Orca Network News - March, 2009

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2009 through March 31, 2009.

Obama moves to protect wilderness areas
March 31, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
President Obama signed legislation Monday setting aside more than 2 million acres as protected wilderness.
Obama called the new law among the most important in decades "to protect, preserve and pass down our nation's most treasured landscapes to future generations."
At a White House ceremony, Obama said the law guarantees that Americans "will not take our forests, rivers, oceans, national parts, monuments, and wilderness areas for granted, but rather we will set them aside and guard their sanctity for everyone to share." The law - a collection of nearly 170 separate measures - represents one of the largest expansions of wilderness protection in a quarter-century. It confers the government's highest level of protection on land in nine states.
Land protected under the 1,200-page law ranges from California's Sierra Nevada and Oregon's Mount Hood to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

Resident orcas throng in summer
March 30, 2009 (Kodiak Daily Mirror)
The killer whale or orca (Orcinus orca) is the largest species of the dolphin family and is considered the apex predator of the marine world. Killer whales are found in all the world’s oceans, though they prefer cooler temperate and Polar regions.
In Alaska waters, two types or races of killer whales occur that differ from each other in several respects.
Resident killer whales subsist on fish and are known to visit the same areas consistently. They travel in large pods and form lifelong family bonds. Pods are matrilineal, composed of a female and her offspring. Males leave the pod for short periods to mate outside their maternal group, but otherwise spend their entire lives with their mothers. All pod members, including males, care for the young.
Transient killer whales feed on marine mammals and travel in smaller, less structured pods. Transient and resident killer whales inhabit the same waters but do not intermix.
Offshore killer whales are the third and least understood group. They roam the open ocean and feed primarily on fish, sharks and sea turtles.
There are also three distinct races of killer whales in the Antarctic. Type A killer whales live in open water and feed on minke whales. Type B killer whales inhabit inshore waters and feed mainly on seals. Type C killer whales live mainly in pack ice and feed on fish.

Beluga whale dies at Tacoma zoo after infection
March 29, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma reports that Qannik (kah-NICK), an 8-year-old beluga whale, has died after suffering an unidentified infection.
An aquarium news release says Qannik died Saturday evening after showing signs of illness since March 15, including a loss of appetite and significant weight loss.
Staff treated him with antibiotics, fluids and high calorie nutrients, but tests and consultations with veterinarians failed to determine the illness' source.
The news release said veterinarians would perform a necropsy, but full results might not be known for a few weeks.
Qannik arrived in Tacoma in June 2007 from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Point Defiance has one remaining beluga, Beethoven.

How to catch a glimpse of mighty gray whales
March 28, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Gray whales are migrating from their southern wintering grounds and have already been spotted in Puget Sound and off the coast.
"We saw them this past Wednesday off Possession Bar [on the south side of Whidbey Island] and they've been around for almost a month now," said Pete Sergeef, a state Fish and Wildlife employee who works aboard the Puget Sound salmon test fishery boat.
"Most of the time you'll run into them at the Tulalip [Bay] area, southeast side of Hat Island, Langley, and from Clinton down to Possession Point," Sergeef said.
All eyes around Langley, a tiny town nestled on Whidbey Island, are gazing out into the waters trying to catch a glimpse of the mighty whales.
Paul Samuelson, mayor of Langley, worked with a local Boy Scout, Michael Scullin, to create a permanent home for the town's whale bell. The retired brass church bell was a gift to the city by the Orca Network.
he Welcome the Whales Day Festival & Parade is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 18 in Langley. The event will feature presentations and slide shows on gray whales, educational activities, music and gray whale watch tours. Details: www.orcanetwork.org or www.visitlangley.com.

Biologists call for changes to Columbia River salmon hatcheries
March 28, 2009 (Seattle Times)
In a report released Friday to Congress, biologists called for big changes in the sprawling Columbia River hatcheries so the operations support, not hinder, the massive regional effort to restore natural salmon runs.
The hatchery system encompasses 178 different programs run by state, federal and tribal operators, and it has soaked up billions of taxpayer dollars in recent decades as many of the major wild runs have gained protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The Hatchery Scientific Review Group report includes detailed recommendations for each program, offering federal and other funding agencies a blueprint on how to evaluate future projects.
More than 80 percent of fish returning to the mouth of the Columbia are spawned in hatcheries, and 13 wild runs are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The report recommends reductions in the numbers of fish produced at some hatcheries.
The report also notes that hatchery fish stray into streams frequented by wild stocks. As the stocks interbreed, the genetic survival traits of the wild fish can be weakened, the report notes
Some of the biggest changes are proposed for the lower Columbia River. There, scientists said the hatcheries should be more focused on using local brood stock that are better adapted to the area, and using weirs and other tactics to prevent too many hatchery fish from straying into wild spawning grounds

Navy to appear before Board on ocean testing
March 27, 2009 (Ukiah Daily Journal)
The U.S. Navy will appear before the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors about its ocean weapons testing program on Tuesday at a special meeting of the Board, according to a release from the board issued Thursday.
Normally, the Board does not meet on fifth Tuesdays but will gather at 4 p.m. March 31 in board chambers for a presentation from U.S. Navy representatives on the controversial Northwest Training Range Complex and its environmental impacts.
The Navy's environmental study of its own testing program is up for public comment until April 13.
While the military has been training in the area since before World War I, the environmental impact statement concludes that
increased use of new weapons to the area could have impacts on birds, whales, fish and the ocean environment.
Unmanned aerial and ocean systems, new surface to air missiles, and a big increase in use of sonobuoys would all be part of the increased activity. The Navy would deploy 9,651 of the sonar emitting sonobuoys each year under their preferred plan.
Also to be tried out under the Navy's preferred alternative would be unmanned or "drone" aircraft, development of a training minefield fixed to the ocean bottom and development of a portable undersea tracking range.
The public is invited to attend the special Board meeting. Alternatively, meetings may be viewed via live web streaming from the Board's website at www.co.mendocino.ca.us/bos/cgibin/meetings.pl.

South Beach International Animation Festival schedule
March 27, 2009 (Miami Herald)
Music Videos 'n Toons 'n The Blues-Perchance To Dream: A film by Lauren Kimball. The film offers a new perspective in the life of Miami Sea Aquarium's star performer, Lolita the Killer Whale. Brutally taken from her family and home waters in Puget Sound, Washington and flown across the country to live in Miami, Lolita is expected to perform daily to an enthusiastic crowd; a crowd completely ignorant to the plight of her gentle spirit; 8 p.m. MBC.

Obama Taps Mabus for Navy Secretary
March 27, 2009 (Washington Post)
President Obama will nominate former Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus to be secretary of the Navy and has tapped six other officials for key positions at the Department of Defense and elsewhere in his administration, the White House announced this afternoon.
Mabus, 60, is a Democrat who served as governor from 1988 to 1992 and was President Bill Clinton's ambassador to Saudi Arabia. A Democrat, Mabus endorsed Obama before the 2008 primary season and campaigned extensively on his behalf. Mabus has spent the last several years in business, serving as chairman and chief executive of Foamex International Inc. and helping lead the manufacturer out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Governor Mabus has been awarded the U.S. Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Award, the U.S. Army's Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Martin Luther King Social Responsibility Award from the King Center in Atlanta, the National Wildlife Federation Conservation Achievement Award (emphasis ours), the King Abdul Aziz Award from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the Mississippi Association of Educators' Friend of Education Award.

Beyond Puget Sound: Ten ideas for saving the Salish Sea
March 27, 2009 (Seattle Times op-ed by Joe Gaydos)
The best way to save the Puget Sound is to think larger — the Salish Sea — and more holistically, argues guest columnist Joe Gaydos, regional director of the SeaDoc Society. Here he offers 10 principles to save an ecosystem that includes the 17,000-square-kilometer inland sea shared by Washington state and British Columbia.
IF it were easy to save an ecosystem from deterioration, people would have already done it. Billions of dollars have been spent restoring Chesapeake Bay and the Florida Everglades with limited success. Even without a successful model to follow, we do have a solid foundation from which to work.
As described in a paper just published in the international journal EcoHealth, there are well-accepted ecological principles for designing healthy ecosystems.
First, we need to stop talking about saving Puget Sound and start talking about saving the entire Salish Sea, a 17,000-square-kilometer inland sea shared by Washington and British Columbia. The international political boundary dividing this ecosystem is invisible to fish and wildlife and irrelevant to the oceanographic processes that shape the system.

Muddy waters of the Salish Sea
March 27, 2009 (Crosscut)
A new name for the Northwest waters could be a setback for those charged with cleaning up Puget Sound. On the other hand, maybe a fresh start is what's needed.
On May 15, the Washington State Board of Geographic Names will take up initial consideration of the proposal to designate the Northwest's inland waters from Puget Sound in Washington to Desolation Sound in British Columbia as the Salish Sea. While the proposal won't change any existing names (Puget Sound and the straits of Georgia and Juan de Fuca, for example, would keep their names), it would give acknowledgment to a single ecosystem that crosses national, state and provincial boundaries. Many scientists, environmentalists and Indian tribes have already adopted the term, though it's not official in the U.S. or Canada.
Bergman's answers were illuminating about the conundrum facing policy makers when it comes to restoring the health of the "toxic stew" that Puget Sound has become, awash as it is in PCBs, heavy metals, oil, raw sewage, pharmaceuticals, caffeine and everything else flushed through our our bodies and down our toilets.

Environmentalists to battle Navy proposal
March 26, 2009 (Whidbey Examiner)
Whidbey Island environmental groups opposed to the Navy's plan to expand its Northwest training operations say they will take their objections to the highest levels of government.
Representatives from Orca Network and the Whidbey Environmental Action Network have agreed to team up and send their comments not only to Gov. Christine Gregoire and Washington's Congressional delegation, but also to President Barack Obama.
"I think we need to kick it right to the top," said Howard Garrett, president of Orca Network's board of directors.
WEAN cofounder Marianne Edain said attracting presidential or congressional attention may be a long shot, but could end up being worth it. She pointed out that the Navy answers to both branches of government.
"The president and Congress have ultimate power over the military," she said.
The Navy is planning to expand operations in its Northwest Training Range Complex, an area encompassing about 122,400 nautical miles of air, surface and subsurface space stretching from Washington to northern California. The complex has been in use since World War II.
The proposal, which ranges from increasing missile and sonar testing to dumping depleted uranium, has attracted the attention of more than just local environmentalist groups.
According to Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound, the environmental impact statement does not adequately address potential impacts to Puget Sound.
The Navy's increased activities could have serious implications on endangered species in the region, such as salmon and orca whales. That makes the Navy's proposal more than just a local issue, she said.
Comment on Navy Training Expansion EIS

Fish and Game expects best salmon return since 2001
March 26, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
The department predicts about 105,600 hatchery chinook and almost 23,000 wild chinook will return to Idaho.
Last year, 68,000 chinook returned, and this year's run could be the best since 2001, which was the largest run in decades with 172,000 chinook returning and anglers harvesting 43,300 fish.
So far, chinook are arriving late and Fish and Game will release a spring chinook season and rules brochure before the seasons open.

Quileute to welcome gray whales
March 25, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
The Quileute tribe will welcome migrating gray whales in a ceremony on Thursday.
The ceremony at 1:30 p.m. will be at the mouth of the Quillayute River in LaPush.
"We'll have various leaders of the tribe making some statements and giving oral presentations," said Leon Strom, who is helping with the event.
Students from the Quileute Tribal School will sing and dance.
"They'll be welcoming back the whales, and we'll also have some tribal songs, and we want to talk about the history and recognize some of the families who had to do with whaling," Strom said.

NOAA Chief Believes in Science as Social Contract
March 25, 2009 (New York Times)
The marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco has long urged scientists to abandon the habitual reticence of the research community and spend more time engaging the public and public officials about scientific and technical issues.
Now Dr. Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University, is following her own advice all the way to Washington to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the government’s premier science agencies.

Gregoire signs bill for year-round rescue tug at Neah Bay
March 25, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed a measure that requires shippers, tankers and large vessels to pay for a year-round rescue tug at Neah Bay, Wash.
Gregoire signed the bill into law on Tuesday, the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska.
The Neah Bay tug aids ships in danger of spilling oil in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and off Washington's coast

Hundreds of killer whales seen in Gulf of Mexico
March 25, 2009 (Fox News)
It was a fish story that even veteran boat captains found fascinating: As many as 200 killer whales feeding on tuna in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
It was also hard for some skeptics to believe: Orcas, as killer whales are also known, typically are thought to live in cold water and eat seals.
But Hall's description of what he saw last Oct. 31 was no tall tale: A government biologist who saw video taken from Hall's boat confirmed the captain had spotted the creatures. And last week that same scientist, Keith Mullin, explained at a public meeting in Orange Beach, Ala., that yes, contrary to common perceptions, killer whales really do live in the Gulf, far from land.
Mullin, whose outfit has been working for years to get an accurate count of the Gulf's whale population, said it may be time to dramatically increase estimates on how many killer whales are lurking in the deep waters off the Gulf Coast. He's taking part in a research expedition this summer that could determine if his hunch is right.
Scientists believe the whales have been in the Gulf for years, Mullin said, and that their presence _ though startling to some anglers _ isn't a sign of climate change or other manmade condition. Their relatively small population and the speed at which pods move make them difficult to count, which could have led to lower estimates.
"I've got good records of them in the Caribbean. We see them almost exclusively in deep water, 600 feet and more," Mullin said. "I think they've always been there. It's just in the last 15 to 20 years that we've been trying to study them."
"There were four different pods. We estimated there were about 200 maximum. One pod had 75 in it," said Hall, who runs charters out of Zeke's Landing in Orange Beach, about 40 miles east of Mobile.
Gulf orcas are just like the ones that live in cold water, Mullin said, save for their diet of dolphin and tuna instead of seals. Male killer whales average 20 feet in length and weigh as much as 12,000 pounds, but females are smaller.
Fifteen groups of killer whales have been sighted in the Gulf since deep-water surveys began in 1992, he said. Past estimates have varied widely, from a low of 49 to a high of 277 living in the Gulf north of a line extending from Key West, Fla., to Brownsville, Texas.
The actual number of killer whales in the Gulf could be closer to 500, Mullin said, and a two-month expedition this summer could help nail down an answer. The trip was planned independently of the boat's sighting, he said.
Unlikely mass sighting of killer whales in Gulf of Mexico creates stir
Cetaceans of the Gulf of Mexico - Video

Infra-red casts light on elusive whale count
March 24, 2009 (TheAge.com)
AN INFRA-RED camera has come to the rescue in one of the most divisive arguments of whale research — how many minkes are there in the Antarctic?
The difficult task of counting whales has been eased by Australian scientists. In a global first they used the camera to "find" whales that have disappeared beneath the sea's surface.
Mounted on an aircraft flying over the polar pack ice zone, the infra-red image saw what the human eye couldn't — trails of warmer water left on the sea's surface between the ice floes. "These are quite long trails left when a whale breaks the temperature meniscus at the surface," said biologist Nick Gales, of the Australian Marine Mammal Centre in Hobart.
"In dead calm conditions, the animal brings up slightly warmer water from below. We know it's the whales, because we've been able to follow some animals that have re-emerged to take another breath."
Dr Gales said hundreds of whales were seen in the pack ice survey — more of them killer whales than minkes. Data being analysed now would feed into new circumpolar abundance estimates to go before the IWC in June. "We're expectingto come up with lower (minke) numbers," he said.

Hopes rise for salmon success
March 24, 2009 (Recordnet)
A federal report released this week confirms that poor but temporary ocean conditions were largely to blame for a record-low 2008 fall salmon run that crippled commercial fishing off the coast as well as recreational fishing inland.
This fall, the number of adults returning to the Central Valley is predicted to double.
Even so, 2009 would still be the third-lowest salmon return since 1992, and severe fishing restrictions would once again be likely this fall, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council.
Last week's report blames the salmon crash on warm temperatures and a lack of food in the ocean, on top of a "long-term, steady degradation of the freshwater and estuarine environment."
Fishery managers also share some blame, the report said: They overestimated the number of adult Chinook that would return in 2007, and as a result, did not apply greater fishing restrictions that year. Hatcheries, meanwhile, have reduced genetic diversity and made salmon more susceptible to volatile population swings. The report compares this to a financial stock portfolio which, if not diversified, will suffer or soar with the ebb and tide of the market.

AP source: EPA closer to global warming warning
March 24, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The Environmental Protection Agency has taken the first step on the long road to regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Politicians and the public, business and industry will have to weigh in along the way, but for now a proposed finding by the EPA that global warming is a threat to public health and welfare is under White House review.
The threat declaration would be the first step to regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and could have broad economic and environmental ramifications. It also would probably spur action by Congress to address climate change more broadly.

Alaskan Orca Group Facing Extinction
March 24, 2009 (KPLU Audio)
Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, researchers say a population of killer whales that was devastated by the spill is doomed to extinction. KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty has the story.

One pod of whales recovers after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, other near extinction
March 24, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Two groups of orca whales that frequent Prince William Sound each lost about 40 percent of their populations to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Today, one tight-knit group that form a pod appears on a slow road to recovery.
The other — more dispersed — group appears doomed, and hasn't had a new recruit since 1984, said Craig Matkin, a marine-mammal biologist who has studied the whales for 26 years.
It is unclear why the fates of the two groups diverged so dramatically. But the populations have different cultures and don't mingle, according to Jeep Rice, a federal biologist with NOAA Fisheries.
The recovering pod is sustained largely by fish. It had about 36 whales at the time of the spill, and declined to fewer than 20. The numbers have rebounded to about 28.
The group in sharp decline feeds largely on marine mammals, including the harbor seal that also has been in decline. This group was smaller — but relatively stable — at the time of the spill, with about 22 whales in the group, according to Matkin.
The early toxic effects of the spill appeared to kill two females of breeding age, and the group's numbers today are down to seven. The group includes two females, but they are aging and haven't had offspring in years.
"They are headed for extinction unless some miracle happens," Matkin said.

Exxon Valdez oil-spill recovery still is work in progress, 20 years later
March 24, 2009 (Seattle Times)
"The herring fishery was the pinnacle of seining," Renner said. "It was the Super Bowl of fishing. The best, most competitive guys."
The harvest was canceled after the Exxon Valdez ran aground March 24, 1989, on Bligh Reef, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of oil -- enough crude to fill 125 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Instead of netting herring, Renner spent the spring picking up dead birds off the beach and running a shuttle service for the gargantuan cleanup effort.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of the largest oil spill in the nation's history, Renner again will be on shore during the spring harvest due to a prolonged collapse of the herring stock.
But pockets of oil -- an estimated 16,000 gallons, according to federal researchers -- remain buried in small portions of the intertidal zone hard hit by the spill. Seven distinct species, including sea otters, killer whales and clams, still are considered to be "recovering" from the initial effects of the oil.
And herring, a cornerstone species of the Sound's ecosystem, is one of two species considered as "not recovering" by the council, the joint federal-state group established to oversee restoration.

13 Countries Join to Study Living Whales in the Wild
March 23, 2009 (Environmental News Network)
The world's first international workshop on non-lethal whale research opened in Sydney today in an effort to counter the Japanese lethal "research" whale hunt that kills hundreds of whales in the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific every year.
Environment Minister Peter Garrett said Australia is taking the lead to better manage the whales of the Southern Ocean and in the process, show the world that scientific research on whales can be done without resorting to lethal measures.
"This is about building the world's most comprehensive whale research partnership with countries interested in developing an agreed scientific approach to research – one that doesn't involve killing whales," Garrett said at the opening session.
Garrett envisions the new Southern Ocean Research Partnership as the first in a system of regional research partnerships that will counteract the bitter split in the International Whaling Commission between the whaling nations and the whale conservation nations that has stalled the work of the commission for years.
Countries from four continents are participating in this week's workshop at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour - Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, South Africa, and the United States.
"Thirty years ago, a dramatic change in attitude toward whales swept across the globe, including across Australia: to save the whales from extinction, to help their populations recover and to restore their place in the world's oceans. This international change in attitude led to a significant policy shift, culminating in 1986 with the introduction of the historic global moratorium on commercial whaling," Garrett reminded participants.

NOAA Set for Larger Policy Role Under First Female Chief
March 21, 2009 (Washington Post)
Lubchenco (pronounced LOOB-chin-ko) takes the helm of NOAA at a time when the agency is poised to play a more prominent role as the Obama administration tackles the issue of climate change. The agency's fiscal 2009 budget stands at nearly $4.4 billion, but under this month's stimulus allocation, NOAA will receive a nearly 20 percent boost -- an additional $830 million. The legislation includes $170 million for climate change research as well as $230 million for habitat restoration, navigation projects and vessel maintenance, along with another $430 million for the construction and repair of NOAA facilities, ships and equipment, improvements in weather forecasting and satellite development.
In recent years, Lubchenco -- who has conducted scientific studies of how global warming has affected the ocean -- has made it clear that she sees climate change as a problem and thinks the federal government should do more to curb human-generated greenhouse gases. In October, she questioned the past administration's approach to the issue, telling the Associated Press, "The Bush administration has not been respectful of the science. But I think that's not true of Republicans in general. I know it's not."
In an interview this week, Lubchenco said she thinks it is the job of scientists to inform policymakers about how the world's natural systems are changing and the consequences of various possible courses of action, without being overly prescriptive. It's a message she has championed as the founder of three groups that aim to communicate science to the public. One of them, the Leopold Leadership Program, teaches environmental scientists how they can best influence public policymaking.
Obama's decision to choose a marine biologist to lead NOAA was in keeping with the agency's history of generally having scientifically oriented administrators. In the past, oceanographers, physicists, an admiral, a marine zoologist and a public-interest lawyer have headed the agency. Lubchenco has frequently collaborated with her husband, OSU marine ecologist Bruce Menge. Their son, Duncan Lubchenco Menge, is a forest ecologist.
"The real choice, I think, is between short-term economic gain and long-term economic prosperity, in which . . . long-term economic prosperity depends on a healthy environment," she said.

Bindi Irwin starring in Free Willy 4
March 21, 2009 (Melbourne Herald Sun)
The 10-year-old daughter of the late Crocodile Hunter legend Steve Irwin is in Cape Town with mum Terri and brother Robert, 5, finishing work on Free Willy 4.
Her performance as an Aussie girl living with her grandfather in South Africa - who comes to care for a baby orca - has drawn acclaim from her human co-star.
Veteran Beau Bridges, 67, said he and his family had been huge Crocodile Hunter fans and then fans of Bindi's Jungle Girl show.
"She's been teaching me a few things," he said. "I hesitate to talk too openly about her skills because she'd get a swollen head - and she's got to wear hats in the movie!"
The film's writer and director Will Geiger agrees, calling Bindi's acting "formidable".
For her part, Bindi - looking positively grown-up - said: "It's been really fun, an amazing learning curve."
Filming is set to wind up next week, with the movie due for DVD release next year.

Salmon and Culverts at Heart of Legal Battle Between Tribes, Washington State
March 21, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
Federal court battles between the state of Washington and Western Washington tribes — first over fish and then over shellfish — forever altered the management and economy of natural resources in this state.
Now, a third, equally monumental lawsuit is pending, as 19 tribes prepare for a courtroom debate over highway culverts that keep salmon from reaching their spawning grounds.
The state could be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars — money that is not easy to find in these tough economic times. But state and federal biologists agree that fixing culverts would be a major step toward salmon restoration.
By the state’s count, more than 1,800 fish barriers associated with state highways block more than 3,000 miles of potential stream habitat. The Legislature has funded culvert replacement since 1991, but the pace of construction is such that it could take up to 100 years to fix the problems. And that does not include county roads, which are not part of the lawsuit.
“The status quo is not acceptable,” said Billy Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “The only way we seem to get attention is to go into federal court.”
Years ago, many culverts were simply pipes buried in a road, providing a place for water to go. Today, fish are a prime consideration in the design.
“Fixing the culverts would be good for everybody,” Billy Frank said. “We all want to do the right thing. The natural resource is in bad shape, but there appears to be no political will to bring it back.”

What we need is 'one orca, one vote'
March 21, 2009 (Crosscut)
The orca vote evidently doesn’t count for much these days. The Puget Sound Partnership went to Olympia this year hoping for a statute that would enable voters in the 12 counties bordering Puget Sound to create an improvement district that could raise money for restoring the Sound. A Puget Sound improvement district won’t even come up for a vote this year. Some observers think the Partnership has been keeping a notably low profile in Olympia. Meanwhile, the governor’s brave deadline of a restored Sound by 2020 has gotten a year closer.
The organization has put together a wish list of 270 "shovel ready" habitat restoration and other projects that could soak up a half-billion dollars of stimulus money. Millions could be spent in every major watershed. Big-ticket items include $153 million for fish passage at the Howard Hanson Dam, which currently walls off 46 miles of potential habitat in the Green/Duwamish River, and $51,780,000 for removing dams on the Elwha River. Tens of millions more could go into sewage treatment plants at Shelton and Belfair, and into King County’s Brightwater plant. Other funds could restore salt marshes in the Nisqually Delta, buy and remove a trailer park and a small neighborhood near the Snohomish River, investigate reopening the natural passage between Vashon and Maury islands.
Dicks says that the Fish and Wildlife Service could send enough money to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge to pay for restoring natural systems in the Nisqually delta. And the National Park Service could get money to put Elwha dam removal back on schedule. The removal process was supposed to start next year, but a shortage of funds has pushed the start date off to 2012. Dicks hopes the stimulus will move it back to 2010. What difference would that couple of years make? He suggests that if you’re an orca who can’t find enough chinook salmon to eat, restoring the Elwha’s chinook run two years earlier could be a big deal.

Pioneering ecologist to head NOAA
March 20, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
The Senate gave its blessing late Thursday to key members of President Obama's science team, including an Oregon State University ecologist who will be the first woman and first marine scientist to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Senate voted unanimously to confirm Harvard physicist John Holdren as Obama's top science advisor and Oregon State ecologist Jane Lubchenco as administrator of NOAA, an agency that conducts much of the nation's climate-change research, forecasts the weather and regulates commercial fishing.
Lubchenco said she was eager to get started because of pressing burdens on the economy and the environment, including global warming, polluted coastal waters and severely depleted fish populations.
"We really don't have a choice," she said in an interview. "We have to move rapidly ahead because of chronic problems that need immediate solutions."
By including the new NOAA administrator as part of his core science team, Obama gave a boost to NOAA scientists who have long lamented the agency's low stature in Washington -- and who had complained their findings were altered or suppressed during George W. Bush's presidency.
When she met with the president-elect in December, she said, "I shared with him my ideas for how NOAA could provide the country with the best climate-change science, how we might restore the vitality of the oceans, recharge the economy and help the nation transition to a more sustainable way of living. His comment to me was, 'Let's do it.' "
Lubchenco said she and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who is in line to be her boss as Commerce secretary, are in sync on their priorities for NOAA. One shared concern is restoring the West Coast's salmon fishery. Their backgrounds and interests may signal a westward shift of focus in an agency best known for tangling with New England fishermen over the cod collapse and for tracking hurricanes.
From her experiences, she said, she learned what Americans want from the ocean: "It boils down to clean beaches, safe and healthy seafood, abundant wildlife, stable fisheries and vibrant coastal communities -- not just now but in the future, to share with our kids and grandkids. That's where we need to go. NOAA needs to lead the way."

A whale of a true tale
March 20, 2009 (Edmonton Sun)
Saving Luna is a film about a lonely little whale who tried to befriend humans in Nootka Sound. Just so you know, this is a movie that makes grown men cry.
Luna, a baby Orca, became a cause celebre in Canada several years ago when he was separated from his pod.
Luna came on his own to the west coast of Vancouver Island, a rare event. Orcas are social animals, and Luna was extremely lonely. And so he sought out human company, swimming up to boats in Nootka Sound and allowing people to interact with him.
Filmmakers Suzanne Chisholm and Michael Parfit went to the village of Gold River in 2004 to investigate Luna and write a magazine article about the juvenile whale who was stirring up controversy.
Saving Luna examines the various viewpoints involved in the situation of the orphan whale, but the filmmakers seem most interested in the idea of friendship and communication among species.
Luna pursued friendship with humans.

Big appetites probably stranded sturgeon
March 20, 2009 (Seattle Times)
All they wanted was a hearty lunch.
Instead, nearly 1,500 white sturgeon found themselves stranded last week within Port Susan Bay's shallow channels near Stanwood. Almost all survived by swimming back into the depths of Puget Sound after the tide came in several hours later.
Some fish biologists speculate that the sturgeon, some reaching 10 feet long, were hungry for critters found in shallow mud flats. When the tide dropped, the fish were trapped in the estuary's shallow channels, unable to move across the exposed, muddy ground to deeper water.
The colossal, prehistoric-looking fish can live well over 100 years and tip the scales at 400 pounds or more. They grow bony, armorlike plates for protection and feed on shellfish, small fish and worms.
It's not unusual to find many sturgeon congregating in Port Susan, an area with plenty to eat. Though most of the stranded fish initially survived, some of the larger ones could be affected later because of stress, said Brad James, a Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Compared to salmon, not a lot is known about white sturgeon, James said, and scientists occasionally are baffled by their behavior and habits. For instance, last year biologists found thousands of living sturgeon clumped together at the bottom of the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam, possibly to stay warm.

Raw: J-Pod orcas near Bainbridge Island
March 19, 2009 (KING5 TV)

Playing to an audience
March 19, 2009 (Stuff.com - New Zealand)
An Orca frolics off Wellington's south coast, to the delight of onlookers on the shore.
It was part of a pod of about five orcas that took advantage of calm waters yesterday to swim close to shore at Houghton Bay, showing off their distinctive black and white markings.
"They are really wonderful animals," said Anton van Helden, Te Papa's marine mammals collection manager. Orcas might look peaceful but sometimes got up to no good in Wellington waters, he said. "They've been known to take dolphins in the harbour, or beat up on them at least."
Also on their menu could be kahawai, stingrays and flatfish. There are thought to be fewer than 200 orcas, or killer whales, living in New Zealand waters. They were most commonly seen off the coast of Bay of Plenty, East Coast and Hawke's Bay, Mr van Helden said.
There are probably three resident populations, one off the North Island, one off the South Island, and a group that spends its time in both regions. The typical pod size of New Zealand orcas was two to four animals, smaller than in most other places. There have been no known orca attacks on humans in the wild.

Sacramento River's chinook face double whammy
March 19, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Sacramento River's prized chinook salmon suffered a one-two punch from poor conditions in the ocean and the river, leading to the sudden collapse of the fall run, according to a study released Wednesday.
Years of losing habitat to water diversions and storage in the Central Valley so weakened the fall run that it couldn't withstand two recent years of scanty food supply in the warming Pacific Ocean, said the study by federal, state and academic scientists.
"Poor ocean conditions triggered the collapse. But what primed it is the degradation of the estuary and river habitats and the heavy reliance on hatcheries over the years," said Steve Lindley, lead author and a research ecologist at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Over decades, construction of dams and other barriers, reliance on hatcheries and diversion of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta have changed California's chinook salmon from genetically diverse, naturally spawning wild populations to one dominated by fall chinook salmon from four large hatcheries, the study said.
When the Central Valley had many salmon runs, the fish would migrate to the ocean at different times, increasing their odds of surviving unpredictable conditions. But the biggest remaining run, the fall run, is heavy on hatchery fish that all migrate at once and can be wiped out by poor climate and sparse food.

Northwest can reduce greenhouse gases, save salmon and create jobs, report says
March 19, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
The Pacific Northwest can reduce greenhouse gases that are warming the Earth while preserving endangered salmon threatened by the changing climate a report released today says.
The report, "Bright Future," says the region will need 6,500 megawatts of new electricity by 2020. The report, sponsored by environmental groups, says energy efficiency and renewable energy sources can meet the need even with the removal of four dams on the lower Snake to save salmon and the retirement of 1,000 megawatts of coal power.
The International Panel on Climate Change recommends a 15 percent cut in greenhouse gases by 2020 and an 80 percent cut by 2050 to stop and begin to reverse the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere it says is causing global warming. That warming already is reducing the effectiveness of the region‚s hydroelectric dams and threatening to make much of its salmon habitat uninhabitable.
The report says that energy efficiency programs along with wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generation plants can meet much of the new growth for the same price as alternatives like natural gas. The energy program will create thousands of jobs and help the economies of both urban and rural Northwest communities, the environmentalists say.
The report is produced by the Northwest Energy Coalition, the Sierra Club, and Save our Wild Salmon.
The report advocates removing the four Snake River dams because they will continue to decline in utility. They are run-of-the river dams and have little storage above them.
But the salmon that live above them have some of the best chances of survival because so much of the spawning habitat is in well protected, high elevation wilderness and roadless public land, the report said.

Chinook salmon now 10 years on endangered list
March 18, 2009 (KING5 TV)
By the end of the 1990s, it was clear to federal biologists that Puget Sound Chinook salmon were spiraling toward extinction.
In March of 1999, then-Governor Gary Locke prepared his state for the pain of federal protection.
Puget Sound Chinook gained "threatened" status under the Endangered Species Act, a drastic effort to give them a chance to recover. Ten years later, they haven't.
"A lot of time's gone by, there's been a lot of talk, but there really hasn't been that much done that will help the salmon,” said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound.
Chinook numbers vary from river to river but overall, Puget Sound numbers show no recovery is under way.
"It's hard to say. Things have changed you know, there's a lot urban sprawl," said fisherman Pete Nomes.
Many fishermen say living in the shadow of a booming human population makes salmon recovery nearly impossible.
Were all those millions of dollars spent to improve habitat and curb pollution abnd fishing wasted?
"Holistically I think we're making progress. We're definitley making progress on the ground in terms of improving water quality in the rivers and streams and restoring great places which has an impact both for salmon and it's also good for people,” said David Dicks of Puget Sound Partnership.

Appeals court upholds feds' salmon hatchery policy
March 18, 2009 (Oregonian)
A federal appeals court has upheld the federal government's discretion to use salmon raised in hatcheries to bolster wild runs but not as a substitute that would lift Endangered Species Act protections.
The ruling on Monday by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco included the last of a series of lawsuits on behalf of a coalition of builders, farmers and property rights advocates to remove restrictions on development and agriculture that protect salmon.
The high water mark for the Pacific Legal Foundation, a property rights public interest law firm representing the coalition, was a 2001 ruling by U.S. District Judge Michael Hogan in Eugene that tossed out threatened species protection for the Oregon coastal coho because hatchery fish were not listed along with wild fish, when they were considered part of the same population group.
NOAA Fisheries came up with a new policy, which allows for hatchery fish to be used to bolster dwindling populations of wild fish, but it does not count them equally with protected wild fish. If there are surplus hatchery fish, they can be harvested, even when wild fish must be put back unharmed.
Studies have concluded that fish raised in hatcheries do not survive in the wild as well as fish spawned in the wild. While the fish may be genetically similar, the wild fish have behavioral differences that make them more successful.

Science Center offers orca study
March 18, 2009 (Sequim Gazette)
Elementary students from across the Olympic Peninsula have an opportunity to learn about how sound travels under water and how orcas communicate with one another. The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is offering these classes to third- and fourth-grade students through early April.
“Inspired by our connection with the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network, we’ve designed this program to lead students through interactive explorations of how sound travels in the marine environment and ways local orcas use sound to survive,” said Anne Murphy, executive director of the science center.
To register for a class of third- or fourth-grade students, contact Lucy Carpenter at the science center, 360-385-5582, ext. 113 or by e-mail at: lcarpenter@ptmsc.org.

Coast Guard evaluating spill in Commencement Bay
March 18, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A container ship headed north from Commencement Bay at the southern end of Puget Sound reportedly lost hydraulic fluid, and Coast Guard and state ecology investigators were responding to the scene to determine the size of the spill and whether cleanup efforts are possible.
The initial report at about 3:20 p.m. today was that about 132 gallons of hydraulic fluid was accidentally released as the 1,000-foot vessel Hyundai Republic was just getting under way from its mooring at the Washington United terminal in Tacoma. A small sheen was reported when the ship pulled into a terminal in Elliott Bay in Seattle. There were no initial reports of damage.

Groups sue feds, alleging it's failing to protect false killer whales from longline fishing
March 17, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Environmental activists are suing the federal government for allegedly failing to prevent longline fishing fleets from repeatedly accidentally catching a rare whale species off Hawaii.
Earthjustice sued the National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday on behalf of three environmental groups.
The lawsuit alleges longline fishing expeditions are accidentally catching false killer whales off Hawaii at twice the rate the species' population can sustain.
It says the agency's failure to reduce the bycatch violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

Obama should name a King Fish
March 17, 2009 (Daily Astoria)
As reported last week in the Los Angeles Times, more than 75 fishing organizations from six Pacific states - Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Nevada and Alaska - sent President Barack Obama a letter asking for the new post. Severe problems with Sacramento River salmon runs sharply limited West Coast's commercial salmon fishing the past two seasons.
The letter urges White House involvement as a way to "protect and restore dwindling populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead and the tens of thousands of jobs in our states that depend upon them."
For anyone who follows the tortuous migration of salmon policy over the years, the current proposal bears similarities to the plan for a single multi-state coordinating entity for Pacific Northwest efforts. This plan fell apart in 2000 when Washington's then-Gov. Gary Locke opted out.
The new idea is less appealing, in that it wouldn't be based here in the region and currently doesn't seem to explicitly encompass key parts of the discussion like hydropower production and tribal treaty obligations. But even so, it would be better to have one Washington, D.C. office with real power to deal with salmon issues, instead of the highly dispersed and dysfunctional mish-mash that now governs.

Federal government protects orca habitat
March 17, 2009 (Ladysmith Chronicle - Canada)
A new federal government order to protect critical killer whale habitat off B.C.'s coast is being hailed as a major victory by environmental groups.
Until now, Ottawa had been reluctant to regulate orca protection under Canada's Species At Risk Act – it instead argued the whales' habitat was adequately protected under existing laws and regulations.
But that has changed after a coalition of groups, led by Ecojustice, went to court alleging the government shirked its duties under the act.
"It's the very first time the federal government has issued an order protecting critical habitat," said Ecojustice staff lawyer Lara Tessaro.
The area defined as critical habitat for southern resident killer whales covers much of the Strait of Georgia off the Lower Mainland, running through the Gulf Islands and up the east coast of Vancouver Island.
Much now depends on what specific measures the federal government sets out to prevent the destruction of the defined orca habitat.
If environmentalists get their way, it could mean much more stringent regulations governing toxic contamination, boat traffic and perhaps even the allocation of salmon stocks.

WDCS To Work With Merlin Entertainments On Better Future For Captive Dolphins
March 17, 2009 (Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society)
WDCS has begun work with the global visitor attractions company, Merlin Entertainments, to undertake a feasibility study aimed at finding a permanent solution for the retirement and rehabilitation, to a natural setting, of a number of captive dolphins that were part of shows in attractions acquired by Merlin Entertainments in the last few years.
WDCS has been campaigning to end captures, trade and the captivity of dolphins for many years. Dolphins are highly intelligent animals whose wild habitat can cover vast distances. Confined in captivity, they are known to suffer, with a shorter life expectancy than in the wild and with poor breeding success.
Cathy Williamson, Anti-Captivity Campaign Manager for WDCS said: "We very much welcome the opportunity to work with Merlin and carry out this feasibility study, and we praise the company for recognising the problems faced by dolphins in captivity, it’s the first time such efforts have been made by a visitor attractions company to positively address these problems. We look forward to working with Merlin to achieve a permanent alternative and much more positive solution to the confinement in captivity of the dolphins that have come into Merlin's care through these acquisitions."
The help from WDCS to secure the best possible future for the dolphins has also been warmly welcomed within Merlin.
"We are very pleased that the WDCS has agreed to work with us in undertaking this study. We are confident that WDCS is the ideal ally to help us identify the solution which best provides for the welfare of the dolphins," said Sea Life's senior marine biologist Rob Hicks.
"We – both Merlin and WDCS – are determined to move this forward, examining every option thoroughly, to properly exercise the duty of care that we have to these remarkable and intelligent animals," he added.

Whale-watch boats cited
March 17, 2009 (Vancouver Sun) Canadian vessels run afoul of Washington state legislation
Canadian whale-watch companies using high-speed inflatable boats are running afoul of a Washington state law designed to protect endangered killer whales in the boundary waters of Haro Strait off San Juan Island.
"There is a bit different technique Canadians operate on," said Kari Koski, the director of Soundwatch, a non-profit organization based at Friday Harbor that monitors whale watchers. "Because they're more maneuverable, they tend to go up in front of the whales and let them pass them."
Soundwatch conducted 540 hours of observation in 2008, recording 1,149 incidents, about one-quarter or 284 of them for parking in the path of whales, the largest single category of violation.
A larger fleet of Canadian commercial boats was responsible for 31 per cent of the illegal parking incidents compared with U.S. commercial vessels 14 per cent, private boaters 50 per cent, and others, including kayakers, five per cent.
He added he is aware of two B.C. commercial companies fined about $1,000 apiece in Washington state last year for violating the 100-yard regulation, but said the number of infractions are "staggeringly low" compared with the volume of people transported by whale watch boats.
Soundwatch estimates up to 500,000 people annually come to see the killer whales in Haro Strait off San Juan Island between May and September, 80 per cent of them on commercial trips.
The U.S. has served notice it is considering new laws that would prohibit positioning a vessel in a whale's predictable path.
San Juan Country passed an ordinance in 2007 making it illegal to "knowingly" approach within 100 yards of a killer whale or to allow a vessel to remain in the apparent path of a killer whale.

The grays are back and I don't mean the color of the sky
March 14, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog)
A sure sign of spring for Whidbey Islanders is the annual return of the Gray Whales. The Orca Network's reports are chock full of whale sightings, like this one by Veronica von Allworden of Langley. Here are others from the Orca Network's website:
KING5.com has a story online that was aired on March 11, 2009: Gray whales return to Whidbey waters. And Langley is even more whale friendly than ever with the installation of an early warning whale bell. It's located at the entrance to Seawall Park at First & Anthes. You can read more about the bell in The South Whidbey Record. The annual Welcome the Whales Day Festival and Parade is scheduled for Saturday, April 18 in Langley.

"Salish Sea" proposed name for waters Washington, B.C. share
March 14, 2009 (Seattle Times)
It's celebrated in song, dissected in scientific journals and detailed on government Web sites. It's the subject of international conferences, amateur theater performances, and gatherings of Northwest tribal leaders.
Ask Bert Webber, and he'll say we dip our toes in it, admire it and sail across it every day.
But how many people know where the Salish Sea is?
Pieces of it already have well-worn names: Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. Webber stresses that he's not trying to replace those names. Instead, he wants to create another name unifying the places, and acknowledging many of the native tribes here, collectively known as the Coast Salish because of shared Salishan languages.
"Can I have a relationship with you without knowing your name?" asked Webber, a Canadian-born 67-year-old who has lived in the United States since 1968. "I think that argument applies equally well to an ecosystem."
"Salish Sea, the meaning would be so positive in the sense of all of us working together," said Billy Frank, a leading tribal representative on Puget Sound issues, and chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Gray whales return to Whidbey waters
March 13, 2009 (KING5 TV)
Resident gray whales have returned to Whidbey and Camano Island waters, according to the Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network.
The whales have been spotted in Saratoga Passage, Port of Susan and Possession Sound since late January.
The Orca Network says a small group of resident grays usually arrives in early March and stays until May or June, feeding on ghost shrimp along the shore and delighting local whale watchers.
"This is the earliest in the year we have confirmed our regular N. Puget Sound whales to be here," said John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research.
Cascadia Research, based in Olympia, has photo identified roughly 10 "regulars" that visit each year, identified by markings on the underside of their flukes.

West's best spots to watch whales
March 13, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
In a remote corner of San Juan Island National Historic Park, sitting cross-legged on a granite boulder overlooking the glass-calm Strait of Juan de Fuca, I suddenly had the feeling I was not alone.
I raised my eyes toward the water. No more than 15 feet from shore, the black-and-white head of a young killer whale bobbed silently, watching my every move.
Ten seconds passed - the slowest 10 seconds of my life - and the leviathan gazed at me with eyes the color of dark chocolate, the size of handballs. Water sloshed off the animal's smooth skin - first in sheets, then in tiny rivulets and finally in drops that formed concentric circles on the water's surface.
The thing was so close I could practically touch it. Instead, I just sat there. In awe.
Our staring contest ended abruptly when a second, much larger whale exploded from the water, catapulted its body completely into the air, twisted 90 degrees and landed on its side with a mighty thud.
This, apparently, was Mom.

Whaling Commission Political Deal Could Overturn Moratorium
March 13, 2009 (Environmental News Service)
Winding up a three-day meeting this week, the International Whaling Commission signaled what conservationists see as a dangerous change of course that jeopardizes the future of the world's great whales.
For several years, the 84-nation intergovernmental commission has been working on a detailed scientific procedure known as the Revised Management Procedure to ensure all catch limits for any future commercial whaling would be within sustainable limits calculated using tested scientific procedures.
On Wednesday, after an intersessional meeting in Rome attended by about half the member countries, the commission agreed to sidestep this scientific process and authorize a Small Working Group of member countries to continue developing a package of proposals for a resumption of commercial whaling, relying on ad-hoc catch limits set for five years at a time, without regard to long-term sustainability.
The proposed deal would grant Japan permission to hunt minke whales in its coastal waters in exchange for a scaling back of its so-called research whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary near Antarctica.
In the past five years, the Japanese fleet has harpooned nearly 5,000 fin, sei, sperm, minke and Bryde's whales in the Antarctic and the North Pacific under self-assigned quotas for what the Japanese call "scientific" purposes.

Ban on commercial fishing of chinook extended
March 13, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The grim reality of a devastated salmon fishery hit home Thursday when the Pacific Fishery Management Council agreed to another ban on commercial fishing of chinook in California and Oregon.
"It's grim," said Dave Bitts, president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "The ocean conditions were supposed to have turned around and gotten a lot better, so I'm kind of baffled, frankly."
The blame falls directly on the Central Valley fall run of chinook. Only about 66,000 adult salmon returned to spawn last fall in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, according to biologists whose estimates are based on a count of egg nests in the riverbed. It was the lowest return on record.
The collapse forced regulators to ban ocean salmon fishing in California and most of Oregon last year, the first time that had ever been done.
Fisheries biologists are projecting that the fall run of chinook this year will be almost twice as plentiful as last year, a fact that experts characterized as a thin thread of a silver lining. Still, the numbers will barely reach the council's minimum goal of 122,000 fish even if there is no fishing, according to the projections.
Restrictions on river fishing will be made at a later date by the California Department of Fish and Game, which allowed some 600 chinook to be caught last year, angering many commercial fishermen who felt it was wrong to allow any fishing.

NOAA proposes protection for Pacific smelt
March 13, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
NOAA Fisheries Service on Thursday proposed listing Pacific smelt as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The agency's scientific review found that the fish is declining throughout its range, from Northern California into British Columbia.
A final decision on its listing could come next year.
Smelt, also known as eulachon, candlefish or Columbia River smelt, are small, oceangoing fish with a historic range stretching from California to the Bering Sea.
Pacific smelt are rich in calories and vital to other marine and freshwater life. They typically spent three to five years in the ocean before returning to rivers to spawn in late winter and early spring.

Sausalito boat tour spots rare killer whale pod off Farallones
March 13, 2009 (Contra Costa Times)
Whale watchers on a Sausalito-based sightseeing boat spotted a rare pod of killer whales near the Farallon Islands that was likely in search of food 800 miles from home. The pod of about 40 orcas - which usually stays in the waters off Washington and British Columbia - was spotted last Saturday by a group on an SF Bay Whale Watching boat 19 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
"We were heading back in and all of a sudden the captain shouted 'orca!'" said Fairfax naturalist Trish Mirabella, who was with 50 sightseers. "Then the next thing you know we are surrounded by black dorsal fins. They were jumping out of the water, poking their heads out. It was amazing."
Two newborn calves were also seen among the Farallones group, she said.
"These are 'resident' killer whales; they do not migrate," Mirabella said. "To see them here was rare."
The orcas normally feed on salmon, but the fish are scarce, forcing the whales to forage hundreds of miles from traditional feeding grounds, said Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
She said a researcher in the Northwest, an expert on specific orca pods, identified the Farallones visitors as a pod known to inhabit the waters off Washington and British Columbia.
Another seven "transient" - not part of a large pod - killer whales were seen Friday morning off the Half Moon Bay Coast by researchers with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
"They were chasing a harbor seal that took refuge under our research boat until they left the area," Schramm said.
Sausalito boat tour spots rare killer whale pod off Farallones March 13, 2009 (Marin Independent Journal)
Killer whale sighting off Bay Area coast March 13, 2009 (KGO TV)
Unusual Killer Whales Seen Off Farallones March 13, 2009 (News10 TV)

Cowlitz, Kalama are best bets during slow time for rivers
March 12, 2009 (Olympian)
Fishing hasn't been noteworthy in either river, but has been fairly decent at times. Moderate catches of steelhead and a few spring chinook are being caught in the upper Cowlitz and some steelhead in the lower river near Castle Rock.
The summer/fall chinook forecast for Puget Sound is 222,000 fish, which is slightly less than last year's forecast. Pat Pattillo, salmon policy coordinator for the Department of Fish and Wildlife said consideration of additional mark–selective fisheries for hatchery chinook in Puget Sound and ocean will be on the agenda during this year's North of Falcon meetings.
Mark–selective fisheries allow anglers to catch and keep hatchery salmon, but require the release of wild salmon marked with a missing adipose fin.

Time for all shippers to pay for the Neah Bay tug
March 12, 2009 (Seattle Times editorial)
TWO pieces of legislation look to the whole shipping industry — not just oil carriers — to provide stable funding for a rescue tug at Neah Bay. It is about time.
The state has paid since 1999, but now it is wholly appropriate to spread the costs of protecting Washington's outer coastline and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. As the debate continued in Olympia, a 541-foot grain ship radioed for assistance on Monday, the 42nd time the rescue tug had been called into action.
Stable funding for rescue tugs is the key to protecting valuable fisheries and shellfish harvests, and equally abundant Puget Sound recreational activities and tourism. Tug coverage has ebbed and flowed with state budgets — it has been winter-only and year-round.
Gov. Christine Gregoire included $3.6 million in her budget for another year of the tug through June 30, 2010. That is when the legislation would have the shipping industry step up. Hold it accountable.
Polluters also pay compensation to the public for the harm to the environment. Ecology's new rule doubles the compensation range from $1 to $50 per gallon to $1 to $100 per gallon. The vast cost of a ship running aground with an epic loss of its own diesel fuel or petroleum cargo is beyond calculation. Environmental losses in a pristine setting are equally difficult to reduce to dollars and cents.
The Neah Bay tug is smart insurance, and immeasurably cheaper spread across an industry than one shipper absorbing the cost of an environmental catastrophe.

Gray whales return to Whidbey waters
March 11, 2009 (KING5 TV)
Resident gray whales have returned to Whidbey and Camano Island waters, according to the Orca Network's Whale Sighting Network.
The whales have been spotted in Saratoga Passage, Port of Susan and Possession Sound since late January.
The Orca Network says a small group of resident grays usually arrives in early March and stays until May or June, feeding on ghost shrimp along the shore and delighting local whale watchers.
"This is the earliest in the year we have confirmed our regular N. Puget Sound whales to be here," said John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research.

Northwest Navy Training Range Comment Period Extended
March 11, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
The Navy has extended the period that the public can comment on its Northwest Training Range Complex draft environmental impact statement and overseas environmental impact statement.
The original deadline was March 11, but the date has been pushed to April 13 because of public interest.
The impact statements examine the potential environmental effects of the Navy's proposal for future range management operations and activities. The Northwest Training Range Complex includes several training areas in the Pacific Northwest. The range extends up to 250 nautical miles into the Pacific Ocean beyond the coasts of Washington, Oregon and Northern California.
For information on the project, and ways to provide public comment, visit www.NWTRangeComplexEIS.com.
For more information, contact Sheila Murray, Navy Region Northwest environmental public affairs officer, at (360) 340-5398.

Spring Chinook beginning to appear, big run expected
March 11, 2009 (Chinook Observer)
Although the bulk of the spring Chinook run isn't expected for several weeks, Oregon and Washington fishery managers counted an increasing number of fishers on the river in late February - 142 boats and 239 bank anglers downriver from the Interstate 5 at Portland on Feb. 28.
A run of that size would be the largest since 2001, and the third largest since 1977. An additional 37,000 springers are expected to return to the Willamette River, up from 27,000 last year.
Another sign that the run is beginning its upriver surge is the fact that the first Chinook of the season was counted Monday, March 2, climbing up and over Bonneville's fish ladders. Three more were counted March 6 and one on March 8. The dam is about 146 miles upstream from the mouth of the Colulmbia.
Salmon forecasts also show strong coho runs to many of Washington's other coastal rivers this year, a flood of pink salmon to Puget Sound and improved hatchery fall Chinook returns to the Columbia River.
Those and other preseason salmon forecasts developed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and treaty Indian tribes, were released this week at a public meeting in Olympia.
While salmon forecasts are up overall in the Columbia River, coho and Chinook returns to Puget Sound are expected to be slightly down this year.

Orca captives: the Penn Cove Round Up
March 10, 2009 (Sound News)
Repeatedly bombs, speedboats, and aircrafts were used to herd local Puget Sound orcas into designated capture locations. The local orcas had seen the nets before and understood what it meant to be ensnared within them. The mothers and calves dove deep, but the others continued on the surface toward Port Susan. Swimming shallower than normal they attempted to divert human attention, but the aircraft flying above spotted the mothers and calves attempting to swim out Deception Pass when they were forced to surface for air.
They had made it past Holmes Harbor, the intended target, so the capture team herded the mothers and calves into Penn Cove instead. The wayward orcas, which traveled along the surface, joined their family in Penn Cove willingly; most likely understanding the threat was not to them directly. Nets go down surrounding the orcas, trapping them against the shoreline.
John Crowe, a member of the whale capture team, was in the water helping to secure the equipment. But the sounds of the adult orcas communicating with their captured calves brought tears to his face. Crowe wasn’t the only person to be torn up about the captures, as protestors congregated along the shores forcing the capture team to work from under darkness’s cover.

Killer whales benefit from global warming: Researchers
March 10, 2009 (Calgary Herald)
Scientists fear melting sea ice could one day make killer whales the Hudson Bay's top predator, a startling ecosystem shift and a blow for Inuit populations already reeling from dwindling polar bear numbers.
After four years of studying the Arctic's little-known orcas, or killer whales, researchers have more evidence that their numbers have gone up in recent decades, a change that's particularly noticeable in the western Hudson Bay bordering Manitoba.
"That area had never seen killer whales, despite all the commercial whaling that went on for centuries," said Steve Ferguson, a Winnipeg-based research scientist with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. "There's no record of them."
Scientists also believe killer whales in the Arctic feed on other mammals, not fish, which could spell trouble for potential prey like belugas and narwhals — as well as the Inuit who depend on them for subsistence hunting.
Along with the database of sightings, researchers have identified 67 individual whales by carefully scrutinizing photos snapped by northern residents, guides and researchers over the past four years.
Most killer whales show up in northern Canada in August and leave again in September, said Ferguson, but scientists don't yet know where they go in winter. There's little existing research on Arctic killer whales, and Canada's best-known orca populations live along the west coast.
Researchers hope to try tagging some of the iconic marine mammals this season to track their movements, and plan to keep monitoring killer whale sounds using underwater recording devices.

Coho fishing holds promise; Chinook fishing likely to be nil
March 10, 2009 (Umpqua Post)
Sacramento River stocks are down. Most people already know that, said Eric Schindler, the ODFW ocean sampling project leader. The number of Sacramento fall Chinook, the main driver for West Coast salmon fisheries, returning to the river was fewer than 70,000. Biologists say a minimum of 122,000 is needed to keep the stock sustainable. Last year, the number was about 88,000 — not enough top support sport or commercial salmon seasons in California and Oregon.
One of the other three main salmon-producing rivers, the Klamath, was again an underachiever. It was the Klamath, not the Sacramento, that constrained fishing in 2005 and 2006.
“We did not meet the 35,000 (fish) floor,” said Eric Schindler, ODFW’s ocean sampling project leader. That’s the minimum number necessary to keep the fall Chinook stocks healthy on the river that winds through northern California and southern Oregon.
Politics could play a big part. President Barack Obama has asked former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, a governor who is well aware of what salmon means to the Northwest, to fill the Department of Commerce post. NMFS falls under the commerce umbrella.

Top salmon researcher says outlook for fish is grim
March 10, 2009 (San Jose Mercury News)
The author of last year's landmark report on California's salmon decline repeated his call for protective action Friday and said the Central Coast's coho would be among the first fish to vanish if nothing is done.
"Extinction is not an abstract thing," said Peter Moyle, speaking before hundreds of researchers at this week's Salmonid Restoration Conference, held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium.
The warning, which Moyle sounded for most of the state's 31 salmon, steelhead and trout species, comes as regulators consider closing the fishing season yet another year for the California chinook -- the state's foremost salmon fishery and a standard catch for local anglers and restaurants alike.
Moyle attributes the dwindling number of salmon, from chinook to coho, to excessive water diversions, construction of dams and other changes to the rivers where the fish spawn. Global warming, and its effect on stream temperatures and food supplies, may be another factor.
Restoring streams and rivers to their natural flows, and coming up with the money and political will to do so, would set the stage for recovery, Moyle says. Without action, he estimates, 65 percent of the state's salmon species will go extinct within 100 years.

Salmon season may shut down again this year
March 10, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Fishing-industry representatives on a council advisory panel looked at the dismal state of the fall run of Sacramento River salmon and proposed closing the 2009 ocean salmon fishing season, except, perhaps, for a bit of recreational fishing near the Oregon border.
Biologists estimated only 66,000 adult salmon returned to spawn last fall in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, based on a count of egg nests in the river bed. It was the lowest return on record. The collapse caused regulators to ban ocean salmon fishing in California and most of Oregon last year.
The dismal spawning numbers are expected to continue this year. Fisheries biologists are projecting that the fall run of chinook in the system this year will be a little bit higher than last year. Still, the numbers will barely reach the council's spawning goals even if there is no fishing, according to the projections.
Both the Klamath and Sacramento rivers have suffered recently from extremely low returns. Declines have also been seen in the Columbia-Snake River System over the past several years.

Orcas Travel Fast to California
March 10, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
A group of killer whales that frequent Puget Sound recently completed a nearly 1,000-mile trip to Monterey Bay, Calif., in 11 days — demonstrating just how fast orcas can swim.
Members of the pod were photographed off South Kitsap on Feb. 20 and then again last Tuesday (March 3) in Monterey Bay. It may be a record in terms of documenting actual sightings at the beginning and end of their travels, "but we know they can go 75 or 80 miles a day, even around here," said Balcomb, based on San Juan Island. "They did in it one direction (to California). Here, they usually go back and forth."
Given that the sightings in Puget Sound and Monterey Bay were about 1,000 miles and 11 days apart, the rate of travel would be about 90 miles a day without a layover.
The last sighting of L pod was Saturday in the Farrallon Islands, Balcomb reported. That's about 100 miles northwest of Monterey and about 30 miles west of San Francisco.

A victim of the economy: Could SeaWorld close?
March 10, 2009 (Orlando Examiner)
It may nearly seem unthinkable, but at least one media outlet has posed the question: May SeaWorld be the latest, and one of the highest profile, victims of this economy?
Living in Orlando, it is nearly impossible to get around the news that In-Bev, which now owns Anheuser Busch, is looking to sell off much, if not all, of its entertainment division. While specific parks have not been mentioned, the general consensus is that In-Bev wants to divest itself of all theme parks, including Busch Gardens, to focus on its core beverage business.
While there are many who may jump at the family of SeaWorld theme parks in a good environment, some are openly wondering if the sale will take a year or longer in this current environment. If so, might In-Bev consider other options?
This is what one television station has asked. KBMT in San Antonio is wondering if that park , along with others, may be doomed. The fact is that it is a tough economy in the tourism business and for a company to put up with such a problem when it is not their core business may be a little too much to ask.

Emergency response tug assists cargo ship inbound for Vancouver, BC
March 9, 2009 (WA Dept. of Ecology News)
For the 42nd time since 1999 the currently state-funded response tug has been called into service.
Today, at about 11:30 a.m., the captain of the VIJITRA NAREE, a 12 year old, 541-foot grain ship, which is empty and in-ballast, notified the U.S. Coast Guard that the vessel had excessive main engine exhaust gas temperature requiring them to shut down their main propulsion engine. At about noon, the vessel purposely shutdown its engine and drifted south towards Duntze Rock.
The ship, owned by Precious Orchids, Ltd. had been heading into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with a final destination of the Port of Vancouver, British Columbia. It has a diesel fuel capacity of 474,222 gallons.
The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) directed the state-funded Neah Bay emergency response tug HUNTER to render aid as required. HUNTER arrived at 1 p.m.to assist the cargo ship. Winds were easterly at 10-15 miles per hour and sea swells at about six feet.
Shortly after the HUNTER reached the VIJITRA NAREE, the vessel got under way using its own engine with reduced power after isolating one of the engine cylinders. HUNTER escorted the ship as it re-entered the eastbound traffic lanes. At approximately 2:15PM, the U. S. Coast Guard Captain of the Port issued an Order requiring the ship to have a tug escort during its transit of United States’ waters enroute to Canada.
Current state funding for the response tug will end on June 30th. Governor Gregoire’s proposed budget would extend funding for an additional year, through June 30, 2010. The state Legislature is now considering a bill that would require the shipping industry to pay for year round emergency tug service beginning on July 1, 2010.
“Events such as this one prove that a response tug is an important part of our effort to prevent environmental damage in Puget Sound and our state,” said Dale Jensen, who oversees Ecology’s spills program. “Loss of propulsion or steering can happen to a ship at any time of the year and an oil spill from a ship that runs aground could cause tremendous harm to marine life, coastal communities, sport and commercial fishing, tourism, and tribal resources.”

Political Waves Hit Navy Training Plan
March 9, 2009 (Military News)
The U.S. Navy wants to increase significantly its training exercises off the West Coast and in the Puget Sound area, but some lawmakers, scientists and environmental groups have demanded a more rigorous review of the plan.
The Navy drops bombs, fires missiles and launches torpedoes during training exercises in parts of the Northwest Training Range Complex, which stretches off the coast from Washington to Northern California. The Navy wants to let local sailors do more training close to home.
But a number of local scientists and environmental groups say the Navy shouldn't go forward until it completes a more comprehensive report on environmental impacts, plus suggests more alternatives to the plan. Critics say the current report is vague and incomplete, especially because the training range covers the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off Washington. The sanctuary's advisory council agrees the current report lacks specific information on training activities, said Terrie Klinger, a University of Washington associate professor of marine affairs and chairwoman of the sanctuary's advisory council.
"We don't know the numbers or what they might be, so we can't ascertain what the impacts might be," Klinger said.
But some scientists worry that any increase in naval training could hurt a slew of listed and endangered species, including the dwindling southern-resident orca population.
Active sonar is known to terrify and confuse marine mammals, sending them onto beaches or away from their natural habitat, said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
"I've seen the terror in the whales," Balcomb said. "It just scares the bejesus out of them and they try to get away."

Environmentalists decry Navy training plan
March 8, 2009 (UPI)
The U.S. Navy says it wants to increase practice exercises off the West Coast, drawing criticism from environmental groups and some scientists.
Opponents have asked for further scrutiny of the exercises before the Navy proposal goes forward, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.
The newspaper noted that during training exercises, sailors drop bombs, fire missiles and launch torpedoes during in parts of the Northwest Training Range Complex, which runs along the West Coast from Washington to Northern California.

Legislation makes Strait's oil-spill boat permanent
March 8, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
For more than two decades, environmentalists and their allies have pushed for a tugboat to be stationed at a pivotal point along Washington's coast to rescue ships in danger of running aground and spilling oil. Now, it looks like they are finally about to win that fight.
The Washington Senate and House of Representatives last week both passed nearly identical pieces of legislation (HB1409 and SB5344) requiring oil tankers, cargo ships and other vessels entering Washington waters through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to pay for a tug to be assigned permanently to Neah Bay, near the state's extreme northwestern tip. Minor differences in the bills are expected to be worked out, and Gov. Chris Gregoire is expected to sign the legislation.
Passage is expected to roughly coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill March 24. That spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound is credited with vastly improving oil-spill safety measures nationwide -- although risks remain, and scientists say the risk of a major oil spill is the single greatest short-term threat to the survival of Washington's imperiled orcas.
Even before the Exxon catastrophe, Seattle environmental activist Fred Felleman was proposing the stationing of a tug to aid vessels in distress. And he's worked the issue at the state and federal level ever since.
One factor in the legislation's success this year was the emergence on the legislative scene of freshman Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, who made the tug a campaign issue and pushed hard for the legislation. The House sponsor is Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim. Both legislators' districts are in and around major shipping lanes.

U.S. Navy seeks to boost practice exercises off West Coast, in region
March 8, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The U.S. Navy wants to increase significantly its training exercises off the West Coast and in the Puget Sound area, but some lawmakers, scientists and environmental groups have demanded a more rigorous review of the plan.
The Navy drops bombs, fires missiles and launches torpedoes during training exercises in parts of the Northwest Training Range Complex, which stretches off the coast from Washington to Northern California. The Navy wants to let local sailors do more training close to home.
The range also includes air space in Eastern Washington and Idaho and land in the Puget Sound area.
But a number of local scientists and environmental groups say the Navy shouldn't go forward until it completes a more comprehensive report on environmental impacts, plus suggests more alternatives to the plan. Critics say the current report is vague and incomplete, especially because the training range covers the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off Washington. The sanctuary's advisory council agrees the current report lacks specific information on training activities, said Terrie Klinger, a University of Washington associate professor of marine affairs and chairwoman of the sanctuary's advisory council.
"We don't know the numbers or what they might be, so we can't ascertain what the impacts might be," Klinger said.
The Navy plans to increase the number of practice activities it performs each year to 11,000 from the 7,300 it does now. The greatest increase will be for aircraft training at high altitudes.
But some scientists worry that any increase in naval training could hurt a slew of listed and endangered species, including the dwindling southern-resident orca population.
Active sonar is known to terrify and confuse marine mammals, sending them onto beaches or away from their natural habitat, said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island.
"I've seen the terror in the whales," Balcomb said. "It just scares the bejesus out of them and they try to get away."

Obama toughens US line against whaling
March 7, 2009 (Google News)
US President Barack Obama's administration has admitted it would firmly oppose whaling, delighting environmentalists ahead of a key international meeting with pro-whaling Japan.
Anti-whaling campaigners said Obama was signaling a tougher US stance leading into the meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) opening Monday in Rome which is set to look at a controversial compromise proposal.
Japan hunts hundreds of whales a year in the Pacific and Antarctic using a loophole in a 1986 IWC moratorium that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants. Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium altogether.

Judge faults gov't plan to save Pacific NW salmon
March 7, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The federal agency in charge of saving salmon in the Columbia River Basin from extinction should have a plan in place to remove dams on the lower Snake River if necessary, a federal judge said Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge James A. Redden, who heard arguments in a longrunning dispute over how to balance energy and utility needs in the Columbia Basin with salmon and steelhead, said he has not eliminated the possibility that the hyrdroelectric dams could come down to ensure restoration and survival of imperiled salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.
"I don't know that breaching of the dams is the solution," he said. "I hope it's never done, but that's the last fallback."
Former President George W. Bush had vowed the dams would stay. President Barack Obama has yet to weigh in.

Washington coast may get long-sought rescue tug
March 6, 2009 (Seattle Times)
More than 20 years ago, environmental activist Fred Felleman conceived of helping protect the region from a devastating oil spill by stationing a powerful tugboat on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Today, it appears that's about to happen.
After years of off-again, on-again tug service, and rancorous debates over whether a tug was needed and who would pay for it, the state Legislature is on the verge of passing a bill forcing the shipping industry to pay for the tug boat.
"There are a lot of good ideas out there, but it takes political leadership to make them come to fruition. I am deeply grateful to the efforts of our state legislators," Felleman said Friday, a day after the Senate passed the bill 44-4, and the House passed a nearly identical one 62-35.
The tug is meant to help rescue broken-down ships before they run aground and spill oil. The bill would require large ships bound for Washington ports through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to help pay for the tug, which last year cost $3.6 million.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island, a first-year senator who is the bill's prime sponsor, said he worked hard to overcome concerns from all sides.
During an interview, Naki Stevens, of People for Puget Sound, offered an impromptu rendition of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come."

Invasive species are greatest threat to Northwest salmon, report says
March 6, 2009 (Oregonian)
Most discussions about the causes of declining salmon runs focus on the four H's: habitat, hatcheries, harvest and hydropower. But the most important factor may be an I, as in invasive species.
That's the conclusion of a new report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.
You can see a PDF of the report here.
The study, which was published in the journal Bioscience, is sure to be controversial because much of the Northwest's multi-billion dollar salmon recovery work is centered on improving habitat, mitigating the damage of power-producing dams and curtailing commercial or recreational fishing.
This report argues the greatest threat to fish are non-native species like crappie or bass that can eat up juvenile salmon as the make their way downstream from their birthplace to the ocean.

Good news for local orcas: Another calf born in J pod
March 6, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
Researchers have confirmed the birth of another J pod orca, bumping the precarious Southern resident killer whale population to 86.
"Thanks to a call from Jeanne Hyde, Dave Ellifrit, John Durban and I got out with J pod in Haro Strait just before sunset last night," Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research reported on the Orca Network Web site March 3. "(We) confirmed that there are now TWO new babies in J pod: J44 with J17 and J45 with J14. Both babies appeared to be in good condition and energetic."
Confirmation of the birth came two weeks after the confirmation that two calves had been born to J and L pods; those calves were designated J44 and L112. The latest calf was designated J45.
"They look fat and healthy. We're encouraged," Durban said today.
Jack Giard, a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission's Fraser River panel, said today that 17.6 million pinks and 10.6 million sockeye are expected to return to the Fraser this year. "We have a large forecast of chinook coming. The Columbia River stocks look good too," he said.
In an earlier interview, Balcomb said the ups and downs of the orca population over the last 30 years parallel the ups and downs of the chinook salmon population. "If the chinook population doesn't do well, the whale population doesn't do well," he said.

Shippers To Pay For Tug in Juan de Fuca Strait
March 6, 2009 (People for Puget Sound)
The Washington State Legislature yesterday passed landmark legislation that requires the oil, cargo and cruise industry to pay for a year-round response tug to stand by at Neah Bay to prevent vessel oil spills.
Senate Bill 5344, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Ranker (40th), and House Bill 1409, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (24th) require all oil tankers, cargo vessels and large cruise ships to form a cooperative to contract for standby response tug service at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The Senate bill passed 44-4; the House bill passed 62-35.
“It’s an historic day,” said Bruce Wishart, policy director of People For Puget Sound. “We’ve been advocating on the issue of permanent funding for a year-round rescue tug for over ten years. Thanks to great work done on the bill by Senator Ranker and Representative Van De Wege, we finally have succeeded.”
A rescue tug has been stationed at Neah Bay since 1999 on a part-time seasonal basis and paid for by state and federal funds. Since 1999, the rescue tug has been responsible for 41 rescues or assists of oil tankers, cargo vessels, and other vessels in the region.
Similar success stories surround tugs stationed in Alaska, Japan, France, Great Britain, and across the globe.

Northwest salmon dam dispute returns to court
March 6, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A marathon dispute over how to balance hydroelectric dams with the restoration of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin returns to federal court Friday.
U.S. District Judge James A. Redden, who has deemed previous plans inadequate, will hear arguments from the lawyers for federal agencies that came up with the latest effort and salmon advocates who think much more needs to be done.
He is also expected to review a motion from salmon advocates seeking more water to be spilled to help juvenile salmon survive their passage over the dams, rather than going through turbines.
The federal agencies, which include NOAA Fisheries Service, the Bonneville Power Administration, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have submitted a plan they feel will help salmon survive as they migrate through the hydroelectric dams.
The Endangered Species Act requires NOAA Fisheries Service to evaluate whether federal projects like the dams jeopardize the survival of protected wildlife. The plan is known as a biological opinion.

Dam removal offers opportunity for salmon, science
March 5, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Scientists know what two dams did nearly a century ago to the Elwha River's legendary salmon runs.
Now they get a historic chance to find out what they still don't know: Given a dam-free path, will a river ecosystem agree to march backward in time?
Come 2012, they'll find out. In a project whose scope and size hasn't been attempted in the U.S., experts will remove the 105-foot Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula in an extraordinary experiment to restore a river from mountain to sea.
Dam construction stopped the flow of sediment to the river mouth. Diking and bulkheading further shrunk areas where salmon could rest, feed and acclimate to salt water before heading off to sea. The release of 18 million cubic yards of sediment from the dams will deliver sand back to the rough, cobble-stoned shore and improve the environment for fish.
The Elwha produced about 390,000 salmon and sea-run trout in 1910, including coho, pink, sockeye and chinook salmon and steelhead. By 2005, the number of wild native sea-run fish was only about 3,000.
These are hardly the first dams to be removed. More than 750 dams have been removed in the past century, according to American Rivers. But the Elwha is the largest and certainly most watched.

Third baby orca spotted near San Juan Islands
March 5, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island says a new baby orca has been born, the third Puget Sound baby killer whale spotted this year.
Ken Balcomb of the Center says the whale looks healthy. The baby orca, part of the J-pod family group and named J45, was first seen Tuesday in Haro Strait.
Two other baby orcas were also spotted in the past month. They were named J44 and L112.
Balcomb says it's a good sign for a population that suffered a decline last year when seven whales went missing and are presumed dead.
But he says it doesn't resolve the larger problem of lack of food that the whales still face.

Diesel spill reported in Duwamish near Harbor Island
March 5, 2009 (Seattle Times)
State ecology and Coast Guard crews attempted unsuccessfully Wednesday night to determine the source or extent of a reported diesel fuel spill in the Duwamish River near Harbor Island.
State Ecology department spokesman Dan Partridge said Olympic Tug and Barge on Harbor Island reported the spill about 4:30 p.m. A team from Ecology confirmed evidence of a spill before dark but was unable to determine the source after searching for about four hours, he said.
Ecology said Olympic helped with initial cleanup, recovering about 25 gallons of the fuel from the water on the southeastern side of Harbor Island.
Partridge said crews had found no impact on fish or wildlife. All spills have the potential to cause environmental damage regardless of size. "It doesn't take much fuel to cause environmental damage," he said.

Court decision sparks debate on use of rural lands
March 5, 2009 (Seattle Times)
While rural property owners celebrate the demise of a King County law that severely limited how much vegetation they could remove, environmentalists and county officials are wondering how to protect streams and threatened chinook salmon.
The state Supreme Court said Tuesday it wouldn't review a Court of Appeals ruling that struck down the controversial clearing-and-grading law as an improper tax or fee on development.
Passed in 2004 along with a new Critical Areas Ordinance, the law required rural property owners to keep native vegetation on 50 to 65 percent of their land, depending on the size of the property.
Advocates of the law said it reflected a growing body of scientific research showing the health of streams deteriorates sharply when a significant amount of forest cover is cut down in a watershed.
"The No. 1 problem for Puget Sound is the disruption of the hydrology," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound. "Stormwater issues start at the point of development. The most effective way of managing stormwater is to allow Mother Nature to do most of the job. ...

Whale sonar: Two pings are better than one
March 4, 2009 (Google News)
Many whale species have sonar systems that send out two pings at once, allowing them to detect underwater objects with greater accuracy than even the most sophisticated human technologies, according to a study released Wednesday.
It has long been known that whales use echolocation -- emitting sounds that bounce back after hitting objects -- to find food and navigate.
But scientists have never been able to demonstrate exactly which parts of the whale anatomy produce the distinctive clicking sound that probes the depths, nor why these internal sonar systems are so precise.
Marc Lammers of the University of Hawaii and Manuel Castellote of Oceanografic speculate that the double sonar system holds several advantages for the beluga.
One is greater carrying power: the summed energy of two pulses significantly expands the range across which the whale can detect objects.
The fact that the each set of phonic lips produces different frequencies also results in a broader spectrum of sound, providing "advantages for target detection and classification," the study says.
"An intriguing possibility is that the beluga may use slight time delays in the production of each pulse to actively control the width and orientation of its echolocation beam," the researchers note.
It is likely, they conclude, that the ability to produce double pulses is shared by other whales in the same sub-order known as odontocete cetaceans -- whales with teeth -- such as killer, pilot and sperm whales.

Obama overrides Bush rule on Endangered Species Act
March 4, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Washington -- President Obama on Tuesday overrode the Bush administration on a key step in applying the Endangered Species Act, restoring a requirement that federal agencies consult with experts before launching construction projects that could affect the well-being of threatened species.
Environmentalists said reinstating the requirement blocks the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Forest Service and others from "nibbling away" at crucial wildlife habitat. Business and industry groups, on the other hand, warned that Obama's action could hamper road-building and other projects that would help jump-start the economy.
Bush's rule change, finalized in December, allowed federal agencies to determine on their own if projects would jeopardize endangered species, instead of consulting with expert biologists, as had been required for the last three decades. It gave agencies the option of calling on experts from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Human factor suspected in mass beaching of whales in Australia
March 3, 2009 (London Times)
Conservationists are demanding an immediate and thorough inquiry into what they say is the suspicious stranding of 200 whales and dolphins.
Fears that the mass stranding on an Australian beach on Sunday was caused by human disturbance were raised because two species of cetacean came ashore simultaneously.
Most of the animals were pilot whales, but a number of bottlenose dolphins were also among the pod.

Free Ric O'Barry
March 3, 2009 (Miami News Times)
His stunts have since drawn attention from around the world, including the New York Times. He once strapped on a TV set with dead dolphin images and strolled into an International Whaling Commission meeting. Another time, he sat atop a submarine bomb he believed would harm sea life. He has also been a leader of the Free Lolita movement to release Miami Seaquarium's trained killer whale.
Then, in winter 2005, O'Barry met Louie Psihoyos, a veteran National Geographic photographer. O'Barry had been banned from speaking at a marine life conference at SeaWorld in San Diego after organizers realized he planned to show a video of dolphins being massacred. The tall, square-jawed photographer was curious about the censored speech, so he called the activist, who described "the killing cove."
"[O'Barry] is the most committed, tenacious, and passionate human I've ever met," Psihoyos says. "He routinely risks his life to save dolphins."

Columbia River salmon runs forecast to increase
March 3, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Bigger Columbia River salmon runs are predicted in 2009, but coho and chinook are expected to be down around Puget Sound.
The brightest news in the forecasts released Tuesday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife is for pink salmon, also known as humpies. Those runs are forecast to reach nearly 5.5 million fish, exceeding the humpy record set in 1007.
Pink salmon, the smallest of the Pacific salmon, return to rivers in Washington only in odd-numbered years. They are popular with recreational anglers because they are easy to catch.
In another big bright spot the state is predicting more than 1 million Columbia coho. That would be the largest run since 2001.

Guest Columnist: The mighty tug protects state waters
March 3, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Fred Felleman)
While riveted to the CNN coverage of President Barack Obama's inauguration, I was stung by the irony of Exxon commercials at every break between promises of how things will be different under his leadership. I guess some changes won't come easily.
March 24 will be the 20th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska. While the environment and communities are still recovering, Exxon is the only U.S. oil company still sailing single-hulled tankers on the West Coast. Approximately 40 percent of all tankers calling on Washington are still singled-hulled. Three Valdez-sized spills lie within each tanker entering our waters. One came within just feet of grounding in San Francisco Bay recently.
More than 800 oil tankers and 3,000 oil barges entered state waters in 2006, feeding Washington's five refineries' annual thirst for 9 billion gallons of crude, roughly double their original capacity. While tanker companies have made substantial progress in spill prevention and response, far less equipment is in place to respond to ever-growing cargo and cruise ships that made 4,000 round trips through Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2006.
Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell advocated for a permanent, industry-funded tug for years and saw to it that the Coast Guard finally issued its salvage and firefighting rule. While its lack of rigor was yet another Bush administration gift to the oil industry, it allows for state tug requirements.

Salmon, other ocean predators losing food supply, report says
March 3, 2009 (Oregonian)
Fish farming operations are driving increased demand worldwide for prey fish such as anchovy, krill and sardines -- depleting the food supply of salmon, seabirds and other wild predators, the conservation group Oceana said in a report issued this morning.
The report, "Hungry Oceans: What Happens When the Prey is Gone?," is timed to coincide with a new United Nations evaluation of ocean health.
It pins declining prey populations primarily on fish farming: "Increasingly, the driver behind overfishing of prey species is aquaculture," the report says.
Prey fish are ground into fish oil and meal to feed salmon and other fish raised in contained pens.

Woman injured when whale strikes vessel
March 3, 2009 (Maui News)
Paramedics took a woman to Maui Memorial Medical Center on Friday afternoon with what appeared to be minor injuries after the fin of a humpback whale struck the research vessel she was on in West Maui waters.
Maui Police Department Lahaina Division Capt. Charles Hirata said the vessel Hokulani reported the pectoral fin strike about 1:25 p.m. The crew was near a pod of whales when one whale went under the boat and came up on the starboard side, Hirata said.
The victim is a 61-year-old Bremerton, Wash., woman who was on a whale-watching expedition aboard the Hokulani of the Center for Whale Studies, Hirata said.

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