Orca Network News - January, 2009

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
January 1, 2009 through January 31, 2009.

Neptune's kitchen: Dolphins are talented chefs
January 30, 2009 (MSNBC)
Elaborate preparations rid cuttlefish of ink and bone to produce calamari
Dolphins are the chefs of the seas, having been seen going through precise and elaborate preparations to rid cuttlefish of ink and bone to produce a soft meal of calamari, Australian scientists say.
A wild female Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin was observed going through the same series of complicated steps to prepare cuttlefish prey for eating in the Spencer Gulf, in South Australia state.
The research team, writing in the science journal PLoS One, said they repeatedly observed a female dolphin herding cuttlefish out of algal weed and onto a clear, sandy patch of seafloor.
The dolphin, identified using circular body scars, then pinned the cuttlefish with its snout while standing on its head, before killing it instantly with a rapid downward thrust and "loud click" audible to divers as the hard cuttlebone broke.
The dolphin then lifted the body up and beat it with her nose to drain the toxic black ink that cuttlefish squirt into the water to defend themselves when attacked.
Next the prey was taken back to the seafloor, where the dolphin scraped it along the sand to strip out the cuttlebone, making the cuttlefish soft for eating.

Judge won't grant stay sparing sea lions
January 30, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge today denied a request by the Humane Society of the United States for a stay of his order allowing three Western states to resume capturing or killing sea lions that feed on salmon at the base of Bonneville Dam.
U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman ruled in November against the Humane Society, which is trying to prevent Oregon, Washington and Idaho from killing or transporting up to 425 California sea lions over five years to relieve pressure on the spring chinook salmon run.
The killing or removal of sea lions could begin as early as March 1.

Kitsap County Plans Changes to Stormwater Rules
January 29, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
Kitsap County officials are preparing to amend county regulations related to stormwater, which has been identified as greatest source of pollution flowing into Puget Sound.
The rule changes, required by the Washington Department of Ecology, mostly relate to new developments, according to Dave Tucker, assistant director of Kitsap County Public Works.
Developers have expressed concern about new requirements for stormwater “detention,” including the need for larger stormwater ponds that can reduce the rate of flow into adjacent streams, he said.
“In some cases, there will be almost no change,” Tucker said. “Detention has the potential for the greatest economic impact, but that does not apply to all projects.”
One study predicts that developers will be forced to spend more for stormwater controls unless water can be infiltrated into the ground.
Depending on the type of development, the cost could range from just slightly more to as much as 10 times more, he said.

Public asked to watch for orphan whale calf
January 29, 2009 (Stuff.com - New Zealand)
The public are being asked to keep an eye out for the calf of a rare Gray's whale found washed up on a Kapiti Coast beach.
The 4.8-metre whale, which was pregnant, beached just south of Whareroa Stream, in Raumati, on Tuesday and died soon afterwards. Conservation Department staff performed an autopsy and Te Papa marine mammal collections manager Anton van Helden found the whale was pregnant with a 20cm foetus.
"It was remarkable to find a little foetus inside her uterus and, surprisingly, it appears she may also have been nursing a calf as there was milk discharging from her mammary gland," he said. The department was asking the public to keep an eye out for any sightings of the calf.

Obama: U.S. done 'dragging heels' on climate
January 27, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
President Obama began the step-by-step dismantling of President Bush's climate change policies Monday by endorsing California's aggressive vehicle emissions standards and by naming a high-profile envoy to lead U.S. efforts to re-engage in international climate talks.
Obama has spent his first six days in office rolling back Bush's policies on issues such as abortion and Guantanamo Bay. On Monday, he signaled he will use his executive powers to force automakers to raise fuel efficiency and abide by California's landmark law limiting greenhouse gases from cars and trucks.
"The days of Washington dragging its heels are over," he said in a speech in the East Room in which he took repeated shots at Bush's response to global warming. "My administration will not deny facts, we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states."

West Coast Killer Whales Are Poisoned by Pollution-Tainted Killer Salmon
January 26, 2009 (Discover)
Researchers estimate that the southern resident killer whales carry 6.6 times more PCBs than a different group of whales just 200 miles to the north, known as the northern residents. They found that the Chinook salmon in the southern waters, including Puget Sound near Washington state, not only had the highest concentrations of contaminants but also the least amount of body fat. This means the southern residents are suffering a “double whammy” because they are forced to eat extra helpings of heavily contaminated salmon. Ross and his colleagues discovered that 97 percent to 99 percent of contaminants in the Chinook eaten by these whales originated from the salmon’s time at sea, in the near-shore waters of the Pacific. Only a small amount came from the time the salmon spent in rivers, although many of the rivers are contaminated, too, Ross said. “Salmon are telling us something about what is happening in the Pacific Ocean,” Ross said. “They are going out to sea and by the time they come back, they have accumulated contaminants over their entire time in the Pacific Ocean” [Scientific American].

Plenty of deadly pollutants remain in the Columbia River Basin
January 26, 2009 (Columbian)
Evoking memories of Rachel Carson’s book, “Silent Spring” and its doomsday warning about the chemical DDT, a recent Environmental Protection Agency report says active toxins still lurk in the Columbia River Basin, posing a serious threat to humans, fish and wildlife.
Elected officials and government agency workers must remain vigilant in this issue. DDT — a pesticide banned in 1972 after devastating effects on bald eagles, ospreys and other species — still poses a risk in parts of the Basin.
Other pollutants such as fire retardants and mercury are found at unacceptable levels, according to the EPA report, compiled from two years of data from state and federal agencies.
The Columbia River Basin includes most of three states — Washington, Oregon and Idaho — and parts of Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Canada.
“Hot spots,” identified in an Associated Press story by Jeff Barnard, are the Spokane River; Willamette and Lower Columbia between the two states.
So much for the hand-wringing. What’s being done? Some PBDEs are being phased out by industry, but other usage continues. Washington has banned the chemical when alternatives are found. Cleanup of contaminated sites is active at Portland Harbor, Hanford nuclear reservation and Lake Roosevelt. Erosion control is occurring in the Yakima Basin to reduce pesticide runoff. A collaborative effort is under way in the Hood River and Walla Walla basins to diminish pesticide contamination, Durbin reported. EPA’s Northwest administrator Elin Miller has called for increased toxic reduction efforts, “once we understand these sources better.”

Orcas' fishing trip delights boaties
January 26, 2009 (Stuff.com - New Zealand)
Some boaties and wakeboarders got front-row seats when a pod of about 20 orca ventured into Nelson Haven at the weekend to hunt stingrays.
The two hours the pod spent in the harbour from about 10am on Saturday was a unique and "outrageous" experience, said Nelson man Don McFadzien, who guides regular cruise ship tours to Antarctica and is familiar with the large sea mammals.
A pod usually spent only a short time in one area, but on Saturday it spent the time in the harbour teaching its younger members a lesson in hunting stingrays, he said.
Some of the stingrays were thrown through the air as they were hunted and eaten.
The orca were probably the one mobile pod of three known to live in New Zealand waters, and they were exceptionally intelligent animals that would be a danger to humans only if cornered, Mr McFadzien said.
He said the orca appeared to be working in groups of two to four, herding the stingrays into shallow water before charging in to get them, often in water as shallow as waist deep.

Killer Whales: The Allure Of The Search
January 25, 2009 (NPR)
Studying animals in nature isn't always about close encounters. For the field biologist, there is passion in the search for the quarry and the lengths to which people will go to find it.
Volker Deecke, a research fellow at the University of St. Andrews' Sea Mammal Research Unit in Scotland, makes his living researching killer whales.
"I love the challenge of having to think like a killer whale," Deecke says. "You know, having to strip your biases as a terrestrial, visually based mammal and … understand what life might be like for an animal that lives in a 3-dimensional world where vision is not very useful, where sound travels for large distances."

State not ready for oil spill
January 24, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Washington's state government and maritime industry are dangerously underprepared to handle an oil spill even one-fifth the size of an Exxon Valdez. No more than two-fifths of the oil could be skimmed out of the water -- and that's only if the weather's great and everything goes off without a hitch.
That last assumption is quite a stretch, because the state Department of Ecology rarely requires large-scale drills of oil spill-response equipment.
Those disturbing conclusions and others are contained in a forthcoming report by a four-year-old state watchdog agency. They're part of the first comprehensive, independent technical review of the state's oil spill-response program.

Pacific Northwest salmon poisoning killer whales
January 23, 2009 (Science News)
Killer whales that feast on salmon in the Pacific Northwest are getting a heaping side of contaminants with each meal. The chinook salmon are heavily dosed with chemicals such as DDT and PCBs, nearly all of which the fish acquire in their years at sea, reports a new study in the January Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
“These are some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet,” says Peter S. Ross, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Sidney, British Columbia. Ross is advisor to Donna Cullon, a doctoral student at the University of Victoria in British Columbia who led the new work.
“It's a double whammy,” says Kenneth Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., which has been studying the area’s orcas since 1976. Calculations based on a whale’s diet of roughly 250 kilograms of salmon per day suggest that the southern orcas are getting 6.6 times more PCBs than the northern orcas.
Adult salmon had a much higher burden of pollutants than the 1- to 2-year-old smolts, suggesting that while areas like Puget Sound have a chemical legacy, chinooks pick up much of their toxic loads at sea. Because they are high in the food chain, orcas get magnified contaminant concentrations.

Navy wants to expand training off NW coast
January 23, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Navy plans to increase training for Washington-based units in the waters off the Northwest that it has been using since World War II.
The Navy is in the process of taking public comment on an impact statement and has scheduled public hearings Tuesday in Oak Harbor, Wednesday in Pacific Beach, Thursday in Aberdeen, Jan. 30 at Newport, Ore., and Feb. 2 at Eureka, Calif.
The Northwest Training Range Complex consists of numerous areas in the Pacific. The Navy says it wants to increase the use of air and sea targets and a submarine tracking range. The Navy also wants to develop a training minefield for submarines and to develop an electronic signal emitter on the coast.
On the Net: http://www.nwtrangecomplexeis.com/

Study: Orcas raising their voices to talk above racket of vessel traffic
January 23, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Scientists already knew the orcas make longer calls to compete with background noise. But this is the first evidence that the southern-resident population of orcas that frequents Puget Sound is also making louder calls.
The findings were published in the January issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and already have had an impact. Policy makers at the federal fisheries service consulted an early version of the manuscript as they shaped new regulations proposed to protect endangered southern-resident orca whales, including restrictions on whale-watching vessels.
The regulations, which could be proposed as soon as this summer, may restrict how closely boats may approach orcas, to reduce the underwater noise the animals must contend with.
Sound is important to the J, K, and L pods of southern residents, who use calls to communicate with each other, stick together, find food, and possibly, share their catch.
Scientists also want to know whether the whales are stressed by having to raise their voices. And they wonder if the noise makes it harder to forage.
Jenny Atkinson, executive director of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, said people are making it tougher on an already endangered animal population.

Poisoned Killer Whales? Blame Salmon
January 21, 2009 (Scientific American)
The most contaminated wildlife on Earth—killer whales in the Pacific Northwest—are picking up nearly all their chemicals from Chinook salmon in polluted ocean waters off the West Coast, according to a new scientific study.
The whales, which feed in coastal waters from British Columbia's Queen Charlotte Islands to the San Francisco area, were declared an endangered species in the United States and Canada after their numbers shrank.
These killer whales, called southern residents, live in waters straddling the U.S.-Canada border and spend summers hunting salmon around Washington's Puget Sound and Vancouver Island. A healthier population, called northern residents, feeds on salmon off more remote parts of British Columbia.
The new study "underscores the global nature of contaminant dispersion," the authors wrote in their report, published last week in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. PCBs and other pollutants come not just from local sources on the West Coast; they also move globally via oceans and winds. Air carrying soot, metals and chemicals from Asia takes just eight days to cross the Pacific and reach the North American coast.
"It's increasingly clear that salmon acquire the majority of POPs (persistent organic pollutants) during their growth period at sea and that more research is needed on the extent of Pacific Ocean food web contamination," they said.
Eighty-three whales are now in the southern population, down from 99 in 1996, while the northern population, which lives largely in the Straight of Georgia, has more than 200. Seven of the southern whales, including some breeding females, died last year.
The cause of their decline is unknown, but U.S. federal biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say reduced salmon supplies, pollutants and disturbance from ships and recreational boats are possible causes.

Sundance: The Cove (Documentary)
January 20, 2009 (Variety)
Eco-activist documentaries don't get much more compelling than "The Cove," an impassioned piece of advocacy filmmaking that follows "Flipper" trainer-turned-marine crusader Richard O'Barry in his efforts to end dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. Casting a very wide net, this powerful polemic is simultaneously a love letter to a beloved species, an eye-opening primer on worldwide dolphin captivity, a playful paranoid thriller and a work of deep-seated (if sometimes hot-headed) moral outrage. The devastating final images demand to be seen on the bigscreen, though cable exposure won't blunt their impact.
There's deep remorse in O'Barry's voice as he recalls how he caught and trained the five dolphins that played Flipper in the popular 1960s TV show. Since then, he has devoted his life to speaking out against all forms of dolphin captivity, even for educational/entertainment purposes. O'Barry argues that theme parks like Sea World, with their deafening human voices and tight confines, are no place for these sound-sensitive, free-spirited mammals -- an idea underscored by magisterial shots of dolphins at play on the open seas.
While those who aren't animal lovers may quibble with the way the film all but exalts the dolphin as a higher life form, it's hard not to feel that there's something uniquely barbaric about the destruction of this exceptionally intelligent, human-friendly species. And no form of cetacean abuse angers O'Barry more than the mass harpooning that occurs in the Japanese port town of Taiji, where fishermen use sonar to lure the dolphins into a cove that becomes their deathtrap.

Time to rock the boat on Japanese whaling, report says
January 20, 2009 (ABC Australia)
A new report has urged the Australian Government to take a whole new approach to stop Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.
The expert report argues Australia should open up a new front in its anti-whaling campaign by challenging Japan through the forum of the Antarctic treaty system over the environmental costs of its annual slaughter.
The Southern Ocean has long been protected as part of the world's largest unspoiled wilderness Antarctica.
But Japan's so-called scientific whaling program has sparked passionate debate about whether the area is truly an international safe haven for marine life.
While conservation activists continue to harass whaling ships in the open waters, it is the Australian Government which has led diplomatic efforts to enforce the Antarctic whaling sanctuary.
Now the Australian Government is being urged to take a fresh approach to stop Japanese whaling.
Darren Kindleysides represents the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which wages a less confrontational campaign to end Japanese whaling carried out under the guise of scientific research.
It believes Australia should abandon behind the scenes diplomatic persuasion and change tack by challenging Japan, not on whaling, but environmental grounds.

Killer whales being poisoned by toxic salmon: Study
January 17, 2009 (CTV News)
Resident killer whales off the western coasts of Canada and the United States are being poisoned by eating salmon laced with toxic PCBs, says a new study on yet another threat to a species already facing extinction.
The study, led by researchers in British Columbia, tested the whales' main food supply -- chinook salmon -- and found PCBs and other man-made pollutants that are jeopardizing the large orcas that eat them.
Ross says whales are particularly sensitive because they eat massive amounts of fish over a long lifespan -- killer whales can live for 80 or 90 years -- creating a massive buildup of toxins that their bodies can't get rid of.
That means the whales, particularly the southern resident population, have become one of the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.
"Killer whales are long-lived, top-of-the-food-chain animals, they have small, isolated populations, they have very large habitat needs," says Ross, the supervising researcher on the study which appears in the current issue of the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
"If we're trying to protect 84 animals in an area where we've got 8.5 million people, we've got a bit of work to do."
"There are things currently underway to try to reduce noise and disturbance, increase salmon productivity, and reduce chemical contamination. Some of these will take a long time to bare fruit."
However, Ross says there is reason to be optimistic.
In the more than 30 years since PCBs have been banned in Canada and the U.S., contamination levels in killer whales have dropped by 250 per cent, Ross said.

Global Warming, The Carbon Cycle, and Fish Poop
January 16, 2009 (Science Blogs)
When we talk about the role of fossil fuels in climate chance, what we're really talking about is the carbon cycle. That's the term that scientists use to describe the different forms that carbon is stored in on the earth, and the different ways that it can move from form to form. Understanding the carbon cycle is one of the keys to understanding both the effect of burning carbon-based fuels and the issues involved in trying to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. According to a paper in the latest edition of Science, there may still be some pretty significant gaps in our knowledge of the carbon cycle. In particular, it looks like our understanding of the way carbon moves through the oceans may have been suffering because we didn't know poop about fish poop.

Killer whales' food supply contaminated from toxins
January 16, 2009 (The Province)
The magnificent killer whales that cruise the Pacific coast are suffering from a compounded crisis of toxic contamination made worse by the orcas' dwindling food supply.
The two populations of resident orcas that ply the waters of B.C. and Washington state are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world, partly because their chief source of food is laden with chemicals.
Chinook salmon, which make up about 70 per cent of the resident orcas' diet, are heavily contaminated with what are called "persistent organic pollutants" like PCBs and flame retardants that concentrate in body fat, according to a new study by Donna Cullon and Peter Ross of the federal Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney.
The study's findings, coupled with orca observations, have whale-watching scientists along the coast very worried.
"As long as there is plenty of food, the orcas can tolerate a lot of contamination," said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor in Washington's San Juan Islands. "But with the dwindling food supply, some of them are entering starvation mode and they start metabolizing body fat so the toxins are released."

Columbia River pollutants at unacceptable levels, EPA says
January 15, 2009 (Oregonian)
Contamination in the Columbia River basin poses an "unacceptable risk" to people, fish and wildlife, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday after issuing its first comprehensive report on toxic pollution in the massive Columbia system.
The EPA report compiles monitoring data in the Columbia and its tributaries since 1990 for four well-known and long-lasting hazardous pollutants. The sources of those substances range from water running off farms and industrial lands to wastewater from sewage treatment plants.
Decades after it was banned, the pesticide DDT is slowly diminishing but still accumulating in fish at levels far above human health limits near agricultural areas throughout the basin, the report said, including portions of the Willamette and Snake rivers.
Levels of PCBs, an industrial chemical now banned but once widely used, are declining, too, but remain high around Portland and other urban areas, probably because of runoff from industrial sites.
Meantime, levels of mercury and of fire retardant, one of a host of "emerging" toxic substances that originate in consumer products, appear to be rising.

Battle over Maury Island gravel mine suspended
January 15, 2009 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Glacier Northwest’s window of opportunity for pile-driving off Maury Island slammed shut Wednesday, leaving the company just a day and a half short of being able to assemble a giant tube and conveyor system designed to carry gravel to barges. Glacier Northwest’s construction permits require it to stop in-water work between Jan. 14 and Aug. 15 to protect spawning herring and migrating salmon.
Glacier Northwest’s permit manager, Pete Stoltz, didn’t give credit for the delay to Vashon Island opponents of the project, who have been doing their best to stall it for the past five weeks.
“We were coming up short here a day or two ago,” Stoltz said. “There were a few things that got in the way. The weather was probably the biggest factor.” Opponents, some of whom have fought the gravel mining and transport project for more than a decade, have resorted to civil disobedience during the past month, chaining themselves together to block construction access. On Tuesday and Wednesday, they launched a flotilla of kayaks to get in the way of cranes and pile drivers.
The in-water work that must stop includes removing 228 creosote-treated timber pilings that supported the old dock. To replace them, Glacier Northwest will place 56 steel pilings to support a 305-foot T-shaped dock, capable of holding gravel barges as long as a football field.
Aside from the weather, Stoltz said the construction work was slowed by the unexpected discovery of pinpoint-size sand lance eggs on the beach last month. Glacier Northwest’s permits require it to regularly survey the beach for eggs of the small fish, which biologists say is an integral part of the Puget Sound food chain.
The confirmed presence of sand lance nesting areas will complicate construction when it resumes in the summer, Stoltz said.
Opponents of the project were energized last month by what they consider an injustice. Outgoing Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland approved a Department of Natural Resources lease agreement with Glacier Northwest as one of his last acts before leaving office.
Opponents of the project say that was political payback. Glacier Northwest contributed $52,800 directly and indirectly to Sutherland’s re-election campaign, which he lost to Peter Goldmark.
If Glacier Northwest’s project proceeds to completion, it will expand production at the Maury Island mine to as much as 2 million tons a year, making it one of the biggest such operations in the world.

Scientists find contaminated orca food
January 15, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The food supply of Puget Sound's endangered orcas is contaminated, a team of Canadian and Washington scientists has found.
The scientists measured persistent organic pollution concentrations in chinook salmon in order to understand the orcas' exposure to contamination in their food supply. Orcas, or killer whales, are actually a type of dolphin, are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world, and are at risk of extinction in Puget Sound.
The so-called southern resident population of orcas that frequents Puget Sound was listed as an endangered species by the federal government in November 2005.
Southern resident orca whales seem to prefer chinook salmon for their diet — fish that the scientists found were contaminated with PCBs, flame retardants and other persistent chemicals that are retained in body fat.
"Lots of factors are stacked against southern residents," said David Bain, a contract researcher for the fisheries service. "Cleaning up Puget Sound is something we need to do to get the toxins out. This shows we have more work cut out for us than we knew. "

Navy granted permit to use sonar in Hawaiian waters
January 14, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
The U.S. Navy has been granted a one-year permit to train with sonar and bombs in Hawaiian waters as long as it tries to protect whales and other marine animals from harm.
But the Navy warned that whales and other marine life may be harmed or killed.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering Navy requests to train with mid-frequency active sonar off Southern California, the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.
The fisheries service said Monday it will reissue a permit each of the next five years as long as the Navy tries to protect the animals. Sailors must shut off sonar when marine mammals are nearby, use extra caution near Maui where humpback whales breed and calve, and avoid detonating explosives within certain areas.
Paul Achitoff, an Earthjustice attorney in Honolulu who has sued the Navy over sonar in the past, said Tuesday that the fisheries service should have required the Navy to do more.

Maury gravel mine protest and sand lance
January 14, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
A biologist hired by the mining company, Glacier Northwest, was the one who found the eggs of the sand lance. As we noted in some of that material that hit the cutting-room floor, its egg is barely visible to the naked eye, and was camouflaged by sand grains sticking to it. What are sand lance? As we tried to explain:
Sand lance are a key part of the Puget Sound food chain. Their fatty bodies provide sustenance to a wide variety of seabirds and fish, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The fear is that loud noises from pile-driving could shatter the eggs, said Amy Carey of the Preserve Our Islands group fighting the mine expansion. We also explained that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers official, Muffy Walker, ordered the work halted when more eggs were found the next week. As I tried to explain:
Walker said requiring Glacier to work far from the beach and use a special kind of pile-driver that pushes posts into the seafloor by vibration rather than pounding them in with a big hammer should make the construction work tame enough to protect the fish eggs.
And here's a bit of irony (we're pretty sure this qualifies as true irony) about the Backbone Campaign, organizers of the protests yesterday and today, as viewed by Pete Stoltz, permitting coordinator for Glacier:
Earlier this month, the Backbone Campaign organized a march along the beach that brought out about 500 protesters. Because they were walking where sand lance spawn, they probably did more harm to the fish than construction of Glacier's dock ever will, Stoltz said.
"When you invite multiple people out to march along the upper intertidal zone of the beach, it's likely they're going to have some physical impact on the fish and kill a number of fish that way," Stoltz said.

Six nations accused of fishing violations
January 14, 2009 (The World - Coos Bay OR)
The U.S. government said today that a half-dozen foreign nations are engaging in illegal or unregulated fishing.
Officials said they plan consultations with France, Italy, Libya, Panama, China and Tunisia in hopes of getting those countries to take corrective action.
“Illegal fishing is a global problem that is depleting fish stocks and hurting the economies of nations and the livelihoods of people who depend on sustainable fishing,” said Dr. Jim Balsiger, acting assistant administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Service.
It is the first time NOAA has reported specific countries as engaged in such fishing. After consultations, the agency will either certify that a country has taken corrective action, or list it as still engaging in illegal, unregulated or unreported fishing, in which case that nation’s vessels may be denied entry into U.S. ports and the president may prohibit imports of certain fish products from that nation.

Protesters halt work at gravel mine site
January 14, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Signs of ecologically crucial fish found at Maury Island
A flotilla of protesters disrupted work on a controversial Maury Island sand and gravel mine Tuesday, maneuvering kayaks and other vessels close enough to a construction barge that workers couldn't safely continue pile-driving work to build a dock.
Officials of Glacier Northwest, the company behind the plan to massively expand the mine, dismissed the protest as a publicity stunt.
The protest, raising the intensity of the "direct action" campaign against the mine a notch, came as news emerged that a scientist found an ecologically crucial fish, the sand lance, spawning on the beach near the construction site.
The work was moved to deeper water after a scientist hired by Glacier discovered a sand lance egg Dec. 23.
The sand lance's spot on the food chain -- eating microscopic animals and being eaten by larger creatures -- makes it important to the overall health of the Sound ecosystem.
Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, the group spearheading the opponents' fight against the mine in the courts and the Legislature, said work should have been stopped immediately, because it's impossible to know how many eggs were on the beach and could be damaged by sound waves from the construction. The permit issued to Glacier by the Army Corps of Engineers calls for halting work in that circumstance, she said.
"Finding one egg doesn't mean there's just one egg," Carey said. Muffy Walker, head of the regulatory branch of the corps' Seattle office, said her agency consulted with Tom Hooper of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and decided -- based on Hooper's advice -- to allow the work to go on.
Then, on Dec. 30, Glacier's consultant found six eggs. The next day, he found seven.
After Glacier reported the second result to the corps on New Year's Day, the agency ordered work halted Jan. 2, Walker said.
The order was lifted in time for Glacier's contractor to get back on the job Jan. 7.

Federal draft report: Delta system imperils fish
January 9, 2009 (Sacramento Bee)
Salmon, steelhead and sturgeon in the Central Valley are being driven to extinction by Delta pumping systems and upstream reservoir operations, according to a draft federal report.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has not yet released the report, but it was discussed at a meeting of scientists in Sacramento on Thursday.
The impacts are so significant that the agency is also studying whether killer whales in the ocean could be imperiled by declining Central Valley salmon, their primary prey.
The grave findings suggest that California's efforts to serve thirsty farms and cities while sustaining healthy fisheries will only get more difficult.
The state and federal governments operate separate reservoir and canal systems that collect Northern California's snowmelt and distribute it to cities, suburbs and farms statewide. These systems have dammed off hundreds of miles of fish habitat and altered the timing and temperature of river flows.
The biological opinion does not directly consider effects on fall-run chinook salmon, because this species is not yet protected by the Endangered Species Act. But it is declining steeply and affected by the same threats.
The fall-run remains the largest salmon population on the West Coast, vital as ocean-going adults to the commercial fishing industry. It's also a primary food for the southern resident population of killer whale, or orca, an endangered species that ranges from Puget Sound to Monterey. Fewer salmon spawning in Central Valley rivers, then growing into adults in the ocean, could mean hard times for the orca.

PGE employees save salmon at McIver Park fish hatchery
January 7, 2009 (Estacada News)
Several employees of Portland General Electric, along with members of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife staff, braved severe winter conditions last month to avert the loss of up to 900,000 spring chinook salmon destined for release into the Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
The salmon fingerlings being reared at ODFW’s Clackamas fish hatchery were imperiled by a sequence of events that began with a power failure, following a major snowstorm, at the hatchery on Dec. 22. The situation became progressively more precarious when a large diesel back-up generator started to malfunction two days later, on Christmas Eve, prompting employees from both organizations to give up time with their families to protect the fish.

Lure of rays draws orcas
January 7, 2009 (Stuff.co.nz)
A pod of 12 orca have made themselves at home in Queen Charlotte Sound in the past two days, much to the delight of people on the water.
Co-owner of Dolphin Watch Ecotours Dan Engle said they were first seen in Tawa Bay in Endeavour Inlet late on Monday afternoon.
The pod consisted of two big males, lots of females and at least three calves that were awkward and clumsy, so they were probably born within the past month, he said. The group has moved throughout Queen Charlotte Sound since Monday night going into each little bay, possibly for a feed of stingray.

Navy Agreement Settles Sonar Lawsuits
January 7, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
The U.S. Navy has agreed to spend nearly $15 million to study the harmful effects of sonar on whales and other marine mammals.
The commitment to an extensive research investigation is part of a legal settlement between the Navy and several environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Navy and the environmental groups have been engaged in courtroom battles for more than three years. The U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to second-guess Navy commanders in their use of sonar, pending completion of a full environmental review.
The settlement document establishes a schedule for preparing environmental impact statements for Navy operations around the world. The agreement does not address possible restrictions on the use of sonar.
Joel Reynolds, director of NRDC's marine mammal program, said the Navy agreed in the settlement document that sonar can injure and kill whales and other sea life. The Navy agreed to share its findings with the public, including documents never made public before.
"Finally," Reynolds said, "while it does not resolve disagreements with the Navy over operational safeguards required to reduce sonar's risk to whales and other marine life, it sets in place a process for negotiation between the Navy and this environmental coalition that we hope will reduce the need for future litigation."
The Navy agreed to pay $1.1 million in attorneys fees for settling a 2005 nationwide lawsuit and a 2006 case focused on Hawaiian operations.

Bush to Protect Vast New Pacific Tracts
January 6, 2009 (New York Times)
President Bush will designate vast tracts of American-controlled Pacific Ocean islands, reefs, surface waters and sea floor as marine national monuments on Tuesday, limiting fishing, mining, oil exploration or other commercial activity, White House officials said Monday.
The protected zones, including parts of the deep Mariana Trench and a string of largely uninhabited reefs and atolls near the Equator and American Samoa, include a total of 195,280 square miles, an area larger than the states of Washington and Oregon combined.
The islands, atolls, reefs and underwater mountain ranges offer unique habitat to hundreds of rare species of birds and fish. Among them are tropicbirds, boobies, frigate birds, terns, noddies, petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses, according to environmental groups who pushed for the protection. It is also the habitat of the rare Micronesian megapode, a bird that incubates its eggs using subterranean volcanic heat.
The president’s action, which requires no Congressional or other approval, builds on the designation two years ago of the 139,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwest Hawaiian Islands under the federal Antiquities Act.

Group uses lawsuits to help clean up Sound
January 5, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Tucked away in a vine-draped building along the gritty Ballard waterfront is the office of an environmental group where a war on pollution churns away daily, taking on outfits that state and federal regulators can't or won't face down.
In a burst of litigation over the past 2 1/2 years, the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance has done battle with about 60 food processors, factories, recyclers, timber yards, local governments and others. Most are violating requirements to control runoff from Western Washington's relentless rains that carry heavy metals and other gunk into Puget Sound and its tributaries.
Defendants say the suits get in the way of stopping pollution efficiently and quickly, and that the companies targeted aren't big contributors to the overall pollution problem.
"What I've heard from around the country -- and some of this is coming from national corporations -- is that Puget Soundkeeper is probably the most aggressive (group) in the country in using the citizens-suit provisions of the Clean Water Act," Kray said.
The state Department of Ecology, however, welcomes Soundkeeper's legal onslaught simply because Ecology inspectors can't possibly keep up with the myriad polluters the agency is supposed to watch.

Conservancy buys 146 acres for reserve
January 5, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The Nature Conservancy has bought 146 acres, including tidelands, at Lily Point and will turn over the land to Whatcom County as part of the new Lily Point Marine Reserve.
The conservancy purchased the property from Welsh Developments for $2.5 million in a deal that closed last Monday. The sale is the latest effort to protect a parcel seen as ecologically vital for the region.
In April, Welsh sold 90 acres of undeveloped shoreline and 40 acres of tidelands for $3.5 million to the Whatcom Land Trust, which then deeded the land to Whatcom County to form the reserve.

Push on to stave off logging
January 5, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Conservationists are scrambling for money to buy property in the Skykomish Valley to preserve old-growth forests, roadless areas and river shores.
More than a dozen parcels potentially targeted for logging — totaling about 3,000 acres — include roadless, high-elevation old-growth forests and lands along the Miller, Beckler and Tye rivers as well as near Lake Serene, Mount Persis and Index Creek.
The lands that conservationists would like to protect are managed by Longview Timber and owned by Brookfield Asset Management. The company, based in Toronto with corporate offices in Rio de Janeiro, New York and London, owns about 665,000 acres of timber in Washington and Oregon as part of its $90 billion asset portfolio, which includes hydroelectric and electric-transmission facilities in Chile and Brazil.
"I thought, this roadless old growth — ... we are at 4,000 feet, this is crazy, and it's not even high-value — this is going to be toilet paper. This is not where we ought to be doing this, and what could be next? If we can protect the roadless areas and the river shore, that is the priority."

Oceans comprise a sea of troubles
January 2, 2009 (Economist)
Not much is known about the sea, it is said; the surface of Mars is better mapped. But 2,000 holes have now been drilled in the bottom, 100,000 photographs have been taken, satellites monitor the five oceans and everywhere floats fitted with instruments rise and fall like perpetual yo-yos. Quite a lot is known, and very little is reassuring. The worries begin at the surface, where an atmosphere newly laden with man-made carbon dioxide interacts with the briny. The sea has thus become more acidic, making life difficult, if not impossible, for marine organisms with calcium-carbonate shells or skeletons.
These are not all as familiar as shrimps and lobsters, yet species such as krill, tiny shrimp-like creatures, play a crucial part in the food chain: kill them off, and you may kill off their predators, whose predators may be the ones you enjoy served fried, grilled or with sauce tartare. Worse, you may destabilize an entire ecosystem.
That is also what acidification does to coral reefs, especially if they already are suffering from overfishing, overheating or pollution. Many are, and most are therefore gravely damaged.
Some scientists believe that coral reefs, home to a quarter of all marine species, may virtually disappear within a few decades. That would be the end of the rainforests of the seas.
Carbon dioxide affects the sea in other ways, too, notably through global warming. The oceans expand as they warm up. They are also swollen by melting glaciers, ice caps and ice sheets: Greenland's ice is on track to melt, which eventually will raise the sea level by about 23 feet. Even by the end of this century, the level may well have risen by seven-eighths of a yard, perhaps more.

Study: Hawaii's pygmy killer whales stay close
January 1, 2009 (AP)
A new study of pygmy killer whales — one of the least understood marine mammal species — shows that those living off Hawaii tend to stay close to the islands and don't swim out to the open ocean. There are very few of the whales, probably less than 200 individuals, in this distinct pygmy killer whale population off the islands. The population's limited number make it more vulnerable than other whale populations to potentially harmful human behavior, including fishing and Navy sonar, said the paper published Tuesday in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
"It's just much more likely that human activities could impact the population, hurt the population," said Robin Baird, a marine biologist with the Olympia, Wash.-based Cascadia Research Collective and one of the study's authors.
The study was based on an ongoing photo identification project launched in the mid-1980s by Daniel McSweeney of the Wild Whale Research Foundation in Holualoa on the Big Island.
The study's authors examined 3,431 photos of pygmy killer whales taken over 22 years. Most of the whales were spotted off the Big Island, though a few were found off Oahu, Lanai and Niihau.
The analysis also showed pygmy killer whales appear to be social animals, with many staying close to other individuals for at least 15 years.
Their stable, long-term relationships resemble the social behaviors of killer whales and pilot whales, the paper said.
More information and photographs are available HERE
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