Orca Network News - June, 2010

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
June 1, 2010 through June 30, 2010.

Global carbon emissions steady for first time since 1992
June 30, 2010 (UK Guardian)
Greenhouse gas emissions from rich countries fell a record 7% in 2009 because of the recession, but the cut was entirely nullified by steep increases from fast-growing China and India, according to one of Europe's leading scientific research groups.
Overall, this meant annual global climate emissions remained steady for the first time since 1992, says the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency which drew on energy-use data from the US government, the EU, BP energy data, the cement industry, and elsewhere.
But the Dutch government-funded agency, which in 2007 was the first to correctly identify that China had overtaken the US as the world's greatest greenhouse gas polluter, warned that the figures did not mean that rich countries had cleaned up their act.
More here

The grandmother factor: Why do only humans and whales live long past menopause?
June 30, 2010 (Scientific American)
Most mammals don't live long past their reproductive years, failing to serve much evolutionary purpose after they can stop passing on their genes to offspring.
Only three long-lived social mammalian species are known break that mold. Killer whales (Orcinus orca), pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) and humans (as well as possibly some other great apes) all have females that generally live for decades after they cease being able to bear young. So what might we have in common with these cetaceans?
A new study, published online June 30 in Proceedings of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, describes a strong link with specific social patterns that might predispose females to live beyond their fertile years.
More here

The Killer in the Pool
June 30, 2010 (Outside Magazine)
Last February, when a 12,000-pound orca named Tilikum dragged his SeaWorld trainer into the pool and drowned her, it was the third time the big killer whale had been involved in a death. Many observers wondered why the animal was still working. But some experts, knowing the psychological toll of a life spent in captivity, have posed a darker question: Was it human error, or can a killer whale choose to kill?
KILLER WHALES have been starring at marine parks since 1965. There are 42 alive in parks around the world today—SeaWorld owns 26 of them—and over the years more than 130 have died in captivity. Until the 1960s, no one really thought about putting a killer whale in an aquarium, much less in a show. The public knew little about them beyond the fact that they sounded dangerous. (Killer whales, or orcas, are the largest members of the dolphin family.) Fishermen tended to blast them with rifle fire if they came near salmon and herring stocks.
But Ted Griffin helped change all that. A young impresario who owned the Seattle Marine Aquarium, Griffin had long been obsessed with the idea of swimming with a killer whale. In June 1965, he got word of a 22-footer tangled in a fisherman's nets off Namu, British Columbia. Griffin bought the 8,000-pound animal for $8,000. He towed the orca, which he named Namu, 450 miles back to Seattle in a custom-made floating pen. Namu's family pod—20 to 25 orcas—followed most of the way. Griffin was surprised by how gentle and intelligent Namu was. Before long he was riding on the orca's back, and by September tens of thousands of people had come to see the spectacle of the man and his orca buddy. The story of their "friendship" was eventually chronicled in the pages of National Geographic and in the 1966 movie Namu, the Killer Whale. The orca entertainment industry was born.
More here

Dances With Killer Whales: A Conversation with Ken Balcomb
June 30, 2010 (KPLU)
Liam: I know that anthropomorphizing is like one of the cardinal sins of scientists; thinking of them as more than animals or thinking of them as people in some sense. All the time you’ve spent around them, do you see something other than just specimens of a species out there? What’s your experience of these animals?
Ken: I’m humbled in their presence, that they’re not only very aware of all the things in the ocean; they’re aware that I’m curious about them, and they’re just as curious about me. That’s pretty neat.
Liam: The southern residents are officially endangered. What are we dealing with there, do you think?
Ken: Well, they eat salmon. Salmon are their preponderant dietary item. Not only that, but Chinook salmon. Wild salmon stocks, particularly Chinook stocks, are all pretty much predicted to be extinct by the year 2100.
More here

Researchers Ponder Missing Water Layer in Hood Canal
June 30, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
Oxygen levels in Hood Canal are dropping into the danger zone, as researchers observe a condition they have never seen before.
Hood Canal never bounced back from the low-oxygen levels of last winter, and now a huge mass of oxygen-depleted water is building up at the bottom of the canal, according to oceanographer Jan Newton, who heads the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program.
Normally, by this time of year, a band of dense water containing greater amounts of dissolved oxygen has pushed in from the ocean and lies at the bottom of the waterway. But that band, which scientists call an intrusion, is missing this year, leaving the canal with a greater oxygen deficit than ever seen before, based on data going back to the 1950s.
More here

Big return this year for spring chinook
June 30, 2010 (Seattle Times)
ome 291,000 spring chinook have made it past the Bonneville Dam this year, which makes 2010's run among the three best returns of the prized salmon since the dam was built in 1938, according to NOAA Fisheries.
The big run, however, fell short of earlier expectaions. A December forecast pegged the spring run at more than 400,000 fish.
The size of a run reflects a variety of factors, including freshwater conditions as the young fish migrate to sea and ocean conditions as they feed and fatten before returning to try to spawn in the Columbia.
What happens next year with the Columbia's spring chinook run is a big question mark.
Forecasters had been using the spring show of undersized males — known as jacks — to estimate future returns. By that indicator, the 2011 spring chinook run may be substantially below average as there's been a weak run of jacks showing up at Bonneville Dam this year.
More here

World's smallest whale population faces extinction
June 29, 2010 (Google News)
The world's smallest known whale population has dwindled to about 30 individuals, only eight of them females, according to a study released Tuesday.
The Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska once teemed with tens of thousands of North Pacific right whales.
But hunting in the 19th century wiped out most of them, with up to 30,000 slaughtered in the 1840s alone, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Poaching by the Soviet Union during the 1960s claimed several hundred more, making Eubalaena japonica probably the most endangered species of whale on Earth.
"Its precarious status today ... is a direct consequence of uncontrolled and illegal whaling, and highlights the past failure of international management to prevent such abuse," said the study, published in the British Royal Society's Biology Letters.
More here

SeaWorld may settle with feds in killer-whale-trainer death
June 29, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
SeaWorld has reached out to the federal agency investigating the February death of a killer-whale trainer at SeaWorld Orlando about the possibility of negotiating a settlement even before the safety probe is complete, according to a source familiar with the inquiry.
The goal is to strike what is known as a "pre-citation settlement" with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has been investigating SeaWorld's safety practices since Feb. 24, when trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed by a 6-ton killer whale named Tilikum.
Pre-emptive agreements with OSHA are rare, and reaching one would require Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment to agree to worker-safety changes. But a settlement could also allow SeaWorld to effectively blunt any fallout from the closely watched probe by ensuring that it ends as quickly as possible — and by avoiding the kind of scathing indictment that investigators issued three years ago after a separate incident at a SeaWorld in San Diego, when they declared it was "only a matter of time" before a killer whale killed a trainer.
More here

Final Piece in Place for Industry-Funded Rescue Tug
June 27, 2010 (KPLU)
The maritime industry in Washington has agreed on how to divvy up the cost of an oil-spill prevention tug boat near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It's the final chapter of a saga that's gone on for more than a decade.
A tugboat has been stationed at Neah Bay on Washington's northwest tip every winter since 1999 - and year-round since 2008. The aim is to prevent a catastrophic oil spill. The so-called "rescue tug" goes to the aid of ships that lose power or steering, and might otherwise run aground.
Up till now, cost of the tug has been paid by taxpayers. State Senator Kevin Ranker - a Democrat from San Juan Island - sponsored a bill that changed that.
More here

A crowning moment for the Columbia River king salmon run
June 26, 2010 (Seattle Times)
While a lot of attention is on the sockeye run in the Columbia River, the chinook and summer steelhead runs are also doing well and providing some glory moments for anglers of late.
Chinook counts at Bonneville Dam from June 16 -23 total 23,114 adults. Summer chinook passage is typically 50-percent complete by June 30. The preseason forecast is 88,800 fish.
The Technical Advisory Committee a group of fisheries managers from Washington, Oregon and the tribes is scheduled to meet again on June 30 to update the summer chinook run size.
More here

Science Takes Center Stage in Puget Sound Planning
June 21, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
Officials at Puget Sound Partnership are learning what it means to be guided by science, as required by state law.
Restoring Puget Sound to health by 2020 remains the primary goal of the partnership, created by the Legislature to coordinate restoration efforts among all agencies and interest groups. The partnership’s governing board — the Leadership Council — is endeavoring to outline what it will take to reach the overall restoration goal while measuring progress along the way.
On Thursday, the Leadership Council approved a new Strategic Science Plan, which recognizes that restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem requires a thorough understanding of ecosystem function. The strategic plan will be used to integrate existing scientific studies, identify important new studies and prioritize projects listed in the Puget Sound Action Agenda.
“This is a first-rate report,” said Bill Ruckelshaus, chairman of the Leadership Council. “A lot of people are raising questions about ‘where is the science.’ Well, there is a lot of science.”
According to the Strategic Science Plan, much of the restoration work to date has been “underfunded, fragmented, uncoordinated and mostly ineffective at the ecosystem scale.” Tying all the pieces together will be the key to success.
More here

NOAA finds new deep-sea habitat off Olympic Peninsula
June 21, 2010 (Seattle Times)
West Coast Deep Sea Coral Cruise
Using high-tech underwater vehicles that take video and still photos, researchers examined critters in the sanctuary's depths, including petite deep-water corals, bright green sponges and a variety of fish.
"See that little fish tucked into the sponge?" said Elizabeth Clarke, of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who was among the lead scientists on the cruise. "Using this technology, you really catch them unawares in their environment and get such a great view of the spatial relationship between the habitat, the invertebrates and the fish."
The cruise searched for lush deep-sea coral colonies, suspected of being important fish habitat. Researchers chose boulder fields more than 300 feet deep, where corals normally thrive, but their underwater cameras revealed a world absent of large corals, but still thick with other species.
"Although we didn't encounter the dense coral fields that I would have liked to see," said Edward Bowlby, research coordinator at the sanctuary and chief scientist on the cruise, "it was quite beautiful to see these underwater boulder fields and all the associated invertebrates, crinoids [sea lilies], sponges and fishes."
More here

Whales closer to us than thought, say scientists
June 20, 2010 (Google News)
As the future of whales once more comes under global debate, some scientists say the marine mammals are not only smarter than thought but also share several attributes once claimed as exclusively human.
Self-awareness, suffering and a social culture along with high mental abilities are a hallmark of cetaceans, an order grouping more than 80 whales, dolphins and porpoises, say marine biologists.
If so, the notion that whales are intelligent and sentient beings threatens to demolish, like an explosive harpoon, the assumption that they are simply an animal commodity to be harvested from the sea.
That belief lies at the heart of talks unfolding at the International Whaling Commission (IWC), meeting from Monday to Friday in Agadir, Morocco.
More here

B.C. orcas lack protection, court told
June 15, 2010 (CBC)
Conservationists were in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday, suing the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to try and force better protection for killer whales off Canada's West Coast.
They say the federal government is violating its own Species At Risk Act by failing to protect critical habitat for B.C.'s southern and northern resident orcas.
The groups, represented by Ecojustice, have won previous Federal Court orders protecting the critical habitat of several species of birds and small fish.
Environmentalists were pleased when the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) issued an order in 2009, protecting coastal B.C. waters crucial to the survival of resident killer whales.
But Ecojustice says that order falls short and its lawyers are back in court, arguing the definition of critical habitat must include several key factors.
More here

Exxon Valdez Spill Teaching Gulf Lessons
June 13, 2010 (Vancouver Province)
21 years after the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound, scientists are still learning about the effects of oil on wildlife. And biologists who worked on the Alaska spill are lending their expertise to officials in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil killed an estimated 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, 22 killer whales and 1 billion salmon and herring eggs. Interestingly, the animals died for a wide variety of reasons. Otters died of hypothermia and liver disease due to the ingesting of oil when the animals tried to clean their fur.
Seals didn't eat the oil but rather inhaled toxic fumes leading to brain damage and ultimate death. A whole killer whale pod literally lost its way when two adult females died. The rest of the pod scattered and never did return to the Prince William Sound. It's taught researchers much about the social behavior of an animal sitting on top of the food chain.
Herring has been the most studied and troubling species. Herring runs dipped slightly in the three years following the spill, but in the fourth year the population crashed and has never recovered. The once lucrative herring fishery is worthless.
More here

Environmentalists in court to extend protection for killer whales
June 13, 2010 (Vancouver Province)
Environmental groups will be in court this week arguing the federal government is failing to adequately protect critical habitat for endangered and threatened pods of killer whales.
Ecojustice lawyer Margot Venton is asking the Federal Court of Canada for a judicial review, claiming the government is acting unlawfully by interpreting critical habitat only as physical space, instead of ensuring there is salmon for the whales to eat, the water is not overly polluted and whales are not subjected to excessive noise.
“The reason that this is critical habitat is that the areas are natural funnels for migrating salmon — that is why the whales are there,” said Venton, who is acting for the David Suzuki Foundation, Dogwood Initiative, Environmental Defence Canada, Greenpeace Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Raincoast Conservation Society, Sierra Club of Canada and Western Canada Wilderness Committee.
More here

Expect a large number of king salmon to return this summer
June 13, 2010 (Seattle Times)
More than 650,000 king salmon, the largest and most prized of the salmon species, are expected back to the Columbia River.
That equates to about 234,000 more than last year, and will be one of the largest returns since 2002.
Fisheries managers said the troll fishery was so good that it closed Saturday, and they caught about 4,000 kings daily. The decent fishing, mainly off Westport ,was even attracting Northern California and Oregon trollers.
Milward says about 70 percent of the fish caught in the Westport troll fishery have been hatchery-marked with a missing adipose fin, indicating they're of healthy hatchery stocks.
The San Juan Islands also open July 1, and the good news here is just across the border on the south end of Vancouver Island, king fishing has been very good. Thus, many of those fish are bound for North Sound hatcheries and the fish highway goes right through the island chain.
More here

New ocean concern: tiny plastic pollutants
June 13, 2010 (Seattle Times)
While scientists have documented the effects of large plastic flotsam in the oceans for decades — turtles trapped in fishing nets, albatrosses swallowing plastic cigarette lighters — very little research has focused on what happens when those bigger pieces break down into tiny specks, called microplastics.
"There is a surprisingly large amount of microplastics in the environment," said Joel Baker, the Port of Tacoma chair in environmental science at University of Washington, Tacoma.
Baker said microscopic fragments are floating in the ocean and washing up on shores, but the exact consequences for marine organisms are unknown.
Two major sources include material produced for use in industrial abrasives, exfoliants and cosmetics such as body washes; and those formed when larger plastic pieces are weathered down into smaller bits. Lab experiments have shown lugworms, barnacles and mussels ingest microplastics.
More here

New K-Pod Orca Calf Identified
June 10, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
A new orca calf has been born in K pod, one of the three groups of killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea and Puget Sound, experts say.
The young calf, designated K-43, was spotted Tuesday swimming with K-12, presumed to be the mother, according to biologists with the Center for Whale Research. It is the third calf born to the three Southern Resident pods this year.
More here

New orca calf for Puget Sound's K pod
June 10, 2010 (NW Cable News)
The Center for Whale Research says the orcas of the K pod have brought a new calf with them on their return to Puget Sound.
The baby, K43, was seen with K12, who is presumed to be the mother.
K pod was first seen this year on February 21, traveling with J pod. At that time photographs suggested there was a new K pod calf, but researchers were unable to confirm that.
Now a June 8 encounter with K43 confirms the calf is at least 5 months old. There are now 20 whales in K pod.

Female whales can form friendships lasting years
June 8, 2010 (Christian Science Monitor)
Humpback whales were previously believed to be less social than other whales, but a new study found that they actually form friendships that last for years.
The researchers determined that the same whales reunited each year during the feeding seasons, according to the Mingan Island Cetacean Study, which was published in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology.
Using photographs to identify the whales, the researchers recognized the same individuals coming back to meet up in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they feed and swim together every year during the summer season. While they also reunite in groups, the whales buddies separate into male/female or female/female pairs, the scientists found.
More here

Let's really talk about taking down those Snake River dams
June 8, 2010 (Crosscut)
Economic effects have long been cited as reasons to keep the dams in place. While some inland businesses and farmers are willing to look at how dam removal could work for their communities, the leadership for a larger conversation has been missing. Are you listening, Sen. Murray?
If the four lower Snake River dams come down, will they drag the economy of eastern Washington and western Idaho down with them? Salmon advocates don't think so.
They think that anyone who takes an unbiased look at the costs and benefits of those dams will call in the bulldozers. They have argued for years that the dams should be breached, so that Idaho salmon populations have a better shot at recovery. But they say they'll take a chance that if someone weighed all the costs and benefits, the dams would stay. They want somebody to do the math.
The only thing that keeps the water from flowing into downtown Lewiston is the levee system built there by the Corps of Engineers. Now, it's getting too high for the levees. The Corps could raise the levees, or breach the dams. Most people don't want higher levees. They like being able to see the river.
"The silt buildup has been kind of the hidden problem," says Dustin Aherin, who chairs Citizens for Progress in Lewiston. "That particular issue, more than any I think, will engage the average citizen in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley."
So far, a truly informed resolution remains a pipe dream. Don't bash Murray too hard over this. What's the alternative? You're not apt to get a realistic weighing of costs and benefits from her opposition.
Still, the resistance of Washington politicians to any signficant change in the way the river is run consitutes "the biggest challenge we're facing now," says Save Our Wild Salmon outreach director Joseph Bogaard. If Murray and Cantwell got all the interested parties to sit down and reason, it might "create the space and the pressure for political leaders in this state to shift gears."
More here

Saving salmon means spreading risks among diverse populations, important new study says
June 7, 2010 (Investigate Northwest)
Saving imperlied salmon in the Pacific Northwest means focusing a lot more on the genetic quality of the fish and a lot less on the quantity of fish cranked out in hatcheries, suggest the authors of a groundbreaking new study in the prestigious science journal Nature.
The notion that spawning lots of salmon in hatcheries could actually impede efforts to bring back struggling wild runs is not a new one. The science on that is solid. But the new study, which focused on the success of salmon runs in Alaska’s hatchery-less Bristol Bay, is “a game-changer,” according to the University of Washington team that produced the research.
Here’s why: The new study documents how Bristol Bay for more than half a century has consistently produced fishable sockeye salmon runs. That’s because in a natural system like Western Alaska, the existence of so many different runs that reproduce in different nooks and crannies of the ecosystem ensures that – whatever happens – some salmon runs will thrive. Runs that do well in cold, wet years are winners sometimes. Other times, when temperature and rainfall are relatively mild, runs better suited to those conditions will boom.
Steve Lindley, a National Marine Fisheries Service research ecologist, said the lesson to him is: “We do need to be changing the game from hatcheries, the quick technological fix. That’s what we’ve been pursuing for the last 50 or 100 years, and it’s not working.
“It means we have to fix it. There probably aren’t any super-easy shortcuts like fish hatcheries. We need to get back to working on the habitat.”
More here

SeaWorld orca dies while giving birth
June 6, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
A killer whale at SeaWorld Orlando died Sunday from complications that arose while she was giving birth, officials said.
The park said Taima, a 20-year-old orca born at SeaWorld Orlando in 1990, died late in the afternoon, approximately 20 hours after going into labor Saturday evening.
The calf was stillborn.
Taima was one of eight killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando. She had successfully given birth to three calves in the past.
Dold said Taima's fetus was in an unusual position in the birth canal during the delivery process. The orca also experienced a condition in which the placenta was delivered before the fetus itself.
More here

River of hope
June 5, 2010 (Columbian)
A new bill could bring $40 million a year to monitor, clean up pollution in the Columbia
The Columbia River is tainted by old and newly emerging forms of pollution, monitoring is sporadic, and new roads and rooftops continue to infringe on the river’s natural ecology, according to a new assessment.
The Columbia River Restoration Act could provide as much as $40 million a year to monitor pollution and clean it up.
Oregon has pressed federal authorities to do more to protect salmon migrating through dams in the Columbia River basin. Washington, by contrast, supports the federal government’s current dam-management plan.
Kulongoski differs with Gov. Chris Gregoire, a fellow Democrat.
U.S. District Judge James Redden has refereed the dispute.
In a telephone interview last year, Gregoire said the only way to ultimately recover wild salmon is through regional consensus.
“Let there be no mistake: We’re partners, and this is about the fish at the end of the day,” she said. “Once Judge Redden rules, I think we’re going to be in the same place together.”
Kulongoski was asked about Gregoire’s assessment on Friday.
“Depends on what Judge Redden says,” he said.
More here

New study suggests that whales evolved in the blink of an eye
June 5, 2010 (Christian Science Monitor)
Whales evolved explosively fast into a spectacular array of shapes and sizes, a new study suggests.
Whales' sizes stretch the imagination from the 100-foot (30-meter) long blue whale — the largest animal to have ever existed — to a small species about the size of a dog. Many ideas exist for how whales evolved into different body types, but the new study, published online in the May 19 edition of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first attempt to unravel the mystery.
"It's as if whales split things up at the beginning and went their separate ways. The distribution of whale body size and diet still correspond to these early splits," said evolutionary biologist and study co-author Michael Alfaro of UCLA. "Our study is the first to test the idea that evolution in early whales was explosively fast."
More here

'It's beneficial to us to preserve the killer whale': Mayor declares June 'Orca Awareness Month'
June 3, 2010 (Journal of the San Juans)
Outlining the challenges facing the Southern resident orca pods, Friday Harbor Mayor Carrie Lacher proclaimed June to be "Orca Awareness Month," Thursday in Town Hall.
There to receive the proclamation were Whale Museum executive director Jenny Atkinson, Whale Museum board president Julie Corey, and Soundwatch coordinator Kari Koski.
The proclamation came as the Southern resident killer whales return to the area to hunt local salmon runs. With the whales' return comes whale-watching season.
The Southern resident orcas were declared endangered in 2005.
More here

Beak show - Hawai‘i isn’t seeing beaked whale beachings due to sonar exercises. Why not?
June 3, 2010 (Honolulu Weekly)
Robin Baird, a marine mammal scientist who’s been studying Hawaii whales for 11 years, wondered why sonar used during naval exercises around Hawaii never produced a single mass stranding of beaked whales, the extreme divers of the ocean and the most vulnerable to sonar. Similar exercises by the Spanish Navy in the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, have produced at least six strandings, leaving a total of 43 beaked whales dead on beaches and rocks.
In all, out of 40 mass strandings recorded since a new, more powerful sonar was introduced worldwide in the early 1960s, 28 were simultaneous with such exercises, according to a 2007 study by Lindy Weilgart of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They killed 206 beaked whales and eight members of other species.
Baird and graduate student Meghan Faerber of the University of Wales in the United Kingdom examined the evidence. Last month, they published a paper that showed that the reason we aren’t seeing mass strandings here isn’t necessarily that the whales aren’t affected; rather, they found half a dozen reasons why we wouldn’t see the dead whales if they were. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” they wrote in the journal Marine Mammal Science.
More here

Back to Orca News Archives