Orca Network News - July, 2002
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
July 1, 2002 through July 31, 2002.
Plan for 'Wild Sky' wilderness area advances
July 31, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The first federal wilderness area to be created in Washington state since 1984 edged closer to reality yesterday after a key senator expressed support for the complex "Wild Sky" proposal that would permanently protect 106,000 acres in the Skykomish River valley northeast of Seattle.
Under the bill, the acreage in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest would receive the highest level of protection afforded federal property. It would be off limits to vehicles, including bicycles and snowmobiles, as well as to logging, mining and other commercial uses. Wheelchairs, however, would be permitted, and the proposal calls for a two-mile-long former logging road to be converted to a wheelchair-accessible trail.
In a break with tradition in which only highest-elevation land is protected -- so-called rocks and ice -- 30 percent of the land protected by Wild Sky would be considered lowland, including lowland forests and salmon-bearing streams.
Toxic fish imperil tribes
July 31, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Some of the fish being caught these days in the Columbia River basin are downright unappetizing. Some are marred with tumors, twisted spines and other abnormalities. Most of those don't make it to the dinner table.
But the fish that do may be just as harmful -- loaded with an assortment of toxic pollutants that are threatening the health of some 20,000 Native Americans.
The fish were analyzed for 132 chemicals, including pesticides, metals and organic pollutants. Ninety-two pollutants were found. The most frequently detected contaminants were metals, PCBs, banned pesticides such as DDT and chemicals produced during chlorine bleaching of paper pulp or water chlorination.
Orca Watch: Are Crowds a Peril to Pods' Health?
July 29, 2002 (Washington Post) The fins are a sign that a pod of orcas, or killer whales, is nearby. Orcas, which are the largest members of the dolphin family, "follow their favorite food -- salmon," explained naturalist Heidi Collinson. Every summer, a run of salmon makes its way along the west coast of San Juan Island, Wash., and up coastal rivers to spawn. The orcas are waiting. "And so," said Collinson, "are the orca watchers."
Suddenly the Orca Spirit listed to port as whale watchers jostled along the left-side railing for a view of a female orca and her calf. The killer whales were dead on course for the boat. "This is a banner day," said Collinson. "We almost never see a mother and baby."
As the orcas approached to within a few feet, the mother rolled onto her side and seemed to give her human audience as good a looking-over as she got. "Eye to eye, we're that close," said one surprised tourist.
Less snow might fall, state scientists predict, but who's listening?
July 26, 2002 (Seattle Times) It seems impossible in this land of rivers and rain to imagine a time when the Cascades' mighty snowpack could be stunted by global warming.
But that's the warning of climatologists, who forecast that within 20 years even a slight warming could dramatically - and with surprising speed - shrink the snows that blanket Northwest mountains.
And since that snowpack plays a crucial role in dispensing precious water in dry summer months, salmon, farms and people could compete even more for something the region often takes for granted.
In The Northwest: Kudos to Murray for the Strait of Juan de Fuca tug
July 26, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The senator's latest Maggie-style move is a $1.6 million item in the transportation appropriations bill for "enhanced oil spill prevention activities in the waters of Washington state."
In plain English, Murray has laid hands on money -- long sought by the state of Washington -- that can be used to station a rescue tug year-round at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
"They (Coast Guard) did not want this to eat into other safety programs. Well, she has structured this so that doesn't happen," said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group that has argued the need for a rescue tug at the entrance to the strait.
Warm Water Hurts Salmon
July 25, 2002 (Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission) Several Hood Canal streams and rivers consistently get too hot for fish, according to monitoring conducted by the Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe.
"Hot water can cause serious health problems to salmon," said Ted Labbe, Port Gamble S'Klallam habitat biologist. "Young fish using a river for rearing habitat and older migrating fish using it to spawn can develop life-threatening problems if the river temperature is too high."
Reinvesting in nature
July 25, 2002 (Seattle Times) With all the commotion these days about sleazy accounting methods, it's easier than ever to get sidetracked from the worst scam on record, an urgent outrage in which we all share blame.
That's the fact that as we calculate our economic progress, we systematically ignore the vast subsidies we get from nature and the damage we do to it each fiscal quarter. In fact, not just Enron but all businesses and governments are cooking the books, to the detriment of shareholders and future generations alike.
It wasn't their idea, of course. Our economic system - sophisticated enough to produce prices for feng shui consultants and interest-rate derivatives - goes blank when it comes to establishing what we owe back to our natural environment for a host of vital services. These include the roles of forests in absorbing carbon dioxide, which helps stabilize the climate, wetlands in purifying water and coral reefs in sheltering infant fish.
Taking up this challenge requires no less than a revolutionary change in how we think about nature. Yet, decades from now, what will future generations most resent? That Enron, Merck and even George Bush messed with the financial record? Or that we, as a society, couldn't see the forests for the timber?
A move to protect wild salmon disappoints property-rights advocates
July 25, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Efforts to protect wild salmon that spawn naturally in streams and lakes cannot be dropped just because hatcheries are able to crank out lots of fish, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared yesterday.
The preliminary decision is a blow to property-rights advocates who sought to remove Endangered Species Act protections from numerous West Coast salmon stocks and won a court ruling that forced NMFS to re-evaluate its policy.
The proposed policy says the goal of the Endangered Species Act protections for salmon is "the preservation of self-sustaining naturally reproducing populations in their natural habitats."
The policy is a departure from NMFS' past practices in at least one significant way: For the first time, it anticipates using some hatcheries to help rebuild dwindling wild stocks.
A new movement championed largely by Indian tribes would try to alter the way hatcheries are operated so that they can be used to supplement endangered wild populations. While NMFS' current policy on endangered salmon treated hatcheries as uniformly bad, the proposed reform says it's possible to use hatcheries to help wild stocks rebound.
Proposal on hatchery salmon
July 25, 2002 (Seattle Times) The National Marine Fisheries Service yesterday proposed a policy that would give hatchery salmon endangered-species status.
NOAA Fisheries asks for comments on new hatchery listig policy July 25, 2002 (NOAA Fisheries)
Eavesdropping on the ocean's gossip
July 23, 2002 (Christian Science Monitor) LISTENING TO WHALES: What the Orcas Have Taught Us
By Alexandra Morton
Alexandra Morton listens to whales. In their songs, she hears not only the beauty and mystery of the deep, but keys to the complex lifeways of a species. Her "Listening to Whales" is the coming of age story of a scientist, a surprising story because Morton's first adult steps were taken in a decidedly unscientific direction.
By the time she began to study orca in the wild, Morton had outgrown her early hope of learning to talk to the animals. Instead, she had become a scientist trying to understand what they are communicating to one another. The things that she and her fellow researchers learn as they follow the orca are remarkable.
What is now well understood is that when orca vocalize, the "tribes" use very different sounds with very different patterns. Orca, that is, speak distinct languages that are mutually unintelligible and must be acquired in early childhood.
Bottom fishing bottoms out
July 21, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) Measures the federal government ordered last month to protect the darkblotched rockfish will, starting in September, prohibit the West Coast trawl fleet from dragging nets across more than 8,000 square miles of the continental shelf off Oregon and Washington.
It's the largest area closed to ocean fishing ever in the United States -- bigger even than the New England shutdown of 1994, when the commercial fleet was ordered off Georges Bank because cod numbers were plummeting. Thousands of square miles off the California coast also will be closed this fall to protect bocaccio, another rockfish species.
"The world has fundamentally changed," said Ralph Brown, a Brookings-based bottomfish trawler who is a member of the Pacific Fishery Management Council, the state and federal panel that sets ocean fishing rules. "It's going to be a permanent change for us."
Growing, growing, gone: Relentless sprawl trashes the Evergreen State
July 21, 2002 (Seattle Times) The blight of growth spreads over the land like fungus. The Green River Valley's soils, once among the world's most productive, are gone, smothered under warehouses and concrete. We'll pay for that some day, or our grandchildren will. Chain saws and bulldozers are scalping the forests of the Puget Sound and Lake Washington littoral, from the Sammamish Plateau to the Cascade crest. Someone will pay for that, too.
Actually, we're already paying for those disasters; most of us just don't know it yet. The folks who caused them huff angrily at suggestions that settled taxpayers are subsidizing newcomers.
But that's what's happening.
We're dog-paddling against a rising tide of sprawl, congestion and blight. We moan and whine about it but never speak the answer - take in the WELCOME mat. Let would-be immigrants go elsewhere. There are still places to accept growth, and need it, until mankind devises the ultimate cure for the growth cancer - population control.
On thinning ice
July 19, 2002 (Anchorage Daily News) Alaska glaciers making biggest contribution to sea level change.
The meltdown doubled during the late 1990s and has flooded the ocean with enough runoff to raise global sea level as much as 0.27 millimeters per year, about one-hundredth of an inch, five scientists with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute reported today in the prestigious journal Science.
"Alaska's glaciers are very active," Echelmeyer said. "They are providing the single largest glacier-related contribution to sea level change that has yet been measured."
"What's happened in the last 100 years is huge compared to anything that's happened in the past 10 centuries."
The great melt: Glaciers shrinking faster than we thought July 19, 2002 (Seattle Times)
'Free Lolita' real-life drama
July 17, 2002 (Baltimore Sun) The little-known story of Lolita, the oldest orca in captivity, reaches new ears every summer as the whale-watching season begins in earnest and naturalists such as Cindy Hansen share the curious tale of the 37-year-old orca with the throngs of seafaring tourists.
"A lot of people have been to the Seaquarium and have seen Lolita, but they have no idea there's a movement to bring her back home," says Hansen, who recounts Lolita's saga aboard a boat of the Mosquito Fleet, one of about 30 U.S. and Canadian whale-watching companies in Puget Sound.
"Unfortunately, Lolita's not a movie star like Keiko," says Howard Garrett, president of the Orca Network, an organization founded in the mid-1990s on Lolita's behalf. "In terms of relocation and reintroduction, Lolita's situation would be absolutely simple in comparison to Keiko's."
These distinctive black-and-white marine mammals can be found at about a half-dozen parks across the country -- the closest to Baltimore is Six Flags Worlds of Adventure near Cleveland. The Orca Network has focused on Lolita because she is the last surviving orca from the Puget Sound roundups, and her advocates believe she can survive in the wild.
Lolita's family still swims in Puget Sound, members of one of three resident pods plying the waters between Seattle and Victoria, British Columbia. Garrett and others believe Lolita would recognize them, and they would recognize her by their dialect -- each killer whale pod has its own range of calls. Despite friendly encounters with a couple of hundred killer whales off the Iceland coast, Keiko has yet to find his family.
The successful return this week of a 2-year-old orphan orca -- found alone in Puget Sound last winter -- to her Canadian relatives 400 miles away bolsters Lolita's cause, advocates say.
Navy wins OK for new sonar despite fears for whales
July 16, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) Rejecting warnings of potential injury to whales and dolphins, a federal agency has approved plans by the Navy to deploy a powerful sonar system to search out enemy submarines.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Monday that the Navy could start using the sonar system -- the underwater equivalent of radar - - in 80 percent of the world's oceans.
The new rule, expected to be published today in the Federal Register, exempts the Navy from provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that prohibit harassing sea animals.
The Navy wants to use four sonar ships in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. On each ship, an array of 18 loudspeakers, each the size of a Volkswagen, will hang into the ocean to a depth of about 200 feet
Even 100 miles from the sound source, the sound level would be from 150 to 160 decibels. The Navy acknowledges that the level might be high enough to disrupt whale migrations at 120 decibels.
Group says U.S. Navy sonar is a threat to whales July 17, 2002 (Environmental News Service)
Efforts resume in Iceland to return Keiko to the wild
July 15, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Keiko, the killer whale who became famous in Hollywood's "Free Willy" movies, continues to make progress in efforts to return him to the wild, officials said yesterday.
Sea trials with pods of wild killer whales resumed a week ago, and Keiko was reacting well in their company, said Hallur Hallsson, Icelandic spokesman for the California-based Ocean Futures Society.
"He's at the point where we left off last year's sea trials, showing great interest in other whales and swimming and diving among them," Hallsson said. "At the moment, he always returns to the support boat that is monitoring his progress, but the time he spends among the wild pods is increasing daily."
Fish in Duwamish tainted, state warns
July 10, 2002 (Bellingham Herald) State health officials yesterday warned against eating too much fish from the polluted lower reaches of the Duwamish River - but still aren't sure how best to communicate that message to those most at risk. [And how do they tell the whales?]
Shellfish from the Duwamish also should be avoided as well as the livers from perch, flounder and English sole and river rockfish, which are found in the lower waterway near Elliott Bay.
Elevated levels of the contaminant PCB have accumulated in the four fish species, and people - especially pregnant women - should eat no more than one meal a month of those fish, officials said. PCBs can affect the immune system and may causing learning problems in children exposed in the womb.
Yesterday's announcement is part of a growing awareness of pollution in the Duwamish on the heels of its listing last fall as a Superfund cleanup site. The Environmental Protection Agency compiled data from years of study that found contaminants from arsenic to mercury along six miles of the river near South Park and Georgetown, where more than 100 storm drains and sewer overflows empty to the river.
Groups want state hatcheries shut
July 10, 2002 (Bellingham Herald) Two fish-conservation groups said they intend to sue the state to close 18 hatcheries that produce chinook salmon unless the state can show the hatchery operations aren't damaging wild, federally protected chinook.
Washington Trout, a nonprofit group working to preserve wild fish, and Native Fish Society of Portland, Ore., said hatchery chinook compete with wild fish for food and habitat and hatcheries block access of different species of wild fish to spawning grounds.
The groups say the hatchery workers also kill wild chinook to harvest eggs and sperm for hatchery production.
Hatchery Reform Effort Moves Forward
Winter 2001/2002 (NW Indian Fisheries Commission) "We are confident that by working together we can achieve our goal of returning wild salmon stocks to abundance," said Billy Frank Jr., NWIFC chairman. "Reforming hatchery practices is another step on the road to wild salmon recovery."
But, no matter how well a hatchery is run, it will never replace the real thing. "It's only one part of a big puzzle. Hatcheries do not take the place of habitat. They never have, never will. We need salmon coming back to our rivers and streams," said Frank.
Hatcheries will no longer be judged on the basis of how many fish they produce, said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Jeff Koenings. Instead, they will be judged on the basis of how many adults return to a river system.
In locations where wild salmon stocks are depressed, their recovery can get a "jump start"from a hatchery that spawns the wild adults to boost a new generation of fish, Koenings said.
"The Hatchery Reform Project is the first time anyone has taken a big-picture, systematic look at the Puget Sound and coastal hatcheries," said Rep. Norm Dicks, who shepherded funding for the project through Congress.
For sale: Russia's killer whales, $1m a head
July 9, 2002 (London Independent) The Russian government is offering hunters the chance to capture and sell killer whales into captivity for $1m (£660,000) a head. It has granted permission for 10 orcas to be sold, possibly to Japan's new Port Nagoya Public Aquarium, Canada or the United States.
But the British-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) fears the licences will drive the species to the brink of extinction. "We are very alarmed orcas may soon be targeted in Russian waters and the area will become a long-term regular source of the animals for the captivity industry with disastrous consequences," Cathy Williamson, captivity campaigner for the WDCS, said.
The WDCS says the captivity industry has been forced to trawl the world, hunting killer whale populations. The group is encouraging people to write letters of protest to the Russian President, Vladimir Putin.
"Each individual is important to a pod as a whole and to every other individual within that group. They are intensely social animals, yet in captivity family ties are ignored.
Trawling devastates sea life, report says
July 8, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) Federal researchers say practice should end in sensitive areas -- Pacific Coast highlighted
Dragging nets along the ocean floor, a widely used method of commercial fishing, causes such devastation of sea life that the practice should be banned from areas with fragile marine habitat, federal researchers concluded yesterday.
A report released by the National Academy of Sciences points out numerous areas of concern along the Pacific Coast, the North Atlantic and Gulf coasts and waters around Alaska.
"This is clear-cutting the oceans, but because it happens out of sight and out of mind, nobody pays any attention to it," said Elliott Norse, president of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Redmond, Wash. "So this (report) is huge. The National Academy of Sciences has outed the issue, and now it will finally be dealt with."
Effects of Trawling and Dredging on Seafloor Habitat July 8, 2002 (National Academy of Sciences)
Oh, by the way, EPA
July 8, 2002 (Seattle Times Editorial) Saving threatened and endangered salmon species is expensive - but it's a value the federal Endangered Species Act has mandated and the Northwest has embraced with money and Herculean effort.
In a summary judgment, U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ruled EPA hadn't been examining the non-lethal, but potentially harmful, effects of pesticides used by farmers and homeowners on salmon. He ordered the agency to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine the effects of 55 pesticides on salmon.
The judge is right to make EPA look at all the effects of pesticides on salmon, especially considering the resources expended to restore runs. The problem wasn't caused by one factor alone, so success will depend on multifaceted solutions.
Carbaryl spray permit stayed during appeal process
July 6, 2002 (Aberdeen Daily World) Three days before oyster growers would have been allowed to begin spraying a pesticide to control burrowing shrimp on their oyster beds, the state Department of Ecology announced the Pollution Control Hearings Board issued a stay Friday barring growers from using the controversial pesticide, carbaryl.
"The (Hearings Board) issued the stay until it has an opportunity to fully hear an appeal that the Washington Toxics Coalition filed in an effort to reverse a permit authorized recently by the state Department of Ecology," the department said in a press release.
In its ruling, the board authorized some use of carbaryl, but only for scientific studies called for in the permit that will look for alternatives to the toxin.
The Ad - hoc Coalition for Willapa Bay also says the department has ignored evidence that carbaryl, a "neurotoxic insecticide," is harming the estuaries.
Carbaryl is a neurotoxin that - in addition to shrimp - kills Dungeness crab, fish and invertebrates, scientist Erika Schreder with the Washington Toxics Coalition said last month.
Better to fish, release big ones, study suggests
July 5, 2002 (Seattle Times) Most fishermen like to catch and keep the big ones and throw the little guys back, but a new study suggests that it's better for the fish species to do exactly the opposite.
Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York conducted a four-generation laboratory study of fish, published in the journal Science, and found that when the bigger fish are allowed to live, eventually the species may double in size and number.
San Juan Island is a happenin' place for land-based whale watching
July 4, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Orca watching is a quintessential Northwest summertime activity, and there isn't a better place in the contiguous United States to see these majestic creatures from land than this island's rocky outer coast.
At Lime Kiln Point State Park, nicknamed Whale Watch Park, you can see orcas up close as they move along Haro Strait and around Deadman Bay.
Orcas travel in matriarchal groups, called pods, so you're not likely to see one alone; calves live with their mothers for their entire lives, which is generally as long as a human's.
Chances of sighting orca from shore are excellent between June and September. And not just orcas. Gray whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, seals, sea lions and otters, as well as the minke whales and Dall's porpoises, swim these waters, too.
EPA needs to do more to protect salmon, judge rules
July 4, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Agency is not fulfilling its legal obligations to keep waterways clean, plaintiffs claim.
The Environmental Protection Agency needs to do more to protect threatened and endangered salmon from pesticides, a federal judge in Seattle ruled yesterday.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour decided in favor of Northwest environmental and commercial fishing groups that claimed the EPA was not fulfilling its legal obligation under the Endangered Species Act to protect the fish.
"This is really an important victory for cleanup of waterways so salmon can thrive in the Northwest," said Erika Schreder, a scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition, one of the plaintiffs.
EPA ordered to protect salmon from pesticides July 4, 2002 (Seattle Times)
Condit dam removal takes step forward
July 2, 2002 (Vancouver Columbian) The nation's dam-licensing agency has embraced an agreement to remove Condit Dam from the White Salmon River.
If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepts the recommendation of its staff, the 89-year-old Southwest Washington dam would be the largest removed in U.S. history.
"Based on this new and more complete information, we no longer conclude that sediment deposition … would have such adverse environmental consequences," according to the FERC staff report.
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