Orca Network News - June, 2003

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
June 1, 2003 through June 30, 2003.
Whale marks Day Four in Skagit River; seems OK
June 27, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A juvenile gray whale marked its fourth day in the Skagit River on Friday, when it was still lingering between Burlington and Sedro Woolley - roughly 15 miles up the winding waterway.
Witnesses - and there've been lots of them - say the animal does not appear to be in distress.
There were concerns late last week when a young gray whale, now confirmed as the same animal, ventured a short distance up the much shallower Samish River, several miles to the north. But the whale then made its way back to the open water of Padilla Bay.
"This is a much bigger river than the Samish. There's a lot more room to maneuver. But if he keeps going upstream things are going to get sticky," said spokeswoman Janet Sears at the National Marine Fisheries Service's regional office in Seattle.
At 15 to 20 feet in length, the whale is "pretty small" compared to adults, which can grow to 45 feet and weigh as much as 40 tons, she said.
Experience shows that this whale is quite capable of turning around and heading downstream when it wants to. Any action humans take to try to herd the whale could be pointless in the broad Skagit River, he said.

Gray whale spotted, this time in Skagit
June 26, 2003 (Seattle Times) A juvenile gray whale has been spotted several miles up the Skagit River - just south of the Samish River, where there was a similar adventure late last week.
It could be the same whale, said Agent John Bowyers of the National Marine Fisheries Service, who is stationed in the area but had not heard of the latest incident until a reporter called yesterday afternoon. "For some reason the gray whales - they like to ... follow food up there. Once they start, they may keep doing it," he said. He said a whale in the Skagit would have more room to maneuver because it's a deeper river. "As long as they don't get stranded there's nothing to worry about," he said.
The whale was first spotted Tuesday evening about five miles inland near Conway.

Orca guide trial sparks fear among whale tour operators
June 24, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Representatives of several whale watching groups listened intently Monday to a court case that some say could have a chilling effect on the popular West Coast industry.
A 63-year-old professional whale-watching guide is accused of twice disturbing orcas last summer, one of the first cases of its type in a decade to go to trial.
Such charges are rare, and it's rarer still that they are battled out in court. But Jim Maya has pleaded not guilty to two charges of disturbing a marine mammal, and several whale guides say the case may determine how the generally-worded Fisheries Act charge is to be interpreted by the industry.
In testimony Monday, provincial court heard the ins and outs of whale watching, a business that attracts thousands of tourists on West Coast waters each year hoping for a glimpse of orcas.
Two Department of Fisheries and Oceans officers testified that they saw Maya, an American who runs a whale-watching company out of San Juan Island, contravene a law that prohibits disturbing a marine mammal by being within 100 metres of it.

Unhealthy levels of mercury found in freshwater bass
June 21, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) (Note - mercury in the food web upstream will find its way downstream) Women of child-bearing age and young children should limit their consumption of freshwater bass caught in Washington state because of elevated mercury levels, health officials advised yesterday.
In the first statewide study of mercury concentration in fish, the Department of Ecology found 51 percent of the sampled bass population had mercury at or exceeding a level that raises health concerns.
It tested 185 smallmouth and largemouth bass from 18 lakes and two rivers, including Lake Meridian in King County.
The state found higher levels of mercury in older and bigger bass, supporting other studies that indicate concentration is greater in large, predatory fish such as bass.

Washington island strives for sustainable energy
June 20, 2003 (Environmental News Network) Rita Schenck of the largely rural island of Vashon, Wash., wants the Seattle suburb's 10,000 residents to be completely energy-independent - producing their own renewable power - within a few years.
Soon, her nonprofit Institute for Environmental Research and Education will ask residents to decide how they should combine energy from the sun, wind, composting, and tides to wean themselves from fossil fuels. Someday soon, cars will run on island-produced power stored in the form of hydrogen. Sound far-fetched?
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen doesn't think so. He pitched in $50,000 toward the completed first phase of the effort: cataloging all the ways the islanders use energy and developing a practical tool for communities everywhere to use when taking their first step toward energy sustainability.
"Now we need to get to the next phase: making it happen," Schenck said in her Energy Update electronic newsletter in October. "Definitely within two years we ought to see [initial results]," Schenck said later by phone. She hopes the island's new energy producers, from solar panels to windmills, will be installed by then.

Navy quiet over possible link to porpoise deaths
June 19, 2003 (Everett Herald) Did sonar exercises in May by a Navy destroyer, the USS Shoup, cause several porpoises to strand themselves and die on area beaches, including Whidbey Island?
For now, Navy officials are not saying much.
The Navy declined an invitation from the federally initiated Island County Marine Resources Committee on Wednesday to discuss alternatives to making the military exercises more compatible with marine mammals.
Rich Melaas, community planning liaison for Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, was sent to the meeting but was instructed to say only that the Navy is investigating the incident and the National Marine Fisheries Service is handling the post-mortem examinations of the porpoises.
Whale researcher Ken Balcomb told a group of about 25 people at the Marine Resources Committee's meeting on Wednesday that the necropsies are being delayed because CAT scan equipment in Seattle is booked indefinitely with human patients.
Despite the $250,000 price tag for a CAT scan machine, Balcomb said the federal government should invest in a separate machine to do marine research, because strandings occur often enough to justify it.
"There should be a West Coast-dedicated machine so you don't have to stand in line," Balcomb said.
Susan Berta of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network said she was worried to hear that federal officials were considering shipping the carcasses to facilities on the East Coast, away from the public scrutiny here.
"It would be nice if there was a neutral body doing these necropsies," Berta said.
Balcomb suggested changing the maneuvers to computer simulations for the bulk of the work. And when real-life exercises are required, he said the Navy should avoid corridors of high marine mammal use and find dead zones in the sea whenever possible.

Note - Clarification from Susan Berta:

Dear Editor -
Thank you for the Everett Herald's coverage of the recent Navy Sonar Incident and coincident porpoise strandings. We appreciate your efforts to help make the public aware of this issue, but I do want to clarify the quotes that were attributed to me in June 19th's article "Navy quiet over possible link to porpoise deaths".
First I must state that I am not angry or suspicious in the delay of the porpoise necropsies. In fact, during the meeting I relayed the latest report I had from Brent Norberg of NOAA Fisheries regarding the CT scans & necropsies, which is that they have had difficulties in scheduling local CT scans. I also noted that I'd heard it is a busy season for hospitals and ER's, and that could be why the CT scan machines in local hospitals were booked up. I reported that NOAA Fisheries was opening up the necropsy session to a wide audience and inviting in several experts, and that they were trying to get it done by the end of the month, which I personally think is quite timely given the number of people, facilities and agencies involved with this process. My concerns about sending the specimens back east (if local CT scans can't be arranged) have more to do with the time involved, not with being "away from public scrutiny".
And lastly, my comment about a "neutral body" for necropsies was something I said after the public presentation, and was taken out of context in the article. What I said was that it would be nice if there were a neutral facility in the Northwest that could be used by NOAA Fisheries, the Navy, Researchers, etc. for CT scans, so there wouldn't be the hassle of trying to find local machines or having to ship out the specimens, which takes more time and expense. In the case of a mass stranding where some live whales might be saved, immediate access to CT scanning equipment for getting answers from the dead specimens could be very important.
I don't agree that the tone of the presentation or following discussion was one of anger with NOAA Fisheries for their response to the porpoise strandings or how they are handling the necropsy/CT scan process. Orca Network was involved in recovering two fresh porpoise specimens on Whidbey Island, and worked closely with NOAA Fisheries staff, including Brad Hanson who made several trips to Whidbey during evening and weekend hours to pick up the porpoises immediately after they stranded. Brent Norberg has been good at keeping us informed of NOAA's progress in getting the CT scans and necropsies scheduled, and very forthcoming with information about their investigation of this incident.

Susan Berta
Orca Network

Wildlife officials try to guide lost gray whale back to the sea
June 19, 2003 (Seattle Times) State and federal wildlife officials last night were banging on pipes trying to herd a juvenile gray whale that had swum more than four miles up the Samish River back to Samish Bay in Skagit County.
While swimming upstream is not unusual for bottom-feeding gray whales, wildlife officials were concerned it might beach itself or spend too much time exposed to fresh water.
The whale first was seen yesterday about three miles up from the mouth of the river and had swum to between miles four and five later in the day.
"They're opportunistic feeders and they're looking for a place to eat," Gorman said. "And like a dog on a scent, they're looking for food, and they may find themselves in a sticky wicket for a day or two. But in most cases they find which way is up and they leave. ... They haven't evolved over millions of years only to end up in a river dying."
Whale seen in Samish River June 19, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Sonar puts whales at greater risk
June 18, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Kathy Fletcher) On May 5, the Navy vessel Shoup used its ear-splitting sonar in the waters of Haro Strait, the heart of our local orca whales' habitat. Scientists observed the entire J-pod of orcas reacting in distress and a minke whale desperately trying to flee. Similar sonar use in the Bahamas in March 2000 killed rare whales and dolphins.
The Navy should stop using sonar in Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits. Southern resident orca whales, the most beloved creatures in our precious inland sea, are on the brink of extinction. At the top of Puget Sound's food web, the plight of these creatures also reflects the crisis of Puget Sound's ecosystem.
Concerned citizens should express their opinion to the Navy and other decision-makers, along with learning more about the plight of the Sound's whales and how we can protect their future.

Wishful thinking won't help salmon
June 18, 2003 (Seattle Times op-ed by Rob Masonis) Setting aside the fact that the scientific evidence does not support the notion that the governors' recovery goal for Snake River salmon can be achieved with the dams in place, there is another problem: The major habitat improvements that are essential to the success of any non-dam-removal recovery plan are not happening.
The relatively strong salmon returns of the past few years have demonstrated the enormous value of salmon as an economic and cultural resource to the region, not to mention their importance to the ecology of the Snake River basin. Those runs, which were the product of exceptionally favorable ocean and freshwater conditions, will only become the norm in the Snake River if major improvements are made in river habitat.
The role model for those in charge of Snake River salmon recovery appears to be Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who made her way back home by clicking her heels and repeating her wish over and over. Unfortunately, wishful thinking and repeating the mantra "we can recover salmon and keep the lower Snake River dams" is not going to work.

Is sound of sonar deadly in San Juans?
June 17, 2003 (Seattle Times) Ken Balcomb keeps a harbor porpoise tucked in a basement freezer under lamb steaks and microwave lasagna. Wrapped in black plastic and duct tape, it sits untouched and frozen solid, like evidence in a coroner's morgue.
Balcomb found the blunt-nosed porpoise drifting dead off False Bay late last month, two weeks after a U.S. Navy destroyer motored through Haro Strait. Even people on shore said they could hear the high-pitched whine of the ship's powerful sonar emanating from the lapping waves.
For more than three decades, Balcomb has watched over the orca and other marine mammals off San Juan Island like they were his own kin. And for the past several years, he has tried to convince the government and even skeptical colleagues that Navy sonar can drive whales and other marine mammals crazy - even kill them.

Blue whales show gradual growth
June 17, 2003 (BBC) Blue whales, one of the most endangered species on Earth, appear to have begun a very gradual increase in numbers.
Scientists say the Antarctic population could be three times bigger than it was 25 years ago.
There are also reports of some increases in northern hemisphere blue whales. But so few animals survived the harpoons that any recovery will be a very slow process.
It suggests the number of Antarctic blue whales may have risen from about 500 animals a quarter of a century ago to around 1,500 now.
Scientific committee sources have told BBC News Online of signs that some northern hemisphere blue whale populations are also showing signs of growth.

World Panel Will Now Act to Conserve the Whale Population
June 16, 2003 (New York Times) Overcoming stiff opposition from pro-whaling countries, the International Whaling Commission, historically concerned with the development of the whaling industry, voted today to make whale conservation one of its main functions.
The vote, on the first day of the annual meeting of the I.W.C., the principal oversight body of global whaling, created a new committee intended to streamline efforts to protect and conserve whale populations worldwide.
Environmental organizations were jubilant. "This has put conservation at the heart of the role of the I.W.C.," said Matthew Davis, communications director of the World Wildlife Fund International Species Program. "This is a big leap forward."
Supporters of the resolution see the new committee as a way to speed the process of preserving the whale populations they fear are dwindling. Although the commission has considered hundreds of conservation ideas in recent years, there had never been an organized approach to putting them into action. "This is simply good governance and it's very long overdue," said Rollie Schmitten, the American representative to the commission.
The vote also extends, at least by implication, the range of animals under the commission's purview. Besides large whales, it will oversee the health of all cetaceans, an order of water mammals including porpoises and dolphins, which are often threatened more by poor conservation practices than by targeted fishing.

Anti-whalers push for revolutionary change
June 14, 2003 (New Scientist) A revolutionary change of direction could await the International Whaling Commission at its 2003 annual meeting, which begins in on Monday in Berlin, Germany. However, the proposed shift of focus is so divisive it could threaten the integrity of the organisation itself.
The controversial resolution has been tabled by countries opposed to whaling and aims to push the IWC firmly towards conserving whales, rather than managing how many are caught.
For the first time, the IWC would seek to actively promote and manage conservation beyond the narrow activity of whaling itself, encompassing issues such as accidental deaths in fishing nets, collisions with boats, the effects of pollution and guidelines for "whale-tourism". A WWF report estimates that as many as 300,000 cetaceans perish in nets every year.
Japan sees the Berlin Initiative as a thinly-veiled attempt to end commercial whaling for good. They also fear it would give the IWC powers to limit or even ban the harvest of smaller cetaceans, such as dolphins and porpoises, which are not currently covered by IWC rules.

More people and far fewer fish, scientists warn
June 13, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Northwesterners' love for their sport utility vehicles and neighborhood Starbucks directly contradicts their professed adoration of the region's wild salmon, scientists warned here yesterday at an international meeting on salmon policy.
The biggest danger to the survival of wild salmon is the population juggernaut that will see the Pacific Northwest's population surge from today's 15 million to 50 million or more by century's end, researchers said at the World Summit on Salmon.
But there's also an off chance that enough of those people could learn enough about their ecological "footprint" to preserve healthy salmon stocks, some of the more optimistic participants said.
Still, the overall mood was bleak.

Lonely Luna keeps boaters out all night
June 12, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Four Vancouver Island boaters spent a night trapped on the ocean when Luna, the lonely killer whale, kept blocking their vessel, shoving it away from shore.
"The whale wouldn't leave us alone," Norman Sinclair, one of the boaters, said Wednesday. "It kept pushing the boat around."
Sinclair, who runs Analisa II Fishing Charters, had been out on the water off the Island's west coast with Cory Handeyside, Chris Lazuk and Scott Comeau for a day's cruise and were heading home when their fuel ran out about 10 minutes from shore.
To bring their 5.6-metre boat to shore, they snapped the lids off their coolers to augment their paddle.
But whenever they made headway, Luna, also known as L-98 to denote his pod and birth order, ran interference.
"The whale would keep us going the wrong way or would spin the boat around so we couldn't really paddle."

Eating Wild Salmon is Healthier
June 12, 2003 (Good Housekeeping) Salmon is loaded with beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that fight heart disease. The problem is farmed salmon also pack on more bad, saturated fats than wild salmon.
"If you picture farmed salmon sitting in a pen their entire lives and pretty much just swimming around in circles, they're going to be a lot more fatty and a lot less lean than wild salmon that swim up to 100 miles a day," Mazurek said.
U.S. Department of Agriculture data show farmed salmon species can contain 60 percent more fat per serving than their wild brethren, with only 16 or 17 percent of that fat as omega-3 fats. Wild salmon species, in contrast, can contain 22 to 27 percent of their fat as omega-3.
The extra fat farmed salmon pack could lead to some disturbing consequences, Mazurek said. "A lot of pesticides can stay in the fat," he explained.

Sonar and whales: Locke quizzes Navy
June 11, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Gary Locke has asked the Navy for an explanation of the use of sonar that some believe disrupted whales and may have caused the deaths of at least seven porpoises north of Seattle.
In a letter to Acting Navy Secretary Hansford Johnson, Locke asked how the Navy planned to mitigate the impact of sonar on marine mammals in Puget Sound and the associated inland marine waters.
"We're always working to be good stewards of the environment. We are interested in the environment, and anytime these things happen, we do look into them," said Capt. Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for Johnson.

Locke seeks report on sonar effects
June 10, 2003 (Everett Herald) Gov. Gary Locke is asking the Navy for a report on the USS Shoup's use of sonar in Haro Strait last month, and he also wants details of what the Navy plans to do to prevent sonar from hurting marine mammals in Puget Sound.
The request, made by Locke in a letter Friday to acting Secretary of the Navy Hansford T. Johnson, comes just after Puget Sound's orcas were officially listed as "depleted" under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The Shoup, an Everett-based destroyer and one of the Navy's newest warships, used its mid-range tactical sonar for routine training when it traveled between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island on May 5.
Governor asks Navy about sonar disruption of whales June 10, 2003 (Seattle Times)
US navy pressed for answers on sonar incident off Vancouver June 10, 2003 (Vancouver Sun)
U.S. Navy under fire over sonar test June 10, 2003 (CBC)
Locke Asks Navy For Explanation In Sonar/Marine Life Incident June 10, 2003 (KOMO-TV)

An ocean of hurt
June 9, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) If we let the oceans become poisoned, we're all in trouble. That's why the new Pew Oceans Commission report calls for a genuine system for managing oceans.
We must find a way to preserve significant parts of America's oceans as public resources, in a system similar to the national parks.
The recommendations strike familiar notes for people around Puget Sound. We have begun -- barely -- to create genuine marine reserves for conserving fish and habitat. And the Boldt decision on fishing started the Northwest into overall management of salmon, looking beyond catch limits to the health of fish and habitat.
The private Pew Commission suggests consolidation of ocean management responsibilities and goals nationally. The salmon experience is again relevant: Too many groups still play a role in making decisions.
The commission believes that Congress and President Bush should create a federal oceans agency. Regional councils could help apply policies around the country.
Another U.S. commission, established by Congress and appointed by the president, will present recommendations later this year. It appears the panel is thinking along similar lines.
Even in an era of diminished government, the need for action ought to be clear. The oceans cover much of Earth. Without healthy oceans, people will inevitably suffer from environmental, economic and cultural harm.

Getting Involved: Bid to protect salmon habitat from works projects
June 9, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Streams in southwest Snohomish County have been profoundly changed by development as trees have been cut, ground has been paved over and more pollution has poured over their eroded banks.
Salmon stocks are depressed in the polluted North Creek, Little Bear Creek and Swamp Creek watersheds that run through Seattle's northern suburbs and eventually empty into Lake Washington. Some are protected from further harm by the Endangered Species Act.
In the county's densely populated corridor between Everett and Mountlake Terrace, demand is rising for road improvement projects to ease clogged traffic and for drainage fixes to keep yards from flooding.
Yet sometimes those projects unavoidably harm salmon or destroy habitat, whether by filling wetlands, increasing erosion or cutting trees that kept streams cool and shady.

Orca pods return with new calf, but 2 adults missing
June 7, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Two pods of killer whales have returned to Puget Sound this week after four months of ocean travels.
They brought a new calf with them, much to the delight of whale watchers and researchers, but two adults appear to be missing.
"The fact that two adults were lost is disappointing, but everybody's got to die sometime," Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research, said yesterday.
"One was an older female, so I'm not too surprised about that."
The other, he said, was a 23-year-old male. Males usually live at least 29 years and can live more than 50 years.
Researchers were reviewing photographs of the animals to make sure they hadn't missed either of the adults, and they also planned to spend more time on the water searching for them.
The pods that returned are the K and L pods. Before being spotted Wednesday, they hadn't been seen since an appearance in Monterey Bay, Calif., in mid-March. The J pod usually remains in the area year-round.
At the end of last season, the orca population in Puget Sound stood at 79. It's now at 82, Balcomb said.
The new calf -- apparently quite young, based on the pinkish tint to its white patches -- is the third offspring of L-55 and has been nicknamed Nugget. It's the sixth baby orca born since last fall.
One of those calves died, but the others appear healthy.
In the spring of 2001, seven whales were missing when the pods returned.
Susan Berta, who runs Orca Network, which keeps tabs on the whales' movements, said the recent health of the population is due largely to good runs of salmon, thanks to improved ocean conditions.

Detailed study sought for pipeline proposal
June 6, 2003 (Bellingham Herald) The state Department of Ecology will require a more extensive environmental review of the Georgia Strait Crossing Project before granting the permits necessary to build a natural-gas pipeline across Whatcom County and state waters.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved construction of the pipeline in September. But state officials say FERC's review of the project didn't answer all their questions.
If state officials determine the potential for environmental damage from the so-called GSX pipeline is too great, the project may be denied several required state permits, said Barry Wenger, shorelines specialist in the Ecology Department's Bellingham office.

Government of Canada Announces $9 Million To Help Protect Species At Risk and Their Habitat
June 5, 2003 (Species at Risk Act) The Government of Canada today announced $9 million in funding for conserving habitat and species at risk. The funding supports 164 Habitat Stewardship Program (HSP) projects located across Canada.
"This investment demonstrates the Government of Canadas commitment to protect habitat and contribute to the recovery of species at risk," said Environment Minister David Anderson. "Since the Programs inception, Canadian stewardship projects have benefited the habitat of more than 300 federally-listed species at risk, and over 100 provincially-listed species at risk."
Habitat stewardship projects cover a wide range of stewardship activities. For instance, in Nova Scotia, stewards are working to protect Leatherback Turtles by providing guidance to fishers on safe turtle disentanglement techniques. Another HSP project will continue efforts to protect the Piping Plover on Prince Edward Island. Guardians will identify, protect and monitor Piping Plover nesting areas.

Orcas return with baby
June 5, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) The excitement of a new baby orca spread quickly among whale-watchers and researchers Wednesday as two pods of killer whales returned from winter travels in the ocean.
Experts with the Center for Whale Research also were on the water Wednesday, identifying individual killer whales through their markings.
Nobody who cares about Puget Sound's orcas can forget spring 2001, when seven whales were missing upon the pods' return. They apparently died mysteriously.
Overnight, the Puget Sound population was adjusted downward to 78 animals -- the lowest number since orca captures were banned in the mid-1970s.
The calf spotted Wednesday is the third offspring of L-55, nicknamed Nugget.
Since last fall, six baby orcas have been born.
"I'm really excited," said Susan Berta, who runs Orca Network, which keeps tabs on the whales' movements.
Berta attributes the whales' success to good runs of salmon, thanks to improved ocean conditions.

There goes the neighborhood
June 5, 2003 (Christian Science Monitor) America's treatment of its oceans is under scrutiny as groups propose ways to renew overtaxed waters.
Today, US coastal waters are almost free from such easy-to-spot industrial abuse. Instead, their health is threatened by what Dr. Costa-Pierce, now a marine scientist at the University of Rhode Island, dubs the "death of a million cuts."
Overfishing, pollution from more-diffuse sources, and coastal development near breeding grounds for marine life have led several commissions recently to look hard at how America treats the oceans - and to offer ideas for improving its stewardship.
Think of them as urban-renewal proposals for Neptune's neighborhood. If Congress and the White House enact them, they would result in the most sweeping overhaul of US oceans policy in more than 30 years.
Wednesday in Washington, D.C., the nonprofit Pew Oceans Commission released a long-awaited assessment of the state of the nation's ocean resources and a blueprint for solving the problems it sees. This fall, the congressionally chartered Commission on Ocean Policy is expected to release its own findings and recommendations. Meanwhile, several major international environmental groups - including the Nature Conservancy and the Ocean Conservancy - ended a meeting this week in Los Cabos, Mexico, and have unveiled yet another agenda for the globe's oceans.

'America's oceans are in crisis,' says new report
June 5, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Note: click here for copies of the Pew Oceans Commission Final Findings and Recommendations. A century after America started setting aside national forests, it is time to begin a similar drive to conserve oceans, an independent commission recommends.
The United States' reach over ocean waters has expanded sixteenfold in recent decades -- to 4.5 million miles. And yet those waters are governed under a "hodgepodge of ocean laws and programs," according to the Pew Oceans Commission report, released yesterday.
"America's oceans are in crisis and the stakes could not be higher ... ," the report begins. "What we once considered inexhaustible and resilient is, in fact, finite and fragile."
The report -- the result of three years of intense study by a panel that included Republicans, Democrats, scientists, fishermen and environmentalists -- paints a bleak picture of ocean health but highlights dozens of opportunities to turn things around.
It says Americans need to rethink fishing limits, set aside large areas where no fishing occurs, establish an independent national agency to govern oceans, halt construction of fish farms until their effects are better understood and control the putrid mix that washes off farms, streets and lawns with each rain.

Nation must act to protect oceans, researchers say
June 4, 2003 (Portland Oregonian) Environmental threats to the nation's oceans, estuaries, beaches and sea life are greater now than ever before in the nation's history, according to a commission pushing for an overhaul of the federal government's stewardship of marine resources.
"We thought oceans were beyond our ability to deplete; the evidence is clear that this is absolutely not the case," said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of zoology at Oregon State University. She is a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, a privately financed panel of scientists, environmentalists, fishermen and others.
The group is releasing its final recommendations today after three years of studying the effects of coastal development, pollution, overfishing and other threats to sea life and ocean ecosystems.
Blueprint for a new ocean ethic June 4, 2003 (Portland Oregonian Op-ed)

In The Northwest: Secrets of the deep: Oceans' endangered species
June 4, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) "The sea's inhabitants are largely invisible," says Ellis, author of an exhaustive, scathing new book entitled "The Empty Ocean."
"Without knowing what we are doing, we are in the process of eliminating most of the large fishes in the ocean."
"What we see is the ability of industrial fishers to take themselves wherever they want," he said. "Yes, driftnets are outlawed. They're supposed to be illegal. They're still being used, however, by the Taiwanese and South Koreans, perhaps by some Japanese fishers who work the North Pacific."
Our endangered salmon are a species that, since the journals of Lewis and Clark, helped define our region. Industry has backed off from public relations campaigns after seeing polls strongly supportive of saving salmon. Public protests have driven off Sea World and others who would capture our killer whales. Public opinion forced a ban on supertankers from Puget Sound waters.
Still, as Ellis points out, "we are facing the invisibility of the ocean's inhabitants."

Birth control may be harming state's salmon
June 4, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Birth-control pills can curb the reproduction of more than just the women taking them. Western Washington scientists have found that synthetic estrogen -- a common ingredient in oral contraceptives -- can drastically reduce the fertility of male rainbow trout.
The man-made compounds are showing up in waterways around the nation -- pumped into rivers, lakes and Puget Sound with water from sewage-treatment plants.
And they're being found at levels that can harm fish, possibly even this region's struggling salmon populations.

Fish farms lose in U.S. court
June 3, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) B.C. environmentalists are cheering a federal court decision in Maine against two fish-farming companies, saying it confirms the dangers of open-net cages in our own waters.
One of the companies penalized is Stolt Sea Farm, an international aquaculture company with fish-farming operations in B.C., including several sites in the Broughton Archipelago off northeastern Vancouver Island. The other company is Atlantic Salmon of Maine.
U.S. federal court Judge Gene Carter ruled that the salmon farms were threatening the environment and he cited concerns about the endangered wild Atlantic stocks on the East Coast.

Work begins on orca recovery plan
June 2, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) Restoring Puget Sound's orcas to a healthy population probably won't be quick or easy, but it's time to get started, killer whale experts agree.
Actions being discussed range from reducing boat traffic around the whales to cleaning up bottom sediments that could be poisoning them to rebuilding habitat for salmon, their primary food.
Whatever actions the federal government takes must be based on sound science, said Joe Scordino, deputy regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, the agency responsible for protecting the whales.
Last week, NOAA Fisheries officially designated the Puget Sound orcas as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
On Saturday, more than 50 killer whale experts, government officials and representatives of environmental and whale-watching groups came together. They began discussing how to put together a conservation plan to protect the orcas.

Acting Globally to Reclaim the Oceans' Bounty
June 2, 2003 (Washington Post) Momentum is building in the United States and abroad for an overhaul in the global management of fisheries and other ocean resources. Marine scientists hope the movement, to be highlighted soon in three major reports calling for reforms, will lead to the first significant revisions in U.S. fisheries policy in nearly 40 years and inspire other nations to follow suit.
The problem is straightforward: Populations of fish and other marine creatures have suffered drastic reductions because of overfishing and environmental degradation. The latest analysis, reported last month by Canadian scientists, found that populations of virtually all the world's major marine fish species had fallen to 10 percent of their natural levels.
Fortunately, marine scientists say, years of research into ocean ecosystems and fisheries management have begun to pay off with practical knowledge about how to reverse current trends. Marine biologists and oceanographers have learned a tremendous amount about the life cycles and habits not only of fish, but also of the smaller marine forms and microscopic plankton upon which fish depend. If those scientific findings were translated into policies, experts say, fishermen could catch far more than they do today while causing less damage to marine ecosystems.

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