Orca Network News - June, 2008
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
June 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008.
June 29, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A federal judge Monday decided to lock up two Makah tribal members for illegally killing a gray whale last fall, while three others received two years' probation.
As part of the plea deal reached with federal prosecutors, whalers William Secor, Theron Parker, and Frankie Gonzales also will have to perform community service in Neah Bay ranging from 100 to 150 hours, according to the sentence imposed by United States Magistrate Judge Kelley Arnold in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Two other whalers, Andy Noel and Wayne Johnson, did not take the deal and were found guilty in a bench trial of the same misdemeanor charge of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act. They have appealed their convictions.
Johnson received the longest sentence, five months at the federal detention center in SeaTac - even more than prosecutors had requested. Noel is to serve 90 days. Each also will serve a year of probation and perform community service.
The judge prohibited all five men from taking part in any whale hunt while on probation. And he fined them from $25 to $50 each, citing an inability for them to pay higher fines.
"I think it's light, given the grave injury that was done," said Will Anderson, of Friends of the Gray Whale. "It's sad all the way around."
Naomi Rose, senior scientist with the Humane Society of the United States, said she was surprised Johnson and Noel were sentenced more severely.
Court memos suggest on eve of sentencing that Makah Tribal Council OK'd whale kill last year
June 29, 2008 (Peninsula Daily News)
The Makah Tribal Council knew about and approved an illegal whale hunt Sept. 8, says one of the hunters in documents filed in federal court.
Theron Parker, 45, provided U.S. District Court in Tacoma with statements to that effect as he sought leniency in the sentence he will receive on Monday.
Theron Parker and four other Neah Bay men - Wayne Johnson, Frankie Gonzales, William Secor and Andy Noel - are scheduled to appear for sentencing at 3 p.m. Monday in the federal court in Tacoma for their parts in the Sept. 8 hunt.
In one of five statements supporting Theron Parker's bid for a shorter sentence, a witness said then-Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson Jr. told council members, "I think it's time to go fishing."
"He was referring to getting a whale," wrote Luke Warkishtum of Port Angeles, who said he heard the comment almost two months before the hunt.
"The whole tribal council nodded in agreement."
"Once the Coast Guard arrived, the council abandoned Theron and the other four defendants, leaving them to take the blame," said Olson's memorandum.
"Instead of the support they were promised, they received national media disparagement, [were] labeled as "rogue" hunters and [were] accused of disgracing their tribe."
Experts say sonar possible culprit in recent whale deaths
June 29, 2008 (Press of Atlantic City)
The stranding of two rare beaked whales on Long Beach Island over the past six months could be due to the effects of U.S. Navy sonar testing, experts said last week. In December, a rare True's beaked whale washed ashore dead in Beach Haven just a few miles from the site of where a rare Cuvier's beaked whale beached itself and later died Monday night.
Dr. Perry Habecker, a veterinary pathologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine's New Bolton Center, performed the autopsy on the 3,000-pound Cuvier's beaked whale last week.
The aged female whale did not have injuries that Habecker believes could have killed her, Habecker said after completing an autopsy.
"We don't have evidence of what killed her. We will be looking at tissue over the next few days, and the brain and parts of the inner ear will be sent to the University of Tennessee Department of Veterinary Medicine," he said. "Sonar that is being conducted by the U.S. Navy is a real hot-button issue and NOAA always wants us to forward key materials for testing."
Sonar can rupture the inner ear and organs of the whale and cause internal bleeding and total disorientation, Schoelkopf said. Once this damage is done, the animal may beach itself, he added.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a dispute over the Navy's use of sonar and its potential harm to marine mammals off the coast of southern California. Acting at the Bush administration's urging, the court agreed Monday to review a federal appeals court ruling that limited the use of sonar in naval training exercises along the coast.
An injunction by a federal judge in Los Angeles earlier this year created a 12-nautical-mile no-sonar zone along the coast and ordered the Navy to stop all sonar use within 2,200 yards of a marine mammal. President Bush stepped in and signed a waiver exempting the Navy from a section of the Coastal Zone Management Act so training could continue as the government appealed the decision.
But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the lower court and said the Navy must abide by the injunction. However, while the litigation was under way, the appeals court gave the Navy leeway to lessen the restrictions if it determined it was in a critical maneuver point, so that sonar shutdown would begin at about 1,100 yards and full sonar shutdown would come at 220 yards. Those are the restrictions under which the Navy is currently operating.
U.S. overfishing continues but declines
June 28, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
The federal government this morning came out with its report on whether or not we're leaving enough fish in the sea. Looks like we're curbing our over-consumption -- seven stocks dropped off the overfishing list -- but we're still nabbing more than we ought to.
The study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) distinguishes between overfishing (catching more fish than is sustainable) and stocks that are overfished (the fish population size is below goals set in management plans).
Here's a data summary:
41 out of 244 stocks (17 percent) were subject to overfishing, a slight improvement from 2006
45 out of 190 stocks (24 percent) were below their population targets, also a slight improvement
Those no longer experiencing overfishing: north and south monkfish; winter skate; Gulf of Mexico red grouper; petrale sole; yellowfin tuna from the Central Western Pacific; and Atlantic bigeye tuna
For more info you can read NOAA's full (albeit short) report.
North Pole may be ice-free in summer, expert says
June 28, 2008 (Seattle Times)
There's a 50-50 chance that the North Pole will be ice-free this summer, which would be a first in recorded history, a leading ice scientist says.
The weather and ocean conditions in the next couple of weeks will determine how much of the sea ice will melt, and early signs are not good, said Mark Serreze. He's a senior researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colo.
The chances for a total meltdown at the pole are higher than ever because the layer of ice coating the sea is thinner than ever, he said.
Legislation introduced to restore Puget Sound
June 27, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The goal of thrusting the restoration of Puget Sound into the national spotlight is nearing reality with the introduction of legislation by two of Washington's congressional leaders.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., and Sen. Maria Cantwell this week introduced the Puget Sound Recovery Act of 2008, and restoration proponents quickly made their case for saving the Sound before a key House subcommittee.
"The main reason to pass this legislation is to put Puget Sound more on a par with the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes in terms of how Congress looks at it, how the (Environmental Protection Agency) looks at it," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, an environmental group. She was among those testifying Thursday before the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.
The legislation would create an office within the EPA specifically dedicated to supporting recovery of the Sound. The agency would be anointed the official coordinator of the many federal agencies whose duties affect Washington's largest estuary.
Navy disputes restrictions to protect whales
June 26, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Navy is challenging Hawaii's authority to protect whales by restricting the use of sonar during training exercises, environmentalists and military representatives say.
The Hawaii Coastal Zone Management Program, responsible for managing resources in state waters, asked the Navy in a May 22 letter to keep mid-frequency active sonar levels below 145 decibels and abide by sonar rules crafted by a federal judge for undersea warfare exercises off Hawaii.
In February, U.S. District Court Judge David Ezra barred the Navy from conducting its undersea exercises within 12 nautical miles, or 13.8 miles, of Hawaii's shoreline. Hawaii wants the Navy to follow Ezra's rules during all warfare drills near the islands and not just undersea exercises.
The Navy responded last week that doing so would prevent it from training its sailors properly. It also questioned whether Hawaii has the authority to use state law to enforce federal marine mammal protections.
Yakama fisheries restore salmon to Yakima basin
June 26, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The tribe-sponsored experiment is restoring around 300,000 coho salmon this week in an effort to re-establish self-sustaining fish runs in the basin's upper reaches, starting in the waters above Lake Cle Elum in the central Cascades.
Dams have kept fish from the headwaters for more than 100 years, beginning with crude crib dams built for irrigation and later with five dams on lakes feeding the Yakima River. None of the five dams have fish passages.
Fish returning to spawn will be captured below Cle Elum Dam and trucked around it.
The headwaters provide an excellent habitat for migratory fish, but the ecosystem is essentially sterile, Johnston said. Without fish returning to spawn and then die, the headwaters lack key marine biological material to feed the small organisms that young salmon eat. To jump-start the process, coho carcasses will be scattered across tributaries above Lake Cle Elum this year.
Successfully re-establishing fish runs could help native species, such as raccoons, cougars and bald eagles, recover, Johnston said.
"All of those animals will benefit from the salmon coming back because it's a high-protein paste which helps them stock up for the winter," he said.
Supreme Court cuts Exxon Valdez award
June 25, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday slashed the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster to $500 million.
The court ruled that victims of the worst oil spill in U.S. history may collect punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., but not as much as a federal appeals court determined.
Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.
"What they've done here is reduce the punitive damages the jury awarded by a factor of 10," said Bill Rodgers, an expert in environmental law at the University of Washington's School of Law.
"These people who lost their jobs, the fishing was killed ... their livelihoods were completely destroyed and the fishing season gone," he said.
There were initially about 32,000 plaintiffs seeking damages. Over the 14 years the case had dragged out, at least 6,000 of them have died, Rodgers said.
U.S. Supreme Court to rule on Navy's use of sonar
June 24, 2008 (Everett Herald)
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to the Bush administration's request to review recent court rulings that limit the Navy's use of the technology.
The Navy says sonar is critical to national security. Environmental groups point to evidence that Navy sonar has killed whales, dolphins and porpoises, which use their own type of sonar to communicate.
An injunction by a federal judge in Los Angeles early this year created a 12-nautical-mile no-sonar zone along the coast and ordered the Navy to shut off all sonar use within 1.25 miles of a marine mammal.
The Bush administration then asked for an exemption while it appealed the case. In February, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld the lower court ruling but relaxed the restrictions to begin the sonar shutdown within 1,000 meters, or a little more than half a mile, of a marine mammal. Sonar must be completely shut down if the animal is within about an eighth of a mile.
Those are the restrictions under which the Navy is currently operating.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear the case in October.
"I think proper mitigation requires dedicating areas and training during times when marine mammals are not as abundant or not in the area," said Ken Balcomb, a marine biologist with the Center for Whale Research, based in Friday Harbor. "That can be done with adequate monitoring."
"That echo chamber just amplifies the vibrations," said Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, based on Whidbey Island.
"Those intense soundwaves reverberate in any air pocket, which includes the ear canals and the lungs, and that causes abrasions and bleeding. Literally, it's ear-piercing," Garrett said.
This causes the animals to panic and rise to the surface too fast, and they get the bends, he said.
Balcomb believes the ruling has caused the Navy to cut back on its training exercises in the Puget Sound area, especially around where marine mammals congregate.
Supreme Court to hear case involving Navy sonar and whales
June 24, 2008 (Los Angeles Times)
The Supreme Court agreed today to hear the U.S. Navy's challenge to a judge's order that seeks to protect whales off the California coast from the high-frequency sonar used during training exercises.
The judge's order, which will stay in place for now, says the Navy may not use sonar within 12 miles of the California coast. Crews also must tone down their sonar whenever whales or other marine mammals are spotted within 2,200 yards of a ship.
But the justices said they will consider the Bush administration's contention that the judge overstepped her authority.
The case pits military readiness versus environmental protection.
On the one hand, the Navy says it needs to train crews in using high-powered sonar to detect submarines. Restricting the use of this sonar "jeopardizes the Navy's ability to train sailors and Marines for wartime deployment during a time of ongoing hostilities," Bush administration lawyers said in their appeal to the high court.
But environmentalists say these high-pitched sound waves can frighten, hurt and even kill whales and other marine mammals. They point to the dead whales that washed ashore in the Bahamas, the Canary Islands and Madeira Islands after the Navy conducted war games nearby. Some of them appeared to have died of hemorrhages in and around their ears, brains and lungs. And they contend that the Navy admitted in February that the exercises then underway would "significantly disturb or injure an estimated 170,000 marine mammals, including causing permanent injury to more than 450 whales."
Nasa spy planes to track Whales
June 23, 2008 (Divemaster News)
A spy plane originally designed by Nasa will help track whales in the Mediterranean to try to prevent collisions between the giant mammals and ships.
Around 10 whales every year hit ships in the channels around the Cetaceans Sanctuary of the Mediterranean, a 40,000 square mile reserve that stretches from the coast of Tuscany in Italy to Toulon in the south of France, and includes the whole of Corsica and the northern coast of Sardinia.
Sperm whales, fin whales, pilot and grampus whales and common dolphins all thrive in the reserve. The prevailing east-west current in the area acts as a vortex, sucking up plankton from deeper waters.
However, around 5,000 ships a day now pass through the waters and five whales every year are killed. Under plans drawn up by the universities of Turin, Genoa and Montpellier, an intricate system of sensors will float in the reserve and track the movements of whale pods.
In addition, a £1.2 million solar-powered spy plane, adapted from a Nasa model, will fly at 60,000 feet and feed data to a special centre.
Captains of the ships in the area will then have access to a map showing the whales in real-time. The plan, announced by Maurizio Wurtz, the head of the Biology Department at Genoa University, is still dependent on funding from the European Union.
Blue whale song is getting deeper
June 21, 2008 (Telegraph UK)
The haunting song of the world's biggest animal, the blue whale, is getting deeper, researchers have discovered.
Underwater recordings of the giant endangered mammals have revealed that the tone of their rhythmic pulses and moans has become steadily lower as their population have slowly recovered after nearly being wiped out by whaling.
Marine biologists believe the changes offer a new insight into blue whale culture as entire populations alter the tone of their songs as they grow in numbers.
Professor John Hildebrand, a blue whale expert at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California in San Diego, has used recordings of blue whales since the 1960s to track the changes in their songs.
He found that in 1962 blue whale calls were at a frequency of around 22Hz, well below the range of human hearing, but last year had decreased even further in frequency to around 15Hz.
He said: "This is giving us an insight into the culture of blue whales as they are clearly listening to each other's songs and changing them.
It takes a conscious decision to make the calls deeper, so it is a reflection of what is going on in the population.
"These animals have a finite lung capacity, so their songs are a trade off between frequency and volume.
"They can either make the song really loud or really deep.
"As their numbers have slowly increased after the devastation caused by whaling, they are having to communicate over smaller distances so their songs don't need to be as loud and they can make them deeper."
Professor Hildebrand has also discovered that blue whales in different parts of the world use different "dialects" in their songs.
Only the males sing and it is thought they are attempting to attract mates or to communicate to other males during the mating season.
But other researchers believe whale song is a more complicated form of communication than simply trying to attract a female.
Sen. Murray seeks $90 million for salmon
June 21, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
Stop the presses. Sen. Maria Cantwell is stepping up to share credit for the potential $90 million in salmon money.
Northwest salmon are truly cash cows. Sen. Patty Murray this week announced that she's trying to get $90 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund for salmon restoration projects.
That potential bounty could pay "to support state, local, and tribal efforts to restore endangered and listed stocks of Pacific salmon through the improvement and expansion of salmon habitats. It also supplements existing state, local, and tribal programs that foster partnerships in salmon and steelhead recovery and conservation."
This is a significant bump in funding for vanishing runs of salmon -- whose bleak numbers were so bleak this year it triggered strict fishing restrictions on the coast. Murray, who is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, reports that she has "secured more than $140 million for salmon recovery efforts for Washington state alone over the past 5 years."
Puget Sound area ponders a future with a 'new green economy'
June 20, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
Gas prices are headed into the stratosphere. Worldwide demand for energy is skyrocketing, too. And meanwhile, something has to be done to rein in the planet-warming gases on which our economy is based.
A looming disaster, huh?
Maybe. But that's not the way organizers of a Saturday conference in Seattle see it. This alliance of environmentalists and labor organizers says Washington is actually poised to benefit from what it is calling the "new green economy."
"This is hard-wired into Puget Sound's genetic code. We understand technological revolutions. We started one in aerospace in the '50s, and we started one in software in the '70s, and now we can start one in this," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., who will address the conference.
The pairing of green activists and labor -- dubbed the "Blue-Green Alliance," for its environmental and blue-collar participants -- is an outgrowth of the common cause made by the groups at the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. That coalition was capsulized under the heading "Teamsters and turtles."
Environmental activists, though, point out that the Europeans got so far ahead because of government intervention in the form of subsidies, among other tools, that promoted alternative energy technologies.
Suit filed over salmon-harming dams
June 18, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
Three of the last four plans for the Columbia and Snake rivers dams were deemed inadequate by U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland. In his rejection of the 2004 plan, Redden threatened "serious consequences" if the next plan fell short for the fish. Already the judge has increasingly begun taking control of dam operations in order to protect adult fish returning to spawn and juveniles heading to sea.
Those filing the suit include Save Our Wild Salmon, Earthjustice, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and Institute of Fisheries Resources.
The coalition filing suit is asking the courts to chuck the plan proposed by the feds on May 5, and calling on Congress to hold committee hearings and draft legislative solutions to the dam situation. They're also calling, again, for removal of the four Snake River dams. (Check this site for a copy of the lawsuit.)
U.S. plan to balance Northwest salmon and dams is challenged
June 18, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Bush administration's latest plan for balancing the lives of endangered salmon against operation of hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin has been challenged by conservation and fishing groups.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Portland on Tuesday alleges that the plan issued in May arbitrarily and capriciously ignores the best available science, is not appreciably different from one in 2004 declared illegal by U.S. District Judge James Redden, and relies too heavily on restoring habitat and reforming hatchery operations.
The group Earthjustice is not part of the legal action, but its attorney, Todd True, repeated the long-standing contention by salmon advocates that the cheapest and most effective action to save Columbia Basin salmon is to remove four dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington -- something President Bush has promised will not happen.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski will join the challenge and had asked the state Department of Justice to prepare a complaint that will be filed as soon as possible, said spokeswoman Jillian Schoene.
After going through court-ordered meetings with the federal agencies, four of five treaty tribes agreed not to oppose the plan in return for $900 million to spend on salmon restoration.
Columbia Basin salmon returns have historically been the West Coast's largest, and once numbered 10 million to 30 million, but overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and dam construction over the past century have caused their numbers to dwindle precipitously.
Dozens of populations have gone extinct, and 13 are listed as threatened or endangered species, making it necessary for federal projects such as the hydroelectric system to show they can be operated without harming them. The last two biological opinions from the Bush administration and an earlier one from the Clinton administration failed to pass legal muster.
Each of the dams kills only a small percentage of the millions of young salmon headed downstream during their spring and summer migrations to the ocean, but that adds up to a major death toll. Those problems are compounded by climatic conditions that promise to make salmon restoration even tougher in the future.
Salmon-gobbling terns find new home at interior Oregon lake
June 17, 2008 (Oregonian)
Hungry Caspian terns that have worn out their welcome in the Columbia River by gobbling protected salmon are now arriving in surprising numbers on a new nesting ground built for them in a southeast Oregon lake.
The more than 50 nesting pairs of terns -- and as many as 520 individuals -- counted this spring on an island in Crump Lake, east of Lakeview, signals biologists that efforts to move birds from the Columbia are paying off.
"I'm pleasantly surprised at how popular the new island has become," said Dan Roby, an Oregon State University professor of fisheries and wildlife and a lead scientist on the project.
They suspect the terns have congregated in the Columbia because their nesting grounds elsewhere have been lost to development and other activities. By creating new nesting sites far from the routes of salmon, scientists hope to draw terns away from their feast on the Columbia.
The idea is to reduce the birds' impact on protected salmon.
The new nesting sites include the new nesting island at Crump Lake, a similar island built in Fern Ridge Reservoir in the Willamette Valley, islands to be built in Summer Lake and construction of new sites in the San Francisco Bay area.
Roby and Geoff Dorsey, a biologist with the Corps of Engineers, both said they were surprised at how readily the terns found and took to the new island at Crump Lake, built last winter.
"The almost incredible part of this is how fast word gets around among these birds," Roby said.
Whale's bones tell a tale
June 17, 2008 (Everett Herald)
Everett the whale's cranium was carefully hoisted from the ocean floor after spending 18 months rotting and feeding the fishes.
Scientists thought the whale's skeleton would remain hard for decades. Instead, the 500-pound skull that rose from the briny depths was spongy, tunneled through with worm holes and in generally terrible shape.
The heavy decomposition wasn't quite what marine biologist David Duggins expected to find in such a relatively recent whale carcass. After filming the whale's natural decomposition, the team expected to be able to donate a nice new, fin whale skull to the Burke Museum in Seattle.
Similar falls -- as dead whales and other creatures that sink to the bottom are called -- have been observed to stay intact for 30 and 40 years. One reason for the rapid degradation may have been the area's heavy ocean currents, where well-oxygenated water and microbial activity are available, he said.
Another is the fact that the whale was a juvenile and its bones may not have been fully calcified.
Whatever the cause, the results were disappointing to the UW's Burke Museum, which helped fund the experiment.
Killer Whale Dies at SeaWorld
June 16, 2008 (WOAI San Antonio)
A whale at SeaWorld died over the weekend.
SeaWorld officials announced Monday that their killer whale ""Halyn" died unexpectedly Sunday night.
The 2 1/2-year-old female that was born at SeaWorld San Antonio and was the first hand-raised killer whale in the world.
Trainers said they began noticing a change in the 1,900 pound mammal on Wednesday. They were waiting for tests to come back when she died Sunday.
Navy, scientists search for common ground on sonar use
June 16, 2008 (The Virginian-Pilot)
After more than 70 years of depending on sonar to protect ships and hunt enemy submarines, the Navy is fighting to convince the public that sonar isn't a major threat to whales and dolphins.
Two West Coast lawsuits filed by environmentalists have interrupted training exercises, and forced the Navy to adopt stricter preventive measures and alter the way it readies Pacific-based ships for deployment. Closer to home, Navy plans for an East Coast sonar-training range are under scrutiny.
Already bruised after a four-year battle over the placement of a jet practice landing field, officials want to minimize controversy over sonar. In both cases, they're up against advocacy groups who accuse the service of flouting environmental laws.
One recent spring day, about three dozen scientists, journalists and researchers stood on the deck of the destroyer Mitscher as it headed to sea.
The outing featured a demonstration of Navy sonar use, as well as a chance for scientists and Navy officials to discuss, out of the glare of the spotlight, its potential effect on marine mammals.
Ocean's top predator swims past
June 16, 2008 (BBC)
They are the ocean's top predator and roam the seas at will including, it seems, the waters around Northern Ireland.
Three killer whales, orcinus orca, were spotted off the Antrim coast at the end of last month.
David MacAuley spotted three of the animals while on a boat between Ballycastle and the Mull of Kintyre.
He was mid-way across when he saw the animals - a pod which apparently heads north in May and south in September.
"They appeared about 100 metres from us the first time but by the time I got my camera out they were about 300 metres away," he said.
With their large dorsal fins the animals are an incredible sight, and while not common, sightings in Irish waters are not unknown.
The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group aims to promote a better understanding of these marine mammals classified as cetaceans.
He said that so far this year there had been two other confirmed sightings of Orca whales in the waters around Ireland, both within the last two months.
Alaska salmon may bear scars of global warming
June 15, 2008 (Los Angeles Times)
More Alaskan salmon caught here end up in the dog pot these days, their orange-pink flesh fouled by disease that scientists have correlated with warmer water in the Yukon River.
The sorting of winners and losers at Moore's riverbank fish camp illustrates what scientists have been predicting will accompany global warming: Cold-temperature barriers are giving way, allowing parasites, bacteria and other disease-spreading organisms to move toward higher latitudes.
"Climate change isn't going to increase infectious diseases but change the disease landscape," said marine ecologist Kevin D. Lafferty, who studies parasites for the U.S. Geological Survey. "And some of these surprises are not going to be pretty."
Fishermen and regulators who have cooperated to save species from overfishing and local environmental hazards have been caught unprepared to deal with forces beyond their control: how to manage a fishery for climate change.
The return of the king -- or chinook -- salmon is eagerly anticipated along the Yukon. The biggest of the salmon species, these kings arrive with a muscular flash of the tail, sun glinting off a speckled palette of blues and greens fading to silver and red.
The chinook salmon they pulled from the Yukon River about 700 miles inland didn't smell right. It wasn't an instant, gag-inducing stench. It was more subtle but grew into an unpleasant odor of fruit rotting in the hot sun.
More important, the flesh turned mealy. The salmon didn't dry right in smokehouses either. Instead of turning into rich red strips of salmon jerky, they turned black and oily like strips of greasy rotten mango.
A friendly federal biologist advised the local fishermen to send samples, including hearts and organs that were covered with tiny pimples, to the Center for Fish Disease Research at Oregon State University.
The Oregon lab quickly identified it as "white spot disease," caused by a microscopic parasite called Ichthyophonus hoferi. Ich (pronounced "ick") is a well-known disease, harmless to humans, that was blamed for devastating losses in the herring fishery in Scandinavia. A similar parasite can infect aquarium fish.
The portion of Yukon salmon with Ich grew each year. Fishermen were throwing away as much as 30% of their catch, forcing them to catch more fish to fill their cache for the winter.
Kocan and his students scrutinized all the potential variables and found only one significant change: Average river water temperatures had been rising over the last three decades. The warming began earlier each spring, following an earlier breakup of the river's ice. The June temperatures showed the greatest increase, about 6 to 8 degrees warmer, and June is when king salmon return from the ocean and begin their long upriver migration to spawn.
Mary Ruckelshaus, a federal biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, has been running climate models to peer into the future for Pacific Northwest salmon. Those models predict that salmon will become extinct without aggressive efforts to preserve the clear, cool streams needed for spawning, such as planting trees to shade streams and curtailing the amount of water siphoned off by farmers.
Kocan views Ichthyophonus as a classic emerging disease. He pointed out that salmon, a lucrative catch, had been scrutinized by scientists and fishermen for decades, and the disease had never before been reported. In the last decade, it has shown up in salmon on the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Taku rivers in Alaska and on various rivers in British Columbia and Russia.
It has also been detected in recent years in rockfish and smaller noncommercial fish in Puget Sound and elsewhere off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, and in freshwater trout on Idaho farms.
It's the kind of redistribution of disease that can be expected with climate change, Kocan said: "Everything is getting warmer, and that's how climate change is going to redistribute all kinds of disease. Parasites have their optimum conditions -- upper and lower limits. We'll notice where they show up but not necessarily where they disappear."
Pesticides in B.C. rivers damaging sense of smell in salmon, study says
June 12, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
Pesticides in B.C.'s rivers may be partly to blame for declining salmon stocks because the chemicals are interfering with the species' delicate sense of smell, according to a new study by researchers at Simon Fraser University.
The ability to smell is vitally important for salmon, for everything from sensing predators in the water to being able to identify the proper stream to return to for spawning.
Scientists have known for some time that pesticides can damage a fish's olfactory system, but most studies looked at the impact of a single chemical in high concentrations.
Killer whales make appearance off Dana Point
June 12, 2008 (Los Angeles Times)
A report of a group of orcas, or killer whales, just four miles offshore from Dana Point prompted Dave and Gisele Anderson of Capt. Dave's Dolphin Safari to jump in their tour boat Wednesday afternoon and snap this picture of one of the five orcas they spotted breaching. The husband-and-wife tour operators say that it is rare for the creatures to come close to shore in this region and that it was the first time they've spotted one in more than three years.
Rare sighting of killer whales close to coast
June 12, 2008 (Beach Blog)
There was a lot of action in the water last night down in Dana Point, with two whale watching charter boats seeing a pod of five killer whales playing alongside the boats - even rubbing up against them.
The Dana Wharf Sportsfishing and Whale Watching crew saw the pod at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday during its Ocean Adventure cruise, just 2.2 miles out of the harbor. "The Orcas were very friendly and showed various behaviors" said manager Donna Kalez. "They were jumping, breaching, slapping the water, rolling around, and the only way I can explain it is that they were playing!"
There were five Orca, but they weren't sure whether they were transients or residents, or if they came from further out offshore. "We haven't seen residents down here in the last 10 years or so, but we have seen offshore variety, from a Mexico pod (The La Paz pod) several times. The last time Orcas were seen here in Dana Point was on Valentine's Day, 2005. They were from the La Paz pod, Anderson said. In Newport, they saw a huge pod a few months ago.
Canadian orcas return to toxic mess
June 12, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Dateline Earth blog)
This year Springer and her kin are returning to a toxic mess at Robson Bight, a summertime haunt, because the Canadian government has yet to clean up a diesel fuel tanker that sank last August.
Via local orca activist Fred Felleman we received an e-mail from Paul Spong, the orca enthusiast who keeps an eye (and a high-tech ear) on these "northern resident" orcas. Spong wondered why the pod most heavily exposed, the A30s, had not yet shown up on schedule to the north at a place called Gil Island.
A good-news ending (for now, at least): I just got off the phone with Spong's wife, Helen(a), who reports that a friend at Gil Island has spotted the A30s. They were just a little late. Said she: "They were just delayed somewhere. There was no mention of anybody missing."
Deshka River king salmon go missing
June 12, 2008 (Anchorage Daily News)
The king salmon season in one of the most popular fishing streams in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough is off to one of its worst starts ever.
The number of returning fish is so low on the Deshka River, a state fisheries biologist Wednesday recommended banning the use of bait by anglers. The commissioner of the state Department of Fish and Game could impose that ban today to take effect as early as Saturday.
Unless the return improves, Fish and Game may consider further restrictions, including limiting anglers to one fish per season on the river, said Dave Rutz, Mat-Su area state fisheries biologist.
An iron-colored tributary to the glacial Susitna River about 50 miles northwest of Anchorage, the Deshka supports one of the region's pre-eminent king salmon fisheries. The small, winding stream not far off the road system attracts tens of thousands of anglers each year. They flock to it by floatplane and boat via the Deshka Landing boat ramp on the Susitna.
This year, the problem doesn't seem to be limited to the Deshka.
Rutz said biologists think this year's runs are late because of the unusually cold water temperatures and low flows in many streams. Hopefully, he said, the fish are simply holding in the ocean or lower parts of the Susitna River waiting for the waters to rise and warm up, he said.
Killer whales hunt our humpbacks off Port Macquarie
June 12, 2008 (Daily Telegraph - Australia)
In an incredibly rare sighting, six killer whales - called orcas- were seen hunting a pod of humpbacks just 300 metres offshore at Port Macquarie.
With their massive dorsal fin and distinct white saddle patches, these sleek predators could make a great white shark seem harmless.
Travelling at speeds of up to 48 kilometres per hour, the orca's hunt like wolves, in packs.
Nipping and ramming their prey they attempt to mount the humpbacks and cover their blowhall in an exhausting pursuit that can take hours.
They want the calves, so with humpbacks heading north to breed, now is the perfect orca feeding time.
New Orca protection goes into effect
June 11, 2008 (Anacortes Now)
A new law designed to protect Orcas goes into effect Thursday (June 12). The new legislation prohibits boats and vessels from coming within 300 feet of an orca whale.
State Representative Dave Quall modeled the bill after an ordinance passed by San Juan County in 2007 and says the timing is a perfect way to highlight Orca Awareness Month, which Governor Chris Gregoire proclaimed last year.
HB 2514 creates a 300-foot protection zone around orcas and prohibits vessels from remaining in the path of an orca, failing to yield to an orca and feeding an orca.
Charting a new course toward a healthy Puget Sound
June 11, 2008 (Seattle Times op-ed by Jay Manning)
However, I think it's important to recognize that we have charted an entirely new course for the Sound. We now have all levels of government, businesses, nonprofits and an energized public working collaboratively and accountably to make Puget Sound restoration a reality.
Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Legislature have put forth a bold challenge - nothing less than a healthy Puget Sound by 2020.
We are making progress. We have created the Puget Sound Partnership - led by a distinguished and diverse Leadership Council, guided by science, advised by a broadly representational group of citizens - and it is bringing vigor and vision to Puget Sound protection and restoration.
More importantly, the Partnership has the tools to hold my agency, other state and federal agencies, and local governments across the Puget Sound basin accountable if they fail to do their part in the restoration effort.
The Times' series of articles on Puget Sound vividly describe our failures in protecting wetlands. I agree that more needs to be done. Several years ago, the Department of Ecology studied our rate of success in requiring replacement of wetlands lost to development. We found we were successful only half of the time.
Whales stranded off Madagascar
June 10, 2008 (BBC)
A mission is under way to rescue more than 100 whales trapped in a bay in the north of Madagascar.
About 30 whales have already died and experts are being flown in from across the world.
The site is near an area where ExxonMobil is carrying out seismic surveys but the oil company has denied any link.
The first whale became stranded at the end of May and the first fatality was reported three days later.
The majority of the melon-headed whales swam through a narrow entrance into a bay where they have become trapped.
ExxonMobil had been carrying out seismic surveying in the area, although it says this began several days after the first whale washed ashore.
Rogue River dams to come down
June 9, 2008 (Oregonian)
One of Oregon's iconic rivers is on the cusp of a major makeover.
What's happening on the Rogue River isn't so much transformation as reversion. Dams built during the previous century will come down. Reservoirs will return to running water.
And soon, for the first time in more than 100 years, the Rogue could flow unimpeded for 157 miles from the Cascade foothills to the Pacific Ocean. Four dam modification projects are in different stages, three on the main stem and a fourth along Elk Creek, a major tributary.
Filmmakers make a splash
June 9, 2008 (Vancouver Times Colonist)
Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit had a whale of a time in Cannes -- literally. The husband-and-wife filmmakers are back from the Riviera after making a splash with Saving Luna. Their award-winning documentary about the life and death of the endearing Vancouver Island orca was spotlighted in Telefilm's Perspective Canada Cannes program.
Saving Luna was showcased twice at the Marché du Film, which Parfit calls the "second of two worlds" at Cannes.
"We weren't expecting something polished and shiny," Parfit said. "But we wanted to be part of a very big event in the film business, with all the glory and confusion and uncertainty."
That wish came true. Back in their Gulf Islands home they're now poring over "solid offers" for a theatrical release to complement the film's eventual broadcast on CBC Newsworld's The Lens.
Unlike A-listers who arrived in limos, jets and luxury yachts, this couple took the bus.
Would a documentary about a playful orca attract much attention amid the glitz and chaos of Cannes, they wondered. Especially after being told such screenings usually only draw a handful of buyers, with many leaving before the film ends.
The good news was that most of the 30 buyers who did show up for the first of their two screenings reacted enthusiastically.
At times, they could have been in a scene from Entourage, as when some friendly buyers said they loved the film but suggested they change it so Luna talks.
Another new law is meant to help protect the endangered orca
June 8, 2008 (Seattle Times)
It will now be illegal to get within 300 feet of a southern orca , as is intercepting or failing to put a boat into neutral within that distance, or feeding orcas.
New baby orca spotted with pod off San Juan Island (video)
June 7, 2008 (San Juan Journal)
A baby orca was seen swimming with K pod Tuesday, possibly bumping the endangered Southern resident killer whale population to 88.
The bump in the population depends on the calf's survival in its precarious first year, and on the appearance of K-7, possibly the oldest orca among the J, K and L pods. K-7 was not seen when the pod swam past Snug Harbor Tuesday.
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, said K-7 is believed to have been born in 1910. J-2, also known as "Granny," is believed to have been born about the same time, give or take a year.
K-7's status won't be confirmed until the center is able to have more contact with the pods.
University whale watchers spot their first Orca of the year
June 8, 2008 (Shetland Today)
A GROUP of killer whale researchers, in Shetland as part of a two-month long study into the presence of the mammals in waters around the isles, made their first sighting last weekend.
The incidence of killer whales around Shetland have become increasingly prevalent since the early 1990s and rough estimates suggest that the population in the north of Scotland, from Caithness to the Northern Isles, is around 200.
The new research is being carried out by the University of Aberdeen zoologist Andrew Foote and Volker Deecke from the University of St Andrews. The four-strong team, completed by Alice Rocco and PhD student Harriet Bolt, arrived a fortnight ago to undertake research into the incidences and behaviour of the mammals.
Mr Deecke said they were looking to build up a picture of the mammals' diet and monitor their calls to see if there was a suggestion of social interaction with pods observed in other areas, while they are also going through museum specimens for DNA to try and identify family groups and mating patterns.
"Genetics will always show a more historic estimate of movement going back over a larger time scale," he said.
The research team is heavily reliant on members of the public alerting them to possible sightings and they are asking anyone who spots killer whales to contact the team immediately on 07500 380524, and Mr Foote said they were keen to hear from anyone with photos or other information.
Resident orcas arrive early this year, new baby in tow
June 6, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
Two pods of endangered resident killer whales, which do not usually return to waters around southern Vancouver Island until late June, were spotted off San Juan Island this week and, as a bonus, they have a bouncing, brand-new baby.
The baby orca, the first of the season, is a member of K Pod and is believed to be between four and six weeks old.
Her mother K14, a 31-year-old whale known as Lea, is experienced, which increases the calf's chances of survival.
Lea's first two calves died, but she has since successfully reared 15-year-old Lobo (K26) and five-year-old Yoda (K36).
Calves are easily seen because their patches are pink.
"Their skin is very thin and what you see is a kind of blushing," said Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research director. "As they build up their blubber layer they become white."
Orca pod returns to San Juan Islands with baby
June 5, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Whale researchers say a pod of killer whales has returned from the ocean to Puget Sound waters with a new baby orca.
The Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor reports members of the K and L pods were sighted Tuesday at the south end of San Juan Island. Researchers also spotted the new calf.
The whales were last seen in February in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (FEW'-kuh) near Sekiu and in January off Monterey, Calif.
Adorable baby orca spotted off San Juan Islands
June 5, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog)
A group of wild orcas has been spotted off the San Juan Islands with a cute yellowish-black newcomer in its midst: A small baby orca.
The calf is a member of the so-called "K-pod," a group of 20 orcas, also known as killer whales, that spend much of their lives in the open ocean.
The K-Pod, however, is just one part of the larger Southern Resident population, which is made up of three pods and roughly 90 orcas.
Each spring and summer they vacation in the waters off the Washington coast where they're monitored by the Washington-based Center for Whale Research.
Researchers first spotted the baby – estimated to be about two months old – on Tuesday as it was frolicking with other orcas in the K-pod.
Its mother, a 31-year-old known to researchers as K-14, has given birth four times before, but twice the babies have died, said center staffer Erin Heydenreich who was one of the first to spot the pod this week.
For now, it's just known as "K-42."
Orcas return to Washington waters
June 4, 2008 (Kitsap Sun blog)
After months of wandering in the Pacific Ocean, two pods of Puget Sound orcas have returned to their summer home in the San Juan Islands.
The orcas, known as K and L pods, were first sighted in the San Juans this morning as they traveled with J pod, a group more frequently seen in Puget Sound during the winter.
K pod has not been observed in inland waters since Jan. 10, when the whales were seen near Gig Harbor. A portion of L pod was last spotted Jan. 28 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Sekiu. Some members of L pod also were confirmed in Monterey Bay twice during the winter.
Balcomb-Bartok said he believes a new calf has been born to one of the females in K-pod, and he will seek photo confirmation with other biologists.
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, said confirmation of the new calf must come from a photo, as required by procedures established by his organization. "It has to be a photo," Balcomb said. "We get these rumors all the time, and I don't want us to be the source of a rumor."
B.C. researchers make a whale of a rescue
June 3, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Just after 6:20 p.m. on Sunday, Mr. Forde and four other volunteer rescuers associated with the Strawberry Isle Marine Research Society went to work in the cold, choppy waters off Cow Bay near Flores Island and Ahousat, B.C.
Working from an open-decked Boston Whaler, Mr. Forde heaved on the ropes and brought the mammal close enough to the gunnels so other volunteers could cut the gear with a pole equipped with a hooked knife.
After 45 minutes of hard and dangerous work, the volunteers removed six of the seven floats and all the rope except a piece attached to the mammal's left pectoral fin.
When almost all the ropes were removed, the whale took off, covering huge distances and leaving the rescuers too far behind to finish their work.
National Marine Fisheries Service completes environmental impact statement on Neah Bay whaling
June 3, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A polite, small crowd turned out Monday night to tackle a big topic: a more than 900-page environmental-impact statement on a proposal by the Makah tribe to hunt gray whales.
The tribe wants to hunt up to 20 gray whales on the outer coast of its reservation at Neah Bay, between December and May, killing up to five whales every year for four years.
"People are exhausted," said Will Anderson of Friends of the Gray Whale, as he assessed the crowd of about 60 at the South Lake Union Armory. "It was going to be hard for this to be a productive meeting with only three weeks to read this."
"We are trying really hard to slow them down, and keep them from just pushing this through," Anderson said. "Our job is to make sure this is not just rushed and biased, with a predetermined outcome."
Micah McCarty, chairman of the Makah tribe, and Keith Johnson, president of the Makah Whaling Commission, made the trip from Neah Bay to gauge the turnout and public response.
Pollution outflows to Sound routinely allowed
June 3, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Dozens of sewage-treatment plants and industrial facilities are discharging pollutants into Puget Sound at levels that could harm marine life or human health, but environmental regulators allow the practice because the waste is supposedly diluted.
That's the gist of a report issued Monday by People for Puget Sound, a Seattle-based environmental group, based on a review of the records of 103 sewage-treatment plants and 15 major industrial facilities dumping waste into Puget Sound or its tributaries.
Although the concentrations of the pollutants in the waste are relatively low, billions of gallons are pumped into the Sound every day -- and that goes on all year. It adds up annually to more than 28 metric tons of zinc, 8.7 metric tons of copper, 3.6 metric tons of lead and 2 metric tons of arsenic.
"Mixing zones" = loophole permitting Puget Sound pollution, report says June 3, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth blog)
"Saving Luna" recalls the riveting and polarizing tale of the killer whale
June 2, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Two years after a tragic accident ended the saga of the wayward killer whale known as Luna, documentary makers Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit bring the gregarious little orca to the Seattle International Film Festival in a thought-provoking account likely to stir debate. From the opening montage of watery coves and misty mountainsides that establishes the remote setting of Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, "Saving Luna" sets out to transport audiences beneath the surface of this compelling story, and does so.
Killer whales are among the most social of mammals and, having no other orcas with which to communicate, Luna made startling contact with people and boats. Some locals were delighted, but others were alarmed. This put the young orca at risk and created a dilemma that posited science, politics and cultures at an impasse.
On assignment for Smithsonian Magazine, Chisholm and Parfit traveled to Gold River, B.C., in the spring of 2004 to cover Luna's attempted capture by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The married couple wound up living in that inlet town for nearly three years, becoming advocates for a whale.
As the film begins, Parfit narrates, "There is a wall, built of fear and respect, which normally stands between humans and wild beings. We humans tell sweet and magical fables about going through that wall and making friends with a mysterious creature on the other side. ... But we don't think it could actually happen."
That theme resounds throughout the film: Was it possible to actually befriend a wild animal such as Luna, and could friendship have saved him?
To some, this idea might verge on anthropomorphism, but for Parfit, it is a legitimate way of understanding how Luna broke down that barrier.
Here we become aware of a powerful emotional bond between Luna and First Nation steward Jamie James. By examining this fablelike connection, the filmmakers make perhaps their best argument that friendship, or something akin to it, could indeed keep Luna from harm.
Venturing into the political arena, Parfit and Chisholm proposed that Luna be provided consistent and structured human interaction to hopefully eliminate haphazard encounters. Chisholm says the decision to cross over into advocacy took a lot of soul searching.
Encounter with Luna, the killer whale, is lesson in stewardship June 2, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Seattle hearing on Makah whaling plan
June 2, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The federal Fisheries Service is holding a public hearing in Seattle on the Makah Indian tribe's request for a permit to hunt gray whales.
The 6:30 p.m. Monday hearing at the Lake Union Park Armory is one of three the National Marine Fisheries Service is holding on a draft of a whaling impact statement. Others are in Port Angeles and Silver Springs, Md.
The draft discusses a harvest of up to 20 whales in a five-year period with restrictions on the timing and locations in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (FEW'-kuh) near the reservation at Neah Bay.
Ammonia from Sacramento waste could hurt Delta ecosystem
June 1, 2008 (Sacramento Bee)
After years of searching high and low for a culprit in the collapse of Delta fish populations, scientists are learning the problem may lie right under their noses.
The likely fish killer is ammonia, a common byproduct of human urine and feces.
Sacramento's regional sewage treatment plant is the largest single source of ammonia in the Delta. It discharges treated wastewater from nearly 1.4 million people into the Sacramento River near Freeport – without removing ammonia.
Two recent studies by Richard Dugdale, an oceanographer at San Francisco State University, show that ammonia disrupts the food chain in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The discovery, if it holds up to further scientific review, reveals how just one factor can tilt the Delta's complex ecological balance. It also illustrates how fixing the Delta will be a costly task for many California residents who mistakenly assume their lives are not connected to the estuary.
Orca experts hoping all whales return after swimming through diesel last year
June 1, 2008 (Canadian Press)
Experts on B.C.'s killer whales will be carefully counting dorsal fins when whale season starts this month, hoping there was no lethal fallout from a diesel slick last fall in a world-famous ecological reserve off the Pacific coast.
Just a few hundred metres from where the whales heave their bodies up near the shore of Robson Bight, massaging their backs and bellies on the rocks, a barge loaded with equipment, a fuel truck and almost 1,200 litres of hydraulic oil sank in August
"When you have killer whales swimming through diesel fumes... you've got the potential for health effects," said mammal research scientist Peter Ross with the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.
"That oil exposure can present some very, very serious problems and can be fatal, if at a sufficiently high dose."
There are just 200 northern resident killer whales who spend the warmer months from June to October at the northeastern end of Vancouver Island.