's an ominous sign that the two females he generally travels with — L-7 or Canuck, and L-53 or Lulu — have been sighted several times in the U.S. and Canada since October, yet Faith is nowhere to be found.
Last summer, seven of the Puget Sound killer whales went missing and were presumed dead. That lowered the number of animals in the three area pods to 83, a severe blow to the population, which is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
Amid the ominous signs for Faith, Balcomb offered some good news Sunday night. Two new calves have been born to the Puget Sound pods — one in J pod and one in L pod. Balcomb said he is conferring with killer whale researchers in Canada to determine who the mothers are.
Because orca families stay close to newborns and share in their care, it is hard to determine at first who is the mother, the sister or the grandmother, Balcomb said.
The great Puget Sound gravel debate
February 16, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Check out the people smiling biggest over the federal economic stimulus package, and chances are you’ll find Bruce Chattin among them.
Chattin is a lobbyist for the Washington concrete and aggregates industry, and when he hears talk about $2 billion to be spent here on roads, bridges, highways and mass transit, what pops into his mind is “Gravel.”
“Anything that generates more projects is good for our industry,” Chattin said recently, talking by cell phone on the way to the Legislature.
Sand and gravel, or “aggregates” as they’re known in the business, are the basic building blocks of nearly all construction. A typical single-family home contains 120 tons of aggregates, from the foundation concrete to the grit on the shingles. A single mile of freeway typically contains 35,000 tons; studies for the new Highway 520 bridge over Lake Washington indicate it would take 1.5 million tons.
Is Delta Pumping Driving Salmon and Orca Decline?
February 16, 2009 (Counterpunch)
Increases in freshwater exports out of the California Delta, the operation of Shasta Dam and other inland habitat problems have not only led to the collapse of Central Valley salmon populations, but also threaten the southern resident killer whale population.
These were the conclusions of National Marine Fisheries Service scientists disclosed during a frank discussion of the recently released rewritten draft biological opinion on the impacts of the state and federal water projects during a meeting in Sacramento with representatives of fishing and environmental groups organized by Richard Pool, coordinator of Water for Fish. The NMFS opinion currently concludes "jeopardy" for winter run chinook salmon, spring run chinook salmons, green sturgeon and the southern resident killer whale species.
As a result of litigation by NRDC, Earthjustice and fishing groups, a federal judge ruled that the previous biological opinion violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The court ordered the agency directed to issue a new opinion by March of 2009 - and the draft opinion was released in December 2008.
The Opinion also concludes the water projects would likely result in the "adverse modification" or "destruction of critical habitat for the three salmon species." Jeopardy and adverse modifications indicate that the Operating Criteria and Plan (OCAP) process cannot move forward as planned.
Their conclusion that increased water exports play a key role in the decline of salmon, sturgeon and killer whales is in direct contrast to the politically motivated claims by the Bush and Schwarzenegger administations last year that "ocean conditions" caused the collapse.
Staggering losses of salmon and steelhead smolts take place in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, according to the scientists. Indirect losses in the Central Delta were found to be far more significant than losses from direct entrainment at the state and federal pumps on the South Delta. When the cross channel gates on the Sacramento River in the North Delta are open, 65% of the juveniles perish as they are drawn into the Delta interior. When the gates are closed, more than 50% survive.
The evidence of the role of Delta water exports and other freshwater factors in the decline of salmon, green sturgeon and killer whales is inescapable now - and it's time for the state and federal governments, in cooperation with environmental groups, commercial fishing organizations, recreational fishing groups and Indian Tribes - to begin the long road to recovery.
We must stop the attempt by the Department of Water Resources and Bureau of Reclamation to suspend Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for Delta smelt. We must also defeat legislation by Congressman George Radanovich (R-Mariposa), H.R. 856, to temporarily suspend the ESA as it applies to the California pumping facilities during times of "drought" emergencies declared by the Governor. And we must stop the campaign by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Senator Dianne Feinstein and the Nature Conservancy to build a peripheral canal and more dams!
Killer whales threatened by California's thirst
February 13, 2009 (San Jose Mercury News)
California's thirst is helping drive an endangered population of West Coast killer whales toward extinction, federal biologists have concluded.
The southern resident killer whale population, which numbers 83, spends much of its time in Puget Sound but since 2000 many of them have been spotted off the California coast as far south as Monterey Bay.
In a draft scientific report, biologists conclude the damage that water operations are doing to California's salmon populations is enough to threaten the orcas' existence since they depend on salmon for food. Federal officials confirmed to MediaNews on Friday the conclusions of the report, which has not been released.
"People have a hard time looking at the Delta smelt for its own sake," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "If it's Shamu, that's a different thing."
Biologists last month reported tentatively that pumping water out of the Delta threatens to drive spring-run chinook salmon and winter-run chinook salmon extinct.
The orca study found the loss of those fish could leave whales at times with patches of ocean that lack food, Rea said.
In addition, the reliance on hatchery-raised salmon in other salmon runs makes that food source vulnerable to disruption, she said. Hatchery fish lose the natural genetic diversity that is helpful in recovering from attacks of disease or changes in environmental conditions.
Orcas are the most widely distributed whale in the world and live in all kinds of ocean habitat. Some populations roam the oceans but resident populations, like the southern resident whales in Puget Sound, tend to stay closer to home.
The southern resident orcas' diet is almost entirely salmon and about 80 percent is chinook salmon, said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington.
The 83 Puget Sound orcas eat about 500,000 salmon a year, he said.
In winter, the whales move out into the ocean and swim up and down the coast in search of food, a search that in the last seven years has brought two of the three pods as far south as Monterey. Balcomb said that in recent years California's salmon has been an important food source for the whales for six to eight weeks a year.
This year, however, the orcas swam about halfway down the coast of Oregon before giving up the hunt, Balcomb said.
Grey whales delay migration due to rise in ocean temperatures, scientists say
February 13, 2009 (Guardian UK)
Out in the deep waters of Monterey Bay, grey whales will be swimming home later this month after a brief winter vacation in Baja, California.
Whale watchers and marine scientists say these whales have been delaying their southern sojourns and point to climate change as the culprit.
Rising sea temperatures have disrupted the animals' home habitat in the waters between Alaska and Russia, said Wayne Perryman, a researcher at the Southwest Fisheries Science Centre in La Jolla, California. Because of these changes, the whales are spending more time in the north before they start their yearly swim south.
The scientists at the centre have observed the whales for more than 20 years as they pass through Monterey Bay. Compared to two decades ago, Perryman said, the animals are reaching the bay a week later.
"This isn't trivial," Perryman said. "It's a significant change." Richard Ternullo, a boat captain for Monterey Bay Whale Watch in Monterey, California, said the whales' yearly arrival in the bay fluctuates, but he has noticed on average it has drifted about 10 days later into the year.
"Baja is like Club Med for most of the grey whale population," Perryman said. "They just horse around and socialise."
State not ready for 'climate refugees'
February 12, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
It's a term we should get used to, researchers warned on Thursday, predicting a flood of new residents driven north by heat waves, fires and other calamitous effects of global warming.
With one speaker raising the specter of a new migration on the scale of the Great Depression, state and county officials admitted they have barely started getting ready.
The warnings came at a conference of planners, scientists and government officials drilling into the results of a study released this week examining what Washington faces -- for our food supply, our forests, our drinking-water supplies and public health, among other fronts -- as the globe warms in coming decades.
"We're going to have an influx of climate refugees," said Richard Hoskins, an epidemiologist with the Washington Health Department. "This is going to have a tremendous impact on our public health (system). Local public health has a very full plate as it is."
Columbia salmon plan goes before judge for third try
February 10, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Perhaps no person has more control over the fate of Columbia River salmon and dams today than a 79-year-old Red Sox fan who doesn't fish or much care for the taste of salmon.
From his Portland courtroom, U.S. District Judge James Redden has scolded top federal bureaucrats like the coach of a losing football team.
He's taken the extraordinary step of seizing partial control of a string of massive government dams, against the wishes of the government. He has even raised the prospect of tearing down dams to make way for endangered fish.
Now, in the twilight of a 47-year political and judicial career, Redden is trying to prod, threaten and cajole to solve a conflict that has vexed the Northwest for decades.
He's expected to rule on the adequacy of a federal plan meant to operate the dams while simultaneously reviving sickly salmon runs. The case is to be argued in his court in early March. If he deems the plan a failure, he has warned of even more court oversight of dam operations.
He even has made reference to breaching some Snake River dams to recreate a free-flowing river.
" 'Speeching' on the dams will not avoid breaching the dams," he wrote in a 2005 decision — likely a reference to a vow by then-President George W. Bush to not breach dams. "Cooperation and assistance may."
Mama whales teach babies where to look for food
February 9, 2009 (Hindu Times)
University of Utah biologists discovered that young "right whales" learn from their mothers where to eat, raising concern about their ability to find new places to feed if earth's changing climate disrupts their traditional dining areas.
"A primary concern is, what are whales going to do with global warming, which may change the location and abundance of their prey?" asks Vicky Rowntree, research associate professor of biology and a coauthor of the new study. "Can they adapt if they learn from their mother where to feed — or will they die?"
Previous research by Rowntree and colleagues showed that when climate oscillations increase sea temperatures, southern right whales give birth to fewer calves because the warm water reduces the abundance of krill, which are small, shrimp-like crustaceans eaten by the whales.
The new study — scheduled for publication in the February 15 issue of the journal Molecular Ecology – used genetic and chemical isotope evidence to show that mothers teach their calves where to go for food.
"Southern right whales consume enormous amounts of food and have to travel vast distances to find adequate amounts of small prey," says study coauthor Jon Seger, professor of biology at the University of Utah. "This study shows that mothers teach their babies in the first year of life where to go to feed in the immensity of the ocean."
Coho, chinook in 'dramatic' decline
February 9, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
New research documents a "dramatic and alarming" decline in the survival of some salmon species in the waters of British Columbia, in the Georgia Strait, a leading Canadian researcher told scientists, activists and others at a conference in Seattle on Monday.
Coho and chinook are in decline -- but curiously, pink salmon survival appears to be increasing, Richard Beamish of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans told participants in the biennial Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Ecosystem Conference.
"That early marine survival has declined significantly," Beamish said.
The findings have implications for Puget Sound salmon as well, because recent research also shows that young salmon from south of the border make their way north into Canadian waters, Beamish said.
In fact, scientists at the conference advocated that people stop thinking of Puget Sound and Georgia Strait as two separate bodies of water, but rather consider it all the "Salish Sea." Native Americans in this area were known as the Salish, or the Coast Salish.
Scientists have long known that only a small percentage of the juvenile salmon that leave freshwater rivers to live in the sea return to spawn at the end of their lives. But the new research shows that percentage has drastically decreased since 1980. In coho, it dropped from 10 percent to 0.5 percent, Beamish said. In chinook, it decreased from 1 percent to 0.1 percent.
Puget Sound Research Conference Begins Monday
February 8, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
A three-day research conference focusing on Puget Sound opened Sunday night with the first-ever Salish Sea Science Prize awarded to Ken Balcomb, dean of killer whale research in Washington state.
The prize, awarded by the SeaDoc Society, recognizes a scientist whose work has resulted in increased conservation of marine wildlife and ecosystems. It carries a $2,000 cash award.
Balcomb and orca researchers in Canada pioneered the use of photo identification of killer whales. Since 1975, Balcomb has produced an annual census of the Puget Sound population.
That information has proved invaluable in understanding orca longevity and the effects of disease and toxic chemicals on the population, said Joe Gaydos, regional director of the SeaDoc Society. The census was the basis of an analysis that led to the listing of the killer whales as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
"Ken's life work has been scientifically rigorous and has fundamentally changed the way we think about killer whales and marine wildlife," Gaydos said. "He really epitomizes the intent of the award."
Debate persists about long-term effects of Exxon Valdez oil spill
February 7, 2009 (Anchorage Daily news)
An already fragile population of killer whales that hunts Prince William Sound never recovered from the Exxon Valdez oil spill and is doomed to die off, biologists said this week.
Marine mammal biologist Craig Matkin of Homer has tracked the animals since the mid-1980s and said he never thought he'd see an entire population of whales -- even a small one -- disappear.
"To blame it all on the spill would not be fair, but that's the final death blow," Matkin said.
The plight of this group of killer whales contrasts with the full or slow, partial recovery of many other animal populations, including another group of whales, since the 1989 oil disaster.
Scientist Has 'Snowball Fight' With a Killer Whale
February 5, 2009 (Natural History)
Each summer (December through February) an icebreaker penetrates miles into the frozen sea ice to open up a resupply channel to McMurdo Station, and the killer whales have learned to take advantage of the increased foraging area.
With my colleagues Wayne Perryman and Don LeRoi, I have come to gather evidence that McMurdo killer whales — which have distinct color patterning and prey preferences — may be a separate species. To make our case, we are collecting skin samples for DNA, taking photographs, and simply getting to know the orcas a little better in their natural environment.
Yesterday we saw a pod that was in less of a hurry. One of the whales, probably an adult female, was lolling in front of us. I wanted her to know we were there, so I tossed a snowball out to her. My throw was off: it tapped her on the side, and the dry snow vaporized with a muffled “pat.” In response, she hesitated, and then, to my surprise, she started pushing around a piece of ice that was a couple of feet across. At one point she flicked it with the end of her snout, and it broke in two.
She disappeared for a minute and brought back a replacement chunk of ice — about the size of a volleyball. This time, when she arched her head back and snapped it forward, the ice flew out of the water and several feet ahead. For five minutes she motored around the small pond in front of us, repeatedly launching her ball of ice, before she lost interest and went on her way. I had to wonder: Did I just show a killer whale how to throw snowballs?
Navy plan to increase warfare training off Oregon coast draws objections
February 5, 2009 (Oregonian)
You may not realize it, but the Navy has been conducting warfare training exercises off the coast of Oregon, Washington and Northern California for decades, firing missiles and machine guns, dropping bombs and practicing crucial sonar detection of submarines.
Now, the Navy's Northwest region wants to expand those operations, including adding a dummy minefield-avoidance training course, scheduling hundreds more training flights and warfare simulations over land and sea, and increasing the use of sonar -- a potential threat to endangered and threatened whales and other marine mammals.
Environmental groups, fishermen and some politicians along Oregon's coast are wary. They also say the military sprang the 1,000-page environmental review of its training plan with little notice.
The Navy held one Oregon meeting on the draft proposal last week, and comments are due Wednesday. But activists want a 30-day extension.
"For the whole state of Oregon, there was one 90-minute hearing," said Marie Gargano, a Depoe Bay retiree active in environmental issues. "It just looks like a pro-forma effort to meet the requirements of the law."
Environmental groups are suing over such sonar use, arguing that it damages whales and other marine mammals that use sound to communicate and navigate.
The training area includes waters used by nine marine mammal species listed as threatened or endangered, including seven whales. Of particular concern are Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales, whose population has dwindled to about 70.
In its review, the Navy said sonar exposure contributed to five "mass stranding events" worldwide since 1996, with whales showing up dead in numbers on the beach.
But Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, says there's not enough information on the location and timing of sonar use to assess the risk.
To see the draft report and submit comments, go to www.nwtrangecomplexeis.com (go to Documents).
Whistles with Dolphins
February 5, 2009 (Scientific American)
Reiss was working toward her doctorate in animal communication, and she had left the U.S. for a two-year research stay in France. On that day in November, in a small port town in the eastern Pyrenees, she was tossing fish to a captive female dolphin. If the animal swam away, Reiss would give her a time-out, backing 10 feet (three meters) away from the pool and standing motionless for a few minutes.
The dolphin quickly learned what Reiss wanted, but remained finicky about food and refused to eat fish unless the spiky fins were removed from the tails. Then one day, by mistake, Reiss gave the dolphin a fish with fins intact. The animal spit it out, stared at Reiss and retreated to the other end of the pool; there she remained in a vertical position for several minutes.
“I felt like I was getting a time-out,” Reiss recalls. “It seems like she was that conscious of what I was doing that she would use a signal like what I used for her to correct me back.”
Notoriously playful, dolphins have also caught scientists’ attention by creating play objects from their own bodies. In the wild, if dolphins are trapped or scared, they tense up their blowholes—the nostril on top of their heads—releasing bubbles of air. When the bubbles are big enough, water pressure causes them to collapse in the middle and form rings of air that rise slowly toward the surface like smoke rings. “We started noticing that they were producing these bubble rings in captivity,” Reiss says.
In safe aquarium settings, bubble rings are objects of play, not fear. After a quick breath at the surface, dolphins swim to the bottom of the pool and expel a long, silvery ring of air. In a graceful water ballet, they nudge the bubble ring around, make it bigger or smaller or swirl it out of shape, swim through it, or they snap it suddenly between their jaws to release a thousand tiny bubbles.
Navy training expansion draws criticism
February 5, 2009 (Coupeville Examiner)
As many as 150 orcas are known to inhabit the waters of Puget Sound and the coast of Washington at various times of the year.
Among them is Ruffles. He belongs to a small family group called J-pod. At 57, he is the oldest known male orca in the world, according to Howard Garrett, president of Orca Network, a Whidbey Island based nonprofit group dedicated to raising awareness about whales in the Northwest.
Ruffles's exact age has been confirmed through photographic evidence. The characteristic ruffled back edge of his dorsal fin not only makes him easy to identify but also earned him his name.
He is usually spotted traveling on the outskirts of the pod. It may be that he is a loner or it may be that his position serves some special function within the group. It's one of the many mysteries about orcas that scientists have yet to discover, Garrett said.
The U.S. Navy recently released its plan to expand its training operations in Puget Sound and off the coasts of Washington and Oregon. With everything from missile and sonar testing to dumping depleted uranium included in the proposal, some environmentalists are concerned that Ruffles and J-pod may have given up the last of their secrets.
Our View: Salmon need help from new administration
February 4, 2009 (Idaho Statesman editorial)
Steve Huffaker and Rod Sando are former directors of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
Ed Chaney and Bert Bowler are among Idaho's foremost salmon advocates.
Don Chapman is a regional salmon expert who spent a career advising electric utilities - and now supports breaching four hydroelectric dams in an attempt to save salmon.
These experts, among others, have co-authored a blunt assessment about the future of salmon, and a blistering indictment of the divisive politics and faulty science that have pushed the fish to the edge of extinction. The report has a specific audience: the Obama administration that now inherits jurisdiction over salmon. The report also should be required reading for anyone who cares about the region's salmon.
Citing low numbers of spawning redds in Idaho's Salmon River region - some of the Northwest's most pristine habitat - the authors say the salmon have made only modest population gains after nearly 20 years on the federal government's endangered species list.
Consistent with the crisis at hand, the scientists make bold, controversial suggestions. They say Obama should appoint a senior official to lead and coordinate salmon recovery efforts scattered among an alphabet soup of federal agencies. The administration should work on a federal water management plan covering Northwest states. Calling the region's dams the "prime cause" of declining salmon populations, they argue for a National Academy of Sciences study of the costs and benefits of breaching the lower Snake River dams.
Obama's climate change initiative 'best hope' for salmon
February 4, 2009 (Vancouver Sun)
U.S. President Barack Obama holds the best hope for the future of the Pacific salmon, former Canadian fisheries minister David Anderson told an international conference Tuesday.
The U.S. president's commitment to addressing climate change is likely to pull Canada and other Pacific nations into the new American direction if they want to keep trade links open, Anderson predicted.
And that, coupled with the hundreds of billions being spent on economic stimulus programs, opens the door for research into some of the alarming trends scientists are observing in the Pacific.
Anderson, who was fisheries minister in the Jean Chretien government, was speaking to scientists and policy-makers at the State of the Salmon conference now underway in Vancouver. Delegates come from what conference organizers term the Salmon Nation -- the arc of North Pacific Rim countries from Japan, Korea and Russia in Asia to British Columbia, Alaska and the U.S. northwest Pacific coast, which all share the salmon resource. They have gathered in Vancouver to share research and address growing concern over the impacts climate change is having on salmon species.
Climate change is clearly the most pressing issue facing salmon, which spend most of their lives in the open north Pacific, said conference co-chair Brian Riddell. "The Pacific is a big place. And we have five member nations around it interested in salmon. And all five have expressed a commitment to work together."
Mantua said some factors influencing salmon include changing winds and currents and a little understood flip-flop of ocean temperatures in the last year or so that has caused colder water on the North American coast and warmer water in the open Pacific.
"The chemistry is very simple. The added CO2 in the atmosphere is being absorbed into the ocean and forming a weak carbonic acid."
Stormwater isn't just a big-city problem
February 4, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
After a groundbreaking ruling last year that required Seattle and a handful of other large governments around the Puget Sound area to control polluted stormwater runoff, a state hearings board this week decreed that smaller cities and counties will have to start working on the same thing.
However, the ruling by the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board calls for "reasonable and flexible time frames" for the smaller governments, meaning for some it could be three to five years before they take the most important steps toward controlling the pollution.
A key concept is whether the government should require, or merely permit, "low-impact" development techniques to control stormwater, which is considered the biggest source of many of Puget Sound's worst pollutants.
The smaller cities -- from Aberdeen to Yarrow Point, including Bellevue, Redmond, Edmonds, Everett and Federal Way -- merely have to take steps toward requiring the enviro-friendly construction methods.
"It's a significant step forward, and it's going to lead to more of these new green-building techniques," said Bruce Wishart of the environmental group People for Puget Sound, which joined the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance in challenging rules proposed by the state Ecology Department.
Builders were not involved in the litigation before the hearings board. But industry officials have said many of their members already are employing low-impact development techniques. In fact, builders' representatives have said, more developers would use those methods if many governments didn't make it such a hassle to do so.
Municipal officials often view them with suspicion because they are out of the ordinary, builders say.
Tug spills fuel near Eagle Harbor in Puget Sound
February 4, 2009 (Seattel Times)
The Coast Guard and state Ecology Department have responded to a fuel spill near Eagle Harbor, on the northeast side of Bainbridge Island.
An Ecology spokeswoman, Barbara MacGregor, says about 35 gallons of fuel spilled from a tug late Tuesday night as the fuel was being transferred from one tank to another.
MacGregor says two skimmers from the Marine Spill Response Corp. are working early today on a sheen about a half-mile long and 100 feet wide. It's about 300 feet off shore.
Northern resident bounty this year?
February 4, 2009 (Orcashpere)
Forecasts are great for the Queen Charlotte’s and the Nushagak in 2009
Canadian Fisheries claims the water temperature is the coldest in 11 years and the ocean conditions are perfect for setting up huge runs of returning Chinook and Coho for 2009. In 2005 the Nushagak had over 300k returning Chinook – this year will be the returning fish from that run, coupled with terrific ocean conditions equates to a banner year in 2009.
Fossil shows whales lived on land
February 4, 2009 (London Times)
Fossilised remains of an ancient whale that gave birth on land have been unearthed with a foetus still in its womb. The whale was pregnant with a calf that was almost 3ft long and close to being born when the mother died.
The calf’s position in the womb demonstrated that the animals, a previously unknown species of early whale, were still dependent on land and had yet to become fully aquatic. They came ashore to rest and breed.
When the mother died, 47½ million years ago, the calf was in a position that meant it would be born headfirst, like land mammals, rather than tailfirst, like aquatic mammals. “They clearly were tied to the shore,” Philip Gingerich, of the University of Michigan in the United States, said. “They were living at the land-sea interface and going back and forth.” His research is published in the online journal PLoS ONE.
Older is better for whale moms: study
February 3, 2009 (Reuters)
Older mothers may do a better job raising their children than younger, less-experienced moms, at least among killer whales, researchers reported on Monday.
They studied 30 years of data to show that calves born to the oldest killer whales were 10 percent more likely to survive the critical first year of life than calves born to younger mothers.
"Older mothers appear to be better mothers, producing calves with higher survival rates," Eric Ward of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and colleagues wrote in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.
Killer whale females become mature at around 15 and stop reproducing at around 40.
"Our work supports previous research showing that menopause and long post-reproductive lifespans are not a human phenomenon," the researchers said.
Full paper HERE.
Whale of a hot flash
February 2, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
OK, so maybe the evolutionary biologist puts the question a little differently: If the goal of any organism is to pass on his or her genes, why do females go on living beyond their reproductive years?
Researchers in Washington and British Columbia sought an answer in killer whales, the black-and-white beauties that cruise their inland and near-shore waterways. Among little-known killer-whale factoids: They are extremely long-lived. And not only do female killer whales go through menopause, they have the longest post-menopause lifespan of any mammal, including humans.
Male killer whales rarely live to be 50, although they can father calves up to their last spout. Females enter their reproductive years around age 10 and lose fertility rapidly after age 40, but live to be 55 and older. One of the female killer whales in the study was known to be more than 90 years old.
Idaho officials predict large return of salmon
February 2, 2009 (Columbian.com)
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is predicting this year's return of salmon will be the largest in eight years.
Agency officials estimate 105,000 salmon will return, and Fish and Game commissioners will likely set a sport fishing season in March for the prized game fish that draws thousands of anglers to the Clearwater and Salmon river systems.
If a season is approved for 2009, it will mark the 10th consecutive year anglers are allowed to fish for salmon. That's the longest streak of sport fishing in Idaho going back to the 1950s, the Idaho Statesman reported.
This year's predicted run, if accurate, will be the second highest since 150,000 salmon returned to Idaho in 2001. That year marked the most salmon returning to Idaho since counts started at Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River in 1975.
Salmon returning from the Pacific Ocean migrate up the Columbia and Snake rivers to reach the Clearwater and Salmon rivers in Idaho.
This year's forecast is based on last year's return of "jack" salmon, males that return after a single year in the ocean.
Last year, about 16,000 jacks returned. That's about 10,000 more than the average over the last 10 years.
The salmon run is made up hatchery fish and wild fish. Anglers can keep hatchery fish, but must release unharmed wild fish, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Salmon: Extinction? Restoration, Poaching, Gov-CA, News, Pics!
February 1, 2009 (Daily Kos)
There are two possibilities for Pacific salmon's future. Dr Josh Israel from UC Davis discussed a grim forecast recently at the International Sportsmen Expo.
"It is possible that 65 percent of the 31 native California species of trout and salmon will become extinct soon. California has such tremendous species diversity due to the Pacific's California Current and other factors, but human development has affected those species adversely.
"At this time, only 10-percent of California's ocean population of salmon are wild, the rest are hatchery-produced. This tends to reduce the fitness of the natural population, we need to consider ways to adapt and reform hatcheries. We also know that many ocean-harvested fish are from endangered runs. Marking all hatchery fish may be a possible strategy.
If this recession continues poaching will increase, water wars may tilt away from environmental concerns, and habitat restoration projects will be frozen at the state level. A federal stimulus package with money for the states could bring needed funds to vastly expand restoration of fisheries and habitats.