Orca Network News - May, 2009
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2009 through May 31, 2009.
May 31, 2009 (Reuters)
At least 55 whales stranded on a beach near Cape Town were put down or died after rescue teams failed to return them to the ocean, a sea rescue institute said on Sunday.
Scientists shot 42 of the false killer whales on Saturday and 13 others perished, possibly from internal injuries, at Kommetjie Beach, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said.
We don't know if any of those we managed to get back to the water had survived ... one of them just washed up at the rocks around the Kommetjie lighthouse this morning and this could continue over the week," spokesman Craig Lambinon said.
Crapo: Be open to dam breaching
May 31, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
"Does that mean dam breaching must be on the table?" he said. "Yes. But that also means not dam breaching must be on the table."
This is the strongest, most public declaration by any Northwest congressional leader that the region should consider removing the four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington that scientists say make it hard for the endangered fish to recover their once plentiful runs.
Crapo's new stance contrasts with a longtime steadfast opposition to dam breaching from Idaho Republicans as well as downstream Democrats.
Bounty of small salmon creates Columbia River mystery
May 30, 2009 (Seattle Times)
In the world of salmon, size matters. That's because big male fish have the best chance of fending off rivals to stake out a prime spot on the spawning grounds next to fertile females.
So what's up in the Columbia River? Here, a record number of runt-sized males are surging upstream, a biological mystery that has stunned scientists and frustrated fishermen like tribal hoop-netter Frank Sutterlict.
As the spring run neared its May peak, Sutterlict pulled up his net in hopes of finding a big Columbia chinook, an oil-rich salmon weighing 20 or even 30 pounds. But in a frustrating replay of so much of this spring harvest, Sutterlict found only a small male that weighed about six pounds.
"It's just a little itty-bitty fish," said Sutterlict, a member of the Yakama Tribe. "It takes three of them to make a good meal for everybody."
These jacks are chinook males that spend only a year, rather than two to four years, at sea before returning to freshwater to try to spawn. Their final spring tally is expected to top 70,000, nearly triple the previously recorded high. The jacks likely will represent about a third of this year's chinook run.
For years, the annual jack count has served as a key indicator for forecasting next year's harvest. The more jacks, the model went, the bigger the expected total run of salmon.
Those predictions are used to figure out how many fish will be allocated to commercial, sport and tribal fishermen.
But the model has not been working very well.
Last year there was a strong show of jacks, prompting a forecast of a chinook run of nearly 300,000 fish this spring. But biologists now expect about 160,000 adult salmon.
This year's record number of jacks, if plugged into the traditional forecasting model, would yield a blockbuster run of more than 1 million spring chinook salmon in 2010. That would be more than double the size of any previous spring run in the era since 1938, when fish counts began over the Bonneville Dam.
No one is expecting that kind of bonanza, so scientists are scrambling to try to explain the jack run and come up with a new model for forecasting the run size.
"The first rule of allocation is to know how many fish there are," said Guy Norman, a biologist with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Something is out of whack, and we need to figure out what this means."
Federal scientists who specialize in salmon physiology think the males do a kind of internal assessment of their growth at sea. They then make a fateful decision to stay at sea or return to spawn.
But just why some of these salmon, only four or five pounds in size, would think it's time to reproduce is not well understood.
Scientists say one likely factor can be found in the ocean.
Offshore of Oregon and Washington, the young salmon that emerged last year from freshwater found excellent conditions in their critical first few months, according to Bill Peterson, a federal biologist in Oregon. Perhaps that strong start prompted a higher percentage of the males to opt to return as jacks.
Lolita: Miami's performing prisoner for 39 years and counting
May 29, 2009 (Boca Raton Animal Rights Examiner)
The Miami Seaquarium has kept a prisoner in a watery cell for nearly 40 years, longer than Nelson Mandela's infamous stay on Robben Island. Her name is Lolita.
Her crime: profitability.
On their website, the Orca Network clearly states its goals for their Lolita Come Home Project:
"The primary goal of the Lolita Come Home Project is to move Lolita from her present location at Miami Seaquarium to a rehabilitation/retirement facility in an ocean water seapen in Washington State, where she can retire from show business while still receiving the care of humans for her health and safety.
A secondary goal is to reacclimatize Lolita to her native habitat with open water "walks", so she can return to a healthy physical condition and metabolic strength, similar to that of her free-ranging family members.
A third goal of this project is to facilitate Lolita's reintroduction to her family pod members. This will be done acoustically first, visually second, and socially last. It will be up to Lolita to decide whether she wishes to remain in the social company of her family or return to human care."
Their Milk, and Ours, Is It Safe to Drink?
May 28, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Candace Calloway Whiting, Center for Whale Research)
The milk that Orca mothers provide their babies is incredibly rich, up to 43% fat, which is a higher fat content than pure whipping cream. Ben and Jerry's Phish Food™ ice cream is only about 42% fat, including the caramel and chocolate fishes! In contrast, human milk contains, on average, just 4.2 % fat, or about 1/10th of the fat that mother whales must provide to nourish their calves.
The mother whales utilize their own fat deposits, especially in lean times, to provide the nutrition needed to make the ice cream-rich milk need to keep their babies alive.
Yet the mother's milk may have long term detrimental effects.
Along with all the good nutrition, high levels of toxins are transferred to the mother's milk. This has the effect of reducing the mom's toxic load but at a price that no mother would choose.
A first born calf receives much of the mother's lifetime accumulations, which the calf will continue to add to over the course of it's own lifetime as it dines on contaminated prey. Our residential pods prefer Chinook salmon and the Chinook from Puget Sound may contain the highest levels of certain contaminants that have been measured on the west coast.
And unfortunately, we are in the same boat. Human breastmilk also shows significant levels of those pollutants, and the Washington State Department of Health has made this handy chart to help us avoid a toxic overload:
Naturalist photographs boat that got too close to whale
May 28, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
A naturalist with Prince of Whales reported taking these photos of a Bayliner that got too close to an orca May 24, between 1:15-2 p.m., in Haro Strait slightly north of Lime Kiln Lighthouse.
"I was on the Ocean Magic, more than 100 metres away from the animals. It took Capt. Tyler to sound the horn several times to get this guy to slow down and stop," naturalist Marie O'Shaughnessy wrote to Orca Network. "I just couldn't believe my eyes with what was going on. He almost ran over an orca. Ruffles and Granny were close by."
The best natural healer turns out to be nature
May 28, 2009 (Oregonian)
Patients with the tree view were able to leave the hospital about a day earlier than those with a wall view, the study revealed. Patients with trees in sight also requested significantly less pain medication and reported fewer problems to nurses than wall-view patients. Contact with nature, even as limited as a view through a window, enhanced recovery from illness.
Doherty, who recently launched the peer-reviewed Journal of Ecopsychology, is one of many psychologists concerned that the loss of connections with nature has the potential to inflict deep harm to human well-being.
"By losing that connection, we lose some of our ability to restore ourselves," Doherty says.
"Therapists know a great deal about the private anguish that divides the psyche and breaks the heart. But they have so far not applied their knowledge and their skill to our dysfunctional environmental relations," Roszak said in a recent essay. "Ecopsychology seeks to broaden therapeutic work and psychological research into environmentally relevant areas."
Citing Roszak, Doherty says that part of the answer supplied by ecopsychology is to validate that an emotional connection to nature is normal and healthy. Doing so will help the environmental movement be more effective, he says, by appealing to positive ecological bonds rather than promoting conservation based on messages of fear or shame.
Rare blue whale found dead on New Zealand beach
May 27, 2009 (Google News)
The carcass of a rare blue whale washed ashore in southern New Zealand after it apparently died of old age, a marine expert said Thursday.
The body — with bite wounds and its tail chewed off — already had been attacked by scavengers ahead of the rare stranding on New Zealand's South Island, Te Papa National Museum expert Anton van Helden told National Radio.
"It's ... probably the biggest recorded to have come ashore on the New Zealand coast," he said.
Fewer than 2,000 blue whales — the largest mammals known to have lived — remain from a population of 200,000 in 1900.
A local fisherman found the massive 88-foot (27 meter) carcass south of Cape Farewell.
"It's the biggest one (whale) I have seen," Abalone fisherman Philip Walker said. "It was huge."
He said most of the tail had been chewed off, and the body had bites that Department of Conservation staff said were likely from great white sharks.
Obama officials come to NW to learn salmon issues
May 27, 2009 (Forbes)
Two top members of President Obama's environmental team are in the Northwest this week, listening but pointedly not speaking about the tense conflict between salmon and hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin.
NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco and White House Council on Environmental Quality chairwoman Nancy Sutley attended closed-doors sessions in Portland on Tuesday with scientists, government officials and Indian tribes, and were scheduled on Wednesday to tour one of the lower Snake River dams in Eastern Washington that conservationists and some Indian tribes want removed to restore endangered salmon.
"The purpose of this trip here is to listen and learn," Lubchenco spokesman Justin Kenney said from North Carolina.
Sport and commercial fishermen were shut out of the meetings.
"More and more boats are having to stay docked because we have lost so many family wage fishing jobs," Steve Fick, a commercial fisherman and fish processor from Astoria, said in a statement.
Lubchenco and Sutley came with specific questions to help the Obama administration establish its position on the long-running litigation over how to run the hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers that are the region's energy backbone.
Sent out to parties to the talks last week, the administration's questions closely mirror those raised by U.S. District Judge James Redden in a letter this month to lawyers for all sides as he moves closer to a decision on whether the Bush administration's 2008 plan for balancing salmon against dams - known as a biological opinion - violates the Endangered Species Act. Considerations include:
Is the standard for success embraced by the Bush administration appropriate?
Does the plan adequately take into account changes to rivers and the ocean expected under global warming?
Are habitat improvements in tributaries and estuaries - the backbone of the plan - enough to overcome the damage caused by the dams?
What other steps could be taken to make dam operations less harmful to salmon.
Are government agencies doing enough to overcome problems caused by fishing and hatcheries?
What steps should be taken if this plan fails?
That last question confronts the prospect of breaching four dams on the lower Snake River in Eastern Washington, which provide barge access to farms and mills in Idaho, as well as enough electricity to power Seattle, but are blamed for sending Snake River salmon populations into a tailspin.
Whales Reveal Climate Information
May 25, 2009 (KPLU audio)
The gray whales that migrate along the west coast may be "canaries in the coal mine" that can help scientists track climate change in the Pacific Northwest. That's according to a new government study. KPLU environment reporter Liam Moriarty explains.
Fight for Our Fish!
May 24, 2009 (Tyee)
Now is the critical time to rise to the defence of salmon habitat.
We have to face the facts. The wild salmon is on a clear and certain path to extinction and we gave the Campbell government a mandate to continue down the path to this melancholy conclusion. Campbell was greatly assisted by the 50 per cent of us who didn’t vote on May 12.
They are, of course, allied to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, who continue to research and test that which doesn't need researching or testing anymore, while never enforcing the law.
The mainstream media gave this matter such low-key coverage that readers were bound to take the saving of salmon as just something only raised by noisy eco-freaks.
For some reason a fisheries story did make the front page of the Vancouver Sun -- a week after election day, on May 19. The article coldly told of the death of millions of pink salmon in the Fraser River because of dredging operations that are unnecessary. Where is the accompanying outrage? A Stephen Hume special, perhaps?
Adaptation Emerges As Key Part Of Any Climate Change Plan
May 24, 2009 (Yale Environment 360)
After years of reluctance, scientists and governments are now looking to adaptation measures as critical for confronting the consequences of climate change. And increasingly, plans are being developed to deal with rising seas, water shortages, spreading diseases, and other realities of a warming world.
With nations in the industrialized and developing worlds continuing to pump record levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, hopes are fading that over the next half-century atmospheric CO2 levels can be kept below 450 parts per million (ppm) and global warming held to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit). Now, a new sense of urgency has arisen as to how the world will adapt to a warming planet, where carbon dioxide levels could hit 600 parts per million and global temperatures could rise by 3 to 4 degrees C (5.4 to 7.2 degrees F).
“My view is that we’ll be lucky if we can stop CO2 at 600 ppm,” says Wallace Broecker, a geoscientist at Columbia University’s Earth Institute. “There’s no way we’re going to stop at 450. Impossible. If we’re going to double CO2, we’d better prepare what we’re going to do about it.”
If Broecker and many of his fellow climate scientists are right, the planet will experience myriad far-reaching changes to which humans, plants and animals will need to adapt: higher sea levels, the melting of glaciers that have long supplied hundreds of millions of people with water, drought-stressed agriculture, more severe storms, spreading disease, and reduced biodiversity.
Voyage to 'Plastic Vortex'
May 24, 2009 (Straits Times)
A GROUP of conservationists and scientists is due to set sail for an obscure corner of the Pacific Ocean in the coming months to explore a vast swirl of waste known as the 'Plastic Vortex.'
The giant gloop which some scientists estimate is twice the size of Texas has been gradually building over the last 60 years as Asia and the United States tossed their unwanted goods into the ocean.
Everything from flip-flops to plastic bags have been slowly broken down by the sun?s rays into small particles, and ocean tides have meant much of it has settled in a spiralling pattern just below the ocean surface between Hawaii and the mainland United States.
After only coming to scientific attention in recent years, little remains known about the vortex, also known as the 'Eastern Garbage Patch,' so the expedition hopes to find out if the plastic can be fished out of the sea and what can be done with it.
Protecting oceans vital in warming fight
May 24, 2009 (UPI)
Governments seeking to stop global warming must give a higher priority to protecting marine ecosystems, scientists said Sunday in Washington.
Meeting at the International Marine Conservation Congress, the scientists stressed that because the oceans act as a vital carbon sink absorbing much of the ever-increasing supply of carbon emissions, maintaining their health is a prerequisite for battling climate change, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Swiss environmental group, said in a release.
The oceans ain't what they used to be, say researchers
May 24, 2009 (Canadian TV)
Only decades before the factories of the industrial revolution sullied Europe's skies with smog in the 19th Century, coastal Great Britain teemed with marine wildlife like dolphins, orcas and blue whales, according to a new study.
Seven seas away, during the early 1800s, the waters surrounding New Zealand were home to nearly 30,000 southern right whales, which researches say is about 30 times today's population.
Those historical sketches are just some of the findings to be showcased during the Census of Marine Life conference, which takes place in
Vancouver from May 26 - 28.
While the contention that today's oceans are less populated than they used to be isn't new -- school kids are taught that John Cabot's crew caught fish in Newfoundland with only a basket -- the experts behind the data say their findings are important in terms of perception and conservation. "In the past, some combination of reduced or banned exploitation, pollution controls or habitat protection, especially of breeding colonies and feeding grounds, propelled recovery."
One of these Killer Whales is Almost 100 years Old...
May 22, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
...and the other is in his fifties!
These two whales were the first of their pod to be identified by Ken Balcomb back in the late 70s when scientists realized that every Orca has a distinct pattern of markings. J1 is the impressive male with the characteristically tall dorsal fin, and J2 is tucked in behind him. Because of their relative ages and the fact that the pair is together so often, most likely they are mother and son.
J1 is 58 years old, and his mom is almost 100.
The concept that Orcas can live so long in the wild is just amazing -- we can only imagine the changes that J2 has witnessed over the course of her lifetime, and what remarkable adaptations she has had to make.
Salmon were abundant then and the water less polluted. She was born before TV and not long after the first flight by the Wright brothers. Before scuba tanks or sonar, antibiotics or bandaids, and even before sliced bread!
It is remarkable that she has led her family and navigated so much change, and we can only hope that the Orcas have enough resilience to withstand the current dismal salmon situation. Our resident Orca pods were seen off California periodically this winter, which prompted me to ask Ken if he thought the whales would permanently move out of our area. He replied that they will probably stay here, but that they will have to go where they can find fish or starve.
Grey whales make stealthy home in waters off Vancouver
May 22, 2009 (Vancouver Sun)
It’s hard to imagine a 30-tonne mammal existing under anyone’s radar, but that is largely the case with a dozen or so grey whales that now call the waters off Vancouver home each spring.
“They’re hard to see,” confirmed John Ford, a whale scientist with the federal fisheries department. “They have no dorsal fin and don’t raise their body much out of the water. They’re hard to detect.”
Ford said in an interview from his Nanaimo office that grey whales frequent the waters of the southern Strait of Georgia between March and May towards the end of their northerly migration and are evidence of a healthy population estimated to number 24,000 in the north Pacific.
In shallow sandy areas such as Boundary Bay and off the mouth of the Fraser River, you stand a chance of finding the grey whales, feeding on tiny creatures in the mud such as tube worms, sand fleas and ghost shrimp.
Washington governor orders cutbacks in emissions
May 22, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Seattle -- Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire sidestepped her Legislature's refusal to adopt a cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gases, signing an executive order Thursday to achieve similar reductions by ratcheting back coal-fired electricity and automobile emissions.
"I wanted cap-and-trade. I didn't get it," said Gregoire, a Democrat, whose order directs government agencies to expand public transit and other programs to meet auto emissions goals, and to reach agreement with the state's only coal-fired power plant to reduce its carbon output at least 50% by 2025.
The order also calls for development of an even wider-ranging set of emission reduction strategies to achieve across-the-board greenhouse gas targets by 2020, and sets the stage for working with California and Oregon to implement a West Coast "electric highway" accessible to electric and alternative-fuel vehicles.
The new order is the latest in a series of efforts by governors to advance climate change goals while awaiting comprehensive national legislation in Washington.
Trio has a close encounter of the damp kind
May 21, 2009 (The World Link)
It was a perfect day for crabbing on the bay. Good company and sun. Barking sea lions. Orcas. Silent sea lions.
As Phil and Gail Koenen crabbed in the bay with their neighbor Ronald Huff, they were a little more than surprised to see a pod of the toothy Dalmatians-of-the-sea frolicking in Coos Bay's frothy blue waters.
"I almost cried. It was such an awesome sight - I am crying," Gail Koenen said Wednesday afternoon.
Huff spotted the big mammals around midday near Charleston in the shipping channel. The trio had just laid out six crab traps. He wondered if they were whales, but Phil Koenen wasn't so sure.
Seattle's day to tell EPA how to fix climate
May 21, 2009 (Seattle Times)
It's hard to overstate the significance of the moment.
Today in a meeting hall overlooking Seattle's waterfront, more than 180 people — from the governor to the mayor to several high-school students — will one by one tell the Obama administration how the U.S. should tackle climate change.
From morning until nearly sunset, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will take testimony about its plans to deem global warming a public danger.
The bureaucratic exercise masks a landmark shift in American policy: After 30 years of arguing about whether climate change is real, the federal government is on the brink of regulating the greenhouse gases that scientists say help cause it.
After declaring greenhouse gases dangerous pollutants last month, the agency could move to control them under the Clean Air Act. EPA's administrator has said the agency would likely focus only on large sources, such as power plants, heavy industry and transportation.
The White House hopes congressional action makes such rules unnecessary. Democrats hope to send a bill capping greenhouse gases to the House floor next month.
Why the EPA chose Seattle for the hearing isn't clear. It declined to make anyone available to answer questions publicly.
But the Obama administration clearly knows its audience. Only a handful of those testifying are expected to oppose EPA intervention, and thousands of others, including some in salmon costumes, are expected to rally outside in support — a sight that would seem far less likely in, say, Houston.
By now the litany of threats from climate change is well-known — from rising sea levels and diminishing Northwest snowpack to the risk of new diseases and more catastrophic wildfires. A recent study led by the University of Oregon suggested the costs to Washington state of doing nothing could reach $3.8 billion a year by 2020.
NOAA Expedition Hears Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales off Greenland
May 20, 2009 (NOAA)
A team of scientists funded by NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research recorded the distinctive calls of endangered North Atlantic right whales in an area where it was believed that the historic resident population was hunted to extinction in the early 20th century. Besides providing a better understanding of the whales, the discovery has implications for future shipping in the region.
Scientists from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory and Oregon State University deployed “listening” hydrophones to continuously record sounds for a year in the Cape Farewell Ground, an area off the southern tip of Greenland. Chief Scientist David Mellinger presented the team’s findings today at the semi‑annual conference of the Acoustical Society of America in Portland, Ore.
The right whales recorded could have migrated from the western North Atlantic right whale population, which is estimated at between 300 and 400 animals. But of the two right whales sighted in the last 50 years on the Cape Farewell Ground, one had only rarely been seen with the western population, and the other had never been seen in the area. The recordings in the Cape Farewell Ground raise the possibility that the eastern North Atlantic right whale population may still exist.
Knowing that the whales are in the area is important, as continued ice melt will likely lead to increased shipping in the region.
Entangled whale freed at sea
May 20, 2009 (Vancouver Sun)
"If an animal has just a little bit of line ... in its mouth, it can stay there for years and rub and rub and cause infection and damage to the animal and eventually kill the animal," he said.
Cottrell and the team were up at 4 a.m. yesterday and on the water before light. They finally spotted the whale at 7:30 a.m. -- 18 nautical miles from where they had last left it -- and managed to cut away the remaining rope and traps.
"It was," Cottrell said, "an exhilarating feeling."
Sandilands said the humpback will likely live a normal life now.
"It was really fortunate that the fisherman called in so quickly," he said. "That was really great of him to do that. Sometimes the fishermen feel bad about it and don't report it to the coast guard. The fact that this guy did saved that whale's life probably."
Judge doesn't rule out breaching Snake River dams to save salmon
May 20, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
For years, the federal government has struggled to find a way to operate the massive hydropower system on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest and still recover the endangered salmon that all too frequently are slaughtered at the massive dams as they make their way up and down the river.
One option for saving the fish has never really been on the table: breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River that stand between the salmon and millions of acres of pristine habitat in central Idaho and northeastern Oregon.
President George W. Bush made it clear that would never happen on his watch. The dams, after all, are generating enough electricity to power Seattle, and provide Lewiston, Idaho, with a port for barging valuable cargoes of grain 140 miles down the river.
But it's a new watch. And a federal judge in Oregon has signaled that breaching the Snake River dams needs to be considered, at least as a contingency plan, if other options for bringing back salmon fail to do the job.
Reading between the lines, it looks like yet another federal salmon recovery plan is on its way to getting tossed out by the courts -- by a judge who's ready to look at the most serious of options, dam breaching, if it comes to that.
"This is a significant development in the case, because it indicates to the new administration that they have a significant problem to solve in order to come up with a plan that will protect these species and all the people that depend on them," said Todd True, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice.
"We believe that a serious look at the science and the options we have for bringing the fish back will lead to the conclusion that removing dams on the lower Snake River is a critical step that we should stop dancing around and start dealing with."
Northwest Salmon may get rescued by removal of Snake River dams
May 20, 2009 (Seattle Examiner)
After more than a decade of pressure to remove the four dams on the lower Snake River to help recover endangered Chinook salmon populations, there is a lifeline being extended by a US District Court judge.
In the summer of 2000, temperatures in Western Washington hovered at a sweltering 90 degrees in the shade. However, there was little shade to be found along the shores of Lake Sacajawea above Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River. The river sides were barren of trees and shrubbery, which allowed the still waters to warm up and stagnate. There were four hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake River; each creating a reservoir to facilitate barge transportation for moving agricultural products. Environmental agencies estimated the damaging effect of warmer water and increased gases had decimated approximately 90% of the Chinook salmon and steelhead populations.
Now is a historic chance to reach out to the new Obama appointed officials at National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and encourage them to finally do what is right for our endangered salmon and steelhead and end this long standing conflict between conservationists and agribusiness.
Sign Earthjustice petition
Tanker lifted off sea floor
May 20, 2009 (BC Local News)
Salvage operations to lift a fuel tanker from the bottom of Robson Bight were successful Tuesday.
A crew of 30 from Mammoet Salvage, a Dutch company, and Seattle based Global Diving & Salvage, began the recovery operation May 13. Local First Nations, Living Oceans Society, Orca Lab and Burrard Clean all acted as independent observers and helped to monitor for oil spills, said a press release from Living Oceans Society in Sointula.
The salvage operation was deemed necessary after a barge carrying 11 pieces of logging equipment listed, dumping its load into the waters of the bight Aug. 20, 2007. Robson Bight is an ecological reserve established in 1982 to protect orca habitat.
The first part of the operation involved lifting a container filled with dozens of pails of hydraulic oil. The container was designed to keep any spilled oil from polluting surrounding waters. All went well with that inital lift May 15, despite being delayed due to weather.
To avoid the possibility of a spill while lifting the fuel truck, a larger, similar metal box was lowered over the fuel truck on May 19. The crane on the barge then lifted the box containing the fuel truck 350 m to the surface. When the load was 10 m below the surface, divers inspected the box. Kate Thompson, manager of media relations for the Ministry of Environment reported "a bit of oil pumped from the top of the yellow containment casing," and then the box was hoisted onto the deck of the barge.
Gadget Could Show War Games' Effects On Orcas
May 20, 2009 (KIRO TV - no longer available on KIRO site)
Right now, the Navy wants to expand the area it uses for war games off the Washington coast called the Northwest Training Range Complex.
The Navy proposes to extend the current range farther west and south into Oregon and northern California.
Part of that expansion includes a formal 'application for harassment' from the Navy to the National Marine Fisheries Service to 'disturb' or 'potentially injure' 32 different species of marine mammals.
"So there are impacts to killer whales, they are lumped together with the three different distinct populations that we have, the off coast, the transients, and then the southern residents," said US Navy Environmental Planner Kimberly Kler.
"There's a whole series of protocols that they have to go through to determine if there are marine mammals in the area, before sonar activity or an explosive activity were to occur," said Kler.
Dam breaching an option to protect salmon, U.S. District judge says
May 19, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
U.S. District Judge James Redden told the Obama administration on Monday its changes to a Columbia-Snake salmon and dam plan should include a contingency plan to breach the four lower Snake River dams or draw down reservoirs on the Columbia or Snake rivers if current measures fail to protect endangered fish.
Redden wrote in a letter Monday he welcomed the administration's effort to review the controversial biological opinion on how federal dams affect 13 stocks of endangered salmon and steelhead.
But he said he still doubted the existing plan meets the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
"Federal defendants have spent the better part of the last decade treading water, and avoiding their obligations under the Endangered Species Act," Redden wrote. "Only recently have they begun to commit the kind of financial and political capital necessary to save these threatened and endangered species, some of which are on the brink of extinction. We simply cannot afford to waste another decade."
Salmon-recovery plan needs work, judge says
May 19, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A judge is telling federal agencies they need to do more to help Columbia Basin salmon survive, or he will find the latest restoration plan in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
A Monday letter from U.S. District Judge James Redden to lawyers for all sides in a long-running court battle says he continues to have "serious reservations" because the standard for success is not strong enough.
Redden also wants a contingency plan that would include funding, congressional approvals and other steps needed to breach the lower Snake Rivers dams in the event other measures fail to restore salmon runs.
The letter sets the stage for a new round of out-of-court negotiations between plaintiffs — environmental groups and others — and the federal government over the program to revive endangered and threatened salmon runs in the Columbia River basin amid the operations of federal hydropower dams.
This time around, the plaintiffs will negotiate with a federal bureaucracy guided by the Obama administration and infused with new leadership at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, where marine scientist Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University professor, now serves as administrator.
Proposal would rename some Washington inland waters 'Salish Sea'
May 19, 2009 (Bellingham Herald)
Two decades ago, Bert Webber of Bellingham proposed that Washington's and British Columbia's inland waters be jointly called the Salish Sea, a name that would supplement, but not replace, the names of Puget Sound and the Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits.
But the Washington State Board of Geographic Names turned him down then, saying there was little support for the idea.
That might be changing. On Friday, May 15, the board decided that Webber's newly submitted proposal was at least worth further public discussion. The board will now accept comments on Webber's idea, and will solicit comments from interested people, groups and agencies.
Whaling anniversary unnoticed, but event changed lives, will spur changes
May 18, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
n a series of Peninsula Daily News interviews last week, Makah community members and tribal leaders said the 10-year anniversary was going largely unnoticed among the reservation town's 1,800 residents, and that they felt disappointed and frustrated that legal challenges have prevented their tribe from hunting gray whales for most of the last decade.
The tribe has been seeking permission from the federal government to legally hunt gray whales again under its 1855 treaty with the U.S.
After an illegal hunt in September 2007, some wildlife and animal-rights groups have demanded that the tribe be forever banned from whaling.
But federal officials continued their review of the tribe's request for an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
That first whale's reassembled bones and whiplike tail has been hanging from the ceiling of the Makah Cultural and Resource Center for about three years, said Janine Bowechop, the center's director.
It took four years alone to clean it, through a complicated process that involved burying it for a time, she said.
For now, it lacks a written narrative in the museum that signifies its place in Makah history. Museum officials are considering the text.
But the whale bones are "a wonderful example and reminder of what our tribe successfully resumed," Bowechop said.
"I'm very proud of the fact that the community came together and did what was required to successfully hunt a whale after decades of not being able to exercise that treaty right," she said.
"But really, for us, the goal was to be able to continue whale hunting so we would have been able to bring in a whale or two -- whatever our community needs, what we determined our tribe's need was -- up to a certain limit per year," Bowechop said.
"Let's just say two [whales] a year for the past 10 years. That would have been something worth celebrating. I feel it's frustrating and disappointing that there's not more support for Indian treaty rights."
Public comment sought on conservation plan for wild chinook in Puget Sound
May 18, 2009 (Seattle Times VIDEO)
State Fish and Wildlife fishery managers are looking for public advice on a federally approved plan that guides conservation of Puget Sound chinook.
The workshop with members of the state Fish and Wildlife staff is 9 a.m. May 20 at the Edmonds City Hall, 121 Fifth Ave. North.
"This workshop is designed to promote public awareness of the plan and facilitate an exchange of ideas about possible updates to reflect current conditions," said Phil Anderson, the state Fish and Wildlife interim director.
To bring the plan up to date, Anderson said fishery managers are considering changes that would address:
-The effects of hatchery-reform efforts in Puget Sound that effect the number of hatchery-reared salmon on the spawning grounds.
-The effect of salmon-management strategies on other federally protected species, such as orcas and rockfish.
Click here to view the Current Puget Sound Chinook Harvest Management Plan.
Scientist discovers beavers building prime salmon habitat in Skagit Delta
May 18, 2009 (Seattle Times VIDEO)
As sometimes happens with science, Greg Hood went looking for one thing, and found something else:
Just about everyone knows about freshwater beavers, damming streams and gnawing down the forested uplands like furry chain-saw gangs. But what Hood found in the Skagit River Delta was something else. Not a different species of beaver, genetically speaking. But one thriving in a different place — the tidal scrub shrub zone.
Once, they must have been as abundant as the habitat they claim as their niche. An almost unheard of habitat today, these tidal wetlands were among the first to be diked, drained and filled nearly out of existence in Puget Sound country as the region developed. But as recently as the 1800s, these wetlands were just about everywhere in the deltas where rivers twine and spill into Puget Sound.
Today, only about 6 percent of the tidal scrub shrub habitat is left in the Skagit River Delta, and that's better than a lot of places where it's gone altogether.
Hope, hard work ahead for Duwamish River cleanup effort
May 18, 2009 (West Seattle Herald)
Duwamish Longhouse director and tribal member James Rasmussan hosted a State of the Duwamish River symposium with three speakers and more than 80 attendees at the Longhouse and Cultural Center Thursday, May 13.
He referred to the event as an annual accounting of the clean-up process. The three speakers included Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, BJ Cummings, Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition departing coordinator, and incoming coordinator Thea Levkovitz.
"Once you restore a site it is ongoing, a labor of love," Fletcher pointed out. "We don't have the wonderful soils around the river. And we have litter and invasive weeds. So stewardship is very important. The People for Puget Sound is Involved with Restore America's Estuaries, a national group, and with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the San Francisco Bay Association to help bring habitat restoration to the Duwamish River.
"More than three quarters of old growth forest has been removed in the last 50 years in Duwamish basin. Storm water is the number one source of pollution in the river. Not rainwater itself, which is pretty clean. When it hits the surface drips from our cars and litter finds its way into storm drains. Hydrocarbons, a fossil fuels byproduct, contaminate the water and harm the salmon.
"The river was once nine miles of meandoring river and was turned into a five mile channel to accomodate shipping with decades of uncontrolled direct dumping of industry," said Cummings. "It became a shipping highway in, and waste highway out. What settled to the bottom has lead us to where we are today. Forty-one chemicals line the river bottom forming a toxic stew."
The Largest Dolphin
May 17, 2009 (Candace Calloway Whiting, Center for Whale Research)
Are Killer Whales true whales? Yes - and no.
Killer Whales are actually dolphins. Very, very large dolphins...but technically speaking, they are dolphins. The nomenclature can get confusing and may seem counter-intuitive, and like Alice in Wonderland's experience when she tumbled down the rabbit hole, you might get a little dizzy trying to sort it out.
Biologists and taxonomists are meticulous and logical in the definitions, but most of us want simpler distinctions and to that end you might hear things like 'all dolphins are whales, but not all whales are dolphins' or 'anything over nine feet long is a whale'.
Throw porpoises into the mix, and you'll hear that 'if it has a beak, it is a dolphin, if it doesn't it is a porpoise'-- except not all dolphins have "beaks". So where do the Killer Whales fit?
It has taken over thirty years of careful research to dispel the myths that surround these alarmingly named animals. Given the unfortunate and potentially frightening moniker of 'Killer Whale', they have had a lot to overcome in the public eye, and it helps that the research shows that they are intelligent animals that remain with their families for life.
Ten years today after historic hunt, Makah wait to whale again
May 17, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
A decade after Makah tribal whalers made tribal history by harpooning a 32-ton gray whale from a cedar canoe, disappointment reigns over the lack of another legal whale hunt for the tribe.
No celebration is planned to commemorate the 10th anniversary today of the May 17, 1999, hunt.
Tribal members have been waiting so long to legally whale again -- the issue has been tied up in court battles and environmental studies for most of the last 10 years -- there is nothing to celebrate, they said in numerous interviews here last week.
Johnson was captain of the whaling crew that in 1999 took the Makah's first whale in 70 years.
He also led four other Makah who illegally harpooned and shot dead a gray whale east of Neah Bay in September 2007 -- which netted him five months in prison.
Johnson said one of the reasons there is no anniversary celebration today is because the tribal council is still upset about the rogue hunt two years ago.
The illegal hunt came as the tribe has been trying to get permission from the federal government to legally hunt gray whales again under its 1855 treaty with the U.S.
Some wildlife and animal-rights groups demanded that the tribe be forever banned from whaling because of the rogue hunt.
But federal officials continued their review of the tribe's request for an exemption to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Lawmakers upset about cutbacks in salmon programs
May 16, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
Northwest members of Congress are crying foul over the Obama administration eliminating a popular fund for improving salmon habitat.
The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund was established in 2000 to address the Endangered Species Act listings of 26 stocks of threatened or endangered runs of seagoing salmon and steelhead on the West Coast.
The fund is relatively small compared with the overall federal commitment to salmon recovery, but it’s highly prized because it directly underwrites on-the-ground projects undertaken by local groups.
“The jobs produced by road decommissioning, revegetation efforts and fish passage projects represent valuable employment opportunities in today’s depressed job market,” according to a letter authored by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Freeland.
It was signed by 29 other Western members of Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The funding varies year to year, but last year it included $80 million.
They appealed directly to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, a former two-term Washington governor.
The letter was addressed to Locke, as well as Peter Orszag, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, and Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.
The secretary’s obviously very, very interested and knows the importance of salmon in the Pacific Northwest,” said David Miller, a spokesman for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Washington, D.C.
“He directed the NOAA administrator to work with congressional members and staff to make sure there is adequate funding.
“It’s very much on his radar screen.”
Nonetheless, Miller noted that the administration estimates it will spend $800 million overall on salmon-related programs among all federal agencies — an 11 percent boost from last year.
Opponents of Makah whale hunting remain steadfast
May 16, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
Margaret and Chuck Owens said last week they remain strongly convinced that their cause is just.
The co-founders of Peninsula Citizens for the Protection of Whales said they are more certain than ever that the Makah tribe does not need to, and should not, hunt whales.
"I never did think we were right and they were wrong," Margaret Owens said.
"I do feel we have strong and deeply felt positions that haven't changed."
Their efforts helped draw the political weight and monetary muscle of international animal groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, helping stall the tribe's effort to hunt gray whales after a tribal whaling crew harpooned and killed their quarry 10 years ago today.
"For us, this is about the whales," Chuck Owens said. "We feel someone needs to speak for the whales."
Enviros sue EPA over ocean acidification
May 15, 2009 (Seattle Times)
An environmental group is suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, seeking to have Washington coastal waters listed as impaired because carbon dioxide is making the ocean more acidic.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the EPA has failed to consider how ocean acidification is adversely affecting water quality and marine animals.
The complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Seattle alleges the EPA violated the federal Clean Water Act by not listing Washington ocean waters as impaired, even though the group says research shows carbon dioxide in seawater is threatening marine ecosystems.
"The EPA has a duty under the Clean Water Act to protect our nation's waters from pollution, and today, C02 is one of the biggest threats to our ocean waters," said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Ocean acidification refers to a change in the chemistry of water due to excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As more carbon dioxide dissolves in the ocean, it lowers ocean pH, making it more acidic. The pH value is used to measure a liquid's acidity or alkalinity.
Lummi ceremony marks return of salmon, concern for the future
May 15, 2009 (Bellingham Herald)
About 600 Lummi Indian Tribe members and guests gathered Thursday, May 14, at Lummi Nation School to celebrate the arrival of the first salmon - a celebration marked by both hope and fear for the future of the fish that defines tribal identity.
"When I was a young boy, I heard my grandfather say, when he was eating a salmon, 'This is good medicine,'" said Merle Jefferson, the tribe's natural resources director.
The First Salmon Ceremony is a key cultural observance for the Lummi and other Coast Salish tribes. For generations, the tribes have conducted these ceremonies to honor the salmon and assure their return.
Jefferson noted that the first local salmon run, the spring chinook that return to the Nooksack River, is listed as threatened under federal law.
"Our first salmon is in trouble," Jefferson said. "The spring chinook is in trouble. ... The habitat is going to take many years to fix."
Our Iconic Killer Whales
May 13, 2009 (Candace Calloway Whiting, Center for Whale Research)
When tourists visit our region, it doesn't take them long to notice that our local Killer Whales are important to us. Whale images adorn everything from thimbles to sides of buildings, and figure prominently in local indigenous culture. We keep hopeful eyes out for them on our ferry crossings and go on whale watching excursions. The Killer Whales may be wild, but they swim and live along side of us, we boat and kayak in their habitat and hope that they will grace us with their presence. Those of us who live in the region love our local whales, and we love that they are unique to this area.
Many of our visitors, though, are familiar with orcas only from marine parks or from televised nature shows – and while there may be merits to those experiences, neither fully encompasses the range of adaptation and behavior shown by the species. The marine parks teach us how smart the killer whales are, and explain that the tricks they perform are variations of natural behavior. The nature shows tend to focus on dramatic footage of Orcas chasing, toying with, and killing seals, penguins, dolphins, big whales or their calves. Frightening stuff for most of us. But that is only part of the picture.
In contrast, our familiar resident Killer Whales just eat fish, invertebrates, and who knows, maybe the hapless sea bird or bit of kelp…but no seals, no sea lions, no dolphins or whales. And there is no record of them ever harming a human being, in spite of the treatment they have received at our hands.
So when you hear that J, K or L pod is around, those are the Orcas that live here. The ones that love fish and can pick out a Chinook salmon in a school of Sockeye with their eyes closed (they use sonar and can tell by the size of the fish's swim bladder!). They are the ones that swim up and down the west side of San Juan Island, in what the researchers call "The Westside Shuffle". The ones that come so close to the shore that it feels like you could reach out and touch them, the ones that love to drape kelp over their backs and tails and drag it along. The ones that poke their heads up and watch us watch them, and surface gently or spectacularly next to our boats.
The $20M lessons of "freeing" Keiko the whale
May 13, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Keiko wasn't accepted by orcas in his home waters off Iceland and had to be fed frozen fish throughout most of the seven-year effort to reclaim his wild heritage, says the first scientific review of the project.
Activists continue to press for the release of Lolita and Corky, two female killer whales captured more than 35 years ago in the Pacific Northwest. And an increasing number of captive dolphins are being freed around the world. But it's important to keep in mind lessons from the experience with Keiko, and be willing to care for released animals if they can't make it on their own, Simon said.
Though the hope of those behind the "Free Willy" project was to release Keiko into the wild, it's not fair to brand the effort a failure, said Naomi Rose, senior scientist at Humane Society International.
"In terms of giving Keiko a better life, it was 100 percent successful," Rose said.
After two years of "rehab" at the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport to restore his health, Keiko spent four years living in net pens and venturing into the open ocean off the coast of Iceland. He then swam on his own to Norway, where he lived another year, free to come and go.
Keiko lived there in a net pen, but was guided to the open ocean for "walks." He spent time near wild orcas, but didn't become part of their tight-knit social networks, said Simon, who along with her husband and co-author Fernando Ugarte, was part of a team of observers tracking Keiko's movements and behavior.
Keiko's chances might have been better if his original family group could have been located, Phillips said. But the large number of whales and rugged conditions off Iceland made that difficult.
Both Lolita's and Corky's original pods are well-known, and include some relatives alive at the time of their capture. But both animals are owned by marine parks — Lolita by the Miami Seaquarium and Corky by SeaWorld in San Diego — which are unlikely to ever let them go, said Paul Spong, of OrcaLab on Vancouver Island.
EPA should limit pesticides to prevent two-headed Salmon and dead whales
May 11, 2009 (Seattle Examiner)
Pesticides are chemicals designed to harm living organisms and it can include humans, animals, whales, salmon, and other vulnerable species. In addition to fatal results, there have been increased abnormalities found in creatures exposed to poisonous substances. Two headed-salmon, snakes, and turtles are not products of healthy ecosystems.
Runoff water carries deadly pesticides and pollution into creeks, rivers, wetlands, and ultimately the ocean.
Prior to the late 1970s ground-water contamination from field-applied pesticides was virtually unexpected. It was assumed that pesticides in the natural environment would either break down or that the soil, sand, gravel, and rock formations would be adequate to cleanse water of its contaminants before it reached ground water. Today, we know that human activities can lead to contamination of ground water.
Chinook salmon are endangered and have been on a steady decline for decades. Salmon is the main food source for orca whales, another endangered species. Last summer, it was discovered that seven endangered orcas from the Puget Sound whale population disappeared, including two reproducing-aged females. The whales are feared dead and scientists believe they may have died from malnutrition, starvation, and vulnerability to other threats, like water contamination.
Fast action from the EPA is critical in the recovery and preservation of both salmon and whales. The agency supports breaching four dams on the lower Snake River, in Eastern Washington to help salmon recovery, but that battle has been going on for over a decade, without results. Controlling pesticides is another important step that the EPA should be implementing in the effort to help these two endangered species.
Blue whales, due soon off SoCal, might be rediscovering historic territory
May 11, 2009 (Los Angeles Times blog)
Marine mammal enthusiasts in the San Pedro and Santa Barbara channels are encountering sporadic humpback whales and anticipate the arrival of blue whales, which generally arrive in late spring and linger through the summer.
Southern California whale lovers are thrilled to have the world's largest creature in their midst, albeit seasonally, and most will be pleased to learn there's good news regarding an endangered species once hunted to the brink of extinction: Blue whales appear to be reestablishing historic migration routes beyond California to the Pacific Northwest and even the Gulf of Alaska.
The journal Marine Mammal Science cites 15 cases in which blue whales were seen off British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska. The research, by several groups, marks the first known migration of blue whales off California to the northern areas since the end of commercial whaling in 1965. (Blue whales migrate to and from California from a vast offshore region beyond Costa Rica.)
Orca Whale Mothers and Calves
May 10, 2009 (Candace Calloway Whiting, Center for Whale Research)
New moms have all been there: Crying infants and sleep deprivation. Managing the needs of older siblings. Keeping social contacts going. Relying on family to help out. Those familiar problems are shared by Orca* whale mothers, and as it turns out, the lives of Orcas turn out to parallel ours several surprising ways.
Decades of research by Dr. Kenneth Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research (CWR) and others has unlocked some of the mystery of how the Orcas live, and the Center has been following the same individual whales for over thirty years. We thought it would be fun to kick off this blog by bringing you information on the mothers and their calves, in honor of Mother's Day, since three new babies were born this winter, and at least two of them were re- sighted earlier this week after a prolonged absence. This is exciting news, since mortality is high -- as many as 40% of the calves don't survive the first year of life.
Killer whales face cull after finding taste for rare otters
May 10, 2009 (London Times)
FOR conservationists it is the ultimate dilemma. Marine biologists are discussing a cull of killer whales because the predators are destroying other endangered sea mammals.
They are concerned by new research linking a huge population slump in species such as sea otters, Steller’s sea lions and harbour seals to the changed feeding habits of some killer whales, or orcas, as they are also known. The main prey of these orcas has traditionally been great whales such as grey whales and sperm whales, but hunting by humans has cut the numbers of those species to far below their natural level.
Professor James Estes, an expert in the population dynamics of sea mammals at the University of California, Santa Cruz, believes that, faced with a shortage of food, some groups of Pacific orcas have altered their diets. Each killer whale is capable of eating several otters or seals a day.
Estes, whose research will be published in the Philosophical Transactions journal of the Royal Society, said: “Killer whales are the world’s largest carnivores. They are fast and effective killers and they need a lot of food to keep going.
Nice going, mom! Right whales break birth record
May 9, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Right whales have plenty to celebrate this Mother's Day - the sea moms gave birth to a record 39 calves this spring.
The New England Aquarium said Friday that the birth surge breaks the old record of 31 and shows much improvement from 2000, when only one calf was born.
Each birthing season is important because right whales number fewer than 400 and are among the most endangered whales in the world.
Having a calf is no easy task for the 50-foot-long whales, who give birth off the Florida and Georgia coasts.
The moms travel nearly 1,000 miles down the East Coast to warmer waters for their babies, who weigh roughly 2,400 pounds at birth. And the moms can lose up to 30,000 pounds in the first year they are nursing.
Whale killed at Neah Bay was not part of migrating population
May 9, 2009 (Seattle Times)
A gray whale killed illegally in 2007 by Neah Bay men was a Northwest resident and not part of the migrating population.
Cascadia Research matched photos of the whale with previous sightings of a whale identified as CRC-175. The co-founder of the Olympia organization, John Calambokidis, told The Peninsula Daily News it was a fairly well-known whale. It had been spotted 143 times from Northern California to Vancouver Island in 12 years, with seven sightings at Neah Bay.
Two men who killed the whale were given prison sentences and three others probation for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
They did not have approval from the Makah tribe, which is seeking a permit to exercise a treaty whaling right.
RAW VIDEO: Humpback whale near Anderson Is. May 7
May 7, 2009 (KING5 TV)
Tough legislative session for Wash. enviros
May 7, 2009 (Seattle Times)
It was a tough legislative session for environmentalists in Washington.
They won some victories, such as getting a permanent tug stationed at Neah Bay to help prevent oil spills. They also fended off proposed changes to a citizens' initiative requiring utilities to seek new clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.
But environmental groups passed only one of their priority bills, a measure requiring new buildings to drastically reduce energy use by 2031.
Other priorities didn't fare as well.
A climate change bill backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire was watered down before it failed in the final days of the 105-day session, and a bill to levy a fee on oil for stormwater cleanup passed the House late in the session but didn't get a Senate vote.
Environmental groups did secure tax credits for renewable energy projects and $70 million in the capital budget for parks, wildlife habitat and farmland preservation projects.
"We could have and should have done better," said Rep. Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines. "Every year that goes by is a missed opportunity to take the steps we're going to have to take. It doesn't get easier by waiting."
Environmentalists fended off a bill they said would have gutted Initiative 937, which requires some utilities to get some of their power from alternative sources such as wind or solar. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, and others wanted to give utilities more leeway to meet I-937's clean energy mandates.
Long-distance kayak race is reborn
May 7, 2009 (Skagit Valley Herald)
Jim Zimmerman and Nadja Baker have a lot on their plate.
The two are not only the race directors for the revived San Juan Orca Challenge, but they are getting married this summer as well.
Both undertakings have taken considerable time and effort. However, ask which one has been more stressful and the two look at each other and pause.
“Right now,” said Baker, “I’d say the race because it’s almost here and we have to get everything ready to go.”
Then with a laugh she added: “The wedding, well, we’ll figure that out at a later date.”
Zimmerman and Baker are avid, if not fanatical, kayakers. They are also passionate about the orcas that spend time in Puget Sound.
So, putting on a kayak race to benefit the Orca Network was the perfect task for the pair.
Racers must pre-register for the race at orcachallengeform
The cost of the race is $50. All proceeds go to the Orca Network, a local non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.
Shell to Shift Alaska Exploration Plans
May 6, 2009 (New York Times)
After battling native communities and environmental groups on Alaska’s North Slope over its offshore drilling plans, Royal Dutch Shell said Wednesday that it was scaling back its exploration program in the Beaufort Sea.
The company said it had informed the Minerals Management Service on Tuesday that it was withdrawing its drilling plans for the 2007-2009 period, which expires at the end of the year, and that it plans to file a new, more focused, exploration program soon.
In the last year, oil prices have dropped sharply, prompting companies to scale back some of their most expensive drilling programs. And last November, a federal appeals court issued a ruling that blocked Shell’s drilling program after the environmental study conducted by the Minerals Management Service was deemed improper.
Environmental groups, including the Alaska Wilderness League, as well as the North Slope Borough, which represents the indigenous Inupiat people, had sued to stop Shell from drilling, claiming that the company’s plans to send icebreakers, drilling ships and an armada of support vessels to conduct seismic surveys might harm bowhead whales, which migrate through the Beaufort Sea twice a year.
Whale skull to be displayed
May 6, 2009 (Whidbey Examiner)
The skull of a gray whale killed in a collision with a ship last month may have a new life as a tourist attraction and educational tool, according to Howard Garrett, president of Orca Network.
"The most likely destination is going to be the Deception Pass (State Park) interpretative center," Garrett said. "All partners seem to be agreeing on that at this point."
The carcass was discovered April 26 floating between Madrona Beach and Rocky Point off the west shore of Camano Island. Researchers from Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, a division of Whidbey Island-based Orca Network, attempted to tow the animal by boat to Navy property the next day, but the towline broke and the effort was abandoned.
The carcass was located again the next day, and was successfully towed to Polnell Beach. On April 29, a squad of about 20 researchers descended on the carcass to perform a necropsy.
Huggins said that bruising in the blubber and the large amount of blood found in the body cavity indicate the whale probably was killed by a passing ship.
"All the evidence points to it," she said.
Whales sink immediately after their death and typically stay submerged for about two days before gases produced by the decomposition process cause it to rise to the surface. Based on that, and the amount of visible decay on the animal, Huggins said the whale likely was killed April 24.
New rules eyed for whale-watching tour operators
May 6, 2009 (BC Local News - Canada)
Killer whales are making a splash in Canada’s federal court, and their ripples could be felt by local whale watching companies.
Environmental groups are taking legal action to force the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to clearly define “critical habitat” as worded in the federal Species at Risk Act.
Although DFO ordered protection on specific killer whale habitat last month, the definition does not specify whether it includes biological attributes, such as orcas’ food sources and ensuring their habitat is free of waste and sound pollution, said Colin Campbell, the Sierra Club of B.C.’s science advisor.
“This is the first time from the Species at Risk Act (a federal order) has been issued to protect critical habitat,” he said. “This (case) is the precedent and there are hundreds of endangered species in Canada, so we want the precedent to be comprehensive. It doesn’t make any damn sense to just (outline) a place. That is not enough.”
The main issue in the lawsuit is focused on killer whales’ food, but vessel traffic and acoustic disturbances could come into play, he said.
May 4, 2009 (High Country News)
Can the Pacific Northwest -- indeed the nation -- fulfill Van Bergen's dream of wild salmon recovery? For the first time in decades, the answer may be yes. Many biologists have long been clear about the best way to achieve it: Remove four dams on the Lower Snake River so the fish can reach millions of acres of pristine habitat in central Idaho and northeast Oregon.
For nearly 20 years, however, the powerful federal agencies now appearing before Redden -- including the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the region's hydropower, and the Bureau of Reclamation and Army Corps of Engineers, which run some of the region's 200 major dams -- have strenuously avoided dam removal. They've spent $8 billion on almost every conceivable alternative with little consequent improvement in the fortunes of wild fish. And they've cultivated allies among inland ports, utilities, the barging industry, the vanishing aluminum industry and politicians, including Washington state's senior senator, Democrat Patty Murray.
Some of those formidable obstacles to dam removal remain, but there are signs that the balance is tipping. President Barack Obama appears dedicated to science and transparency; a well-respected fisheries scientist is now in charge of a key federal agency; and new Northwestern politicians have signaled their willingness to help solve the salmon crisis. Some eastern Washington farmers and other dam beneficiaries appear willing to contemplate a future without the four Snake dams, and renewables in the region already produce as much electricity as these dams provide. A ban on commercial salmon fishing along the Oregon and California coasts for the second consecutive year will cost fishing communities hundreds of millions of dollars, adding urgency to salmon restoration. Most of all, Judge Redden is determined to make government agencies finally follow the Endangered Species Act.
Obama administration reviews salmon strategy
May 4, 2009 (MSNBC)
The Obama administration is reviewing a Bush administration plan for balancing the needs of people and salmon in the Pacific Northwest's Columbia River Basin — a plan that has been criticized by a federal judge as doing too little to help salmon.
The Bush plan was sent to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., last May. Redden had set a Friday deadline for the government to respond as it explores options in the case.
In a letter Friday to Redden, the Justice Department said top officials in the Obama administration want a delay of up to two months to "more fully understand all aspects" of the plan.
Tracking the silent killer whales
May 4, 2009 (Shetland Marine)
Andy Foote, from Aberdeen University, has been keeping an eye on orca activity around Shetland for the past three years and this year has an expert on whale speech patterns alongside him.
Mr Foote said there were around 30 killer whales regularly working the coastline of Shetland, all of whom appeared to travel south east from Iceland where they feed on herring with a larger community of whales.
“It looks as if this is a coherent community, a cohesive group of whales that splits up and comes back together again,” Mr Foote said yesterday (Monday) from Yell, where he is setting up base with his two colleagues.
“The rest of the population seems to move around to the south west of Iceland during the summer where the herring go to feed, but these guys seem to be a small faction that splits off and comes here for a slightly different meal.”
Common seals form the main diet of the Shetland orcas, and Mr Foote said they could take part of the blame for the recent sharp decline in common seal numbers around Shetland.
Anti-submarine Warfare Training Kills Marine Life
May 4, 2009 (Op-ed News article by Howard Garrett)
The US Navy's mission is to protect the United States. To do so the Navy is planning to expand ongoing anti-submarine training exercises in Admiralty Inlet off Whidbey Island, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and along the Washington coast out 200 miles, off Oregon and down to Eureka California, and off Southern California, the east coast and off Hawaii. The dilemma before us is that these live-fire and sonar exercises inevitably injure and kill marine life, including endangered whales and salmon. Sailors learn to deploy minefields, explosive ordnance and sonars, leading to irreparable harm to marine mammals and fisheries and the potential release of hazardous materials into sensitive marine ecosystems.
We are especially concerned that the NW training area includes waters known to be traveled by endangered Southern Resident orcas, as well as their essential food source, endangered Chinook salmon, and 27 other cetacean species and uncountable other marine life. Of course there are many other insults and onslaughts killing the oceans, but Navy training is under direct government control in our democracy.
Operation to pull fuel truck from ocean floor
May 4, 2009 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Almost two years after a barge tipped 11 pieces of equipment into the waters of B.C.'s Robson Bight ecological reserve, an operation will start this month to recover a fully laden fuel truck and a container of hydraulic oil barrels.
Guide wires connected to heavy weights and underwater robots will help guide metal casings over the two pieces of equipment sitting on the ocean floor to try to minimize any possible oil spills, said Bas Coppes, project manager for Mammoet Salvage B.V., based in the Netherlands.
Coppes expects the oil will remain contained during the operation, but said the casings will protect against spills.
Environmentalists and residents around the Alert Bay area are keeping their fingers crossed that no oil seeps out and that the threatened northern resident killer whales, which use Robson Bight for feeding and rubbing themselves on pebble beaches, stay away.
Columbia River tribes protest volume of fishing
May 4, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Representatives of Columbia River tribes say Oregon and Washington have allowed too much nontribal fishing of upper Columbia spring chinook at the probable expense of tribes depending on what may be an unexpectedly low run.
The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, representing the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes, sent a letter to the states last week.
So far, tribal fishermen above Bonneville Dam have caught about 1,000 spring chinook, while nontribal fisheries have caught about 19,000, according to the letter from N. Kathryn Brigham, the group's chairwoman. The numbers are supposed to be about equal, The Oregonian reported.
Spring chinook, the river's most valuable fish pound for pound, are important to the tribes' diet and commercial harvest as well as to sport fishermen and nontribal commercial fishermen.
And the wild runs of spring chinook that originate in the upper Columbia and Snake rivers are among the more endangered.
All we do now to save salmon could mean nothing
May 3, 2009 (Idaho Statesman)
Fish that spawn in the south and in the summer will die first as the world warms. Idaho's high-elevation runs may offer one of the best chances the species has.
The Pacific Northwest has spent two decades retooling dams, rebuilding damaged watersheds and restoring stream flows to keep salmon from disappearing.
The United States has invested billions in the effort - $350 million in 2004 alone - by far the most money spent on any endangered species.
But a new threat is more devastating than the gill nets that sent dozens of salmon runs into extinction. It is more deadly than the hydroelectric turbines that still kill millions of migrating smolts. In fact, it raises doubts about whether salmon will survive in the Northern Pacific at all.
Climate change already has made rivers warmer and spring runoff earlier, disrupting the life cycle of the fish that are an icon of the region.
No matter what actions the world takes to reduce greenhouse gases, river temperatures in more than half of the lower-elevation watersheds may exceed 70 degrees by 2040 - too hot for salmon.
"The only salmon that are going to survive the century mark are the ones in the large populations in the higher elevations that are still going to have snow and cold water," said Jim Martin, a former chief of fisheries for the state of Oregon.
Dam removals will bring fish back to Elwha river
May 2, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Back in the early 1900s, the Elwha River on the North Olympic Peninsula used to have a gene of chinook salmon that pushed the scale to 100 pounds.
In those days, anglers were lured to places like Neah Bay, Sekiu and Pillar Point clear into Port Angeles in hopes of catching these monster-sized kings.
Then in 1913, this once unblemished river that hosted all five salmon species and steelhead was blocked by the first of two hydroelectric dams, forever clogging fish migration to the upper 38 miles of mainstem and more than 30 miles of tributary habitat.
While those heavyweight king salmon have long since disappeared, fisheries biologist estimate that a small group of migrating wild fish still return to the base of the dam annually.
Possibly in the near future some of those once majestic fish runs could see a comeback as the removal of the 108-foot Elwha Dam and the 210-foot Glines Canyon Dam will begin no later than 2011.
The takedown of the two dams is due in part to $54 million in federal economic recovery funds that American Rivers, one of the nation's leading conservation groups, advocated for.
Obama administration reviewing salmon plan
May 2, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The Obama administration is reviewing a Bush administration plan for balancing the needs of people and salmon in the Columbia River Basin - a plan that has been criticized by a federal judge as doing too little to help salmon.
The Bush plan was sent to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland, Ore., last May. Redden had set a Friday deadline for the government to respond as it explores options in the case.
In a letter Friday to Redden, the Justice Department said top officials in the Obama administration want a delay of up to two months to "more fully understand all aspects" of the plan.
Redden heard arguments in March in a long-running dispute over how to balance Columbia Basin energy and utility needs with imperiled salmon and steelhead.
Environmentalists have argued that salmon populations cannot recover without removing some dams, especially the migration bottleneck to Idaho created by four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state.
U.S. extends disaster order for chinook salmon
May 1, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle)
The paltry number of chinook salmon in the ocean and rivers in California and Oregon this year prompted U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on Thursday to extend the declaration of a fishery disaster for a second year.
Locke announced that he would release $53.1 million in disaster funds to aid fishing communities suffering from the collapse of the Sacramento River fishery. The fall run of chinook in the Sacramento was once so abundant that it supported commercial salmon fishermen all along the West Coast.
The lack of fish forced the Pacific Fishery Management Council in April to recommend a salmon fishing ban off the coast of California to a point just south of Cape Falcon, Ore.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will finalize the management council's recommendation today, halting all commercial fishing of chinook salmon in the ocean off the two states. Some coho salmon fishing will be allowed off Oregon.
The collapse has been blamed on a host of factors, including diversions of river water for farming, pollution, too many weak hatchery fish and climatic conditions that have reduced the amount of salmon food in the ocean.
Big ship may have killed gray whale
May 1, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Researchers studying a dead gray whale on a Whidbey Island beach say a large ship may have struck and killed the animal.
Susan Berta of the Orca Network told The Herald of Everett that a necropsy Wednesday found that a collision with a ship is the most likely reason the otherwise healthy whale died.
The 30-ton animal was found Sunday floating off Camano Island State Park and was taken to a Navy beach on Whidbey to be examined.
Berta says ship-whale collisions are common. She says even if a big ship spots a whale, it usually can't stop or change course in time.
Berta says a second gray whale found dead in Birch Bay in Whatcom County earlier this week also was healthy and died from some kind of trauma.