Orca Network News - June, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
June 1, 2004 through June 30, 2004.
June 30, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) • All of K-Pod and seven members of L-Pod haven't returned on schedule.
Killer whale researchers are wondering what has happened to about 30 Puget Sound orcas that have not returned from their winter travels. They normally appear in the San Juan Islands in early June.
Perhaps the whales have located a large number of fish somewhere in the ocean and are simply enjoying the feast, said Astrid van Ginnekin of the Center for Whale Research. But their absence has been disconcerting, she added.
The missing whales include all of K-Pod as many as 20 orcas and seven members of L-Pod. The two groups were reported about three times in May near Tofino off the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada, but they have not been seen since May 17, said Susan Berta of Orca Network.
"It's like they disappeared off the face of the Earth," Berta said, "but we know they're out there somewhere."
J-Pod, which stays in Puget Sound much of the year, and the rest of L-Pod have been moving in and around the San Juans recently.
Growth a threat to area waters
June 28, 2004 (Everett Herald) For Hoikka, however, the sight of spawning chinook has become but a memory. They haven't returned in big numbers since the late 1970s, she said.
Still, despite rapid growth in the south county area near Maltby where Hoikka lives, Little Bear Creek still has the best salmon habitat of any of the three main tributaries that flow into the Sammamish River from the north. The land along Little Bear Creek is also the least developed.
Little Bear Creek comprises just 71/2 miles in the county's 5,600-mile network of streams and rivers. It's also a barometer of how future development will affect sensitive salmon streams as the county continues to grow.
More homes and businesses mean fewer forests and more impervious surfaces - rain-stopping parking lots, roads and rooftops that prevent storm water from soaking into the ground and replenishing streams, wetlands and lakes.
More pavement, and fewer trees, are the two biggest threats to healthy streams and rivers.
Little Bear Creek is expected to be one of the hardest hit streams as growth continues, according to a recently released study.
It's not the only one, however.
Pacific waters are laboratory for humpback whale studies
June 25, 2004 (Seattle Times) John Calambokidis' experience off the Northwest coast show the thrills - and perils - of studying 50-foot-long humpback whales from an 18-foot inflatable skiff.
"I've actually had my whole boat lifted up in the air and spun around by whales," said the veteran marine biologist. "Sometimes they raise their heads up out of the water and lean them against the side of the boat."
On Sunday, a 224-foot federal research vessel will sail out of Seattle's Lake Union to help fill in the gaps as part of the most extensive survey ever conducted of humpbacks, a species that was driven almost to extinction by commercial whaling.
"What's exciting about this is that it allows us to see the complete picture, which we can't do with studies in a few isolated locations," said Calambokidis, whose Olympia-based Cascade Research Collective is joining an international cast of scientists in the project.
The five-month mission aboard the ship McArthur II will focus on the northern Pacific waters where the majority of humpbacks feed during the spring, summer and fall, said chief scientist Jay Barlow, of the National Marine Fisheries Service. The ship will zigzag up the coast of British Columbia and Alaska, then follow the Aleutians across to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
Today, biologists estimate that the population may have rebounded to 10,000 animals or more.
If the population is stable or increasing, it eventually may be possible to remove humpbacks from the endangered species list, as was done with gray whales in 1994, Barlow said.
Humpbacks appear to be divided into distinct groups, with definite geographic preferences, Calambokidis said. The whales that feed off the West Coast primarily breed off Mexico and Central America, while female whales from southeast Alaska head for Hawaii to give birth.
That means local populations might be more vulnerable than previously believed, Calambokidis said.
If West Coast humpbacks were wiped out, the area probably wouldn't be recolonized, because other whales aren't accustomed to the area.
Luna rescue called off for now
June 25, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Luna, the wayward killer whale, will stay put in Nootka Sound for the time being.
Maquinna said he hoped renewed negotiations would make things go more smoothly.
"The strength of our people was more apparent than anything," Maquinna said. "Our wish is that Tsuxiit is treated with respect."
The chief said he still supports the idea of leading the whale by canoe on a 140-mile journey down the west coast of Vancouver Island to meet up with his pod, but he is open to other ideas. His main objections have been to placing Luna in a net pen, moving him by truck and attaching a tracking device with pins through his dorsal fin.
"We'll get some rest and start talking next week," he said.
Plan to reunite Luna with whale pod is put on hold
June 25, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Plans to capture Luna and reunite the lone orca with his family in Puget Sound were postponed indefinitely yesterday by the Canadian government in hopes of settling differences with Indians opposing the action.
"We have had a number of discussions with them and have attempted to accommodate their needs and views in our operations," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said in a statement.
"It is evident however, that further discussions are required, and in the interest of public safety and the well-being of the whale, we will be meeting with First Nations over the coming days to review options."
Members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht band believe that a deceased chief spiritually inhabits the 4-year-old male orca, which arrived in their waters off Vancouver Island three years ago -- about the time of the chief's death.
Leaders of the band say they were not included in the planning of the capture and attempted reunification, which they find disrespectful.
Luna story takes on political overtones
June 24, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Canadian government officials temporarily called off the tug-of-war involving Luna, a young killer whale on Nootka Sound. But the political and legal battle appears to be heating up rapidly.
Due to conflicts on the water, attempts to rescue Luna were halted Wednesday, but said Marilyn Joyce of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans the operations could resume at any time.
But local First Nations people say the whale, who they call Tsuxiit, should be allowed to swim free. Many believe Luna embodies the spirit of their dead chief, who passed away less than a week before Luna showed up in Nootka Sound. Keeping the whale in a net pen and moving him on a flatbed truck is especially offensive, they say.
With singing and drumming, the local natives of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht Band, or tribe, on several occasions managed to lead the whale away from the capture area, while fisheries officers keep trying to lure him back toward the pen.
Meanwhile, Mike Maquinna, chief of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht Band, has written letters the past two days to high officials in the Canadian government, asking that their aboriginal rights and beliefs be respected.
One letter specifically demands that Joyce be replaced as coordinator of the Luna relocation project. Maquinna said he has lost faith in her ability to communicate with him, the Mowachaht/Muchalaht people and the larger tribal government.
Maquinna said Joyce told reporters that the chief had agreed to a 500-meter exclusion zone for First Nations paddlers, but Maquinna says he did not.
"We are extremely concerned for the welfare of this whale that otherwise is perfectly safe in Nootka Sound if the public is kept away," he wrote.
Luna still elusive, stays near Indian canoes
June 24, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Luna continued to elude his Canadian captors yesterday, swimming with canoes paddled by Vancouver Island Indians who oppose plans to catch the wayward killer whale.
Members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht, a neighboring band, claim the spirit of a deceased chief inhabits the orca. Since the capture attempts began last week, they have taken to canoes, singing and pounding their paddles to lure the orca away.
On Tuesday, officials with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans were able to repeatedly lead Luna with motorboats into underwater net pens.
But each time, the 4-year-old orca slipped out before the net was closed. It appeared that Luna, known scientifically as L-98, thought the exercise was a game. He would even push the lead boat into the pen and then escape.
At one point, he corralled three boats into his presumptive cage before slipping away.
Capture efforts are expected to resume today, and government officials and Indian leaders are still in negotiations.
Luna plays hard to get
June 23, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) After a frantic day of cat and mouse on the wind-tossed waters of Nootka Sound, Luna swam away from the capture pen that he had entered several times late Tuesday afternoon.
In the end, Luna went back to a pair of canoes, in which the native paddlers were singing and drumming and doing their best to draw him away.
Luna seemed to be enjoying the game. He often pushed the lead boat inside and then escaped. Once, he had all three boats inside the pen before making his getaway.
"As we sat here and talked and regrouped, I told the people how proud I am," Maquinna said.
"Generation after generation," Maquinna said, "we have learned that you don't play with nature."
Elusive Luna remains free
June 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Close, but no capture.
The elusive lone orca nicknamed Luna remained free last night, swimming in and out of an underwater net pen off the northwest coast of British Columbia's Vancouver Island before swimming off to join nearby Indians paddling canoes.
Canadian officials hope to capture him and house him temporarily in the pen before attempting to reunite the 4-year-old killer whale with relatives in Puget Sound.
Federal fisheries and Vancouver Aquarium officials called off their efforts for the night, but said they would start again today.
"We're getting reports every day that his family is swimming past the mouth of Pedder Bay," Clint Wright, aquarium operations vice president, said of the area where scientists hope to reunite Luna with his pod.
"Every day counts, really," said Wright, still wearing his wet suit. He said the crew allowed about 10 days for the capture and has used about half that.
Since the government set out to capture the orca a week ago, a local Indian band that opposes the plan has been out on the water, singing and pounding paddles on their canoes to lure the whale. The Native Canadians believe a deceased chief spiritually inhabits Luna, which arrived alone in their waters three years ago.
Canadian and U.S. government officials have been working on the relocation plan for months, driven by increasing concerns about the gregarious whale's safety. Film footage of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht band taken last week shows members patting and scratching the orca's head as it nuzzled up to their canoes.
"We've been blessed and honored in his presence and that he's (decided) to come with us," the Indian band's current chief, Mike Maquinna, said last night. "Obviously we are not going to stay here, we are going to head out in the opposite direction of the holding pen."
Luna still eluding would-be captors
June 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For a second day, an orca stranded on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island eluded the Canadian captors who are trying to reunite him with his Puget Sound family.
Luna followed an inflatable Canadian fisheries department boat about halfway back toward a series of underwater net pens yesterday, but stopped to eat salmon in his favorite bay, said John Nightingale, president of the Vancouver Aquarium, which is conducting the operation.
Luna remained in the bay into the evening, Nightingale said.
On Wednesday, the 4-year-old killer whale was lured out to sea and away from the net pens by local Indians in dugout canoes. The Mowachaht-Muchalaht band opposes the capture, with members convinced they share a spiritual connection with the orca.
Local Indians lure Luna out to sea
June 17, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Luna headed out to sea off the northwest coast of Vancouver Island with a group of local Indians paddling dugout canoes.
Native Canadians claiming a spiritual connection to the lonely orca lured him away in an attempt to prevent his capture -- the first stage of a planned reunion with his Puget Sound relatives.
Local orcas have about 35 sounds -- screeches and moans -- in their vocabulary. Each maternal group, which includes mothers and their offspring, has specific calls and sounds are shared within pods, Osborne said.
The hope is that Luna will recognize their conversation as coming from his pod while it travels around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the San Juan Islands and up around the mouth of the Fraser River and Georgia Strait. The animals swim about a hundred miles a day.
Scientists and orca enthusiasts closely track the resident killer whales when they're in inland waters, sharing information on the Orca Network. When the network observes Luna's pod within range, the orca -- which will be tagged so his movements can be tracked -- will be released.
Hey! Where you going with that whale?
June 17, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) As authorities were preparing to capture Luna, members of a local native band - believing they are protecting the whale - led him 20 miles away.
It wasn't a protest, insisted Mike Maquinna, leader of the First Nations band.
"We're with him to protect him," he said. "It's not about us. It's all about the whale."
The Canadian government's rescue plan calls for Luna to follow a boat into a net pen. Following a medical evaluation, Luna was to be taken by truck to Pedder Bay, west of Victoria, where he would be released when his family group comes nearby.
But Maquinna said his people have developed a deep spiritual connection to Luna, who they call "Tsuxiit."
Their tradition holds that their dead leaders may return to this world as wolves or killer whales. The former chief, Ambrose Maquinna, had expressed a desire to return to Nootka Sound as a killer whale and help deal with what he felt was an intrusion of commercial fish farms in the area. Ambrose was Mike Maquinna's father.
Within a week of his father's death, Maquinna said, Luna showed up in Nootka Sound.
"He's here for a reason," he told The Sun. "Maybe he's meant to start a family of his own here."
Canadian Indians use canoes to thwart scientists' efforts to capture lonely killer whale June 17, 2004 (Enviromental News Service)
Luna Capture Updates 12:07 PST
June 16, 2004 (ReuniteLuna.com) We have received reports that Vancouver Aquarium staff will attempt to lead Luna into the pen around 2:00 pm this afternoon (8:54 PST)
Canoes paddled by members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation are out on the waters of Nootka Sound this morning. (9:57 PST)
The reason for the delay is to ensure the net pen is ready and to wait for one member of the capture team to get to Gold River. (10:00 PST)
CBC NewsWorld reports that First Nations have led Luna 7 kms down the Muchalaht Inlet - he is following their 2 canoes, away from the net pen (11:47 PST)
Capture likely put on hold for today because Luna is too far away from the net pen, according to CBC News (12:08 PST)
Note: We will do our best to update this page as we receive news. If there are no new updates for a while it is because nothing has changed.
Scientists sound warning on climate change
June 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Climate change is already occurring and immediate steps are needed to both slow it down and adapt to the changes that will occur anyway, scientists said Tuesday.
There is no question there will be effects from climate change, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution of Washington said at a briefing at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
"We are already seeing impacts, the question is, at what level will we decide it is a problem," Field said.
William Easterling of Pennsylvania State University said: "The time to act is now." He spoke at a separate briefing held by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Climate change, specifically warming, has become a growing concern for many scientists, who worry that industrial exhaust and other gases in the atmosphere are raising temperatures and will damage crops and human health, raise the sea level and cause other problems.
Natives threaten to stop Luna move
June 16, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Two wooden Nuu-chah-nulth canoes paddled by 16 members of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation will be out on the waters of Nootka Sound this morning, trying to prevent the capture of Luna the killer whale.
As members of the band gathered to barbecue salmon Tuesday evening, a solemn faced Chief Michael Maquinna told them it was time to take action because agencies such as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have ignored their pleas to leave the orca in Nootka Sound.
"This is not games anymore, this is serious," he said.
"We are a people who are very proud of who we are and there are people out there that want to take something away from us that belongs to us. Something that wants to be here."
Maquinna said the whale capture is taking place in Mowachaht-Muchalaht territory and is infringing on something culturally connected to the band.
The orca appeared one week after grand chief Ambrose Maquinna died. The First Nation believes the spirit of the chief is in the whale.
Maquinna emphasized that those in the canoes must avoid confrontation.
"That's all they are looking for is confrontation and this is not about us, it's about Tsu-xiit the whale," he said.
The family recently conferred Ambrose Maquinna's name on the whale.
The long journey home for Luna
June 16, 2004 (Seattle Times) The young orca known as Luna watched with interest yesterday as biologists assembled the 90-foot net pen they hope to capture him in today.
In fact, the 2-ton whale was so inquisitive that Canadian fisheries officials had to lure him away with a boat to keep him from nuzzling divers at work on the structure in the deep waters of Nootka Sound.
But after three years of living solo near the town of Gold River on the west coast of Vancouver Island, the whale has observed humans at close range and may not be easily tricked when the team tries to lead him into the pen using his favorite fishing boat as a lure, Barrett-Lennard concedes.
Members of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation believe the whale is the reincarnation of Ambrose Maquinna, a revered leader who died two weeks before the whale showed up.
"Our late chief's wish was to come back as a killer whale - the enforcers of the ocean," said Jamie James of the band's Gold River fisheries center. "We feel the whale should be left alone; let nature take its course." With an array of clicks, whistles and long, melodic tones, each killer-whale group has its own vocal idiosyncrasies and phrases, Spong explained.
"The dialect he uses is a perfect match for the family he comes from, so they should instantly recognize each other."
Springer, the orphaned female, started leaping out of the water and pushing at her net pen when she heard the calls of her family group. As soon as she was released, she swam directly to them and has been part of the family group ever since, Spong said.
"She was doing really great the last time we saw her."
Countdown to rescue
June 15, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Members of the Luna rescue team Monday completed construction of the net pens that will hold the young killer whale and his food until he's given a clean bill of health for relocation closer to his family.
The capture date was pushed back to Wednesday, as preparations are taking longer than expected.
Today, the rescue team, led by Clint Wright of Vancouver Aquarium, was scheduled to practice opening the capture pen, driving a boat in and then closing the pen as seamlessly as possible.
Wright hopes that Luna will follow one of two boats into the pen. One is an enforcement boat driven by Luna's friend Ed Thorburn of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The other is a two-person, 15-foot jet boat that seems to attract him with its forceful rush of water on his face.
Luna has been hanging out in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island for the past three years. From all indications, he is healthy, but authorities decided to proceed with the rescue because Luna is known to push around small boats and even float planes, endangering people and himself.
Luna is designated L-98, because he's the 98th member of an extended family known as L-Pod.
L-Pod is one of three groups of orcas that frequent Puget Sound and Georgia Strait to the north. All three groups are listed as "endangered" in Canada and "depleted" in the United States, where NOAA Fisheries is reviewing their status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Experts Say New Whale Species Found
June 14, 2004 (Newsday) Scientists say they have discovered a species of whale that lived 14 million years ago in a sea that covered what is now eastern Virginia. Paleontologists at the Virginia Museum of Natural History found bones from the 35-foot whale in 1990, but the skeleton took several years to prepare and identify as a new species.
The whale is the oldest known member, by at least 3 million years, of a group that today includes the giant blue and fin whales, scientists said. It was several feet longer than any other whale in its time, said Alton Dooley, a museum paleontologist.
The discovery suggests that almost-modern-looking whales lived considerably further back in time than scientists realized, said Larry Barnes, an expert in fossilized marine mammals at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History.
Major revisions to 14-year-old wetland rules sought
June 13, 2004 (Seattle Times) Standing a few paces from a beaver dam, wetland ecologist Klaus Richter points out signs of the birds, mammals and amphibians that inhabit this near-pristine wetland - and wonders how long it will last.
Richter, who works for the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, isn't well known outside scientific circles, but he is one of the principal authors of a report that lays out the scientific basis for proposed ordinances that would change the way land can be developed in much of the county.
Researchers have known for decades that land-clearing adjacent to streams and wetlands can have devastating consequences for fish and amphibians. More recent studies suggest that development anywhere in a watershed inflicts damage.
Environmental damage caused by "impervious surfaces," such as buildings and pavement, has been extensively studied since Maryland state researcher Richard Klein reported in 1979 that sensitive fish-bearing streams are put at risk when 10 percent of the land in a watershed is covered.
More recently, researchers using more sophisticated measuring tools have found problems at even lower levels of development. Christopher May, an environmental scientist at Battelle Marine Sciences Laboratory in Sequim, and other researchers reported last year that Puget Sound's declining coho salmon were displaced by vigorous cutthroat trout in low-elevation streams when as little as 5 percent of the land is covered by impervious surfaces.
Hood Canal needs help, ideas and laws
June 13, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) Hood Canal needs help.
The beloved fjord is in big trouble. Pollution from septic systems, storm water runoff and other human sources are killing marine life.
Scientists say there is a likelihood of another fish kill this summer. Last October, parts of the canal became a dead zone.
A ban on fishing for many species has been in effect since February and may become permanent. But that is just the start of what is needed to bring marine life in the canal back to healthy levels.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the People for Puget Sound advocacy group, says it's understandable that politicians worry about voter reaction, especially to regulations. So, voters must demand this year's candidates, particularly those running for governor, talk specifically about what they will do to help Hood Canal and the rest of Puget Sound.
Many other innovative ideas could be imagined. And voluntary actions, such as less use of fertilizer, can make a difference. But laws have to be strengthened, as well.
Hood Canal residents, who moved there because they love the area, seem energized about making changes. But until we have political leadership that pulls together good will, new ideas and more state funding, Hood Canal will keep struggling. And the rest of Puget Sound will be in danger of similar declines.
B.C. killer whale faces relocation
June 11, 2004 (Seattle Times) A lonely killer whale who has gotten too friendly with people nearly collided with a float plane earlier this week on the west coast of Vancouver Island, so authorities plan to try to move him Monday.
The 5-year-old orca called Luna surfaced right in front of a float plane as it was landing, Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal coordinator for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said yesterday.
Luna, or L-98, has been in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, since 2001 after separating from his pod.
He has managed to feed himself but has also taken to socializing with people, cozying up to boats and nuzzling float planes. Luna nearly hits plane; capture now planned June 11, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Superfund dredging spreads Duwamish River pollution
June 10, 2004 (Seattle Times) While trying to clean up part of Seattle's badly polluted Duwamish River this winter, dredging crews spread plumes of toxic PCBs, exceeding pollution standards in some places, angering environmentalists.
For watchdogs of the years-long Superfund cleanup of the river-turned-industrial waterway, a King County report released this week confirms their long-standing contentions that the county needs to change its haphazard methods of scooping out the toxic sediment.
"They used the sloppiest technology available, with unskilled operators," said B.J. Cummings, who heads the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition. "The sediment they were dredging went all over the place."
The county reported that about 400 pounds of carcinogenic PCBs were removed in the sludge, which was sent by rail car to the Rabanco landfill in Klickitat County.
"We don't think it's the technology that was chosen, it was the way it was used," said Rick Huey, a toxic-cleanups specialist for DOE.
But Cummings and others aren't budging. They said they won't be satisfied until the county agrees to stop using the clamshell bucket. "Eight pounds of PCBs is not a trifling amount," Cummings said.
Duwamish cleanup spreads pollutants June 10, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Lethal oxygen levels in Hood Canal could kill fish this summer
June 9, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Tests show that the amount of dissolved oxygen in the fjord has dropped to near-lethal levels -- and the problem is likely to get worse this summer, state officials said yesterday.
"The prediction that we're getting is that there's a pretty high likelihood that we will have a fish kill this summer again," said Mary Lou Mills, marine ecosystem manager with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Oxygen levels this spring in Hood Canal were the lowest measured at this time of year in five decades, according to data from the state Ecology Department. Based on past trends, the levels will continue to drop in the weeks ahead.
Summer sunshine typically triggers the growth of algae. When the plants die, they sink and decompose -- a process that consumes oxygen needed by fish and other marine life.
During the past two years, low oxygen levels have been responsible for three major fish kills in the canal. The most recent kill occurred in October, when about two dozen species of fish washed up on beaches.
Rockfish and six-gill sharks that love the dark depths crammed themselves into the top 20 feet of water, where the little oxygen that's present still could be found, state scientists said. Ling cod and reclusive wolf eels were spotted in the shallows, noticeably in distress. Massive fish die-off forecast June 9, 2004 (Seattle Times)
Scientists watch as orcas take down gray whale calf
June 9, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) The killer whales took the young gray whale with chilling efficiency.
By the time researchers in a boat motored close, several of the sleek black-and-white predators had isolated the 30-foot calf from other grays in the ocean south of False Pass, Homer whale biologist Craig Matkin said.
The end, observed by scientists during field work last month, soon followed.
"One of them had it by the snout and one of them had it by the tail, and they were basically forcing it to be upside down," Matkin said. "They pulled it under, and it expelled a bunch of air. I think they were basically drowning it."
It was one of the rarest and most fascinating sights in the North Pacific Ocean: intelligent orcas making a coordinated kill of another multiton marine mammal.
"You could see the oil slick on the surface from the gray whales on the bottom," he said. "Some of these kills, they feed on for several days. ... It was like a giant potlatch."
Luna's family surfaces at Sooke
June 8, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) The whale turned up in Nootka Sound three years ago and, without an orca family, he turned his attention to boats, floatplanes and people.
Two plans were put together by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for reuniting four-year-old Luna with his pod.
Hopes ran high for the option which would have seen Luna led to the mouth of Nootka Sound as L-Pod was in the area.
However, most of the pod chose to come down the east coast of Vancouver Island, instead of the more usual west coast route, and a decision is likely to be taken today on whether Plan B should start rolling.
Luna would be captured in a net pen in Gold River, then trucked down the Island to Pedder Bay where he would be put in another net pen until the pod passes by.
"Luna's natural place is beside his mom and with his immediate family, but I think he would be very comfortable with the K's because he spent much of his early life with them," he said.
Balcomb said most people are assuming the move will now have to go ahead.
There should be few problems transporting the whale and it is almost certain that Luna will give up his affection for boats if he is in the company of whales, he said.
Dying killer whale family wins protection
June 4, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND: New rule also provides study to determine whether group can be saved.
A family of Prince William Sound killer whales that has lost more than half its members will now get special federal protection and a study to find out whether it can be saved from extinction.
The National Marine Fisheries Service designated the seal-eating AT1 group as a depleted stock under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The rule, posted in the Federal Register this morning, takes effect July 6.
"The number of animals in this group has dramatically decreased since 1989 to the point where this particular stock of killer whales may disappear from the ocean," said Dr. James Balsiger, Alaska regional fisheries administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
"We need to see what we can do to aid their recovery," he said in a written announcement.
"It's very real that these animals are depleted," said Homer whale biologist Craig Matkin, who has studied these whales for more than two decades and documented their steady decline.
But several individual whales were photographed swimming through oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez tanker in the Sound in 1989, Matkin said, and a startling decline began.
Since 1990, 14 of the whales have either washed up dead or disappeared. Matkin and associates at the North Gulf Oceanic Society and the Alaska SeaLife Center confirmed seven surviving AT1 whales last summer in Aialik Bay of Kenai Fjords National Park near Seward. A yet unidentified AT1 whale washed up dead on Latouche Island last year. One whale from the family could still be alive but has not been seen in more than a year, Matkin said.
Over the same period, tissue samples have shown several of the whales carrying some of the highest levels of industrial contaminants ever measured in marine mammals. Their favorite prey, harbor seals, has been declining too.
Ailing Alaska killer whales to get protection June 4, 2004 (ENN)
Orcas touch base in U.S., then leave again
June 1, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) About 30 orcas, including Luna's mother and his younger sibling, took a quick jaunt into U.S. waters Saturday, but by Sunday night they were headed back out to sea.
As a result, plans to reunite Luna with his family remain on hold, officials say.
Luna's family had not been seen in Puget Sound since last fall - which is fairly typical for two of the three Puget Sound groups, or pods. K and L pods spend their winters on the outer coast.
Luna, a 4-year-old killer whale, has been alone for nearly three years in Nootka Sound along the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
Ken Balcomb and Dave Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research spent most of the day Sunday with the 30 members of L-Pod that came south along the eastern shore of Vancouver Island and approached the San Juan Islands. Lara Sloan, spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said a group of orca handlers has moved to the town of Gold River on Nootka Sound to prepare a net pen for Luna's capture, but that operation remains on hold. Everyone hopes the boat-follow method can succeed, she said.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a group that keeps track of whale sightings, said several organizations of orca supporters are expressing reservations about some elements of the capture-and-truck plan.
For example, tying a rope around Luna's tail to force him into the net pen - listed as a last resort in the rescue plan - could result in injury, Garrett said.
Also, attaching a tracking transmitter by inserting a steel pin through Luna's dorsal fin could cause him harm. And the idea that Luna might end up in an aquarium if he fails to take up with his family weighs on everyone's mind, he said.
Garret said several groups hope to clear up these kinds of issues before the rescue moves forward.
"Most of the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) find the capture option to be distasteful," Garrett said.
Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed that the rescue should move forward because Luna, who appears to be lonely, has been pushing against boats, which could lead to a serious accident.
Garrett said the 30 or so L-Pod whales that returned to the San Juans Saturday may have found too little fish for their needs. Salmon runs in the islands are expected to increase soon.
"We're still hoping they (Luna's relatives) will go by Nootka Sound and pick up a passenger," he said.
Drought may 'reset' forest ecosystems
June 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) An epidemic of bark beetles is killing millions of trees in areas from Alaska to Arizona. In the Southwest, an eight-year drought is killing many trees that the beetles don't.
"It's really a natural response in some ways, a self-thinning of forests," said Craig Allen, of the U.S. Geological Survey, in Los Alamos, N.M.
If the drought persists - and top scientists from across the West are betting it will - it may in effect "reset" many ecosystems, wiping them out and forcing natural succession to start over.
Scientists lamented that they can't predict when this drought will end or whether drier, hotter conditions are part of a long-term global warming.
Nor can they say what the forests of the future will look like.
Pollution likely killed hatchery salmon
June 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fish experts blame toxic materials in stormwater runoff
Stormwater runoff is believed to have been the cause of pollution that killed about 9,500 young salmon at a hatchery on Willow Creek last week.
Preliminary tests failed to find any gasoline, chemicals or other illegal dumping that might have been to blame, said Larry Altose, a spokesman for the state Department of Ecology.
Urban-stream experts say it's common for fish kills to occur when a heavy downpour follows a long, dry period, which is what happened in the Willow Creek watershed recently.
"There's a lot of rooftops, asphalt and driveways around Willow Creek," Tom Murdoch, the executive director of the Everett-based Adopt-A-Stream Foundation, told The Herald of Everett.
Pollutants tend to build up on such surfaces when there is no rain to wash them away, and when rain finally comes, it washes a higher concentration of the toxic substances into urban streams, which normally already carry high amounts of pollutants.