Orca Network News - February, 2010
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
February 1, 2010 through February 28, 2010.
February 28, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
At the Miami Seaquarium, a sequel has been brewing for years called "The Lolita Come Home Project.''
Lolita was captured near Puget Sound in 1970. It was a particularly brutal affair, with five orcas drowning in the nets. Their bodies were slit open, stuffed with rocks and dumped to hide the evidence.
Of the seven whales captured that day, Lolita is the lone survivor. She is 21 feet long and lives in a dinky tank that's 20 feet deep at the deepest point. A male killer whale at the aquarium died in 1980, which means Lolita hasn't seen another of her kind in 30 years.
I don't see how that can possibly be considered humane for an animal that is highly social by nature.
That has made Lolita a cause célèbre in the orca-freedom movement. In 1995, a campaign backed by then- Washington Gov. Mike Lowry was started with the goal of returning Lolita to Puget Sound. The aquarium refused to sell her. But the effort goes on.
Cousteau on SeaWorld Tragedy
February 27, 2010 (Santa Barbara Independent)
When you take a wild cetacean (a whale or dolphin) and put it in a tank, its acoustic system is suddenly screwed up. Its sonar reverberates off of the concrete in its tank and, little by little, the animal becomes totally silenced. It's like a person being blindfolded in a jail cell. The orcas are not used to borders or barriers, and that probably makes them very uncomfortable. Some of them don't accept captivity and die, but others do and live like they are in prison.
Let's pretend you're a prisoner and a guy brings food every day to your cell. Pretend he is a very nice guy who talks to you, is gentle, and so on. One day, though, when you've had it, you're going to punch him because there is no one else to punch. We as humans can't totally control ourselves — sometimes we just lose it. It's the same with orcas. We have to respect the fact that they have personalities and emotions. Who knows, maybe that whale is very sorry.
Gray whales arrive early to Whidbey Island
February 26, 2010 (Whidbey News Times)
Hikers exploring the bluff trail at Ebey's Landing enjoyed an unexpected treat last weekend. They saw a couple of gray whales feeding about 150-feet off Perego's Lagoon in Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.
Orca Network founder Howard Garrett said the organization received four to five reports the afternoon of Feb. 20 that one or possibly two gray whales were feeding in the waters near the popular hiking trail.
A group of six to 12 grays makes a yearly voyage to Whidbey Island, where they feed off the ghost shrimp and other critters buried in the sandy mud of Saratoga Passage. He said the same group of gray whales appears around Whidbey Island each year. They are fixture off the shores between Penn Cove and Possession Point. They typically arrive in Saratoga Passage between March and stay until June; however, they have made longer visits in recent years.
"It's kind of phenomenal because it's really early," Garrett said of the whales' return in 2010.
He said the area around Ebey's Landing is an excellent place to view gray and orca whales. They often travel west from Ebey's Landing to feed. Another popular area to view gray whales is around Langley looking toward Hat Island.
Killer whale experts say: Reintroduce Tilikum to the wild
February 25, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
One suggested that building a tank the size of Rhode Island wouldn't be large enough for a six-ton male such as Tilikum, an animal capable of swimming 100 miles in a day
Re-introducing Tilikum to the wild would be costly, would include serious risks for the animal and would not guarantee his survival, they say.
Nonetheless, in the aftermath of veteran SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau's death this week, authorities such as Naomi Rose argue there is a moral obligation to release Tilikum.
"There is absolutely a risk in keeping him where he is," said Naomi Rose, a marine-mammal scientist for the Humane Society of the United States. She predicted Tilikum will kill again if he remains in captivity.
"I will take bets on that and win," Rose said. "Boredom, depression — these cause physical problems in human beings, chimpanzees and, believe me, killer whales."
Howard Garrett, co-founder and director of the Orca Network in Washington, said he could envision a situation in which handlers might take Tilikum on "walks" before a true release. And if he could not find his family, he could learn to return to areas where humans could help.
"They need companionship above all, more than food," Garrett said of orcas. "In the absence of family, they'll follow human friends."
Miami Seaquarium: "Lolita's Happy"
February 25, 2010 (AP)
Lolita lives in a tank about one-tenth the size of those at SeaWorld and has no interaction with other killer whales. She swims in the smallest killer whale tank in North America.
Tilikum the orca could kill again, warns marine expert
February 25, 2010 (AP)
Dr Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist at the Humane Society of the United States who has studied whale behaviour for more than two decades and knows the life histories of many of the 42 orca in captivity, said that the reports that Tillikum dragged his trainer into the water marked an escalation of aggression, and that the whale appeared to be growing more dangerous.
In the previous deaths, involving trainer Keltie Byrne and homeless man Daniel Dukes, they had fallen into the water accidentally or of their own accord and Tillikum had played with them roughly as orcas play with a seal or a dolphin in the wild, she said.
SeaWorld had kept him segregated from the rest of the orca because he was a breeding bull. But this was highly unnatural for an orca, who are sociable creatures and are distressed to be separated from their family group.
"I think it's very disturbing for him to be segregated from other whales. That's very unnatural, even for males," said Dr Rose. She urged SeaWorld to retire Tillikum to a pen in the open sea, where he could be cared for but interaction with humans would be limited, to reduce the likelihood of future deaths. Keiko, the orca who appeared in the celebrated film Free Willy, was retired to just such a pen.
Video: Whale That Killed Its Trainer Won't Be Isolated
February 25, 2010 (AP)
Deadly killer whale 'will stay at SeaWorld'
February 25, 2010 (BBC)
Witness Sue Nichols, 67, said Ms Brancheau was petting the whale and talking to him.
"Then all of a sudden he just reached up. He got her in the water, and he took her underwater, and he had her under for quite a while," she said.
"He came up out of the water, and he had her in his mouth."
Inside the mind of a 'killer whale'
February 25, 2010 (MSNBC)
Experts on marine mammals say that dolphins - including "killer whales," which are more properly called orcas - rank among the most intelligent species on the planet. So what was that orca thinking when he dragged his human trainer into the water and killed her?
"I have no way of knowing what the whale had in mind," Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist at the American Museum of Natural History, told The Associated Press. "But I can tell you that killer whales, because they're supposed to be so intelligent, don't do things accidentally. This was not an insane, uncontrollable act. This was premeditated. And the whale, for whatever whale reasons, did this intentionally."
Dolphins have so much brain power that they're thought to rival humans in intelligence. One measure is known as the encephalization quotient, or EQ, which quantifies the size of a species' brain compared with what would be expected based on body size alone.
Orca intelligence hasn't been studied as intensively as the intelligence of bottlenose dolphins, but orca EQ has been pegged at around 2.5. Toni Frohoff, research director at TerraMar Research, is confident that orcas are not dumb animals. "If anything, since orcas are the largest member of the dolphin family, their intelligence is perhaps superior to other dolphins," she told me.
"We know that post-traumatic stress syndrome has been identified in other species, by [veterinarian] Temple Grandin and others," Frohoff said. "PTSD is very possibly related to his action. The act of capture alone, let alone the sustained and chronic stress that he is subjected to, could easily be responsible for that. ... He's been trying to communicate, and nobody's been listening."
Some might wonder why Tilikum was still at SeaWorld after those earlier deaths. "Because of the previous incidents, he has been kept in isolation most of the time - except for breeding," Susan Berta begin_of_the_skype_highlighting end_of_the_skype_highlighting, co-founder of the Orca Network in Washington state, told me. "That's why he was kept on. He's sired 17 calves."
Marino worried that Brancheau's death may lead SeaWorld to give Tilikum what would amount to a lifelong sentence in solitary confinement. "That would be the worst thing that could happen to this whale," she said. "That really could worsen the situation."
"We need to have a conversation about whether these animals should be entertaining us in these tanks," Marino told me.
Biologists: Killer whales 'neurotic' in captivity
February 25, 2010 (CNN)
Confining such an enormous animal in an aquarium tank leads the animal to display neurotic behavior, experts say.
"They get very stressed out," marine biologist Nancy Black of Monterey Bay Whale Watch said on CNN's "Larry King Live."
An orca can travel easily 100 nautical miles every day, and to put them in a pool where they swim around in circles continually, and kept away from their families, "takes a toll on their brains," said Jim Borrowman, who has worked with whales for 30 years and runs Stubbs Island Whale Watching on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
"In the wild, killer whales have never been known to attack a human," said Kim Parsons, independent whale biologist from Seattle, Washington. "But they do play with, and/or kill, other species."
Trainers at SeaWorld are taught to reinforce the whales' good behavior with rewards and to not react at all to bad behavior, a technique developed by influential psychologist B.F. Skinner, said Dr. Jeffrey Ventre. Skinner's ideas fall under the psychological framework of operant conditioning.
Ventre speculated that there may be more restrictions placed on who can work with the whale, but it's unclear whether much can be done -- someone still has to feed Tilikum 300 pounds of fish a day, administer medication and perform other daily tasks with the animal. Tilikum is also part of an artificial insemination program, which means someone has to roll him over and extract sperm from him.
What's next for Tillikum the orca?
February 25, 2010 (Northwest Cable News Network)
Whale researcher Howard Garrett sadly reflects on the loss of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld Orlando.
"I guess she was trying to make it better and trying to work with him," said the President and Co-founder of Orca Network. "But he was over the edge."
Garrett believes tension and stress built up over years led Tillikum, a performing orca, to drag the trainer into the water and kill her yesterday.
"This is the kind of stress and pent-up aggression that can act out in captivity," he said.
Garrett points out that there has never been a documented attack on humans by an orca in the wild. He wants Tillikum to be gradually returned to the wild by putting him in a large sea pen in his native North Atlantic waters until he's healthy enough for total release. He says Seaworld should pay for and get credit for the release.
12,000-Pound Whale Kills SeaWorld Trainer
February 24, 2010 (CBS News)
Killer Whale Grabbed Worker around the Waist and "Thrashed Her All Around," Witness Says; Whale Had Killed Before
A killer whale drowned a trainer in front of a horrified audience Wednesday at a SeaWorld show, with at least one witness saying the animal leaped from the water, dragged the woman under and thrashed her around violently.
An official identified the victim as 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau. The law enforcement official with knowledge of the incident spoke on condition of anonymity because he had not been cleared to officially release her identity.
An audience member said a show was just starting when the whale "took off really fast in the tank, and then he came back, shot up in the air, grabbed the trainer by the waist and started thrashing around, and one of her shoes flew off," Victoria Biniak told CBS affiliate WKMG.
In November 2006, a SeaWorld trainer was bitten and held underwater several times by a killer whale during a show at SeaWorld's San Diego park.
Newborn orca joins resident pod struggling for survival
February 24, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
Ecstatic whale watchers are welcoming another new baby to the endangered southern resident killer whale pods.
The newcomer was first spotted swimming off the north end of Cordova Bay on Sunday, and the following day the birth was confirmed with photographs taken by observers from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash.
The baby is designated L-114 and its mother is a 22-year-old whale known as L-77 or Matia. It is the first known calf for L-77, Balcomb said. "She certainly took her time."
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a group that runs a whale-sighting network, said so far there is no sign any of the whales have died during the winter.
"None of the really old or really young are missing so far, and their body conformation looks good," he said.
However, it is usually early summer before an accurate count can be completed, and about 50 per cent of killer whale calves die during the first year.
"They are finding fish somewhere, but I don't know where," Garrett said.
The whales are spending much of their time off the west coast of Vancouver Island this year, which may be where they are finding salmon, Balcomb said.
Waiting to Inhale: Deep-Ocean Low-Oxygen Zones Spreading to Shallower Coastal Waters
February 24, 2010 (Scientific American)
Oxygen-deprived areas in the world's oceans, usually found in deeper water are moving up to offshore areas and threatening coastal marine ecosystems by spurring the die-off of some species and overpopulation of others.
A plague of oxygen-deprived waters from the deep ocean is creeping up over the continental shelves off the Pacific Northwest and forcing marine species there to relocate or die. Since 2002 tongues of hypoxic, or low-oxygen, waters from deeper areas offshore have slipped into shallower near-shore environments off the Oregon coast, although not close enough to be oxygenated by the waves. The problem stems from oxygen reduction in deep water, a phenomenon that some scientists are observing in oceans worldwide, and that may be related to climate change.
The hypoxic seawater is distinct from the well-known "dead zones" that form at the mouths of the Mississippi and other rivers around the world. Those areas result from agricultural runoff, which lead to algae blooms that consume oxygen. Rather, the Pacific Northwest problem is broader and more mysterious.
Biodiversity will be the big loser as these low-oxygen zones knock out some species and promote others. Among the big winners is the Humboldt squid, which can tolerate low oxygen; it has expanded its range in the northeastern Pacific in the past 10 years, from the Gulf of California all the way to southeastern Alaska. Biologists worry about the hunting pressure the squid will put on other species.
The baby orcas just keep on coming
February 23, 2010 (Watching Our Waterways - Kitsap Sun blog)
Excitement continues to build among killer whale observers, as seven newborn orcas have arrived in the past year. There have been no deaths during that time.
A new calf has been born into L Pod, one of the three groups of orcas that frequent Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.
The young whale was spotted Sunday in Cordova Bay on the east coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, by Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. The center maintains an ongoing census of the Southern Resident killer whale population.
The two researchers later confirmed that the newborn, designated L-114, is the offspring of L-77, a 22-year-old named Matia. This is her first known calf, though it is possible she has had one or more offspring that did not survive.
Sperm Whales Team Up To Corral Squid
February 23, 2010 (Red Orbit)
A new study suggests that sperm whales may team up and work cooperatively to hunt down and corral their food.
Scientists from the U.S. used high-tech GPS tags to study the marine mammals' astonishing hunting behaviors. The tracking equipment showed how the animals traveled together in groups, but when it came time to hunt for food, each whale took on various roles within the group.
The study, led by Professor Bruce Mate from the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Oregon, used new equipment to tag and follow the giant sea creatures. "We have [a tag with] GPS precision for the whales' movements and a time and depth record of their dives," Mate told BBC News. "And, for the first time, we have tagged several animals within the same group."
Pointing to the evidence, Professor Mate said: "We can see that they're actually changing their role over time." The team speculated that when they dive, often as deep as 3,300 feet, they are hunting and "herding a ball of squid."
Mate said that some whales seemed to be guarding the bottom of the "bait ball", keeping the prey from escaping downward, while other animals in the group concentrated on the center of the ball itself. It seemed that the whales took turns diving to the physiologically demanding depths, he added.
Feinstein water transfer bill would hurt salmon, destroy wetlands, critics say
February 21, 2010 (Sacramento Bee)
Feinstein has said her bill would allow an additional 300,000 acre-feet of water transfers among Central Valley users. One way it would do so is by waiving individual environmental reviews to protect the Sacramento Valley's threatened giant garter snake. Instead, a blanket review would cover all the transfers.
But it remains unclear whether the watershed has that much water to spare.
Waterfowl advocates, Indian tribes and environmentalists say the bill erodes a 1992 federal law that requires more water and habitat for salmon in the Sacramento and Trinity rivers. They say it could transform the Sacramento Valley by draining water from rice farms and wetlands.
"The practical effect of the bill is that it will seal the doom for the Trinity River and for Central Valley salmon stocks," said Bill Kier, a fisheries consultant to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute think tank in Oakland, called the senator's efforts misguided.
"Senator Feinstein seems to think that species extinction is a reasonable water management strategy," said Gleick. "Taking the last bit of water from the fish isn't going to solve the farmers' problems."
Obama administration will review its Northwest salmon and dams plan
February 19, 2010 (Oregonian)
The federal government will spend three more months reconfiguring its plan for salmon and dams in the Columbia Basin in the hopes of pleasing a Portland judge.
Today's announcement by the government is the latest turn in a long-running litigation over federal agencies' strategy to run the Northwest's system of power-producing dams without pushing imperiled fish closer to extinction.
In a letter to U.S. District Court Judge James Redden, the U.S. Department of Justice accepted the judge's proposal for the government to voluntarily review its plan before the judge rules on its merits.
Earlier this month, the Western Division of the American Fisheries Society said in a report (PDF) that the Obama administration's plan was "inadequate for ensuring the protection of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin."
Oregon has argued that the fish need higher flows in the Columbia River than the plan envisions, while salmon advocates contend the surest way to save the fish is to remove four federal dams on the lower Snake River.
Hungry Southern Resident Orcas Are Searching For Salmon
February 19, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog)
In recent weeks J-pod has been seen (and/or heard) as far north as Alert Bay, BC, as well as in Georgia Strait, and Haro Strait (between Victoria and San Juan Island). K-pod was photographed off of Florence, Oregon. No sign of L-pod.
From the Center for Whale Research: "For two days (January 26 and 27), J1 has been seen alone in Haro Strait, and heard on the Lime Kiln hydrophone making what sounds like plaintive repetitive calls (S42 and S40) when no other whales were in sight or hearing range of the Haro Strait hydrophones.
Such a solo appearance was considered unusual, so on 27 January Dave Ellifrit and Ken Balcomb headed out in r/v "Orca" to check on J1's condition. He was swimming steadily north in Haro Strait off Battleship Island taking four or five breaths at the surface and then diving for six or seven minutes when we found him. He paid little heed of us and appeared to be in good health with no apparent injuries, so we left him on his way off Stuart Island as he was apparently heading toward Swanson Channel."
Spring chinook fishing seasons in Columbia River finalized
February 19, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A potential record return of 559,900 spring chinook has allowed state Fish and Wildlife to provide anglers with a wide range of fishing in the Columbia River during March and April.
If the run of highly prized and tasty spring chinook, that rivals Alaska's Copper River chinook, comes back as predicted it would be the largest return since at least 1938.
Last year, 222,000 spring chinook returned to the Columbia.
While many are excited about the robust return others are still holding their breath after returns the past two years fell below their predictions.y
Klamath Deal Reached, Largest Dam Removal in US Set in Motion
February 19, 2010 (AlterNet)
An agreement that has been decades in the making was finally signed yesterday. After a century of water wars along the Klamath River in Northern California and Southern Oregon, farmers, tribal members, conservationists, and fishermen have a plan for how to share water and return salmon to their spawning grounds.
Their agreement comes in two parts. The AP reports:
One agreement lays out a roadmap for removing four hydroelectric dams from the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California. The other details how to share water between fish and farms and restore the ecological balance of the basin. Water will be shut off to farms in extreme drought.
Science and policy changes are needed to rescue Puget Sound
February 18, 2010 (Seattle Times editorial)
Lawmakers agonizing over the expense and complexity of cleaning up Puget Sound need to know their efforts are backed by legions of eager citizens already hard at work on the challenge.
Hundreds turned out on a brisk Saturday morning for Sound Waters 2010, presented by WSU Island County Beach Watchers.
A six-page list tallied those who led the daylong program of seminars spread across the combined campus of Coupeville High School and Middle School. The aggregation of experts and topics was impressive. So was the overflow crowd that paid to learn more and find out how to help.
Restoration of Puget Sound is an imperative for Washington's environment, health and the economy. We live, work and play around a glorious body of water, and our intimate proximity is the essence of the dilemma. All the easily identified pollution sources are either under control or on the radar. The rest come from how we live and develop the land.
Dyes Inlet Cleanup Declared Success
February 18, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
Pollution levels in Dyes Inlet have decreased dramatically, thanks to an intensive five-year effort by the Kitsap County Health District and area residents.
"Dyes Inlet is one of the biggest projects we have ever undertaken," said Stuart Whitford, manager of the health district's Pollution Identification and Correction Program. "We looked at every major stream, every septic system, every sewage system and every stormwater system.
"Our results show a lot of improvements," Whitford said. "All in all, this was a very successful project."
Read more: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2010/feb/17/dyes-inlet-cleanup-declared-success/#ixzz0fuf7ihj2
Expert sounds alarm on salmon farming
February 17, 2010 (CBC)
A former Norwegian cabinet minister says B.C. can learn from his country's experience that open-net salmon farming can probably never successfully co-exist with wild salmon populations.
A judge, former attorney general and one-time head of the Norway's Great Wild Salmon Commission, Georg Rieber-Mohn made his opinions public in an editorial circulated on the internet Tuesday.
Rieber-Mohn said the decline is widespread and that there are many causes besides salmon farming, including overfishing and acid rain.
But ultimately, open-net salmon farms cannot co-exist for long near wild salmon populations, he said.
"You can diminish the lice problems for a while. You can prevent some escapes, but then they come back … again and again."
Slow Trip Across Sea Aids Profit and Environment
February 17, 2010 (New York Times)
It took more than a month for the container ship Ebba Maersk to steam from Germany to Guangdong, China, where it unloaded cargo on a recent Friday — a week longer than it did two years ago.
But for the owner, the Danish shipping giant Maersk, that counts as progress.
In a global culture dominated by speed, from overnight package delivery to bullet trains to fast-cash withdrawals, the company has seized on a sales pitch that may startle some hard-driving corporate customers: Slow is better.
By halving its top cruising speed over the last two years, Maersk cut fuel consumption on major routes by as much as 30 percent, greatly reducing costs. But the company also achieved an equal cut in the ships' emissions of greenhouse gases.
And simply driving at 55 instead of 65 miles per hour cuts carbon dioxide emissions of American cars by about 20 percent, according to the International Energy Agency. Yet many states are still raising speed limits, even as policy makers fret about dependence on foreign oil and emissions that heat the atmosphere.
Group uses condoms in endangered species crusade
February 16, 2010 (Seattle Times)
An environmental group plans to distribute 100,000 free condoms across the U.S. beginning on Valentine's Day to call attention to the impact of human overpopulation on endangered species.
The packages have slogans such as "Wrap with care, save the polar bear," and "Wear a condom now, save the spotted owl."
The Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson says it will hand out six different condom packages with original artwork. The endangered species condoms will be distributed in bars, supermarkets, schools, concerts, parties, and other public events.
The center's Randy Serraglio (ser-AHL'-ee-yoh) says human overpopulation is destroying wildlife habitat at an unprecedented rate.
Humpbacks targeted in herring loss research
February 16, 2010 (Juneau Empire blog)
Something is holding down the herring population of Alaska's Prince William Sound, and marine scientists are tailing some rather large suspects: humpback whales.
Humpbacks, once hunted to near extinction, are thriving in waters fouled 21 years ago by the Exxon Valdez, the supertanker that ran aground and leaked nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil.
The herring population crashed after the spill but should have rebounded by now. One hypothesis is that humpbacks, traditionally summer residents in the sound, are taking a big bite out of vast herring schools that form in the deep water of the sound's fjords each autumn.
Jan Straley, a marine biology professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, and other researchers have studied whales the last two winters with surprising results. Humpbacks are showing up in significant numbers, even in winter.
Columbia River: Will Obama's feds finally aim high?
February 16, 2010 (Crosscut)
Looking at California's water issues, one NOAA regional office took account of how killer whales depend on fish runs. Will a judge allow the Northwest regional office and other federal agencies continue to look the other way in regard to Columbia River fish runs and Puget Sound's struggling orcas?
Will it never end? Evidently not any time soon. U.S. District Judge James Redden has proposed sending the Obama administration's — nee the Bush administration's — biological opinion on operation of its Columbia River system dams back to the drawing board for another three months of tinkering. The feds can choose this "voluntary remand," or they can let the judge rule on the BiOp just as the Bush administration submitted it in 2008. It's up to them. Redden wants an answer by this Friday (February 19).
The second option, summary judgment, would not seem an atrractive way to go. Redden made it clear last spring that he had reservations about the BiOp. Last September, in an attempt to save the document from legal oblivion, the feds issued an "Adaptive Management Implementation Plan." The plaintiffs, including more than a dozen environmental and fishing groups and the state of Oregon (joined amicus by the Nez Perce tribe), argued that under the federal Administrative Procedure Act, the court couldn't consider a document submitted after the fact.
Idaho likely to get huge share of springers
February 14, 2010 (Idaho Spokesman Review)
Spring chinook salmon are poised for a repeat of 2001, the recent high-water mark for salmon fishing in Idaho.
Fisheries managers in Idaho are predicting a return of 180,000 spring chinook above Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Lewiston. Of that, about 25,000 will be wild chinook.
This Idaho bonanza stems from the December predictions that a huge return of 470,000 upriver spring chinook (compared with 169,300 last year) will be coming back to the Columbia River. Washington and Oregon fish managers say this could be the biggest run since 1938. The largest recent return was 437,900 in 2001.
The technical advisory committee, made of state, tribal and federal fisheries managers, is estimating a return of 225,000 spring chinook to the Snake River and its tributaries.
Squaxin Island tribe pays tribute to rare Bryde's whale
February 14, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Here on this inlet in far South Sound, a visitor recently arrived from distant waters, and the Squaxin Island tribe did what their ancestors taught them: They welcomed an honored guest.
That the visitor was a dead whale made it the more important; that it was a Bryde's whale, never before documented in these waters, clinched it.
"We felt very sure it was a gift from the Creator," said David Lopeman, Squaxin tribal chairman. "And we were going to treat it right."
For the past two weeks, tribal members have been pressure-washing the flesh from the whale's bones, and paring the last bits away with a knife, the blade making a soft scraping sound against the great, white bones.
Next the bones will be soaked in hydrogen peroxide, then dried, then sealed. Eventually, the tribe intends to hang the reassembled skeleton in its museum, near Shelton, for all to share.
It is our life," Foster said of the Sound. "Our ancestors said all life begins here."As she spoke, a tumultuous rain began to fall in great silver curtains. It rinsed tribal members who had been pressure-washing the bones clean, and rattled the tent put up over their work area.
Then, as the last of the whale's bones were packed away for safekeeping, a great gust blew up the beach, and sent the tent flying.
It was an emphatic punctuation point ending the first chapter of a whale tale that likely will be retold in this tribe for generations to come.
Record low Sacramento River salmon runs bode ill for Oregon fishery
February 12, 2010 (Oregonian)
Record low salmon returns in the Sacramento River will likely lead to another shut down of ocean fishing off of Oregon this year.
In a report released today, the government body that regulates ocean fishing said that just 39,530 Fall Chinook returned to the California river last year, nearly half the previous low from 2008.
The large, pink-fleshed fish from the Sacramento swim north after entering the ocean as juveniles and were once the cornerstone of Oregon's coastal salmon fishery.
Elsewhere on the west coast, Klamath River Fall Chinook had a relatively strong run, the report said, with about 100,000 fish returning compared to 92,000 last year.
And in the Columbia Basin, coho and Chinook have shown strong returns lately.
Declining salmon numbers doom season for third straight year
February 12, 2010 (Contra Costa Current)
Late Thursday, the federal body that regulates salmon fishing off the West Coast posted figures on salmon returns this year.
Sacramento River fall-run, which had been the backbone of a salmon fishing industry that in the 1970s generated $100 million and supported a fishing fleet of 4,500 boats, now appears certain to be off-limits to fishing for a third straight year.
Before 2008, the fishery had never been closed.
The problem is that only 39,530 adult salmon returned this year to spawn, a significant decline from last year's low of more than 64,000.
What's worse is that experts were predicting a rebound in 2010 — not another drop.
Group uses condoms in endangered species crusade
February 12, 2010 (Seattle Times)
An environmental group plans to distribute 100,000 free condoms across the U.S. beginning on Valentine's Day to call attention to the impact of human overpopulation on endangered species.
The packages have slogans such as "Wrap with care, save the polar bear," and "Wear a condom now, save the spotted owl."
A Q&A with David James Duncan, author of 'The River Why'
February 11, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Q: Talk about your efforts to remove dams from the Snake River.
A: The four lower Snake River dams are emblematic of a biocidal Cold War arrogance. They were commissioned by the 1955 Congress. They are eradicating wild salmon, salmon-dependent species, and salmon-celebrating cultural traditions from 5,500 miles of pristine Idaho, Oregon and Washington streams, from hard-strapped Pacific Coast towns, and from the troubled waters of Seattle's own Puget Sound. They are helping to drive your orcas to extinction.
I will never "remove a dam" as your question puts it. But I will never stop telling the truth about these dams, as I see it. The dams' latest purblind defenders include (Sen. Patty) Murray, (Secretary of Commerce Gary) Locke, (NOAA Administrator Jane) Lubchenko, and the techno-utopians at Google, among others. I live in the Columbia/Snake headwaters and even now, as they are being denuded by federal policy, those waters comfort me.
A salmon river is a prayer wheel. Even now, after flowing defiled to the oceans, every river's waters are purified when they rise as vapor, return to the mountains as life-giving rain and snow, and renew the prayer. The great embodiment of this cyclic blessing is the wild salmon. The BPA and NOAA are committing a kind of deicide in their refusal to unmake the dams. But there remains, even now, a fire in water that creates not heat, but life. As the poet Jack Gilbert said, "We hunger for a sacrament that is both spirit and flesh. And neither." A salmon, for me, still best serves as that sacrament. For the joy these creatures keep giving me even as I mourn them, I plan to keep giving thanks.
Conservation efforts will play key role in meeting Northwest's energy needs
February 11, 2010 (Oregonian)
The Northwest should meet most of its electricity needs over the next two decades through extensive energy conservation efforts, and it's going to take more than just changing light bulbs.
That's the conclusion of a regional power blueprint the Northwest Power and Conservation Council that was unanimously approved Wednesday morning at council headquarters in downtown Portland. It focuses on the benefits of efficiency over building new power plants.
The plan estimates about 85 percent of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana's new power demand over the next 20 years - about 5,900 megawatts - could be met through conservation, with the rest coming from new renewable power sources like wind, as well as natural gas power plants.
The plan's estimated 5,900 megawatts of conservation - the rough equivalent of the power-producing capacity of 10 coal plants like Portland General Electric's Boardman facility - would come through things like homeowners increasing insulation at their homes and business refitting their buildings with power-saving lights, as well as more complex improvements to the grid that distributes power around the region.
Do Baleen Whales Use Biosonar?
February 10, 2010 (Seattle P-I blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
Each adult blue whale needs to find about 40 million tiny krill every single day when the whale is feeding, and humpback whales can consume tons of krill and fish daily. They (and nine other species including our local minke and gray whales) are wonderfully equipped to filter-feed with baleen, the brush-like plates in their mouths which trap their prey.
But the krill is not everywhere all the time, and even where it is seasonally abundant the whales still need to find the specific location in the ocean where the krill occurs in enough density to support the whales' requirements. How they can manage this involves a suite of factors - they learn where the rich summer feeding grounds are from their mothers, they communicate with other whales, and finally, scientists are discovering that some species may use a form of biosonar to navigate the ocean basins. In other words, for the species that migrate across the ocean between summer feeding grounds in the polar regions and the winter tropical breeding grounds, it looks as though the whales may use a kind of echolocation that allows them to locate underwater features which function a bit like signposts. But that is not enough.
Judge says he can't consider Obama administration's salmon and dams plan
February 10, 2010 (Oregonian)
A federal judge today appeared to reject the Obama administration's attempt to help a Bush-era plan for Northwest salmon and dams pass legal muster.
Opponents of the plan are claiming the letter from U.S. District Court Judge James Redden as a victory, if only a procedural one.
Judge Redden said in a letter to attorneys today that federal procedural rules prevent him from considering the Obama administration's additions, called the Adaptive Management Implementation Plan, to the Bush plan.
He also said the administration needs to consider the "best available science" during their review.
"They cannot rely exclusively on materials that support one position, while ignoring new or opposing scientific information," Redden writes.
When the administration presented their plan to Redden last November, Jane Lubchenco, the Oregon ecologist and current head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, defended the scientific merit of the plan.
"I stand 100 percent behind the science," Lubchenco said at the time.
The agencies, including NOAA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have until February 19th to respond to the judge.
"We sure hope they take him up on the idea to fix this plan, and we hope they take the opportunity to truly engage us and the other plaintiffs to find a long-term solution to this long-standing issue in the region," said Nicole Cordan, attorney for the group Save Our Wild Salmon.
Feds to bring in sewage rules, another push toward treatment for Victoria
February 10, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
Proposed national wastewater standards for Canadian municipalities were released by the federal government yesterday, providing another push toward secondary sewage treatment for Greater Victoria.
"We are taking action to protect our environment for future generations," said Environment Minister Jim Prentice.
"It is not acceptable that we continue discharging untreated waste into our waterways."
The B.C. government has already ordered Greater Victoria to treat wastewater currently pumped into the ocean after screening.
Now the federal government has weighed in with its own regulations, about six years in the making.
Canadian municipalities will no longer be permitted to directly release raw sewage into waterways under the new rules, according to the environment minister.
Lost leviathans: Hunting the world's missing whales
February 10, 2010 (New Scientist)
THEY are enigmatic sea monsters - rare, magnificent beasts patrolling the ocean depths. Yet old chronicles tell of populations of whales hundreds of times greater than today. Such tales have long been dismissed as exaggerations, but could they be true? Have humans killed such a staggering number of whales?
New genetic techniques for analysing whale populations, alongside a growing archive of fresh historical analysis, suggest so. Taken together, they indicate that we have got our ideas about marine ecology completely upside down: whales may once have been the dominant species in the world's oceans.
Human pressure on whale stocks "was much earlier, much larger and much more significant than previously thought", environmental historian Poul Holm of the University of Dublin, Ireland, told a meeting of the Census on Marine Life (CML) project in 2009.
Puget Sound report makes no waves
February 9, 2010 (Crosscut)
If a report falls into Puget Sound and no one notices, has it really fallen? The Puget Sound Partnership's first-ever State of the Sound Report came out on Tuesday to virtually no attention from the local press and no ringing declarations by an (otherwise-occupied) governor, who launched an ambitious save-the-Sound crusade just three years ago.
In the improved category, the release lists "shellfish harvest areas upgraded, increases in shellfish harvest, increases in Chinook salmon and Hood Canal summer chum run size, slight slowing in the rate of loss in forested land, improvement in sediment quality in Elliott Bay and improvment in freshwater quality."
Decliners include: "fin fish harvest, conversion of forest land, orcas, herring spawning biomass, agricultural lands converted to development, eelgrass area, stream flows in major rivers, and flame retardant chemicals in harbor seals and herring."
Some of the news is downright dismal. Herring, a key prey species, may be circling the drain. "Many species of seabirds, marine mammals,and finfish, including Chinook and coho salmon, depend on herring as an important prey item," the report explains. And those species may want to think about Plan B, because "(f)or the 2007-08 period, less than half (47 percent) of Puget Sound herring stocks were classified by (the state Department of Fish and Wildlife) as healthy or moderately healthy. This is the lowest percentage of stocks meeting these criteria since development of the stock status summary in 1994; although similar to the status breakdown for the previous 2-year periods (2003-04 and 2005-06)."
Herring-fancying Puget Sound chinook were listed as a threatened species in 1999. The report says that chinook runs are larger now than they were at the end of the 1990s, but warns that "spawning biomass remains far below recovery targets." And, somewhat undercutting the good news, it notes that the runs may be larger because of ocean conditions, not anything done closer to home.
It also acknowledges that Puget Sound's officially-endangered orcas eat chinook salmon, and there may be a connection between the lack of predators and the lack of prey. "To better protect this (southern resident killer whale) population," it says, "we need to know the total nutritional requirement for a 'recovered and sustainable' population, and provide for that requirement in our fisheries management programs and environmental planning." Unfortunately, that is a connection never explicitly drawn, much less dealt with, in the harvest management plan for Puget Sound chinook, which will be renewed in April for another five years. (Likewise, the nutritional requirement issue is glossed over in the current biological opinion for operation of the federal Columbia River system dams.)
New federal agency to monitor climate change
February 9, 2010 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The Obama administration on Monday proposed a new agency to study and report on the changing climate.
Also known as global warming, climate change has drawn widespread concern in recent years as temperatures around the world rise, threatening to harm crops, spread disease, increase sea levels, change storm and drought patterns and cause polar melting.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that NOAA will set up the new Climate Service to operate in tandem with NOAA's National Weather Service and National Ocean Service.
"Climate change is real, it's happening now," Lubchenco said, adding that climate information is vital to the wind-power industry, coastal community planning, fishermen and fishery managers, farmers and public health officials.
NOAA recently reported that the decade of 2000-09 was the warmest on record worldwide; the previous warmest decade was the 1990s. Most atmospheric scientists believe that warming is largely due to human actions, adding gases to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.
Tides rechanneling Nisqually River
February 7, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
The tides are back and change is afoot at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
No one knows that better than Jean Takekawa, who manages the 3,000-acre refuge southwest of Tacoma.
She is in charge of returning 762 acres of the refuge to a saltwater marsh or estuary after more than 100 years as farmland and freshwater wetlands.
"Water is really taking over," she said this week as higher-than-normal tides flooded into the refuge. "Nature and tides are very effective at this - better than we are at restoring the estuary."
With the return of salt water, invasive canary reed grass is dying. So is pasture grass. And trees and bushes.
Historic tidal channels are re-emerging, carving sinuous routes laden with salt water and even a chum salmon or two.
Opening those channels is important, he said, because they provide more habitat for juvenile salmon to acclimate to salt water before they travel into Puget Sound and out to the Pacific.
Columbia River salmon runs plentiful now, but don't count on the trend continuing
February 7, 2010 (Oregonian)
In some Northwest streams, it seems like a return to the storied days when it was said salmon ran so thick you could walk across their backs.
Record numbers of coho have returned to the Columbia River in recent years, and this year forecasters predict the same for spring chinook. But it's not time to pop the champagne corks and declare victory in the nation's most expensive wildlife restoration venture.
The reason: Most scientists agree much of the thanks for the recent runs, in addition to improved river conditions and more hatchery fish, goes to favorable circumstances in the ocean where the salmon mature after being born in fresh water.
"It looks like the abundance of adult salmon that we see come back to the rivers appears to be set or at least strongly regulated by their early ocean experience," said Nate Mantua, a climate scientist and fisheries researcher at the University of Washington.
His latest maxim: "It all boils down to what kind of copepods are off the coast of Oregon right now."
Copepods are tiny crustaceans a few millimeters long, part of the complex food web that juvenile salmon join when they enter the ocean from the Columbia River.
The salmon that took advantage of good ocean conditions of late also benefited from recent increases in the amount of water flowing over those dams - an action ordered by a federal judge - as well as pumped-up production of hatchery salmon, aggressive reintroduction efforts and improved habitat in freshwater areas.
UNCUT VIDEO: Orcas Seen Feeding In Sound
February 5, 2010 (KIRO TV)
"State of the Sound" report falls short of expectations
February 5, 2010 (BBC)
The first "State of the Sound" report issued by the Puget Sound Partnership was announced yesterday with practically no fanfare.
I recall that the Partnership's predecessor group, the Puget Sound Action Team, used to make a big deal out of these ecosystem reports. Frankly, I had expected a major rollout, like that of the Puget Sound Action Agenda — until I read through the document and began to ask questions.
David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, told me the report was a "hybrid version." Before the next formal report is due in two years, he hopes to provide more meaningful ecosystem-condition reports through a Web site.
The Partnership's Science Panel called the report a "transitional" document between descriptions of ecosystem conditions in past "State of the Sound" reports and a new "ecosystem-reporting framework" being developed for the Puget Sound Partnership.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, said the document is not what the Legislature envisioned when it laid out reporting requirements for the Partnership. Without better indicators, benchmarks and long-term goals, nobody knows if the Partnership is on track to restore Puget Sound to a healthy condition by 2020, she said.
Feds Propose Refilling Pot of Salmon Recovery Money
February 5, 2010 (BBC)
In its new budget request to Congress this week, the Obama administration has included some money for Oregon and four other Western states to restore salmon habitat. The $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund (PCSRF) is a lot more than zero, which is what the Bush administration had offered for 2009, but it's only half of what was originally budgeted when the fund was created in 2000.
Glen Spain, northwest regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, says thousands of jobs in his industry have already been lost, because fish populations are not recovering quickly enough.
"The West Coast salmon fishing industry is facing potentially a third year of closures - complete closures in California and Oregon, that will also affect Washington. We really need these funds on the ground, right away."
Whales use 'Killer' technique for hunting fish
February 4, 2010 (BBC)
Scientists on Shetland believe they may have discovered a previously-unobserved technique being used by killer whales to catch herring.
Researchers from Aberdeen and St Andrews Universities recorded the whales emitting a low-pitched noise which caused the fish to bunch up.
The mammals then stun the fish with their tails before eating them.
The scientists said this behaviour has not been seen anywhere else in the world.
The findings have come to light in the BBC2 series "Simon King's Shetland Diaries".
Whale researcher, Dr Volker Deecke, demonstrated how his team used underwater microphones to record unusual sounds made by killer whales.
Conference charts restoration of Klamath Basin
February 2, 2010 (Business Week)
Scientists and policy makers gathering in Southern Oregon this week will look for ways to restore the ecology of the Klamath Basin so both salmon and farming can thrive.
More than 300 people were expected Tuesday for the start of the weeklong conference in Medford. It was organized by the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA Fisheries Service to share the latest ecological science on the Klamath Basin and chart directions for new research that will help inform a $1 billion restoration plan that includes removing a series of hydroelectric dams that block salmon.
It was once the third most productive salmon river on the West Coast, but after a century of mining, logging, overfishing and agriculture, it is a shadow of itself.
The crisis reached a peak in 2001, when the federal government had to shut off water to farmers on a federal irrigation project straddling the Oregon-California border to protect threatened salmon during a drought. The next year, after irrigation was restored, tens of thousands of salmon died in low and warm water conditions.
Puget Sound cleanup, state agriculture take hits in Obama's budget
February 2, 2010 (Bellingham Herald)
President Obama's $3.8 trillion budget proposal submitted Monday to Congress cuts funding for Puget Sound cleanup by $30 million over current levels and trims a popular program for farmers to promote U.S. agriculture products overseas.
Federal funding for the state's social safety net would remain pretty much intact.
The budget also includes $864 million for further research and development of a new Air Force refueling tanker. A $35 billion contract for 179 new tankers is expected to be awarded later this year. Boeing is competing for the contract.
The White House proposed $20 million in federal funding for Puget Sound cleanup, compared with the $50 million in the current fiscal year.
"I'm disappointed, but we will remedy that," Dicks said.
Agribusiness Giant Westlands Moves to Kill Salmon
February 1, 2010 (IndyBay.org)
Westlands Water District, the "Darth Vader of California water politics, is requesting a federal judge to order lifting restrictions on the operation of huge delta water pumps and canals from February through May, according to a news release from the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations and Water4Fish.
The move takes place as Westlands Water District, southern Calfornia water agencies, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Legislature are pushing for the construction of a peripheral canal and new dams to export more water from the California Delta. If the peripheral canal is built, it is likely to result in pushing Central Valley salmon, Delta smelt, longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish into the abyss of extinction.
The group is requesting a court to order lifting restrictions on the operation of huge delta water pumps and canals from February through May. Pumping water from the delta south is restricted at this time to protect baby salmon that migrate from the Sacramento River to the ocean during this period. The pumps move massive volumes of fresh water from the Delta to farms and cities to the south. Past pumping during the spring salmon migration is known to have killed large numbers of salmon. The request is expected to be heard in U.S. District Court tomorrow.
The restrictions in question were put in place in 2009 as part of a federal salmon restoration plan, known as a Biological Opinion. Recent studies indicate that the salmon restoration plan may increase the baby salmon survival by at least fifty percent. The salmon restoration plan protects threatened species of salmon and other native fish. It also helps improve the survival of non- threatened, commercially valuable fall-run chinook salmon. Sacramento River fall-run chinook, commonly known as king salmon, form the backbone of Oregon and California's salmon fishing industry.
Salmon, and the fishing families that depend on them, will have even more to lose if Westlands gets its way. According to the National Marine Fishery Service, when the Delta pumps are on, baby salmon are diverted from their natural route in the mainstem Sacramento River into the central and southern Delta waterways, where they suffer mortality rates of sixty five percent. The diverted salmon also fall victim to the Delta pumps. Only one baby salmon in six survives an encounter with state pumping facilities, while only one in three survives after being drawn into federal pumps.