Orca Network News - January, 2010
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
January 1, 2010 through January 31, 2010.
January 29, 2010 (Underwater Times)
The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and PhD student Andy Foote have together been studying the small population of killer whales that inhabit the waters off the west coast of Scotland.
The ‘west coast community’, as they are known in the field, is only thought to consist of nine animals. Using a technique called photo- identification (photo-ID), each animal in the group can be recognised by the unique markings on their dorsal fins. The photo-ID studies have also revealed that of the nine individuals, there are four males and five females. All the animals associate with each other although some individuals are more regularly sighted together than others. The conservation status of the group is thought to be critical since no live calves have been sighted since research began almost two decades ago.
New underwater instrument near Mukilteo monitors Puget Sound’s health
January 29, 2010 (Mukilteo Beacon)
An underwater monitoring station recently installed in Puget Sound near Mukilteo is providing real-time, online data showing water temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen levels.
The station is the result of a partnership between the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology), the Port of Everett, and Everett Community College’s Ocean Research College Academy (ORCA).
ORCA is sponsored by Everett Community College and was initially funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Visit the station online HERE.
Household chemicals linked to reduced fertility
January 28, 2010 (Los Angeles Times)
A new study finds that a decreased likelihood of pregnancy is linked to flame-retardant chemicals found in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets and plastics.
Flame-retardant chemicals found in many household consumer products may reduce fertility in women, researchers reported Tuesday. Their study joins several other papers published in the last two years suggesting that the chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, affect human health.
PBDEs have been used as flame retardants for four decades and are found in foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets and plastics. The chemicals are being phased out nationwide, and certain PBDEs have been banned for use in California. But they are still found in products made before 2004. Californians may have higher exposures compared with residents of other states because of the state's strict flammability laws, according to the study authors, from UC Berkeley.
B.C. fish farming expansion frozen until December
January 28, 2010 (CBC)
Fish farming on the West Coast won't be allowed to expand until at least December, following a B.C. Supreme Court decision to give the federal government more time to take over the job of regulating the industry from the province.
The decision by Justice Christopher Hinkson allows the transfer of power from B.C. to Ottawa to be postponed from February until mid-December. During that period, B.C. won't be allowed to grant any more licences or allow existing fish farms to expand.
Alexandra Morton, a long-time opponent of open-net fish farming, welcomed the decision.
"It's temporary for sure, but I'm hoping we can bring some reason to this situation because we know you can't pour a limitless number of salmon into this ocean whether they're ranched, farmed, enhanced, wild — any of them. So we need to stop and think about this," she said.
The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in February 2009 that the federal government, not the province, should regulate fish farms.
Global warming will require changes at Northwest dams
January 27, 2010 (Oregonian)
Northwest dam managers will need to start filling the region's reservoirs earlier in the spring to minimize the impact of climate change on power production and salmon, a new study concludes.
In a warmer future, scientists expect spring runoff to peak earlier, reducing summer flows in Northwest rivers for fish and hydropower demands.
Water managers in Oregon and the West are realizing river flows from the past are no longer a good indication of what the future may hold.
So scientists at the University of Washington and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers looked at what would happen at dams and reservoirs if the region was 2 degrees Celsius warmer by the middle of this century.
That, they calculated, would lead to a nearly 25 percent drop in hydropower production in May, June and July.
But if dam managers, who keep reservoirs levels down in the spring to catch the annual spring freshet, start filling up their reservoirs earlier, they could keep the losses closer to 18 percent, said Alan Hamlet, a UW research assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Puget Sound Partnership plans light session
January 27, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
The state agency charged with restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020 is keeping its head down this legislative session.
The Puget Sound Partnership is putting its political muscle behind just two bills, neither of which proposes strong proactive action on major problems facing the Sound.
David Dicks, the partnership’s executive director, laid out the agency’s strategy for the session to a board of the agency’s top advisers last week in Olympia.
With legislators desperate to cut programs and raise revenue, Dicks said, major regulatory bills dealing with stormwater and protection of shoreline habitat are “not ready for prime time.”
“It’s always the same story: ‘It’s not the right time,’” said David Troutt, natural resources director for the Nisqually Indian tribe. “We need to stop the bleeding now. There is absolutely no reason we should not be doing something right now.”
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the environmental group, People for Puget Sound, also expressed frustration.
“What’s the partnership’s proactive strategy?” she demanded.
Wash. to cut stormwater pollution from highways
January 26, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Washington state will do more to prevent polluted stormwater from running off state highways into rivers, lakes and Puget Sound, where it poses a serious threat to salmon and other aquatic life.
In a legal settlement filed Tuesday, the state Department of Transportation agreed that whenever it builds new highways in western Washington, it will also spend a little bit of money to retrofit old ones - thousands of miles of which were constructed without sediment ponds or other pollution controls.
The environmental law firm Earthjustice and the group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance challenged the DOT's stormwater discharge permit before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board last year, saying it didn't meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act.
Target Stops Selling Farmed Salmon
January 26, 2010 (New York Times)
The retain chain Target announced on Tuesday that its food stores will stop selling farmed salmon.
Salmon farms have been criticized for polluting surrounding waters, using huge numbers of smaller fish for feed and harming wild species. But most salmon sold is raised on farms, and wild salmon, mostly from Alaska, can be much more expensive.
Wind Power Grows 39% for the Year
January 26, 2010 (New York Times)
Despite a crippling recession and tight credit markets, the American wind power industry grew at a blistering pace in 2009, adding 39 percent more capacity. The country is close to the point where 2 percent of its electricity will come from wind turbines.
The group said the growth of wind power was helped by the federal stimulus package that passed a year ago, which extended a tax credit and provided other investment incentives for the industry.
“It is not a question of lack of resources,” said Tim Stephure, an analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. “Unlike the federal highway system or the national gas system, there is a huge lack of federal oversight for electricity. This is something that will take time, while the need for the industry is now.”
Still, the potential for wind is enormous. Mr. Stephure said that by 2020, wind’s installed capacity could be five times higher than it is today, reaching about 180,000 megawatts.
The industry has also called on Congress to pass a federal mandate requiring that a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Such mandates are already in place throughout the European Union and in China. In the United States, 29 states have adopted such a renewable power standard.
Fruit buds and leaves are popping in warmest Skagit January ever
January 25, 2010 (Skagit Valley Herald)
Every week, volunteers scan the fruiting bushes and trees for damage at the Northwestern Washington Research and Extension Center.
Many things can damage plants: fungus, insects, voles and more. But this winter, frost is not among them.
This is so far the warmest January on record. It’s so warm that some plants, including Asian pears, cherries and daffodils, are starting to sprout new leaves and buds.
The unseasonably warm weather could hold until the end of January, when the area will snap back to normal temperatures — and that means possible frost overnight — according to National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Haner.
Save the salmon -- and us
January 24, 2010 (Los Angeles Times op-ed by Carl Safina)
The Obama administration's plan for the Columbia Basin doesn't go nearly far enough.
Recently, a photograph made its way to me on the Internet: In a surging Alaskan stream, a grizzly bear stands with a salmon in its jaws, and in the shallows, a wolf -- keeping its distance -- also hoists a thrashing salmon. Your eye goes to the bear, then the wolf. But the salmon convened the meeting. Without the salmon, you'd see only water.
When salmon return from the sea, their bodies are the ocean made flesh. Their tails propel ocean nutrients upstream and into forests, rivers and range lands, where they benefit hundreds of other species. Everything else in the photograph -- trees, bushes, all the animals and plants in the forest and the water -- contains ocean nutrients from salmon.
And now add orcas to the web of life fed by salmon. New research tells us that, before salmon hit the flowing streams, they are by far the most important food for resident killer whales along the Pacific Coast.
These killer whales, like wild salmon, are endangered. Of course the problems are connected: The fewer salmon, the fewer orcas.
Hope flared in early 2009, when the Obama administration's blueprint for Sacramento River salmon affirmed this salmon-orca connection and promised to put policies in place that would result in more wild salmon. It seemed like a strong first step in protecting West Coast salmon stocks.
But then two months ago, in a swift trick no one saw coming, the Obama administration embraced the Bush administration's failed salmon plan for an even more important watershed, the Columbia/Snake River system. The Columbia and its tributaries formerly produced more salmon than anywhere else on Earth, but the once-mighty rivers now have 13 salmon stocks in danger of extinction.
There's another photograph I saw recently. Taken just two months ago where Puget Sound meets the Pacific, it shows a new orca calf emerging from the water atop its mother's back. The scientists from the Center for Whale Research who track orcas named her Star, hoping she will guide another seemingly intelligent mammal -- us -- to restore the salmon abundance she will need to become a mother herself 13 years from now. May she inspire the Obama administration to think again.
Gray whale arrives early
January 23, 2010 (South Whidbey Record)
A gray whale has been spotted off South Whidbey more than a month ahead of schedule.
“They seem to be coming earlier and staying later,” Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the mammal monitoring organization based in Greenbank, said this week.
Garrett said that a kayaker in the ferry lanes at the south end of Saratoga Passage between Clinton and Mukilteo reported the latest gray sighting in the early afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 16.
“He said he was paddling in calm, quiet water when there was an explosive exhale and the gray whale blasted out of the water about 50 feet in front of him,” Garrett said. “That’s about the length of the whale.
“He said the whale surfaced a couple of times, then submerged and never appeared again,” Garrett added.
Whale encounters - The volunteer-fueled sightings are for research and also raising awareness
January 24, 2010 (Honolulu Star Bulletin)
According to research programs like SPLASH and aerial studies, about 10,000 to 12,000 whales arrive in Hawaii during their mating season, December through April. But otherwise, not much is known about their movements.
"The whales that we see in December are different than the ones seen in February," said Christine Brammer, programs coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. "Different whales are coming and going. Originally, we thought that they all came at the same time and returned about the same time. Some of the whales are only here for a very short time."
More research needs to be done, and the public is invited to pitch in during the Sanctuary Ocean Count that takes place the last Saturday in January, February and March, during peak whale season.
NOAA may prohibit Navy sonar testing at marine mammal 'hot spots'
January 22, 2010 (Los Angeles Times)
Marine mammal "hot spots" in areas including Southern California's coastal waters may become off limits to testing of a type of Navy sonar linked to the deaths of whales under a plan announced this week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA also called for development of a system for estimating the "comprehensive sound budget for the oceans," which could help reduce human sources of noise -- vessel traffic, sonar and construction activities -- that degrade the environment in which sound-sensitive species communicate.
"The Navy's Southern California range is over 120,000 nautical miles in size -- about the size of California itself," Jasny said. "The Bush administration did not put a square mile of this vast area off limits to sonar."
"The big question now," he added, "is whether the Obama administration has the will to actually bring about a proper balance between national security and environmental protection."
Whale carcass washes ashore
January 22, 2010 (Olympian)
Tropical animal: It was out of range and out of food
Biologists found no obvious signs of trauma on the body of a dead whale that washed ashore on a South Sound beach this week, thousands of miles from its typical ocean range.
It marked the first confirmed sighting and stranding of a tropical Bryde’s whale in the Northwest, according to initial research by the Olympia-based Cascadia Research, a marine-mammal research group.
The approximately 39-foot immature whale had a thin blubber layer with very little oil in it, suggesting starvation and exposure to cold ocean waters played a role in its death, Cascadia research biologist John Calambokidis said.
The whale’s description matches several reports of a mystery whale spotted swimming in Puget Sound waters since early January.
North Sound fishing has slowed noticeably | Outdoors
January 21, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The northern Puget Sound hatchery chinook opener wasn't as good as expected, and it looks like the local river scene for hatchery winter steelhead is winding down.
North Sound from Admiralty Inlet off Port Townsend south to the Edwards Point line near Edmonds was the nerve center for good salmon fishing when it closed in November, but has been fair at best since it opened last Saturday.
Hatchery chinook fishing was fair in Saratoga Pass at Elger Bay, Langley, Camano Head, Hat Island and Columbia Beach. In San Juan Islands it was slow to fair in Rosario Strait, Thatcher Pass and Lopez Pass.
Further south, Central Sound is open for hatchery chinook through Jan. 31, but remains bleak. South Sound is also open, and slow in the Narrows Bridge area.
The Skagit and Sauk rivers are open through Feb. 15, but will then be closed to reduce catches of wild fish.
Klamath Tribes OK basin restoration agreement
January 21, 2010 (San Jose Mercury News)
The Klamath Tribes are the first to approve a $1 billion agreement for restoring Klamath River salmon and bringing peace to long-standing water battles in the basin.
The tribes announced Tuesday that their members voted to approve the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which is part of a broader settlement designed to remove aging hydroelectric dams that block salmon.
The overall settlement is expected to be signed by the dozens of parties next month.
Clean Water bill helps both environment and state economy
January 21, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune Op-Ed)
State legislators and Gov. Chris Gregoire have an opportunity to make real and lasting progress on their commitment to clean up Puget Sound by 2020 while putting our state back to work. That’s a smart way of doing business in these tough economic times.
Each time it rains, millions of gallons of petroleum wash from our roads and urban areas into Puget Sound, lakes, and rivers, threatening our public health and environment. Estimates show that petroleum pollution accounts for more than half of all toxins in Puget Sound. It doesn’t come as a tanker spill, but as a slow trickle down drains and sewer outfalls.
Fortunately, we know how to solve this problem. Shovel-ready infrastructure and low-impact development projects are lined up in cities and counties across Washington.
Federal law requires local governments to comply with clean water standards. The bad news? Local governments don’t have the resources to put people to work. What they do pay for will come out of your pocket, not from oil companies that create the pollution.
That’s why a coalition of more than 25 environmental organizations, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Association of Cities and local governments across the state have made funding for storm water infrastructure projects a top priority for this year.
The Working for Clean Water bill being considered by the Legislature would create jobs, help rebuild local economies, and clean up polluted waterways such as Puget Sound and the Spokane River. That is the kind of investment we need to make in these tough times for working families, our children and the environment.
The bill would impose a small fee on each barrel of oil that is imported to the state to fund the program. The fee is on the petroleum companies, not at the gas pump, ensuring that they will finally have to pay their fair share.
Pacific's rising acid levels threatening marine life
January 21, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The most extensive survey of pH levels in the Pacific Ocean confirms what spot measurements have suggested: From Hawaii to Alaska, the upper reaches of the sea are becoming more acidic in concert with rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
"If you see these changes across an entire ocean basin, you can be assured it's happening on a global scale in other ocean basins around the world," said Robert Byrne, a marine chemist at the University of South Florida and lead author of an upcoming paper in Geophysical Research Letters.
Ocean acidification is a threat to shelled creatures and other marine life, and is a leading suspect in the ongoing crash of Pacific oyster populations in Washington.
Breathing Asia's fumes
January 20, 2010 (Discovery.com)
Even as local efforts to improve air quality have been making headway over western North America, increasing flows of unhealthy and agriculturally harmful emissions of ozone have been blowing in from Asia.
While scientists have recognized this phenomenon for some time, they are just now beginning to put some hard numbers on it. An exhaustive international study of databases developed since the 1980s found an increase of 29 percent in "background ozone" entering the lower atmosphere over western North America during springtime since 1984
No trauma on dead mystery whale
January 20, 2010 (KING5 TV)
Biologists studying the carcass of a whale that washed up dead on a South Puget beach this week say the whale has no signs of obvious trauma.
Trauma would leave open the possibility the whale was struck by a ship passing through tropical waters and pushed all the way to a Northwest port. Now, based on eyewitness reports, biologists believe the rare Bryde's Whale was swimming in the Sound for at least two weeks before it died.
"It hadn't been eating. Its stomach contained no food," said John Calambokidis, Senior Research Biologist and co-founder of Cascadia Research. "Its blubber layer was also very thin."
Those are indications the whale may have died from lack of food and exposure to much colder water than it is used to. As KING 5 reported Tuesday, Bryde's whales (pronounced: BROOD-es) are warm water whales that rarely venture north of California.
Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Herring
January 20, 2010 (Sequim Gazette)
By Fred Sharpe
In the heart of the Olympic rain shadow, a whale leaps skyward. With a giant splash and clap of thunder, the humpback falls back into the sea.
Rising to the surface, a spout towers skyward and sparkles in the sunshine. A giant tail then arches and the leviathan slips below the waves. The Salish Sea humpbacks have returned.
Humpback whales once were common in the waters surrounding the Olympic Peninsula. In the 1800s, these leviathans attracted the attention of whalers on tall ships. When a spout was sighted, hand-rowed longboats were lowered, and the chase was on. Harpoons were thrown by hand, and captured whales were towed ashore and rendered on the beach.
Comment: Come and hear Fred Sharpe give a presentation on Humpback whales at Orca Network's Ways of Whales Workshop Jan. 23, on Whidbey Island! A rare opportunity to hear this fascinating researcher share his knowledge and experiences - more info. at http://www.orcanetwork.org/news/events.html - sign up now!
Come on in, the water's freezing: Amazing underwater photos show beluga whales meeting divers at Arctic rehabilitation farm
January 20, 2010 (Daily Mail UK)
Photographer Franco Banfi, who took these shots after his team carved through the ice with a handsaw, said: ‘When a whale comes up to us and swims by, it looks you right in the eyes. Sometimes, I’m sure they’re trying to figure out what we are and where we came from.
'Sometimes, I'm sure they're trying to figure out what we are and where we came from.
'As photographer, I've always been driven to bring photographs of animals one hardly ever sees to a printed page.'
Feds receive Puget Sound tidal power application
January 20, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Local tidal power recently sent its first wave at the feds.
In late December, the Snohomish County Public Utility District submitted its first license application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build one or two underwater turbines to create electricity from the Puget Sound's tides.
That changes the feds from informal to official players in figuring out how to generate electricity from the bottom of Admiralty Inlet.
The PUD expects that FERC will take several months to ponder the preliminary application.
Plan to reduce loss of false killer whales is ordered
January 20, 2010 (Honolulu Star Bulletin)
The federal government said yesterday it will form a group to develop ways of preventing the accidental snagging of a rare dolphin species by the Hawaii-based longline fishery.
The fishery is accidentally killing or seriously injuring an average of 7.4 false killer whales each year in waters off Hawaii, the National Marine Fisheries Service said in a Federal Register notice.
That exceeds the 2.5 per year that the population can lose without hurting its ability to sustain itself.
Cetaceous stranger washes up in Puget Sound
January 19, 2010 (KING5 TV)
Biologists responding to a report of a whale carcass in Case Inlet in Puget Sound suddenly have a mystery on their hands.
Why would a whale that is normally found only in warm and tropical waters venture into the frigid Northern Pacific?
It will take DNA testing to determine if the carcass is indeed a Bryde's Whale. The dead whale was spotted this week after several reports of a mysterious living whale swimming through the area over the last few weeks.
Cascadia Research teams conducted a necropsy on the mammal on Tuesday and hope to have preliminary results of its possible cause of death soon.
Lead Biologist John Calambokidis told KING 5 it does not appear the creature was struck in the ocean and pushed into Puget Sound on the bow of a ship.
If it is indeed a Bryde's whale, it would be considered very odd that a whale that prefers tropical waters would venture into the frigid seas of the Northern Pacific and Puget Sound.
Tour captain and naturalist Rod Dufour has spent his life sailing and identifying mammals of the Pacific. He says if biologists are correct, this whale is way out of its warm water comfort zone.
'Cove' named best documentary
January 19, 2010 (Japan Times)
"The Cove," a U.S. documentary about dolphin hunting in Wakayama Prefecture, has been named best documentary at the Critics' Choice Awards in Los Angeles.
The film, directed by Louis Psihoyos, won the Best Documentary Feature award Friday, beating four other nominees, including "Michael Jackson's This Is It," according to the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the largest film critics' organization in the United States and Canada.
"The Cove" shows the pains a special team put together by Psihoyos goes through to film the killing of dolphins by local fishermen in a hidden cove in the whaling town of Taiji, the main source of dolphins captured for entertainment use around the world and one of several regional areas in Japan where dolphin meat has traditionally been consumed.
Learn more during the Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island
January 19, 2010 (Examiner.com)
If you guessed Orcinus orca (orcas) you get to go to the head of the class with a gold star. If you don't know anything about orcas though, you'll need to surrender your gold star and attend the Ways of Whales Workshop this Saturday, January 23, in Coupeville.
Join Orca Network members and some of the region's best experts on Pacific Northwest whales for this truly amazing workshop. Hear exciting, new information about orcas and humpbacks and the habitats in which they live.
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network will open the workshop with an update on the status of the South Resident orcas. Following that, a quick "Orca 101" presented by Howard to set the stage for the rest of day.
Dr. Mike Ford, head of Fishery Genetics at NOAA Fisheries, has been involved with orca DNA paternity research and he has the lowdown on the latest scandalous news about the Orca Network's favorite stud, J1. Dr. Ford will share a number interesting facts this research has unearthed.
Dr. Fred Sharpe of the Alaska Whale Foundation and National Geographic TV will provide several stories and photos of his research of humpbacks. Find out about cooperative bubble net feeding and other details specific to SE Alaska whales.
If you are a naturalist, researcher, educator, or someone who thrills at seeing whales and wants to know more about these amazing finned friends that frequent Whidbey's shorelines, sign up now for the Ways of the Whales Workshop.
As climate warms, what will our rivers do?
January 19, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
A team of University of Washington researchers is finishing the most detailed yet report what is likely to happen to Pacific Northwest rivers as the climate warms.
The Columbia Basin Climate Change Scenarios Project predicts a shift in the landscape so great that engineers and planners are going to have to fundamentally change their methods of predicting what rivers are likely to do.
For example, historical data at the Snohomish River near Monroe show two peak flow times: one during winter rains and the other during spring snow melts.
With climate change, the river transforms. By the 2020s, winter flows peak at around 20 percent higher than the snowmelt season, the snowmelt season moves earlier, and summer flows dwindle.
In the 2040s and 2080s, the winter peak gets higher and higher.
Watersheds that depend mostly on snowmelt are slower to change, but in places such as the Wenatchee River, the projections show smaller, earlier spring run-off, and a decrease in flows during July, August and September. And as the century goes on, winter flows increase as more precipitation falls as rain.
The draft of the report is available online. Hamlet expects the final version will be done in March.
New Calif. water policy aims to save state's key estuary, but critics say it falls short
January 19, 2010 (Los Angeles Times)
It was the kind of unproductive and unhappy trip that he and other guides say has become all too common in recent years, as the populations of salmon and other fish in the delta have plummeted. The number of fall-run Chinook salmon returning to the Central Valley to spawn has declined from more than 750,000 in 2002 to 66,000 in 2008.
The perilously low populations of salmon and native fish are symptoms, according to numerous scientists, of a crashing ecosystem in the West Coast's largest estuary. Numerous theories abound for the decline, from too much water being pumped from the delta for drinking and irrigation to the use of agricultural chemicals.
Scientists, fishermen, environmentalists and some lawmakers long involved in California's water disputes question whether the environmental problems can be solved under those circumstances. They note that state lawmakers and Congress have devoted billions of dollars to restoring the delta and improving water transfers over the years with little to show.
"Just throwing money at something isn't going to do it," said Zeke Grader, executive director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "They could give us a trillion dollars and it's not going to restore the fish unless there's water for them at the right times and then that it's good quality water."
Salmon Fishery Fails in Alaska, Tied to Climate
January 18, 2010 (Courthouse News)
A Chinook salmon fishery in Alaska has failed, the government acknowledged Friday, and scientists point to global warming. "When temperatures increase on salmon a spawning ground, that's often detrimental," said a government scientist. And with warming predicted to continue indefinitely, the chances that the wild salmon can recover are slim.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced the failure of the fishery on Friday.
The director of the government's Auke Bay Laboratories, Phil Mundy, pointed to Alaska's bar last year on all Chinook salmon fishing in the Yukon River.
"That is an indication of very low abundance," Mundy said, noting that the state has even blocked individuals from fishing for food. "It means literally taking food out of people's mouths."
Oregon coast spotters count hundreds of migrating whales
January 18, 2010 (Oregonian)
Whale-watchers on the Oregon coast spotted more whales this winter season than in any of the past five, and the massive mammals are still passing by.
Trained whale-watchers at 26 sites -- 24 in Oregon and one each in California and Washington -- reported sighting 672 whales during whale-watching week, Dec.26 to Jan.1. That's almost double the sightings in 2005-06, when spotters sighted 378.
Concerns grow over Navy sonar training plans
January 17, 2010 (KTUU)
Environmentalists are speaking out against Navy plans to train with sonar in the Gulf of Alaska.
Critics say the technology could be extremely harmful to whales. Navy officials say the technology is necessary for national security.
The Navy held meetings throughout the state last week to discuss three options for the future of the yearly exercises set to begin the summer of 2011.
Gravel beaches trapping oil from 1989 Exxon spill
January 16, 2010 (Washington Post)
An engineering professor has figured out why oil remains trapped along miles of gravel beaches more than 20 years after the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster in Prince William Sound.
An estimated 20,000 gallons of crude remain in Prince William Sound, even though oil remaining after the nearly 11-million-gallon spill had been expected to biodegrade and wash away within a few years.
The problem: The gravelly beaches of Prince William Sound are trapping the oil between two layers of rock, with larger rocks on top and finer gravel underneath, according to Michel C. Boufadel, chairman of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Temple University. His study appeared Sunday in Nature Geoscience's online publication and will be published in the journal later.
Lack of Yukon king salmon declared disaster
January 16, 2010 (Anchorage Daily News)
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke declared a commercial fishing disaster for Yukon River king salmon Friday following two years of poor runs, fishing restrictions and bans.
Poor returns led regulators to restrict commercial fishing in 2008, with the harvest 89 percent below the recent five-year average, according to the Commerce Department. In 2009, there was no commercial season and limited subsistence fishing -- the fish residents catch to feed their families and villages.
Regulators expect another poor season in 2010, Hilsinger said.
Some village and regional leaders blame the massive Bering Sea pollock fleet for the decline, saying some of the tens of thousands of king salmon caught by trawlers each year would otherwise return to the Yukon.
In a statement announcing the disaster declaration, the Commerce Department said the cause of the disappearing salmon isn't fully understood but that scientists believe it's primarily natural events: changing ocean and river conditions and changing temperatures and food sources.
The kings caught by the pollock fleet don't account for the magnitude of missing kings on the river, Hilsinger said. But given how few fish are returning to the Yukon overall, the salmon lost to bycatch could still determine how much commercial fishing, if any, is allowed on the river, he said.
Killer instincts: ‘Orca Killing School' featured this weekend at film fest
January 14, 2010 (Nevada City CA Union)
This time, the subject is deadly serious, but still kids' stuff, in a way: The unique predation technique of whales swimming off the Atlantic Coast of southern Argentina, and how adult whales teach their young the same risky but rewarding methods.
In a home tucked beneath pines and warmed by a wood fire, Bertran's face lights up when recalling his time in 2008 and early 2009 filming what he called “the ultimate predator on the planet.”
Orcinus orca, better known as the killer whale, lives in oceans all over the world. But two family groups, or pods, in a protected area off the Peninsula Valdez in Patagonia, have learned to rush at the beach during high tide in the brief period when sea lion pups are expanding their own knowledge of the sea.
Among the 14 individuals in the two pods, eight hunt in this way — eight in the whole world — and were first observed in 1975.
“Others wait offshore. They share the meal,” Bertran said. “It's such a daring way for them to hunt, because they have to do it at high tide, and they can get stuck if the conditions are not right.”
Whale dies trying to save her baby
January 14, 2010 (Adelaide.com - Australia)
Deb Kelly from the Department of Environment and Heritage said fisheries were unable to save the whale - believed to be a beaked whale - found beached in shallow waters near Point Turton this morning.
She said a baby whale was found dead after it beached itself on Tuesday and an adult whale was seen in water very close to the beach on the inside of the reef.
Dr Kelly said the whale had sustained lacerations on its belly after trying to "climb over the reef' to get back to the baby.
Jim Harris from Glenelg who is holidaying in the area, earlier told AdelaideNow that the whale - believed to be a beak[ed] whale was stranded on a reef at Parsons Beach yesterday, but was found beached in shallow waters at Point Turton this morning.
Boating regulations to protect killer whales won't go into effect this year
January 13, 2010 (Bellingham Herald)
Proposed federal rules to protect endangered Puget Sound orca whales by restricting how close commercial and recreational boats can get to them will not go into effect this year as expected.
That's because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extended the public comment period from its original closing date in October to Jan. 15. The agency will need additional time after that to analyze the comments and continue with rule-making, said Lynne Barre, marine mammal specialist with NOAA Fisheries Service.
"There's just not sufficient time to put out a final rule," Barre said.
Surprise baby 'boomlet' lifts B.C.'s orca pods
January 11, 2010 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Six young killer whales have been born to the region's three resident orca pods in the past year, including a New Year's baby, surprising and delighting dedicated whale-watchers.
"It's great. No one predicted this," said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network in northern Washington State, off whose coast the orcas also reside. "It's a great way to start the New Year."
"It would only be speculation, but the only thing I can see is that there are a lot of new young, reproductive males, and apparently, they're getting it on," said Mr. Garrett.
Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on the San Juan Islands, noted that orcas tend to breed outside their immediate pods, and, like humans, they are sometimes drawn together by specific events.
"It could have been their equivalent of a party or gathering that would have resulted in some gene pool activity," said Mr. Balcomb. "Or maybe there was just a whole bunch of fish around at the time. The thing is, we've got some normal reproductive adults and, at some point, they're going to be pumping themselves around." While experts caution that the long-term survival of the orca offspring is far from assured, the baby boomlet, as one researcher termed it, is a welcome development after six whale deaths during a grim 2008 had forecasters predicting a dire future for the resident killer whales.
"It's not necessarily a trend, but having that many calves in such a small population is always a good thing," said John Ford, marine mammal scientist at the federal Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.
The pods, known as J, K and L, are perhaps the most observed and most-revered whales in the world, given their small numbers and proximity to the heavily travelled coastal waters of B.C. and Washington State.
Baby orca makes New Year's appearance
January 11, 2010 (Vancouver Province)
Whale watchers are anxiously awaiting another sighting of the Pacific Northwest's newest baby orca.
The New Year's baby killer whale was likely born Jan. 1 in the waters of Juan de Fuca Strait and was spotted off Seattle on Jan. 3.
Howard Garrett, director of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network, said it's important to verify that the calf, a member of one of three southern resident-whale pods, has survived.
About 50 per cent of calves die in their first year of life. Garrett said the births and mortality rates of the whales are closely linked to the availability of chinook salmon, their meal of choice.
"That's really the predominant factor at work here," he said. "They are very picky eaters."
Is Washington's orca baby boom a fluke?
January 9, 2010 (Washington Post)
A little over a year after researchers feared a drop in the Northwest's endangered killer whale population meant disaster, the number of orcas has bounced back with six new babies and no whales lost.
Though scientific evidence is skimpy, some whale experts say the good news might be the result of enough salmon for the majestic black-and-white mammals to eat. Others say so little is known about orcas that the baby boom could be due to any number of factors - or simply a statistical fluke.
Whatever the reason, they're overjoyed about the new arrivals.
"We're all very happy to see so many births," said Susan Berta of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.
Both Balcomb and Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, think food might have something to do with it.
The whales feed on salmon - particularly chinook salmon, the largest and arguably tastiest of the Pacific species. Chinooks are listed as threatened or endangered in several Northwest waterways, including Puget Sound and the Columbia River.
It's not that simple, said Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the federal Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. He said that for much of the year, little is known about what salmon stocks the whales eat and where.
"There's just so many different variables involved," Hanson said.
Discover Puget Sound with free Beach Watcher lectures
January 9, 2010 (Everett Herald)
Local Beach Watchers have organized four free evening lectures for busy people who want to learn more about our beautiful local waters and the plants and animals that call them home. “Our Puget Sound, in Depth,” a series now in its third year, begins Wednesday in Mukilteo with “Orcas, Salmon and Tradition,” a presentation by Howard Garrett, who’s with the Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based nonprofit group.
In February, John Williams of Still Hope Productions of Suquamish will present an “Underwater Neighborhood Tour,” featuring video taken from his and others’ underwater archives.
In March, Craig Collar with the Snohomish County PUD will talk about tidal energy and other renewable energy sources.
In April, Dave Ward with Snohomish County Surface Water Management will present “Puget Sound Starts Here.” He’ll explain how yard chemicals, oil, grease, soap and bacteria from pet waste and broken septic systems can pollute Puget Sound.
Newborn orcas face struggle to survive in the waters around Vancouver Island
January 8, 2010 (Nanaimo Daily News)
The birth of a killer whale calf in the southern waters of the Strait of Georgia this week is seen as "good news" by John Ford, but the Nanaimo-based marine biologist warns that mortality rates among newborn orcas in local waters remains high.
Ford said killer whale numbers have seen a "significant decline" in the southern pods since the 1990s, with this week's baby born into a pod that has seen a drop from more than 100 members to just about 88. This may be attributed to a drop in chinook salmon stocks, their main food, in the area as well as excess pollution in their habitat. But Ford said the numbers of resident killer whales in the less-polluted and congested northern areas of the Strait of Georgia are at the highest levels (about 250) since they were first counted in the 1970s.
He said the population of meat-eating transient killer whales, which have a range around Vancouver Island and periodically visit waters around Nanaimo, has dramatically increased in recent years to more than 260.
Dead whale reported floating near Whidbey Navy base
January 8, 2010 (Whidbey News Times)
A dead whale was seen floating near Whidbey Island Thursday.
Rudy Deck of Coupeville spotted the large marine mammal, possibly a gray whale, as it floated near Rocky Point.
Deck reported the sighting to Orca Network, said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Greenbank-based organization.
Another report placed the whale carcass near Whidbey Island Naval Air station at approximately 9:30 a.m.
Killer whale born at SeaWorld
January 8, 2010 (Dallas News)
Park officials say an 18-year killer whale named Takara gave birth to an orca calf in Shamu Theater, the park's research and breeding facility.
Park officials say the calf is the 26th orca to be born at SeaWorld's three parks.
Negotiators wrap up talks on Klamath Dam removal
January 8, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Negotiators have wrapped up the second half of a two-part agreement to remove four dams on the Klamath River to help salmon.
Craig Tucker, Klamath campaign coordinator for the Karuk Tribe, says a signing ceremony could take place next month, after enough of the parties approve the final document.
Actual removal of the dams would not start until 2020, and depends on raising millions of dollars from cash-strapped California and the federal government.
Proposed rules would restrict boating in orca feeding areas
January 7, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The first baby orca of the year has been born to J pod, boosting an endangered population of whales that needs every birth it can get.
The birth brings to 88 the population of southern resident killer whales that frequents Puget Sound. That's a bit of a comeback after a drop in population of 20 percent between 1996 and 2001. Orcas, a species of dolphin, were listed as endangered in November 2005.
The Marine Fisheries agency has proposed regulations to protect orcas, including new restrictions on whale watching. The rules would create a no-go zone for recreational-vessel traffic along the west side of San Juan Island, where the orcas spend much of their time feeding in the summer months.
The orcas depend largely on a threatened fish — Puget Sound chinook — for survival. And orcas, long-lived mammals at the top of their food chain, are among the most toxic animals in the world, because pollutants concentrate in their blubber over the years.
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, doubted vessel restrictions would make any difference in orca survival. He argued that echolocation clicks made by the orcas to find food occur in a different acoustic range, so vessel noise isn't masking sounds the whales need to hear.
"I think it's a cop-out," Balcomb said. "It's let these vessels take all the heat instead of the issue of salmon and habitat." He would rather see a no-fishing rule than a no-boating one.
Killer Whales Splitting into Two Species?
January 7, 2010 (Discovery News)
Killer Whales in the in the North Atlantic Ocean come in two different flavors, and could be in the process of splitting into two species, according to new research by a team of European scientists.
Orcas in different regions like the Pacific and Antarctic are known to have different diets, but are recognized as belonging to the same species, Orcinus orca. Researchers have now found that two populations living in the waters around Britain differ not only in what they eat, but also in size and genetic makeup.
The patterns of tooth wear suggest that type 1 whales are generalists, feeding on a combination of seals and fish. On the other hand, type 2 whales eat only marine mammals like dolphins and other small whales.
A genetic analysis showed that type 2 whales, which tend to show up off the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, are more closely related to Antarctic orcas than the type 1 group, which are found across the eastern North Atlantic. From the article:
"They seem to have occupied completely different ecological niches and have started to diverge morphologically. This divergence may eventually lead to the two types becoming different species."
Pacific Northwest's endangered orca population rose in 2009
January 7, 2010 (Oregonian)
State biologists will be crunching numbers and counting fish over the next several weeks in a process that will determine the quality of the West Coast salmon season this year.
Early reports that poor adult salmon runs in the Sacramento River system foretell a bleak season have begun to circulate, but biologists are cautioning that it's far too early to tell.
It will be early February before biologists have a clear perspective on the potential for commercial and sport salmon seasons in 2010 -- particularly important after two years that devastated the California salmon fishing industry.
In 2008 and 2009, commercial salmon fishing was shut down on much of the West Coast because of dire predictions for salmon runs in the Sacramento River watershed, the key fishery for the region. In 2009, big estimates for returns to the Klamath River allowed a token 10-day ocean sport fishery in the Eureka and Crescent City areas.
Pacific Northwest's endangered orca population rose in 2009
January 7, 2010 (Oregonian)
The Pacific Northwest's endangered southern resident killer whale population increased in 2009 from 85 to 87 whales, then welcomed another new addition just into the New Year, the Center for Whale Research reports.
Their continued survival depends on sufficient food supplies, particularly spring chinook, the center said. One key: efforts to boost salmon recovery on the Columbia River, source of much of the fish the orcas feed on.
New killer whale spotted off Vancouver Island
January 6, 2010 (GlobalTV)
The biggest new year baby in the area is making waves in Juan de Fuca Strait.
A slightly wrinkled J Pod killer whale calf was spotted near San Juan Island Jan. 3 and is believed to have been born within the previous 48 hours.
“It still had its fetal folds, so it was probably a New Year’s baby,” said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor, Wash.
The birth is the sixth over the last year for the three endangered southern resident killer whale pods, bringing the total number of animals to 88.
Language, socialization and salmon-catching techniques are among lessons that have to be taught to young orcas, Dale said.
“Then you have to think about what even the smallest animal in the pod has to do. They travel up to 150 kilometres a day,” he said.
Top green priority in the legislature: a tax on oil
January 6, 2010 (Crosscut)
The measure, which died in the Washington Senate last year, would fund stormwater projects. This year the barrel tax is recast as a jobs-stimulus bill and broadly applied to many cash-strapped cities, not just cleaning up Puget Sound.
Poor Sacramento River salmon runs a bad sign for Oregon's fishing fleet
January 6, 2010 (Oregonian)
What remains of the Oregon coast's salmon fishing fleet is largely dependent on chinook salmon that are born and spawn in California's Sacramento River but mature in the ocean.
Poor runs in the Sacramento have led to the repeated shutdown of the salmon fishing here, and the signs are pointing to another nonexistent commercial fishing season this year The Sacramento Bee's Matt Weiser reported this week on the state of the fall chinook runs in the Sacramento River:
The run as a whole seems likely to turn out the same or slightly smaller than in 2008, which was the smallest year ever recorded.
Feds considering endangered listing for false killer whales in waters near Hawaii
January 6, 2010 (Los Angeles Times)
The federal government said Tuesday it's considering placing on the endangered species list a small population of dolphins that live near Hawaii and look similar to killer whales.
Depending on the outcome, the review could affect the Hawaii-based longline fishing fleet because its boats have accidentally snagged the dolphins — called false killer whales — in the past.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, filed a petition with the federal government last year asking that the Hawaii's near shore population of false killer whales be listed.
The group cited evidence showing the dolphins may be injured and killed after getting caught in fishing gear. The animals also have less to eat because stocks of the fish they prey on — including tuna and mahimahi — have been declining due to overfishing by humans, the group said.
Two killer whale types found in UK waters
January 5, 2010 (BBC)
Scientists have revealed that there is not one but two types of killer whale living in UK waters. Each differs in its appearance and diet, with males of one type being almost two metres longer than the other.
The killer whales could be at an early stage of becoming two separate species, the researchers say. The international group of scientists has published its results in the journal Molecular Ecology.
"It's exciting to think about two very different types of killer whale in the waters around Britain," says Dr Andy Foote from the University of Aberdeen, UK, who undertook the study.
Moko: a legend or pest in the making?
January 5, 2010 (New Zealand Herald)
He's a hunter, a gatherer, a surfer and a saviour. But others will have you believe Moko the "friendly" dolphin can also be a bully, a thief and a sexual predator - a mischievous mammal who's particularly keen on women.
Whatever the tales, one thing is clear: the feel-good story of Moko - which has generated headlines worldwide - is starting to turn a little ugly and may not have such a happy ending.
The dolphin swam alongside Clark as he caught wave after wave, presenting his dorsal fin so the surfer could hitch a ride back out to sea. Moko was like a machine and for Clark it was the most exciting surf of his life.
Another Newborn Orca Seen in J Pod
January 4, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
A new calf has been born into J Pod, one of the three groups of orcas that frequent Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.
The young whale was spotted Sunday in Puget Sound by a research crew headed by Brad Hanson of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Today, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research designated the calf as J-47 and confirmed that the mother is J-35, a 12-year-old orca known as Tahlequah.
Astonishing pictures show how a Devon kayaker got up close and personal with a humpback whale feeding frenzy
January 4, 2010 (Daily Mail)
When you’re in a tiny kayak and a 40-ton giant of the deep decides he’s a bit peckish, the sensible option is to scarper as fast as your paddle can carry you.
But wildlife photographer Duncan Murrell does the opposite. To capture images of humpback whales feeding and surging through the surf off Alaska, he often ventures within 15ft of the fearsome creatures.
The humpbacks, which can grow to more than 50ft, spend most of their time under water and can dive for up to 30 minutes, so being in the right place at the right time to see them requires skill and luck.
Group drives to clean up storm runoff
January 4, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
A new statewide coalition is aiming for a particular set of New Year's resolutions that will make positive changes locally.
The coalition is called STORM, for Stormwater Outreach to Regional Municipalities -- but before your eyes glaze over, consider its healthy intentions.
STORM is bent on cleaning up Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and nourishing the region's high quality of life, human and otherwise.
Fin Whales, Once Rare, Crowd Calif. Coast
January 2, 2010 (CBS News)
Tracking a mystery, Alisa Schulman-Janiger and other marine biologists follow an ocean footprint looking for the second largest mammal in the world, the fin whale.
Sightings of the fin whale - part of the family that includes the humpback and big blue whales - used to be a rarity in the Santa Monica Bay but not anymore. They're everywhere, reports CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.
"The people who have done this, watching for 20, 25 years, have never seen anything like it," Schulman-Janiger, a marine biologist at the American Cetacean Society, told Hughes. "It's described as a forest of blows. Everywhere you look there are these columns of blows going into the air."
"We've seen them 31 out of 31 days, so it's amazing," Schulman-Janiger told Hughes. "I don't know how long this is going to continue, but it's absolutely fabulous."
In 2005-06 season, fin whales were seen on four days, according to the American Cetacean Society. By the 2007-08 season, they were sighted on 41 days. In the 2008-09 season, fin whales were seen on 91 days.
"Not just this concentration of the fin whales and blue whales and the humpbacks, there has been a smorgasbord out there," boat Capt. John Glackin told Hughes.
125 pilot whales die on NZ beaches, 43 saved
January 1, 2010 (KOLD News)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - Some 125 pilot whales died in New Zealand after stranding on the beach over the weekend - but vacationers and conservation workers Sunday managed to coax 43 others back out to sea.
Rescuers monitored the survivors as they swam away from Colville Beach on North Island's Coromandel peninsula, and by Monday morning they were reported well out to sea.
Department of Conservation workers and hundreds of volunteers helped re-float the 43 whales at high tide. The volunteers covered the stranded mammals in sheets and kept them wet through the day.
Snohomish County PUD testifies on tidal power
January 1, 2010 (Snohomish County Business Journal)
Early in December 2009, Craig Collar, the PUD’s Senior Manager for Energy Resource Development, served as one of the key witnesses speaking before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Energy and Environment.
The Congressional group is exploring the huge potential for harnessing energy from waves, tidal flows, and ocean and river currents.
The PUD plans to deploy a tidal energy pilot plant in the Puget Sound as early as 2011. During his testimony Collar shared information about the utility’s tidal energy research efforts at five sites in the Puget Sound.
The PUD has emerged as one of the nation’s leaders in the research and development of this green energy resource. It has secured more than $2.5 million for its research efforts from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Bonneville Power Administration and other federal appropriations.
The PUD’s five tidal energy sites in the Puget Sound have the potential for producing enough energy for up to 70,000 homes. The utility launched a comprehensive study in 2007 to assess the technical, economic and environmental viability of the underwater sites.
The PUD tidal studies have been bolstered through several technical partnerships, including with the University of Washington, the Electric Power Research Institute, the National Renewable Energy Lab and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Marine Sciences Laboratory.
The utility also is partnering with several organizations on a DOE-funded study of killer whales, sea lions, harbor porpoises and other aquatic life in the Puget Sound. The research is being supported by work from the Sea Mammal Research Unit, Beam Reach Marine Science and Sustainability School, the Whale Museum and the Orca Network, PUD officials said.