Orca Network News - May, 2007
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2007 through May 31, 2007.
May 30, 2007 (Orca Network News) Friendship. This is the word that defines what is missing in the interspecies equation between rescuers trying to guide humpbacks to sea and a conference to decide on the new quotas for killing whales. Surely we are a schizophrenic species, especially when it comes to whales. On one hand, we reach out to them; and with the same hands, we harpoon them.
Japan, who leads the world in whale hunting, is perhaps the most conflicted of all. Paul Spong reports that this country has killed "more than 5,000 whales" in its relentless crusade against cetaceans. Every year they slaughter whales under their so-called "scientific whaling," much of which ends up in high-end Japanese meat markets. But what most people don't know is that Japan also has a very successful whale-watching business that actually is more lucrative than its government-subsidized whale hunts.
I ponder these paradoxes and connections as I follow the daily IWC whale politics – where countries play poker with endangered species. As the mother-calf humpbacks swim for their lives toward the open ocean, cheered on by a world transfixed, the more hidden struggle of the whale's survival plays out. It is here at the IWC that mothers and calves are truly at risk. Japan reported a tragic 70 percent of the whales killed in 2006 by its whaling fleet in the Antarctic were pregnant. In 2007, Japan is proposing to add humpbacks to its hunt. And in an eleventh hour move, Denmark has announced its intent to return to whaling, seeking a kill of 2 bowheads, 25 minkes, and 10 humpbacks.
Whale watchers say Coast Guard Machine-gunning spooked orcas
May 30, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A Coast Guard exercise that involved firing machine guns in the Strait of Juan de Fuca spooked orcas, according to captains of nearby whale-watch boats, who reported a Coast Guard vessel did "doughnuts" around one of the killer whales.
The Coast Guard said the vessel firing the machine gun was nowhere near the orcas and was firing in the other direction. Twice the shooting was halted when whales came into the area, said Coast Guard Commander Pete Martin.
Dan Kukat, president of the Whale Watch Operators Association Northwest, said four whale-watch captains reported orcas from J pod began swimming back and forth and reversing course quickly, as if trying to evade something, during the exercise late Thursday morning.
The incident occurred just inside U.S. waters in an area west of Victoria and Port Angeles. It is designated as a military firing range and notices were put out to mariners to beware of the exercise.
Kukat said the whale-watch captains were particularly concerned because the Coast Guard vessels, which are based in Oregon, did not respond to calls on two marine radio channels.
Martin said the two vessels in the exercise were set up so that one would fire west, with an M-240 machine gun, which has a range of about two miles. Three miles to the east, an identical 25-foot Coast Guard response boat was stationed to keep boaters out of the area. It appears that the whale-watch captains were confused about which vessel was firing, he said.
U.S. ship fired at whales, say boat operators
May 26, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) The U.S. Coast Guard shot a machine gun into the water off Vancouver Island, spooking a pod of killer whales nearby, said a group of B.C. whale-watching operators.
Brad Armstrong, a boat captain with Prince of Whales, said he was flabbergasted.
"The whales were right beside our boat and the boat that was firing was about a quarter of a mile away," he said.
Armstrong had heard chatter on the radio from other whale-watchers concerned about the behaviour of two U.S. Coast Guard boats.
"They said they were doing high-speed doughnuts in the vicinity of the whales and firing machine guns," he said.
When he arrived, about 25 whales were in the area, including the pod's new baby.
"The whales were really freaked out," he said. "They were in a tight pod and changing direction with the males around the outside."
However, a Coast Guard petty officer who took part in the exercise said the shooting stopped as soon as boat operators told them orcas were in the area.
"Our policy is, if we see killer whales within a couple of hundred yards, we stop the vessels and let them swim through the area," said Petty Officer Travis Fraser.
The exercise was halted twice because of the whales, he said.
"We waited about an hour while the pod of whales was in the area. We just drifted for a while and, once the whale-watching boats left, we made a visual scan to make sure there were no more killer whales in the area and then we recommenced the exercise."
Severed orca fin on beach stuns researchers
May 25, 2007 (Seattle Times) )Whale researchers are stunned and worried by the discovery this week of a severed orca fin on a beach on the Washington coast.
Someone walking a dog found the 100-pound fin washed up Tuesday at South Beach at Twin Harbors State Park near Westport, Grays Harbor County.
"It was actually a dorsal fin, sticking right up out of the sand," said Ed Girard, the park ranger who first got the call to check it out. "It was a strange thing to see."
Canadian officials said the fin belonged to T086, an adult female transient killer whale known to Canadian researchers since 1984 by the distinct markings on the fin.
"I've been involved in [whale] strandings for more than 10 years and never heard of anything like this," Baird said.
Researchers said they still hope to find the rest of T086's carcass to solve the mystery of its death. Based on the state of decomposition, the whale probably had been dead for fewer than five days. There is no known commercial market for orcas parts, and the animals are not hunted for food.
Transient killer whales are different from southern resident orcas native to Puget Sound, now protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The transients eat seals and other mammals, and travel great distances in their range between central California and southeast Alaska.
Transients are not listed under the ESA but are still protected under the federal marine-mammal law.
Lawsuit looms over B.C. orcas
May 24, 2007 (Toronto Globe and Mail) After waiting for nearly a year, legal team gives DFO two weeks to release recovery plan
The Sierra Legal Defence Fund has accused the Department of Fisheries and Oceans of "unlawful and unreasonable delay" for repeatedly postponing the release of a strategy to protect an endangered killer whale population off the west coast.
Sierra staff lawyer Lara Tessaro said in a letter delivered yesterday to Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn that if the Resident Killer Whale Recovery Strategy is not released within two weeks, she will file an application in Federal Court to force the document into the public realm.
She said it would be the first time in Canada the government has been taken to court to make it live up to deadline requirements of the Species At Risk Act, which came into law in 2004.
Ms. Tessaro said the southern resident killer whale population - a group of about 90 orcas found in the waters of southern British Columbia and northern Washington - are emerging as a test case because they are "in the first wave" of several endangered species covered by SARA.
Dead orca was a female transient
May 23, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) The dead killer whale that washed up on a remote beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island had whiskers and fur in its stomach, proving that it was a mammal-eating transient rather than a fish-eating resident.
A team of whale experts flew to the Nootka Island beach Sunday, after the carcass was spotted by an Air Nootka pilot. Samples of blubber, skin, organs and stomach contents were taken and sent to scientists around the world.
It is rare to find an orca carcass because most sink, are eaten by predators or are simply inaccessible. It is hoped tests on the Nootka whale can tease out information about toxicology and diet.
Dr. Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the B.C. Centre for Animal Health, said the approximately six- metre animal was a female, probably 20 to 25 years old, and was suffering from malnutrition and peritonitis.
"That could be the primary cause of death, but we don't know whether it was secondary to contaminants or parasites," he said.
The lungs and heart were fine, but the emaciation and lack of oil in the blubber suggests a chronic disease, Raverty said.
Global warming could impact climate, forests and snowpack
May 22, 2007 (Seattle Times) Research scientist Amy Snover earned a doctorate in environmental chemistry, studying atmospheric methane, a greenhouse gas. She now focuses on the intersection of science and policy at the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington.
Part of her job is briefing local lawmakers and resource managers on the impact of global warming. Whether it's the length of the ski season, the health of Washington forests or the potential for coastal flooding, climate change will transform the state, she says.
Q: If someone were transported 75 years into the future, would he or she notice a difference around here, climate-wise?
A: Definitely. You're talking about the 2080s - the temperature would be about 5 ½ degrees warmer on average from the last 30 years of the 20th century. Much warmer than now. It might be a teeny bit wetter in winter, but we wouldn't notice that. What we would notice is it's a lot warmer and, as a result, less snow in the mountains because it's raining instead of snowing.
Q: Some people say there is nothing we can do, the damage has already been done. If we look 75 years out, can anything we do today make a difference?
A: [Things we do now] make a huge difference. The amount of warming over the next 100 years is dependent on how much greenhouse gases we emit. The next two decades doesn't make a difference, but it makes a huge difference in the kind of planet we're going to leave when we're gone.
Huge task faces Puget Sound's anointed savior
May 21, 2007 (Seattle Times) It's been a long, storied career in government and business for William Ruckelshaus. He has defied President Nixon and he has battled the New York Mafia. He helped start the Environmental Protection Agency and he has sued Fortune 500 companies for pollution.
Now at age 74, from a corner office on the 37th floor of a downtown Seattle high-rise, Ruckelshaus can peer down at what may be his most sprawling and elusive problem yet.
Now it's up to Ruckelshaus to convince the public that, despite the way Elliott Bay glitters in the afternoon sun, beneath the surface it is gravely ill.
Gov. Christine Gregoire has chosen Ruckelshaus to become the kingpin in a brand-new state agency, the Puget Sound Partnership, formed by the state Legislature this year to do what state, federal and local agencies haven't been able to: protect and restore the Sound.
The governor and other fans say few people are in a better position to fill the role of elder environmental statesman and navigate the region's tricky political waters. No one disagrees that he has a rare combination of political acumen, environmental know-how and corporate leadership, topped off with a squeaky-clean reputation that has weathered the likes of Watergate.
Still, on the eve of this ambitious undertaking, there are some who question whether his trademark approach - heavy on citizen involvement and input from a broad range of interests - will work.
The Puget Sound Partnership in many ways has less legal power than a small-town policeman. It can't issues fines or tickets for pollution. It won't directly regulate industry, set pollution standards or clean up toxic spills.
Instead, the agency has been created to be part planner, part persuader, part banker and part cheerleader. One of its first tasks is to devise a master cleanup plan, then make sure local governments and state agencies aren't going astray, dole out cleanup money, and get all the various businesses, tribes, environmentalists and local governments to work together on a solution.
Dead orca a bounty for researchers
May 20, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) Whale experts will be heading to a remote beach on Nootka Island today to examine the remains of a killer whale that washed up at Bajo Point this week.
"This is a high priority because the number of dead killer whales we actually find is very low. To find a fresh one is very rare," said Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal coordinator for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Samples will be taken from the whale's tissues, blubber, organs and stomach contents in hopes they will give scientists clues about toxins in the whale's body and diet, Joyce said.
It's not yet known whether the whale is a resident or a transient. Photographs of the saddle patch have been sent to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour for identification.
The endangered southern-resident pods have about 87 members and the threatened northern-resident pods have about 218 members. The transients are also listed as threatened, with about 200 off the coast of B.C. and up to 400 on the West Coast.
The dead orca, reported by an Air Nootka pilot, is about five metres long, which means it's either a young female or a juvenile.
Susan Berta, a researcher with Washington-based Orca Network, said it's disturbing that a young whale should be washing up dead. "We are all anxiously waiting to find out more," she said.
Where's Shamu? Canada's Whale-Finding Robot
May 18, 2007 (PC World) Canada's Department of National Defence agency is testing a new aquatic robot meant to help locate and protect whales.
The Slocum Diver is a 114-lb. torpedo-shaped vehicle that's five feet long and 8.4 inches in diameter. It can quietly sink into the water to monitor for sounds -- including the high-frequency pitch of whale calls. By deploying the robots, Canadian warships and other craft can mark the positions of whales and avoid them without the whales realizing that they are being tracked.
Historically, the only way to monitor whales was by viewing them from commercial vessels such as whale-watching ships. In search of a better way of keeping tabs on the animals, Canada's defense agency has been testing the Slocum system for about five years. Manufactured by Falmouth, Mass.-based Webb Research Corp., the robot costs about US$50,000, depending on how it's deployed.
Mexican baby killer whale in tug of love
May 18, 2007 (Yahoo News) A newborn killer whale found bleeding on a Mexican beach has become the centre of an international controversy over whether she should stay in Mexico or be sent to a U.S. marine theme park.
Mexican aquarium workers have been feeding the baby named Pascuala around the clock with milk from a tube inserted in her mouth since she was found beached in a Pacific fishing village in April.
Pascuala, just over a month old and weighing 403 pounds (183 kg), is still recovering, but if she survives, the aquarium's owners want to send her to the Sea World park in San Diego, California.
Some environmentalists oppose transferring Pascuala to Sea World, however, because it could set a precedent that might enable animal traffickers to export more killer whales, also known as orcas.
The Mexican government's environmental protection agency has so far blocked a transfer to San Diego, saying Mexico's wildlife should not leave the country.
Sea World said it would be happy to accept Pascuala, where she could learn from the park's seven existing orcas. Those killer whales live in a 7 million gallon (26.5 million litre) tank and perform tricks for legions of visitors.
Unaware of the controversy surrounding her, the baby orca spends her days swimming and playing with her trainers, who have grown attached to her while acting as surrogate mothers.
Visitors have flocked to see the baby and hundreds check a blog set up in her name, where videos, photos and testimonials detail her meals, swimming lessons and attempts to play with nearby dolphins.
If Mexico refuses the transfer to Sea World, Pascuala could be released into the ocean. But experts say a successful reintroduction would be difficult for an animal raised with human contact and being fed by hand.
Killer whales, the largest and most intelligent members of the dolphin family, live in tight-knit pods that can travel 75 miles (120 km) a day in search of prey. Scientists would have to find Pascuala's family and hope it would accept her.
This is not Mexico's first killer whale controversy. 'Free Willy,' the 1993 Warner Brothers blockbuster about an orca whose life is in danger, starred the real-life killer whale Keiko, whose home was a Mexico City amusement park.
Following the film's success, fans forced Keiko's move to a larger tank in Oregon and his 2002 release into the ocean. But Keiko continued to seek human contact and after a year died of pneumonia. [Note: Keiko's family was never located, so he was never placed near them -hg]
Warming to boost fire spending, cut salmon habitat, reports say
May 18, 2007 (Seattle Times) The report notes some studies expect more than 40 percent of rivers in Oregon and Idaho will be too warm for salmon by the year 2090, and 22 percent in Washington. It would be even worse for bull trout, which demand even colder water.
Warmer water makes salmon eggs hatch quicker, producing smaller juvenile fish that are more likely to be eaten by predators. Warmer water favors fish that eat young salmon. Warmer water will also weaken adult salmon as they swim up fish ladders going over the dams, and make them more vulnerable to parasites and diseases. Warmer oceans may mean less food for salmon as they mature.
The scientists suggest that only global strategies that reduce greenhouse gases will completely address the problems, but the federal hydroelectric dams can help by releasing more cold water from reservoirs during salmon migrations and installing weirs that help young fish pass over the dams more quickly while migrating downstream.
They also suggest opening up more backwaters and sloughs along rivers to cool temperatures, protecting cold-water spawning areas, increasing control of predators such as the northern pike minnow, and considering trucks and barges to carry adult salmon up the lower Snake River in late summer when the water can be lethally warm.
Ocean study sounds another alarm on global warming
May 18, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Southern Ocean, a massive storehouse for carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, slowly is losing its capacity to buffer the world from rising concentrations of the greenhouse gas, researchers reported Thursday.
As a result, the report says, carbon dioxide could accumulate in the atmosphere faster than previously expected.
The Southern Ocean, which surrounds Antarctica, accounts for about one-third of all carbon stored in oceans.
The researchers described a vicious cycle in which global warming reduces the ocean's ability to absorb the heat-trapping gas, accelerating the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and triggering more warming.
Decline of gray whales alarms scientists
May 18, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed from the Independent UK) But now scientists are worried. Gray whales, whose numbers in the eastern Pacific have fallen to around 18,000 in recent years, have been arriving at their breeding grounds off the coast of Mexico looking decidedly slender. Experts have declared they are suffering from what they term "skinny whale syndrome."
"I went down to Mexico this winter and my colleagues and I were finding whales that were starving," says William Megill, whose work is funded by the Earthwatch charity. "You can tell because the fat has disappeared from the back of their heads. There are these big divots."
Nor do the whales appear to be breeding. Conception usually occurs between November and January. Gray whale females usually are pregnant over a two-year cycle, producing a single calf every other year. "It's pretty obvious when whales are breeding. The penis of a gray whale is about 9 feet long long and bright pink. You can't miss it. Usually when tourists come ashore in Mexico they are talking about having seen them. This year there was no talk of it, really. We have a feeling that the animals are looking for food," says Megill.
In recent years, lack of food has killed thousands of gray whales.
Steven Swartz, an expert in gray whales who monitors them in Baja California in Mexico with the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, is another scientist who is concerned about the starving creatures. "It could be the early signs of something serious; we're not sure yet. We were able to photograph animals this year that appear to be either malnourished or suffering from disease or a combination of factors and we don't know what is contributing to it," says Swartz, who also works for the fisheries service of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration in the U.S.
Indeed, the counts of gray whales, particularly female-calf pairs, residing within Laguna San Ignacio, in Baja California Sur in Mexico, during the past winter season were noticeably lower than in any previous year since 1978.
10News Looks Into SeaWorld During 7-Month Investigation
May 17, 2007 (10News San Diego) SeaWorld is a San Diego landmark, a cheerfully choreographed and skillfully marketed celebration of the sea.
Millions of visitors -- locals and tourists -- know very little about an industry built on the capture of killer whales, dolphins and other sea creatures.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said, "I would describe the whole captive industry as being very secretive."
10News traveled to Washington state to learn more about the killer whale, the centerpiece of a billion-dollar business, and the man who started it all, killer whale hunter Ted Griffin, the man who captured the first Shamu.
"Whales die in the hunt, that's true," said whale hunter Ted Griffin.
In 1965, in the water alongside Seattle's Pier 56, was the first ever killer whale performing show. It was the precursor to the Shamu success. The star of the show was a 20-year-old Orca named Namu.
Griffin admitted at one time he and Goldsberry herded three full families of whales into a cove in Puget Sound, trapping them in nets.
Three young whales and one adult tangled in the nets and drowned.
Balcomb said, "They hired divers to slit open the bellies, fill them with rocks, put anchors around their tails, and sank them at night."
Balcomb runs the Center for Whale Research in Puget Sound where 49 whales were taken from the wild population.
"There's only 1 left, Lolita in the Miami Seaquarium. Basically, they've all died in captivity," said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research.
Closed-pen farming Impenetrable barrier needed to keep wild stocks safe and healthy, provincial panel says
May 17, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) British Columbia's salmon farming industry needs profound, fundamental changes that reflect the need to protect native Pacific salmon, says a controversial new report presented to the provincial government on Wednesday.
The legislature's sustainable aquaculture committee says the risk of "serious or irreversible harm" to wild salmon, particularly if they are hit with sea lice infestations in the vicinity of fish farms, makes it urgent for government to force the industry to overhaul its farming practices.
In particular, the report recommends a "rapid, phased transition" away from conventional open-pen sea farming to closed containment pens that provide an impenetrable biological barrier between wild and farmed salmon.
Environmental Groups Sue U.S. Navy Over Sonar Exercises off Hawaii
May 17, 2007 (Environmental News Network) Five environmental groups are suing the Navy over sonar exercises off the coast of Hawaii that they say harm whales.
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit in federal court in Honolulu on Wednesday, citing studies saying Navy sonar can "kill, injure, or significantly alter the behavior of whales and dolphins."
The groups, which also include the Ocean Mammal Institute and the Animal Welfare Institute, want the court to prohibit naval sonar exercises near Hawaii until sailors adopt measures to protect marine mammals.
The suit says the Navy plans a series of up to 12 anti-submarine warfare exercises off Hawaii through next year.
Sailors use active sonar by pumping sound waves through the ocean and listening to the echo as it bounces off underwater objects. It is a key technology for finding enemy submarines, a top priority for today's U.S. Navy as more nations are using quieter and harder-to-detect submarines.
But scientists say sonar may mask the echoes some whales and dolphins listen for when they use their own natural sonar to locate food. Navy sonar may also startle some species, in particular beaked whales, prompting them to rush to the surface.
There is evidence that this gives them a form of "bends," the decompression sickness human divers get when they surface too fast.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration study said the Navy's use of sonar contributed to the beaching of 16 whales and two dolphins in the Bahamas in 2000.
Eight of those whales died, showing hemorrhaging around their brains and ear bones, possibly because they were exposed to loud noise.
Helping the shipping industry cut down on ocean noise
May 17, 2007 (Seattle Times op-ed) Underwater sound is not something most people think about, but they would if they lived in the ocean. Since the dawn of industrialization, levels of background sound in the ocean, called ambient noise, have steadily increased. By far the most significant increase is thought to be caused by man's growing use of the ocean for shipping. The number of commercial vessels plying the world's oceans doubled between 1965 and 2003. Shipping-industry analysts forecast that the amount of cargo shipped will again double or triple by 2025.
One of the possible effects is that some manmade noise interferes with and masks whale songs and other marine animal communication signals used in feeding, mating and navigating. The low frequencies associated with ship sounds are very similar to sounds made by whales, some seals and sea lions, and fish that use low-frequency sound to communicate. Exacerbating the potential problem is the fact that loud, low-frequency sounds from large ships can travel hundreds of miles and become integrated into the general din of ambient noise.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading an investigation into how best to reduce chronic sound sources. NOAA's Ocean Acoustics Program recently hosted a dialogue among scientists, vessel designers, builders, shipowners and operators on vessel-quieting techniques.
Orcas: Play keep away
May 17, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) San Juan County should be proud of sticking its neck out to protect orcas. Other counties ought to consider ordinances along the lines of one being discussed in the islands to stop harassment by some boaters.
The San Juan County Council has asked for a draft ordinance that would create legal sanctions to what is now advice on staying away from the orcas, considered an endangered species by the federal government. Commercial boating operators, who support an ordinance, already respect the guidelines, but some private boaters either don't know the recommended practices or, occasionally, decide to risk the whales' or their own safety.
So, it would make sense for other counties to come up with ordinances of their own. Kari Koski, who heads the Soundwatch program for The Whale Museum, said consistent rules would give state wildlife officials, who are also putting together their own recovery plans, additional tools and help boaters understand what is expected.
Songs to lure wayward whales toward home
May 17, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Biologists were counting on an underwater recording of humpback whale songs Thursday to lure two injured whales back down the Sacramento River and toward the ocean.
The procedure worked 22 years ago with another humpback who wandered for nearly a month in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta before returning to the Pacific Ocean, said Bernie Krauze of Wild Sanctuary in Glen Ellen, Calif.
"We're going to be playing the sounds of humpback whales feeding," Krauze said Thursday morning before boarding a boat to begin the effort. "It's like the dinner bell."
If the sounds aren't enough, wildlife officials will try a different tactic - lining the channel with more boats to herd the whales in the right direction, said Frances Gulland, director of veterinary science at the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center.
$335 million, UW's "Neptune" system to help scientists study ocean floor
May 16, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Billed as the greatest advancement in ocean study in 135 years, an ambitious project to measure volcanoes, currents and other activity across hundreds of miles of ocean floor using underwater robots, real-time Internet video and 850 miles of high-speed cable is about to begin off the Northwest coast.
A consortium of ocean scientists today will announce that the National Science Foundation (NSF) will invest about $335 million over six years to build a three-phase international ocean-observing system. Central to the project will be the University of Washington's "Neptune" system, measuring changes on the Juan de Fuca Plate.
Tuesday night, Steve Bohlen, president of the Washington-based Joint Oceanographic Institutions (JOI), said the project represents the greatest leap in ocean study since the early 1870s. That's when ships started taking ocean measurements - a system that has remained in the fore ever since.
San Juan County targets boaters harassing orcas
May 16, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) New ordinance applies to non-commercial craft
Spurred by tales of reckless, negligent and belligerent boaters who endanger themselves and orcas in their zeal to see the killer whales up close, the San Juan County Council took steps Tuesday to rein in the errant orca spotters.
On a 6-0 vote, the council ordered Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord to draft an ordinance that would be enforced primarily by officers of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. A small minority of private boaters -- not commercial whale-watch operators -- are the target.
"All this time we've really been without any horsepower as far as enforcement unless we can show harassment of the orcas," said Russ Mullins, a sergeant with Fish and Wildlife, "and that's extremely difficult when you can't talk to the whale and say, 'Do you feel harassed?' "
Officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service announced their intention last month to pass regulations governing boaters who get near whales.
"We are supportive of San Juan County doing something, because it's consistent with the recovery plan," said Melanie Rowland, a senior lawyer in the agency's Seattle office. "It would help if there were some (ordinance) in place so we can see how it's working."
The voluntary "Be Whale-Wise" guidelines on which the San Juan County ordinance is likely to be based are drawn up by the Soundwatch program at The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor. They are tweaked annually, but the basics are simple, said Soundwatch Director Kari Koski:
"Slow down and move out of the way of the whales. You want to move until you're 100 yards away and get out of the way of the whales."
Neglected logging roads threaten salmon
May 15, 2007 (Bellingham Herald) Back 20 years or more ago, when gear jammers were highballing out of the Cascades with their loads of old growth, jake-breaking around curves with a throaty "blap, blap, blap," the U.S. Forest Service built 22,000 miles of logging roads in Washington state.
Along with salmon, orcas, Lewis and Clark and Mount St. Helens, those roads are part of the lore of the Northwest and a reminder of a way of life that has mostly disappeared. But that legacy of timber country is now creating problems.
With the timber harvest on federal lands barely a trickle of what it was during the peak of the late 1980s, state officials say the logging roads are deteriorating because of Forest Service neglect and threatening to undo efforts to restore salmon runs, particularly in the rivers and streams flowing into Puget Sound.
The state has asked Congress to provide $300 million over the next 10 years to maintain or remove the Forest Service roads. And though lawmakers are sympathetic, the federal budget is tight.
Even so, as Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said at a recent hearing, "If we do not fix our roads we will have to drink our roads - after they slide into our streams."
Nationwide, there are roughly 380,000 miles of roads in the national forests. The Forest Service estimates there is a $4 billion maintenance backlog on the roads. At the same time, Dicks said the Bush administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in the Forest Service's road maintenance budget.
The roads were built and maintained using money generated by timber sales. But as logging has declined, so has available funding.
Humpback whales' visit has scientists perplexed
May 15, 2007 (Contra Costa Times) Marine mammal experts Tuesday plan to examine and assess two humpback whales that were found swimming in the Sacramento River near Rio Vista on Monday. The two whales, possibly a cow and calf, may have been following and feeding on schools of fish, such as sardines, anchovies or herring, or they could have become disoriented, said Doreen Gurrola, assistant director of education for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito.
"It could be many theories at this point," Gurrola said. "For humpbacks, this is extremely unusual."
The whales put on quite a show as they frolicked along the Sacramento River near the Real McCoy Ferry, north of Rio Vista, which connects Ryer Island with the mainland.
Large crowds rolled in for a look-see, jamming not only the area around the ferry, but also packing the Ryer Island coastline. The skies buzzed with media helicopters aiming for the best look.
The sheriff's marine patrol tried to coax the whales to swim toward San Francisco Bay. At the request of the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Coast Guard asked aircraft pilots to remain above 1,000 feet in the vicinity of the whales, said Lt. Amy Marrs.
Late Monday, Solano County Sheriff's Boat Patrol Deputy Eldon Parker said the two whales were working their way back toward Rio Vista until they approached the ferry, where they apparently became spooked and started surfacing repeatedly before heading back toward Sacramento.
Deforestation: The hidden cause of global warming
May 14, 2007 (Independent (UK)) The accelerating destruction of the rainforests that form a precious cooling band around the Earth's equator, is now being recognised as one of the main causes of climate change. Carbon emissions from deforestation far outstrip damage caused by planes and automobiles and factories.
The rampant slashing and burning of tropical forests is second only to the energy sector as a source of greenhouses gases according to report published today by the Oxford-based Global Canopy Programme, an alliance of leading rainforest scientists.
Figures from the GCP, summarising the latest findings from the United Nations, and building on estimates contained in the Stern Report, show deforestation accounts for up to 25 per cent of global emissions of heat-trapping gases, while transport and industry account for 14 per cent each; and aviation makes up only 3 per cent of the total.
"Tropical forests are the elephant in the living room of climate change," said Andrew Mitchell, the head of the GCP.
Scientists say one days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York. Reducing those catastrophic emissions can be achieved most quickly and most cheaply by halting the destruction in Brazil, Indonesia, the Congo and elsewhere.
Murdoch: I'm proud to be green
May 14, 2007 (Independent (UK)) News Corp boss orders his entire empire to convert and become a worldwide enthusiast for the environment
In one of the most unexpected conversions since Saul of Tarsus hit the road to Damascus, Rupert Murdoch is turning into a green campaigner. He is making the whole of his worldwide operations carbon neutral and setting out to "educate and engage" his readers and viewers about global warming.
He believes his companies' "global reach" presents "an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness and to stimulate action around the world". A former sceptic who confesses to having been "somewhat wary of the warming debate", he laid on his first global webcast for all his employees on Wednesday to tell them that he was "changing the DNA of our business". He added that he had started with himself, buying a hybrid car.
Mr Murdoch's conversion, which may surprise employees like Jeremy Clarkson, was heavily influenced by his son James - who took BSkyB carbon neutral a year ago this week - as well as by Tony Blair and former US vice-president Al Gore. All three attended his annual meeting for senior executives in Pebble Beach, California, last year where he was convinced to take the lead on the issue.
On the Snake River, Dam's Natural Allies Seem to Have a Change of Heart
May 14, 2007 (New York Times) A tame river keeps Mr. Jones's business viable. So why is he is spending time with the guides and fishermen who want to remove the dams? In part, because he feels the tug of environmentalist arguments that the dams will endanger wild salmon that, even more than wheat, are the region's natural bounty.
"I always believed dams were economically too big of a hurdle to attack," said Mr. Jones, who is 52. "But I began to realize that we are potentially losing runs of salmon" along this tributary of the Columbia River.
It is still a relatively rare phenomenon, but one becoming more noticeable: some members of the dams' natural constituency, like farmers, are talking to their downriver antagonists about a future that might not include the four lower Snake River dams. There is talk of reconstituting a regional rail system to deliver Mr. Jones's wheat to Portland, Ore. There is talk of a wind farm to replace the electricity - enough to power most of Manhattan - generated by the four dams.
The conversations are still in their early stages, and political support for the dams remains strong. Congressional ties to the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides electricity from the dams to regional utilities and businesses, are many, and few politicians want to back an action that could raise electricity bills and cost jobs. At best, wind power is intermittent and expensive; in 2005, regional electricity costs were more than 25 percent less than the national average.
Puget Sound's Fate Put in New Hands
May 13, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) William Ruckelshaus is alone today within the Puget Sound Partnership a new organization that may eventually encompass every environmental agency and organization with connections to Puget Sound.
Ruckelshaus is working with the governor's office to appoint six other "respected and influential" citizens, as required by the new Puget Sound Partnership law. Together, the seven-member Leadership Council will guide the restoration of Puget Sound, without the benefit of regulatory authority.
Nothing like this has ever been tried before, officials agree. The stakes are nothing less than survival of the Puget Sound ecosystem, including precious water supplies and species such as orcas and salmon.
"This is a wonderful opportunity to try to figure out how to restore Puget Sound, with all the people coming here, without wrecking the economy," Ruckelshaus said. "We have to do it this century. We can't continue to develop as we have in the past."
Environmental group sues EPA over cruise ship pollution
May 10, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Friends of the Earth, a non-profit network of more than 1 million members, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging it failed to respond to a petition filed seven years ago asking it to assess and regulate cruise ship pollution.
"We have a new Congress who might be more receptive to action, it is the beginning of the cruise season in North America and the expansion of the cruise industry continues to 12 million passengers this year," said Teri Shore, the clean vessels campaign director in the San Francisco office of Friends of the Earth. "For all these reasons, it seemed like a good time: It is better late than never."
Shore said the influence of the Bush administration caused the EPA -- after beginning to study the matter seriously in 2000 -- to abandon its efforts to analyze and regulate pollution from the growing cruise industry.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., chronicles a history of non-response and unfulfilled assurances to comply with the petition, filed in 2000.
Pollution threatens river's health
May 9, 2007 (Daily Astorian) Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership reveals toxic news at conference
New data on contamination in the Lower Columbia River show concentrations of pesticides, industrial compounds and flame retardants between Portland and Longview, Wash., that rival those in Seattle's Puget Sound.
According to the two scientists in charge of testing at six sites from Point Adams, just east of Hammond, to Warrendale, about 140 miles upriver, the levels of some toxics detected in river sediment and fish tissue in the most industrialized stretches of the Columbia could be compromising the health and eventual survival of juvenile salmonids.
"The Willamette is a major source of agricultural and industrial discharge on the Lower Columbia," said Marriott. But other sources on the lower river and in the entire Columbia River Basin, stretching up to Idaho and into Canada, contribute as well, she said.
Utilities to explore power in the tides
May 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) When the tide changes at Deception Pass, the black water erupts into a frothy mess, with whirlpools big enough to swallow kayaks.
Pulled by the sun and moon, the water surges through the narrow gap four times a day -- smashing logs against the rock walls and providing an exchange of water critical to the health of the ecosystem.
The Snohomish County Public Utility District has been given the authority to figure out how to turn that tidal power into electricity.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued three-year permits to the PUD and Tacoma Power to investigate eight sites in the Sound for possible installation of tidal generators. Precise mapping of tidal movements using underwater sonar will begin this summer.
If approved and installed, the turbines would harness tidal flow the same way wind farms tap a steady breeze. The utilities estimate the Sound's tides are strong enough to light up more than 70,000 homes. The largest installation calls for up to 1,000 turbines churning along the bottom of Admiralty Inlet.
"Puget Sound is a jewel," said Trey Taylor, president of Verdant Power, which last week completed the first tidal-power installation connected to the grid in the United States.
Taylor's company has six generators in the East River in New York and is looking to expand here. With 14-foot tides and a political climate supportive of expanding "green" energy sources, Taylor said the Sound is one of the best locations in the country for capturing water power.
The hope is that the relatively lethargic nature of the turbines, turning at less than 30 revolutions per minute, will minimize the impact the blades will have on sea life.
Clean Current's commercial version would be almost 100 feet across and large enough for a sea lion to swim through, Darou said.
Darou said the commercial version of its turbine would spin at 10 rpm, but at its size, the tips would be moving through the water at 40 knots. There are no conclusive studies on the effect something that large might have on sea life.
There also are concerns that the installation of water turbines will close parts of the Sound to fishing and diving.
"If you put some turbines in the water and those turbines are extracting power from that water, how much power can you extract before you have an impact on Puget Sound?" said mechanical engineer Philip Malte, who is heading the study.
If enough power is taken out, the high tides would be lower and the low tides would be higher, Malte said. Even a change of less than a foot would drastically alter the beaches and the life that depends on them.
Sensors to offer unique ocean view
May 9, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) Beginning this autumn, scientists who study the local oceans will have a window on the undersea world like they've never had before. That's because this September and October, equipment will be placed on the sea floor at the mouth of the Fraser River and further out into Georgia Strait that will continuously record everything from the level of oxygen to the salinity to the turbidity to the temperature, and then provide the data it gathers online.
And thanks to an underwater hydrophone that will enable land-based researchers to hear things as they swim or float by, they'll even know what species are present and in what concentrations at any and every given time.
Last week, the process was begun in earnest when cables were laid from the Iona jetty to locations off the coast of Steveston at depths of 200 and 300 metres.
"We are going to put down 30 different sensors at the bottom of the Strait of Georgia," says project director Verena Tunnicliffe. "We want to understand the water flows, the water dynamics and how the Fraser River is controlling the entire environment."
Pet Food Contaminant Found In Farm Raised Fish
May 8, 2007 (CBS) Farmed fish were fed meal spiked with an industrial chemical linked to the ongoing recall of pet foods, though the contamination level was probably too low to pose a danger to anyone who may have eaten the fish, federal health officials said Tuesday.
The Canadian-made meal included what was purported to be wheat gluten, a protein source, imported from China. The material was actually wheat flour spiked by the chemical melamine and related, nitrogen-rich compounds to make it appear more protein rich than it was, officials said.
After pigs and chickens, the farmed fish mark the third food animal given contaminated feed. The level of contamination is expected to be too low to pose any danger to human health, said Dr. David Acheson, the FDA's assistant commissioner for food protection.
It wasn't immediately clear if any of the farmed fish entered the food supply. However, Acheson said at least one firm's fish were still too young and small to be sold. Investigators were visiting other U.S. aquaculture farms that used the contaminated feed.
Melamine, a chemical found in plastics and pesticides and not approved for use in pet or human in the U.S., contaminated pet food that either sickened or killed an unknown number of dogs and cats. Since March 16, more than 100 brands of pet food have been recalled because they were contaminated with melamine.
Gregoire signs measure intended to help restore 'sick' Puget Sound
May 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) After every rainstorm, millions of gallons of filthy water run off into the Sound, Gregoire reminded the group, which stood only about 30 yards from where a foot-wide, corrugated-metal pipe routinely dumps pollution into the Sound.
Meanwhile, the equivalent of 265 Olympic-size swimming pools of sewage comes out of septic tanks on an average day.
The restoration plan, estimated to cost $8 billion through 2020, got a $238 million down payment for two year's work from this year's Legislature -- a crucial bargaining chip as representatives in Washington, D.C., seek boosts in federal funding.
The Sound's biggest future problems likely will stem from population growth and the consequent development of vast stretches of land surrounding the Sound.
How much local governments embrace the campaign will be key, because they control the development patterns that can reduce stormwater runoff -- yet these building methods are almost never mandated.
Gregoire immediately tapped Bill Ruckelshaus, who headed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the Nixon and Reagan administrations, to head the partnership. She will appoint six other citizens in coming weeks.
Ruckelshaus, co-chairman of a forerunner of the Partnership, emphasizes cooperation over conflict , reflecting Gregoire's vision.
"It's not about government -- city, county, state or federal -- it's about all of us being part of the solution, because literally all of us are part of the problem," Gregoire said. "It is citizen action, not government action."
Puget Sound steelhead declared "threatened"
May 7, 2007 (Seattle Times) Puget Sound steelhead, a fish prized by anglers and found in streams reaching far into the surrounding mountains, will now be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced today.
The listing, which declares the fish as "threatened," or at risk of going to the brink of extinction, covers naturally spawned steelhead from river basins of Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The steelhead now join Puget Sound Chinook salmon, resident orcas, and Hood Canal chum salmon as being federally protected. Bull trout that swim in freshwater streams feeding into the Sound are also protected.
While the protections for steelhead will largely overlap work already happening for chinook, the listing will likely extend such efforts deeper into the mountains. Chinook stay in large rivers, while steelhead move into smaller, high-elevation streams.
Biologists for the fisheries service say the decline in the steelhead population has been widespread, likely because of degraded habitat, man-made barriers, unfavorable ocean conditions and harmful hatchery practices.
Sea ice melting faster
May 7, 2007 (Anchorage Daily News) Imagine three-fourths of the land mass of Alaska disappearing in a decade. That's roughly the amount of sea ice that has vanished from the Arctic ice cap in recent years -- and now it's melting faster.
So say two new reports from ice experts last week that climate-change scientists consider troubling, since sea ice keeps the Earth cool. An ice-free ocean warms it up.
One report noted there was less Arctic sea ice in April than had ever been recorded that month since satellite imagery of the northern ocean began in 1979. Another found that the melting of the Arctic ice cap is proceeding faster than anyone expected.
That second finding -- announced jointly by scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research -- concludes that all the summer Arctic sea ice should disappear "about 30 years" sooner than mainstream climate models earlier predicted.
A big move on global warming
May 4, 2007 (Tacoma News Tribune) New law limits power from coal, sets goal for cutting greenhouse gases
Scientists have spoken for years about melting glaciers on Mount Rainier and a potential future of increasing conflicts over water with less of a snowpack in the Cascades. But up until this point, there hasn't been a lot of political action on the state level on climate change. On Thursday, Gov. Chris Gregoire signed into a law a bill that could be the basis for state efforts to reverse that.
The new law sets a goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 50 percent below 1990 levels over the course of the next four decades.
It also forbids utilities from entering into long-term contracts with coal-fired power plants that produce a lot of greenhouse gases.
"I think it's a pretty good step forward," said Craig Engelking, legislative director of the Cascade chapter of the Sierra Club. "It definitely puts Washington as a leader in the country in addressing climate change."
He said emissions actually have to be reduced by about 80 percent by 2050 to stabilize the climate. But he said he sees indications that the state could be headed in that direction.
The big question that is mostly unaddressed in the new law is what Washington state might do to reduce emissions enough to meet its goals. The governor's Climate Advisory Team is to recommend possible steps this winter.
Scientists confirm birth of baby orca
May 4, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The killer whale never seems more misnamed as when a new baby orca arrives on the scene, as one did north of Puget Sound this week.
It's pinkish and smiley. It's stuck to its momma's side, rising in and out of the waves like a shiny merry-go-round creature.
"This guy, he couldn't have been older than 4 days old," said Dave Ellifrit, research assistant at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, who confirmed the new arrival with a photo snapped Wednesday off the west coast of San Juan Island. "Mom's going to keep it close for a little while. Once it gets older, it gets more adventurous."
Scientists won't know if the calf is a male or female until it rolls over and shows its belly. They do know it belongs to a family of local orcas called the J pod. And they know it has three siblings.
That's good news for the little orca, which is being called J42 according to birth order.
Orcas can be highly contaminated by industrial pollutants. Mother orcas pass the chemicals to their fetuses and nursing babies. Researchers say the mothers pass more of the PCBs, pesticides and flame retardants on to their first offspring, leaving subsequent babies less contaminated. The chemicals can make the animals more vulnerable to disease and less fertile.
Orca calf a new addition to local whale pod May 4, 2007 (Seattle Times)
Rescue tug assists tanker headed to Anacortes
May 3, 2007 (Anacortes American) A tanker on its way to the Tesoro refinery at March Point required assistance from a rescue tug Thursday, May 3 at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The state commissioned, 136-foot Gladiator tug was released from Neah Bay at 5:30 a.m. to escort the 795-foot Sanko Dynasty tanker filled with crude oil from Singapore.
The tanker was experiencing a partial failure of its primary steering system.
The U.S. Coast Guard requires a tug assist any vessel experiencing mechanical problems through the strait.
The tanker eventually made its way to the Tesoro dock, the steering system was repaired and after an inspection from the Coast Guard, the tanker was on its way, Hanick said.
The tug, under contract from Crowley Maritime from Jan. 1 through May 3, was funded by the state to help prevent disabled ships traveling through the strait and outer coast from drifting onto rocks and spilling oil.
Under the contract, Crowley Maritime provided rescue tug service for $8,500 a day plus fuel. State lawmakers gave the Department of Ecology $1.4 million with the goal of providing about 200 days of rescue tug service for the 2006-07 winter season.
Winter storms present a higher risk of oil spills from the more than 5,200 tankers and cargo ships traveling through the strait each year, according to Ecology.
Orca calf born in J Pod; mother is Slick
May 3, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) A brand new orca calf has been born to Slick, a member of J Pod, one of three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales.
The infant orca still coloured bright pink on the patches which will later turn white was first spotted Wednesday by Anna Hall, zoologist for Victoria-based Prince of Whales whale watching tours and the birth was later confirmed by the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor Wash.
The new baby was spotted off the San Juan Islands and was less than four days old, said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, research associate with the research centre.
This is the fourth calf for 35-year-old Slick and the three siblings are thriving.
The rest of the family was playing around the new calf Wednesday, Hall said.
The oldest brother, Mike, was rolling around and slapping his tail, she said.
It is the first birth in J Pod, which has 25 members, since 2005.
Exact numbers of whales will be confirmed when K and L Pods return to the waters off Vancouver Island.
The K and L whales, which spent much of the winter in the waters off California, have not been seen for several weeks, but usually return sometime in June.
Tribes, Fishermen Sue PacifiCorp over Klamath Dams
May 3, 2007 (Environmental News) Environmentalists, commercial fishermen and Native American tribes sued Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary PacifiCorp in San Francisco Wednesday, claiming that two of its dams on the Klamath River are killing salmon and causing human health hazards.
The lawsuit, led by environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Yurok and Karuk tribes, asks a federal court to force PacifiCorp to clean up toxic algae blooms in the reservoirs behind the Iron Gate and Copco dams in Northern California.
Other plaintiffs include river recreation business owners and the Klamath Riverkeeper group.
The annual algae blooms occur because PacifiCorp improperly controls the intake and release of water, allowing it to stagnate as temperatures in the reservoirs rise "well above natural levels," the lawsuit said.
The algae generates a deadly liver toxin that threatens the fishery and the health of tribal medicine men who bathe in the river during rituals, said co-counsel Joseph Cotchett of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy.
The dams "are having a devastating impact on the economies and cultures of Native Americans and others who depend on the Klamath River," Kennedy, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, said in a statement.
PacifiCorp, owned by a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, is pursuing renewals of its licenses to operate the dams with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Dead whale had lung infection
May 3, 2007 (Olympian) A juvenile female gray whale that washed ashore Sunday near Johnson Point had a massive infection in its right lung.
That, along with its emaciated condition, played a role in its death, according to an exam Tuesday by Cascadia Research of Olympia and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The whale, which was about 11/2 to 21/2 years old, also had an injured fluke and scars from an attack by an orca, but those did not appear serious, Cascadia Research member John Calambokidis said Wednesday.
The animal was towed to McNeil Island, which is closed to the public, for the exam. It will decompose there.
Interior official resigns, altered scientific data
May 2, 2007 (Spokesman Review) An Interior Department official recently rebuked for altering scientific conclusions to reduce protections for imperiled species and providing nonpublic documents to lobbyists resigned Monday night, officials said.
A report issued by the Interior Department's inspector general in March also raised questions of conflict of interest for Julie A. MacDonald, the deputy assistant secretary who oversaw the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered-species program.
MacDonald's departure came a week before a congressional oversight hearing scheduled to investigate whether Bush administration officials have ignored scientific findings in endangered-species decisions.
In 2004, MacDonald was criticized for overruling field biologists on the habitat requirements of the greater sage grouse, disputing their conclusion that oil and gas operations could interfere with the birds' breeding and nesting.
The inspector general's report outlined a litany of instances in which MacDonald, a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences, advocated altering scientific conclusions in ways that favored development and agricultural interests.
Gray whale ashore near Johnson Point
May 1, 2007 (The Olympian) A 10,000-pound, 28-foot dead gray whale washed ashore near Johnson Point, where researchers examined it Monday.
The whale wasn't as big as it should have been, and lack of food contributed to its death, which was the first stranding of a large marine mammal this far south in Puget Sound in two years, a researcher said.
The whale was abnormally thin for its age of 1- or 2-years old, said John Calambokidis, a research biologist for Olympia-based Cascadia Research.
"Starvation was an element of it, and there may be other elements we discover during the examination," he said.
This is the second stranding of a gray whale on Washington shores this year, Calambokidis said. The peak stranding season is April through June.
There were 19 gray whale strandings on the state's outer coast and Puget Sound beaches in 2005 and 2006, he said. An average of six gray whales wash ashore each year.