Orca Network News - March, 2010

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
March 1, 2010 through March 31, 2010.

Anacortes Salmon Derby draws more than a thousand anglers this past weekend
March 31, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The Anacortes Salmon Derby was held this past weekend, and the high note was all the big chinook caught in this event that lured 1,100 anglers.
The top nine chinook caught all weighed 20-plus pounds, and on the first day alone a 132 hatchery-marked fish were weighed in this derby that had anglers spread throughout the San Juan Islands.
More here

Warm water partly cause of salmon decline, study finds
March 30, 2010 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
The warm temperature of the Fraser River during the summer appears to be playing a key role in the decline of an endangered run of sockeye salmon that spawns in Cultus Lake, according to new research by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
A seven-member team led by Michael Bradford, a DFO ecologist, has found that salmon that spend longer periods in the Fraser during migration have a higher chance of dying from kidney and gill infections caused by parasites.
The findings don’t explain why millions of sockeye salmon failed to return to the Fraser River last year, an issue that is now the focus of a judicial inquiry. But it could prove significant because DFO is struggling to save the Cultus sockeye, a distinct sub-population that has been listed as endangered since 2002.
More here

Rare gray whale sighting in Puget Sound
March 30, 2010 (Bend Bulletin)
A gray whale surfaces near the mouth of the Duwamish River late Saturday in Seattle. The nearly 40-foot-long animal was watched by excited spectators as it hugged the shore around the West Seattle peninsula earlier in the day. Gray whales are not as common in Puget Sound as orca whales; gray whales are rarely seen in Elliott Bay near downtown Seattle. In this photo the whale surfaced near Jack Block Park and pier at the mouth of the Duwamish River. The large mammal was watched from the pier until about 1 a.m. Sunday. Maritime officials with the Port of Seattle were concerned the whale would attempt to travel up the Duwamish River, a major industrial area and Superfund site.
More here

'Darth Vader of dolphins' to release 17 bottlenose
March 30, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
Chris Porter, known internationally as a dolphin slave-trader for his lucrative business capturing dolphins in the Solomon Islands and selling them to aquariums in such locations as Dubai and Mexico, says he has had a change of heart and is planning to release his last 17 bottlenose dolphins.
The controversial dolphin broker and marine mammal trainer, who trained Tillikum the killer whale when he was at Sealand in Victoria and then became Vancouver Aquarium's head trainer, has sold 83 dolphins around the world over the last nine years and drawn the fury of animal- rights groups.
“Are we really educating and providing the best representation of wild animals in an aquarium?” he asked.
The artificial, sterile environment in which most marine mammals are kept bears little resemblance to their habitat. Killer whales are likely to become frustrated, increasing the chance they will lash out, he said.
The dolphins are being held in a cove and Porter envisages a phased release, starting next month.
More here

NOAA Seeks Public Input for National Aquaculture Policy
March 29, 2010 (Environmental News Service)
The federal government is developing a new national policy for sustainable marine aquaculture and is seeking public input to craft a set of uniform, national standards to regulate open ocean aquaculture in federal waters.
Environmental consequences of growing fish in open ocean net-cages can be extensive, threatening wild fish populations and coastal marine ecosystems.
Environmental groups including the Pure Salmon Campaign, a global project with partners in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Chile, are concerned about the waste from millions of captive fish that empties into the ocean, polluting the water with untreated sewage and toxic chemicals.
An estimated three million genetically identical salmon escape from their pens each year, interbreeding with, and often out-competing populations of genetically superior wild salmon. Late last year, for instance, tens of thousands of farmed salmon escaped from open-net fish farms in British Columbia, Norway and Scotland.
Captive farmed salmon host contagious diseases and parasites; escapees spread them to wild fish, environmentalists warn.
As they grow, farmed salmon need increasing amounts of wild caught fish for food, competing directly with humans and other fish species for this valuable yet diminishing resource. Currently, it takes the equivalent of three pounds of fish caught in the wild to make one pound of farmed salmon.
Predators such as sea lions get trapped in the net cages that enclose the farmed fish.
And marine ecologist and conservationist Alexandra Morton who studies the effect of aquaculture in British Columbia waters has documented numerous tumors on flatfish and sea lice on juvenile salmon caught near fish farms.
More here

What's the difference? The orca knows
March 26, 2010 (New Zealand Herald)
It was a question many Herald readers wanted answered - what the heck is a pseudorca?
The black marine mammals hit the headlines in a dramatic way yesterday after a boatload of tourists saw a killer whale flick a pseudorca high into the air, break its back and eat it and its calf.
The attack occurred at the Black Rocks, about 7km from Paihia, after a pod of eight killer whales - which are orca without the "pseud" - chased more than a dozen pseudorca.
Whale and dolphin researcher Dr Ingrid Visser said they got their name because their skulls were similar to orca.
More here

Killer whales flip pseudo orcas for a meal
March 26, 2010 (TVNZ New Zealand)
Some incredible pictures of nature at its most brutal have been captured on camera by tourists off the coast of Paihia.
Just metres in front of a boat filled with tourists an orca put on a show by flipping its prey into the air.
"It just threw it into the air, about 35-40 feet into the air. It was spectacular to watch, unbelievable," says skipper Tim Maessen.
It was all caught on camera by tourists on a dolphin-spotting tour in the Bay of Islands.
More here

Program aims to limit accidental salmon catch
March 24, 2010 (Business Week)
A program is expected to be in place by 2011 to cap the number of king salmon that can be accidentally caught in the Bering Sea pollock fishery and for the first time subject the nation's largest fishery to the possibility of a complete shutdown.
The move is being sparked by concerns about the steep decline in king salmon returning to rivers of western Alaska, where villagers rely on the oil-rich fish to get through the harsh winters, and the high numbers of king salmon mistakenly caught at sea by pollock fishermen.
Under the NOAA Fisheries program, if the limit of salmon bycatch is reached, the pollock fishery -- the largest by volume in the United States -- will have to shut down. Previous measures had shut down part of the fleet but not all of it.
And the program proposal, published Tuesday in the Federal Register, provides incentives to encourage pollock fishermen to avoid king salmon, also called Chinook salmon. It also increases federal observers aboard pollock vessels to make sure every salmon that is accidentally caught is counted.
Each pollock trawl vessel will have at last one observer on board, said Sue Salveson, division chief of sustainable fisheries for the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region.
More here

South Whidbey students to the government: Save the orcas
March 23, 2010 (South Whidbey Record)
Students at South Whidbey Elementary School love orcas and want to make sure they continue to hang around Whidbey Island.
They've written to Washington's Gov. Christine Gregoire and U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, urging them to do all they can to protect the whale that became their school mascot this past year.
“Without orcas, our boat trips would be boring, and the ocean will seem lonely, like living all alone in a big building,” wrote fourth-grader Elli Sandberg.
“Keep our rivers clean, save the salmon, save the orcas!” her letter to Cantwell concluded.
More here

Only captive whales kill
March 22, 2010 (Everett Herald)
Just two days before a captive orca killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in February, a neurobiologist, a marine scientist and a philosopher gathered to discuss the intelligence of big marine mammals at the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Because of their brain-size-to-body-size ratios, dolphins and whales, rather than the great apes, are considered closest to possessing “human” traits of intelligence, such as self-awareness and awareness of others; understanding symbols; using language; creating complex social networks; and feeling and thinking.
But smart scientists think that looking just at the brain-body ratio seriously underestimates the brain power of larger marine mammals, The Orlando Sentinel reported. We just don't know exactly how intelligent they are yet.
Philosopher Thomas White of Loyola Marymount argued that the marine animals should be considered “highly evolved, non-human persons,” according to Groundreport.com.
More here

Puget Sound's Altered Shores
March 22, 2010 (KUOW)
Close to 40 percent of Puget Sound's shorelines have been covered in concrete or otherwise walled off from the tides. State officials say restoring the health of Puget Sound will require removing some of those walls. But it's local governments that control the shore, and property owners want to build more seawalls as coastal developments expand.
The deadline for updating shoreline protections statewide is 2014. King County and Snohomish County expect to finish revamping their shoreline rules by this summer.
More here

Orcas choose to eat B.C. chinook for majority of diet
March 19, 2010 (Vancouver Sun)
The palates of endangered southern resident killer whales are refined to the point that they choose to eat Fraser River chinook salmon, say researchers, who hope new information about orcas' menu choices will help the population recover.
A joint Canadian-U.S. study that used highly refined molecular genetic techniques to look at the DNA of fish scales and whale feces found that, during spring and summer, up to 90 per cent of chinook eaten by the whales come from the Fraser River.
"When you figure out which stocks are important, it's information that fisheries managers might want to take into consideration when making decisions," said Hanson, adding that it is puzzling the orcas choose Fraser River chinook over the slightly smaller Puget Sound chinook and more abundant sockeye.
More here

Tilikum, SeaWorld trainers redo routines after tragedy
March 19, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
The jury-rigged toothbrush is one small example of the many adjustments SeaWorld has made in the 3 1/2 weeks since Tilikum grabbed veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau by her ponytail and drowned her in front of park guests.
After the Feb. 24 tragedy, SeaWorld removed Tilikum from its daily shows and ordered its trainers to keep their distance from the animal, who is twice as big as any other orca at SeaWorld Orlando. The park imposed the restrictions while it reviews its killer-whale safety protocols, a process now expected to extend into April.
Although SeaWorld maintains that life remains enriching for Tilikum, some animal activists, who argue against keeping killer whales in captivity at all, say that is unlikely.
Howard Garrett, board president of the Orca Network in Greenbank, Wash., which advocates for killer whales in the Pacific Northwest, said forcing trainers to keep their distance likely has a negative effect on Tilikum, as orcas are inherently social animals who enjoy physical contact. "They're very tactile. He's going to notice the difference that nobody will come close to him," Garrett said. "And, inevitably, that's going to increase his sense of isolation."
SeaWorld has said it will not permit its trainers back into the water with any of its killer whales until after its safety review is complete, possibly in April.
More here

Scientists side with smelt, salmon protections
March 19, 2010 (Los Angeles Times)
A National Academy of Sciences panel has concluded that the much-disputed fish protections that have curbed water deliveries to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California are scientifically justified.
The findings, contained in a report that will be released Friday, largely validate environmental actions taken by two federal agencies to save the imperiled delta smelt and protect declining populations of salmon that migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta.
The protections, imposed under the federal Endangered Species Act, have recently grown stricter, compounding water shortages stemming from the state's three-year drought.
Central Valley farm interests, some politicians and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which imports water from the delta, have sharply criticized the curbs as overly strict and unfounded.
More here

Scientists gather to catch rare slice of killer whale's life
March 19, 2010 (Stuff - New Zealand)
A rare chance to carry out an autopsy on a baby orca could reveal more about the species and the health of the ocean environment.
The newborn died in 2007 soon after it was washed on to Waita Beach, 10 kilometres north of Haast in Westland. It had been kept frozen till Canadian scientist Stephen Raverty was available.
This week he and other scientists met in Wellington to photograph and dissect the orca at Te Papa's Tory St laboratory. Te Papa marine mammal expert Anton van Helden said that slicing into the orca's blubber layer was like "cutting into butter". The layer was thick, meaning the orca had not starved to death.
Bruising showed the orca was alive when it beached. It probably was separated from its mother just after birth and swept on to the beach where it was battered by waves. There was heavy bruising to its head and side from the stranding.
More here

A Whale Expert Argues Against Orcas in Captivity
March 18, 2010 (E Magazine)
Research on wild whales is not contingent on any information we may learn from captives. In fact, it can be argued that the captive whale does not make an appropriate proxy for their wild counterparts given the artificial environment of a marine park including the chlorinated water in their tanks, the lack of space needed for optimal whale health and the altered diet of dead and frozen fish and vitamin supplements.
5. E: What is the rationale against such captivity?
D.G.: Killer whales are highly social animals that have evolved to swim in the open ocean and catch live prey which they share with their family members. The Southern Resident Killer Whales that I study are members of an extraordinarily close-knit clan—made up of three pods—where both male and female offspring remain with their mothers for their entire lives. These whales mate outside of their natal pod but always return to their mother for the bulk of each day.
This is an amazingly rare trait for mammal species, and one that illustrates just how bonded these animals are to one another. Members of the same pod share a unique dialect that can be distinguished from the dialect for other pods from the same clan. Amazingly, captive whales who were removed from the wild still vocalize using their birth language, even after 40 years in captivity.
More here

NZ's Antarctic fishing blamed for orca decline
March 18, 2010 (New Zealand Herald)
A unique species of killer whale is disappearing from the Ross Sea, and New Zealand's Antarctic deep-sea fishing may be partly to blame.
A group of Italian and American researchers who visit Antarctica yearly have noticed a large drop in the number of killer whales, or orca, since 2002.
Sightings dropped from a high of 120 orca at one time in 2002-03 to 18 at one time last summer, and the number of days on which orca were spotted fell by about half.
The researchers, who published their work in the journal Aquatic Mammals, believe the change is linked to the rise of a multimillion trade in Antarctic toothfish, led by New Zealand and Korea.
More here

Whale experts meet to solve mystery deaths of southern right species
March 17, 2010 (The Guardian)
More than 300 southern right whales have been found dead in the last five years in the waters off Argentina's Patagonian coast.
Possible causes being examined include biotoxins - naturally occurring poisons which include the venom of some snakes and spiders and the "flesh-eating" bacteria Necrotizing fasciitis - disease, environmental factors, and lack of prey, particularly the tiny krill which make up the bulk of the southern right's diet. Another theory put forward has been the effect of gulls, which can act like parasites, gouging skin and blubber from the whales' backs.
More here

US senator moves to protect whales
March 16, 2010 (Google News)
US Senator John Kerry on Monday introduced a bill to protect whales, sending a message as nations debate a compromise that critics say would end a moratorium on commerical whaling.
Kerry's bill, which is similar to a bill before the House of Representatives, would affirm US support for a 1986 ban by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on commercial whaling.
It would also call for research on whale habitats and look for ways to end harm and harassment of the ocean giants.
More here

Lege Review: Some Enviro Bills Live, Others Die
March 16, 2010 (KPLU)
One of the winners was a measure to ban the chemical Bisphenol A in plastic baby bottles, sports bottles and other uses. BPA has been linked to developmental problems in fetuses and small children.
Meanwhile, starting in 2013, you'll be able to recycle your fluorescent light bulbs for free. Manufacturers will pay for a take-back program to help keep the mercury in the bulbs out of the environment. Suellen Mele is with Washington Citizens for Resource Conservation, which pushed for that measure.
Also, lawmakers voted to phase out copper in auto brake pads to keep the heavy metal out of waterways where it harms salmon.
More here

ConocoPhillips to pay extra $588,000 for 2004 spill
March 16, 2010 (Seattle Times)
ConocoPhillips will fork over $588,000 to pay for environmental restoration work around Maury Island, where it spilled at least 1,000 gallons of oil in 2004.
The money, a settlement with the state and federal governments, will come from the company's oil-tanker subsidiary, Polar Tankers, and is proposed to be used for three specific projects: to re-establish a salt marsh and remove 350 feet of bulkheads near Dockton, restore shoreline vegetation near the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, and remove 225 feet of creosote-treated bulkhead near Piner Point.
More here

DNA analysis of whale poop brings surprising results
March 15, 2010 (Northwest Cable News)
When a whale eats a salmon, where does the salmon come from? Finding out the answer can tell scientists which stocks are the most important for maintaining and even growing the population of local Orcas that have been listed as endangered since 2005.
These so called "killer whales" are members of J, K, and L pods that spend much of their time in the waters of Washington and southern British Columbia. It's not unusual to see them in Puget Sound, but they spend much of the summer in the San Juan Islands.
But Dr. Brand Hanson, of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service says 90 percent of the salmon the Southern Residents are eating are coming from the Fraser River and its tributaries, not from rivers south in the U.S.
He reached that conclusion by analyzing the genetic DNA signature from scales taken with nets right after an Orca kill, looking at other salmon remains, and analyzing whale poop.
More here

Project would create new salmon habitat at Squalicum Creek Park
March 15, 2010 (Bellingham Herald)
The new stream channel will go into an area where groundwater is now piped underground and into Squalicum Creek.
When completed, the space will look and act like a natural stream channel, with pools, riffles, rocks, native vegetation and logs. It's this body of water that is being called Willow Spring and which will serve as a tributary of Squalicum Creek and Bellingham Bay.
More here

Divers remove nets, crab pots from Wash. waters
March 14, 2010 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Divers have pulled thousands of old fishing nets and crab pots from Washington's marine waters since 2002, and they expect to finish much of the work this year thanks in part to federal stimulus dollars.
The Bellingham Herald reports that divers working with the Northwest Straits Initiative have pulled more than 2,650 fishing nets and more than 2,000 crab pots left behind by commercial and recreational fishers because of bad weather, mistakes or mechanical failures.
Some 50 tons of nets, crab pots and other old fishing gear came from waters off Whatcom County, most of it near Lummi Island and Point Roberts.
Nearly 137,000 marine mammals, birds, fish and invertebrates have been found in abandoned gear that has been pulled up so far. Of that number, nearly 54,000 were dead.
Most of the fishing nets are gillnets, although crews have removed purse seine, trawl and aquaculture nets, as well as shrimp and octopus traps.
More here

Ocean acidification: another path to EPA rules on carbon emissions?
March 12, 2010 (Christian Science Monitor)
Nearly three years after the US Supreme Court found that carbon dioxide was a pollutant that fell under the purview of the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to explore approaches for tightening its regulations dealing with ocean acidification under the Clean Water Act.
Ocean acidification results from the ocean's uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Maine scientists have become increasingly concerned about the effect industrial emissions of CO2 are having on the chemistry of the world's oceans and about the fallout for many species of marine animals.
The oceans take up as much as half the CO2 emissions humans pump into the atmosphere each year.
More here

An upstream battle over chinook salmon
March 12, 2010 (Los Angeles Times editorial)
This season's salmon run is especially important because favorable ocean conditions led to an unusually robust population. More than twice as many fish as last year -- close to 500,000 -- are expected to swim up the Columbia River. That would be the biggest spring run in 70 years.
The larger population should not be seen as a sign that the fish's problems are abating. Loss of habitat, global warming and migration barriers posed by dams farther upstream, along the lower Snake River, have been contributing to an overall decimation of the chinook salmon population for decades. Rather, this is an opportunity to protect as many of the salmon as possible -- partly by reducing predation by sea lions that swim upriver for an easy meal.
This decision by state and federal wildlife authorities was an easy one. But what if, instead, the marine mammals causing the problem had been Steller sea lions, which are themselves endangered? Chinook salmon also make up 80% of the diet of killer whales; should we kill the killer whales too?
A better solution for all of these creatures would be a strong plan from the Obama administration on recovery for the Columbia River salmon, including the possibility of breaching one or more dams along the lower Snake River.
More here

In Northwest waters, scientists track 'dead zones'
March 11, 2010 (Tacoma New Tribune)
Lower levels of oxygen in oceans, particularly off the Northwest coast, could be another sign of fundamental changes linked to global climate change, scientists say.
They warn that the oceans' complex undersea ecosystems and fragile food chains could be disrupted.
In some spots off Washington and Oregon, the almost complete absence of oxygen has left piles of Dungeness crab carcasses littering the ocean floor, killed off 25-year-old sea stars, crippled colonies of sea anemones and produced mats of potentially noxious bacteria that thrive in such conditions.
Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas - in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans - appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and, in some places such as the Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
More here

Revised salmon recovery plan has big price tag
March 11, 2010 (Columbian)
A newly revised salmon recovery plan for Southwest Washington sets the ambitious goal of recovering five runs of wild salmon, steelhead and bull trout in the lower Columbia River.
The board not only wants to pull salmon back from the brink of extinction, it eventually wants so many wild fish returning to spawn that there would be enough for fishermen to catch and take home. Right now, fishermen are generally allowed to target only hatchery-raised fish distinguished by clipped adipose fins.
For larger tributaries such as the East Fork, the board calculates it will cost $1 million per mile to restore habitat.
An example could include placing massive root wads in the stream, which provide cover against predators and promote the growth of bugs eaten by juvenile salmon. It could also include constructing off-channel refuges, planting trees to shade the stream or, in some cases, redirecting stream flow.
Chinook salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in the lower Columbia are among the 13 species of salmon in the entire Columbia basin now protected by the Endangered Species Act.
The law requires developing a recovery plan.
More here

Your Chilean Sea Bass Dinner Deprives Killer Whales
March 11, 2010 (Wired)
A one-of-a-kind killer whale population appears to be threatened by human appetites for Antarctic toothfish, better known to restaurant-goers as Chilean Sea Bass.
As fishing fleets patrol their waters, catching what was their primary source of food, the whales are vanishing. It's not certain whether they've only moved on, or are dying out, or both. But something is happening, with potentially dark implications for Earth's last pristine ecosystem.
"There's been a dramatic disappearance of the whales," said biologist David Ainley of ecological consulting firm H.T. Harvey and Associates, and co-author of a March Aquatic Mammals article on the whales' disappearance. "We think they're having a harder time trying to find food. Whether that leads to population decrease, hopefully we won't find out. But we will find out, if it continues."
Antarctic killer whales form two types of populations, known to researchers as ecotype-B and ecotype-C. While the former resemble killer whales found elsewhere, ecotype-C whales are much smaller, with different markings and a tendency to gather in especially large groups. Many researchers now consider them a distinct species.
Though ecotype-B whale sightings have remained steady, Ross Sea killer whale sightings are down by two-thirds in the last five years, and big groups no longer gather.
More here

Humpback whales rebound
March 11, 2010 (Eureka Times-Standard)
In nearly a quarter century studying humpback whales, researcher Fred Sharpe has witnessed a remarkable recovery.
The intelligent and social animals have rebounded from centuries of whaling, and are filling in their historic range. Sharpe, a founder of the Alaska Whale Foundation, said the whales have even made a comeback along the California and Oregon coasts, where as recently as the early 1960s some 2,000 humpbacks were killed.
Whaling was largely outlawed in the 1960s, though illegal Russian whaling persisted into the 1970s.
Sharpe attributes the increasing numbers to the humpbacks' flexibility in what they eat -- everything from squid and salmon to small crustaceans -- and their complex social systems.
"They consistently seem to blow the doors off bounded rationality," Sharpe said.
More here

Washington is first to tackle toxic copper in brakes
March 10, 2010 (Watching Our Waterways blog by Chris Dunagan)
Washington state has done it again, being the first state in the country to take a legal stand against a toxic chemical.
The Legislature this week voted to phase out cooper in brake pads, provided there are reasonable alternatives and that research continues to suggest that brake pads are contributing significant amounts of toxic copper. The bill is Senate Bill 6557.
Even at low levels, an ionic form of copper has been shown to affect the sense of smell in salmon, which can lead to confusion and reproductive failure. It has become a major concern, especially in urban areas. Here's a fact sheet from the Washington Department of Ecology.
More here

Obama Team Ignore Orca Population Crisis
March 9, 2010 (Save Our Wild Salmon)
The Western Division of the American Fisheries Society (WDAFS) this week released a scientific review of the Obama Administration's proposed additions to the federal salmon plan for the Columbia-Snake River Basin. Even though the WDAFS report is sharply critical of the Obama team's salmon science, it does not comment on one of the most glaring errors in the salmon plan: Its complete failure to consider the effects of salmon declines on endangered Southern Resident orcas.
The WDAFS review looked at what the Obama team had itself analyzed and included in the AMIP. For that reason, the review - like the Obama plan itself - does not even include the words "orca" or "killer whale," much less examine how the salmon crisis is driving orcas closer to extinction.
Federal law required the Bush Administration's 2008 salmon plan to include an assessment of whether the hydropower operations in the Columbia Basin might jeopardize the endangered Puget Sound orcas (also known as killer whales). Those giant marine mammals eat predominantly chinook salmon, and have had difficulty finding enough to stay healthy. The 2008 salmon plan briefly dismissed any risk to the orcas from the dam-related salmon mortality.
The Obama team's review of the Bush plan did not reconsider that finding.
"People who care about Southern Residents should insist that the Obama Administration seize the opportunity to correct the shortcomings of the 2008 salmon plan. Not only does it matter for salmon - it is essential for the survival of Puget Sound's orcas."
"People who care about Southern Residents should insist that the Obama Administration seize the opportunity to correct the shortcomings of the 2008 salmon plan. Not only does it matter for salmon - it is essential for the survival of Puget Sound's orcas."
More here

Future of whale that killed trainer still unknown
March 9, 2010 (AP)
In the days after Dawn Brancheau died, the park's top official pledged that the killer whale named Tilikum would return to SeaWorld's shows. But park spokesman Fred Jacobs said Tuesday that nothing will be decided about the whale's future until after a thorough review of the accident.
While SeaWorld officials consider Tilikum's future, the park and Brancheau's family are trying to suppress video footage of the attack. A SeaWorld camera captured the accident and the footage was turned over to law enforcement. Once the Orange County Sheriff's Office concludes its investigation, the material would become public under Florida law.
More here

Marine Park Operator Faces a Big Dilemma
March 9, 2010 (Wall Street Journal)
SeaWorld Is Open but Treading Carefully Two Weeks After Killer Whale Drowned Its Trainer in Front of Spectator
The U.S. marine-park operator said it is continuing to review safety procedures for all of its orcas and hasn't decided yet whether Tilikum will perform in shows again after it dragged Dawn Brancheau into a Florida pool and drowned her in front of spectators.
In the meantime, Tilikum has been taking swimming turns at SeaWorld's public viewing gallery in Orlando, even though this isn't the first time the 22-foot, 12,000-pound orca has been tied to a death.
Attendance at SeaWorld has been "normal" since the Feb. 24 killing, a company official added Monday. SeaWorld suspended orca shows for two days after Ms. Brancheau was killed, before resuming more scaled-down versions with its smaller killer whales.
Trainers have been instructed not to get in the water with any orcas during the continuing safety review. Eventually, trainers "will get back in the pool, but it's a matter of how we do it," said Chuck Tompkins, SeaWorld's head trainer.
The death has heightened public scrutiny of captive orcas, which don't have any natural predators in the wild.
Tilikum's owners say euthanasia is out of the question.
Orcas are big business for their owners and represent a huge investment.
Industry watchers estimate a killer whale could fetch as much as $10 million on the open market—if there were any for sale. They say it also takes several years to prepare an orca for live performances, which in some cases include trainers riding atop the mammals.
More here

How smart are killer whales - and can they decide to kill a person?
March 7, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
Neuroscientist Lori Marino and a team of researchers explored the brain of a dead killer whale with an MRI and found an astounding potential for intelligence.
Killer whales, or orcas, have the second-biggest brains among all ocean mammals, weighing as much as 15 pounds. It's not clear whether they are as well-endowed with memory cells as humans, but scientists have found they are amazingly well-wired for sensing and analyzing their watery, three-dimensional environment.
Scientists are trying to better understand how killer whales are able to learn local dialects, teach one another specialized methods of hunting and pass on behaviors that can persist for generations - longer possibly than seen with any other species except humans.
These researchers have yet to find evidence that an orca in the wild has ever killed a person. But they aren't surprised that the world's biggest, most powerful and possibly smartest predator, captured and kept for years in a tank, cut off from the influences of an extended family, could have a fatal encounter with a human.
Years of tediously difficult research has given scientists some understanding of killer whales - but also has made them aware of how little they know about the creatures.
For starters, there's puzzlement over exactly how to categorize them.
More here

Whales' behavior 'unusual' prior to SeaWorld attack, witness says
March 3, 2010 (WMBF News)
While investigators are still trying to figure out what happened nearly a week ago at an Orlando SeaWorld, more and more witnesses are stepping forward and filling in the pieces of this tragic puzzle.
John Kielty, a Myrtle Beach snowbird, is one of hundreds of people who was at the park that day. He says it wasn't hard to notice that the behavior of some of the whales that afternoon was unusual.
"They were obviously doing something out of the ordinary," Kielty said, who attended the last show before the tragic accident. "The trainers were going around the side of the pool trying to get the attention of the whales, but it was apparent that the whales weren't responding or compliant with their directions."
"Everyone was in there with their ponchos and towels and everything all ready to get splashed and because the whales weren't cooperating that never happened,"Kielty said.
"SeaWorld, I know has repeatedly said there were no problems with the animals prior to this event and everything had gone according to schedule throughout the day leading up to Dawn's death and I disagree," Kielty said. "I know there's hundreds of other witnesses who would agree with me that there was something wrong prior to her death."
More here

State Considers Expanding Selective Fishing Practices
March 2, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
Forecasts for chinook salmon are up from last year in the ocean, where 653,000 fall chinook are predicted to make their way along the Washington coast to the Columbia River. That's about 234,000 more than the actual returns last year. Those increased numbers reflect strong runs to Spring Creek and other Columbia River hatcheries.
More here

A new haven for salmon
March 1, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Nisqually Reach: Project restores habitat
Salmon swimming in the Nisqually Reach have a new place to rest, feed and spawn thanks to a habitat- restoration project at the Beachcrest neighborhood's community beach.
A crew from Buckley-based Mike McClung Construction wrapped up work last week on a $239,000 project that recovered a historic, 1.4-acre estuary and nearly a mile of stream habitat for fish use.
In the process, the 250 families who live in Beachcrest lost a small freshwater pond. The reason: The tides are allowed to flow in and out of a pocket estuary that had been impounded by a road and standpipe that acted like a dam between the stream and the saltwater.
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Orca attack raises question of captive animals
March 1, 2010 (Seattle Times)
"Humans trying to incarcerate orcas or elephants or any type of large brain or large society species, it's proven it doesn't work," said Mark Berman, associate director at the environmental group Earth Island Institute in Berkeley, Calif. "They're just too big."
In fact, an investigation by California's workplace safety office into a 2006 attack by an orca on a trainer at SeaWorld's San Diego park initially reported that it was only a matter of time before a trainer was killed. That trainer escaped with a broken foot.
However, after objections from SeaWorld that the office had no place offering opinions that a trainer's death was inevitable, the workplace safety officials rescinded the report and apologized. They noted its investigation required expertise it didn't have.
"Orcas are simply too big, too complex, too intelligent to be adequately accommodated in captivity," said Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist with the Humane Society of the United States. "The tanks are always going to be too featureless, too small. ... The number of incidents where trainers have been injured is much greater than most people know. They aren't all reported."
Orcas in the wild can travel up to 100 miles in a day and thousands of miles in a lifetime in the ocean, where they are generally harmless to humans, said Howard Garrett, co-founder and director of the Washington-based nonprofit Orca Network.
"In their natural habitat, there is no record of any harm to a human anywhere," Garrett said. "You cannot say that about elephants or wolves or any other highly evolved social mammal, and that really is extraordinary."
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