Orca Network News - May, 2011

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
May 1, 2011 through May 31, 2011.

Pollution lower, risks remain for marine life
May 29, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Copper dust from car brakes gets flushed into a stream by storms. Inside half an hour, the ability of nearby baby salmon to interpret smells can get thrown out of whack. When a predator approaches, the fish don't flee, increasing the odds they'll be gobbled up.
This potentially deadly change in fish behavior can happen at extremely low levels of pollution, the same levels washing into Puget Sound during heavy rain. It's one of the many ways stormwater runoff still presents trouble for Puget Sound.
The flame retardants known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), found in everything from couch cushions to computers, have the potential to weaken an animal's immune system and show up in high levels in Puget Sound chinook, the preferred food of southern resident killer whales.
And while petroleum pollution in Puget Sound is far less than first thought, it almost certainly contributes to another problem: contamination by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).
PAHs are a suite of chemicals formed by incomplete burning. They come from the exhaust released through vehicle tailpipes, oil spills and some sealants placed on roadways, but also from creosote-soaked pilings, coal, soot and the smoke from wood-burning fires and volcanoes.

Should we tag orcas to save them?
May 19, 2011 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
For the past few months, Ken Balcomb has been putting up posters on docks at marinas along the California coast, asking for orca-sighting reports.
It may seem archaic, akin to a kid putting up a "lost cat" poster on a telephone pole. But Balcomb says it works.
But science may soon have a more up-to-date method: Shooting the killer whales with a dart that a satellite can track. The federal government is considering such a proposal.
Scientists, however, don't agree on tagging. For some, tagging could help in understanding a beloved but endangered animal. For others, tagging would provide little value but do real harm to orcas.

New rules to protect Puget Sound orcas take effect Monday
May 15, 2011 (KING5 TV)
New rules issued by the federal government to protect the endangered killer whales go into effect Monday. Among them is a requirement that all recreational vessels, including whale watching boats and kayaks, stay twice as far away as previously required -- 200 yards instead of 100 yards.
Commercial fishing boats, cargo ships traveling in established shipping lanes, and government and research vessels are exempt.
NOAA Fisheries says noise from boats can interfere with the sensitive sonar the whales use to navigate and find food. The agency's killer whale recovery plan, released in early 2008, calls for reducing how much vessels disturb the whales.
Other factors threatening the orcas are a shortage of chinook salmon and water pollution, the agency says.

In an ocean of noise, sea life faces new threat
May 13, 2011 (Seattle Times)
Alongside a boom in international shipping and deep-sea oil development, the ocean is growing ever-noisier and scientists are increasingly wary of sound's potential to impact sea life beyond just marine mammals.
The study of human-caused underwater noise pollution is in its infancy. For most creatures it's too soon to say how much is too much.
In the last decade, beaked whales washed ashore with bleeding around the brain shortly after exposure to mid-frequency sonar. Researchers figured out that stranded bottlenose and rough-toothed dolphins often were nearly deaf. Dall's porpoises and killer whales were found to alter travel patterns during Navy exercises in Haro Strait.
Environmentalists repeatedly sued the Navy, but the precise science behind the impact on whales was often elusive.

Elwha Dam's days numbered; powerhouse first to be shut down
May 9, 2011 (Peninsula Daily News)
Generators inside the powerhouse of the 108-foot dam west of Port Angeles will be turned off June 1, Olympic National Park spokesman Dave Reynolds said.
Three-and-a-half months later, a National Park Service contractor will begin to tear it down.
“Everything is on schedule for Sept. 17 for the first concrete removed from the dam,” said Reynolds, during a tour of the Elwha Dam and powerhouse on Wednesday. “There's a lot of site preparation that will go on before that as well.”
“Right now, we've got 157 inches of snow waiting to come down,” Wesley said. “It will come down. We just hope it's not all at once.”

Salmon wars return to Portland courtroom: Can at-risk fish and hydroelectric dams coexist?
May 7, 2011 (Oregonian)
For the past eight years, the champion of Northwest wild salmon and steelhead has been an 82-year-old judge with a sharp pen and a willingness to use it.
To date, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden has sunk two plans the federal government argued would allow it to operate hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River basin without jeopardizing the region's signature fish.
In Portland on Monday, he holds what could be his last hearing in the salmon case, a final discussion of the government's third shot at a 10-year plan. He'll have to cut through the fog of fish numbers before handing down a decision with consequences for electricity ratepayers and farmers in four states.

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