Orca Network News - March, 2007
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2007 through March 31, 2007.
March 31, 2007 (Contra Costa Times) It is a colossal cephalopod that reaches 7 feet long, can weigh more than 100 pounds and jets through the water at speeds reaching 25 mph.
It has probing arms and tooth-lined tentacles, a raptorlike beak and an insatiable craving for flesh -- any kind of flesh, even that of humans.
It shows up briefly off California every four or five years, spurred by a warm current or some other anomaly, providing a boon for sportfishing businesses.
But amid this latest influx, to points as far north as Bodega Bay, there is a deepening concern among scientists that Humboldt squid are entrenching themselves off California, and may expand northward, eating their way through fisheries as they go. The same thing is happening in the Southern Hemisphere, where squid are being blamed for depleting the hake fishery off Chile.
The first verified capture off Alaska occurred three years ago. A year later, mass strandings made news in British Columbia, where wolves on outer island beaches were seen gnawing on rubbery squid carcasses.
Finally, the captain notes the late hour and orders an end to the fishing.
He sets a course for port, and, for at least a mile, two lines of red dots -- one at 150 feet and the other at 600 feet -- fill the sonar screen.
Oil from two military bases may be reaching Puget Sound
March 30, 2007 (Seattle Times) Fort Lewis Army base and neighboring McChord Air Force Base have been flushing oil through their sewage system, which feeds into Puget Sound.
The pollution has triggered concerns among state and federal environmental officials, first alerted to the problem last year by a company that found sewage sludge at the treatment plant contaminated with up to 2 percent oil.
The state Department of Ecology is asking the Army to sign an agreement that it will work to keep oil from getting into sewage pipes and the Sound, or face possible legal action.
"It's a grave concern to the state because Fort Lewis discharges directly into Puget Sound," said Ecology spokeswoman Sandy Howard.
The problem appears to stem at least partly from poor maintenance practices on the base, said state Ecology inspector Pinky Feria.
Basin salmon runs continue to improve
March 29, 2007 (Tri-City Herald) Salmon runs have improved dramatically in the Columbia River Basin in the last six or seven years, thanks to improvements at the dams and long-term fish monitoring, says an official of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Spillway weirs, or fish slides, at the dams have helped provide juvenile fish with less-stressful passage, and fish tags have led to more effective monitoring, said Bob Lohn, northwest regional administrator of the federal agency.
Lohn spoke Wednesday at a luncheon sponsored by Tri-Ports, Tri-City Development Council and area chambers of commerce in Pasco. He said the new analysis can potentially move the dialogue forward on a highly controversial topic: The possible breaching of dams on the four lower Snake River dams.
The issue pits conservation groups, tribes and commercial fishermen against a coalition of organizations and businesses that support science-based measures and promote a holistic strategy to salmon recovery.
Sperm whale is no fish out of water
March 29, 2007 (Seattle Times) The whale moved with surprising grace and deliberateness, gently plucking the line like a guitar string, said Jan Straley, an assistant professor at the University of Alaska-Southeast.
"The video showed they are very intelligent," said Aaron Thode, an associate researcher at the University of California-San Diego. "Now we want to see if all whales do same thing or use different strategies."
The camera was mounted on a longline baited with two black cod. At first, the large-brained whales were wary of the device, Thode said. Only after scientists camouflaged the device in a tangle of rope and dead fish did the whales approach.
Straley and Thode's research is focused on coming up with benign techniques for fishermen to deter the whales. Through his acoustic research, Thode verified last year that the whales key in on the sporadic bubbling of fishing boat engines to locate what amounts to miles of subsurface shish kebab.
The scientists estimate there are 100 mostly male sperm whales feeding from longlines in the study area from the south end of Baranof Island to the town of Yakutat. The whales leave behind partially chewed bodies, dismembered lips and sometimes nothing at all.
Fishermen and fisheries managers say the overall economic loss to the gulf's 410-boat sablefish fleet is probably low, but has increased in the past decade
Don't undermine endangered species law, Dicks warns
March 29, 2007 (Seattle Times) U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks issued a stern warning Wednesday to the Bush administration not to weaken the Endangered Species Act, in the wake of a leaked U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document that suggests the agency was considering an overhaul to the rules.
Dicks, at a hearing of the Interior appropriations subcommittee he chairs, told Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall that he should get congressional approval for any far-reaching changes to regulations underpinning the law.
But taken together, the changes would represent "a multifaceted effort to narrow the scope of the Endangered Species Act," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney in the Seattle office of the environmental legal group Earthjustice.
"Under this proposal, fewer species would be listed, fewer protections would be in place and ultimately more species would go extinct."
Navy airs dolphin patrol plan
March 29, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The animals are trained to intercept suspicious swimmers close to the base, which is home to subs armed with nuclear missiles. Wednesday's meeting, held at a Holiday Inn near downtown Seattle, was the second of two this week on the proposal, which has generated intense skepticism and curiosity.
Critics and animal rights groups primarily worry about the effects of Puget Sound's colder water on bottlenose dolphins, which generally inhabit warmer seas, and the effect of introducing dolphins into the environment.
"I think it's ludicrous. They're not indigenous to this area at all, and I don't trust the Navy in what they're planning to do," said D.J. Mar, a Seattle resident who was one of about 50 people to attend.
Some came with Knitting for Dolphins, a group that is creating sweaters and mittens for the animals as a symbolic gesture. They brought inflatable dolphins wrapped in camouflage.
But Toni Frohoff, a dolphin biologist and volunteer consultant to Knitting for Dolphins, is concerned that the Navy won't adequately study the potential ecological effects, such as disease or pollution.
"The biggest problem is how can people trust the Navy to care for marine animals when it has been responsible for the deaths of numerous marine animals with low-frequency sonar," the Bainbridge Island resident said.
Opponents have say on Navy's dolphin patrol plan
March 29, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Navy held a public meeting Wednesday evening to offer information and solicit feedback about a plan to use trained sea lions and dolphins to patrol the waters off Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor near Bremerton.
The Navy recently began to study the environmental impacts of using the animals in Puget Sound, which, in the case of the dolphins, is outside their natural environment.
Dolphins and sea lions have abilities that make them adept at finding objects in the water, sometimes beyond what can be done by machines, the Navy said.
Several opponents of the plan, including a new group called Knitting for Dolphins, attended the meeting.
Janet Bailey, a founder of the Bainbridge Island-based group, said Puget Sound's water is too cold for the dolphins. "They're going to be stressing the animals," Bailey said. "Frankly, we think they will die."
To protest the plan, members of the group have knitted garments for the dolphins, something Bailey said is silly, but she hopes it will help spread the group's message.
PBDEs: They are everywhere, they accumulate and they spread
March 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Chemical flame retardants pose threat to humans, environment
Washington lawmakers are considering passing the strongest ban on the chemicals ever approved in the United States. A vote could come any day.
The chemicals -- called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs -- are everywhere: in your TV, your computer, your toaster and your sofa. They've been in use since the 1970s. The global demand for PBDEs was 200,000 tons in 2003 alone.
But PBDEs don't stay put. Sit down on a foam cushion and you're releasing countless, invisible PBDE particles. When the TV gets hot, still more escape. Scientists find PBDEs in house and office dust. They rinses off our clothes in the laundry and run down the shower drain, winding up in sewage that's applied to farm fields as fertilizer.
The flame retardants bioaccumulate, or build up, in fish and cats and orcas and foxes.
They also build up in people. We eat PBDEs when they contaminate our food, particularly meat and dairy products. They latch on to dust and other particles, so we breathe them in, or ingest them when dust settles on food or when children stuff their fingers into their mouths. Scientists look for PBDEs in breast milk because the chemicals stick to fat.
Over the past three decades, PBDE levels in people have doubled about every three to five years, and some experts don't think we've reached a peak.
"We are looking for alternatives," said Dave Sanders, a representative for BSEF and Chemtura Corp., a PBDE manufacturer, during recent testimony on the Washington state legislation. "We're always looking for alternatives and we're looking for greener alternatives."
Some manufacturers -- concerned about deca's environmental and human harm and fearing the specter of a ban in the U.S. and Europe -- already are using alternative products.
Matsushita-Kotobuki Electronics Industries, which has a factory in Vancouver, Wash., that makes Panasonic-brand TVs, went PBDE-free almost two years ago.
Exclusive: Report Charges Broad White House Efforts to Stifle Climate Research
March 28, 2007 (ABC News) Bush administration officials throughout the government have engaged in White House-directed efforts to stifle, delay or dampen the release of climate change research that casts the White House or its policies in a bad light, says a new report that purports to be the most comprehensive assessment to date of the subject.
Researchers for the non-profit watchdog Government Accountability Project reviewed thousands of e-mails, memos and other documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and from government whistle-blowers and conducted dozens of interviews with public affairs staff, scientists, reporters and others.
The group says it has identified hundreds of instances where White House-appointed officials interfered with government scientists' efforts to convey their research findings to the public, at the behest of top administration officials.
First Responders Enlisted to Contain Area Oil Spills
March 28, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Small trailers filled with equipment are being deployed at 98 waterfront areas throughout Washington state, including Puget Sound, the Washington coast and the Columbia River. In the various communities, emergency officials - such as police officers, firefighters and marina workers - are learning how to effectively deploy boom and absorbent pads, Byers said.
"The more people who are trained with the equipment, the more likely it will get used in the event of an oil spill," he noted, adding that nearly 30 local people were trained Tuesday.
Most trailers like the one stored in Kingston contain 800 feet of boom, which can be used to contain oil around a boat or other source of a spill, he said. Boom also can be used to block the movement of oil into salt marshes and other sensitive areas. The trailers also contain protective clothing, absorbent pads and other gear.
Equipment put into operation quickly in Gig Harbor is credited with saving more than $1 million in cleanup costs in 2005 when a fire spread throughout the downtown Harborview Marina.
Gray whales return to Whidbey Island
Puget Sound orcas sighted in California with new calf
March 28, 2007 (Skagit Valley Herald) The gray whales, which visit Puget Sound each spring, have returned to the waters of Whidbey and Camano Islands to slurp up shrimp before continuing north to Alaska.
Right after the grays returned, whale researchers learned that a baby orca, born to the Puget Sound's L-pod of orcas, was sighted for the first time this past weekend in California. Two of the three endangered southern resident pods have been spending part of the winter of the coast of the Golden State. If the baby survives the trip north to Puget Sound, it will bring the Puget Sound orca population to 86.
The southeastern coast of Whidbey and southwestern coast of Camano, where the California gray whales can swim in as close as 50 feet to the shore, offer a chance to view the large marine mammals. The local communities officially greet the grays April 14 at Orca Network's annual Welcome the Whales Day event and parade in Langley.
Sporting mottled skin decorated with barnacles, knobs and scars, the grays often turn on their sides to scoop and suck mud from the ocean floor, said Susan Berta of Orca Network.
When a whale turns on its side to feed, viewers on shore may see a pectoral fin and tips of a tail fluke, Berta said. The whales use their baleen plate - short, coarse, yellowish white fibers - to filter the shrimp and other crustaceans from the sand and water, she said.
Signs of the whales' slurpy dining habits can be seen at low tide.
"They leave big feeding pits, big holes in the sand," Berta said.
The "Saratoga grays," as they are called locally, are among the hundreds of "seasonal resident" California gray whales that travel up to 12,000 miles between Baja California, Mexico, where they give birth to calves in the winter, and the Bering Sea off southwestern Alaska, where they summer. For decades, between six and 12 gray whales have returned each spring to Puget Sound, according to Cascadia Research, a nonprofit research group in Olympia. The whales tend to arrive in mid-March and stay until May before they resume their journey north.
Like orcas, there are many mysteries about gray whales, including how much shrimp Saratoga grays need. Berta said the only numbers kept on ghost shrimp are the amounts caught by commercial fishermen and tracked by the state Department Fish and Wildlife. The shrimp are used for bait.
Proposal could weaken species protection
March 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering limiting the ability of federal wildlife protection agencies to intervene on behalf of endangered species that may be harmed by federal actions.
The proposed regulatory changes, some of them detailed in an article Tuesday by the online magazine Salon.com, would also increase the role of state governments in administering some of the species protections that are now the responsibility of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.
H. Dale Hall, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the Endangered Species Act, said Tuesday that the draft proposal detailing the changes was "really a beginning of a process."
Navy gets earful on plan to use dolphins, sea lions for security
March 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Neither supporters nor opponents of a Navy plan to enlist dolphins and sea lions for security work at a major submarine base appeared swayed by arguments at an open house.
Critics said Hood Canal, home of the West Coast Trident submarine base, would be too cold for the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins the Navy plans to use. Others questioned the use of live animals rather than sophisticated technology.
Protesters brought inflated dolphins and sea lions clad in camouflaged shirts, while some knitted clothes for the animals.
A similar hearing was set for Wednesday night in Seattle.
The Navy has proposed using as many as 30 dolphins and California sea lions to protect the sub base at Bangor, which is believed to contain a large nuclear weapons stockpile, from suspicious swimmers and scuba divers.
Navy officials said the dolphins would work for a couple hours before being returned to an enclosure with water conditions similar to those of San Diego.
"That'd be like you and me going into a blizzard for two hours and then put back into a San Diego environment," said Susan Scheirman of Bainbridge Island.
Puget Sound Orcas Spotted With New Baby
March 27, 2007 (Washgington Post) Puget Sound's endangered killer whales have been spotted with a new calf, bringing the number of orcas to 86 as the whales feed on salmon along the California coast, scientists said.
Researchers don't yet know if the baby is a male or female, but have identified it as belonging to one of three whale family groups, or pods, that make their permanent home around Puget Sound.
The whales were seen over the weekend in Monterey Bay, Calif. Scientists with the Center for Whale Research, based on San Juan Island, said photos of the whales' unique markings show the baby belongs to the "L" pod of Puget Sound orcas.
The orcas typically spend about six months near the San Juan Islands and in Puget Sound. They're expected to return in May or June.
The center said killer whales from Washington have increasingly been seen off the coast of California in recent winters, likely searching for salmon to eat.
Researchers said the latest sightings suggest the orcas from the "L" and "K" pods have been near California for most of the winter.
Baby orca makes its debut, but just call it L109 for now
March 27, 2007 (Seattle Times) The baby and her pod were playful, breaching and zipping around a whale believed to be her mother, said Nancy Black, a marine biologist who photographed L109.
"They were here all day Saturday feeding on salmon," said Black.
If L-pod sticks with its historical travel, L109 should be in the Puget Sound in early June.
Baby killer whale joins Puget Sound population
March 26, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A baby orca has been spotted with the Puget Sound population of killer whales.
The new arrival -- scientists don't know yet if it's male or female -- brings the number of orcas up to 86. The population was declared endangered in 2005 by the federal government.
The baby was seen with other Puget Sound orcas over the weekend in Monterey Bay, Calif.
Scientists with San Juan Island's Center for Whale Research recognized the orcas as coming from local waters. Orcas have distinctly shaped dorsal fins and whitish-gray markings on their backs that help identify them.
During the winter and spring, it's common for the killer whales to venture down the coast in search of salmon.
"I'm delighted that they'll go where food is available," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research. "They're not going to sit here and starve and wash up on our shores."
The orcas are expected to return in May or June. Then they spend about six months near the San Juan Islands and in the Sound.
The orcas face numerous threats, including diminished populations of chinook salmon, their favorite food; contamination of industrial chemicals such as PCBs, flame retardants and pesticides that can reduce their success in having babies and make them more vulnerable to disease; and disturbance by ships that can interrupt their communication and hunting.
Working to Diagnose Marine Animal Die-Off
March 26, 2007 (Washington Post) In the summer and fall of 2005, marine animals suddenly started dying off the southwest Florida coast, with scores of bottlenose dolphins, manatees and turtles washing up on shore. In October alone, 22 dolphins became stranded and died, compared with the usual monthly average of three.
Hoping to unravel the mystery, nearly 50 researchers, part of the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, commissioned a study of the deaths. After taking samples from 130 stranded dolphins, they concluded that red tide -- an algae bloom that creates a neurotoxin known as brevetoxin -- caused the massive die-off.
In the 16 years since it was formed under the auspices of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the working group has investigated scores of similar events. It is detecting a rising number of die-offs -- at the moment the panel is handling eight such cases simultaneously, an unprecedented high that reflects the environmental pressures on marine mammals and the nation's increasingly broad scientific stranding network.
Experts believe a range of factors are contributing to the algae blooms and viruses linked to the die-offs, including nutrient runoff from farming, rising ocean temperatures and discarded waste such as cat litter.
Can B.C. make U-turn to green?
March 26, 2007 (Toronto Globe and Mail) As Throne Speeches go, the one delivered in the British Columbia Legislature this year by Lieutenant-Governor Iona Campagnolo could only be described as electrifying.
In the middle of her address the elegant former broadcaster who speaks with a carefully measured tone and whose stiff posture is reflected in her native Tsimsean name, "Person Who Sits High," veered from the usual political banalities and went straight to the heart of one of the most troubling problems of our age.
"The Kyoto treaty, which is now in place, just came into force two years ago this Friday," she said, her clear, sharp voice capturing the attention of the entire legislature and those watching on television.
"Little has been done to seriously address this problem, which is literally threatening life on Earth as we know it.
Promising to stop is an important step, but at the moment B.C. is like a glutton at an all-you-can-eat buffet, talking loudly about going on a diet while loading up at the dessert tray.
Since 1990, the province's greenhouse-gas emissions overall have soared by 35 per cent -- and this despite having in place since 2004 a provincial plan to reduce carbon output.
In the Throne Speech, Ms. Campagnolo acknowledged that B.C., and the country as a whole, have reached a crisis point.
"The rate of atmospheric warming over the last 50 years is faster than at any time in the past 1,000 years. The science is clear. It leaves no room for procrastination. Global warming is real," she said.
Premier Campbell got big headlines last month when his government delivered the greenest Throne Speech this country has ever heard. But so far his government has not delivered a detailed road map for getting from here to there.
Familiar Orca Fin Spotted in California
March 24, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) L-57, or Faith, was the most prominent orca visiting Dyes Inlet in 1997.
Kitsap County residents may remember a group of killer whales that spent a month swimming in Dyes Inlet between Bremerton and Silverdale in 1997. One male orca, notable for his six-foot-tall dorsal fin, stood out prominently.
Well, that familiar fin was spotted recently off the California Coast, where a group of 20 to 40 orcas were swimming. The encounter adds to evidence that Puget Sound's endangered whales travel a long way in search of food.
Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research and Kelley's father, was equally excited about Saunders' encounter, 800 miles from Puget Sound. "This provides further evidence that the Southern Resident killer whales do, in fact, spend a lot more time off the coast of California than previously thought," said Balcomb, who has studied the animals for 30 years.
Saunders had taken the ocean trip to scatter the ashes of her dead brother, and the encounter with whales was personal and almost mystical. Her brother had died in a motorcycle accident a month ago.
"We both had talked of coming to Friday Harbor to see the killer whales," she said, "so it was unreal that they actually came to us. I swear somehow my brother was sending me a sign."
Saunders' photos will be included with growing evidence about where Puget Sound's orcas travel in the winter to find salmon, their primary food, Balcomb said. Salmon runs in California and Oregon may provide a critical link for the orcas' survival in the weeks before they return to Washington in late spring.
Spring rite: whales wending their way north to Alaska
March 23, 2007 (Oregonian) Feeding grounds: - The sea ice is decreasing, which could affect the whales' migratory habits
Nearly 20,000 gray whales are parading northward, past Oregon and Washington toward their summer feeding grounds. But their Arctic habitat is warming, with diminished sea ice creating longer feeding seasons, leaving scientists to wonder about future habits of the 35-ton mammals.
The annual passage of Eschrichtius robustus from the warm breeding lagoons in Mexico to icy Alaska waters has become a major attraction along the Oregon coast. The spring migration off Northwest shores reaches a peak next week, coinciding with spring break for most Oregon schoolchildren.
More than 200 trained volunteers will assist visitors at 28 viewpoints along the coast from 10 a.m., to 1 p.m. Saturday through March 31 as part of the state's "Whale Watching Spoken Here" program. More than 16,000 people spotted nearly 2,500 whales at the sites during last year's spring break.
"We're already seeing good numbers of whales, and some of them are coming close to shore," said Morris Grover, the ranger in charge of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department's Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay. "We saw more than 50 whales last week in the three days that we had good visibility. One of the whales was only 10 feet off the rocks just outside our window."
More than 50 whales also have been spotted from the center the past two days. The animals now have been sighted off northwest Washington and southern British Columbia.
Grover said about 200 gray whales stayed off Oregon last summer because of excellent feeding conditions. "We had more food along the Oregon coast than we've had in a long time, so they stuck around," he said. The whales, which eat little during the migration, dine on small mysid shrimp that hatch in kelp beds near Oregon.
The baleen whales' primary prey are small shrimplike crustaceans called amphipods found in bottom sediments in the Bering and Chukchi seas off Alaska.
Raising taxes to save the salmon?
March 23, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) After more than a decade of costly, bitter legal battles, elected leaders in Skagit County have a new idea for saving salmon: raising property taxes.
A proposal announced Thursday and headed to the county's voters in the summer would cost the average homeowner about $25 a year. The county commissioners say raising public money to buy land from willing sellers would not only preserve land along the river and streams and boost salmon survival, but it might even help endangered orcas.
It's an approach that might protect thousands of acres as buffers for fish along Puget Sound's premier salmon bedroom, the Skagit River.
"There is nothing like this in Washington," said County Commissioner Don Munks.
But Skagit County isn't just salmon country. It's also farm country. And it's Indian Country. And so far, farmers, and some tribal leaders, are far from pleased with the idea.
Preserving land for buffers as wide as 150 feet could help Puget Sound chinook, a threatened species. And that, in turn, might help endangered orcas, which depend on chinook salmon for their primary food.
"If Puget Sound chinook and the orca are going to be saved, it's going to start here in Skagit County," said Ken Dahlstedt, a county commissioner.
Coastal agency goes after Navy for high-powered sonar use
March 22, 2007 (Los Angeles Times) The California Coastal Commission today filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy for rejecting its recommendations for additional safeguards to protect whales and other marine mammals from high-power sonar used by ships in training exercises planned for Southern California waters.
The lawsuit, and a separate suit filed today by environmental and animal welfare groups, sets up a legal battle in federal court in Los Angeles that pits the state's right to enforce environmental protections against the U.S. Navy's contention that it can be exempted from environmental rules in the interests of national security.
The issue has surfaced because of increasing scientific evidence linking the powerful sonar to panicked behavior and even mass die-offs of whales and dolphins in the Bahamas, the Canary Islands and elsewhere after naval exercises.
Although the Navy has been conducting exercises for 30 years in Southern California waters, the Navy sought the Coastal Commission's blessing for exercises as part of internal guidelines to ensure that major training exercises meet all environmental requirements.
The training exercises have also been the target of lawsuits by the Natural Resources Defense Council, including the suit filed today. The NRDC, in that lawsuit, was joined by the International Fund for Animals Welfare, the Cetacean Society International, the League for Coastal Protection and the Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society.
The Pentagon has responded, in part, by granting the Navy training exercises a two-year exemption from the Marine Mammal Protection Act, saying it needs more time to work out safeguards. Earlier this week, it refused to disclose in court the location and time of the planned exercises, saying it needed to avoid disclosing classified or sensitive national security information.
Calif. coast panel files Navy sonar suit March 23, 2007 (Contra Costa Times)
DFO pulls plug on seismic testing project
March 22, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) To the disappointment of scientists and delight of environmental groups, a plan to conduct seismic tests off the coast of B.C. has been abandoned.
The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council has withdrawn $230,000 in funding for the Batholiths Project. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has told the scientists that more studies are needed on the effect of airguns on marine mammals.
DFO guidelines, combined with the Species At Risk Act, mean that driving away humpback whales, fin whales and orcas to ensure they are not in the vicinity of the airguns could be construed as harassment, said Ron Clowes, University of B.C. earth and ocean sciences professor.
"One of the things we were going to do was move the whales out of the way. That's standard mitigation procedure all over the world," said Clowes, one of 13 principal scientists from six U.S. and two Canadian universities, working on the project.
The three species of whales are identified as threatened under SARA.
The aim of the project is to help explain how the Earth's crust was formed.
Wind power's cost and management difficulty temper its benefits
March 21, 2007 (Oregonian) Wind-powered electricity is clean to produce, the fuel comes free and the resource lasts forever.
Yet, winds blow intermittently and on their own clock. That makes the power generation harder and more costly to manage than hydro-, coal- and natural gas-fueled power.
What's more, wind power is by no means the complete answer to the region's growing demand for electricity.
These are among the details of a groundbreaking report, coordinated by the Bonneville Power Administration and others, scheduled for release today. The plan for the first time pulls together the challenges facing the Northwest as it tries to accommodate 6,000 megawatts of wind expected to come online by 2019 -- maybe sooner. That's enough power to keep more than two Seattles lit up full time.
Compiled by utility, energy and consumer interests, the report likely will become the handbook for dealing with a resource that's both promising and demanding.
Key findings of the Northwest Wind Integration Action Plan include:
More wind on the grid doesn't mean fewer natural-gas or coal plants. It means that when the wind blows, utilities can cut back on power from fossil fuel-burning facilities, reducing carbon emissions and fuel costs.
Cost of removing dams depends on assumptions
March 21, 2007 (Idaho Statesman) Estimates for replacing power generated on Lower Snake range from $79 million to $500 million a year
Whether the Pacific Northwest can afford to replace the power produced by four salmon-killing dams on the Snake River depends on the assumptions you make. The economic debate is only one part of the region's struggle over how to balance human needs and values against the needs of endangered salmon.
Now that salmon advocates are pushing Congress to approve new economic and science studies, the power issue has returned to center stage.
Three different groups with three very different viewpoints have presented estimates ranging from $79 million to $500 million annually to replace the power produced at the four dams between Pasco, Wash., and Lewiston.
But a growing cadre of biologists say the four dams are the major factor in preventing the recovery of the salmon and steelhead that spawn and rear in Idaho's pristine wilderness and rural watersheds.
If federal managers and fisheries officials don't write a plan that satisfies U.S. District Judge James Redden of Oregon, he could order a series of limitations on hydroelectric dams aimed at saving salmon that could exceed the cost of breaching the four dams.
US navy tight lipped in whale sonar suit
March 21, 2007 (stuff.co.nz) The US Navy on Tuesday said it had asserted the "state secrets" privilege in a lawsuit by environmental groups, a move to keep the military from being forced to disclose information about the use of sonar believed to injure whales and other animals.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter, in a court filing submitted on Monday, said the information requested by plaintiffs was classified and its disclosure "could reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to national security."
The state secrets privilege, if upheld, renders information unavailable for litigation. It can be challenged, although the federal government often succeeds in asserting the protection.
The Navy action is the latest in a string of Pentagon moves to derail a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, that say sonar used in routine training and testing violates environmental laws.
Those groups also argue the Navy's sonar injures and kills marine mammals, including whales and dolphins.
B.C. premier stuns critics with plans to go green
March 19, 2007 (Seattle Times) The premier of British Columbia wanted to bring coal-burning plants and offshore oil rigs to this lush province, so environmental groups were ready for a fight as he prepared his government's annual policy speech last month.
They were stunned when Premier Gordon Campbell delivered a list of green promises that surpassed their most ambitious dreams.
He would not only stop the growth in greenhouse gases in the province, he said, but also slash them by one-third. He would gut the coal-plant plans. Embrace wind power. Lease hybrid cars for the government. Squelch environmental pollution by the powerful oil and gas industry. Toughen car-emission regulations.
Oil spill rescue rule keeps sinking
March 19, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Planning drags on for 17 years after Valdez
After the Exxon Valdez gushed 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound, Congress vowed that the next time a tanker got into trouble in U.S. waters, two things would happen: Help would arrive soon to prevent spills. And if oil did get loose, it could be cleaned up.
A lot has been done to assure that oil-spill cleanups can be launched. But the idea of ensuring that a rescue ship will show up to keep spills from happening in the first place still has not been made into a rule -- more than 17 years after the Valdez disaster.
And now the Coast Guard has booted its deadline for taking action -- for the fifth time. The agency's excuse? Its heavy workload guarding against terrorism in the post-9/11 era. The new deadline: February 2009, just weeks shy of the Valdez spill's 20th anniversary.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has fought hard against oil spills, but she hasn't had much to say about this delayed requirement. Now, though, because of the Democratic takeover in Congress, she's in a position to do something about it. She's chairwoman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees the Coast Guard.
At issue is the Coast Guard's long-proposed rule: If a ship loses its steering or power or has a fire or runs aground -- all of which have happened in the Pacific Northwest -- the ship's owners must make arrangements to get a tugboat or other rescue ship on the scene within 24 hours.
"They did a rule making that has no enforceability," said Fred Felleman, the Northwest representative of the environmental group Ocean Advocates, who was involved in a suit to move the rules along. "It's a complete shell game."
After many complaints, the Coast Guard came up with a new proposal in 2002. It would have required a shipping company to have a contract or similar agreement with a salvage company. The salvors would have to be capable of providing a variety of services, including towing a disabled ship, pumping off oil before it could spill, fighting fires and fixing a damaged hull.
In addition, the plan would have tightened the proposed 24-hour deadline for help to arrive, specifying that a tug should arrive within 12 hours if a stricken vessel is within 12 miles of shore and within 18 hours if it is farther out.
But oil-industry representatives objected, calling the environmental protection benefits "modest and speculative."
Said Chad Bowechop, ocean policy adviser to the Makah Tribal Council, "Our way of life is threatened by a catastrophic oil spill."
Gray Whales on the Move
March 16, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Several have made an appearance this week around Puget Sound and in Hood Canal.
The annual gray whale migration has reached the Washington coast, and several of the massive animals have entered Puget Sound the past few days.
One young gray whale was sighted in Tacoma's Commencement Bay on Wednesday morning. By afternoon it appeared to be traveling north through Colvos Passage between Vashon Island and the Kitsap Peninsula, according to Susan Berta of Orca Network, a group that collects sighting information by phone and e-mail.
One observer reported one and possibly two gray whales in Hood Canal near Potlatch on Monday, she said. And four animals were seen about the same time off the west side of Whidbey Island.
A specific group of gray whales come into Puget Sound each year, spending time around Whidbey Island, according to Jessie Huggins of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia. Whether any of the animals in Puget Sound now belong to that Whidbey group won't be known until researchers are able to identify the whales by photograph. Individuals can be identified by the markings seen on their tails.
The migration appears to be typical this year, but sightings in South Puget Sound and Hood Canal can be a little worrisome, Berta said. Years when a lot of unknown gray whales are seen wandering around Puget Sound are often years when more animals are found dead.
The population of gray whales seems to be holding pretty stable since 2000, when an unusually large number of gray whales died, Perryman said. On the other hand, their winter feeding patterns have been changing, perhaps in response to climate change, he said.
Spill Bodes Ill for Hood Canal
March 16, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) A derelict vessel is being blamed for a diesel fuel spill in Fisherman Harbor off the Toandos Peninsula.
A diesel fuel spill in Fisherman Harbor has resulted in serious damage to fish and wildlife habitat in this rare Hood Canal embayment at the tip of the Toandos Peninsula, experts say.
It's not the size of the spill, noted Curt Hart of the Washington Department of Ecology. Rather, it's the nature of the harbor, which provides prime rearing habitat for salmon, smelt, herring and other fish species.
The bay also appears to be widely used by great blue herons, ducks and other seabirds. Shellfish, including crabs, thrive in the area.
The spill came from a derelict 32-foot pleasure craft that broke free of its moorage inside the harbor and ran aground Wednesday. Spill responders from Ecology placed an 800-foot oil-containment boom inside the mouth of the harbor late Wednesday and distributed absorbent pads around the vessel. One early responder closed vents on the boat to keep it from sinking.
Bill asks for new studies of salmon
March 14, 2007 (Idaho Statesman) Measure doesn't call for dam breaching but calls for look at economics of removal
Environmentalists targeting the removal of the four lower Snake River dams rallied behind a bill in Congress Tuesday that calls for a comprehensive new study of efforts to save Idaho's endangered wild salmon. Buoyed by a new Democratic majority, a broad-based coalition of conservation and fishing groups say the measure could be the best shot yet at overturning federal policies that have severely depleted the river's salmon.
But unlike previous salmon recovery legislation that languished in the last Congress, the new bill introduced by Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., does not explicitly call for the breaching of the four dams.
Instead, backers are calling for a new round of economic and scientific studies that could help make the case for Congress to take that action separately.
Flame retardant growing threat to killer whales
March 14, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) Levels of a toxic flame retardant are growing so quickly in coastal marine waters they are expected to surpass PCBs as the leading contaminant in endangered southern resident killer whales, a federal scientist warned Tuesday.
Peter Ross of the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney near Victoria said in an interview that research shows levels of PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are steadily increasing in harbour seals in southern Puget Sound in Washington state, with levels in seals in B.C.'s Strait of Georgia expected to be similar.
At the current rate of increase, PBDE levels are predicted to exceed those of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in killer whales in our shared waters by 2020.
That will further confound recovery efforts, Ross said.
PBDEs are the latest emerging threat to a population of killer whales that is already among the most polluted marine mammals in the world and is officially endangered in Canada and the U.S.
Two toxic lighter forms of PBDEs, penta and octa, were voluntarily withdrawn from the Canadian and U.S. marketplaces more than two years ago, Ross said. Environment Canada is re-evaluating a third type, deca, in light of research showing it can break down and resemble the two other forms and "magnify" up the food chain.
"Washington state is also trying to get rid of all three forms," Ross added.
PBDE levels in harbour seals in Puget Sound have increased steadily: 14 parts per billion in 1984, 281 ppb in 1990, 328 ppb in 1993, 644 ppb in 1996, and 1,057 ppb in 2003.
In comparison, PCBs levels have declined: 100,000 ppb in 1972 and 17,000 ppb by 1984.
Killer whales carry 10 times the contaminants of harbour seals, which means an increase in PBDEs in seals is immediately cause for concern. "They might be much more vulnerable to these impacts," Ross said.
Beaked whale dies on Outer Banks shore, renewing sonar debate
March 14, 2007 (Wilmington Star) A female beaked whale who died on the shores of the Outer Banks last week stranded herself about 10 days after Navy officials had been conducting sonar training exercises off the Virginia coast, officials said.
The 15-foot nursing mother had bleeding around both ears, but a scientist who performed a necropsy couldn't say what caused the whale to beach. Sonar can harm whales, including beaked whales that live deep in the ocean off the continental shelf.
Sonar exercises took place about 150 miles offshore of Virginia Beach, Va., about 10 days before the whale got stranded at Kill Devil Hills, said Jim Brantley, a spokesman for Fleet Forces Command.
The Navy has proposed building a sonar training range near Camp Lejeune about 50 miles off the coast that would allow its crews to sharpen their submarine hunting skills. But environmentalists, fishermen and tourism promoters believe the range would hurt their interests.
There are long-standing concerns about sonar's impact on marine mammals. In January 2005, for example, 37 whales beached and died on the Outer Banks. The Navy said a sonar exercise it was conducting was several days earlier and more than 200 miles away.
A fisheries service study found no conclusive evidence that sonar caused those strandings, but an environmental group emphasized that sonar was listed as a possible cause while some other causes were ruled out.
"Most cases I'm aware of are quite tightly linked in timing," said Peter Tyack, a senior scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who has researched beaked whales.
Cold Water Kills Dolphins In Texas
March 13, 2007 (Indy Channel) Colder water from the winter months contributed to the deaths of more than 25 dolphins that washed ashore on the Texas coast over the last two weeks, a rescue group said.
Some of the animals were very young, with umbilical cords still attached, and apparently were either stillborn or separated from other dolphins just after birth, officials said.
At least 17 of the bottlenose dolphins washed ashore along the Galveston County coastline last week, said Heidi Watts, state operations coordinator for the Galveston-based Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network.
Watts said such strandings are fairly common from January through March, although they tend to peak in February.
Puget Sound Partnership needs authority
March 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by David R. Montgomery) Like many people who care about saving Puget Sound and our region's dwindling salmon runs, I was thrilled to see the rollout of Gov. Chris Gregoire's new "science-based" Partnership for Puget Sound -- until I read beyond the executive summary.
There, buried on page 43 of Appendix A, was a startling admission by the partnership's own scientific working group: "The strategies listed are not likely to be sufficient to achieve ecosystem goals."
Nowhere, in either the executive summary or the plan itself, does this frank admission get any coverage. Yet there it is in black and white. The plan won't work.
Despite all the good measures in the plan -- and there are many -- it does not adequately address known effects on salmon, and in particular, ignores the effects from new development sure to sweep across the region during the period in which the plan is supposed to put things right.
U.S. wants to increase offshore fish farming
March 12, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Bush administration wants to allow ocean farming for shellfish, salmon and saltwater species in federal waters for the first time, hoping to grab a greater share of the $70 billion aquaculture market.
A plan being announced today by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez would let companies operate fish farms three miles to 200 miles offshore but without some of the rules on size, season and harvest methods that apply to other commercial fishermen.
Fish farms already operate on inland and coastal waters as far as three miles into the ocean, which fall under state jurisdiction.
Environmental concerns have arisen about wastewater generated by such operations. Gutierrez, however, said the administration's proposal had safeguards and would permit states to ban fish farming up to 12 miles off their coasts.
Some marine experts, however, say fish farming adds to overfishing because most farms involve carnivorous fish that are fed more fish protein than the farms produce. They say the farms release pesticides, antibiotics and other chemicals, and cause genetic contamination of wild fish.
"The growth of aquaculture is questionable, as we are using the wild fish to grind up to feed the farmed fish," said Charles Clover, author of "The End Of The Line," a book on overfishing.
Europe Sets Ambitious Limits on Greenhouse Gases
March 12, 2007 (New York Times) The European Union approved a compromise agreement on Friday that would make Europe the world's leader in the fight against climate change but would also allow some of Europe's most polluting countries to limit their environmental goals.
Issuing a challenge to the United States, China and India to match European ambitions in the battle against global warming, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany called on the world to follow the European Union's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent from 1990 levels by the year 2020. She said the bloc's 27 members would commit to a 30 percent reduction if other nations followed suit.
The plan goes beyond the 35-nation Kyoto Protocol, which requires industrial nations to reduce the emission of global-warming gases by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Major European Union economies had already committed to do better than that, promising to decrease greenhouse gases by 8 percent in that time.
The accord by the European Union - unveiled after two days of heated negotiations and hailed by President Jacques Chirac of France as "a great moment in European history" - will require the bloc to derive a fifth of its energy from renewable sources like wind and solar power by 2020. Renewables account for less than 7 percent of the energy mix used by the Europeans.
U.S. bars talk of climate change effects on bears
March 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Bush administration is ordering federal wildlife officials headed for international meetings on polar bears not to talk about how climate change and melting ice are affecting the imperiled animals.
It is the latest in a string of cases in which the administration has carefully controlled or even banned government employees' public speech about global warming.
This latest chapter involves two memorandums written in late February that put strict limits on what U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees could discuss at meetings in Norway and Russia.
A third memo says the policy will apply for trips to those two nations as well as Canada and "any northern country."
The memos were revealed Wednesday night in the Seattle P-I Web site's environmental blog, Dateline Earth.
Kieran Suckling of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group, provided the memos to the P-I. He said they show that the administration is desperately trying to avoid being put on the spot about the big bears.
"The polar bear has created a 24/7 forum for the U.S. government to be grilled about what its position is on global warming, and it's really put the Bush administration in a tight, tight corner," said Suckling, whose group sued over the animals. "It's crazy to say, 'The polar bear is endangered but we're not going to do anything about global warming.'
"'Don't discuss polar bears": memo to scientists March 8, 2007 (Yahoo News)
The secret language of whales revealed
March 8, 2007 (MSNBC) Using tags suctioned to the whales' bodies, researchers tracked the whales and found that as they feed, they send out calls to let each other know where they are, each group employing a different sound.
The noises play a similarly important role during mating season when males sing long, low-pitched songs to indicate their reproductive fitness to females. Females select mates based on size and estimate that by evaluating males' songs: Larger males can take in more air and hold notes longer.
The research appears in the January 25 issue of the Marine Ecology Progress Series journal.
A related study, also by Scripps researchers, found that there are distinct "dialects" of whale-speak in different regions of the ocean. The finding could have implications for preservation efforts.
The scientists used acoustic recordings to delineate nine population regions worldwide. They found the whales weren't evenly distributed, though: Populations using a "Type 1" call, for example, live within a narrow band of ocean hugging the North American coast, while whales that use a "Type 4" call are spread over a large swath of the Northern Pacific Ocean.
The second study was published in a recent issue of the Journal of Cetacean Research Management.
Plan to free river to help salmon, and in turn, orcas
March 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A plan to tear down two dams on the north Olympic Peninsula -- one of which would be the tallest dam intentionally removed in U.S. history -- won the approval Wednesday of Washington environmental regulators.
Knocking down the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River west of Port Angeles is expected to indirectly benefit Puget Sound's orcas. That's because it would open up about 70 miles of spawning grounds for chinook salmon, the orcas' main food source.
Prolific salmon runs came out of the Elwha before the dams were built early in the last century to generate power. By some estimates, restoration of the Elwha represents the largest single opportunity to boost chinook runs formerly used by the orcas.
The project requires additional permits, including one from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. However, the process has not been controversial because of negotiations overseen by U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash.
"The Elwha River once hosted a famous run of chinook salmon," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a press release. "These fish were huge, some weighing over 100 pounds, and they have been all but eliminated by these two dams."
Legal action threatened against Navy for sonar testing issue
March 8, 2007 (Malibu Times) The Navy said it would ignore recommendations from the California Coastal Commission to modify its underwater sonar war games, which can be harmful to whales and other sea life.
The National Resource Defense Council said it is prepared to join the California Coastal Commission in legal action against the Navy for its decision not to take into consideration recommended safety precautions when conducting sonar tests in Southern California ocean waters, said a lawyer for the environmental organization.
"The Navy has a long and proud tradition of not answering to anybody, but, in this case, the NRDC is ready to take them on," said Cara Horowitz, an attorney for the environmental organization.
Horowitz said the sonar testing issue was discussed at the last meeting of the commission on Feb. 23 and that commissioners emerged with a decision to urge the California Attorney General's office to "pursue this matter and take all appropriate action to stop it."
Water-quality permit boosts plan for dams
March 8, 2007 (Seattle Times) Removing two dams on the Olympic Peninsula's Elwha River would flush enough dirt and gravel downstream to fill a million dump trucks.
Even so, the state Department of Ecology on Wednesday issued a water-quality permit that is critical to plans for tearing down the dams. Though the debris will muddy the river and kill fish in the short term, environmentalists and government officials say that the project will be a boon in the long run.
This would be the biggest dam removal in the nation - and one that has been eagerly awaited. The two dams, the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam and the 108-foot Elwha Dam, block 70 miles of pristine river and salmon-spawning grounds.
In addition to opening habitat to salmon, the release of sediment will eventually change the river's character and make it more hospitable to fish, said Patricia Olson, an Ecology Department hydrogeologist. It is expected to meander more, split by small islands and gravel bars.
Tug tows disabled ship to shore
March 7, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Khorol was flagging. Smoke was billowing out of the cargo ship's smokestack, a sign of engine distress, and it was slowing down just four miles from its destination, Port Angeles.
Then the ship stopped cold. The engine was dead.
Capt. Don Zeagler had to spring into action.
Zeagler is one of the captains of a tugboat stationed at Neah Bay each winter to rescue disabled ships in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off the Pacific coast. The boat's latest rescue unfolded last weekend with the usual high stakes: if control of the ship was lost, it could run aground.
A rescue tugboat has been stationed at Neah Bay each winter since 1999, first funded by the U.S. Navy and then the state, and has rescued 31 ships.
State Ecology Department approves removing Elwha dams
March 7, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The state Ecology Department has approved permits to remove two dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula.
The permits certify the work will meet clean water standards.
The National Park Service is removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams to reopen 70 miles of river habitat to salmon and trout.
The dams were built in 1913 and 1927.
Tribe tries to resuscitate canal
March 5, 2007 (Seattle Times) It's a sacred obligation that's getting harder to fulfill: Hood Canal is dying. And that threatens not only this once-lucrative fishery. It threatens the tribe's very way of life.
Low oxygen levels in the canal, caused in part by pollution, have been a problem here for years. But recently it has been worse than ever, especially in the southern end of the canal, homeland of the Skokomish people who have depended on the abundance of this place for countless generations. And while crab catches have also fluctuated, tribal fishermen are concerned by the steep drop in the catch last summer.
At the bottom of the canal, within the tribe's treaty-protected fishing area, tribal staff members have found blackened, crumbling crab carcasses in an underwater dead zone blanketed with white mats of bacterial goo.
On its worst days, the canal becomes an upside-down world, with bottom fish gasping near the surface and tens of thousands of fish dead on the beaches.
"You don't feel the same relationship with the place," said Delbert Miller, a Skokomish spiritual leader.
"When you realize what was here for thousands of years, and go there and find nothing today, it is an empty feeling. It feels like an extinction."
Researchers seek bones of Puget Sound orcas killed in roundups
March 5, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) It took bombs, planes and speedboats to corral the orcas at Whidbey Island's Penn Cove, where the youngsters were separated from their pods and shipped off to aquariums around the country.
Now, researchers are trying to locate the bones of a handful of orcas killed during those roundups in the 1960s and '70s, hoping that analyzing the remains will help them better understand the endangered animals.
Four or five of the killer whales are believed to have been buried on the central part of Whidbey Island, near Coupeville. Susan Berta, program director of the Orca Network, a Whidbey Island group that tracks the whales, identified three possible burial spots using the accounts of witnesses.
Puget Sound's three southern resident orca pods, known as J, K and L, were granted protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2005. DNA samples and eating histories of the long-dead killer whales could help prove that the Puget Sound killer whales are different enough from other orcas to further validate their listing as endangered, Berta said.
Only one orca captured from Puget Sound during the 1960s and '70s remains alive: Lolita, who lives in the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
A 14-foot sixgill shark, possibly the largest ever seen in the Puget Sound region, died shortly after it was found near Shelton
March 4, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Residents of Hammersley Inlet near Shelton were surprised and excited when a massive sixgill shark, one of the largest ever seen in Puget Sound, washed up on their beach last week.
The "very pregnant" female, more than 14 feet long, apparently had left its normal habitat in ocean waters up to 3,000 feet deep to give birth in the protected habitat of Puget Sound, according to Greg Bargmann, marine fish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"This is the largest one I've ever seen in Puget Sound," Bargmann said. "We have been doing shark projects for years, and we have never been able to find an adult male or female. This is very exciting."
Females give birth to live offspring and apparently return to the ocean immediately, Bargmann said. The young, left on their own, normally stay in Puget Sound several years until they grow to about 8 feet. Then they leave for the ocean. The males may never return.
Bargmann said the shark found in Hammersley Inlet was barely alive when he got to it last Friday. It died that night.
Whales killed in Penn Cove roundup may provide insight
March 4, 2007 (Everett Herald) The long buried bones of a handful of orca whales that died in one of the ugliest chapters of Whidbey Island's history may be unearthed, giving scientists information that could help save the local pods.
In the 1960s and '70s, as many as 45 orca were captured and separated from their family pods in Puget Sound, according to orca experts. More captures took place in Canadian waters.
The orca, often called killer whales, were boxed up and hauled off to aquariums across the country.
As least 13 died during the captures, according to historical accounts.
"They used steel [seal] bombs, planes and boats to get them into Penn Cove," said Susan Berta, program director for the Orca Network, a group based in Whidbey Island that tracks orca movement in Puget Sound.
Young orca were separated from their mothers in nearby pens, Berta said. They could be heard calling to each other for hours.
"When they let the others go, they stayed right there until the last whale was taken away in a truck," she said. "All of them did."
Berta said four to five of those that died during the catch were buried on the central part of Whidbey Island near Coupeville.
On Feb. 21 the bone hunt was dealt a blow when a preliminary dig at what looked like the best location failed to turn up even a sliver of bone.
Now the search depends on photos that the backhoe operator took all those years ago. The hope is that they will show a landmark that pinpoints the burial site.
DNA samples and eating histories of the long-dead killer whales could help prove that the Puget Sound orca are different enough from other orca to validate their listing as endangered, Berta said.
"Killer whales are very similar genetically," agreed Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist, NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
Hanson said the local orca population was listed as a distinct subspecies of orca because the mammal doesn't appear to breed or communicate with other orca.
Only one orca captured during that era remains alive: Lolita, who lives in the Miami Seaquarium in Florida.
For decades some orca activists have tried to free the whale that, at nearly 40 years old, is thought to be the world's oldest captive killer whale. Efforts to buy her release have been rebuffed over the years.
Her good nature and willingness to perform tricks in the smallest aquarium in the world holding a captive orca are thought to have contributed to her outliving all of her locally captured kin by more than decade.
Lolita shared her pen with another orca from her Puget Sound family until 1980, but she hasn't seen another orca since then.
The effort to free her has evolved into a movement to preserve her family members still in the wild, Berta said.
Killer whales: is it all in the name?
March 4, 2007 (Los Angeles Times editorial) The state spent months on a report whose main revelation is that killer whales can be dangerous to humans.
A female killer whale named Kasatka dragged Kenneth Peters, one of the San Diego park's most experienced trainers, underwater during a show, breaking his foot and inflicting puncture wounds. Marine parks, including Sea World, have recorded a dozen or so attacks on humans over the last 35 years, relatively few, considering how much training and how many shows go on.
Yes, as the state agency notes, killer whales are dangerous. That's the whole point. Why else would people pay to see puny humans in a giant pool with a smart carnivore almost 50 times their body mass? Sea World has occasionally tried having the orcas do their splashy leaps alone in the tank, but audiences don't go for it. It's the latter-day equivalent of watching a lion tamer put a ball on a very long stick into the lion's mouth from afar. Audiences might be horrified when the animal lunges or the aerialist falls, but the prospect of vicarious danger is what draws paying guests in the first place. By making the dangers appear that much more real, the state handed Sea World some of the best publicity it could have hoped for.
So wide-eyed were state investigators about the adventurous life of trainers, they predicted that a trainer's death was inevitable (a conclusion so over the top that the state is withdrawing the report for a rewrite). But a more compelling work issue here may be whether it's a fair thing for the whales to be confined to swimming pools. In the wild, pods of orcas can travel more than 100 miles a day. Not so at Sea World. No wonder they sometimes get ornery in captivity.
State withdraws report critical of SeaWorld
March 3, 2007 (San Diego Union Tribune) State officials retracted a report yesterday that said it's only a matter of time before one of SeaWorld's killer whales takes a trainer's life and that lethal force should be an option to stop a future attack.
In a statement, the state Division of Occupational Safety and Health - or Cal/OSHA - admitted that some of its conclusions about a killer whale attacking a veteran SeaWorld trainer were wrong and in violation of its policies.
Despite their admission that the report is seriously flawed, Cal/OSHA officials yesterday issued SeaWorld a citation alleging "two non-serious violations" of workplace safety standards.
Even though it has been withdrawn, the 18-page Cal/OSHA report is certain to add fodder to the long-running debate over the propriety of keeping marine mammals in captivity. In contrast to wild orcas, which have no history of attacking people, killer whales in captivity have displayed aggressive behavior toward humans many times.
The report implies that SeaWorld's orcas have a history of mishaps and misbehavior caused largely by boredom and stress.
State officials launched their investigation after a potentially fatal attack Nov. 29 in which a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long orca named Kasatka ambushed trainer Ken Peters during a performance.
With the audience looking on, Kasatka clamped her teeth onto Peters' foot and held him under water for 69 seconds.
Kasatka resumed performing Nov. 30, but no trainer is allowed to be in the water with her, Koontz said.
The document also noted that two weeks before the attack involving Kasatka and Peters, a different SeaWorld trainer was injured in a similar incident involving another female orca.
SeaWorld officials had never disclosed the earlier attack to the media.
During the Nov. 15 incident, a 19-foot-long, 5,900-pound orca name Orkid grabbed senior trainer Brian Rokeach by the leg, pulled him to the bottom of the pool and held him under water for about 26 seconds.
Sea lions to be hazed daily until end of May
March 3, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Oregon and Washington fish and wildlife departments will again begin hazing sea lions to deter them from preying on runs of threatened salmon and steelhead below Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River.
This is the third year that the departments have tried to shoo off the sea lions. They use nonlethal deterrents such as crackershells, rubber buckshots and underwater firecrackers.
But this year crews will be working every day of the week through May 31, a significant escalation in the fight against predators.
"As in previous years, our goal is to change these animals' behavior," Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement. "Predation by sea lions on fish in the tailrace of Bonneville Dam is a fairly recent phenomenon, and we don't want any more of them to learn that behavior."
California sea-lion numbers have burgeoned since the 1970s. A September wildlife survey documented 1,200 California sea lions at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Report: "only a matter of time" before a whale kills trainer
March 2, 2007 (Los Angeles Times) Although SeaWorld Adventure Park has done a good job of preparing its trainers to work with killer whales, it is "only a matter of time" before a whale kills one, state investigators have concluded after examining a November incident in which a trainer was dragged under water and nearly drowned.
"The trainers recognize this risk and train not for 'if' an attack will happen but 'when,' " says a report by the state Department of Industrial Relations' Division of Occupational Safety and Health.
The investigation looked at a Nov. 29 incident in which Kasatka, a 7,000-pound, 17-foot-long female, dragged her trainer underwater in front of horrified spectators at Shamu Stadium.
SeaWorld employees immediately used a variety of rescue procedures but all failed, the report concludes. The whale refused to comply with commands from other trainers to turn the trainer loose.
Kenneth Peters, 39, the park's most experienced whale trainer, escaped only through his own quick thinking and endurance, suffering puncture wounds and a broken foot. The state investigators said there are no grounds for citing SeaWorld for violating any safety laws.
But the report also warned that SeaWorld should be ready to use lethal force against a killer whale if it endangers a trainer by becoming "out of control and not responding to other available control measures."
"They (the whales) are a danger to humans by virtue of their size alone," the report concludes. "Second, they are a carnivore. They are armed with an impressive arsenal of teeth, capable of tearing bone and flesh."
The whales are also smart and capable of "cunning and forethought."
Peters told investigators that he had no warning that Kasatka was going to drag him to the bottom of the 36-foot-deep pool. "She didn't show me any precursors. She didn't tell me, she didn't show me," the report quotes him as saying.