Orca Network News - May, 2003
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2003 through May 31, 2003.
Canada to leave solo orca alone
May 31, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The young orca from Washington that turned up lost in a remote Canadian waterway won't be getting any help finding his way back to reunite with his family, the Canadian government has decided.
Instead, Canadian officials facing the busy summer boating season will warn away sightseers who might try to pet the orca, named Luna, and hope he somehow finds his way back on his own.
But if he doesn't, maybe that's just what nature intended, Oceans and Fisheries Canada says.
NOAA Fisheries is moving ahead with its plans to conserve and recover
the Southern Resident killer whales. The Federal Register notice officially designating the Southern Residents as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act was published today.
Puget Sound orcas officially qualify as 'depleted'
May 30, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The local orca population was designated yesterday as "depleted" by the federal government. That requires the government to create a plan to help boost the population levels of the killer whales that frequent the Puget Sound.
Last summer, the National Marine Fisheries Service decided not to protect the orcas under the Endangered Species Act, but rather sought protection under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The latter provides weaker protections and the decision angered environmental groups prompting them to sue the government.
The killer whale population has dropped from around 97 orcas in 1996 to 80 last year. Suspected reasons for the decline include less prey, contamination from toxic chemicals and disturbance from boats.
A draft recovery plan is expected by the end of next year.
Orca population officially 'depleted' May 30, 2003 (Bremerton Sun)
Activists want pesticide use on roadsides stopped
May 30, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) They argued that the agency's continued heavy use of weed-control chemicals ran counter to the local no-spray policy, putting people at risk. Tainted runoff could get into groundwater, and from there into wells. It could be harming salmon, undermining costly creek-restoration efforts, activists say.
DOT responded by launching a pilot program this month that curbs herbicide use in Clallam County, opting for more mowing and other weed-control methods instead. Spray crews are moving in the same direction in Jefferson and Island counties.
California, for example, cut its use nearly in half in the '90s and is aiming for an 80 percent reduction by 2012. There, managers reduced or eliminated herbicide use in Northern California counties to abide by local no-spray policies.
So last spring, Island County workers began maintaining the roadsides without the use of pesticides. It's too early to say how it's working. County officials expect the change to roughly double the annual roadside maintenance budget to about $340,000.
The Clallam experiment using less herbicides will build in greater local control over where spraying occurs, state officials say. DOT crews have meticulously mapped vulnerable areas, such as streams and drinking wells. They're getting more instruction on noxious weeds and how to spray more precisely.
Ecology calls for oversight of cruise ships' waste releases
May 30, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Cruise ships should start telling state authorities where they are dumping sewage in Washington waters, the Department of Ecology said yesterday.
The agency's proposal came as it slapped an order on Norwegian Cruise Lines directing the company to make improvements on the Norwegian Sun, which unleashed about 40 tons of raw sewage earlier this month on its first 2003 cruise out of Seattle.
It sounds like we've resonated," said Fred Felleman, northwest director of Ocean Advocates.
"Getting some sort of reporting requirement is exactly what we've been asking for," Felleman said. However, environmentalists ultimately would like to see a state inspector aboard each ship to ensure the waste systems are properly operated, he said.
Scientists decide not to reunite young orca with his pod
May 30, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A scientific panel of Canadian and U.S. experts has decided not to reunite a lonely killer whale with his pod.
The young male, nicknamed Luna, has been surviving alone in Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, for almost two years.
"We believe that interfering in what may be a natural and potentially important process is not in the best interest of this whale," Marilyn Joyce, a spokeswoman with the Fisheries Department, said in a statement.
It's unusual for killer whales to be alone because they normally travel in cohesive family groups. Experts aren't sure why Luna separated from his southern whale pod.
Leading the orca to open waters where he might naturally reunite with his pod has also been ruled out because it would further condition him to humans.
Government says it can't afford habitat protections
May 29, 2003 (Seattle Times) The Bush administration said yesterday it doesn't have the money to create court-ordered habitat protections for 32 imperiled species.
It wants more time and also is asking Congress to make a fundamental change to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to avoid the lengthy process of creating habitat protections in the future.
In the Northwest, the action most immediately could affect protections for two species of bull trout, which are found in the Puget Sound region and the Klamath/ Columbia River area.
"Critical habitat designations" - areas where development and other activities can be curbed or stopped for the benefit of endangered or threatened species - are among the most controversial provisions of the 30-year-old ESA. The rules are sometimes objectionable to homebuilders, loggers and other commercial interests, and occasionally government agencies, such as the Defense Department.
Conservation wins day in eastern King County
May 28, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A subdivision that could have plunked 194 residences into a forested rural area will consist instead of only 30 homes surrounded by open spaces in a conservation-oriented development in eastern King County.
The proposed Treemont Conservation Acquisition Project will limit what could have been an urban-style, 260-acre development in a rural area east of the city of Sammamish and 10 miles southeast of Redmond. It came about through a collaboration among King County, the Cascade Land Conservancy and Port Blakely Tree Farms.
County officials said an open-space and forest-management plan will ensure public access to the site, promote forest health and support the county's goal of maintaining rural forestry through sustainable, selective timber harvest.
Cargo ship fined $275,000 for dumping sludge at sea
May 28, 2003 (Seattle Times) A Ukrainian-owned cargo ship must pay $275,000 after inspectors in Portland found its crew had doctored logbooks and installed bypass systems to dump tons of oily waste overboard at sea, according to a plea agreement.
It's just the latest in a rash of prosecutions in the Northwest - 13 involving the Columbia River alone - against shipping companies that have been caught falsifying records to cover up illegal dumping at sea.
Ships are required to separate oil from wastewater that accumulates in the vessel's engine room. Typically, the oil is burned in an onboard incinerator and the water is treated until it contains fewer than 15 parts per million of oil, at which point it can be dumped overboard.
But increasingly, the U.S. Department of Justice is finding that shippers have rigged simple hose systems to bypass the separator, and are just dumping waste untreated.
It's impossible to gauge how often such dumping occurs, but "this isn't one rogue individual," said Cmdr. Dan Pippenger, chief of Coast Guard inspections in Portland. "It's a practice that is somehow supported by the culture, either by individual companies, or in some cases, fleets.
Congress Split Over Pentagon's Duty to Wildlife
May 23, 2003 (Environment News Service) When the Bush administration submitted its 2004 military spending bill, it asked Congress to exempt the Department of Defense from five major environmental laws. The administration says complying with these statutes is compromising the U.S. military's training and readiness, yet Congress has fully rejected three of its five requests - the exemptions from two hazardous waste laws and the Clean Air Act.
The House bill, passed Thursday along with the Senate version, still offers the military broad exemptions from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), but the complete removal of three of the exemptions represents a major victory for environmentalists, who rallied the opposition of a broad array of state officials, members of Congress and the general public to battle the exemptions.
"To win politically on as much as we have done against a Pentagon using the guise and afterglow of the war victory to overreach shows the strength of the environmental community and that the American people and a lot of American soldiers believe in strong environmental protection," said Bill Frymoyer, director of public policy at National Environmental Trust.
The Senate bill contains only a restrained exemption from the ESA and differences between the competing bills could prove contentious when the two bodies iron out their differences in the coming months.
GOP wins Defense exemptions
May 23, 2003 (Washington Times) Republicans last night won congressional approval to exempt the Department of Defense from certain environmental laws aimed at protecting wildlife around military bases.
Democrats, who have made some headway in limiting the exemptions requested by the Pentagon, accuse Republicans of using the Defense Department's spending bill to "gut two of our nation's most important environmental laws," said Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat.
Though the House and Senate versions of the bill differ, both essentially would give the secretary of defense greater latitude to allow military training in areas deemed "critical habitat" under the Endangered Species Act.
The House bill also allows the secretary to permit underwater exercises that otherwise would violate the Marine Mammals Protection Act. (Emphasis ours.)
Suit challenges orca decision
May 23, 2003 (Seattle Times) A coalition of environmental groups filed suit yesterday in federal court, challenging the government's decision not to list Puget Sound's southern killer whales for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Plaintiffs say recent Navy sonar tests in the area and Defense Department pressure on Congress for exemptions from environmental laws have increased concerns about the orcas.
The National Marine Fisheries Service decided not to add the Puget Sound orcas to the endangered species list last summer after a scientific panel concluded that the killer whales - known as "southern residents" - were not a significant population.
The panel did conclude the Puget Sound group, which now numbers 83, is facing extinction.
But instead of listing southern residents as endangered, the Fisheries Service declared the population "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Species Regulations May Be Endangered
May 22, 2003 (Washington Post) The House voted yesterday to exempt the Defense Department from two laws designed to protect endangered animals and plants, arguing that the restrictions hamper the military's ability to train U.S. troops and test weapons.
The 252 to 174 vote was a victory for the Bush administration, which has spent more than a year seeking authority to sidestep regulations meant to protect endangered species, marine mammals and migratory birds that are on or near military installations.
The measure, which faces resistance in the Senate, would give the Interior Department more leeway in setting aside rules in cases where the military wants to conduct training and testing on the ground, in the air and in oceans and waterways.
Environmental advocates and many Democrats decried the House vote, arguing that it could lead to the destruction of some animal species. The measure redefines what constitutes "harassment" of marine mammals, for example, allowing the Navy to conduct loud tests near endangered underwater mammals.
9,119 acres preserved in Cascade corridor
May 22, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) An environmental group aiming to preserve recreational trails and wildlife habitat in the Central Cascades yesterday announced that more than 9,000 acres of land will soon be publicly owned.
The Plum Creek Timber Co. has agreed to sell 15 parcels of land encompassing 9,119 acres -- 14 square miles -- for $7.8 million, according to representatives of the Cascades Conservation Partnership, a non-profit coalition that has worked toward the purchase. Funds allocated by Congress from the Land and Water Conservation Fund will be used to buy the land.
This is an incredible day to celebrate. We have been working on this a long time," said David Atcheson, campaign director for the Seattle-based coalition of environmental groups. "It is one of the largest acquisitions at one time -- it is a lot of land, but also very popular, important and strategically located land."
Bill frees government to harm environment
May 21, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Opinion by William Schlesinger - Last week, after only a couple hours of debate, the House Resources Committee rewrote the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, then tucked the changes into the Defense Department's annual authorization bill. The proposed legislation exempts not only the military from these two keystone environmental protections but also other federal agencies.
In effect, the bill now lets the entire federal government off the hook, even though it manages 625 million acres that provide habitat for many of this nation's threatened and endangered species. The bill conceivably allows bombing and shelling, mining, drilling, road building and other disruptions of critical habitat without regard to the consequences.
Species have more than aesthetic value to enhance our weekend walk in a local forest. We depend on a rich diversity of plants and animals for the food, fuel and fiber in our daily lives. This newspaper was once a tree. Roughly one-third of the medicines now in use are derived from natural sources. To understand the consequences of eliminating a species, we need only look at the lost civilization of Easter Island. Scientists theorize that deforestation by its inhabitants brought down an entire culture.
Drive any species to extinction and its role or function in nature is gone forever. White-tailed deer overgraze our local forests, so that no young trees can survive. At one time, wolves fed on white-tailed deer, keeping their numbers in check. With wolves now gone from the ecosystem, their role as predators of deer has been lost, and forests are slowly dying because deer feed on saplings.
Whale pat costs $100
May 21, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) A Gold River woman faced a whale of a fine for petting an orphaned orca, but netted only a $100 tiddler.
In a case that was the first of its kind in Canada, Sandra Bohn pleaded guilty to touching Luna, a three-year-old male killer whale separated from his pod, who has been a regular at the Nootka Sound community's wharf.
Rope-entangled whale cut free
May 20, 2003 (Seattle Times) A young gray whale that may have been tangled in crabbing gear for more than a month has been cut free by biologists.
John Calambokidis, a biologist with Cascadia Research, and son Alexei were looking for the whale Sunday afternoon near Mukilteo when they heard a radio call from a boater to the Coast Guard, saying the animal was just three miles away.
They located the whale, a 25- to 30-foot-long juvenile, at about 2:40 p.m. A rope was wrapped tightly through its mouth and over its head - a potentially fatal condition, Calambokidis said yesterday.
They pulled the boat alongside the animal, snagged the rope near its mouth and sliced the rope.
The whale reacted by accelerating and lifting and slapping its flukes, splashing water into the boat and, on its next surface, leaping out of the water, Calambokidis said.
The first reports of a tangled whale in the area came in mid-April, but scientists could not locate the animal. A whale-watch boat from Mosquito Fleet near Whidbey Island spotted it Saturday.
Dams get one year to adjust for fish
May 19, 2003 (Portland Oregonian) A federal judge in Portland on Friday gave the U.S. government one year to reshape hydroelectric dam operations to better protect wild salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers.
However, legal maneuvering by a coalition of environmental and fishing business groups could force dam operators to make changes within weeks -- changes that could cut power-generating capacity and potentially drive up electricity costs.
U.S. District Judge James Redden made clear in a ruling last week that the federal government can't rely solely on efforts to improve salmon habitat and modernize hatcheries to compensate for harm caused by dams.
The ruling has reignited the politically explosive debate over the need to remove four large dams on the lower Snake River. The dams generate power and allow barges to carry grain and other goods from ports as far upstream as Lewiston, Idaho.
In the Northwest: Sonar tests' effects on wildlife should set off alarms
May 19, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In the Northwest - Joel Connely
Lovers of Washington's inland waters, including this part-time Whidbey resident, enjoy a living tip sheet in www.orcanetwork.org (emphasis ours), a Web site filled with recent sightings and locations of killer whales, gray whales and other great marine mammals.
Last week, however, the customary lighthearted dispatches yielded to a gripping account of the extreme distress of marine creatures during a Navy sonar test earlier this month.
The episode, on May 5, raises major new questions about whether Congress should roll over for a Pentagon campaign designed to exempt the military from complying with landmark federal environmental laws.
Without these laws, the natural systems and marine life of our Puget Sound-Strait of Georgia region would possess no defense against the Department of Defense.
Orcanetwork's dispatch came from David Bain, a University of Washington faculty member. With students, he witnessed what happened when the Everett-based guided missile destroyer Shoup conducted a midfrequency sonar training exercise off San Juan Island.
Judge tells U.S. to fix salmon plan
May 17, 2003 (Seattle Times) A U.S. District judge yesterday gave federal fisheries officials one year to rework a flawed plan to restore wild salmon runs in the Columbia basin. But it's still unclear whether the federal government will take more immediate action to ease fish passage through dams and slack-water river pools.
Judge James Redden ruled this month that the plan violated the Endangered Species Act by relying on restoration efforts that were too uncertain.
Some of the biggest freshwater obstacles are the network of dams, power stations and reservoirs in the Snake River basin and the Columbia that provide energy and irrigation, and an inland waterway.
But the federal fishery-restoration effort has been bitterly contested by environmentalists and tribes, who say the needs of salmon have too often been shortchanged in favor of power generation or irrigation.
Porpoise deaths probed
May 16, 2003 (Everett Herald) It could be a month before scientists will be able to determine if sonar from the Everett-based destroyer USS Shoup was a factor in the deaths of porpoises found stranded throughout Puget Sound in recent weeks.
Six harbor porpoises have been recovered, and the heads of two and the carcass of a third are at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
All told, 10 porpoises have been reported stranded since the start of the month, soon after the Shoup was seen passing through Haro Strait between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island on May 5.
6 dead porpoises found since test
May 16, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Federal authorities have confirmed the deaths of six harbor porpoises whose bodies were found after a Navy vessel tested midrange sonar in Haro Strait early last week.
Three of the carcasses beached in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just west of Haro, and three in the San Juan Islands to the south, spokesman Brian Gorman with the National Marine Fisheries Service said yesterday.
Activists have reported nine porpoise strandings in the past week, two on Whidbey Island. The fisheries service was working to confirm a seventh porpoise death but had no data on the other two, Gorman said.
The private Whidbey Island Marine Mammal Stranding Network said the two animals found there would be sent to the fisheries service for necropsies.
Sonar suspected in porpoise deaths
May 15, 2003 (Everett Herald) Whale watchers on Whidbey Island found a dead harbor porpoise near Admiralty Head Tuesday, and nearby residents were searching for another dead porpoise Wednesday, raising concerns that the recent deaths of marine mammals in Puget Sound could have been caused by the sonar of the Everett-based USS Shoup.
The Shoup, a guided missile destroyer with a crew of roughly 380, is one of the Navy's newest warships. It was launched in November 2000 and commissioned in Seattle in June .
Residents were still searching late Wednesday for the second dead harbor porpoise, which had been reported stranded near West Beach, west of Oak Harbor.
Susan Berta, a member of the Whidbey-based Orca Network, said the harbor porpoise found in Fort Casey State Park on Whidbey Island was bleeding from its eye and blowhole.
All told, 10 porpoises have been found stranded in the last week, Berta said, and the number is raising red flags.
"A few washing up, that happens. But there seems to be something going on," Berta said.
Reports that the destroyer had been using its sonar as it traveled between Vancouver Island and San Juan Island on May 5 have fueled speculation that the midrange tactical sonar used by the warship played a role in the strandings.
Navy confirms using sonar in Haro Strait
May 15, 2003 (Seattle Times) The U.S. Navy says a guided-missile destroyer was using powerful, midfrequency sonar on May 5 as it traveled through the Haro Strait to Vancouver Island - at the same time that some whale watchers reported orcas and porpoises fleeing the area.
Tom McMillen, a whale-watch operator who owns Salish Sea Charters, said he saw about 20 orcas leaving the area, looking distressed and as many as 100 porpoises leapt through the water, heading away from the sound.
The Navy ended the sonar sweep when Canadian authorities reported complaints from boat operators, Sellers said, but marine mammals weren't mentioned.
Some environmentalists have blamed Navy sonar for strandings of marine mammals elsewhere, but the Navy has maintained there's no evidence to suggest a link between strandings and the sonar, Sellers said, and it "remains committed to being a good steward of the environment."
On Tuesday, two harbor porpoises were found dead on Whidbey Island. The animals will be sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine why they died.
Neah Bay standby tug extended by governor
May 15, 2003 (Seattle Times) After years of hand-to-mouth funding, the state has stepped in to fund a tug boat at Neah Bay to help stricken ships and prevent oil spills.
Gov. Gary Locke yesterday signed a bill that provides five years of funding for the tug program, easing the concerns of environmentalists who feared the safety program might vanish.
The funding will start with a two-year allocation of nearly $3 million to keep the tug on call for roughly 200 days of the worst winter weather.
Environmentalists yesterday said they were impressed that Locke made the tug and other environmental legislation a priority given the state is facing a $2.6 billion budget gap.
"Because of broad bipartisan support on this issue, this was just the year for the tug," said Josh Baldi, policy director for the Washington Environmental Council.
Movement for the tug has built since the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. State legislation after the spill required escort tugs for oil tankers from Port Angeles to Puget Sound but tankers were still left unescorted along the outside coast and 70 miles up the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Environmental bills become law
May 15, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Gov. Gary Locke signed five environmental bills into law yesterday, prompting one environmental leader to call this year "one of the most successful sessions we've had in a decade."
The environmental bills Locke signed yesterday balanced different and sometimes competing interests, especially one bill aimed at reducing mercury pollution and another setting deadlines for local governments to update shorelines protection rules.
Senate Bill 6072 will pay for a rescue tug at Neah Bay to prevent oil spills in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and start a separate program to reduce school bus emissions.
Marine Mammal Reauthorization Hearing in Senate
May 14, 2003 (Seafood.com) A Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee will convene a hearing May 15 on reauthorization of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Chairwoman Olympia Snowe's (R-Maine) Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard Subcommittee will also focus on the current state of marine mammals.
Commerce Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Hanks said the hearing will likely focus on reauthorization issues, not potential changes to MMPA related to Defense Department requests. But, she added, 'I can't say with finality that it will not come up.'
The Navy is expected to provide a witness who will testify on DOD concerns.
The Defense authorization bill is likely to contain the Pentagon's Readiness and Range Preservation Initiative, which aims to change MMPA, the Endangered Species Act and three other environmental laws. The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the bill May 13.
At the markup, the bill may be changed to include Rep. Elton Gallegly's (R-Calif.) H.R. 1835, which would change ESA and MMPA for military training purposes. The legislation alters the definition of harassment under MMPA to include actions that have 'significant potential to injure' or are 'likely to disturb' a marine mammal. The existing definition of harassment refers to the 'potential to injure' or 'potential to disturb.'
Ninety per cent of large fish in world's oceans are gone, study says
May 14, 2003 (Canada.com) The collapse of Atlantic cod stocks, far from being an unusual disaster, is typical of what's happening to large fish around the world, a major study has found.
Industrial fishing has cut populations of large fish in the oceans to a mere 10 per cent of 1950 levels, says the study, published Wednesday in Nature magazine. The devastating decline affects open ocean species such as tuna, swordfish and marlin, and groundfish such as cod, halibut and flounder. "Our analysis suggests that the global ocean has lost more than 90 per cent of large predatory fishes," study authors Ransom Myers and Boris Worm of Dalhousie University say.
Myers says the world is in "massive denial", spending its energy fighting over the few fish left instead of cutting harvests before it's too late.
Navy responds, but questions remain over sonar issue
May 14, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) "While recent media reports suggest a link between the use of the USS Shoup's sonar and strandings of porpoises in the Puget Sound area, there is no evidence to support such a conclusion at this time," according to the Navy's statement. "The Navy's marine mammal experts are reviewing available information about this event ... "
The Navy confirmed that the Shoup was moving May 5 between San Juan Island and Vancouver Island while conducting a training procedure called a "swept channel and surface small ship object avoidance exercise."
Observers in the area at the time, including Tom McMillan of Salish Sea Charters, told The Sun last week that killer whales off the west side of San Juan Island bunched up in a defensive manner and appeared confused before leaving a favorite feeding area.
Up to 100 porpoises also were reported trying to get away.
The sonar was turned off after officials on board the Shoup heard from Canadian authorities that small-boat operators were complaining.
Activists, Democrats brace for Defense environment showdown
May 13, 2003 (GovExec.com) Environmentalists and House and Senate Democrats are preparing to battle the Bush administration's efforts to exempt the Defense Department from a host of key environmental laws, with both chambers expected to take up the issue over the next two weeks, sources say.
Late last week, the House Resources Committee passed legislation sponsored by Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, R-Calif., that would ease controls on military activities under the Endangered Species Act, federal marine mammal laws and other environmental statutes.
One source explained that there is growing concern that Defense supporters will simply move a small piece of the larger proposal each year, using House attempts to pass a larger package as cover for an incremental erosion of federal environmental controls on military lands.
The House Armed Services Committee is expected to take up Pombo's bill Tuesday, and the Senate will likely address the issue next week during floor debate of the fiscal 2004 Defense reauthorization bill.
Protecting the Strait
May 13, 2003 (Seattle Times Editorial) The accidental dumping of sewage by the cruise ship Norwegian Sun in the Strait of Juan de Fuca has spawned a fight over legal jurisdiction. The Washington Department of Ecology says the site of the spill was within U.S. jurisdiction; the U. S. Coast Guard, a federal agency, says it was not.
It's a question worth settling, and we trust the various attorneys to thrash it out. In the meantime, the public concern is not about law. It is about sewage.
Dumping by ships comes in addition to pollution from Victoria, which has been dumping barely treated municipal sewage into the Strait for many years.
Having objected to that, Americans are not in a strong position to do it themselves. In any case, there is little necessity for it. Unlike cities, ships move. They may easily dump somewhere else, which they should.
Either way the legal fight goes, the cruise line operator, Norwegian Cruise Line, should know, and do, better.
Porpoises die along coast; sonar suspected
May 13, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) At least a half-dozen dead porpoises have washed up along the Washington and Canadian coasts in recent weeks, according to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
The announcement yesterday came one week after whale watchers noticed a shrill pinging sound and saw porpoises and a pod of endangered killer whales fleeing from the waters southwest of San Juan Island. The U.S. Navy confirmed that a destroyer, the USS Shoup, used its sonar when it passed through the area.
Ken Balcomb, the center's director, said the porpoises' carcasses would be examined to determine the cause of death. Balcomb said he suspects that sonar played a role.
Could Navy Sonar Tests Be Hurting Porpoises?
May 12, 2003 (KOMO-TV) In just a week, three dead harbor porpoises showed up in the San Juan Islands. Two others turned up nearby -- one near Port Angeles and another near Victoria.
And Scientists worry it might be fallout from a Navy sonar test.
Orcas reacted frantically when a Navy destroyer tested its sonar last week off San Juan Island. Whale watchers worry the sonar confused, even hurt the whales.
Sonar incident prompts focus on legislation
May 12, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) The Navy might have violated federal law last week when USS Shoup employed high-intensity sonar around marine mammals, but that's the least of the concerns, environmentalists say.
"I happen to believe that what they did was a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act," said Michael Jasny of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
But Jasny said he's more worried about a bill working its way through Congress that would allow the military to ignore any harm to marine mammals.
U.S. and Canadian officials are investigating Monday's incident in which the Shoup, a guided-missile destroyer based in Everett, apparently passed by the San Juan Islands using sonar that caused noticeable agitation to about 20 killer whales and up to 100 porpoises.
Salmon recovery effort becomes a numbers game
May 12, 2003 (Bellingham Herald) Washington state will need healthy chinook runs throughout Puget Sound - enough chinook for some tribal, commercial and sport fishing - before the fish is taken off the endangered species list, federal officials said.
In Whatcom County, the Nooksack River's north and south fork spring chinook will both likely need to be restored to healthy levels. That's despite the regional approach that distribute healthy chinook runs among some, though not all, of the 22 streams with declining chinook runs in Western Washington, according draft requirements created by state and federal officials.
Hatcheries having little success at boosting salmon populations May 12, 2003 (Bellingham Herald)
Keeping Salmon in the Pink
May 11, 2003 (Bellingham Herald) Four years ago, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed Puget Sound chinook as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. Now, recovery efforts are targeting areas that will help salmon the most, rather than simply attempting a patchwork of projects with the hope that one day they'll result in a river full of chinook.
In 1999, state leaders and environmentalists said the chinook listing would change the lives of Puget Sound residents, from the way new buildings were built to how people washed their cars. The concern was that an endangered species had never been declared in an urban area with hundreds of thousands of landowners.
While there have been more environmental reviews of construction projects near chinook streams, no fisheries police have appeared to arrest people for letting suds drain into local creeks, as once predicted.
Seattle's creeks were once choked with salmon. Do we have the courage to bring them back?
May 11, 2003 (Seattle Times) Opinion by Bob Simmons WE revere the salmon as our Northwest cultural icon, celebrating its annual struggle back to spawning waters, to sacrifice its body for its offspring. With all that, the treasury of salmon returning to streams around Lake Washington last year turned as thin as the Seattle city budget. Creeks became trickles. At the mouths of those streams in which countable coho still make the effort, big fish died waiting for water that never came.
Only with total effort can we reverse the process, and total effort seems politically out of the question. Total effort would mean retrofitting whole neighborhoods of houses where storm water rages unchecked into streams, rips out fish habitat, flushes tiny salmon into the lake or the Sound. That can be fixed, but it will cost more than anyone's willing to spend.
Total effort would mean at last outlawing the use of poison lawn chemicals where they run into storm sewers and from there to the creeks.
No political leader would even think of saying openly, "Forget the silly fish." But their concern for the salmon seems to extend only to the point where the fish get in the way of private profits.
Whatever the motive, there's more at risk than salmon in the loss of urban streams and wild areas. These stream corridors are priceless islands of wildness in the urban landscape. As state laws direct growth into existing cities, we need more than ever to protect these little, green, wet urban gems. They serve as wild bird habitat and as outdoor classrooms where school children can study the basic nature of the planet and its delights. They restore the urban soul, and help to make city living tolerable.
Navy sonar may have spooked orcas, porpoises
May 9, 2003 (Seattle Times) Sonar from a Navy guided-missile destroyer apparently agitated a group of killer whales and dozens of porpoises enough to send them fleeing from the waters southwest of San Juan Island.
About 20 whales were feeding and behaving normally Monday morning, when whale-watch operator Tom McMillen lowered an underwater microphone into the water to listen to their calls.
"As the sound got louder, the whales gathered up. ... They do this when they rest or if there's a stress," McMillen, owner of Salish Sea Charters, said yesterday.
"They moved north and got out of there," McMillen said. "They looked distressed."
Cmdr. Karen Sellers, spokeswoman for Navy Region Northwest, confirmed the 511-foot USS Shoup was using its sonar "briefly" in Haro Strait, a body of water west of San Juan Island, on Monday.
Use of Navy sonar has come under intense scrutiny since March 2000, when at least 16 whales and two dolphins beached themselves on an island in the Bahamas. Eight whales died, and scientists found hemorrhaging around their brains and ear bones, injuries consistent with exposure to loud noise.
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill, sought by the Bush administration, that would exempt the Department of Defense from five federal laws protecting wildlife and the environment.
(see more sonar stories below)
Dam breaching is back on the table in fish debate
May 9, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A judge's decision to send a regional fish-saving plan back for more discussion is sure to reopen the divisive debate over breaching four lower Snake River dams.
In a move hailed by Northwest conservation and fishing groups, U.S. District Judge James Redden on Wednesday ruled that a regional plan for saving fish in the Columbia Basin violates the federal Endangered Species Act.
U.S. judge orders revision in strategy to save salmon
May 8, 2003 (Seattle Times) A federal judge yesterday ordered the government to retool key aspects of its plan for saving salmon in the Columbia and Snake rivers, giving new life to the long and bitter debate between river users and environmentalists over breaching four Lower Snake River dams.
U.S. District Judge James Redden's ruling yesterday found the salmon-restoration plan, set forth by NOAA Fisheries in December 2000, falls short because it relies on efforts to save the fish that are too uncertain, a violation of the federal Endangered Species Act.
"This forces the federal government to reassess the whole picture," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a plaintiff in the suit. "The original (plan) was based on hopelessly optimistic assumptions, speculation and a good bit of wishful thinking. We need a plan that is based on real science and not a hope and a prayer. Taking dams out has got to be on the table."
Judge Says Federal Salmon Plan Too Vague and Uncertain May 7, 2003 (Environmental News Service)
Defense Department offered relief from species laws
May 8, 2003 (GovExec.com) The House Resources Committee voted Wednesday to give the Defense Department the relief it has been seeking from laws protecting endangered species and marine mammals.
By moving quickly on the National Security Readiness Act (H.R. 1835) the committee also asserted its jurisdiction over the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Defense Department included changes to these and other environmental laws in its fiscal 2004 authorization request. The House Armed Services' Readiness Subcommittee is scheduled to include relief from species protection when it marks up its portion of the DOD authorization bill (H.R. 1588) Friday. The full committee has scheduled its markup for next week.
The bill also affects the Marine Mammal Protection Act by changing the definition of harassment and by allowing the Secretary of Defense to get an exemption from the law for up to two years, with additional two-year extensions possible.
Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., questioned whether anything would prevent the military from setting off explosions that could kill all orcas in Washington. The DOD exemption does not require hearings or reviews of military actions.
The changes in harassment terms, as well as the striking of key phrases from the marine mammal act, are relevant to an ongoing lawsuit regarding the U.S. Navy's use of a low-frequency sonar system. In November 2002 a federal district judge issued a preliminary injunction limiting deployment of the sonar system, which the Navy says is a critical component of anti-submarine warfare.
Navy sonar incident alarms experts
May 8, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) Dozens of porpoises and killer whales seemed to stampede all at once Monday in response to a loud electronic noise echoing through the San Juan Islands.
The noise, apparently sonar from the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup, was reported to be so loud that whale-watchers could hear it pinging through the hulls of their boats several miles away.
Ken Balcomb, longtime orca researcher in the San Juans, said the sonar appears to be the same type that killed seven beaked whales in the Bahamas in spring 2000.
Navy blamed for whale distress May 7, 2003 (KING5 TV)
Whale-watcher says Navy ship's sonar spooked cetaceans May 9, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer
U.S. destroyer's sonar probed as cause of whale disturbance
May 7, 2003 (Victoria Times-Colonist) The U.S. navy is reviewing an incident in which a pod of endangered killers whales began behaving strangely when a nearby destroyer blasted powerful sound waves into waters off Victoria.
"It is sort of a worst-nightmare scenario," said Dan Kukat, president of the Whale Watch Operators Association. He met Tuesday with Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials to file a complaint over the use of sonar.
The sonar blasts, which could be heard above water, are also being blamed for unusual behaviour in porpoises and a minke whale.
The incident took place Monday in Haro Strait which separates San Juan Island from southern Vancouver Island.
Worries about the impact of sonar on whales, who rely on underwater sound for navigation, finding food and communication, is a growing issue in the wake of strandings in various parts of the world.
Worry about sonar tops the agenda for Lance Barrett-Lennard, senior marine mammal scientist at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. "In terms of an immediate new and very dangerous issue, it is front and foremost."
Military SONAR Disrupts Whales in Haro Strait
May 7, 2003 (Vancouver Aquarium News) Whale researchers were called in to the Haro Strait area yesterday afternoon after a commercial whale watching operator heard loud, intense "pings" on a hydrophone and observed unusual behavior by the whales in the area. "At first the sounds were kind of quiet," said Tom McMillen of Salish Sea Charters. "Then they got really loud. I had to shut it off because I couldn't stand it. It was coming through the hydrophone, making a screech every 25 seconds and shaking the amplifier." McMillen contacted Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research. "The sounds we were hearing from the hydrophones were incredible," said Balcomb.
A minke whale, porpoises and 22 members of the J pod of the southern resident killer whales were all in the area and according to Balcomb, they were displaying unprecedented behaviours. "They were acting very disoriented – really unusual surface and dive behaviours. It was a very intense situation." At the same time, a US Navy ship was seen and photographed passing in the distance. "We got a hold of the Coast Guard and asked them to contact the ship to get them to turn it (the SONAR) off." After about 18 minutes, the pings stopped. While none of the animals stranded, Balcomb said strandings over the next couple of days as a result of this incident are still possible. When contacted by AquaNews yesterday afternoon, public affairs officials of the US Navy in Seattle could not confirm the presence of a ship in Haro Strait or any details about SONAR use in the area.
Tribes and environmentalists battle farmer-backed Washington water bills
May 7, 2003 (Environmental News Service) Indian tribes and environmental groups have banded together to oppose water law changes they contend would favor cities and farms over salmon and water quality.
The bills - backed by farmers, city officials, Gov. Gary Locke, and the Department of Ecology - died Monday at the end of the Legislature's regular session but are on the agenda for the special session set to begin May 12.
"They're not good for the salmon, they're not good for the tribes," said Billy Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. "They're not good for in-stream flows, they're not good for anybody."
40 tons of sewage dumped into state waters
May 7, 2003 (Seattle Times) The incident highlights a dispute that has simmered quietly for months among environmentalists, the port and other government agencies over the degree to which cruise lines should be required to report where they discharge waste.
Cruise ships do not routinely pump sewage off into Seattle sewers when they dock here, nor do they have permits to dump into state waters. Federal law allows dumping once they are three miles out to sea.
The dumping in the wee hours of the morning took place in the waters north and west of Port Townsend, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The exact location remains somewhat unclear, Kenny said, in part because the captain who called Ecology to report the incident spoke "very poor English."
Oceanographers say Puget Sound extends from Olympia to Admiralty Inlet, by Port Townsend. But the public -- and the Washington Legislature -- generally consider the Sound to extend to all the inland saltwater in the state.
Panel of scientists urges 500 changes to fish hatcheries
May 6, 2003 (Seattle Times) Reforming Washington state's fish-hatchery system to support dwindling salmon runs and a $1 billion-a-year fishing industry is such a messy task that scientists empowered by Congress have recommended more than 500 changes to individual hatcheries.
Yesterday, a scientific panel, which spent three years visiting and evaluating more than 100 of the salmon and steelhead hatcheries in coastal Washington and Puget Sound, offered new proposals to clean up operation of central Sound hatcheries that produce everything from kokanee to sockeye.
But what the panel encountered offers a lesson in how tricky overhauling the machinery of fish production can be - especially in Washington, which operates the world's largest fish-hatchery system.
Few dispute the quality of the science behind the team's reports: "It's great stuff, and we intend to use it," said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency that oversees salmon recovery.
"It is the cash flow in a lot of our rural communities," said Jeff Koenings, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In addition, hatcheries have been known to pose barriers to upstream fish migration, some actually suck wild fish in with intake valves, and others may release the wrong fish into a particular stretch of water. Often, there are political or economic arguments made for the status quo - even when it doesn't make sense scientifically.
Oil-leaking dams generate concern
May 5, 2003 (Portland Oregonian) The 200-foot sheen on the Columbia River below Bonneville Dam led Washington state regulators into a hidden world: the dam itself. The rainbow-colored slick tracked into the half-mile-long hydroelectric structure, jammed with whirring turbines, unknown pits and pumps that demand 160,000 gallons of heavy oil to operate.
The dam was leaking oil directly into the river.
Bonneville, it turns out, is joined by other decades-old U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in spilling or leaking untold volumes of oil -- in some instances, but a trickle; in another, roughly 1,000 gallons.
The Bonneville case was a year and a half ago. Oregon and Washington authorities have since issued the Corps of Engineers four violation notices for illegally spilling oil into the river at Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day dams. Corps managers have taken some corrective action and plan to review oil containment at their dams across the Northwest.
But the corps has snubbed its neighbor states, telling them they have no authority over what goes on inside federal dams and guarding information about a dam's inner workings in the name of protection against terrorist plots. State officials, tracking river compliance under the federal Clean Water Act as well as fish habitat quality, are left to file Freedom of Information Act requests -- much as any frustrated citizen would do.
Oil tankers slow to shift to anti-spill double hulls
May 5, 2003 (Seattle Times) Fourteen years after the Exxon Valdez ruptured against a reef in Prince William Sound, fewer than a third of the tankers ferrying crude between Alaska and Puget Sound are equipped with a double hull - a safety feature Congress deemed critical to preventing oil spills.
After the 1989 spill, Congress gave companies until 2015 to phase out all single-hull tankers operating in U.S. waters and replace them with thermos-like dual hulls. The idea: If an iceberg, reef or collision punctured a ship's outer shell, the inner core that holds its oily cargo could still stay intact.
But halfway through that phase-out period, only seven of nearly two dozen tankers offloading oil here from Alaska's North Slope have dual hulls. Of those, only two are new. And foreign tankers often more lightly inspected by private shipping organizations than their U.S. counterparts now ferry more petroleum products to and from U.S. ports.
Marine Resource Committee receives grants to continue creosote clean-up efforts
May 3, 2003 (Anacortes Online) By Tara Nelson -- The Whatcom County Council approved two grants last week totaling $20,000, which the Marine Resource Committee will use to reimburse the city for its effort in removing creosote, a by-product of crude-oil refinement, contaminated logs from Whatcom County shorelines.
"The committee has been meeting for four years and looking at the health of the marine environment," Ryan said. "We know that creosoted logs pollute the bay and poison fish. So we decided to do a project to remove as many logs as we can."
Creosote comes in many forms. However, most of the creosote on Whatcom County beaches is coal-tar creosote – a thick, black, tar-like, by-product of crude-oil refinement. It is a popular treatment for wood pilings and telephone poles because it effectively keeps marine organisms and termites from degrading the wood.
However, coal-tar creosote contains significant amounts of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are stable toxins that remain in the environment for a long period of time. When exposed to sunlight, the toxic chemicals slowly seep out of the creosote and into the soil and ground water, work their way back to the ocean and eventually contaminate marine organisms.
The City of Bellingham began removing creosote treated wood from Whatcom County in February of 2002 after receiving a grant of $45,000 from the State Department of Ecology, said Joni Cameron, creosote project coordinator for the City of Bellingham.
A study by the State Department of Ecology found that 100 percent of herring eggs attached to creosote-treated logs in open and laboratory environments did not hatch. Nine percent of the eggs that were free-floating hatched and all had abnormalities.
"People don't realize that something so pervasive in our environment has such a negative effect on water quality and wildlife," Fogelsong said.
Grocery chains agree to label farm-raised salmon
May 1, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Reacting quickly to a consumer complaint, grocery giants Albertsons, Kroger and Safeway have begun labeling farm-raised salmon in their stores across the country as artificially colored.
One week ago, several Seattle consumers filed lawsuits against the supermarket chains for not informing the public that farm-raised salmon are fed a color additive to make the flesh pinkish-red.
If not given the additive, farm-raised salmon would be grayish, which consumers described last week as unappetizing. With the additive, wild and farm-raised salmon look alike and one might be easily mistaken for the other.
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