Orca Network News - March, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2005 through March 31, 2005.
March 31, 2005 (Independent) The oil company Shell has abandoned a plan to route a multibillion-pound oil pipeline through a whale species' feeding ground following pressure from conservationists.
The news that Shell had re-routed the pipeline, which lies along the eastern shore of Russia's Sakhalin island, was welcomed by campaigners.
But Friends of the Earth said the proposed location of the drilling platform was too close to the feeding ground and would disrupt the western grey whales. The pressure group pointed out that Shell was seeking taxpayers' money to fund part of the scheme, through a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which is financed by EU governments.
Nick Rau, of Friends of the Earth, said: "Gordon Brown, as a governor of the EBRD, should use his influence to stop this loan to the oil industry. Without it, this environmentally damaging project might not go ahead."
Resident gray whales
March 31, 2005 (Seattle Times) Resident gray whales have migrated back to waters around Whidbey and Camano islands, and there are excellent viewing sites along the shorelines and cliffs of the islands. Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network has received reports of gray whales off west, south and east Whidbey Island, and in Port Susan off Camano Island the past two weeks. This small group of resident gray whales arrives in early March and typically stays through May or early June. The whales feed close to shore by turning on their sides and sucking up huge mouthfuls of sand filled with ghost shrimp. Welcome the Whales Day includes a parade April 16 in Langley on Whidbey Island. Details: 866-ORCANET or www.cascadiaresearch.org or www.orcanetwork.org
Scientists mystified by herring decline
March 30, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A steep decline in Puget Sound-area herring, a critical food source for larger fish, marine mammals and sea birds, has scientists mystified.
Not only are adult herring dying earlier than normal, but some fear a stock that used to be one of the largest in Washington state's inland marine waters could go extinct.
The 30-year decline in the small, silvery fish has far-reaching implications, said Jim West, a state Fish and Wildlife Department research scientist who found high concentrations of polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic substances in herring in south Puget Sound.
"Virtually any predator worth its salt in Puget Sound is going to be eating herring," West said.
Herring are a dietary stable for chinook salmon, cod and halibut, and also are eaten by porpoises, seals, sea lions and orcas. Freshly spawned herring eggs once drew swarms of marine birds, especially diving ducks called surf scoters that fly north to nest in the Canadian interior.
Study finds high toxins in Wash. fish
March 29, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A state Department of Ecology study has found that fish in the Spokane River have the highest concentrations of toxic flame retardants of any freshwater fish in Washington state.
PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are chemicals used in electronics, plastics, building materials and textiles that build up in fish tissue and in the human body, including the breast milk of nursing mothers. They can cause neurological damage in babies.
"Fish from the Spokane River have the highest values of PBDEs found in Washington state to date," according to a September 2004 report from Ecology's toxics monitoring program.
The fish, sampled in 2001, had PBDE levels measuring 1,250 parts per billion. By comparison, salmon from a tributary of industrial Lake Michigan had PBDEs ranging from 44.6 to 148 parts per billion, the Ecology report says.
Study: Salmon from farms breed sea lice
March 31, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Salmon farms help stock supermarkets but also breed parasitic sea lice that infect young wild salmon and could endanger other important ocean species such as herring, scientists said Tuesday.
Even a single farm can have far-reaching effects, Canadian researchers Martin Krkosek, Mark Lewis and John Volpe found. The study adds fuel to the clamor over farmed versus wild salmon, a debate that extends along Pacific Northwest coastlines.
"We know that the lice do infect other species," said Krkosek, a University of Alberta mathematical biologist. "The transmission from farmed fish to wild fish is much larger than what was previously believed."
Adult salmon can survive such infections, but the younger salmon are more vulnerable. "Normally, juvenile salmon have time to build resistance and put on body mass before they encounter these parasites," Krkosek said.
The Canadian government has found that salmon farms effectively control sea lice. But citing concerns over declining populations of native juvenile salmon off northern Vancouver Island, the government announced plans last week to do more research on the matter.
Some European countries, where salmon farming is popular, use chemicals to control the parasites and dye to turn the salmon flesh pink. The use of those chemicals has led some environmentalists to hold demonstrations run ads urging consumers to boycott farmed salmon. Some grocery stores carry labels saying farmed fish contain dye. And a major study in the journal Science last year found more cancer-causing PCBs in farmed fish over wild fish.
Puget Sound: Courting disaster
March 27, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) Washington state is courting disaster. There's no other way to view the complacent approach to the risks of an oil spill in Puget Sound.
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer series last week on the state of efforts to protect against oil spills provides numerous reasons to worry. As investigative reporter Eric Nalder's stories showed, the state has skated closer to the edge of devastating destruction than even informed environmentalists realized. Technical improvements certainly have occurred in the 16 years since Alaska's Exxon Valdez disaster, but the risks of human error remain high.
The Legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire need to confront the mediocrity that sometimes creeps into oil-spill prevention here. Politicians' promises of protecting the Sound and the state's environment could crash into oblivion with one mistake.
The tendency toward complacency is clear. Hard on the heels of a spill in south Puget Sound in December, a state Department of Ecology report seems to suggest seriously considering dropping requirements for tug escorts on some tanker shipments. Although any such recommendation wouldn't go to the Legislature until next year, those escorts have been a key part of protecting our inland marine waters.
Connection Between Whale Beachings and the Use of Sonar Gets Contentious
March 25, 2005 (Voice of America) Every year, hundreds of marine mammals, mostly whales and dolphins, beach themselves and die. Some environmentalists claim the naval use of sonar causes some of the beaching. They say the loud bursts of sound cause ear and brain lesions and force the animals out of the water. The US Navy rejects most of the accusations. VOA producer Zulima Palacio prepared this report, narrated by Melinda Smith.
Last January, 37 whales of three different species beached themselves on the North Carolina shore; six of them were pregnant when they died. A few weeks later 60 rough-tooth dolphins beached themselves in Florida.
On both occasions, U.S. Navy vessels were nearby, conducting training exercises in the use of deep-water sonar. The beaching is still under investigation.
Michael Jasny, a senior consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council -- an environmental organization that tries to protect marine mammals -- says, "I think we don't understand the magnitude of the impact that these sound sources have on whales. We know these sound sources can disrupt feeding behavior, they can interfere with the singing of humpback whales, it can cause some species to strand, we know it produces a whole syndrome of internal injury in certain species of animals."
On a few occasions, some scientists say, there has been a clear correlation between the use of mid-frequency sonar and the stranding of marine mammals.
The European Parliament has called on its members to stop deploying high intensity active sonar until more is known about the harm it can cause to marine mammals.
Toxic Cleanup: Keep voters' faith
March 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) When voters approve a tax, the state should make sure the money is spent for the purposes that the public intended. That should be a guiding principle for legislators.
Lawmakers must go back to basics in examining provisions of Gov. Christine Gregoire's budget that would divert about $25 million from toxic site cleanups. We have no doubt that other good purposes, including numerous worthwhile environmental measures, could be served by a one-time diversion of money.
That's not the point. In approving a 1988 initiative, voters created the Local Toxics Control Account to help cities, counties and ports clean up hazardous waste sites. The initiative put a small tax on hazardous substances, a levy appropriately tied to environmental restoration. Eric Johnson of the Washington Public Ports Association notes that the 1988 election was the last time statewide voters have gone to the polls to approve an initiative with a new tax. Part of the budget pressure on Gregoire today is due to two education-related initiatives mandating additional expenditures without new revenues.
It is imperative to keep faith with voters on spending issues. That's especially true when the voters themselves approved a new tax. The Legislature and the governor must nurture trust in government by refraining from a raid on the cleanup account.
Citizens' spill group touted
March 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A proposal to establish a citizen Oil Spill Monitoring and Oversight Council similar to the one established at Prince William Sound after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill faced stiff opposition at a House hearing yesterday.
Representatives from maritime unions, oil companies and the state Department of Ecology objected to a new oversight group outlined by Senate Bill 5432. They said it would be expensive and duplicative of other state programs.
But supporters, such as Naki Stevens of the environmental watchdog group People for Puget Sound, said such concerns are misguided -- and that the safety net in place is inadequate to address the risks.
"It's much more expensive to have a spill than to have citizens involved in trying to prevent it," Stevens said. "Let's not wait for an Exxon Valdez to get really serious about preventing spills."
Stevens said the Prince William Sound model has been a success in Alaska, and in Washington none of the already established committees provide the comprehensive prevention and response planning the new one would.
As envisioned, the council would be composed of 15 members appointed by the governor and two invited tribal members.
They would include representatives from environmental organizations, commercial shellfish interests, commercial fishermen, marine recreation and tourism industry, county governments, the oil industry, the ports and one person who lives on the shoreline.
The council would provide independent advice delved from professional staff and expert consultants and monitor programs associated with oil-spill prevention and response as well as the incident reports when something does go wrong.
6 orcas are hanging in the Hood Canal
March 25, 2005 (Seattle Times) Six killer whales have been swimming in Hood Canal for eight weeks, the longest stay recorded for orcas in that area.
A retired Silverdale woman, Judy Dicksion, has been reporting sightings to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"Judy is basically our eyes and ears over there," said Steve Jeffries, a state marine mammal expert.
These are transient orcas - two adult females, each with two calves - that normally live along the coast. Unlike resident orcas that eat fish, the transients hunt seals and other marine mammals.
Dicksion calls them the "Slippery Six," saying she is sometimes unable to locate them despite her best efforts.
How tanker might have caused spill in Dalco
March 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Did the aged tanker cause a mystery 1,500-gallon oil spill in Puget Sound's Dalco Passage on Oct. 13? Absolutely not, says its owner, ConocoPhillips. But the Coast Guard says crude oil from the ship matched the oil spilled.
According to two former Polar Texas officers -- a chief engineer and a chief mate -- and a former fleet president who knows the ship well, the Polar Texas could have spilled the oil in Dalco Passage without knowing, if a foul-weather ballasting operation -- taking in water to keep the ship's profile low and make it more stable in high seas -- was done incorrectly.
A former chief engineer of the Polar Texas said the ballasting operation could be botched without the crew realizing it. Jerry Aspland, former president of the Polar Texas' fleet when it was called Arco Marine, agreed. What they described is what most experts view as the likeliest -- perhaps only -- way crude oil could have left the ship at the time it sailed through Dalco Passage.
Balcomb, Osborne, Koski and Sears honored as Orca Heroes
March 24, 2005 (San Juan Islander) Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and three members of The Whale Museum have been named "Orca Heroes" by the Seattle Aquarium. The museum members are Director Richard Osborne, the museum's Soundwatch Boater Education Program Coordinator Kari Koski, and Research Associate Mark Sears.
The four are featured in a new exhibit at the aquarium, in recognition of their years of research and stewardship efforts of the orcas of the Salish Sea. The exhibit provides the following information about each one of the heroes:
Notebook: Spring chinook improves, still lagging
March 24, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) While it remains unclear just how good the Columbia River spring chinook fishery will be heading into next month, there has been some glory moments of late for sport anglers.
"Spring chinook fishing is getting better and abundance is increasing, but we still have some dry spots," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
State's chinook packed with PCBs
March 24, 2005 (Tacoma News Tribune) Concentrations of banned chemicals that are particularly threatening to children are at least three times higher in Puget Sound chinook salmon than in chinook from other areas.
In light of that finding by a state Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist, state Health Department officials are conducting their own research. While they say there is no cause for alarm, health officials acknowledge they might revise fish consumption warnings in a few months.
"I don't think the data is clear enough yet," said Rob Duff, the Health Department's environmental health director.
Sandie O'Neill, a state Department of Fish and Wildlife scientist, has found PCB concentrations in Puget Sound chinook are three times higher than what others have measured in chinook salmon from Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, coastal Washington and the Columbia River.
"The food chain in Puget Sound is significantly contaminated with PCBs and flame retardants," said Jim West, another state Fish and Wildlife Department scientist.
He recently discovered both pollutants in herring, a key component of the salmon diet.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are banned industrial compounds found worldwide that build up in the food chain and can cause developmental and behavioral problems in children.
Because PCBs don't break down over time, they persist in air, water and soil. The PCBs also build up in the food chain, so top predators harbor high concentrations. Because of PCBs, orca whales are some of the world's most contaminated marine mammals.
The whale whisperer - Judy Dicksion has become known for her persistent searches and observations of Hood Canal's visitors
March 24, 2005 (Kitsap Sun) "Are there whales?" the woman asked as she approached Judy Dicksion, who stood at the edge of Highway 101 and peered through a telescope aimed toward Hood Canal.
"Well, we think they're out there somewhere," Dicksion replied kindly, turning away from her "spotting scope" to form a new bond with a fellow orca enthusiast, Charlene Finley of Chimacum.
Then Dicksion, who speaks rapidly with a slight British accent, shared her growing knowledge about these six "transient" killer whales - two older females, each with two offspring. All six are familiar to researchers in Southeast Alaska.
They have stayed longer in Hood Canal than any group ever reported. This week, their stay surpassed that of the 11 orcas of two years ago.
Dicksion, who might be considered a human ambassador for the whales, pulled out a book called "Transients" and explained how the whales are identified by their markings.
A Silverdale resident, she drives her black KIA sports vehicle up and down the western shore of Hood Canal nearly every day in search of whales. When she finds them, she writes colorful reports, which she shares with orca researchers and members of Orca Network, an e-mail service that keeps track of whale sightings.
Steve Jeffries, a marine mammal expert with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he would like to spend more time with the whales in Hood Canal, to learn about their behaviors and estimate predation rates, but he doesn't have the time.
"Judy is basically our eyes and ears over there," he said. "She does an excellent job recording information that's of use to us."
Report: Rivers may get too hot for fish
March 24, 2005 (Seattle Times) If warming trends continue unchecked, more than 20 percent of the Pacific Northwest's rivers could become too hot for salmon, steelhead and trout by 2040, according to a new Northwest Wildlife Federation report.
The report, released yesterday, predicts that rising regional temperatures could disturb the delicate balance of seasonal stream flows - making spring flows happen earlier, reducing summer flows to a trickle, or rendering winter flows so high that gravel beds used as nesting sites could get scoured away.
"Salmon in the region are struggling to survive amid dams, water diversions and development along river shorelines," said Paula Del Giudice, director of the group's Northwest Natural Resource Center in Seattle. "Global warming will add an enormous amount of pressure onto what's left of the region's prime cold-water fish habitat."
"Should you spend a lot of money and effort trying to slow or stop something that you can't slow or stop with today's technology?" Michaels asked.
But Jim Kramer, executive director of a cooperative salmon-recovery effort called Shared Strategy for Puget Sound, suggested that delaying the region's response to rising temperatures could make things worse in the future.
"It's similar to working on salmon issues," he said. "The decline of the salmon has been talked about for 100 years, and a lot of the things that were talked about 50 years ago, if instituted, would have prevented the problems we have today."
San Juans disaster was narrowly averted
March 24, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) It was about as close to a disastrous oil spill as you can get without having one -- and it happened in the San Juan Islands.
On Jan. 19, 2002, a binge drinker who had suffered several mini-strokes veered the escort tug he was driving in front of the bow of an oncoming single-hulled oil tanker carrying 2 million gallons of light fuel oil, according to a federal court ruling.
The collision near Lopez Island rolled the tugboat over like a dog's chew toy.
Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt and the tanker did not spill oil, but the collision between the 612-foot tanker Allegiance, owned by Maritrans Inc. of Tampa, Fla., and the tug Sea Wolf underlines the special dangers tankers sail through in busy Washington shipping lanes.
The tugboat skipper, Donald Nekeferoff, 65, of Tacoma, said in an interview yesterday that he surrendered his Coast Guard tugboat master's license immediately afterward because a doctor told him, "I shouldn't even be driving a car."
Panel predicts no Fraser River sockeye in '08
March 23, 2005 (Bellingham Herald) One of Canada's richest fisheries, the Fraser River sockeye salmon run, probably will be shut down for the 2008 season because of a sharp decline in spawning stocks that may be related to climate change, a report by a Canadian government committee concludes.
In a unanimous report released Tuesday, the Commons fisheries committee suggests that rising water temperatures are an important factor in "a major ecological disaster."
It also blames overfishing for the low spawning numbers last summer, and suggests the federal Fisheries Department must increase enforcement and research efforts.
The committee says 1.6 million fish, one-third of the total run, went missing in 2004.
"These tragically low numbers mean that there will probably not be enough sockeye salmon to support commercial, recreation or aboriginal fishing on the Fraser in 2008."
It estimates losses in the commercial fishery alone at $64.4 million (U.S.) in 2008.
Based on the four-year life cycle of the sockeye, "the forecast for 2012 and 2016 is bleak."
The report makes no longer-term predictions, but panel members noted similarities to that of the Atlantic cod, which still hasn't recovered from a collapse many expected to be temporary.
State considers Stilly well limits
March 22, 2005 (Skagit Valley Herald) The state aims to restrict the number of new wells that can be punched into the shallow aquifer along the Stillaguamish River and its tributaries, an effort to protect fish that is angering farmers and other landowners.
The Department of Ecology would allow 9,000 to 18,000 new wells drilled in the Stillaguamish River basin. The precise number depends on how much water gets used by the new wells; once the limit is reached, that would be it.
A computer analysis by The Herald shows that there currently are about 5,500 wells in the river's watershed.
If new homes use about 350 gallons per day, then there would be water enough to dig about 9,000 wells, said Steve Hirschey, who is leading the Department of Ecology's effort to develop the new well rules.
If new homes use about 175 gallons per day, then as many as 18,000 wells could be dug. The typical new home uses an amount between the two numbers, Hirschey said. That's enough to meet the county's population growth projections for the area.
It's a different story for new farms and other new businesses that use more than residential amounts of water.
They would have to get interruptible water rights, which would require them to turn off the tap if the river drops below levels considered healthy for salmon, trout and steelhead, Hirschey said.
Safety lapses plague oil tankers
March 22, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sixteen years ago this week, the Exxon Valdez oil spill horrified Alaska, Seattle and the world.
When the tanker went aground and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into pristine Prince William Sound, public outrage spurred both regulators and oil companies to adopt major reforms in tanker operations. Key changes included requiring double-hulled tankers and installing better vessel-tracking systems, and they have been effective.
But other parts of the safety net that tragedy built are fraying.
A Seattle Post-Intelligencer investigation found disturbing evidence that efforts to reduce crew work hours, crack down on alcohol use and improve tug escorts are being evaded or undermined.
All along the West Coast -- from Prince William Sound to Puget Sound, to San Francisco to Long Beach -- state and federal regulators are taking steps to reduce requirements for tug escorts.
Coalition asks U.S. court for salmon protection
March 22, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fishermen, Indian tribes and environmentalists sought a federal court order yesterday compelling the Bush administration to protect imperiled salmon in the Snake and Columbia rivers this summer as drought strikes and water becomes scarce.
The groups had earlier asked U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland to overturn the Bush administration's overall salmon-rescue plan for the rivers, saying it violates the Endangered Species Act.
Yesterday's request asked Redden to order the government to put additional water through spillways to give a push to juvenile salmon migrating downriver to the ocean. Water put through spillways does not generate electricity. Putting salmon through the turbines that generate power can kill the fish.
In The Northwest: Honoring Maggie 16 years after the Exxon Valdez
March 21, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) When Sen. Warren Magnuson blocked Puget Sound from becoming a pipeline terminus for Alaskan oil, the stellar environmental deed of 1977 inspired a wonderful Maggie malapropism.
"I don't know why they want supertankers on Puget Sound," intoned Magnuson, a lover of drink. "Why, the existing tankers can supply every distillery on the Coast."
On Thursday, the 16th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, People for Puget Sound will honor Maggie by kicking off a $1 million campaign to honor his work in preventing oil spills in the Sound and safeguarding its marine life.
Inland waters were a late-cresting cause in the political life of a man who served from 1944 to 1980 in the U.S. Senate.
Maggie stayed with the cause until his death in 1989. The former senator's last public act was to dictate testimony backing the Puget Sound Tanker Safety Act of 1989, requiring oil tankers entering the Sound to have double hulls.
We forget this legacy at our peril!
Oceans getting louder, but effects still unclear
March 21, 2005 (Fairbanks Daily News-Miner) The ocean was flat and the winter darkness over Cape Cod Bay was unbroken by ship lights. But below the bay's surface, Christopher Clark found things weren't as serene as they seemed.
The bay is saturated with sound.
"It's just a great, big amphitheater," said Clark, a Cornell bioacoustics scientist who monitored the bay with underwater listening devices.
The sound carrying through the bay that evening was part of an ever louder man-made din that's filling the world's oceans, and some say harming marine life.
High profile whale beachings have been linked to sonar blasts and sparked fierce public debate over the military's use of sound in national defense. But a broader concern for scientists is rising levels of ocean background noise, much of it generated by commercial shipping, and whether it interferes with the way the entire sea has operated for eons.
Hearing is the primary sense for marine life, which uses sound for navigation and communication. Some scientists believe the spreading "acoustic smog" is essentially blinding marine life, affecting feeding, breeding and other crucial activities.
"Their world is just being collapsed," Clark said. "They rely so heavily on sound. They can't see anything."
Fuel barge runs aground near Washington state park
March 21, 2005 (Seattle Times) A barge broke loose in rough seas and ran aground on rocky bluffs Saturday night near the mouth of the Columbia River, raising concerns that it could spill up to 5,000 gallons of diesel fuel near a Washington state park and popular tourist beaches.
U.S. Coast Guard and state Department of Ecology (DOE) officials set up a command post near the southwestern tip of Washington state, where the barge Millicoma was stranded in a shallow cove near the North Head lighthouse.
There was no evidence of any fuel spill as of yesterday afternoon, said DOE spokeswoman Sandy Howard. The barge, used to haul fuel, didn't have any cargo when it broke loose but is equipped with an internal fuel tank with a 5,000-gallon capacity.
High waves and wind were making it difficult to get near the barge, Howard said.
Gregoire seeks funds to clean up Hood Canal
March 19, 2005 (Seattle Times) Taking up where her predecessor left off, Gov. Christine Gregoire yesterday designated cleanup of polluted Hood Canal as her first big environmental project.
Gregoire, who once served as state ecology director, announced a nine-point plan to halt human and animal wastes from getting into the scenic canal that is perilously close to becoming a dead zone.
Former Gov. Gary Locke, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, the Puget Sound Action Team, tribes, local and federal agencies, the environmental community and others have worked on cleanup of the 60-mile inland waterway for a number of years.
Gregoire made it clear that it's a high priority for her new administration, too. She said it's past time for talking and studying, and time for "on-the-ground action."
She asked lawmakers to approve $5 million to help finance sewer and stormwater projects at Belfair and Hoodsport in Mason County, pay for surveying failing septic systems, provide low-interest loans for property owners to fix failing systems and provide grants for managing animal-waste and salmon-carcass disposal problems.
Gregoire: Hood Canal 'jewel' in grave danger March 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Degree of sonar harm to marine mammals debated
March 18, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists and whale-watchers in Haro Strait could hear the sonar long before they saw the USS Shoup.
As the pings grew louder above and beneath the waves, sounds ricocheting off submerged land forms, onlookers saw a minke whale, Dall's porpoises and killer whales behaving strangely.
Whale expert David Bain said a minke, usually wary of research boats, was nearly run over by one. The porpoises panicked, bolting from the unnatural sounds. A pod of orcas swam into an unusual area, hid for a while, then split up, reuniting a day later.
But to the chagrin of those hoping for stronger marine mammal protections, a report by the National Marine Fisheries Service shows the difficulties in scientifically proving sonar's impact on denizens of the deep.
At a time when scientists and environmentalists increasingly view sonar as a culprit in marine mammal deaths, such as the recent dolphin beachings at Florida's Key West, the federal report effectively concludes that the high-powered sonar used by the Navy in 2003 did not actually harm Puget Sound orcas' hearing.
Michael Jasny, senior policy consultant for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the report shows that the Shoup "transformed the acoustical landscape of a large area of Puget Sound."
The "panic behavior" by marine mammals that day should lead to a common-sense "connecting of the dots," he said.
Federal report: Navy sonar could have scattered orcas March 18, 2005 (Seattle Times)
NOAA Report Says Navy Sonar Likely Caused Orcas To Flee
March 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sonar pulsing from a Navy guided-missile destroyer during training exercises near the San Juan Islands two years ago was likely loud enough to send killer whales fleeing, according to a recent report from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The report backed up local orca experts who said sonar from the USS Shoup caused a group of orcas to behave abnormally, apparently trying to avoid the sound.
That contradicts the Navy's previous findings that orcas in Puget Sound's J Pod seemed unaffected by the sonar coming from the Shoup on May 5, 2003.
Cmdr. Karen Sellers, the Navy's spokeswoman for the Northwest, acknowledged that the Shoup's sonar signals were the "dominant noise event" experienced by the orcas that day, but said the Navy maintains that the "biological significance" was minimal, The Sun newspaper reported Wednesday.
NFMS' 10-page report, dated Jan. 21 but not released publicly until March 10, said the Shoup's sonar was not loud enough to cause the whales any temporary or permanent hearing damage.
Ken Balcomb of the Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research questioned the report's focus on hearing damage.
"It's like it's an industrial job problem - disregarding the observed fact that these animals are fleeing from sources of sound," Balcomb said. "They are trying to get away, and they are stranding and dying. It is irrelevant whether they had hearing loss if they are dead."
Federal researchers have linked currently used sonar systems to whale deaths in the Bahamas in 2000.
Puget Sound's orca population has been proposed for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. NMFS already is working on a recovery plan, including ways to protect the whales from harmful noise.
Marine mammal researchers have also expressed concern about 15 harbor porpoises found dead in northern Puget Sound in the spring of 2003, around the same time as the Shoup incident.
Sellers said the Navy stands by its conclusions that those deaths were not related to sonar.
Puget Sound: Improving spill response
March 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) Less than six months after a middle-of-the-night oil spill in south Puget Sound, the Legislature has a real chance to improve long-term prevention.
Senate Bill 5432, proposed by Sen. Harriet Spanel, D-Bellingham, would create a citizens oil-spill advisory council to play a unique oversight role on responding to oil spills and preventing them in the Sound and other shipping lanes of the state. It's a smart idea, based on experience in Alaska after the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Spanel, who said the bill is still evolving, has added several industry representatives to the council's proposed makeup, which could detract from its independence. But her proposal, which passed the Senate yesterday and now goes to the House, remains an idea worth developing. The hours lost dithering during the October spill proved that we must do a better job protecting the Sound.
Well worth the effort to restore Spokane River
March 15, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-ed) Let's bring back the salmon. Historic salmon fisheries -- the "June hogs" -- are blocked by some impressive barriers -- Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph dams. But fish passage at these dams is on the agenda to study and implement in the next 20 years. As we wait for salmon's arrival, we can also reintroduce the Lake Roosevelt kokanee made possible by the efforts of the Colville and Spokane tribal hatcheries. We need to join with our Native American partners to ensure that the Spokane River is ready and healthy for the fish when they arrive.
Let's clean up the toxics. A century of mining and industrial pollution has left a terrible legacy. Heavy metals and PCBs lace the bed and banks of the river. This is a serious public health issue that is also killing fish. In the coming year, environmental agencies will unveil cleanup plans for metals and toxics. We must not shirk from full cleanup. We cannot live with anything less.
Let's meet and exceed water quality standards. Thirty-three years ago, our nation enacted the Clean Water Act with plans to make all rivers, including the Spokane, safe for fishing and swimming. Even though our municipal sewage treatment plants installed the best technology for the time, we have never met the standards set by law. It was all we knew then -- we know better now. Our current technology is old and obsolete; it is time to invest in significant improvements. Some say we can't afford to install the best equipment. We say, our community cannot afford to do anything less.
March 12, 2005 (Science Central) Canadian scientists have determined that an ancient Chinese way of farming fish is easier on the environment than commercial operations today and potentially more profitable. This ScienCentral video explains.
In aquaculture, it's dangerous to put all your salmon eggs in one basket. A fiercely cold winter, a nasty batch of parasitic sea lice, or a tenacious pathogen could turn your fish harvest belly up. But scientists working off Canada's misty east coast are proving that an ancient Chinese fish farming technique can reduce pollution generated by salmon farms and make money.
Normally commercial aquaculture is a single species production. Farmers raise fish, shellfish, or seaweed. If they raise fish, they can spend a good chunk of change running giant filtration systems to remove fish waste and uneaten food from their fish pens. These materials can load dangerous amounts of nutrients and organic matter into the water. But Chopin's team is working on an alternative. They are growing salmon, mussels, and seaweed together - an approach used by the Chinese for thousands of years, and formally called integrated aquaculture.
"All three together benefit," says Chopin. "The mussels and the seaweeds are taking advantage of the extra food available at the site to grow. So it's combining the three species to balance the system."
Chopin and his colleagues reported in the journal Aquaculture that mussels absorb the bits of organic material released from the fish pens, while the seaweeds combine the dissolved nutrients with solar energy to grow. Essentially the researchers are using waste materials from their fish pens to fertilize their mussels and seaweeds.
Chopin says the results are extraordinary. At the 2005 meeting of American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D. C., Chopin reported that nutrient levels around the salmon pens could be reduced by as much as 60 percent as compared to typical commercial pens. He also said the mussels and the seaweed are growing twice as fast as those grown without salmon nearby. "So for example, for mussels we reach commercial scale in 18 months instead of 24 months," says Chopin.
All the warning signs point to rocky summer
March 10, 2005 (Seattle Times) This year, the snowpack is a bust, and the bare mountain slopes may offer an unsettling peek into the future.
Mountain surveys show it has shrunk to less than a quarter of the historic averages in the Yakima basin, setting the stage for a record-shattering water shortage in a valley that in a good year produces more than $1.3 billion worth of crops.
This week, the federal Bureau of Reclamation forecast that farmers such as Valicoff, who are at the low end of the irrigation pecking order, will receive only 34 percent of a full share. And, if skies stay clear, that share could fall to less than half that amount. Some growers may have to abandon producing fruit and instead water their orchards just enough to keep them alive.
Their plight will be spotlighted today when Gov. Christine Gregoire travels to Yakima, where she will announce state plans to cope with water shortages, including a possible declaration of a drought emergency that could help farmers tap reserve aquifers and speed up water sales or transfers.
In the decades ahead, climate studies predict small Cascade snowpack will be much more frequent due to global warming triggered by carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The University of Washington and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, a Richland-based, federally funded research center, forecast that by midcentury, the average Northwest snowpack may be less than half its historic average.
This would have huge impacts - from reduced Puget Sound-region water and hydroelectric supply to increased fire risks in forests and less cool water for salmon survival.
Some of the strain also reflects new demands on the water, including higher minimum stream flows for fish.
The next two months will determine the severity of this year's drought. The best scenario for farmers would be a very cool, wet spring that might rebuild at least a small portion of the lost snowpack.
But this spring, forecasters are calling for warm, dry weather with April through September runoff expected to be at record lows in 26 streams across the state. This would force the Bureau of Reclamation to tap into the reservoirs far earlier than normal, and push farmers into the drought of a lifetime.
Drought is official – and worsening March 10, 2005 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Underwater Noise Pollution
March 8, 2005 (Lone Star Iconoclast) After 70 beached rough-tooth dolphins floated or swam to shore here last Wednesday, U.S. Navy and marine wildlife biologists found themselves embroiled in pursuit of why.
By this past weekend, more than 20 of the mammals had died or were euthanized for trauma, coaxing the debate as to whether submarine exercises conducted by the USS Philadelphia the day before off Key West contributed to the tragedies.
Although Navy authorities have declined to say whether the use of sonar, which can be heard miles away in the water, was implemented as part of the training, many scientists believe that this might be yet another example of how underwater noise pollution is changing life in the depths of the blue.
Although the Navy contends that there are other, more bothersome, environmental threats to sea mammals, animal activists argue that whales and dolphins suffer immensely when loud bursts of underwater sonar are sounded.
In an interview with the Washington Daily News, Navy spokesman Ted Brown commented, "In the global war on terrorism, effective antisubmarine warfare is critical to ensuring the Navy's ability to defend national interests around the world."
It was noted that other nations use diesel-electric submarines that are very quiet and hard to detect.
However, there is growing evidence that high decibel mid-range sonar sound waves may harm marine animals, injuring their ears, brains, and permanently disorienting them to the point of being easy prey to predators and unable to fend for themselves. When they lose their bearings and surface too quickly, decompression damage, similar to "the bends" in human divers, occurs.
Currently, the U.S. Navy is at odds with Nato and the European Union over sonar emission standards, with the Pentagon opting out of their plan to preserve the underwater environment by limiting sonar use. European countries have also been attempting to design sonar that will not harm water mammals and has implemented a strategy to not use sonar in areas inhabited by whales.
Court orders study of environmental impact for expanded pier
March 7, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In a victory for Seattle environmental groups, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has refused a request from the BP Cherry Point Refinery for full-court consideration of a decision that could restrict use of an expanded pier.
The three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based appeals court declined the request Friday, affirming its earlier finding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should have required an environmental impact statement before the pier was finished in 2001.
In their suit, Ocean Advocates, Fuel Safe Washington, the North Cascades Audubon Society and gillnetter Dan Crawford said the $31 million expansion increased the risk of an oil spill by boosting tanker traffic.
"An oil spill could destroy and disrupt ecosystems and kill or injure critical numbers of threatened and endangered species that live and thrive in the Cherry Point region."
The ruling also means that BP will have to proceed with the drafting of an environmental impact statement for the already-completed pier, Arum said.
Dolphin beaching came after sub exercise
March 6, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) (Note: Rough-toothed dolphins rarely travel in shallow waters) The Navy and marine wildlife experts are investigating whether the beaching of dozens of dolphins in the Florida Keys followed the use of sonar by a submarine on a training exercise off the coast.
More than 20 rough-toothed dolphins have died since Wednesday's beaching by about 70 of the marine mammals, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary spokeswoman Cheva Heck said Saturday.
A day before the dolphins swam ashore, the USS Philadelphia had conducted exercises with Navy SEALs off Key West, about 45 miles from Marathon, where the dolphins became stranded.
Navy officials refused to say if the submarine, based at Groton, Conn., used its sonar during the exercise.
Dolphin Beaching Came After Sub Exercise March 6, 2005 (ABC News)
Trapped killer whales may have been trying to protect offspring
March 2, 2005 (Mainichi Shimbun) Researchers trying to determine the reason why a pod of 12 healthy killer whales became trapped in drifting ice off Hokkaido last month, leading to the death of nine of them, said the pod may have been trying to protect three killer whales that had just been born.
One of the 12 killer whales managed to free itself after becoming trapped in the icy waters early last month. It is still unclear whether or not two others are alive.
Autopsies on the dead whales conducted by the National Science Museum found the bones of seals inside the bodies of six of the killer whales, and milk in the stomachs of two of the three infant killer whales, suggesting that the whales had attacked and eaten seals before feeding their young.
On the night of Feb. 6, the day before the whales became trapped in the floes, a fierce north wind was blowing. Hidehiro Kato, a researcher at the National Research Institute of Far Seas Fisheries in Shizuoka Prefecture, said killer whales were proficient at avoiding danger, but the weather may have caused unexpected shifts in the ice in the water.
Researchers said fully grown killer whales, which can swim at speeds of up to 50 kilometers per hour, can make their way past drifting ice, but young killer whales are not able to swim as fast.
Kotoe Sasamori, 41, a guide on whale watching boats, said it was possible that the three young killer whales were unable to flee from the ice.
Masao Amamo, a member of the International Coastal Research Center at the University of Tokyo's Ocean Research Institute who participated in the autopsies of the whales, said that killer whales do not usually leave weak members of their pod behind.
"Killer whales are highly sociable, and if one or two whales are weak, the pod doesn't leave them behind. There are plenty of times when all whales in the pod sacrifice themselves (to protect the weaker members)."
A 50-year-old cameraman who went underwater when the whales were being lifted from the waters off Rausu, Hokkaido, where they became trapped, said there was a young killer whale under the body of the biggest female.
"The female had died as if it was holding the young killer whale," the cameraman said. "It seemed like she was trying to protect it."
U.S. Must Address Global Warming, Bush Ally (James Baker) Says
March 4, 2005 (Reuters) Former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, a close ally of the Bush family, broke ranks with the Bush administration Thursday and called for the United States to get serious about global warming.
Baker, in a speech to an audience that included a number of oil company executives, said "orderly" change to alternative energy was needed.
"It may surprise you a little bit, but maybe it's because I'm a hunter and a fisherman, but I think we need to a pay a little more attention to what we need to do to protect our environment," he told the Houston Forum Club.
"When you have energy companies like Shell and British Petroleum, both of which are perhaps represented in this room, saying there is a problem with excess carbon dioxide emission, I think we ought to listen," Baker said.
Baker ran presidential campaigns for George Bush and served in his Cabinet and led George W. Bush's controversial legal fight to win the Florida vote in the 2000 election.
The current Bush administration has been skeptical about global warming and refused to sign on to the international Kyoto Treaty to combat climate change, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy.
Baker said he agreed with the decision not to join Kyoto, calling it "a lousy treaty" because it did not include China and India.
But he said he supported "a gradual and orderly transition" to new fuels.
"I think we need to go forward with some sort of gradual, resourceful search for alternative sources," Baker said.
Many scientists blame the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil for creating a "greenhouse" effect that is warming the world climate.
The United States is the leading oil consumer and top producer of greenhouse gases. Most U.S. energy companies reject the idea that global warming is occurring.
In the Northwest: Hood Canal is worth saving -- and it won't be easy
March 4, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In a wider sense, Hood Canal itself has emerged as a key testing place: Can marine habitat be cleaned up in a human environment of competing interests, multiple agencies and scarce dollars?
"We're doing great things with river habitat, but we can't keep our salmon and our bottomfish healthy unless we have healthy estuaries," said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. "To save salmon we must save Hood Canal, and we must save Puget Sound."
Gov. Christine Gregoire travels to Belfair tomorrow, getting a briefing on the "dead zone" where sections of southern Hood Canal have been depleted of oxygen. In the fall of 2003, more than 50,000 dead perch washed up on the beach at Potlach State Park. About 30,000 acres have been put off-limits to shellfish harvesting, with an even larger area in danger of being closed.
"I can't continue to have the state research things while allowing the canal to die. I want an action plan."
Instead, Hood Canal is suffering a thousand cuts. Old, failing septic systems pollute its waters. The flood-prone Skokomish River carries agricultural runoff -- including pesticides and fertilizers -- into the south end of the canal. Dead chum salmon, dumped by Skokomish Indians, used to pollute the canal -- until Dicks found a market for the carcasses.
"Anything that puts nitrogen into the water is a problem. Nitrogen creates algae, and algae takes oxygen out of the water," said Dicks.
"The big contributors to water problems were easy to identify," Gregoire reflected. "The problems were hard to solve and costly. Eventually, though, we got them addressed.
"Now, it's at a more difficult stage. It's all of us. It's when we apply too much fertilizer to a lawn or a field. It's a septic system that hasn't been upgraded. It's stuff that cars leave on roads that storms wash into streams and canals.
"It's our stuff."
Snowpack's status nearing critical
March 1, 2005 (Oregonian) After one of the driest Februarys on record, accumulations of mountain snow have dropped even further below normal across much of Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
That snow is a vital natural reservoir for the streams and rivers that supply irrigation and drinking water, produce electricity at hydropower dams -- and sustain wild salmon journeying to sea.
Last month brought one-fifth to one-third the average rain and snowfall to most river basins in Oregon. For Portland, it was the fourth-driest February on record. The lack of moisture, combined with warmer-than-normal temperatures, left snowpacks worse off than they were a month ago in most of the region. Washington is down the furthest, with a statewide snowpack at 27 percent of normal, compared with Oregon at 35 percent of normal.
The next month will be crucial. The winter's accumulation of rain and snow typically peaks in April, effectively setting the amount of water available as river runoff until autumn rains restart the cycle. Without a significant increase in precipitation, the region probably will face widespread summer water shortages and conflicts over the needs of people and wildlife.