Orca Network News - July, 2003
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
July 1, 2003 through July 31, 2003.
July 31, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The once-legendary run of summer chinook on the 1,200-mile-long Columbia River is, for the second season in a row, reaching some of the highest numbers recorded in 40 years.
"We've seen in the last couple of years a 15-fold increase in passage on the summer chinook," Heather Bartlett, a multiregional fish program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said this week.
Good -- but notoriously cyclical -- ocean conditions are primarily responsible, she said.
Last year set a modern-day record, with more than 127,000 adult summer chinook counted at the Bonneville Dam; more than 105,000 passing the John Day Dam; over 96,000 counted at the Priest Rapids Dam; and almost 63,000 reaching the Wells Dam.
Migration of summer chinook is still under way, but the numbers suggest a good return this year as well, with more than 112,000 adult summer chinook at Bonneville Dam; 91,000 at John Day Dam; more than 72,000 at Priest Rapids Dam; and almost 26,000 at Wells Dam.
One of the worst years for fish in recent memory was 1995, when just over 15,000 adult summer chinook made it to Bonneville Dam and fewer than 2,800 went as far upriver as the Wells Dam.
If freshwater conditions are poor for migrating fish at the same time ocean conditions are also poor, stocks can diminish dramatically.
Freshwater habitat is "what we can change or improve or ensure is in good working order," Bartlett said.
Creek restoration issue struck from ballot
July 31, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A controversial initiative intended to restore creeks and salmon populations in Seattle won't appear on September's ballot.
King County Superior Court Judge James Doerty agreed yesterday with the city attorney that land use matters, such as those proposed by the group Save Seattle Creeks, can't be decided by initiative.
Seattle City Attorney Tom Carr filed a lawsuit last month along with real estate interests, developers and the Port of Seattle to stop Initiative 80.
"The court agreed with the city that only elected officials have the right to create land use rules," said Bob Tobin, an attorney in the city's Law Department. "Special-interest groups can't be doing land use planning on behalf of the city. Under the state Growth Management Act, everyone who might be affected has to be given a chance to have their views considered and balanced."
Initiative 80 would require developers to restore creeks as part of major construction projects. In some cases, that could require bringing back to the surface -- or "daylighting" -- creeks that have been buried or redirected through drainage pipes.
The initiative also would prevent the city from using pesticides within 200 feet of creeks and would require creek restoration on public property.
Earlier this week, as if to emphasize that creek restoration will happen without the initiative, Nickels announced the completion of a $10 million drainage project on the north fork of Thornton Creek to reduce storm-water runoff and improve wildlife habitat.
Yes for Seattle is represented by attorney Phil Talmadge, a former Democratic state lawmaker and Supreme Court justice who is running for governor. As a state senator, he pushed for funding to restore creeks, including Longfellow in West Seattle.
Dead whale may be young wanderer
July 31, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A whale carcass found on a Skagit River sandbar north of Conway may be that of a juvenile gray whale that kept wandering up Skagit County rivers earlier this summer.
Scientists said yesterday that would be no surprise, given the animal's odd behavior.
A Mount Vernon man came across the carcass when he and a friend took their dogs to the river to escape the heat.
"We were walking along a sandbar and came across a large smelly object, which was the whale," Aaron St. John, 38, said in a telephone interview from his home.
The carcass was in a narrow channel between Fir Island and a big sandbar on the South Fork of the Skagit, St. John said.
Gray Whale Found Dead On Bank Of Skagit River July 31, 2003 (KIRO-TV)
What's safe PCB level in salmon? Study renews debate
July 30, 2003 (Seattle Times) In a blast of bad publicity for farmed-raised salmon, the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Working Group has sampled 10 fillets for chemical traces of PCBs and found the results disturbing enough to recommend consumers eat no more than one 8-ounce serving a month.
The group's report, released yesterday, comes at a time when salmon consumption in the United States has been on the rise, with fresh farm-raised fillets now in year-round supply and far outselling wild salmon.
Complicating matters further, the Environmental Working Group suggests consumers buy wild salmon rather than farm-raised fish. But separate Washington state studies during the past decade have found higher levels of PCBs in wild chinook caught in Puget Sound than those found in most of the farm-raised fish sampled by the environmental group.
The sampled salmon were purchased at grocery stories in Portland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. None of them was known to have been raised in Washington waters.
PCBs, polychlorinated biphenyls, are long-lived chemical compounds, once used in industrial insulators. PCBs have been linked to increased risks of cancer and fetal-development problems, and their use was banned by Congress in 1976.
FDA officials say that human consumption of PCBs has dramatically declined, by roughly 90 percent, in the past 30 years. But the chemicals still can be found in everything from catfish to polar bears to the human body.
Farmed salmon — reared in floating net pens — have come under increased scrutiny because their diet includes fish feed that in some instances has been found to have significant levels of PCBs. Salmon farms are located in the coastal waters of Washington state, Maine, British Columbia, Chile and northern Europe.
Farmed salmon not so safe, report says July 30, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Canadian Officials Dealing With A Whale Of A Dilemma
July 28, 2003 (Q13-TV) Canadian officials are dealing with a whale of a dilemma. What should they do with "Luna?" The young orca is removed from his family and is living in a remote BC inlet hundreds of miles away. Some believe the whale should be brought back to his home in Puget Sound while others say it's too late for that.
Everybody has a story about Luna and whale advocates say that's the problem.
Locals say Luna's gotten extremely friendly, drawing crowds and now more security and warnings from the government to keep your distance.
Paul Spong/Whale Researcher: "Luna's just a big kid, 4 yrs old, healthy from a physical point of view but he's a social creature and he's desperately lonely. His problem is he's seeking contact with humans."
Marilyn Joyce/Dept. fisheries & Oceans: "We're very concerned that if Luna was brought down into the area that he has more opportunity to interact with people and boats which will become even more of a danger for him and the public."
In June the Canadians said they would not move the whale. Now, they are reconsidering that decision in light of what they say is an increase in human-whale interactions.
Help bring Luna home to his family
July 24, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Springer, the once orphaned orca whale, has come home.
Yet as I celebrate Springer's return, I am saddened that another orca, Luna, lingers lost and alone in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island's west coast. In recent days the news of a brutal attack on this trusting calf has come to light. Three days before he was beaten by a man working for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, I visited Luna in Gold River, the village he has come to call home. I watched as he snuggled up to fishing boats for a whale snooze and scratched his belly along the underside of sailboats and tugs tied up at the dock. These are the same behaviors he would experience in the wild with members of his family. Yet he is alone and, as a highly social animal, he has come to trust humans for attention. The trust seems misplaced.
Now, in Gold River there are rumors that Marine Land Niagara is looking to capture Luna for display in its aquarium. Should he be captured, Luna would be the first calf removed from the southern resident community since the devastating capture era of the '60s and '70, a dark time from which our beloved J, K, and L pods are still trying to recover.
For two years since Luna's mysterious arrival in Nootka Sound, the fisheries department, the government agency charged with protecting Canada's wildlife, has done nothing to help Luna, hoping that his pod would swim by and pick him up.
Luna is still a baby separated from his mother and family, who will protect him better than we ever could. The answer is clear. We must bring Luna home now to live as a wild whale.
Leigh Calvez is a naturalist and a nature writer living in the Seattle area. The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans can be reached at 604-666-9965.
Genetic Study Shows Extent of Whale Slaughter
July 24, 2003 (Reuters) A genetic study of whales suggests many more have been slaughtered than believed in the whaling frenzy that began in the 18th century, and shows populations have not recovered enough to allow hunting to resume, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.
The International Whaling Commission may be underestimating by tenfold the number of the giant mammals that lived in the seas before whaling began, the researchers said.
"The genetics we've done of whales in the North Atlantic says that, before whaling, there were a total of 800,000 to 900,000 humpback, fin and minke whales -- far greater numbers than anybody ever thought," Stephen Palumbi, who led the study at Harvard University's Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, said in a statement.
Such evidence is sure to add to the already heated and emotional debate over the future of whaling.
The study, published in Friday's issue of the journal Science, suggests the worldwide humpback population could have been as high as 1.5 million -- more than 10 times the IWC's estimate of 100,000.
Natural resources advocate speaks frankly
July 23, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) Billy Frank, the renowned Native American leader, has been known to speak his mind -- and he quickly endorsed Gov. Gary Locke's decision not to run again. "The resources couldn't take another four years of this governor," Frank told fish and wildlife officials from 18 western states and Canadian provinces.
As the stifled laughter died down, the 72-year-old chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission brought the subject back to salmon -- their role in tribal culture, their role in the modern world, their role in nature.
"The salmon sustained us wherever we went," said Frank, clothed in blue jeans and black western shirt with a string tie. "I think a lot of people have forgotten about that. They like their cars; they like their televisions; they like their money coming in. How do you find a balance?"
"Governors move on and legislators move on and directors move on," he said, "but we're still here managing the resources. Someone has to tell the story about natural resources."
Scientists move closer to solving porpoise deaths
July 23, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists inched closer to solving the mystery of what killed 13 Puget Sound porpoises with a new phase of research that started yesterday.
An international group of marine mammal experts met at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration labs at Sand Point and started dissecting the cetaceans, paring through their skin, blubber, organs and into their heads.
Some researchers suspect that the sonar can harm marine mammals and was the cause of the porpoise deaths.
The noise could have hurt their ears, possibly causing them to dive deeply to escape the sound and causing further damage. The injuries could be compounded by other problems, such as disease and exposure to toxic pollutants.
Over the weekend, the porpoises were given a CT -- computerized tomography -- scan, which takes multiple X-ray images.
The CT can reveal if the fluid in the inner ear has any signs of hemorrhaging, scientists said. It can also show if the tissue or muscles were damaged by "blast trauma," such as what might be caused by sound waves. This trauma would show widespread injury, versus blunt trauma where damage would be localized to a specific site of impact.
11 dead porpoises studied for sonar link July 23, 2003 (Seattle Times)
Tests Begin On Dead Porpoises July 23, 2003 (KOMO-TV)
Aquarium's dolphin plans under attack
July 21, 2003 (CBC) VANCOUVER - The animal rights group that led the fight against whales at the Vancouver Aquarium is now turning its attention to dolphins. The group - Coalition for No Whales in Captivity - is asking the Vancouver Park Board to ban the importation of any more dolphins.
The Aquarium says it wants to get a companion for Spinnaker - the sole dolphin at the Stanley Park facility.
But coalition spokesperson Annelise Sorg says bringing in more dolphins would only perpetuate what she calls "the water circus."
"People…think that because the belugas and the dolphins have a permanent smile on their faces, people seem to think these animals are happy.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. If you don't do the show, you don't get fed."
Sorg says she's optimistic the Park Board will go along with her request to ban the importation of all whales and dolphins.
"We have five COPE commissioners and two NPA commissioners on the board now, which makes it a dolphin-friendly park board," she says.
INTERVIEW: The Early Edition's Rick Cluff speaks with Richard O'Barry of the World Society of Protection of Animals and John Nightingale of the Vancouver Aquarium. (Runs 10:58)
Porpoise Sonar Mystery
July 21, 2003 (KOMO-TV) It's been about two months since the carcasses of dead harbor porpoises were placed in a deep freeze.
Sunday the six full bodies and three heads underwent CT scans at the Edmonds Center for Diagnostic Imaging.
Home video from May 5th reveals the sound of the sonar testing from the Navy destroyer USS Shoup near the San Juan Islands. Whale experts say the video shows the orcas are clearly distressed.
Experts are now conducting tests to see if the sonar fatally injured 13 harbor porpoises found dead over the next few weeks.
Joel Reynolds, the Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says "We know that this sort of sonar interferes with critical life functions. We know that it can injure them or even kill them. It's like dying from a very, very intense migraine headache."
Mammals get more tests to determine cause of death July 21, 2003 (Seattle Times)
Farmed salmon foe to fishermen
July 21, 2003 (Seattle Times) Two decades ago, more than 5,000 salmon boats fished off the coasts of Oregon and Washington. Only about 500 do today.
Cheap farmed fish make up 80 percent of the salmon sold in the United States.
Farms raise 97 percent of chinook, coho and Atlantic salmon eaten around the world.
Foreign corporations have quadrupled imports of salmon into the United States during the past 15 years.
Young salmon in state creek are nonnative
July 20, 2003 (Seattle Times) Several hundred juvenile Atlantic salmon have been spotted in a Thurston County creek near a commercial hatchery that breeds the non-native species for fish farms, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife says.
The possibility of Atlantic salmon colonizing Pacific Northwest streams at the expense of native fish has worried biologists and fishing interests as the salmon-farming industry has grown explosively in recent years.
Scatter Creek, a tributary of the Chehalis River, is home to a healthy population of native coho.
The Atlantic salmon — some a foot long — were spotted during a snorkeling survey last week.
"We don't know how long they've been in the creek, frankly," said John Kerwin, the department's head hatchery official.
Young Atlantic salmon have been found in downstream traps in the Chehalis River system, he said. However, no adult Atlantic salmon have been caught attempting to return to the system.
Cypress Island Inc. produces up to 3 million juvenile Atlantic salmon a year at its Scatter Creek hatchery for transfer to its eight Puget Sound net-pen sites, the department said.
A phone call to the company wasn't immediately returned.
Activists mobilize to transport killer whale back to U.S.
July 19, 2003 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Whale activists concerned about the future of a young American killer whale met in Seattle Friday, determined to press government officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border to help the orca rejoin the family he last saw more than two years ago.
The problem is that Luna - also known as L-98 for his birth order in L-pod - is drawing growing crowds of tourists to the town of Gold River on remote Nootka Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island.
"The situation is quite desperate right now," said Mark Pakenham of Victoria, who heads a group working with Canadian officials to monitor the animal - and the humans.
Canadian fisheries officials decided last spring to leave the four-year-old whale alone and hope he rejoins his family members as they pass nearby. L-pod spends much of the year chasing salmon around Washington's San Juan Islands.
But officials are reviewing that decision due to the worsening situation, said Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal resource co-ordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Time Running Out For Luna The Orca?
July 18, 2003 (KOMO-TV) Killer whale advocates believe time is running out for Luna, an orphaned killer whale stranded in Canada's Nootka Sound. Experts think Luna will wind up dead or in an aquarium, unless he's immediately reunited with his pod.
This time of year, Nootka Sound is a busy sport fishing harbor with lots of boats. Luna, who in orca years is still a toddler, treats them as toys. He swims next to and beneath the boats, whether their running or not. But they're dangerous playthings.
"I was trying to get out of this harbor and I thought I hit a log," says a fisherman from Nootka Sound. "I put it in neutral right away to see what I had hit and it was the whale!"
A coalition of orca advocates is meeting in Seattle to put together their game plan to rescue Luna. It would be similar to last year's rescue of Springer in Puget Sound, using many of the same killer whale experts.
The plan is to reunite Luna with his orca family, "L" pod, in Puget Sound. The coalition figures if they can get Luna here by September, that will give the whales a couple of months to get used to each other before the killer whales return to open ocean for winter.
Judge looks to ban sprays near streams with salmon
July 18, 2003 (Seattle Times) Pacific Northwest property owners face new restrictions on pesticide use near salmon streams after a U.S. District Court ruling this week that cites risks to threatened and endangered runs.
Judge John Coughenour found "significant, potential harm" to runs protected under the Endangered Species Act, and he proposed that no-spray zones be established along Northwest salmon streams.
The ruling reinforces the clout of the federal Endangered Species Act in the Pacific Northwest at a time when the Bush administration has sought to avoid a heavy regulatory approach to environmental protection.
It is a victory for environmental and fishing groups that first sued in 2001, alleging that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to ensure that salmon would not be harmed by pesticide runoff
The new buffers would apply to as many as 54 pesticides used by homeowners, foresters, farmers, golf courses and others. The size of the buffers has yet to be determined.
Some of the biggest effects of expanded buffers would be on farmers, who may deploy a range of pesticides throughout the growing season.
"If you are farming right down to a stream, the impact potentially is huge," said Mike Willett of the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents fruit growers. "One of the things this ruling points out is the difficulty of dealing with complex scientific issues through the courts."
The lawsuit also could have a big impact on homeowners' use of chemicals.
Canadian Official Accused Of Beating An Orca Whale
July 15, 2003 (KOMO-TV) There are new allegations that a government worker from Canada was caught beating an orphaned orca whale.
KOMO 4 News has learned that Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans is launching an investigation. The incident in Nootka Sound off Vancouver Island increases pressure to move Luna back home to Puget Sound.
Last year it was Springer, the orphaned orca in Puget Sound, so starved for attention she adopted a ferry and wouldn't leave boats alone. Springer successfully reunited with her Canadian orca family.
Orca advocates say it's time to give Luna the same chance and bring him home to Puget Sound.
Canada says at this point it is not considering any type of reunion for Luna. Instead the government says it's focusing on keeping people away from the whale.
One lonely Orca with something to prove
July 15, 2003 (Seattle Times Editorial) The story of Springer, the not-so-little orphan orca, is of an international gamble that this baby, who separated from her pod after her mother apparently died, could successfully be reunited with her non-immediate relatives. The lonely orca had become sickly and took to socializing with boats.
But last week, when Springer glided into Queen Charlotte Strait off northern Vancouver Island with 30 other orcas after a winter in the ocean, she proved it could be done; the first successful reunion ever.
Last summer, Springer's vulnerability and membership in perhaps the most iconic of Northwest species played on the hearts of children and federal bureaucrats alike. The U.S. and Canadian governments cooperated in a scheme that rehabilitated Springer in Puget Sound and then moved her to waters off Vancouver Island.
After hanging back but following her aunt's pod, she appeared to be adopted by a 16-year-old female who sharply discouraged Springer's interaction with boats.
Much about Springer's case is exceptional, but the reunion project has confirmed for scientists many theories about these mammals and inspired new ones.
State wins grants to protect wildlife
July 15, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Wild critters squeezed by Washington state's unrelenting development, logging and traffic will get some relief from more than $17.1 million in grants announced yesterday by the federal government.
The money will aid efforts by local governments and environmental groups to preserve land used by endangered species and develop plans to protect those animals and plants.
West coast whale funding cut
July 15, 2003 (CBC) A Vancouver Island whale conservationist says federal fisheries officials want his group to watch over Luna the orphaned orca in Nootka Sound, but aren't willing to pay for the service.
Marc Pakenham of the Veins of Life Watershed Society says his funding has been cut, putting the whale's life in danger. "He is going downhill fast. And if we don't do something in the near future, we're looking at a tragedy in the making," he says. Luna has been living alone in the waters around Gold River for the last couple of years.
Who would want to hurt a killer whale?
July 15, 2003 (KING5-TV) Apparently Luna, the orca who likes to hang around boats near Vancouver Island, was the target of a bizarre attack.
Luna, also known as L-98, is notorious for snuggling up to boats.
Witnesses say, late last week, he approached a dock near Gold River in Nootka Sound, B.C.
A man motive unknown picked up a shovel and swung it at Luna. Then he yelled death threat at the whale.
"A person was observed beating Luna with a stick at the dock of Gold River. It was an unfortunate incident and that person is believed to have threatened Luna's life," said Marc Pakenham, Veins of Life Watershed Society.
Although it seems like a freak incident, it's a reminder of the dangers Luna faces by being too close to humans.
Documentary stirs movement to release Seaquarium's killer whale
July 14, 2003 (Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel) "Let's free Lolita!" one member from the audience shouted after a showing of the controversial documentary, Lolita: Slave to Entertainment.
The film, which premiered this weekend as part of the Fort Lauderdale Film Festival at Cinema Paradiso, gives an hourlong look at the killer whale's life and the ongoing movement to free her from the tank she now calls home.
"She's been stuck at the Seaquarium for 33 years," said the film's director, Timothy Gorski. "We want to educate the public. All they see is a happy whale doing tricks. Lolita has been taken away from her natural home and is forced to swim in circles."
Activists kicked off their Lolita campaign after another captured orca, Keiko, star of the movie Free Willy, was freed from a Mexico City aquarium in 1998 and is now getting re-acquainted with the wild off the coast of Norway with the help of trainers.
Activists want the same for Lolita; the Seaquarium says no way. Lolita supporters picket the park every Sunday, calling it the Miami "Seaprison."
Seaquarium officials declined to be interviewed but offered a statement from the park's executive vice president and general manager, Andrew Hertz.
"Miami Seaquarium has created a caring and healthy home for Lolita where she has been thriving for more than 30 years," Hertz said. "She is part of our family, and we will continue to provide Lolita with the very best possible care. ... If she left now, there is no scientific evidence that she could survive in the open waters of the ocean." (Note: Go here for the actual scientific evidence.)
Tests on marine mammals to look for sonar link to injuries
July 12, 2003 (Seattle Times) Despite the ship's distance, the orcas Bain had come to study were spooked. They moved close to shore and circled up in an odd configuration. A minke whale swam away quickly, as if in a panic. Dall's porpoises hid in a bay until the Everett-based USS Shoup passed by; later, harbor porpoises washed up dead on area beaches.
Is the Navy's sonar harming marine mammals -- including orcas in Puget Sound, some of the most endangered whales in the world?
The Navy says it is waiting for tests to be done later this month on the dead porpoises before passing judgment on what happened.
After the Haro Strait incident, Gov. Gary Locke asked the Navy for a formal report, reminding the service that "extraordinary care must be taken now to protect these whales while a longer-term conservation plan is developed."
Balcomb, a Navy veteran who worked on sonar during the Vietnam War, says the powerful sonar now being used is almost certainly harming orcas and other marine mammals.
He is not calling for the Navy to stop testing the new sonar -- just to do it a lot more carefully.
PCB-tainted sewage spurs treatment call
July 11, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Greater Victoria's raw sewage, which is pumped untreated into Juan de Fuca Strait, contains levels of toxic PCBs 160 times greater than provincial guidelines and potentially harms marine life, says the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.
The Capital Regional District continues to pump 120 million litres of raw, screened sewage into the ocean every day -- a practice that was recently approved by the province, which signed off on the CRD's liquid waste management plan.
Contained in that sewage is more than three grams a day of polychlorinated biphenels (PCBs), a toxic, persistent organic pollutant that does not break down readily in the environment, says Sierra Legal staff scientist John Werring. Werring says that means no treatment will be built for 15 or 20 years.
Sierra Legal says it's not surprising PCBs have been found in high levels in southern resident killer whales -- one of the most contaminated mammals in the world when it comes to PCBs.
The environmental group, recognizing there are other sources of PCBs, is not making a direct link between Greater Victoria sewage and PCB levels in whales.
"I don't think we can," Werring said. "We do know these animals have exceedingly high levels of PCBs but to actually put a marker on the PCBs and find out where exactly they're going and into what is difficult to say.
"All we can say is these things are being discharged directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca where the whales frequent and feed. It's being taken up in the food and it's bio-magnified through the food ch
Springer's success inspires whale experts
July 11, 2003 (Seattle Times) The successful reintroduction of a Canadian killer whale rescued last year from Puget Sound has orca advocates pushing to have another orphaned whale brought back from Canada to the U.S.
The Canadian orca A-73, or Springer, was spotted Wednesday safe and sound with her family off northern Vancouver Island. Whale experts say this is proof positive that she has successfully reunited with her pod after a joint Canadian-U.S. effort rescued her last summer from waters off the Vashon Island ferry dock.
Now several groups are calling on officials to repeat the process with L-98, or Luna, a young male who has been swimming alone in Nootka Sound, on the west side of Vancouver Island, since 2001.
With his fellow southern residents dwindling in numbers, orca advocates have been pushing to see him brought back to his subgroup, the L-pod.
"Given the success of Springer and the physical health of Luna, the two countries need to rise to the occasion before September, when sightings of L-pod begin to become less frequent," said Fred Felleman of the Orca Conservancy.
Springer safe, but what future does Luna see? July 11, 2003 (Bremerton Sun)
Orca whale reunited with family July 11, 2003 (BBC)
Scientists Cheer Return of Canadian Orca Whale July 11, 2003 (Reuters)
Orphaned orca welcomed back by pod July 11, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist)
Whale-watch rules under scrutiny in guide's trial
July 11, 2003 (Vancouver Times-Colonist) Now, there are laws and regulations guiding what modern whale-watchers can do in what has become multimillion-dollar business on the West Coast. But just how those laws and practice guidelines are to be interpreted is the subject of debate in a court case, heard Thursday in Duncan Provincial Court.
Jim Maya, 63, has pleaded not guilty to two Fisheries Act charges of disturbing a whale on Aug. 14, 2002. Fisheries officers testified earlier that Maya, a professional whale guide from San Juan Island, was within 100 metres of whales twice that day, once near the south end of North Pender Island and later that day near the eastern end of Active Pass, both times with his boat motor on.
Maya said he was not within 100 metres in the first incident, but was in the second. The retired teacher turned whale- watching guide said his seven-metre boat began drifting into shore, and he had no choice but to turn the motor on or risk harm to his boat and passengers.
Kenneth Balcomb, the executive director at the Centre for Whale Research at Friday Harbour, testified for the defence as an expert in the behaviour of killer whales, creatures he has studied since the 1960s.
Balcomb said that he "fully appreciates the spirit of the guidelines" asking whale watchers to keep 100 metres away from whales. But he said that guideline is a "courtesy," and not based on the behavioural response of whales.
Loud noises can disturb whales and their complex communication system, court heard earlier. Balcomb agrees, pointing to oceanographer Cousteau's activities and the whales' response, as well as other examples of high decibel activity around the whales, such as a hydrofoil that went over a pod.
But he said whales would not have been caused distress by a boat being as close as fisheries officers said Maya was.
Balcomb said he's been very close to whales in a boat doing research for hours at a time and they didn't have any consistent response.
"Whales respond and do not respond to vessels depending on what's going on with them," Balcomb said.
Needs of land and sea creatures collide in offshore earthquake study
July 10, 2003 (Vancouver Sun) Next month a team of earth and ocean scientists plans an ambitious international research project to map the deep structures of the subduction zone where great earthquakes occur off the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The Cascadia Seismic Experiment -- CASSIS, for short -- involves scientists and a research vessel from Japan where similar geological structures exist. It joins a Canadian team from Simon Fraser, the University of B.C., the University of Victoria, Dalhousie, the Geological Survey of Canada and the Pacific Geoscience Centre.
By studying the passage of seismic waves, scientists hope to create a three-dimensional image of the fracture zone in an attempt to gain further insight into the dynamics of much larger seismic events.
However, some marine biologists are concerned by low frequency noise from the experiment. Might it injure the sensitive echolocation organs of whales that use sound waves to navigate, communicate and locate prey?
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a whale advocacy group that's more normally concerned with the resident killer whale pod that migrates through Puget Sound and the southern Strait of Georgia, says there is accumulating evidence of such risk.
Marine biologist John Calambokidis, of Olympia, Wash., says his research shows that from 300 to 500 humpback whales will be feeding in the area off Vancouver Island just when seismic blasts are planned. Other species that congregate in those nutrient-rich waters include Pacific white-sided dolphins, Minke whales, numerous groups of orcas -- including the southern pod that's been designated endangered -- and a group of 250 grey whales that summer off Vancouver Island.
Calambokidis says sperm whales and beaked whales may also be present in the little-studied deeps just beyond the continental shelf. Seismic tests are to take place there, too.
Seismic research project worries environmentalists July 10, 2003 (San Juan Islander)
Gov. Locke reviews Puget Sound environmental efforts
July 10, 2003 (Business Examiner Daily) Joining the governor were Brad Ack, chairman of the Puget Sound Action Team; Tom Fitzsimmons, director of the state Department of Ecology; and local volunteers and individuals who assist conservation and protection efforts, including Betsy Peabody and Geoff Menzies, who help people grow gardens of shellfish in Thurston and Whatcom counties; Susan Berta, who built the Orca Network of volunteers to track and publicize critical and timely information about whales in the Sound and Georgia Strait; and Leslie Banigan, who works with the Kitsap County Health District and serves part-time to help clean up streams and shorelines across the county.
"The dedication and commitment of these local heroes and their grassroots action are essential to helping us save the Sound today and for future generations," said Ack.
Springer the orca spotted safe and sound
July 10, 2003 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Springer the orca was spotted safe and sound with her family off the coast of northern Vancouver Island on Wednesday, indicating a successful reunion with her pod, BCTV on Global reported.
Last summer, scientists rescued the lonely killer whale from the waters of Washington state's Puget Sound, where she was far from her family and quickly losing weight.
Springer, whose official name is A73, was transported last July to Telegraph Cove, off the northern tip of Vancouver Island.
She joined up with her family when her great-aunt's pod of resident killer whales swam through Johnstone Strait.
Springer now looks healthy and appears to have kicked the unsafe habit of hanging around boats.
Locke calls for action to clean up Puget Sound
July 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The governor yesterday again pledged his support for the restoration of Puget Sound, where numbers of orcas, marine birds and salmon have declined precipitously.
In February, Gov. Gary Locke called for action to help save the Sound. At a news conference yesterday he updated the progress made and directed state agencies to keep striving to clean up the Sound and recover critters that are disappearing.
He credited a group of activists for their contributions and said that if residents and volunteer organizations work together, he was confident the Sound could be saved. He urged agencies that affect the Sound to take measurable steps to help it.
"There is so much work to be done, Puget Sound can only benefit from the governor making it a priority and giving direction to some of his agencies," said Pam Johnson, field director for People for Puget Sound.
Some of the recent accomplishments include securing funding for a rescue tug at Neah Bay that can helps ships in distress, funding for research into the loss of some marine birds and passage of a bill that bans some products containing mercury in an effort to reduce the amount of the toxin into the environment.
The governor also attended for the first time since his 1997 inauguration a full meeting of the agency and advisory council that act as the Sound's watchdog, the Puget Sound Action Team. The group is working on developing a set of priorities that will focus efforts on restoration of the Sound. They include:
• Cleaning up contaminated sites and reducing new pollution, including pollution from sewage plants and septic systems
• Cleaning up storm water runoff
• Preserving and restoring shorelines
Creating and implementing recovery plans for orca, salmon, bottomfish and small forage fish.
Locke touts plan to protect and restore Puget Sound July 10, 2003 (Seattle Times)
Dismantling of 2 dams on Elwha River slowed
July 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Planned removal of two dams that have choked off once-legendary salmon runs in the Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River for most of the past century will come later than once expected.
Dismantling of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams is expected to begin in 2007 and will take up to three years to complete, said Brian Winter, Elwha project coordinator for the National Park Service.
That's two years later than what planners expected a year ago, he said, as the project continues in "design phase" with construction of a water treatment facility soon to begin.
Once possessing some of the most bountiful native salmon and steelhead runs in the nation, the Elwha River boasted chinook weighing more than 100 pounds among an estimated 360,000 wild fish that returned to its waters each year.
And then came the dams.
Built more than 70 years ago, neither dam possessed fish ladders, despite state laws at the time that required them. The dams now block about 70 miles of salmon habitat, mostly within the Olympic National Park.
Pollution threatens shellfish in 12 counties
July 7, 2003 (Seattle Times) More Washington oyster and clam beds are threatened by pollution than any time in the past five years, with shellfish areas in 12 counties on the verge of not meeting water-quality standards.
Nearly 15 percent of the state's 314 licensed commercial shellfish growers could see harvest restrictions if counties and local health officials don't find ways to reduce the amount of human or animal waste streaming into some 20 tideflats, according to the state Department of Health.
This year, the list includes 20 bays — the most ever — from Grays Harbor on the Pacific Coast, to Dungeness Bay on the Olympic Peninsula, to Annas Bay at the bend of Hood Canal in Mason County.
It also marks the first time San Juan and Jefferson counties have had shellfish-growing areas with elevated fecal coliform counts.
"It's kind of a watchlist, if you would," said Bob Woolrich, manager of the Health Department's shellfish-growing-area program. "These areas, for the time being, meet public-health standards, but they're not meeting them easily."
Typically, the problem is the result of failing septic systems, farm runoff that sends livestock waste into bays or excessive fecal matter from birds, land mammals such as dogs or other wildlife.
Region is learning to do water shuffle
July 7, 2003 (Seattle Timesr) The state last week moved toward letting Eastside cities siphon White River water for growing suburbs — part of a convoluted transaction to keep water flowing into Lake Tapps. The deal would pipe White River water north to areas around Bellevue and enable cities in King and Pierce counties to stop taking as much water from other nearby streams.
Such water shuffling has been raised to an art form in arid, fast-growing Rocky Mountain states such as Colorado, where governments take water from one source, pipe it for miles and use it to replace water from elsewhere.
Now, Western Washington appears on the verge of trying the same thing, said Prof. Gregory Hicks, a water-law expert at the University of Washington Law School.
Logging, sewage effluent, development and diversions have taken a toll on the White River.
Puget Sound chinook — protected under the Endangered Species Act — are recovering after nearly vanishing. But steelhead numbers have plunged.
The river still exceeds state standards for fecal-coliform pollution, temperature and alkalinity — all of which scientists agree could be improved with more water in the river.
Fish still must hitch rides on trucks that ferry them around the diversion dam.
Environmental regulators acknowledge the best thing for fish would be to eliminate water diversions all together.
Rescue tugs to monitor hot spots
July 7, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) (Note: see People for Puget Sound News Release by Kathy Fletcher in response to the Coast Guard's plans to use federal oil spill prevention funds.)
The U.S. Coast Guard will "pre-position" rescue tugs at congested and dangerous spots in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and inland marine waters, under a plan to be announced this morning.
The Coast Guard also is using a cash infusion from Congress to install new weather and wind sensors as well as to plug into the Canadian coast guard's vessel traffic support system, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said last night.
The Coast Guard will use such criteria as the intensity of vessel traffic and the weather conditions to decide when and where to pre-position the tugs.
The new safety measures mark the latest upgrades in what has been a 30-year debate over measures to anticipate and prevent accidents in sensitive marine waters that are host to some of the world's most-used shipping lanes.
In Washington, the rate of spills, collisions, losses of power and similar red flags increased substantially in the past few years. Whereas one out of every 66 large commercial vessels entering state waters encountered such problems in 1998, by 2001 the figure had risen to one out of every 42, state records show.
Since 1994, 162 ships have lost propulsion and 43 have lost steering in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and waters near the San Juan Islands. Nine collisions have been reported.
Porpoise test fuels sonar fears
July 2, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A porpoise found dead in May after Navy exercises near the San Juan Islands showed signs of internal bleeding that naval sonar could have caused, environmentalists reported yesterday.
The Orca Network cited a recently completed radiological test on the carcass, which was later turned over to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Later this month the agency plans tests on that porpoise and on others found dead in the area to see whether Navy sonar might be implicated.
Friday Harbor marine-mammal researcher Ken Balcomb took the porpoise head to a private Seattle lab recently, along with the two ear bones from a Baird's beaked whale that stranded at La Push on Jan. 22, the Orca Network reported.
"Both the porpoise and the Baird's whale showed evidence ... consistent with hemorrhagic trauma that could be due to" naval use of sonar, the Orca Network said. Balcomb could not be reached for comment yesterday, but has said in the past he is convinced that the sonar interferes with the orcas' sensitive underwater navigation systems by damaging their inner ears.
X-ray reveals 'smoking gun'?
July 1, 2003 (San Juan Journal) It may not be the smoking gun, but Ken Balcomb believes X-rays of a dead porpoise retrieved from the west side of San Juan Island are further proof that sonar kills.
The carcass is one of nearly a dozen recovered in and around the San Juans following the Navy's use of sonar in Haro Strait on May 5. According to Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, the X-rays reveal unmistakable evidence that the animal bled to death from a brain hemorrhage caused by trauma to its inner ear.
Two months ago, the Everett-based destroyer USS Shoup swept through Haro Strait with mid-range sonar activated for four-plus hours. The narrow strait separates San Juan Island from the south end of British Columbia's Vancouver Island at an average of seven miles.
Balcomb kept the carcass on ice at the research center until this past weekend, when a Seattle-area physician with a diagnostics laboratory and CAT scan examined it. The National Marine Fisheries Service, the federal agency that oversees marine mammal protection, has yet to necropsy the other porpoises recovered after the sonar incident.
Balcomb thinks he knows why.
On Capitol Hill, congressional leaders this week are scheduled to consider the Defense Department's request for exemptions from provisions of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. The MMPA, adopted in 1972, prohibits harassment of marine mammals in the wild and offers no immunity for military training or the use of sonar.
"The Navy's view is that the MMPA's definition of Level B Harassment is vague and difficult to interpret in an operational setting," the Navy states in the latest issue of Currents, its quarterly in-house publication.
"It is a view shared by others who work at sea or who study the Earth's oceans."
Not by Balcomb, however, an ex-Navy acoustics expert who founded the center in 1976 and launched pivotal research of the Southern resident orcas. The whales' six-year decline prompted the petition to list the beleaguered population under the ESA. The petition failed.
On May 5, witnesses reported that marine mammals in Haro Strait, including orcas, porpoises and a Minke whale, showed abnormal behavior and appeared either to panic or flee the sonar's recurring pings. Balcomb captured part of the episode on video. The exercise ended after boaters complained to Canadian Coast Guard officials who then contacted the destroyer.
If granted, Balcomb believes exemptions, which include re-definition of harassment, provide legal cover for expanded use of sonar in the San Juans. The USS Shoup is part of a squadron of destroyers equipped with so-called active sonar capable of detecting submarines. The squadron began re-locating to Everett in 1994.
The exemptions are likely if potential harm sonar poses to marine mammals remain unexamined, according to Balcomb, who saw similar injuries in beaked dolphins after sonar use by the Navy in the Bahamas two years ago.
"That's what blew me away," Balcomb said of the X-rays of the porpoise's skull. "There's remarkable similarity with the lesions and injuries of the dolphins in the Bahamas."
Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, wants necropsy results on the table before any exemption from federal law is granted, according to Abbey Blake, Larsen's communications director. Blake said Larsen previously opposed the exemptions and has pressed the Fisheries Service to complete the exams as soon as possible.
"Those involved in this unfortunate incident, including the Navy, cannot move forward until these procedures are performed."
Instead of providing exemptions, Balcomb wants cooperation of federal agencies in protecting marine mammals and helping the Southern resident orcas recover. A good place to start would be putting the pending necropsies on the fast-track and sharing the results, he said.
The May 5 sonar incident is arguably the most controversial episode of the past six months, but it's not the first or second or third in Haro Strait, Balcomb said.
"The Navy has to adopt protocols that are more considerate of marine mammals and that recognize sonar travels great distances, like 25-40 miles away," he said.