Orca Network News - March, 2003
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2003 through March 31, 2003.
Purchase in Pacific County may lead to restoration of Willapa Bay
March 28, 2003 (Seattle Times) One of Washington's last unprotected private reaches of temperate rain forest - a coastal watershed where 800-year-old cedar and moss-dripping Sitka spruce tower above one of the state's healthiest salmon streams - will be permanently protected.
The Nature Conservancy has completed a multiyear, $16 million effort to save a 7,300-acre stretch of the Willapa Hills, which includes old-growth trees so large that 10 people holding hands couldn't form a ring around one.
East of the Long Beach Peninsula in Pacific County, the area is home to some of the only remaining uncut low-elevation coastal rain forests in the state, but also includes thousands of acres of clear-cut second-growth managed for years as a tree farm.
The group began eyeing the Ellsworth Creek watershed more than four years ago as an attempt to save its 300-acre, old-growth grove, which had kept the creek so healthy that state biologists recently counted more than 3,500 coho in a 1.2-mile stretch. The Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife uses it as a reference point to compare with other streams.
Salmon Science Goes Rim to Rim
March 27, 2003 (Tidepool) Salmon, the Northwest's totem for environmental vitality, migrate long distances, en route crossing national and international borders. But restoration and conservation targeted at salmon often operate in isolation, fragmented by the same political jurisdictions and boundaries. Comprehensive data and yardsticks to measure success are likewise scattered and disparate. And rather than link individual salmon stock declines to broader geographic trends across the entire Pacific Rim -- the historical range of salmon -- theyre viewed as localized events, one more bit of biodiversity slipping inexorably toward extinction.
But Ecotrust and the Wild Salmon Center aim to right the ship, so to speak.
Supported by a $2.03 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation over three years, the two organizations plan to build the single most credible and comprehensive source and synthesis of information on Pacific salmon, the 'State of the Salmon' project.
The Exxon Valdez Spill--Fourteen Years Later
March 24, 2003 (San Juan Islander) Opinion By Kathy Fletcher, Executive Director, People For Puget Sound and Mike Doherty, Clallam County Commissioner
Exactly fourteen years ago, at four minutes past midnight on March 24, 1989, the tanker Exxon Valdez, loaded with 54 million gallons of North Slope crude oil, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Sadly, we in Washington State have still not completely learned the lessons of this disaster. Even now, the centerpiece of the states oil spill prevention program – a rescue tug at Neah Bay – has no dedicated source of funding.
After the Exxon Valdez ran aground, 11 million gallons of spilled oil stretched about 470 miles from Prince William Sound to the southern Kodiak Archipelago and Alaska Peninsula. In Prince William Sound, about 452 miles of shoreline was oiled. In the Kenai Peninsula-Kodiak region, more than 1,000 miles of shoreline were oiled.
The Exxon Valdez suffered damage of about $25 million; $3.4 million in oil was lost; and Exxon spent over $2.1 billion for clean-up activities and reimbursements up through 1991.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the probable cause of the grounding was crew fatigue and excessive workload, Captain Joseph Hazelwood's impairment from alcohol, and lack of an effective vessel traffic safety system. After the disaster, Prince William Sound required tanker escorts, stand-by rescue tugs, and restrictions on vessel transits when the weather got too rough.
One simple lesson of the Exxon Valdez was that it took only one human's error to devastate an ecosystem.
The other lessonthat prevention is a lot cheaper than cleanupis a no-brainer here in Washington state. One of the busiest marine highways in the world, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound bustle with oil tankers and huge cargo shipsan average of 6000 trips per year. Every tankers cargo and every ships fuel supply represents a potential spill at least as devastating as the Exxon Valdez.
Good progress toward marine safety was made here immediately following the Valdez spill--we secured tug escorts for oil tankers entering the North Sound once they pass Port Angeles on their way to refineries at Anacortes and Cherry Point. But the 75 miles of the Strait of Juan de Fuca from the Pacific Ocean to Port Angeles, and the waters of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, remained unprotected until recently.
Since 1999, weve been able to station a rescue tugboat in the winter months at Neah Bay, right near the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A ship that loses power or steering can now be towed or pushed to safety, keeping it off the rocks and its cargo and fuel on board rather than in the water. Especially during the 2001-2002 season, the tug really showed her stuff, coming to the rescue eight times. She has proven indispensable for assistance as far away as Southwest Washington near the mouth of the Columbia River, and all the way into the eastern part of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
It's time to make the tug permanent. Its time to move on to some of the other ways we need to improve oil spill prevention in the Sound and Straits.
A permanent rescue tug is just plain common senseall year long, every year. Captain Hazelwood didnt drink only in the winter, and engine trouble can happen anytime. A mistake or mechanical failure could be a minor inconvenience if a tug is at hand. Or, without a tug, it could be the death knell for the Orca whales and the rest of our fragile marine environment. Which do you choose?
For more information, visit www.pugetsound.org or call People For Puget Sound at 206.382.7007
Groups sue to prod state action on protecting wild salmon
March 21, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Citing studies showing that hatchery-produced salmon are chomping down legally protected wild salmon, conservationists this week sued to halt this spring's release of more than 5 million hatchery fish in the Puget Sound region.
Such a move would likely severely curtail sport fishing for salmon in years to come.
Washington Trout and the Native Fish Society filed suit Wednesday in federal court in Seattle against the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Plans to reduce the loss of chinook salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act are more than two years overdue, the groups pointed out in their suit.
The wild chinook salmon guarded by the law are being eaten by coho salmon and steelhead when both are juveniles, or smolts, waiting in freshwater rivers for their time to head to the ocean, the suit says.
"It's happening in virtually every river system in Puget Sound," said Ramon Vanden Brulle of Washington Trout, a Duvall-based conservation group.
"This could be a very significant impediment to salmon recovery."
Department officials have said in the past that they are committed to changing hatchery procedures so the fish produced there are not harming the legally protected wild fish, which spawn naturally.
The disappearance of wild salmon concerns scientists because fish in each river are genetically distinct. This is how the fish have managed to survive in environments as starkly different as the steep, cold streams of the Olympic Peninsula rain forest and the flat Snake River running through Eastern Washington desert.
Wiping out whole fish stocks could eventually leave some rivers without wild salmon, scientists fear.
Gray whale population recovering
March 20, 2003 (The Olympian) After enduring several lean, difficult years, the gray whale population is rebounding, looking fat and happy as their annual northern migration past Oregon begins.
Between 1998 and 2002, emaciated whales were common, and a significantly high 600 whales were reported stranded along West Coast beaches. Biologists theorized that the whales had reached their "carrying capacity," -- too many whales competing for the shrimp-like amphipods they dine on along the ocean floor.
But now, marine scientists watching the annual migration say the whales look much stronger than in the past four years.
Biologists are also hoping this year might buck the trend of declining whale populations: between 1999 and 2002, the numbers of eastern North Pacific gray whales plummeted by about one third, from 26,600 to 17,400.
"But last year was a nice recovery, with 834 calves seen migrating north," Perryman said. "I'm confident there will be even more calves this year."
Humanity's Slowing Growth
March 17, 2003 (New York Times) A generation ago, Paul Ehrlich warned in "The Population Bomb" that with demands on resources soaring, overpopulation would kill our planet. As demands on water and air soared, many thought he was right. Now it turns out that population growth rates are plummeting - for good and tragic reasons. The implications are profound.
According to a United Nations report issued recently, most advanced countries could, in effect, slowly turn into old-age homes. For example, by 2050, the median age in Japan and Italy will be over 50. Fertility rates in nearly all well-off countries have already fallen below 2.1 babies per woman, the rate at which a population remains stable.
In the developing world, fertility rates average three children, down from six a half-century ago, and the U.N. projects that the rate will dip below the replacement level in most poor countries later this century. Slower growth rates are both the cause and consequence of a higher standard of living, and of the emancipation of women.
10 Chummy Years
March 17, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) An advocacy group's decade of effort is helping bring back a Central Kitsap stream.
A lot more salmon are swimming in and out of Central Kitsap's Barker Creek than ever before, said Paul Dorn, the Suquamish Tribe's salmon recovery coordinator.
"Back in the '70s and early '80s, Barker Creek had very few salmon," he said. "Now, we get a thousand adults returning every year."
Many things are going on to help the stream, said Dorn, and chief among them is a stewardship group called the Chums of Barker Creek.
"They are a hard-working, persistent group that works with their neighbors and county officials" to protect and improve the creek as a salmon habitat, Dorn said.
Barker Creek flows out of Island Lake near Silverdale's Ridgetop neighborhood and empties into Dyes Inlet between Silverdale and Tracyton.
March 17, 2003 (Sunset Magazine) Why Copper River salmon is worth $20 a pound, and why it may disappear forever
Tucked into the remote southeast corner of Alaska's Prince William Sound, the delta is a 700,000-acre wetland of rivers, sloughs, and ponds that, in spring, make up one of North America's major waterfowl staging areas.
The delta is dominated by the Copper River - itself roughly 10 miles wide near its mouth - which pours into the Gulf of Alaska between massive, ever-shifting islands of sand the river has carried from glaciers far upstream. In one of the wildest and most unforgiving places on the planet, these are the waters Covel and the fishing fleet of the town of Cordova ply for Copper River salmon, a fish valued by chefs for a flavor and texture that are distinctive to this glacial river. These qualities are so prized that the Copper River king commands more than $20 per pound at the market.
Ever since the last Ice Age, salmon have returned to Western rivers to battle their way upstream - in some cases traveling more than a thousand miles - to spawn and then die. It is an annual rite that has sustained wildlife ranging from bears to bald eagles. And salmon have nourished many Native American tribes for countless generations - as food, as artistic inspiration, and as a religious symbol. The salmon is as much an icon of the West as the grizzly bear.It wasn't all that long ago that these fish teemed in most of the West's coastal rivers and were the mainstay of a major industry.
Today, runs of wild salmon are fast disappearing from rivers in Washington, Oregon, and California. Overfishing, dams, development, pollution, and water diversions have all taken their toll on the West's once-thriving fishing industry. Alaska may stand as the last viable wild salmon fishery. And here, in this overlooked corner of our largest state, may lie the best hope for the future of wild salmon.
Life history and decline of killer whales in Crozet Archipelago, southern Indian Ocean
March 10, 2003 (Conservation Information and Research on Cetaceans) The analysis indicates that in ten years, the population has droped from 93 individuals in 1988-1989 to 43 in 1998-2000. A killer whale was living on average 60 years ten years ago, today its lifespan is less than 20 years.
This decrease in survival may be partly apparent if the missing individuals from different pods have left coastal waters of Possession Island. However, this hypothesis is not likely as killer whale pods have the characteristic of being socialy very stable and only a few individuals are missing in several pods, which emphasise the hypothesis of an increase in death rate.
The combination of several factors could be responsible for the decline of this killer whale population around Possession Island:
1) The decline of their main prey: large baleen whales due to past whaling, and southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) from the 60's to the 80's;
2) Mortality induced by recent interactions with the Antarctic cod (Dissostichus eleginoides) longline fishery. Killer whales (but also sperm whales) understood that they could feed at lower cost by picking up the cods off the line while they are winded up.
Our analysis indicate that the situation of the killer whales is critical and has gotten worse since the development of illegal fishing - fisheries inspectors are present on boats allowed to fish in the Exculsive Economic Zone. This population is demographically unstable with a lack of recruitment (no juveniles) and a progressive loss of all the females likely to reproduce, which makes us worry about the loss of these killer whales.
Cleaning up stormwater for shellfish reasons
March 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) This sheltered bay in Whatcom County is a haven for shellfish. The area is mostly rural. Mudflats stretch for acres, and the water is cold and rich with nutrients.
But pollution -- namely fecal coliform and the pathogens that tag along with it -- have squashed shellfish collection here. The stormwater that gushes through Blaine and into the harbor and over the shellfish beds can be tainted with fecal coliform at levels far higher than what's safe to eat.
In the absence of regulations, concerned residents such as Menzies as well as local governments are trying to clean up stormwater on their own. Some governments, such as King County, are doing more than what's required by law.
Menzies is leading a group trying to solve water-quality issues by getting the public involved. Calling themselves the "Farmers of the Tideflats," the volunteers are tending thousands of oysters planted in Drayton Harbor two years ago. Their goal is to get the bay cleaned up enough by 2004 so they'll be able to harvest, eat and sell the bivalves.
The poor water quality "is a community problem," Menzies said. "And if you don't have the community involved and having an appreciation of the harbor, you aren't going to get the problem solved."
In the Northwest: A tale of graceful grays inside an ecological oasis
March 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Column by Joel Connelly
Even by snowbirds' standards, the gray whales of our Pacific Coast undertake a remarkable seasonal migration, calving in lagoons of Baja California during winter and then swimming 6,000 miles north to summer in Alaskan waters.
A few will stop to feed on sand shrimp near my family's Whidbey Island cabin come spring, signaling their presence with the world's noisiest breathing.
The place to feel these great marine mammals, however, is the breeding grounds of remote Laguna San Ignacio about halfway down the coast of Baja.
This still-wild place was the recent scene of what is perhaps conservation's greatest triumph to date in the developing world.
"We have an average of 300 whales a season living here: 30 to 50 come here to calve," said Raoul Lopez of Ecoturismo Kuyima, one of a half-dozen local outfits that take visitors on carefully regulated boat trips into the lagoon sanctuary.
An experience on the water -- plus driving 40 miles of world class washboard to get there -- will carry in your memory for many a moon.
Man leads beach cleanup effort on Whidbey Island
March 8, 2003 (KING5 TV) A one-man cleanup effort is underway on Whidbey Island. Countless beams and lumber treated with creosote are washing up on local beaches causing serious concern about the environment.
Now, Tony Frantz says he's tired of just talking about what to do about it and he's taking action of his own.
Old pilings, broken up ferry docks, railroad ties – they all contain creosote and thousands wash up on the miles and miles of beaches.
"It gets beaten up in the tide action, it splinters into long shafts of creosote that go everywhere," he said.
Tony Frantz decided to begin his cleanup efforts at a marsh that is home to about 150 migratory species of birds. It is also a place where the salmon come to spawn. All of the creosote logs that have collected there over the years have had a devastating impact on the local wildlife.
"The marine life is gone, 95 percent of our herring population is gone," said Frantz.
The Orca Network helped pay for the cleanup effort this time. If you would like to help, log on to the Web site for more information.
Fattened by Seals, Orcas Leave Canal
March 5, 2003 (Olympian) A group of transient killer whales has ended its two-month stay in Hood Canal, but not before putting a big dent in the harbor seal population.
The unprecedented visit ended Monday when the 11 black-and-white visitors swam under the Hood Canal bridge and headed north.
The orcas arrived for their extended stay Jan. 3, capturing the fancy of Hood Canal residents and visitors alike, who lined the shores to see the whales and occasionally watch them herd, capture and consume harbor seals near the mouths of several Hood Canal rivers.
The extended Hood Canal visit introduced hundreds of people to the behavior and biology of transient orcas, said Sue Berta, co-founder of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network Whale Sighting Network.
The network logged 130 transient whale sightings in January and February via telephone or the Internet, she said.
"It was a real exceptional opportunity for the public to get some shore-based whale-watching activity," she said.
Killer whales head out to sea
March 5, 2003 (Seattle Times) The transient killer whales that spent an unprecedented eight weeks in Hood Canal, gorging themselves on harbor seals, have headed back out to sea.
Four of the orcas left early Monday, and the remaining seven left a few hours later, said marine-mammal biologist Steve Jeffries with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Hood Canal bridge supervisor Dean Crawford saw the larger group swim north and dive under the floating bridge. About two dozen harbor seals and a couple of sea lions were hanging out on the south side of the bridge as they went by, he said.
"Apparently the pod decided to check the menu one more time to see if there was any hors d'oeuvres left," Crawford said with a chuckle.
After clearing the bridge, Crawford said, "They made a beeline for the mouth of the canal," probably bound for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and out to the Pacific Ocean.
Jeffries said they likely slashed the local harbor seal population, estimated at 1,200 to 1,500 before the orcas' arrival in early January.
"There's probably not a whole lot of seals left," he said. "That's one of the things we'll be looking at."
The average killer whale probably needs one to two seals a day, Jeffries said. If the whales averaged just one seal daily, the take over two months would have been more than 600 seals. And the two big male orcas "probably needed two to three seals a day."
So-called transient orcas live along the coast and feed mostly on marine mammals. The Pacific Northwest's orcas, which spend summers in the region's inland waters around the San Juan Islands and off Canada's Vancouver Island, feed mostly on fish. A third population, called offshores, is thought to mix mammals and fish.
Hood Canal menu skimpy after 2-month feast, so orcas move on
March 5, 2003 (Seattle Post-Inteligencer)
Orcas high-tail it out to sea
March 4, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) A group of transient killer whales, which have dined on Hood Canal harbor seals for an unprecedented eight weeks, departed Monday after swimming quickly under the Hood Canal Bridge.
"They stopped and ate one last seal on their way out," reported bridge supervisor Dean Crawford, who observed between seven and nine whales diving under the floating structure shortly before noon Monday.
Killer whale experts had counted 11 orcas in Hood Canal -- often traveling in two groups -- so nobody was sure Monday evening whether any whales remained.
Killer-whale population count starts in Alaska
March 3, 2003 (Seattle Times) Alaska mariners are being asked to keep track of cruising killer whales this week to find out how many swim near the state in the winter.
If enough people scan fjords and icy bays, the count will produce an unprecedented large-scale snapshot of cold-season killer-whale distribution.
The count started Saturday and runs though Friday.
It's modeled on the Christmas Bird census sponsored for decades by the Audubon Society.
During a three-day count last summer, 160 people filed reports, including 40 sightings of whales, almost half in Southeast Alaska.
Biologists have been working for nearly two decades to identify individual whales and understand their family relationships and eating habits.
A handful of researchers work at any given time, almost always in spring, summer and fall.
"Most biologists are fair-weather biologists," said Andrew Trites, count coordinator and executive director of the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium in Vancouver, B.C.
"They love to go out in the summer. We want to find out about where the whales are in winter."
Back to Orca News Archives