Orca Network News - March, 2006
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2006 through March 31, 2006.
March 31, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Research fresh off a boat that docked Thursday in Alaska reveals some frightening changes taking place in the Pacific Ocean.
As humans are pumping out more carbon dioxide that is helping to warm the planet, the ocean has been doing yeoman's work to lessen the effects -- but it's taking a toll.
Over time, the changes could have an impact that ripples through the food chain, from microscopic plants that can't grow right to salmon and whales unable to find enough to eat.
The Pacific is getting warmer and more acidic, while the amount of oxygen and the building blocks for coral and some kinds of plankton are decreasing, according to initial results from scientists with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, the University of Washington and elsewhere.
"There are big changes," said Christopher Sabine, chief scientist for one leg of the research trip, which ultimately traveled from Antarctica to Alaska.
Many of the most interesting results are tied to the ocean becoming increasingly acidic because of its absorption of carbon dioxide.
More help for steelhead
March 30, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Federal officials Wednesday proposed to extend the protections of the Endangered Species Act to the Puget Sound region's stocks of steelhead, one of the most sought-after game fish in North America.
The law already can be used to restrict building and drinking-water withdrawals to protect chinook salmon. In addition to extending those limits farther up into Puget Sound-area watersheds, the plan could curtail or even end fishing for the fabled steelhead around here.
One of the Puget Sound area's most battered runs of steelhead spawns in the Cedar River, a source of Seattle's drinking water. Although some think the additional protections proposed Wednesday could spell trouble for that drinking-water supply, city officials say they could help the steelhead without reducing Seattleites' water supplies.
Klamath salmon win some water
March 28, 2006 (Eureka Times-Standard) A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to send enough water down the Klamath River for threatened coho salmon, even if it means crimping flows to farmers in its central California-Oregon border irrigation project.
Judge Saundra Armstrong in U.S. District Court in Oakland ruled that the federal government needs to plan to provide the water this year, or any year that's considered a drought year.
"The sooner BOR understands its (Endangered Species Act) obligations, the sooner it can plan for appropriate irrigation deliveries and the less chance there is of an injunction disrupting settled expectations," Armstrong wrote.
Based on projections, this year appears to be an above-average year for rainfall and snow, so there appears to be no immediate effect on irrigation. The bureau plans to release a draft operations plan sometime next week.
The National Marine Fisheries Service must also rewrite its plan to keep coho salmon in the river from harm, Armstrong wrote. The federal government can't hurt endangered species, Armstrong said, and can't rely on the premise that it only shares part of the responsibility for harm to the species, a contention that has been tossed out by the courts before.
The fish -- especially young chinook -- have been hammered by low flows, cut off from spawning grounds by dams, and attacked by parasites. Salmon are believed to be more vulnerable to the parasites when they are stressed by poor water quality.
Melting ice threatens sea-level rise
March 24, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) By the end of this century, Arctic readings could rise to levels not seen in 130,000 years - when the oceans were several feet higher than now, according to new research appearing in Friday's issue of the journal Science.
According to the studies, increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere over the next century could raise Arctic temperatures as much as 5 to 8 degrees.
The warming could raise global sea levels by up to three feet this century through a combination of thermal expansion of the water and melting of polar ice, Overpeck and Otto-Bliesner said.
"Our results suggest that these major outlet glaciers can respond to changes in climate conditions much more quickly than we had thought," said team member Meredith Nettles of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
County acts on global warming
March 23, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Saving water, using more renewable energy and protecting undeveloped land were strategies announced Wednesday by King County Executive Ron Sims to respond to global warming.
Sims signed four executive orders specifying goals and timelines for the strategies. He said they reflected the county's overarching objective of minimizing global warming gas production in county policies and day-to-day operations.
"There is no question that we are going to experience warming that is going to have a substantial impact on us," Sims said.
The orders come two days before Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is set to publicly announce his recommendations for reducing local contributions to climate change in order to comply with the international Kyoto Protocol.
For more than a year, Nickels has been urging U.S. mayors to join him in supporting the Kyoto agreement, and he created a Green Ribbon Commission that helped craft the recommendations.
Grammar revealed in a whale's love song
March 22, 2006 (MSNBC) It's not quite language, but humpbacks do follow grammatical rules
To the casual human listener, the love song of a humpback whale sounds magnificently free-flowing and improvised.
But fresh mathematical analysis of the song shows there are complex grammatical rules. Using syntax, the whales combine sounds into phrases, which they further weave into hours-long melodies packed with information.
Although the researchers say these songs don't meet the linguistic rigor necessary for a true language, this is the first evidence that animals other than humans use a hierarchical structure of communication. Whales have also been found to sing in dialects.
The study is detailed online in the March issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
The sound of love
Many animals use sight and smell to communicate, but these senses are limited in the ocean. Whales rely on sound, which travels four times faster in water than in air.
During mating season, which lasts six months, all humpback males sing the same song to woo the ladies. Over time, the group's song becomes progressively more complex, although researchers don't know quite why.
Presumably, as one whale finds mating success by tinkering with the song style, the rest of the guys imitate it to better their chances, said study co-author Ryuji Suzuki, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute predoctoral fellow.
Humpbacks repeat short and long phrases multiple times to sing long songs - the longest known lasts 20 hours. They also sing in multiple layers, or scales, of repetition called periodicities. A short scale consists of six units, whereas a longer one contains 180 to 400.
"Although whale song is nothing like human language, I wouldn't be surprised if some marine mammals have the ability to communicate in a complex way," Suzuki said. "Given that the underwater environment is very different from our world, it is not surprising that they would communicate in rather a different way from land mammals."
Building, Farm Groups Challenge Orca Endangered Species Listing
March 22, 2006 (KOMO TV) The Washington state Farm Bureau and the Building Industry Association of Washington filed suit in federal court this week, seeking to invalidate the listing of Puget Sound's killer whales as an endangered species.
The listing, issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service last November, "will result in needless water and land-use restrictions on Washington farms, especially those located near rivers inhabited by salmon," the orcas' prime food source, the groups wrote in the lawsuit filed Monday.
"As a result, farmers could face fines and even imprisonment for the most basic farm practices should such actions allegedly disturb salmon," they wrote - a scenario environmentalists described as far-fetched, though deliberately harassing a protected species can carry a year in jail.
The groups' lawyers, Russell C. Brooks and Andrew C. Cook of the Pacific Legal Foundation, attempt to base their complaint against the fisheries service on a fine technical point: The three orca pods that live in Western Washington inland waters from late spring to early fall every year are a distinct population of a subspecies, the Northern Pacific resident orcas, which include orcas off Alaska and Russia. Under the Endangered Species Act, the lawyers argue, only a distinct population of a species - not a subspecies - can be listed.
So, they say, the fisheries service could list the entire subspecies of Northern Pacific resident orcas as endangered, but it can't list only the Puget Sound pods.
Environmentalists scoffed and called the reasoning circular. Patti Goldman, of the environmental law firm Earthjustice, said it boils down to saying that the Puget Sound orcas gave up their membership in the orca species when they were named part of the subspecies.
Puget Sound's Southern resident orcas - which consist of the J, K and L pods, or families - are genetically and behaviorally distinct from other killer whales, all sides agree. The pods use their own language, mate only among themselves, eat salmon rather than seals and show a unique attachment to the region.
The three pods number 89 whales - down from historical levels of 140 or more in the last century, but up from a low of 79 in 2002. Their numbers have gone through three periods of decline since the late 1960s and early '70s, when dozens were captured for aquariums, with each decline followed by a slight rebound.
Seabirds mysteriously dying off Oregon
March 21, 2006 (The Seattle Times) Hundreds of the seabirds known as rhinoceros auklets have washed up on the southern Oregon coast, and scientists haven't settled on an explanation for their deaths.
The birds seem to be in good shape off California and Washington, a researcher said.
"The questions in my mind are: Is this something that's widespread in Oregon? Is it a freak event like a storm, or something that's going to last longer?" said seabird researcher Julia Parrish, an associate professor of biology at the University of Washington.
Rhinoceros auklets live most of their lives at sea. They are scrappy, constant flyers and look like little footballs, almost pointy on the ends, black on top and white underneath.
Underwater, they swoop to depths of 200 feet, snapping up small fish. In breeding season, they grow a horn of sorts, hence the rhinoceros name.
Detoxifying the Duwamish
March 20, 2006 (The Oregonian) This is the kind of place that Gov. Chris Gregoire is targeting in a wide-ranging plan to clean up Puget Sound, the 90-mile inner arm of the Pacific that encompasses four of Washington state's largest cities.
Work on the Duwamish -- in the heart of Seattle's industrial core -- is under way and serves as an example of what state leaders hope will happen elsewhere around the Sound.
The Legislature just approved $52.4 million for more than 20 additional cleanup projects from Commencement Bay in Tacoma to Bellingham Bay -- $10 million more than Gregoire requested.
The Duwamish highlights the urgency of the overall initiative to scrape up or cap toxic sediments throughout the region. The federal government put the river's lower reaches on its Superfund list of the nation's most contaminated sites in 2001. The sediment is laden with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, mercury and other deposits from the city's historic heavy industries.
The worst deposits are PCBs, commonly used years ago as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment. They break down extremely slowly, said Allison Hiltner, the Environmental Protection Agency's project manager for the Duwamish cleanup. PCBs have been linked to cancer and other health problems, and their use has been banned in the United States since 1977.
The Duwamish also has other toxins, including mercury, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, commonly found in coal, tar, crude oil and creosote, and phthalates, substances used to make vinyl and plastic flexible.
Overflow from sewage pipes and more than 100 storm drains also often runs directly into the Duwamish during heavy rains.
Royal Navy sonar blamed for deaths of four whales
March 19, 2006 (The Independent) Secret sonar, used by the Royal Navy in a Nato exercise, has killed four whales, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
A post-mortem on four Cuvier's beaked whales, stranded on Spain's Almeira coast at the end of January, points to the sonar, which was being used by a British warship in the area at the time. It is the first time that the Royal Navy has been implicated in whale deaths.
The Ministry of Defence yesterday admitted that the sonar "has the potential to cause problems for the marine environment".
An investigation by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that military sonar is killing thousands of whales. Some experts suspect that it disorientated the northern bottlenose whale which got lost in the Thames in January.
The post-mortem on the Cuvier's beaked whales by the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria concludes: "Based on current scientific knowledge, and the pathological findings in this study, the most likely cause is anti-submarine active mid-frequency sonar used during the military naval exercises."
Tests have revealed that the Sonar 2087 system used by the Royal Navy can cause sea mammals to become disorientated. HMS Kent, one of the ships in the Nato exercise, is equipped with it.
The Ministry of Defence said yesterday: "We use sonar in an environmentally responsible way, working closely with scientific organisations to carry out environmental impact assessments that aim to provide a sustainable balance between the requirement for essential training and the need to avoid causing significant adverse impact on the marine environment."
Secret sonar, used by the Royal Navy in a Nato exercise, has killed four whales, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
A post-mortem on four Cuvier's beaked whales, stranded on Spain's Almeira coast at the end of January, points to the sonar, which was being used by a British warship in the area at the time. It is the first time that the Royal Navy has been implicated in whale deaths.
The Ministry of Defence yesterday admitted that the sonar "has the potential to cause problems for the marine environment".
Federal appeals court keeps fish center alive
March 18, 2006 (Seattle Times) A federal appeals court ordered the government late Friday to continue funding an agency that counts young salmon crossing dams in the West.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule on the merits of two challenges environmentalists brought against a move to discontinue funding the Portland-based Fish Passage Center, whose $1.3 million budget was to expire Sunday. Instead, the court said funding for the center's 11 employees should be continued until the litigation is resolved.
The lawsuits, by the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Indian Nation, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, challenged a legislative move by Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, directing the Bonneville Power Administration to eliminate the center's budget.
Craig's move came after U.S. District Judge James Redden of Oregon took control of dam operations along the Columbia and Snake rivers after concluding the Bush administration offered an inadequate plan for protecting salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
Earlier Friday a federal judge in Portland denied a request by researchers to keep the center open. The researchers said they were victims of political retaliation by the BPA and Craig.
U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty ruled that decisions on funding and government contracts are up to Congress, not the courts. He also said he doubted the researchers could prove the retaliation claim.
The appeals court rulings and Haggerty's decision are separate and they challenge Craig's decision under two different legal theories.
Data from the Fish Passage Center figured in Redden's order to spill more water over the dams to help young salmon reach the ocean, rather than running the water through turbines to generate electricity. Craig inserted a provision in a spending bill directing BPA to find another organization to count fish. The spillage cost an estimated $60 million in lost hydroelectric generation.
Luna Generates Talk, Emotion
March 17, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) One week after Luna was killed by a tugboat, emotions are still pouring out for the young orca who lived alone for five years in Canadian waters.
"We will always remember Luna as a special little whale, who touched many hearts around the world and gave a personal face and story to the plight of his family, the endangered Southern Resident orcas," wrote Susan Berta and Howard Garrett in a tribute they published on Orca Network. To see their essay and others, go to www.orcanetwork.org and click on "Luna has died."
Luna, known to scientists as L-98, was killed by a the propeller of a tugboat that entered Nootka Sound last Friday to escape a storm whipping up the ocean. Luna approached the 105-foot tugboat, as he did many boats of all sizes. He became caught in the surge of the propeller and was killed.
Limited tissues were recovered and will be used to learn what Luna was eating in Nootka Sound and determine levels of contamination he may have picked up, according to John Ford, a researcher with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Some of the tissue was shipped to U.S. scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle.
Mike Maquinna, chief of the local Mowachaht/Muchalaht band of natives, tossed a cedar bough into the water in honor of the whale they called Tsu'xiit, reported David Wiwchar on the Westcoaster news site.
"He was part of our community, and we hold him in very high regard," Maquinna was quoted as saying. "In our culture, the killer whale is very significant, and everyone is saddened by the news that a kakawin (killer whale) has died in our territory."
The Mowachaht/Muchalaht are planning a formal ceremony for Luna in July.
Beyond Nootka Sound, emotions, including anger and remorse, have poured out onto Web pages.
Michael Parfit, a writer and video producer, spent much of the winter on Nootka Sound. He admitted this week that he led Luna out of trouble from boats on a few occasions. But he was not on the water when Luna was killed and says he cannot escape a feeling of guilt.
"After we're done with crying and guilt and anger and lessons, none of which will solve our sorrow, we can get on with the more important stuff: remembering one who will always be good and beautiful and utterly blameless, Luna," he wrote.
Parfit's reflections, along with a political analysis by Fred Felleman of Ocean Advocates, can be found on the Orca Network Web site.
Warming of Bering Sea causing animals to migrate north: study
March 15, 2006 (whatistheword.com) Bering Sea, which is home to a number of sea animals including whales, walruses, sea birds and fishes, is rapidly warming, threatening the ecosystem that thrives in its icy waters, a study, by University of Tennessee researchers, has said.
For a minimum of seven months a year, north Bering Sea, located between Siberia and Alaska, sees a solid ice cover. However, in the last one decade, the temperatures on the floor of the sea have been showing rapid escalation, with the surface temperatures in 2004 hitting a high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Earlier, the temperature would hover around 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Jacqueline Grebmeier, the lead author of the study, besides experiencing lesser ice, the region is also battling earlier annual melting of ice, with the melting in 1997 coming three weeks prior to its normal date.
This is posing problems for many animal species that source their food from bottom-feeders, like phytoplankton, which require extremely cold climates to survive. These bottom-feeders are slowly facing dwindling populations, causing animals from different parts to encroach upon other territories, leading to scarcity of food and subsequent loss of habitat.
Olympia turns green
March 15, 2006 (Seattle Times editorial) Environmental organizations had a remarkably productive session in Olympia, and that trend is becoming less remarkable.
The Legislature's basic currency is votes, and the greens can succeed only to the extent they have workable ideas attractive to both Democrats and Republicans. That is happening with greater regularity. If a proposal falls short, chances are the idea needs additional work, and blame cannot be easily laid off on troglodyte legislators. Both parties are more attuned to the value of environmental problem-solving. Gov. Christine Gregoire, with her ability to broker a balanced outcome, is a powerful ally for ideas that are healthy for the environment.
Through at least the past four legislative sessions, environmental groups have been better prepared and focused on a limited agenda. They show up in Olympia with a short, tight to-do list, and have done well.
Coalition seeks parks around Puget Sound
March 15, 2006 (Seattle Times) A coalition of conservation groups hopes to establish 10 new parks along Puget Sound as part of a new 10-year effort to revitalize shorelines.
The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Public Lands and People for Puget Sound yesterday kicked off what they say will be a decadelong, multibillion-dollar campaign to clean up and restore the 2,100-mile web of tidelands, mud flats, rocky shores and beaches that serve as a nursery for the Sound's aquatic life.
Starting with an initial $3 million grant from the Russell Family Foundation, the groups, working under the name Alliance for Puget Sound Shorelines, hope to raise up to $80 million in the next three years alone, from government and private sources. More than a third of it would be dedicated to securing more public access to the Sound's rapidly developing shorelines.
"We have been working around the Skagit, the San Juans, the Duwamish and South Sound and have some ideas about projects, but the details will be forthcoming," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound.
The goal, ultimately, is to build momentum for restoration of Puget Sound on a massive scale.
Vancouver Island town mourns Luna
March 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Luna had a deep effect on this Vancouver Island community, about 200 miles northwest of Victoria on Nootka Sound.
About 130 people gathered Monday at the community wharf to remember the whale who made the area his home since 2001, when he became separated from his pod.
Local natives are also planning a celebration ceremony for Luna sometime this summer, likely in July, Canadian Press reported.
A spokesman for the tugboat company, Great Northern Marine Towing Ltd., of New Westminster, B.C., said the captain and crew of the vessel General Jackson were heartbroken.
Luna, known to enjoy playing in boat wakes, was swimming under the 104-foot tugboat at the time of the accident, Lara Sloan, a spokeswoman for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said earlier.
Gold River resident Miriam Trevis, who attended Monday's memorial, described a ceremony steeped in First Nation traditions, complete with elders dipping cedar bows into the water to say farewell.
Luna's story will live on
March 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Susan Berta and Howard Garrett) Friday was a sad day for all who have been following the orca Luna's story, hoping for a much happier ending.
At 9 a.m., in Nootka Sound, B.C., Luna approached a 104-foot tugboat that had pulled into a cove to escape rough seas. According to recent reports from Mike Parfit, who with his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, observed and wrote about Luna for the past several years, Luna commonly approached the wash of props and apparently was sucked in to the props of the tug. Though Luna had been around many tugs, this tug was larger than he was accustomed to. It is believed he died instantly.
We mourned Luna when he first went missing and was presumed dead in June 2001 (never before had a resident orca gone missing and showed up again, with or without its pod). Luna was always special to us. We met him shortly after his birth in September 1999 during a short visit to San Juan Island, when L67 swam by the Center for Whale Research with her new little calf, L98/Luna, swimming along behind. We were all so surprised and excited; it was as if she was bringing him by to show him off.
We are especially thankful to Parfit and Chisholm of Mountainside Films for their amazing dedication at monitoring and observing Luna, and reporting on his behavior and welfare in a very heartfelt way. Their reports have helped us understand more about Luna's life in Nootka Sound, and we all came to know and love him even more through their eyes and words.
We also appreciate the efforts of the many individuals and organizations that provided stewardship, education and advocacy. Though there was never agreement on what was best for Luna, or the happy ending we all worked toward, everyone involved truly cared about this little whale. Volumes of photographic and acoustic records, and the stories of those who tried to help, will tell Luna's story for years to come.
Nation lends a hand in Sound cleanup
March 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Washington and the federal government are linking up for a renewed push to clean up Puget Sound by 2020.
Gov. Christine Gregoire, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the dean of the state's congressional delegation, the Bush administration and state Ecology Director Jay Manning said Friday that a "collaborative partnership" will pool resources, scientific know-how and political muscle to deal with the state's inland waters.
Michael Bogert, regional director of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, brought along a check for almost $2 million as seed money for the new campaign. Gregoire said the state will match it.
"This infusion of additional federal and state dollars is an important catalyst to improve the environmental health of Puget Sound," Bogert said.
The dollars will help finance research, watershed protection, salmon protection and bringing tribes and other key players into the diverse circle of federal, state and local agencies, non-profits and the private sector.
The announcement is the latest action intended to save the Sound, which has seen declining fish, seabird and marine mammal populations, increased damage to shorelines and a growing pollution threat thanks to the pace of development.
Founding EPA Director William Ruckelshaus, tribal leader Billy Frank and Manning are leading the partnership.
Outlook worsens for ocean salmon season
March 13, 2006 (The Oregonian) Commercial salmon fishermen could be shut out of the planned season opener beginning March 15 off the Oregon coast, with the looming possibility of no season at all this year.
A precariously low number of fall chinook salmon predicted to return to the Klamath River in Northern California is driving the proposed closure. Although there is expected to be a reduced ocean salmon season off the mouth of the Columbia River and Washington this year, there will probably be none for much of Oregon.
The Pacific Fisheries Management Council called for public comment on the proposed shutdown Friday at its monthly meeting in Seattle. A second council meeting to be held in Sacramento the week of April 2 will determine whether to prohibit all salmon fishing this year from Cape Falcon, north of Manzanita, to Point Sur, near Monterey, Calif.
Tsu'xiit (Luna) dies in boat propellor
March 11, 2006 (The Westcoaster) Mowachaht / Muchalaht Tyee Ha'wilth Mike Maquinna looked out across Muchalaht Inlet, hoping news reports about Tsu'xiit were wrong.
The 237 tonne, 29-metre American tugboat General Jackson had come into Nootka Sound the night before, seeking shelter from gale-force winds off Nootka Island.
Towing a fully loaded log-dumping barge, the ship resumed its southward voyage early the next morning (Friday, March 10th) when the captain heard a loud thump.
According to a report from Fisheries Officer Ed Thorburne, the skipper looked back, saw a blood-red wake, and knew immediately what had happened.
He radioed the Canadian Coast Guard station at Amphitrite Point and advised them that Luna had been sucked into the 6-foot diameter ship propeller.
Local fisheries and RCMP officers jumped into their Zodiacs and raced to Conception Point on the southeast corner of Bligh Island to investigate, but could not find any trace of Luna, dead or alive.
A Mowachaht / Muchalaht boat in the area also joined the search.
When Mowachaht / Muchalaht searcher Sam Johnson Jr. arrived back at the Gold River dock, he immediately walked silently towards Maquinna. As he shook Maquinna's hand, Johnson broke in to sobs. "It's never going to be the same out there," he said.
Three days after his arrival, Mowachaht / Muchalaht Tyee Ha'wilth Ambrose Maquinna died, but not before telling ha'wilth (Chief) Jerry Jack that he would return as a kakawin. Luna was named "Tsux'iit" in honour of the late Chief.
In June 2004, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) claimed that Tsu'xiit was a danger to boaters, and attempted to capture and relocate him to Puget Sound.
Mowachaht / Muchalaht, who were not consulted on the relocation plan, blocked DFO's attempts to capture the whale.
"Nature must be allowed to take its course," Maquinna said repeatedly in front of cameras broadcasting the story around the world.
Documents obtained through the federal Access to Information Program clearly show that many within DFO were suspicious of the move, as the department was already in discussion with aquariums in Ontario and California.
"The Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation is extremely saddened by the death of a killer whale, believed to be Tsu'xiit. He was a part of our community, and we hold him in very high regard," said Maquinna. "In our culture, the killer whale is very significant, and everyone is saddened by the news a kakawin (killer whale) has died in our territory," he said.
The Mowachaht / Muchalaht First Nation will celebrate the life of the kakawin at a special ceremony on Monday morning at Tsu'xiit's favoured feeding area in Mooya Bay.
Famed killer whale dies in B.C.
March 10, 2006 (Toronto Globe and Mail) The wild, lonely ride of Luna the killer whale is over.
The boisterous six-year-old, black-and-white orca was well known for trying to find friends among ships plying the waters of Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
But yesterday, Luna got too close and was sucked into the two-metre-long propeller of an idling tugboat seeking shelter off Bligh Island from a vicious storm.
But environmentalists and a pair of journalists who had tracked the animal said in the five years since Luna had been separated from his family, he had been flirting with disaster.
"We didn't believe it," Mike Parfit said in a phone interview from Gold River, about 350 kilometres northwest of Victoria. "That's what happens when you hear something about a loved one. You don't believe it."
Mr. Parfit and his wife, Suzanne Chisholm, have been following Luna's story since he first appeared off the coast of Gold River in 2001, and Mr. Parfit spent the past two years listening to Luna's calls in his boat.
Luna had been separated from his family, which usually swims off the south coast of Vancouver Island. He quickly made a name for himself, swimming in the wakes of ships, but eventually became notorious for damaging boats and seaplanes.
For the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation, he had a spiritual significance: their chief, Ambrose Maquinna, expected to return after death as a killer whale. Just days after Mr. Maquinna died, Luna surfaced.
In March, when ship traffic is minimal, the only boat looking out for Luna was Mr. Parfit's. Yesterday morning, he was devastated when he heard the news.
"I sat there through the night with speakers in my boat listening to [Luna] call," he said. "He came up to my boat and looked at me. But I wasn't there this morning. It just tears me up.
Luna the orphaned whale feared dead after being hit by tugboat
March 10, 2006 (canada.com) Luna, the dangerously friendly killer whale, has been killed doing the same sorts of things that enraged some boaters, but endeared him to hundreds of others in British Columbia and around the world.
Dr. John Ford, a whale biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said Friday it appears Luna died after getting sucked into the propeller of a tugboat in the waters off Gold River, where the whale has been living for the past five years.
"There's really no blame,'' Ford said.
Luna loved to play with boats of all sizes and Ford said he appeared quite savvy around them, rarely getting more than a few nicks.
But he miscalculated this time.
"Luna was apparently interacting with the tug as Luna used to do,'' Ford said from Victoria.
"Luna was apparently drawn into the very large propeller. The impact was felt by people on the tug. There were blood and remains in the wake of the tug. It's very likely that Luna was struck with fatal blows by the propeller and probably died instantly.''
The tug had been idling in rough, stormy waters when the accident occurred.
A spokesman for the tugboat company, Great Northern Marine Towing Ltd., of New Westminster said the captain and crew of the vessel General Jackson are heartbroken about the incident, which was described as unavoidable.
"We're all very sad about it,'' said Barry Connerty.
"It's pretty tragic. It's unfortunate. It was an accident. We all tried to avoid it. We did everything we could to avoid that outcome.''
Luna the Killer Whale Believed Killed
March 10, 2006 (Washington Post) Luna, the juvenile killer whale from Washington state waters who got lost in Canada's Nootka Sound five years ago, apparently died Friday when he was accidentally struck by a tugboat propeller, Canadian authorities said.
Luna, known to scientists as L-98 and a member of one of Washington's three resident orca pods, or family groups, wandered into Nootka Sound on the west side of Vancouver Island in 2001 and stayed, worrying activists and annoying boaters and seaplane pilots with his friendly curiosity.
"We don't know 100 percent but we do believe it's Luna," said spokeswoman Lara Sloan with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Transient killer whales, which range along the coast preying on seals and other marine mammals, occasionally come through the long, twisty sound, but tend to avoid human traffic.
The dangerously friendly Luna was part of the region's "resident population," which spends much of the year in U.S. and Canadian inland waters. They live and hunt in family groups and mostly eat fish, especially salmon,
The 1,700-horsepower seagoing tug had pulled into sheltered waters near Conception Point to escape rough weather in the Pacific. Luna, known to enjoy playing in boat wakes, "was swimming under the vessel and was hit by a propeller," Sloan said.
"It was a really big tugboat _ 104 feet," she said.
The vessel was idling when Luna approached.
"Luna came over as he does and was interacting _ disappearing under the hull and so on. ... He must have gotten drawn into the propeller," said government research scientist and orca expert John Ford.
The tug's big propeller, contained in a cylinder, "generates a lot of current. ... It would have been a sudden death."
"The skipper is reported to be greatly distressed. He called the coast guard immediately after it happened," Sloan said from agency offices in Vancouver, British Columbia. "A lot of people here are pretty shocked and saddened."
"It was one of our fears about what might happen to Luna," Ford said. "Of course he's been engaging in these risky interactions with boats for several years now."
Luna likely was not familiar with the size and power of this vessel. While the carcass was not immediately recovered, "it seems almost certain to me that this is indeed Luna," Ford said. "And it's almost certain it was fatal."
Ford last saw Luna in January, when Ford visited the sound in a 200-foot research boat. "He came over. He was always curious."
Luna the orca killed by tugboat
March 10, 2006 (KING5 TV) Canadian officials believe a killer whale struck and killed by a tugboat off Vancouver Island is Luna.
Luna, known to scientist as L-98, wandered away from the L pod in Washington state waters five years ago and stayed in Nootka Sound. Apparently lonely, it would bump into boats and play in wakes.
The Canadian Fisheries Department says Luna was swimming in Nootka Sound under the 104-foot tugboat today when it was hit by a propeller. A federal fisheries official said the incident was an accident.
An attempt to move Luna back from Canada to U.S. waters in 2004 was thwarted when Indian canoes lured it away.
In 2002, marine mammal experts had successfully had moved another lone orca, named A-73 or Springer, from Puget Sound back to her home pod in British Columbia.
Klamath provides example for Snake
March 8, 2006 (Daily Astorian editorial) Mismanagement of the Klamath River has been big news since 2002, when low flows caused 70,000 adult Chinook salmon to rot on the river's banks. Now, with regulators considering a fishing ban for 700 miles of the Oregon and California coast, it will be fishing boats and local economies that rot.
Troubles with Klamath salmon runs have a direct impact on fishermen north of Cape Falcon. Up to 15 percent of Washington's salmon fleet depends on catches from the Klamath and Columbia River boats – and seafood consumers – also will feel the pinch if Klamath salmon become off-limits.
"A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. It will mean ocean-catch salmon will be much harder to get. And it will be much more expensive," according to the regional director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.The Klamath is being managed more for the benefit of irrigators than for salmon protected by the Endangered Species Act. In keeping with the pattern established on the Columbia-Snake river system, federal officials prefer to load more burdens on the already seriously depleted fishing fleet than make meaningful changes to dam operations.
It is the dams on the Klamath that have denied salmon the water they need for migration. It is the dams that have raised water temperatures above that required by salmon. It is the dams that have eliminated spring floods, allowing the river to become infested with a parasite that killed young salmon once they reached the ocean.
We must be good stewards for this state's creatures
March 8, 2006 (Seattle Times op-ed by Ralph Munro) Thirty years ago, my wife and I witnessed a gruesome spectacle that turned out to be the last of its kind in our country. While sailing with friends in Puget Sound, we watched an airplane and chase boats harass and corral a group of orcas into a net less than a mile from our state capital. Orcas that tried to escape were hazed with explosives.
We were all so shocked and moved by the whales' plight that I persuaded my boss, then-Gov. Dan Evans, and former state Attorney General Slade Gorton to sue our own game officials for failing to enforce a permit that barred chasing and harassing the whales. We won. It was the last whale capture in America.
The Endangered Species Act is important to people not only because it asks that we be good stewards but because it prompts us to change for the better in the face of challenging new circumstances. If I've learned anything from the orca saga, it's that we can make a wholesale change in our perspectives and be better for it.
When we started fighting for orcas in the 1970s, about 20 percent of the public was behind us, 20 percent of the public was against us and 60 percent couldn't have cared less. After all, these were called killer whales.
The orcas are no different than they were 30 years ago, but we've changed in our ability to appreciate them. I've also seen attitudes change toward the waters the orcas call home. When I was growing up on Bainbridge Island, we thought nothing of tossing our garbage into a nearby bay. The ferry boats would dump the previous day's trash overboard on the 2 a.m. run. Now, when my wife and I cruise around the Sound each summer, we can't even find a beer can or pop bottle floating in the water. We have all learned to keep Puget Sound clean.
By learning to change, we're reaping a huge benefit - a regional love affair with a beautiful creature and the place it calls home. Orcas are the most magnificent species in our state. It's easy to see why our local Native American tribes respected them so much. And there comes a time when you just have to say, "hands off."
We need healthy beaches, clean water and strongsalmon runs - all ingredients needed for the orcas, and us, to thrive. Thanks to the Endangered Species Act, as well as strict state laws, we can protect wonderful creatures like orcas and guarantee to our grandchildren the chance to appreciate these and other magnificent creatures in years to come.
Orcas Make Rare Winter Appearance
March 7, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Killer whale researchers were abuzz Monday over a rare March appearance of K pod and a portion of L pod -- two groups of whales that usually arrive in Puget Sound in late May or early June.
A March appearance of L pod has never been reported, and some researchers say it is further evidence that strange and dangerous conditions are at work in the Pacific Ocean.
"This is very rare for March," said Rich Osborne of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. "March is usually the dead time."
Of Puget Sound's three orca pods, only J pod can be expected to be in and out of local waters throughout the winter. Once K and L pods depart for the winter, they usually stay away until early June, when all three pods get together in the San Juan Islands.
K and L pods apparently left here in December, which is earlier than the past few years. In recent years, they've been spotted along the Washington and Oregon coast, and as far away as San Francisco.
Last week, as many as 40 members of K and L pods moved back to Puget Sound. Whether they will stay is anyone's guess.
Osborne of The Whale Museum said it is possible the Puget Sound orcas had been returning during the winter months years ago, when fewer people were paying attention. But ocean conditions should be considered as well.
"We know the whole ocean ecosystem is in flux," he said. "We see the results of climate change, and with a big bird die-off, there are probably food web issues going on."
Researchers raised alarms up and down the West Coast last summer, as sea water temperatures rose several degrees above average. The normal upwelling, which brings nutrient-rich water to the surface, had stalled. That affected production at the bottom of the food chain and may have disrupted food supplies for numerous sea creatures, including sea birds that have been dying in much higher numbers than usual.
Map of the orcas' recent movements
Whales in the Way of Sonar
March 7, 2006 (New York Times editorial) The debate over whether the Navy's use of sonar to detect submarines is harming whales and other sound-sensitive species is back again. This time the battleground is the waters off the southeastern United States, where the Navy hopes to establish a training area for sailors who need to practice their sonar skills in a shallow ocean environment. The plan has aroused justifiable concern not only from environmental groups, but also from the federal and state agencies responsible for protecting marine life. If these concerns cannot be allayed, the project should be denied a permit to proceed as now planned.
The three sites favored by the Navy were chosen for practical reasons: they were close to home ports, air stations and federal shore facilities; had appropriate water depths; and had a satisfactory climate. Whales were at best an afterthought, but they deserve to be a priority.
Orcas out of place for season; motive a mystery
March 7, 2006 (The Olympian) The orcas that visited South Sound during the weekend are rarely seen anywhere in Puget Sound this time of year, according to whale researchers.
The 16 orcas, which headed north Saturday and were spotted around Whidbey and Camano islands Sunday and Monday, were members of the K pod mixed with some L pod members, according to Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based nonprofit whale sighting organization.
Just what prompted the whales to journey into lower South Sound remains a bit of a mystery.
"It's perplexing," said Rocky Beach, Fish and Wildlife's wildlife diversity manager. "We really don't have any major salmon or steelhead runs right now that would attract them down here."
The J, K and L pods of orcas consist of about 87 individuals that make up the Puget Sound population that is on the federal and state endangered species lists.
Since 1976, the J and K pods have been seen in the inland waters of the state only twice in March - 1978 and 1989 - and once in April, in 1981, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife killer whale status report prepared in March 2004.
Members of the L pod, which numbers about 45 individuals, have not been seen in Puget Sound in March or April since 1976, when whale sightings, or records, began being documented in earnest, according to the report.
"This is an extremely unusual record," said Robin Baird, a Cascadia Research orca researcher based in Olympia.
The whales, observed Friday in Dana Passage near Boston Harbor, were spread out and changing directions, which indicates they were feeding, Baird said.
One of the factors in the orca population decline is the long-term decline in salmon populations. Perhaps the whales are having to expand their range in search of food, Baird suggested.
The so-called southern residents are frequently seen in the marine waters around the San Juan Islands from May through October.
Their whereabouts in the winter are poorly understood, but there have been sightings over the years off the coasts of Washington and Oregon and as far south as Monterey Bay, Calif.
Fears sonic blasts will drive more whales to beaches
March 6, 2006 (Sydney Morning Herald) LONDON: The spectacle of whales stranded and dying on beaches looks like becoming a grimly regular event in the coming year, scientists believe.
More whales are being washed up than ever, leaving experts to speculate that mankind's industrial use of the sea is interfering with the mammals' sophisticated navigation system.
"Sound travels much further under water than above," said Dr Mark Simmonds, of Britain's Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "The whale's echolocation organs are particularly sensitive to high-intensity noises. If they hear a sound that is distressing, their natural reaction is to move away from it quickly. The frequency and volume of such sounds could be one factor pushing them into shallower waters."
Whales navigate by emitting clicks that travel through the water and bounce off obstacles. The quicker the sound returns the closer the object. Extraneous noise can affect the interpretation of information.
Sonar is suspected to be one of the factors responsible for a 100 per cent increase in marine mammals beaching themselves during the past decade. According to research conducted by London's Natural History Museum there were 360 strandings in 1994 compared with 782 in 2004.
Chinook ban would hit local fleet hard
March 6, 2006 (Seattle Times) Federal regulators are considering an unprecedented ocean fishing ban on Chinook salmon along 700 miles of California and Oregon coast, threatening to spread distress from beleaguered commercial fleets to family dinner tables.
The impact on Washington salmon trollers could be economically devastating, warns the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
"A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. It will mean ocean-catch salmon will be much harder to get. And it will be much more expensive," said Glen Spain, northwest regional director for the federation, a diverse trade organization that represents port and fishermen's marketing associations.
Aside from angering fishermen, the potential ban could spill over into ongoing discussions on the renewal of federal hydropower licenses for the Klamath River dams.
Environmentalists, Indian tribes that depend on salmon, fishermen and others are engaged in closed-door talks with power generators and the federal government over the possibility of removing at least a few of the dams.
March 5, 2006 (Seattle Times Pacific Northwest magazine) It's a power strugggle on the Snake River, and nobody's winning
For the fourth time, the region is taking a stab at coming up with a long-term salmon-recovery plan for the Columbia River Basin. Cue the fog.
We dread another regional wreck - we have come to expect it - and tune out the gaseous spew of dueling statistics and economics we sense dragging us to the usual dénouement: Yet another court order, another year, and another salmon migration gone by. Who's even listening anymore?
U.S. District Judge James Redden, for one. And while he can't single-handedly knock down dams - that takes an act of Congress - he is shaking things up on the river.
Redden has already ordered changes in dam operations to keep fish on life support until the region figures out a salmon plan that doesn't break the law. The Endangered Species Act demands the dams be run without wiping out wild salmon.
We do it, or he'll do it, Redden warned last October. Not that running a river by court order would be a pretty sight: "Such a dysfunction of government is not a rational option," Redden wrote in his opinion, a kind of primal scream, as these things go. "There must be cooperation between the parties and all of the three branches of government to avoid such an embarrassment."
Irrigators, navigators. Dry-land farmers, fishing folks, Indian tribes, state agencies, the feds: Everybody in the ring, the judge has ordered, and figure this thing out.
At this point, the discussion always settles on the same bull's-eye: The four Lower Snake River dams.
Junior partners to the big bruisers on the Columbia, these four dams produce less juice - just 5 percent of the region's power - irrigate only about 13 large farm operations, and see a fraction of the cargo shipped on the Columbia.
So when the going gets tough, it's "take out the dams" time again, and Redden was quick to crack open the region's old chestnut.
"Be aware of the possibility of breaching the four dams on the Lower Snake River if all else fails," Redden thundered.
Be on lookout for orca whales
March 4, 2006 (The Olympian) Sixteen orcas were spotted in South Sound on Friday afternoon by observers from Cascadia Research of Olympia, a marine mammal research group.
It appeared the whales were from the group of 87 fish-eating killer whales that reside much of the year in Puget Sound, not the so-called transients - marine-mammal-eating orcas that rove the marine waters from southeast Alaska to California.
"I think we're looking at resident whales," said Cascadia observer Greg Schorr. He based the identity on the open saddle patches - the area behind the whale's dorsal fin - that distinguishes resident whales from transient whales.
Schorr said he would send photographs taken of the whales Friday to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, to determine which pod or pods the whales belong to.
An unknown number of whales were seen headed south Wednesday off the west side of Whidbey Island, but the water was choppy and they could not be identified, noted Susan Berta, a member of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.
The last sighting of L pod members, mixed with a couple of K pod members, was Nov. 14 off Admiralty Inlet near Seattle, Orca Network member Howard Garrett said. The J pod, which numbers fewer than 20 animals, was last seen Dec. 23 off Shilshoe Bay near Seattle, he said.
Gliders tracking whale calls, ocean waves
March 4, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Six-foot, 100-pound underwater gliders are swimming the oceans of the world and dutifully sending data home on everything from whale calls to the massive waves produced by hurricanes.
Several ocean scientists reported on the use of underwater gliders at the biannual ocean sciences meeting this week sponsored by the American Geophysical Union.
Relatively light, easy to deploy and inexpensive, the gliders are not subject to violent surface conditions and have the ability to meander among sea creatures and ply the oceans in any weather, including hurricanes.
Mark Baumgartner, a scientist with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, uses the gliders to observe whales.
The standard technique for watching the mammals involves using high-powered binoculars from the deck of a ship to spot them as they surface for air. But this method requires a lot of people and money, and is limited to times when conditions are clear, bright and calm.
"Some days when it's good daylight but heavy seas, this becomes a very nauseating process to look through very large binoculars through a rolling ship," Baumgartner said.
In May, Baumgartner's team used a glider to capture the soulful calls of a humpback whale off the coast of Cape Cod, despite a storm that whipped up 17 foot seas and more than 30 knot winds during the five-day project.
In the future, information from the gliders will likely be combined with data from other technologies, such as satellites and radar, to create three-dimensional views of the ocean, Schofield said.
Lawmakers consider banning potentially toxic flame retardant
March 3, 2006 (Seattle Times) State lawmakers are at the center of a national debate over whether to ban a potentially toxic flame retardant commonly used in televisions, electronics and furniture.
The Senate may vote today on a bill that would require the phase-out of Deca-BDE, a chemical known as "deca." If the measure passes both houses and is signed by the governor, Washington would become the first state in the country to ban the chemical.
The debate has turned on deca's possible risks versus the loss of an effective fire retardant, with each side enlisting firefighter groups to promote its cause and dismissing opponents as fear mongers.
Supporters of the bill - environmentalists, some firefighters and the state departments of Ecology and Health - say studies suggest deca breaks down into potentially toxic chemicals once also used as fire retardants.
The bill would ban deca in computers and televisions beginning in 2010 and in upholstered furniture and mattresses beginning in 2012. But the state could hold off the ban until 2014, if no good substitute is found.
Some companies, including Dell and Sony, have already stopped using deca.
'Rapid Warming' Spreads Havoc in Canada's Forests
March 1, 2006 (Washington Post) Millions of acres of Canada's lush green forests are turning red in spasms of death. A voracious beetle, whose population has exploded with the warming climate, is killing more trees than wildfires or logging.
The mountain pine beetle has infested an area three times the size of Maryland, devastating swaths of lodgepole pines and reshaping the future of the forest and the communities in it.
"It's pretty gut-wrenching," said Allan Carroll, a research scientist at the Pacific Forestry Centre in Victoria, whose studies tracked a lock step between warmer winters and the spread of the beetle. "People say climate change is something for our kids to worry about. No. It's now."
Scientists fear the beetle will cross the Rocky Mountains and sweep across the northern continent into areas where it used to be killed by severe cold but where winters now are comparatively mild. Officials in neighboring Alberta are setting fires and traps and felling thousands of trees in an attempt to keep the beetle at bay.