Orca Network News - July, 2010

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
July 1, 2010 through July 31, 2010.

Gulf oil spill: 100 days, 10 lessons
July 29, 2010 (Miami Herald)
1. South Florida got lucky. Before BP's blowout, only ocean and hurricane scientists -- and some sophisticated fishermen -- knew much about the now famous Loop Current.
The powerful pipeline, which can surge deep into the offshore drilling zone, puts the fragile Florida Keys and Miami-Dade and Broward beaches more at risk from big spills than anywhere in the state outside the Panhandle. The loop actually acts as a protective barrier for Sarasota, Naples and many other communities sitting smack on the Gulf.
The loop sucked in tendrils of oil, but South Florida caught a lucky -- and literal -- break in the current. The ever-shifting loop spun off a huge eddy that blocked the mess from moving south. With the industry pushing to drill deeper down the Continental Shelf, and deeper into areas under the influence of the loop, South Florida might not get away so cleanly next time.
2. It doesn't all float: The massive slick has largely vanished -- partly consumed by microbes and worked on by wind, waves and sun -- but perhaps tens of millions of gallons may still be under water.
The discovery of vast deep sea plumes -- thought to be the result of chemical dispersant reducing the gushing flow into tiny suspended droplets -- has destroyed conventional wisdom about what happens when oil and seawater mix. Particularly when you add an unprecedented volume of chemical dispersants.
BP initially dismissed they were there.
Now, the plumes -- likened to underwater clouds of mist -- rank among the biggest cleanup concerns. Federal and academic researchers can't say for sure yet how big they are, what is likely to happen to them over time or whether the concentrations, which fade from strong around the well to barely detectable 40 miles away, are toxic to marine life.
More here

Base of ocean food web declining
July 29, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Despite their tiny size, plant plankton found in the world’s oceans are crucial to much of life on Earth. They are the foundation of the bountiful marine food web, produce half the world’s oxygen and suck up harmful carbon dioxide.
And they are declining sharply.
Worldwide phytoplankton levels are down 40 percent since the 1950s, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The likely cause is global warming, which makes it hard for the plant plankton to get vital nutrients, researchers say.
More here

Tankers in Georgia Strait - the risks are growing
July 29, 2010 (Georgia Strait)
Looking at the news, we who live in the Georgia Basin region might be forgiven for believing that the environmental devastation and catastrophies that come with the oil and gas industry happen elsewhere. They happen in Alberta's oil sands, in the waters off Alaska or along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Though we see the ships that ply our waters whenever we're by the shore, the reason we don't think about the big spills is that no large spill has happened here - yet.
With the news that Metro Port Vancouver has dramatically increased the numbers of oil tankers - carrying oil sands fuel - going through Burrard Inlet, and under First and Second Narrow bridges in the last few years, and that this increase will continue, our luck may be running out.
The decision to increase both the number of tankers and the amount of fuel they carry has been made without community consultation and without a comprehensive analysis of the risks of this decision and our ability to protect our waters when a spill happens.
More here

Tug-barge loses power in Strait; vessel in Port Angeles Harbor for inspection
July 29, 2010 (Penissula Daily News)
A tug pushing a barge full of BP fuel arrived in Port Angeles Harbor for inspection Wednesday evening after temporarily losing power in the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The 170-foot articulated tug-barge Commitment lost power shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday about 19 miles northwest of Port Angeles.
The barge contained 8 million gallons of diesel and jet fuel. It was being pushed by the tug component to Portland, Ore., from BP's Cherry Point refinery, said Curt Hart, state Department of Ecology spokesman.
Because of calm weather conditions, the vessel had drifted little by the time an emergency response tugboat from Neah Bay reached it between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., Hart said.
The tug from Neah Bay, Jeffrey Foss, escorted the Commitment to Port Angeles.
Hart said 30 billion gallons of oil is transported through Puget Sound and the Strait every year.
More here

Elwha River's coming dam removal has scientists flooded with unknowns
July 28, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Sweeping north from Mount Olympus to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Elwha has been collared by two dams since the early part of the 20th century. Both will be taken out chunk by chunk, releasing some 18 million cubic yards of sediment impounded along with the river's flow. The process will take about three years, beginning next June.
What will happen to all that sediment behind the dams when they come out? What will the pattern of colonization of the river by salmon look like once they can reach their spawning gravels above the dams once more?
"It's the first time anyone has done a staged, step-by-step dam removal of this scale," Randle said. "It's the largest controlled release of sediment ever in North America, and a very different process than we've seen elsewhere."
More here

Majority of spilled oil in Gulf of Mexico unaccounted for in government data
July 28, 2010 (Washington Post)
"That stuff's somewhere," said James H. Cowan Jr., a professor at Louisiana State University. His research has shown concentrations of oil still floating miles from the wellhead. "It's going to be with us for a while. I'm worried about some habitats being exposed chronically to low concentrations of toxins. . . . If the water's contaminated, the animals are going to be contaminated."
More here

Farmers may face serious restrictions on pesticides
July 25, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Farmers in Washington and across the nation could face severe restrictions on the use of pesticides as environmentalists, spurred by a favorable legal ruling, want the courts to force federal regulators to protect endangered species from the effects of agricultural chemicals.
An 8-year-old ruling by a federal judge in Seattle required the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Environmental Protection Agency to review whether 54 pesticides, herbicides and fungicides were jeopardizing troubled West Coast salmon runs.
The agencies recently moved to restrict the use of three of the chemicals near any bodies of water that flow into salmon-bearing streams and regulators are now considering restrictions on 12 additional chemicals. The Washington State Department of Agriculture says such restrictions will prevent pesticide use on 75 percent of the state's farmlands.
Manufacturers of agriculture chemicals have threatened to sue EPA, alleging the agency's method of crafting restrictions was riddled with "major flaws" and the industry was not asked to participate.
The companies that manufacture the three pesticides currently at the heart of the controversy told EPA they won't go along with voluntary labeling restrictions, arguing that if the chemicals are properly used they will not jeopardize endangered or threatened species.
The industry has also argued that pesticides actually help maintain habitat for endangered species by controlling the spread of noxious and harmful weeds, pointing to endangered orchids that have thrived in various rights of ways that have been sprayed with herbicides.
More here

Rayonier won't sell to Harbor-Works; company announces end to negotiations on Port Angeles property
July 24, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
PORT ANGELES -- Rayonier has told Harbor-Works that it will not sell the site of its former pulp mill to the public development authority.
The 75-acre property on the eastern shore of Port Angeles Harbor is contaminated by heavy metals, PCBs and dioxin left from 68 years of a pulp mill operation.
The Rayonier mill closed in 1997 and the cleanup of the site has been under the state Department of Ecology since 2000.
More here

Whale 'sense of smell' revealed
July 22, 2010 (BBC)
Bowhead whales have a previously undiscovered ability to smell the air.
The finding could change our understanding of how baleen whales locate prey, as scientists suspect the bowhead whales sniff out krill swarms.
The whales' sense of smell was revealed when scientists dissected their bodies and found olfactory hardware linking the brain and nose, and functional protein receptors required to smell.
Previously, whales and dolphins were thought to lack the ability.
Details are published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
More here

Judge halts oil, gas development on Chukchi Sea
July 22, 2010 (AP)
A federal judge on Wednesday stopped companies from developing oil and gas wells on billions of dollars in leases off Alaska's northwest coast, saying the federal government failed to follow environmental law before it sold the drilling rights.
The lease sale in February 2008 brought in nearly $2.7 billion for the federal government from the sale of 2.76 million acres in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea, including $2.1 billion in high bids submitted by Shell Gulf of Mexico Inc.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said that the Minerals Management Service failed to analyze the environmental effect of natural gas development despite industry interest and specific lease incentives for such development.
More here

Logs fly to Skokomish's rescue
July 21, 2010 (The Olympian)
A stretch of degraded habitat on the South Fork Skokomish River once slated to be a dam reservoir will soon house 28 large woody debris structures to provide refuge for fish and improved water quality.
More than 2,000 whole trees pulled out of an Olympic National Forest stand are being transported about one mile this week to a big bend in the river, about 11 miles upstream from where it empties into Hood Canal in Mason County.
More here

Welcoming Back the Tides: In the Nisqually Delta with Jean Takekawa
July 21, 2010 (KPLU Radio- Liam Moriarity)
Jean Takekawa is manager of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. She oversaw the estuary restoration project that opened the river's delta to Puget Sound tides for the first time in over a century.
In the late 1800s, a five-mile-long earthen dike was built where the Nisqually River enters southern Puget Sound. It created fertile farm land out of salt marsh. Now — more than a century later -– the tides of the Salish Sea are again flowing over that land. This week Liam walks the newly-restored estuary with Jean Takekawa, manager of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.

New gray whale study could affect Makah tribe
July 20, 2010 (Seattle Times)
A new study by two Canadian scientists suggests that about 200 gray whales that feed during summer in areas including the Washington state coast have "a separate genetic identity" from the rest of the gray whale population.
The study could result in restrictions on where the Makah tribe can hunt for gray whales if the hunt's impact is considered in relation to 200 whales, rather than the approximately 20,000 gray whales in the eastern Pacific.
More here

Park Board votes down plebiscite on whales, dolphins at aquarium
July 20, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
The Vancouver Park Board has voted against holding a non-binding plebiscite on whether or not to keep dolphins and whales at the aquarium.
The final vote was two-to-five, with only Green party park board commissioner Stuart Mackinnon and Loretta Woodcock voting for the motion.
Had the motion passed, it would have created a public, non-binding vote on whether or not the aquarium can keep the animals for the fall civic election.
More here

Too much of a good thing: Growth in wind power makes life difficult for grid managers
July 17, 2010 (Oregonian)
On the afternoon of May 19, in a single chaotic hour, more than a thousand wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge went from spinning lazily in the breeze to full throttle as a storm rolled east out of Hood River.
Suddenly, almost two nuclear plants worth of extra power was sizzling down the lines -- the largest hourly spike in wind power the Northwest has ever experienced.
More here

Marrowstone commercial shellfish areas clear of red tide, but levels off the chart in San Juans
July 19, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
Shellfish from beaches along Marrowstone Island, home to several shellfish companies, was found to be completely safe to eat, said Frank Cox, marine biotoxin expert with the state Department of Health on Friday.
"That area is all staying calm, so that's good news," said Cox, who had been concerned that commercial shellfish areas might be contaminated because of high levels of the toxin, also known as red tide, elsewhere, including at Fort Flagler State Park last week.
"But the San Juans have just gone seriously toxic" with levels of 7,000 to 8,000 milligrams of the marine toxin per sample, Cox added.
The levels of toxins found last week in shellfish in the San Juan Islands north across the Strait are off the chart, according to the state researcher.
"I'm shocked at how toxic the San Juans have gone," Cox said.
A sample at Friday Harbor contained 8,283 milligrams of toxin per 100 grams of tissue. The values at two sites on Lopez Island were over 7,000 milligrams, while an Orcas Island sample contained more than 6,000 milligrams.
"I'm certain these are all-time records," Cox said.
The highest amount found in recent tests was at March Point, south of Anacortes on Fidalgo Bay in Skagit County, where 10,932 milligrams of toxin were found in a sample, Cox said.
More here

Some gray whales have different genetics, study suggests -- Makah whaling could be affected
July 18, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
A new genetic study could result in restrictions on where the Makah tribe can hunt for gray whales, prompting a review of the results by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is now conducting its own, new, gray-whale research.
The study by two Canadian scientists suggests that approximately 200 of the behemoths, which annually feed during summer in areas that include the Washington state coast, including Strait of Juan de Fuca and Clayoquot Sound off Vancouver Island, "have a separate genetic identity" from the rest of the gray whale population, the authors said in a June 21 five-page summation of the study.
Since the mid-1990s, when the cetacean was removed from the endangered species list, the Makah have asserted their right to hunt whales off the Washington coast under the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay, hunting and killing one whale in a legal hunt in 1999.
More here

Miami-Dade County criticized for insufficient pipe-break notification: Municipalities affected by busted a sewage pipeline say that notification of the break came in too late.
July 13, 2010 () (Note: The Miami Seaquarium, housing Lolita the orca captured from L pod, draws water for its tanks directly from Biscayne Bay)
When a 72-inch pipe burst last month and spewed an estimated 20 million gallons of sewage into Biscayne Bay, city officials in some municipalities that were affected say Miami-Dade County did little to notify them.
While park rangers posted warning signs along the Biscayne canal and Oleta River State Park, and lifeguards warned beachgoers of the swim advisory in Bal Harbour Beach and Haulover Park, officials from several cities whose borders faced the bay or had canals affected by the raw sewage say they were clueless.
More here

Orcas seen attacking gray whale
July 13, 2010 (KOMO TV)
VIDEO - An ailing gray whale that has beached itself three times in the past week near Everett apparently is being attacked by killer whales.
A Tulalip resident who lives on a bluff facing the water says she saw two orcas ramming a gray whale Monday afternoon. Maureen McGannon told The Daily Herald she saw the whale move into shallow water to get away.
More here

Orcas Seen Near Sick Gray Whale
July 13, 2010 (KIRO TV)
VIDEO - A sick gray whale that's been swimming in the North Sound was spotted Tuesday after viewers reported it was surrounded by killer whales.
Chopper 7 video showed no orcas near the ailing, 40-foot whale as it swam Tuesday morning in Tulalip Bay.
A Tulalip resident who lives on a bluff facing the water said she saw two orcas ramming the whale Monday afternoon.
More here

Is whale facing orca attacks?
July 13, 2010 (Everett Herald)
Tulalip residents report seeing two killer whales near Tulalip Bay ram a gray whale, thought to be the same one stranded earlier.
A gray whale that was found beached in Tulalip Bay recently now appears to be facing an even greater challenge.
Tulalip residents say they saw two killer whales ramming a gray whale offshore on Monday afternoon, north of Tulalip Bay past Hermosa Point. They believe the gray whale is the same one found in the bay on Saturday.
“They were attacking him and weakening him,” said Maureen McGannon, who lives on a bluff facing west, just north of Hermosa Point.
The gray whale moved farther north to a small bay to escape the orcas, McGannon said. The water is shallower there, she said.
Around 6 p.m. the whale appeared to be moving in circles in the bay, roughly 200 feet from shore, its spouts clearly visible. The orcas could not be seen.
More here

Northwest Ocean Waters Becoming More Acidic
July 12, 2010 (Oregon Public Broadcasting)
In Seattle Monday, scientists announced that the ocean waters off the West Coast and in Puget Sound are becoming more acidic. The newly published findings coincide with the deployment of new monitoring instruments offshore. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.
Oceanographers with the federal government and the University of Washington surmise seawater is absorbing excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That makes the waters more acidic or corrosive.
That's bad news for shellfish survival and food that salmon eat. Imagine your skeleton dissolving while you're alive.
More here

Sen. Cantwell pushes for more oil-spill preparedness
July 7, 2010 (Seattle Times)
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell on Tuesday called for federal legislation requiring new technology and better preparation by oil companies to prevent and respond to oil spills.
The Washington Democrat said at a news conference in Seattle that she plans to introduce such a bill amid the ongoing BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Currently, oil companies have to file spill-response plans with the federal government, but there are few specific requirements for the scale of a response or how quickly a one should occur.
"We should get a response plan that requires new technology, technology that the industry would be required to help fund," Cantwell said.
Washington state has its own rules mandating that spill-response teams and equipment be in place in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, where oil tankers travel to reach refineries in Tacoma, Anacortes, Ferndale and Cherry Point near Blaine in Whatcom County.
Dale Jensen, the state Department of Ecology's spills program manager, said it is especially important that Puget Sound be protected with the best technology, since it is an enclosed body of water with a fragile marine ecosystem.
"We're working with 1980s, in some cases '70s, technology," said Bruce Wishart, policy director for the environmental group People for Puget Sound.
More here

Canadian migratory birds face environmental calamity in the Gulf: Expert
July 6, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
Tens of thousands of Canadian migratory birds are threatened by the environmental crisis caused by a spreading slick of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, says a Canadian bird expert.
While news reports continue to show images of oil-soaked birds around the Southern U.S. where hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil is spilling unchecked from BP's deepwater well for the past 2 1/2 months, they're not the only ones affected. Ted Cheskey, manager of bird conservation with Nature Canada, said dozens of bird species use the Gulf coastal region for feeding and other purposes on their way from Canada to Central and South America, in addition to those who spend longer stretches in the affected areas.
More here

What Is Killing Argentina's Right Whales?
July 6, 2010 (Discovery News)
In the Southern Hemisphere, however, right whales have been rebounding. The IWC's Scientific Committee estimated in 1997 that the population south of the equator numbered 7,500, although some more recent estimates have suggested the figure may be closer to 10,000 or more. Southern right whales are found in three apparently distinct populations, which feed in the waters surrounding Antarctica and return to breed in coastal waters of Australasia, South Africa, and the Atlantic coast of South America, particularly Argentina, where the lagoons of Peninsula Valdes provide a unique opportunity for researchers and tourists alike to study the species up close.
But something is seriously wrong in Peninsula Valdes. Between 1971, when researchers first began paying close attention to the area's right whales, until 2003, scientists encountered only a small handful of dead whales, as the population climbed steadily upward in size.
But that year, 31 whales were found dead along the shore. Two years later, that figure had climbed to 47; in the three years prior to this one, the figures were 83, 95, and 79. Eighty-eight percent of the bodies were of calves less than three months old, the blubber of many of them alarmingly thin.
The IWC convened a workshop earlier this year in an attempt to ascertain the causes of the whales' deaths; but although researchers were able to eliminate some of the usual suspects, such as being struck by vessels or entangled in fishing gear, confirming the guilty party has not yet been possible.
The age of the majority of their victims, and their physical condition, suggests the finger of blame should be pointed not toward Penisnula Valdes, but further south, to the whales' Antarctic feeding grounds. It is possible that warming waters are causing a diminution in the copepods and krill on which right whales feed; if that's the case, it may be particularly affecting adult females that need to feed not only themselves but also their calves, and as a result those calves may be severely malnourished.
Other possibilities include biotoxins from algae or other organisms, or some form of infectious disease.
More here

B.C. First Nations return from Gulf oil spill
July 6, 2010 (BC Local News)
B.C. First Nations have returned from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill determined to stop Enbridge oil tankers here.
A delegation of B.C. First Nations are bringing back the message that British Columbians cannot afford to let Enbridge bring the devastation of the BP oil spill to their coast.
The delegation of B.C. First Nations returned from Mexico yesterday, July 5, after a four-day tour of the Gulf Coast area affected by the BP oil spill.
"Everywhere we went people told us the same thing: if you have a choice when it comes to big oil development, don't do it. And if you do, prepare for the worst," said Gerald Amos, a councilor with the Haisla Nation.
Coastal and inland First Nations in B.C. are fighting Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would carry tar sands crude oil from Alberta to a tanker port at Kitimat, B.C. and bring 225 crude oil tankers per year to B.C.'s northern coastal waters.
More here

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