Orca Network News - July, 2006
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
July 1, 2006 through July 31, 2006.
July 31, 2006 (Los Angeles Times) A multi-media presentation. Sunday, Part 1: Critical habitats are falling victim to the changing chemistry of the oceans; Monday, Part 2: Toxic algae and bacteria are poisoning marine mammals, other sea life;
Scientist publishes 'escape route' from global warming
July 31, 2006 (The Independent) A Nobel Prize-winning scientist has drawn up an emergency plan to save the world from global warming, by altering the chemical makeup of Earth's upper atmosphere. Professor Paul Crutzen, who won a Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work on the hole in the ozone layer, believes that political attempts to limit man-made greenhouse gases are so pitiful that a radical contingency plan is needed.
Professor Crutzen has proposed a method of artificially cooling the global climate by releasing particles of sulphur in the upper atmosphere, which would reflect sunlight and heat back into space. The controversial proposal is being taken seriously by scientists because Professor Crutzen has a proven track record in atmospheric research.
A fleet of high-altitude balloons could be used to scatter the sulphur high overhead, or it could even be fired into the atmosphere using heavy artillery shells, said Professor Crutzen, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Germany.
The effect of scattering sulphate particles in the atmosphere would be to increase the reflectance, or "albedo", of the Earth, which should cause an overall cooling effect.
Habitat destruction in the Puget Sound
July 30, 2006 (Blue Oregon) It will be tragic if the lesson of Puget Sound's declining salmon runs and dwindling orca population is allowed to be reframed as "killer whales vs. development."
In the 1800s, there may have been as many as 200 orcas in the southern resident pods that spend summers in Puget Sound. Today there are 89 orcas in three southern resident pods. They have been declared "endangered." A recovery plan, due in January, is being drafted under the Endangered Species Act, just as recovery plans have been drafted for some Columbia River salmon runs.
This declaration has triggered the predictable rhetoric from the usual suspects. Russell Brooks, managing attorney of the Pacific Legal Foundation, is tripping along with any reporters who will accompany him, warning that his clients -- builders, developers and some farm interests -- fear declaring orcas "endangered" will hamper industrial development, raise the cost of housing, road construction and sewage treatment on land around the sound.
Brooks suggests darkly that listing the killer whale as "endangered" will have economic consequences similar to the listing of the northern spotted owl that supposedly closed mills and cost and estimated 30,000 jobs.
Brooks is engaging in deliberate deception here. In the decade from 1979-89, the Pacific Northwest timber industry lost more than 25 percent of its mills, more than 34 percent of its workforce and more than 20 percent of its wages. The spotted owl injunctions did not come until the early 1990s.
The mill closures and layoffs of the 1980s were the result of automation as the timber industry realized they had logged so much old growth timber, the stumpage no longer existed to maintain historic levels of employment. The timber industry modified or built automated mills that handled smaller logs with fewer workers more efficiently. By 1989, production -- but not employment -- in the region had returned to historic levels.
The consequences of degraded habitat are not limited to orcas and salmon. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reports that the populations of 42 species of birds are crashing. State wildlife officials say habitat degradation is the problem throughout Puget Sound. Nor is the issue limited to the sound. Two of the three southern resident orca pods spend the winter off the mouth of the Columbia River -- dining on salmon.
The issue is not saving orcas or salmon. The issue is stopping the habitat degradation and restoring the ecosystem that no longer functions adequately to ensure the survival of the iconic species we all recognize. There is no quick fix.
Human development is killing the stuff at the bottom of the food chain and that is starving the large predators at the top. Let it continue and it will eventually have a negative impact on the humans who also depend on the ecosystem.
The Puget Sound orca recovery plan due in January is a first step in reversing the tide of habitat degradation. It will only succeed if the public demands a new stewardship ethic toward the waters we all share.
A Primeval Tide of Toxins
July 29, 2006 (Los Angeles Times) Runoff from modern life is feeding an explosion of primitive organisms. This 'rise of slime,' as one scientist calls it, is killing larger species and sickening people.
Moreton Bay, Australia -- The fireweed began each spring as tufts of hairy growth and spread across the seafloor fast enough to cover a football field in an hour.
When fishermen touched it, their skin broke out in searing welts. Their lips blistered and peeled. Their eyes burned and swelled shut. Water that splashed from their nets spread the inflammation to their legs and torsos.
"It comes up like little boils," said Randolph Van Dyk, a fisherman whose powerful legs are pocked with scars. "At nighttime, you can feel them burning. I tried everything to get rid of them. Nothing worked."
As the weed blanketed miles of the bay over the last decade, it stained fishing nets a dark purple and left them coated with a powdery residue. When fishermen tried to shake it off the webbing, their throats constricted and they gasped for air.
Scientist Judith O'Neil put a tiny sample under a microscope and peered at the long black filaments. Consulting a botanical reference, she identified the weed as a strain of cyanobacteria, an ancestor of modern-day bacteria and algae that flourished 2.7 billion years ago.
O'Neil, a biological oceanographer, was familiar with these ancient life forms, but had never seen this particular kind before. What was it doing in Moreton Bay? Why was it so toxic? Why was it growing so fast?
The venomous weed, known to scientists as Lyngbya majuscula, has appeared in at least a dozen other places around the globe. It is one of many symptoms of a virulent pox on the world's oceans.
In many places — the atolls of the Pacific, the shrimp beds of the Eastern Seaboard, the fiords of Norway — some of the most advanced forms of ocean life are struggling to survive while the most primitive are thriving and spreading.
Fish, corals and marine mammals are dying while algae, bacteria and jellyfish are growing unchecked.
Where this pattern is most pronounced, scientists evoke a scenario of evolution running in reverse, returning to the primeval seas of hundreds of millions of years ago.
Industrial society is overdosing the oceans with basic nutrients — the nitrogen, carbon, iron and phosphorous compounds that curl out of smokestacks and tailpipes, wash into the sea from fertilized lawns and cropland, seep out of septic tanks and gush from sewer pipes.
Modern industry and agriculture produce more fixed nitrogen — fertilizer, essentially — than all the Earth's natural processes. Million of tons of carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide, produced by burning fossil fuels, enter the ocean every day.
"We're pushing the oceans back to the dawn of evolution," Jackson said, "a half-billion years ago when the oceans were ruled by jellyfish and bacteria."
Jellyfish populations are growing because they can. The fish that used to compete with them for food have become scarce because of overfishing. The sea turtles that once preyed on them are nearly gone. And the plankton they love to eat are growing explosively.
As their traditional catch declines, fishermen around the world now haul in 450,000 tons of jellyfish per year, more than twice as much as a decade ago.
Global warming adds to the stress. A reduced snowpack from higher temperatures is accelerating river discharges and thus plankton blooms. The oceans have warmed slightly — 1 degree on average in the last century. Warmer waters speed microbial growth.
Luna's saviour couldn't be saved from fierce seas
July 28, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail) When the fog closed in around Dungeness Spit and the wind pushed the ocean swells to nearly two metres in height, Chief Jerry Jack, who was always at home in the realm of the killer whale, felt his world suddenly turn upside down.
The highly respected elder from the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation, at Gold River on Vancouver Island, died Wednesday when his ceremonial canoe capsized in stormy waters in Juan de Fuca Strait, south of Victoria.
The accident happened when two canoes -- part of a flotilla of 30 native boats -- fell behind and got caught in a squall and sudden fog.
The U.S. Coast Guard, rescued 13 people -- six from the capsized canoe and seven from another canoe that was travelling with it on the 2006 Intertribal Canoe Journey. The annual cultural event involves hundreds of paddlers from dozens of native villages along the Pacific Coast.
Chief Jack's death stunned the community of Gold River, where he played a key role two years ago in blocking federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials from capturing Luna, the killer whale that had a curious attachment to people and a powerful spiritual connection to natives.
Tribal paddler dead after canoe overturns near Dungeness Spit
July 27, 2006 (KONP) A man participating in the annual InterTribal Canoe Journey died after one of the crafts overturned on the Strait of Juan de Fuca Wednesday afternoon.
Killed was Chief Jerry Jack of Gold River, British Columbia.
Three people rescued by the Coast Guard were taken to Olympic Memorial Hospital for treatment of hypothermia.
Nursing supervisor Ann Fischer says a man and two women from the canoe were being evaluated.
She says all three people appeared to be fine. Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert says the other two people aboard the canoe apparently did not require a trip to the hospital.
A Port Angeles-based helicopter and response boat were called to Dungeness Spit around 5:20 PM after a report of an overturned canoe with 6 people in the water.
Clallam County Undersheriff Rich Sill told Newsradio 1450 KONP that deputies and rangers at Dungeness Recreation Area observed 4 paddlers clinging to the overturned canoe and 2 more in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, north of Dungeness Spit.
He says the current and waves pushed them to shore.
The helicopter picked up 3 of the paddlers and transported them to an emergency medical staging area, then returned for 2 more.
Eggert says the 55-year old Jack was pronounced dead on arrival.
The Coast Guard says none of the crew members were wearing lifejackets.
The canoes left Port Angeles today for a scheduled stop at Jamestown Beach, near Sequim.
They are scheduled to arrive at Sand Point on Lake Washington in Seattle on Monday.
Dead zone suspected in fish die-off
July 27, 2006 (Seattle Times) A "dead zone" of oxygen-poor water has appeared off the Oregon coast for the fifth year in a row, and reports of crab and fish dying off Washington's Pacific shore suggest the phenomenon is occurring here, too.
Members of Washington's Quinault Indian Nation spotted large numbers of dead greenling, rockfish and flatfish on the beach last week. Some live fish were trapped in tide pools, including rat fish — a deep-water species.
"That tells us they were running from something," said Joe Schumacker, of the tribe's fisheries department. "If you're a fish looking for oxygen, the surf zone is where you would want to go."
Shifting winds seem to be the main factor responsible for the dead zones' formation. Those winds are determined by land and sea temperatures — both of which have been rising as a result of global warming.
"We're seeing wild shifts from year to year in the winds that drive this system," Lubchenco said. "This increased variability is exactly what climate change models predict ... but we can't definitively say this is because of climate change."
Gray whale found on shoreline at Maxwelton
July 26, 2006 (South Whidbey Record) The gray whale that washed ashore Friday morning near Maxwelton Beach may have been attacked by an orca before its death.
It's too soon to tell, however. Results of the necropsy conducted earlier this week won't be available for a month or so.
Susan Berta of the Orca Network said the gray whale was a young male, approximately 27 feet long.
"It looks like it may have been attacked by an orca," Berta said, noting that the bite marks on the animal matched teeth patterns associated with orcas.
The gray whale had rake marks and bites on its flukes, fins and body that were consistent with orca attack marks.
"It definitely has bites in it," Berta said.
The whale was examined by members of Cascadia Research — who are experts on gray whales — and samples of organs and tissues from the dead whale were taken and sent to a lab in Canada.
New rules may conflict with South Whidbey port projects
July 26, 2006 (South Whidbey Record) Orcas orcinus — killer whales — are listed as an endangered species and the National Marine Fisheries Service wants to designate a huge swath of Puget Sound as a "critical habitat" to ensure their survival.
Meanwhile, the Port of South Whidbey is paying $11,000 for a mainland consultant to examine the benefits of a fuel dock to gas up transient boaters at Langley's small boat harbor.
Whether these proposals are mutually exclusive remains to be seen, but clearly, the issue of protecting Puget Sound's iconic orcas is a trump card.
"Our goal is to protect these animals and preserve their health," said Brian Gorman, a Fisheries Service spokesman. "Research and data on the killer whale only goes back 30 to 40 years. This is the start of a major push for better understanding."
Listed as "endangered" in 2005, the Southern Resident orca population peaked in the 1990s at 97 animals. It then declined to 79 in 2001; currently there are 90 whales in existence with several calves recently born into the population.
Though biologists are encouraged by the population increases in recent years, they remain concerned about water quality, availability of food (especially salmon), and the effects of boat traffic and Navy sonar on the marine mammals.
A huge whale-watching business has also developed throughout Puget Sound, especially in Friday Harbor, Anacortes and Victoria, BC. On any given summer day, dozens of boats crammed with tourists jockey for the best viewing spot near Lime Kiln Point on San Juan Island.
Whale-watching operators' associations have established rules, such as staying at least 100 yards away and shutting the engine down if the orcas come too close, but some researchers still believe the presence of whale watching boats is detrimental to the health of orcas.
The area proposed for critical habitat designation encompasses parts of Haro Strait and the waters around the San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and all of Puget Sound — a total of just over 2,500 square miles.
The agency is excluding from the designation 18 military sites covering nearly 112 square miles of habitat, including an area near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor.
Once critical habitat is formally designated, possibly by the end of the year, federal agencies will be required to consult with NOAA Fisheries Service to guarantee that their actions will not destroy or adversely modify the killer whales' designated habitat.
The Orca Sighting Network, based in Greenbank, uses a wide chain of residents across to help researchers track the movement of whales. The network encourages people to observe whales from their homes, businesses, ferries and beaches. "This is a unique community of orcas that has evolved in this specific habitat whose culture, diet and travels hinge on the health of their home," said Susan Berta of the Orca Network. "NOAA's plan is definitely a step in the right direction."
On Puget Sound, It's Orca vs. Inc.
July 26, 2006 (Washington Post) For creatures that eat 400 pounds of salmon a day, killer whales are startlingly human. They live as long as you do. They never escape the controlling influence of their moms. They love to show off.
Consider J-22, also known as Oreo. She is a 21-year-old killer whale -- or orca -- with serious family obligations. She has three offspring to watch over and rarely ventures far from J-pod, her extended family, which is led by a vigorous 92-year-old matriarch named Granny. On a recent day, Oreo slipped briefly away from Granny and approached a whale-watching boat. As cameras clicked, Oreo launched herself high out of the water, jumping for the sheer, showoffy heck of it.
She is about 25 feet long and weighs more than 8,000 pounds, so it was an energy-expensive heave. Resident killer whales in Puget Sound routinely do this sort of thing to the delight of human beings.
In return, over recent decades, humans have destroyed about 90 percent of their salmon supply, contaminated the sound with toxic chemicals and, in the 1960s and '70s, kidnapped scores of young killer whales to perform in aquatic shows.
Now, federal amends are being made. Southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound -- there are just 89 of them in three pods, all numbered and named, with birth dates and family trees posted on the Internet -- were listed late last year as endangered species.
In June, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed protecting most of Puget Sound as critical habitat for the whales, which are actually the world's largest dolphins. The proposal, encompassing 2,564 square miles at the heart one of the nation's busiest commercial waterways, has alarmed local industry.
Building and farm groups have sued to stop the proposal, due to become law by November, arguing that it would require complicated and costly review of future industrial development, home construction, sewer treatment, road construction and water use around the sound, an inland waterway surrounded by nearly 4 million people.
"This is not really about killer whales at all," said Brooks, whose group specializes in trying to rein in the economic impact of the Endangered Species Act. "This is a tool used by those who wish to impose their own version of non-land use on Puget Sound."
But for champions of the orcas -- and their numbers are growing, with an estimated 150,000 people paying about $70 each to go out every year in boats to watch and wonder at the whales in Puget Sound -- federal protection has been welcomed as an overdue gift.
"We are very, very happy about this," said Ralph Munro, a former Washington secretary of state and a longtime activist who, like many ardent orca admirers, says he's had "mystical" encounters with the creatures.
"I know it sounds kooky," Munro, 63, said during a break at a recent public hearing on the plan to make Puget Sound a protected zone, "but I can show you 10 people in this room who have had mystical experiences with orcas."
The emotional appeal of killer whales in the green-leaning Puget Sound region is difficult to overstate. Local news coverage borders on the obsessive. Ralph's 1999 funeral was covered by three local television stations, Munro said. The accidental death this year of Luna, a 6-year-old orphan orca killed by a tugboat propeller, occasioned widespread news coverage and op-ed hand-wringing.
Indeed, a rock-solid family life and a salmon-dominated diet distinguish resident killer whales from their rather less lovable killer-whale cousins -- the transients. These genetically distinct orcas tend to ignore fish and feed almost exclusively on seals, sea lions, dolphins and other marine mammals. They do not have predictable family lives and only occasionally put in an appearance in Northwest waters, where they rarely mix and never interbreed with the resident whales.
Exercise pings differing opinions on sonar
July 25, 2006 (Stars and Stripes) The debate over protecting marine mammals from U.S. Navy sonar made waves in Hawaii this month, but the resulting restrictions won't ripple to the other side of the Pacific, a Navy official said Friday.
"I don't see how it will change anything," said U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. Scott Gureck. "We have established and proven procedures to protect marine life, and it's the Navy's position that they are working."
That point was argued this month in a flurry of litigation headed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which maintains that the Navy's medium-frequency sonar harms whales.
The Rim of the Pacific exercise, or RIMPAC a biennial international war game off Hawaii was the focal point, as sonar is used in anti-submarine warfare drills involving eight countries.
The NRDC charged that sonar used in RIMPAC 2004 contributed to the stranding of 150 melon-headed whales, one of which died, and pushed for extra requirements including more marine mammal lookouts, added microphones during the sonar use and a 25-mile sonar-free buffer zone around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument.
A July 7 settlement between the U.S. Navy and the NRDC mandated those rules be used during RIMPAC 2006.
The Navy has no plans to carry those further, Gureck said.
If evidence is presented that sonar should be restricted in some waters, then it should be in others, Uchida said.
"It is a very simple logic," Uchida said. "It does not matter whether a law exists to restrict it. If it is banned elsewhere, we don't want it to be used in Okinawan waters, either."
But the Navy maintains that the need for sonar outweighs the danger to marine mammals and that it's already taking the steps necessary to protect them.
Technology adds new wrinkle to salmon debate
July 23, 2006 (Idaho Statesman) Some say slides for young fish eliminate need for breaching, but skeptics say they don't improve critical river conditions
An engineering wonder that gives young salmon an easier, safer route through dams without reducing hydropower generation has shifted the debate over endangered salmon.
The removable spillway weir, or fish slide, tested for four years at Lower Granite Dam, is a prototype that federal fisheries and dam managers hope offers an alternative to removing some dams to save salmon, a symbol of the wild heritage of the region.
The slide allows the fish to migrate through the dam when they're ready, sliding through the spillway like children at a water park.
"The fish slides are the largest improvement in these dams since adult fish ladders were developed," said Robert Lohn, Pacific Northwest director of the National Marine Fisheries Service. "They represent the best opportunity for fish passage so long as the dams are in place."
But state and tribal scientists and salmon advocates remain skeptical that the fish slides can improve river conditions enough to restore viable populations of salmon to Idaho's largely intact spawning habitat in the Salmon River and its tributaries. Even though 12 stocks of salmon are listed as endangered or threatened, Idaho's salmon are the stocks affected primarily by the Snake dams.
"The techno-fix just perpetuates denial of the real issues," said Glen Spain, director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "I'd be overjoyed if the things worked, but I won't hold my breath."
No easy fix for orcas' recovery
July 23, 2006 (Seattle Times) These mammals, some nearly a century old, have seen and survived it all: fishermen detonating dynamite charges underwater and defending their catch by shooting them; captures for sale at a fat profit to aquariums.
Those days are over. But today Puget Sound's southern resident orcas still run a deadly gantlet.
Their favorite food, chinook salmon, also are threatened with extinction. Puget Sound is loaded with toxins and pollution, and its shorelines are encrusted with housing, industrial development, farms and pavement.
Before 1800, there may have been more than 200 southern resident orcas. Today there are about 89. And the federal government has brought in a hammer — the Endangered Species Act — to protect the orca.
Three forms of orcas
The so-called southern resident orcas are one of three forms in the northeastern Pacific, and are organized into three pods: J, K and L. Unlike the other populations, southern residents spend a lot of their time in Puget Sound, especially in the late spring, summer and fall. Scientists know little about their movements the rest of the year.
Southern residents also are distinguished by their diet: They are believed to eat only fish, especially salmon, while other orcas eat seals and other marine mammals.
Orca recovery could mean reductions in commercial and recreational fishing within the designated critical habitat — as much as 5 percent to 50 percent.
The recovery plan might suggest bolstering other salmon-recovery efforts throughout the region, including the Columbia and Snake rivers.
Clean up the Sound
Secondly, the recovery plan is expected to seek a reduction in pollution and chemical contamination in the orca's habitat. That would mean addressing industrial-waste disposal, agricultural and household use of chemicals. It also would mean dealing with discharge from wastewater and stormwater. And it would mean cleaning up contaminated sites and sediments.
Today, the orcas' home waters are a stew created by 17 pulp and paper mills in the Puget Sound and Georgia Basin region; 34 million gallons of raw sewage a day spewed by the city of Victoria, B.C., into the Strait of Juan de Fuca; and thousands of discharge pipes from industries, sewers and storm drains. Contaminated areas dot the region, including 24 Superfund sites around Puget Sound still not cleaned up.
"Looks like K-11!" researcher Ken Balcomb exclaimed one day last week as orcas leaped and dove around his 19-foot open boat, dwarfing the man who knows each of these mammals by their numbered names.
For some 30 years, Balcomb has prowled Puget Sound armed only with a camera to defend the animals he loves, creating a photo catalog of the southern residents by their unique markings.
Balcomb has a contract with the federal fisheries service to maintain his survey data on the orcas. But that doesn't stop him from scoffing at the notion of restricting boat traffic.
At his San Juan Island home, perched above Haro Strait, he keeps in a box the bones of a baby orca whose body washed up on the beach. The baby was killed in 1970 during a capture attempt, its body slit and filled with rocks and wrapped in chains in an attempt to hide the slaying. It's a reminder, Balcomb says, of how tough these mammals have had it.
Balcomb says more profound changes are needed than restricting boat traffic to bring the orca back from the brink of extinction. "We have a whole Puget Sound basin full of PCBs, raw sewage pouring out of Canada," he said. "The fish stocks are pretty meager, and there's still over-forestation and dams destroying habitat.
"It's not a popular solution. But what's called for is looking at the big picture. We have an endangered whale eating a threatened fish. We have to change our ways. I hope this is part of the wake-up."
Making a whale of a difference
July 19, 2006 (Vancouver Sun op-ed) Most whale watching in southern B.C. and northwestern Washington state is focused on a population known as the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Summer core habitat includes the inland waters of the Georgia Basin, whereas the more extensive wintering grounds range from California to the Alaska border. Commercial whale watching occurs only in a portion of the summer habitat, primarily from May to September.
In 1994, the commercial whale watch operators of B.C. and Washington state came together to form the Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest. International cooperation was deemed necessary because operators wanted a coordinated set of best practices guidelines specific to their area and the animals they viewed.
The association's framework was based upon a principle of open exchange and provided a platform for communication between government managers, research scientists, enforcement authorities and commercial whale watchers. This integrative approach resulted in improved organization of vessels engaged in whale watching, through the development and evolution of commercial guidelines specifying spatial, behavioural and species-specific procedures.
The local whale watching community also established several voluntary exclusion zones contributing to vessel-free areas in both the Canadian Gulf Islands and the U.S. San Juan Islands. Though they are not legislated, they are respected.
The primary goal of commercial whale watchers is to observe wild whales, exhibiting wild behaviours, without interfering or disturbing the life processes of these animals. The secondary goal is to have a long-term impact on killer whale conservation. Passengers are engaged in conservation through education, regarding the need to respect wild animals and their habitats. On-board naturalists and biologists interpret natural behaviours to further enhance public understanding of these complex marine mammals.
Integral to commercial whale watching is "whale listening". Emphasis is on further reducing the human generated noise by turning engines off whenever possible. Hydrophones are standard equipment on commercial boats providing passengers the opportunity to listen to the echolocation clicks and communicative whistles. The conservation message to tourists is:
"If we can hear the whales, the whales can hear the whales".
Seismic testing shakes up environment
July 18, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) The BATHOLITHS project, a U.S.-led seismic survey initiative, poses a threat to British Columbia's salmon and marine mammals. Pending approvals, the project is set to begin seismic testing in marine and terrestrial environments on B.C.'s central and north coast in 2007.
The BATHOLITHS project would use some of the world's loudest air gun arrays to determine how the Coast Mountains were formed. These seismic surveys have the potential to deafen whales and dolphins that happen to be in the vicinity during the survey as the sound can ricochet off the sides of the inlets and carry up the channels.
Seismic testing in the marine environment uses air guns to fire compressed air at the ocean floor. This high-energy explosion sends shock waves through the water and the rock layers beneath the ocean floor. These are then reflected from different layers, at various intervals, back through the rock and water, and are recorded by hydrophones and seismographs. These recordings are then mapped, providing a picture of the geology being studied.
It is believed that seismic testing may hinder whale-to-whale communication and threaten the species' ability to navigate, kill prey and reproduce. Dr. David Bain, a marine mammal scientist at the University of Washington, says whales and dolphins in B.C. could be driven aground by the kind of seismic testing the BATHOLITHS project is proposing. Bain also states that if a whale or dolphin beaches itself, it probably will die.
The bottom line, however, is that whales and dolphins won't make a distinction between being deafened by seismic testing for oil and gas exploration or invasive academic research such as the BATHOLITHS project. Both kinds of seismic surveys pose a threat to marine mammals and fish on the B.C. coast.
Sewage Treatment: Victoria's secret
July 18, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) If the arrival of the 2010 winter Olympic Games in British Columbia were not enough to motivate Victoria's elected officials to finally address the public relations -- not to mention public health -- problems with the island's practice of dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, perhaps the conclusion of a scientific panel will be.
The independent panel told the government last week that dumping 31 million gallons a day of raw sewage into the international waterway is no longer a good long-range strategy for the British Columbia capital.
B.C. report paints dire climate picture
July 15, 2006 (Victoria Times Colonist) Climate change in B.C. is expected to alter the province's hydroelectricity supply, affect the productivity of lakes, rivers and the ocean, change ecosystems and increase the risk of forest fires, pest outbreaks, flooding and extreme weather, according to a new government report.
The report, titled British Columbia's Coastal Environment: 2006, focuses on the part of the B.C. extending westward from the Coast Mountains, and includes the marine area within Canada's 322-kilometre limit. Among its grim conclusions:
- The daily volume of sewage discharged into Georgia Basin rose more than 60 per cent between 1983 and 1999.
- The sea surface temperature has risen by as much as 1 C along the entire coast.
- Eighty-six B.C. species are listed as locally extinct, endangered or threatened, and of the 21 species known to be extinct, 15 used to occur on the coast.
- More than 13 per cent of salmonid populations in B.C. and the Yukon are either extinct or at high risk of extinction.
- Persistent contaminants, such as PCBs, dioxins and furans, continue to accumulate in animals near the top of the food chain. Resident orcas in B.C.'s southern waters are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world.
Our Troubled Sound: A sense of urgency
July 15, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) Look out at the Puget Sound "and it looks like there's nothing wrong with it," Billy Frank Jr. said at a P-I Editorial Board session. "The story out here is very devastating to us human beings ... we're looking over at Hood Canal and that's poison. Maybe we need a map, the truth is we're dying. Puget Sound is dying ... and if we don't fix that it's going to be gone."
That fix is nearly impossible when most people in the region believe the health of the Sound is "good." There needs to be a shared consensus of the problem -- and a consistent approach to a long-term cleanup.
"We're talking a long journey here," Frank said. "It's not an overnight journey."
The Puget Sound Partnership was named by Gov. Christine Gregoire, who has ordered the group of business, education, environment and government leaders to come up with a plan to improve the Puget Sound's health by 2020. Frank, the state's Ecology director Jay Manning and former Environmental Protection Agency director Bill Ruckelshaus are the co-chairs.
The toughest task ahead is changing the conversation; we need a sense of urgency to replace the natural awe generated by the beauty we see. One way for that to happen is to create a better measure of the Sound's health. We need a Puget Sound index -- one that measures everything from orca health to pollution runoff -- that is easy to understand and based on solid science.
We know Puget Sound will require significant money to save its life -- but it will also require small changes from the very human beings who gaze on its waters.
We need a new way of reordering and interconnecting our lives to this wonderful eco-system, the Puget Sound, Ruckelshaus said.
We need to reorder and interconnect our lives to Puget Sound. That seems an insurmountable task, but it is essential for this region's future.
Eye on the orcas
July 14, 2006 (Goldstream News - Canada) Whale spotters are vital to local whale-watching industry
From a platform high on Oak Bay's Gonzales Hill, Brenden Onorato peers intently through a pair of high-powered binoculars. With a range of 24 nautical miles (almost 45 kilometres), he can see cars driving around Port Angeles on the U.S. side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
But traffic isn't what has captured Onorato's attention. His eyes are trained on killer whales in search of salmon. He confirms their position on the grid map in front of him and then picks up his cellphone.
Onorato is a "whale spotter" for an observation network supported by most of the major whale-watching tour companies in Victoria. His first task every morning is to establish the whereabouts of any of the approximately 90 orcas belonging to three major groups of resident killer whales - better known to marine biologists as the "J", "K" and "L" pods.
Ecology Approves Funding for Water Plans
July 14, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Nearly $2 million in state loans has been approved for the Belfair sewer project, while Bremerton's sewers will benefit from $1 million in new equipment.
Other funds announced this week by the Washington Department of Ecology will help upgrade septic systems in Hood Canal and throughout the Puget Sound region. Several streams are proposed for restoration.
The grants and loans are among $100 million statewide to improve water quality.
Keeping the state's waters clean is essential to environmental and human health while helping the economy, said Ecology Director Jay Manning.
"One of the reasons businesses locate here is that we are recognized as a clean green corner of the United States," Manning said. "These grants and loans play an important part in keeping our people, communities and workplaces healthy."
Low oxygen levels in southern Hood Canal have raised the profile of the fragile waterway and highlighted the need for a sewer system in Belfair, plus upgraded septic systems along the shoreline. Nitrogen in sewage discharges is considered a contributor to low-oxygen conditions.
Scientific panel says Victoria should plan to end sewage dumping
July 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca is no longer a good long-range strategy for the British Columbia capital, an independent scientific panel has concluded.
Some treatment eventually will be necessary for the more than 34 million gallons of sewage that are now pumped deep into the strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, Dr. Bill Stubblefield, chairman of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North America, said Wednesday.
The society's panel was paid about $530,000 by the Capital Regional District for the report.
District authorities say the issue, including costs, will be discussed over the next five months, followed by a report on sewage treatment options.
We can't heal the sound unless we admit it's sick
July 13, 2006 (Everett Herald editorial) My name is Puget Sound and I am polluted.
As we all know, the first step toward a solution is admitting there's a problem.
The sound's ill bill of health speaks for itself, but apparently not loud enough for it to sink in with many Puget Sounders.
The Partnership for Puget Sound, a task force created in 2005 by Gov. Chris Gregoire to find solutions to the sound's biggest problems by 2020, is concerned by a poll showing that two-thirds of people contacted for the survey rated Puget Sound's health as "good."
The business, education, environmental and government leaders on the task force are worried that people aren't heeding the warnings about the threats to marine life, or even hearing them.
This is not a case of a lone group crying wolf. This is a diverse, highly respected collection of professionals telling us Puget Sound needs help. Among the task force's members is William Ruckelshaus, who was the first director of the Environmental Protection Agency, formed under President Richard Nixon in 1970.
New effort to clean up Spokane River
July 13, 2006 (Seattle Times) A 20-year Spokane River cleanup effort that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars was announced Wednesday by civic leaders and the state Department of Ecology.
The plan seeks to reduce phosphorus pollution in the Spokane River by, among other things, building a $100 million wastewater treatment plant and reducing the number of septic tanks in the region.
Every aspect of water use from watering lawns to flushing toilets will be affected.
The goal is to reduce phosphorus in treated wastewater to the same level of phosphorus as would be in the river naturally.
"This is a milestone for the Spokane region," said Dave Peeler, the Ecology Department's water quality director.
But one environmental activist called the deal a mixed bag.
"One problem is the false assumption that zero pollution is coming across the state line from Idaho," said Rachael Paschal Osborn of the Spokane chapter of the Sierra Club.
The agreement is also likely to encourage more growth and more septic tanks, she complained.
Steps outlined to avoid or limit oil spills
July 13, 2006 (Seattle Times) The state's new Oil Spill Advisory Council has issued its first report, calling for year-round tug protection at Neah Bay and laying groundwork for improved spill prevention and response in state waters.
The council was established by Gov. Christine Gregoire last year after a 1,000-gallon spill in Dalco Passage that took hours to respond to — due to darkness, communication lapses and a lack of nearby containment gear — and cost almost $2 million to clean up. The draft report now goes to Gregoire for any recommended changes, and the governor will use the final version in preparing her legislation and budget requests to the Legislature.
In a "lessons learned" section, the council said Wednesday that mandatory regulation — not voluntary efforts — must address the root causes of spills.
"It's really important that we look at the waters around the San Juan Islands," prime habitat for the state's endangered killer-whale population, said council member Kathy Fletcher, of the citizens group People for Puget Sound. "That's a tough area where things can happen quickly — there are lots of things to bump into."
Oil tankers calling at the oil refineries along northeast Puget Sound have tug escorts, she noted, "But 90 percent of the traffic is not tankers."
Couple Seeks Protection of Orcas in Hood Canal
July 12, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Tom and Margo Wyckoff have been watching killer whales in Hood Canal for decades, so it came as a surprise recently when the federal government concluded that Hood Canal was not important to the endangered whales.
The Wyckoffs have been hurriedly gathering photos and stories about Hood Canal orcas since mid-June, when the National Marine Fisheries Service suggested that all of Puget Sound — except Hood Canal — should be considered "critical habitat" for the orcas.
Under the Endangered Species Act, critical habitat can't be damaged by any project needing a federal permit.
Others have joined the cause, and the Wyckoffs intend to present their preliminary information during a public meeting tonight in Seattle, then follow it up with further documentation.
"We've got photos that we are going to present that were taken in Dabob Bay in the early '70s," Margo Wyckoff said. "It was wonderful to get these photos and have them ID'd as J Pod (one of the Puget Sound groups)."
Many current residents of Hood Canal know that transient orcas — the seal-eating kind — have visited Hood Canal in recent years. That only complicates the Wyckoffs' quest, because only the fish-eating resident orcas have been listed as endangered. It often takes an expert, or at least someone quite familiar with orcas, to distinguish a resident from a transient.
The whales are an important part of the Hood Canal ecosystem, Wyckoff said.
"It seems reasonable to protect all of the habitat where they have been instead of an artificial boundary on Hood Canal," she said. "I don't think the whales know where the boundary is."
Tom and Margo Wyckoff are collecting photographs and stories about orcas in Hood Canal prior to the year 2000. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Hood Canal Orca, P.O. Box 5761, Bremerton, WA 98312.
Klamath turning out few young salmon
July 12, 2006 (Eureka Times-Standard) Biologists note small chinook numbers; many fish are sick
Biologists are seeing few young Chinook salmon on the Klamath River and its tributaries this year, and already some of them are falling sick, possibly with diseases that have killed hundreds of thousands of fish in recent years.
Agencies are still waiting to hear from a laboratory exactly what's making an increasing number of fish ill.
Injured whale's location a mystery
July 12, 2006 (The Olympian) There were no reported sightings by late Tuesday afternoon of an injured humpback whale seen the past few days swimming in the waters of South Sound.
Neither Cascadia Research in Olympia nor the Orca Network on Whidbey Island received reports of the juvenile whale, whose head and back were cut during a collision with a boat propeller.
Cascadia Research researchers scoured their catalog of 1,000 individual humpback whale photographs Tuesday to see whether the 35-foot whale seen and photographed north of Johnson Point on Monday was in their system, but found no matches, Cascadia employee Jessie Huggins said.
Global warming debate moves to new ground
July 11, 2006 (Tri-City Herald editorial) The debate over global warming is over.
Not the scientific debate aimed at understanding the phenomenon. That may go on forever. Heck, scientists still are arguing the finer points of gravity.
But the other debate -- where skeptics try to wield scientific uncertainty as weapon against reason -- that's over. The chest-beating may go on, but there's no real argument left.
The industrial age has altered Earth's climate.
Allow public to help Sound, report urges
July 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Puget Sound has been pummeled by overdevelopment, pollution and a host of other environmental insults -- but people still have time to stop its tailspin, said a report delivered to Gov. Christine Gregoire on Monday.
Saving the Sound is going to mean showing the public how its actions -- using fertilizer and pesticides, driving cars, buying houses and so on -- affect the Sound's health, and showing citizens what they can do about it, said authors of the report by the Puget Sound Partnership. Gregoire appointed the group of business, tribal, environmental and government leaders earlier this year.
The partnership's final report, due in November, is bound to call for significant infusions of cash to a Save-the-Sound campaign that has stumbled along without enough coordination or accountability, members of the group said.
"Although the Puget Sound ecosystem appears to be resilient and productive, many of the essential natural processes that support life have been disrupted or damaged," the report says. "There is considerable evidence that important ecological indicators are in decline."
A co-chairman of the group, Billy Frank Jr. of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, was more blunt:
"Puget Sound is poisoned. Let's get rid of the poison."
Puget Sound health isn't as good as you think, report says
July 10, 2006 (Seattle Times) Don't be fooled by the breathtaking sunsets, top-notch boating and bountiful hauls of shellfish — Puget Sound's health is in danger, members of a special task force said Monday.
In a report to Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Partnership for Puget Sound warned that many people living in the region have a rosy outlook on the sound, despite dire warnings about dwindling aquatic life and increasing urban pollution.
Such pressures have been widely documented, but the group was surprised that two-thirds of people contacted for a survey rated the sound's health as "good."
If leaders aren't able to persuade and inspire the public to get involved in improving the sound's health, "I'm not sure we can win," said Brad Ack, director of Gregoire's Puget Sound Action Team.
"There's this disconnect between what the actual state of the sound is and what people's impression is, because it looks beautiful — the water sparkles, the mountains glisten," he said.
"If we could see under the water and also be able to compare it to what it used to look like 30 years ago, 50 years ago, it would be a more sobering picture," Ack added.
The partnership was created in late 2005 by Gregoire, who has ordered the group of business, education, environment and government leaders to come up with a plan for solving Puget Sound's biggest problems by 2020.
Federal officials recently named the region's inland waters as critical habitat for the endangered killer whale population. Several Puget Sound salmon runs are also listed as threatened or endangered, and some species of sea birds are facing serious decline.
Mukilteo lab seen as key in aiding fish
July 10, 2006 (Everett Herald) Federal agency says a new research center will help studies of toxins in salmon
If headway is made in rebuilding salmon stocks in the Northwest, a set of ramshackle buildings on the waterfront here could play a key role.
The main building is a weathered, gray house, behind a chain-link fence at the end of the road. It's not only at the edge of the water, but on the frontier of research into the effects of pollution on fish, employees say.
"This facility has national importance," said Paul Plesha, who manages the research station at 10 Park Ave. for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Officials with NOAA say with new buildings they could do even more. Plesha has submitted a $15 million request for more and better equipment.
"As the fish get bigger you need bigger tanks to handle bigger numbers," Plesha said.
The reactions of the fish to pollutants added to their holding tanks in Mukilteo is recorded and shared with agencies such as the state and federal regulatory agencies.
Columbia River toxins moving up food chain
July 10, 2006 (Seattle Times) First were the crayfish near Bonneville Dam, so loaded with toxins that scientists wondered how they could still be alive.
Then researchers learned Columbia River fish were contaminated enough that nearby tribes face dramatically higher risks of disease. Scientists since have found deformed sturgeon, uranium building up in clams near the Hanford nuclear reservation, and water in parts of the last stretch of the river as contaminated as Seattle's Duwamish River, a federal Superfund site.
Over the past five years, virtually unnoticed amid other issues, scientists have unearthed a wealth of new information detailing the extent of toxic contamination in the Columbia River, enough that the Environmental Protection Agency added the entire 1,200-mile river to a shortlist of major waterways demanding national attention.
"Salmon recovery and dams have been what people have been focused on," said Mary Lou Soscia, who coordinates Columbia River pollution issues for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). "But you can't talk about a healthy Columbia without talking about toxics."
Some of the work already has begun.
A few years ago, Eugene Foster, an Oregon state toxicologist, began working with some farmers to help them cut back on agricultural runoff that was contaminating tributaries with chemicals and insecticide.
Now the orchardists are changing how and where they apply pesticides. They have been better managing how water passes over soil that still has DDT in it. And they are reducing pesticide concentrations.
Similar work has been done along the Yakima River, and both Washington and Oregon are slowly expanding those programs to other Columbia tributaries.
"We've got a marathon ahead of us," Soscia said.
But, "I've worked at EPA for 22 years," she added.
"This is the most important thing I could do in my last years at the agency."
Regulations making it easier on whales
July 8, 2006 (Cowichan News Leader) Changes to U.S. conservation rules are giving orcas in the waters off Vancouver Island more room to breath.
Last year the United States upgraded the southern resident orca population, which includes 89 killer whales in three pods, to the endangered species list. The same whales have been protected in Canada for five years.
Along with upgraded protection status, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (similar to the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans) made a subtle — but key — change to the wording of whale-watching regulations.
The old wording that vessels "must avoid being within 100 metres of the whales" has been changed to say vessels "must not be within 100 metres of the whales."
The change is having a dramatic effect on a previously commonplace practice that stressed whales, according to Simon Pidcock, the owner and operator of Ocean Ecoventures, a whale watching outfit operating out of Cowichan Bay.
Before the change, boats would park in the whale's path and wait for the mammals to reach the boat, placing them ‘accidentally' within the 100-metre rule.
"Subtle word changes have changed attitudes and we're seeing a lot more compliance," said Pidcock, adding he has seen parking only twice this season.
Too Close for Comfort: Orcas, Boats Struggle to Share Space
July 8, 2006 (ABC News) How do you protect an endangered species when it's a valuable tourist attraction?
That's the predicament in Washington State's San Juan Islands, where there are more commercial whale watch boats than there are orcas. That's created problems for the star attraction in this natural wonderland where the orcas often give onlookers a show worthy of their captive Sea World and Marineland cousins.
When good weather brings out private boats, there can be 100 or more boats trailing a dozen of the "whales." Orcas are often called killer whales, which is wrong times two. They aren't technically whales and their "killer" reputation is based on fear, not reality.
The orcas of the San Juan Islands are among the most-studied marine mammals in the world. Seasoned whale watchers can easily identify each family or pod.
"Granny" runs J pod. She's 90 years old. Lummi, the matriarch of K pod, was born in 1910. Girls rule in this world. The newest one to arrive, K-39, is a few weeks old. Scientists hope the youngster's aunts will help her teenage mom, because in the past few years some of the young ones haven't survived because of their changing environment.
Orcas have some of the highest levels of concentration of toxins of any living creature. Samples from dead whales have contained levels of PCBs and other chemicals hundreds of times the maximum safe level for humans.
But that's not the only threat to their survival. They eat wild salmon and there aren't as many of them as there were just a few years ago.
Kari Koski, of Washington State's Sound Watch, helped start a campaign to educate boaters. She's been "out on the water" for 13 years meeting boats and passing out voluntary guidelines to help the orcas.
In this region, brightly colored Sound Watch boats are a common sight. Koski and her colleagues are now joined more often by Washington State Department of Fish and Game officers or agents from National Marine Fisheries, because the orcas were recently put on the endangered species list.
Navy and whale advocates settle sonar suit
July 8, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Navy said it will use active sonar during warfare exercises off Hawaii as early as this weekend, after reaching an agreement with environmentalists who claimed it poses a threat to whales and other sea life.
The settlement reached Friday prevents the Navy from using the sonar within 25 miles of the newly established Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument during its Rim of the Pacific 2006 exercises. It also imposes a variety of methods to watch for and report the presence of marine mammals.
Limited use of sonar irksome to orcas OK'd
July 8, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A loud, screechy Navy sonar that disturbed orcas and panicked other marine mammals near the San Juan Islands can be used -- with limits -- in a naval war exercise near Hawaii this month, under terms of a lawsuit settlement approved Friday.
The midfrequency active sonar can't be deployed within 25 miles of a newly proposed marine sanctuary. In addition, two sailors will be assigned to watch for marine mammals on vessels using the sonar in deep underwater canyons such as Haro Strait, near the San Juans, where the sounds appear to bounce around and harm killer whales and other creatures.
All other ships involved in the war games will post a special lookout to watch for marine mammals. Navy pilots also will be required to keep their eyes peeled and report any sightings.
The Navy had previously said it wouldn't operate the sonar inside the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, but hadn't offered to buffer the area, which is expected to become the planet's largest marine sanctuary.
Get hatchery blackmouth out of Sound food chain
July 7, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune editorial) It's a shame that orcas and other marine mammals can't read and don't watch television.
If they did, it might make sense to continue a state fisheries program that releases millions of young chinook salmon into Puget Sound waters every year. Orcas and other marine predators that feed on the chinook – also called blackmouth because of their dark jaw line that fades with age – could be warned that new evidence shows that the fish are considered hazardous to their health as well as the health of humans.
Because the chinook are kept in hatcheries until they're 14 months old, their instinct to migrate into the oceans is inhibited. They live out their lives in Puget Sound, becoming highly contaminated with PCBs – synthetic chemical compounds that are persistent in Puget Sound sediment and work their way up the food chain.
The Environmental Protection Agency considers PCBs carcinogenic; they can be especially dangerous when ingested by pregnant women and young children.
Tens of millions of hatchery chinook are released earlier in their lives so that they mature in the Pacific Ocean. That means they're not as contaminated as the fish that mature in hatcheries, but it also means they're not as available for recreational anglers to catch in Puget Sound.
Given the new PCB contamination concerns, though, it makes sense to discontinue the late-release hatchery program – which would be a lot easier than teaching orcas to read.
Endangered whale gets habitat protection
July 7, 2006 (The Olympian) Thousands of square miles off Alaska have been designated as critical habitat for North Pacific right whales, considered the most endangered whale in the world.
The federal rule published Thursday designates some 36,750 square miles in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska as critical habitat for right whales. The rule takes effect Aug. 7.
At least 11,000 of the slow-moving whales, prized by commercial whalers for their oil and baleen, once swam the North Pacific.
The whales were listed as endangered in 1973 and they are believed to number fewer than 100 in waters near Alaska. A few hundred more may remain closer to Russia.
Between 1963 and 1967, the Soviets killed 372 right whales in the Gulf of Alaska and the southeastern Bering Sea - an event that was thought to be the final blow.
Money flows to delta from pollution lawsuit
July 6, 2006 (The Olympian)
[Note: Orca Network was among the grant recipients. List of recipients]
Two estuary restoration projects - one at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and the other overseen by the Nisqually tribe - got a jump-start Wednesday.
The two projects, which aim to restore 800 acres of Nisqually River estuary, received a major infusion of cash from criminal pollution penalties paid by an international shipping company to the federal government.
Restoring the estuary is a cornerstone of the recovery plan for Nisqually chinook salmon, which are one of the Puget Sound salmon runs listed under the Endangered Species Act. The estuary work alone could lead to a doubling of the number of naturally spawning chinook salmon in the river, tribal salmon recovery program manager Jeanette Dorner said, citing studies.
It's one of the main reasons the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is moving forward with plans to breach the outer dike at the Nisqually refuge to allow 700 acres of the 3,000-acre refuge to revert to estuary.
The $200,000 that will go to the refuge, coupled with another $200,000 in private donations, will be used to continue project design, obtain project permits and start on the ground activities next year, refuge manager Jean Takekawa said.
The $145,000 for the tribe's 100-acre estuary project would go toward dike removal and monitoring. It will be used this summer to help turn about 100 acres of pasture land on the east side of the Nisqually River into an area where South Puget Sound waters flow in and out with the tides.
Fine levied for oil dumping will benefit Puget Sound
July 6, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) 14 projects get cash to begin restoration work
Restoring development-mangled shorelines. Removing a dock that is leaching poisons into a wildlife sanctuary. Educating schoolchildren and adults about the importance of protecting Puget Sound.
Those are a few of the projects to be funded by a fine paid last year by a cargo ship company caught illegally dumping oily wastes, officials announced Wednesday.
It's great news -- but really just a smidgen of what's needed to entirely restore Puget Sound. Of the 134 projects that sought funding from the fine, only 14 got it -- even though all of the proposals were worthwhile, officials involved in the decision say.
They are now appealing for more donations to what they envision as a public and private effort to fund a sweeping restoration of Puget Sound.
"It's going to take bajillions of dollars to implement the solutions that have been identified," said Krystyna Wolniakowski, Northwest director for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which is administering the grants on behalf of federal prosecutors. "We just wanted to get this $1.7 million to work on the ground."
The backdrop to this is a growing movement to launch a multibillion-dollar Sound restoration program. The $1.7 million from the Evergreen fine will be matched by nearly $1.3 million in separate grants from private and government programs.
"We would like to have the Puget Sound Marine Conservation Fund be a vehicle for anyone who wants to help fund projects in the Sound, whether it's a $10 donation or a $1 million donation," she said. "We hope that fund will grow so we can continue funding projects around the Sound."
Effect of climate change on oceans gaining attention
July 6, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The report, jointly prepared by NOAA, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey, is titled "Impacts of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs and Other Marine Calcifiers." Although it may sound obtuse and perhaps limited in scope, it appears to represent a significant turning point -- expert consensus that this is a serious problem.
"This is the first time the issue has received this level of attention in the U.S.," Feely said. He said their findings of CO2-driven acidification of the oceans also will be included for the first time in the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (a United Nations' panel widely regarded as the leading scientific organization on global warming).
"We still don't have a very good grasp of what this means for ocean biology," said the lead author, Joan Kleypas of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.
But there's no longer much question, Kleypas emphasized, that increased atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide -- one of the main greenhouse gases driving climate change -- is also causing the world's oceans to become more acidic.
Whales Active in Puget Sound
July 4, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) People have been spotting whales
Several groups of orcas and at least one gray or humpback whale have been active in Puget Sound.
A group of seal-eating transient orcas apparently left Puget Sound on Monday after visiting the far reaches of southern Puget Sound, including Vaughn and Allyn on Case Inlet and Shelton on Oakland Bay.
Susan Berta of Orca Network, which keeps track of killer whales, said sightings Monday morning off Bainbridge Island and shortly after noon near Hansville indicated that the whales were headed north and out of Puget Sound.
The group of five or six transients was first spotted last Thursday off Bainbridge Island. By the next night, they had gone past Vashon Island, where they were spotted by some South Kitsap residents.
"They spent all weekend in South Puget Sound and just this morning headed out," Berta said. "A kayaker said he saw an unusually large number of seals in Case Inlet."
Puget Sound's three "resident" groups of orcas; J, K and L pods; seem to have settled down in the San Juan Islands in their annual hunt for chinook salmon, said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in the San Juan Islands. All are present and accounted for, he said, meaning that none of the animals died over the winter. Also, two new babies were identified, one in K Pod and one in L Pod.
Judge bars shrill Navy sonar
July 4, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Temporary order issued in suit seeking to protect whales, porpoises
The Navy is forbidden to use an intense form of sonar -- known to have spooked Puget Sound orcas in the past -- during combat exercises this month in the Pacific, a federal judge ruled Monday.
Environmentalists suing to halt the sonar use offered "considerable convincing scientific evidence" that the exercise would harm or even kill whales, porpoises and other marine creatures, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper ruled in Los Angeles in granting a temporary restraining order.
Among the areas the Navy had previously obtained permission to use the midfrequency sonar were the biologically rich waters of the northwest Hawaiian Islands. Last month, President Bush proposed creating the largest marine sanctuary on the planet there.
"Whales and other marine species shouldn't have to die for practice. The Navy can accomplish its national security mission in a manner that's consistent with environmental protection," said Joel Reynolds, a Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer involved in the case. "It simply makes no sense for the Navy not to incorporate the full range of practical, common-sense measures available to it to reduce the harm to whales, porpoises and other marine creatures."
That apparently also was what was going on in the San Juan Islands when the USS Shoup, a guided missile destroyer, started using sonar in a 2003 exercise at Haro Strait.
The intense, screechy whistling was loud enough to be heard above the water by boaters more than 10 miles away.
Witnesses said orcas halted their feeding and huddled close to shore in an odd configuration.
Dall's porpoises also gathered in a bay, and a minke whale swam off as if in a panic.
Fifteen harbor porpoises were found dead on beaches in the region in the days that followed, an unusually high number for that time of year.
And the Navy admitted that its sonar was "highly likely" the cause of the deaths of whales that beached themselves in the Bahamas in March 2000.
Navy Up Against Environmentalists July 4, 2006 (ABC News)
US Navy in sonar ban over whales July 4, 2006 (BBC)
Judge Blocks Navy Sonar Use During Pacific Exercise
July 3, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) A federal district judge today issued a temporary restraining order to block the Navy's use of mid-frequency sonar during ongoing training exercises this week in the Hawaiian Islands.
The order, requested by the National Marine Fisheries Service, comes three days after the Navy exempted itself from regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper found grounds to file the restraining order under a separate law, the National Environmental Policy Act.
"Plaintiffs have submitted considerable convincing scientific evidence demonstrating that the Navy's use of MFA (mid-frequency active) sonar can kill, injure and disturb many marine species, including marine mammals," the judge said in a seven-page order.
Salmon run expected among best in 15 years
July 3, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail) As many as 17 million sockeye could reach mouth of B.C.'s Fraser River this summer
As many as 17 million sockeye salmon are expected to reach the mouth of the Fraser River this summer in one of the highest returns in the past 15 years.
The catch-up year could mean more than $240-million for British Columbia's struggling commercial salmon fishery.
"That's an exceptional fishing run," Bob McKamey, spokesperson for the Fraser River Gillnetters Association, said yesterday in an interview, referring to the projected return of 17 million salmon. The association represents 375 fishermen.
The commercial salmon fishery so far has been allotted a catch of eight million Fraser River salmon, a federal government official said.
Testing in Sound under fire
July 3, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Non-profit group says Navy explosions still harm wildlife
As all eyes prepare to look for Independence Day fireworks above Puget Sound, a key environmental group is worrying about the explosions going on under the surface of the Sound.
Those explosions, it says, are creating a hellhole for fish.
Four years after being urged to change its ways, the Navy is still blowing up thousands of fish in Puget Sound while moving at a glacial pace with promised mitigation measures, says the non-profit Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an activist group representing government employees.
"This to me is just outrageous," said Sue Gunn, Washington PEER director in Olympia.
While taxpayers spend millions to preserve the Sound, notably through the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "another government agency is busy blowing it up," Gunn said.
Navy officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The Navy conducts nearly 60 demolition practice exercises a year to train divers in finding and detonating underwater mines.
Scientists who watched a blast several years ago said most of the fish that floated to the surface were surf smelt, a key food source for salmon and similar-size fish. In one exercise, observers counted at least 5,000 dead fish off Whidbey Island, but estimated 20,000 fish sank out of sight to the seabed.
The Navy conducts its exercises in Hood Canal; in Crescent Harbor next to Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island; in northern Holmes Harbor, near the town of Greenbank on Whidbey Island; and in Port Townsend Bay on the west side of Naval Magazine Indian Island.
Documents acquired by PEER say a Navy self-assessment of its demolition exercises indicate that they are "not likely to adversely affect" such protected species as Chinook salmon, Stellar sea lions, humpback whales and bull trout. The fisheries and wildlife services, however, said there was a high likelihood that the explosions were hurting Chinook salmon, chum salmon and bull trout.
Navy Exempts Itself From Sonar Rules
July 1, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) The exemption, authorized by Congress two years ago, will be used to avoid complying with the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Defense Department Friday instituted a national security exemption to allow Navy ships to use sonar without compliance with the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The six-month, nationwide exemption for mid-frequency sonar was announced in response to a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which threatened to delay a Navy exercise in the Hawaiian Islands. The lawsuit claims that a permit issued to the Navy by the National Marine Fisheries Service would allow whales, dolphins and other marine mammals to be injured or killed by active sonar emitted by Navy ships.
"The Navy will continue to employ stringent mitigation measures to protect marine mammals during all sonar activities," said Navy Rear Adm. James Symonds, director of environmental readiness.
Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said whales have been killed and injured during Navy exercises throughout the world, including Hawaii, Washington state, North Carolina and the Bahamas. Many other marine mammal deaths may have gone unnoticed, he said.
"This is an historic and unprecedented retreat by the U.S. Navy from our national commitment to protect whales, dolphins and other marine life," he said. "It's not that the Navy can't comply with the law; it's that the Navy chooses not to. Whales and other marine mammals shouldn't have to die for practice."
Puget Sound's orca population has been designated an endangered species, and the National Marine Fisheries Service has identified the habitat considered "critical" for their continued existence. Excluded from the proposed critical habitat are military bases, Hood Canal and areas along the Pacific Coast even though whales are known to frequent these areas, said Fred Felleman, Northwest director of Ocean Advocates. National Marine Fisheries Service has bent over backwards to avoid any inconvenience for the Navy, Felleman asserted.