Orca Network News - November, 2004
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
November 1, 2004 through November 30, 2004.
November 30, 2004 (Reuters) Scientists and wildlife officials are continuing to search for what may have caused a series of mass strandings which have left 169 whales and dolphins dead on Australian and New Zealand beaches in the past three days.
Authorities and volunteers worked through Monday night to save dozens of whales and dolphins after three separate beachings in Australia and New Zealand.
By Tuesday, 96 long-finned pilot whales and bottle-nosed dolphins had died after the first beaching on Sunday at King Island, midway between the Australian mainland and the southern island state of Tasmania.
Tasmanian wildlife officer Shane Hunniford said another 19 long-finned pilot whales had died in a separate beaching on Monday on Maria Island, 60 km (37 miles) east of the Tasmanian capital Hobart.
Across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, a mass grave was dug on a beach at Opoutere, 100 km (62 miles) east of Auckland on the North Island, for 53 dead pilot whales. Officials said 73 whales had become stranded there on Sunday, but 20 were saved.
Bob Brown, leader of Australia's Greens party, said earlier on Tuesday that ocean seismic tests for oil and gas should be stopped until the whale migration season ends.
Brown, a senator in the Australian parliament, said "sound bombing" of ocean floors to test for oil and gas had been carried out near the sites of the Tasmanian beachings recently.
"Normally with pilot whales, because they're so closely socially bonded, if one gets into trouble the others are not going to leave," Gibney said.
Seismic halt urged for whales
November 29, 2004 (Melbourne Herald Sun) SEISMIC tests carried out in oceans to search for gas and oil should be stopped until the whale migration season had ended, Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said today.
His call followed the deaths of 19 long-finned pilot whales which beached at Tasmania's Maria Island yesterday. The stranding was the second in Tasmanian waters in just 24 hours.
Another mass beaching of whales and dolphins on King Island in Bass Strait on Sunday resulted in the deaths 73 long-finned pilot whales and 25 bottlenose dolphins.
Senator Brown said in both cases seismic tests, involving so-called sound bombing of ocean floors to test for oil and gas, were carried out in the days before the whales were stranded.
"There is growing evidence that such activities may impact on whales and dolphins, but research data is inconclusive," he said.
"However, the precautionary principle should apply and the tests, until shown to be safe, should stop - at least in whale migration seasons."
Local governments' salmon-saving plan up for public review
November 27, 2004 (Seattle Times) The endangered chinook, mighty "king fish," which can grow to 40 pounds, tell a story of development that has steamrolled vital habitats and barricaded fish passages with road crossings and dams.
"You know that image of the kid with the big huge salmon? That icon of the Northwest? We just don't see those anymore," said Debbie Natelson, outreach and stewardship coordinator with the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Water Resource Inventory Area 8 Watershed.
That's why 25 cities and King and Snohomish counties are asking for public feedback on a draft plan to improve the habitat of this native species.
The proposal - a collective first-time effort among the 27 local governments to save the salmon - will look at how the region can grow and still protect and restore shorelines, forests and water quality. Three open houses are scheduled during December in Bothell, Redmond and Seattle to educate the community and get responses on a draft 10-year conservation plan.
In January that plan will go to a forum of representatives from each of the local governments that will meet over the coming year and make final recommendations to the federal government.
"Most other endangered wildlife live in one area. But with fish, because they travel through all the rural areas and urban areas, they know no political boundaries," she said. "It's going to take a long time to recover the salmon. What we're hoping for is to first stem the decline and then increase them."
Orca pod stay close to stranded pair
November 24, 2004 (New Zealand Herald) A pod of killer whales stuck together after two were stranded north of Whangarei Heads yesterday.
Two adult killer whales became stranded on the low tide at the Taiharuru estuary, 32km north-east of Whangarei, for more than two and four hours respectively while seven of their pod swam nearby.
Locals watched spellbound as the marine mammals kept a close eye on their stranded mates, known to Tutukaka orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser as Rudie, a 6.6-metre male and Double Dent, a four-metre female.
But the loyalty of the whales waned as Double Dent freed herself and swam off with the remaining seven at 12.30pm - leaving Rudie stranded on his own.
It was an "incredible" day for Miss Visser who saw two other groups of whales -- a pod of killer whales near Whangaruru and two brydes whales feeding outside the Taiharuru estuary yesterday.
"He's a big boy and he can look after himself," she said. Rudie and Double Dent are believed to have become stranded near the mouth of the Taiharuru estuary at about 10am, after the pod had been hunting stingray.
Miss Visser recognised Rudie and Double Dent from previous encounters. Asked how she recognised them, she said: "They all look different just like people do." She believed Rudie was the son of Double Dent, so a calf hanging closely by Double Dent was Rudie's sibling.
Stranded Orca Finds Freedom November 24, 2004 (ZB News (shorter story, but neat photo)
Four farms earn fish-friendly label
November 23, 2004 (Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce) A new program that labels some farms as safe for salmon is changing how four western Washington farmers manage their land, and could influence how others do, too.
In the same way buildings are ranked for their green features and wood is specially marked if it is harvested sustainably, a new eco-label can now be applied to farms, according to an independent third-party's evaluation criteria.
The idea is that the farms can use the eco-label for marketing and sales.
Four farms in Snoqualmie were recently tagged "Salmon Safe" as part of a pilot program funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the King Conservation District.
Dolphins identified by their curves
November 22, 2004 (Nature) Fin recognition system helps animals to be tracked without tags.
The principles of face recognition software are being used to identify individual whales or dolphins from photos of their fins or flippers. The method promises to make it easier for researchers and conservationists to track marine mammals, without the need for physical brands or tags.
The ability to recognize individual animals within a population is key for researchers who want to understand the behaviour of marine mammals, and for conservationists trying to evaluate the status of different species in the wild. Knowing which whale travels where, for example, makes it possible to understand general migration patterns.
"It's very important to be able to identify marine mammals because this allows you to count how many animals there actually are and produce a more robust population analysis," says Luke Rendell, a research fellow at the University of St. Andrews who has studied social patterns in whales.
In the past, biologists have tagged animals such as whales using branding with heat or liquid nitrogen. But as well as being rather impractical, it is not clear whether such approaches harm the animals or affect their behaviour.
Instead of relying on physical tags, Chandan Gope at the University of Texas, Dallas, and his colleagues have been studying photographs. They have developed software that analyses the pattern of curves at the edges of dolphin dorsal fins, whale flukes or sea-lion flippers.
The shapes of these body parts change little over time, so they provide a reliable 'fingerprint' that can be spotted in different photos of the same animal, say the researchers.
The computer program works by picking out the distinguishing points along one of these edges and then digitally recreating the contour. It then compares the curve with others from a database and highlights the best potential matches.
Dolphins save swimmers from shark
November 23, 2004 (CNN) A pod of dolphins circled protectively round a group of New Zealand swimmers to fend off an attack by a great white shark, media reported on Tuesday.
Lifesavers Rob Howes, his 15-year-old daughter Niccy, Karina Cooper and Helen Slade were swimming 100 metres (300 feet) off Ocean Beach near Whangarei on New Zealand's North Island when the dolphins herded them -- apparently to protect them from a shark.
"They started to herd us up, they pushed all four of us together by doing tight circles around us," Howes told the New Zealand Press Association (NZPA).
Howes tried to drift away from the group, but two of the bigger dolphins herded him back just as he spotted a three-meter (nine feet) great white shark swimming towards the group.
Environment group Orca Research said dolphins attacked sharks to protect themselves and their young, so their actions in protecting the lifesavers was understandable.
"They could have sensed the danger to the swimmers and taken action to protect them," Orca's Ingrid Visser told NZPA.
Sundry sea life in whale's belly
November 22, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) A Prince William Sound killer whale that washed up dead on Latouche Island in 2003 had scarfed down at least five sea otters -- plus 1,000 seabird feathers, bits of seaweed and about nine pounds of rocks.
The belly of the big male, from a unique population in sharp decline, also contained parts of nine harbor seals, some river otter teeth, a sliver of a clam's siphon and an octopus's beak, according to biologist Lori Quakenbush with the state's Arctic Marine Mammal Program in Fairbanks.
The analysis, summarized in a report submitted this fall to an academic journal, gave scientists a rare chance to catalog exactly what one of the ocean's top predators had to eat.
It marked the first time sea otter remains had been documented inside a killer whale's stomach, according to biologists.
Snatching otters or birds would be highly unusual behavior for the Sound's marine mammal-eating killer whales, said biologists Craig Matkin and Lance Barrett-Lennard with the North Gulf Oceanic Society in Homer. Through 20 years of study, the whales have been seen pursuing much larger harbor seals and Dall's porpoises. They were not thought to be consumers of smaller prey, partly because that would offer so little nutritional payoff for 10-ton predators.
Blasts might harm whales, studies say
November 22, 2004 (San Diego Union Tribune) New insights into marine mammals are shedding light on why man-made blasts of sonar may be tied to whale strandings, scientists gathered last week in San Diego said.
The latest studies seem to support the idea that sonar is harmful to at least some marine mammals, said researchers attending the annual meeting of the Acoustical Society of America.
The scientists emphasize that much remains unknown about the natural physiology of whales and the threshold of sound that might harm them. While all kinds of natural sounds pervade the oceans, marine mammal scientists are most concerned with sonar and sounds from ships and boats, offshore oil drilling and other industrial activity. Sonar used by the military, for oil exploration and for marine research propagates sound over long distances in the ocean.
The newest studies on sonar associated with marine mammal strandings follow a paper published in October 2003 in the journal Nature. In that report, researchers identified nitrogen gas bubbles in the tissue of beaked whales that had stranded themselves in 2002 in the Canary Islands. The animals began stranding themselves about four hours after an international Navy sonar exercise.
Region urged to get serious on oil spills
November 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On that tragic night in 1989, about the time Capt. Joseph Hazelwood emerged from a bar in Valdez, Alaska, Riki Ott was briefing town officials on her risk analysis of the oil tankers that picked up North Slope crude.
"It's not a matter of if we have a major spill," Ott, a toxicologist-turned-fisherman, told the mayor and others that night. "It's a matter of when."
About four hours later, the Exxon Valdez smashed into Bligh Reef under Hazelwood's command, spewing millions of gallons of crude.
Ott and others who lived through the Valdez debacle have some advice for people of the Puget Sound region: Get serious. Get the Legislature or Congress to form a citizen-run group, funded by shipping interests, to keep an eye on the spill-prevention efforts of industry and government. Get something just like the Regional Citizens' Advisory Council that has helped make Valdez one of the safest ports in the country.
The most prolific and involved of the local activists is Fred Felleman of Ocean Advocates, a highly knowledgeable but acerbic critic of the current oil-spill prevention system here. He is the loudest supporter of a citizens' council here, but has alienated many in the shipping industry and the regulatory agencies.
"It's not like we don't know how to make things safer," he said. "It's always this balancing act of how much do you want to spend. That's not an exclusively technical question. There are substantial values questions associated with the technical questions."
A citizens' council would help answer both, according to the Northwest Straits Commission, a congressionally created group that keeps watch over marine safety and environmental matters in the region of the San Juan Islands and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The commission called for creation of such a citizens' council three years ago.
"We see what happens here, and we see we're not prepared," said Buck Meloy, a Straits Commission member and fisherman who works here and in Alaska. "It's a big concern to us because an oil spill is probably the single biggest threat we can do anything about."
Task force seeks clarification on response policies November 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Kokanee on view from riverbank
November 20, 2004 (Seattle Times) On the banks of the Sammamish River in Redmond yesterday, Hans Berge was drawn to a kokanee salmon as it brushed away gravel on the river's bed.
"She's getting ready to lay her eggs," announced Berge, a King County aquatic biologist.
The kokanee are spawning here, near where the river spills into Lake Sammamish, a yearly natural ritual of reproduction and death. And this year Eastsiders can get a front-row seat under the Northeast 85th Street bridge in Redmond. Dozens of kokanee are visible from the bank. Though the county doesn't carefully monitor the kokanee in the Sammamish, Berge said this year's run seems pretty good.
What that means is that conditions in Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish - where the kokanee spend most of their lives - must be good, too.
"They have enough food to survive, nobody's trying to eat them and there's favorable conditions in terms of water quality," Berge said.
Orcas and oil will never mix
November 18, 2004 (The Olympian Editorial) The prognosis is not good for a small pod of killer whales decimated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill 15 years ago in Alaska.
The orca pod, which numbered 22 in 1984, is down to just seven members. And the group hasn't produced a calf in 20 years. Scientists have not given up in the effort to save them, but they hold out little hope of saving the group.
There are lessons to be learned from what happened to this small group of transient orcas, lessons that can be applied to the three pods of resident orcas that make up the Puget Sound population.
The first lesson is a no-brainer. As a region, we must do everything within our power to prevent a catastrophic oil spill akin to what happened in Prince William Sound in 1989.
Lacking a sense of smell, orcas are not well equipped for avoiding the immediate threat of oiled waters in which they swim. Sitting at the top of the marine food chain, orca whales are particularly vulnerable to the long-term, accumulative effects of the toxins released into the water when oil is spilled.
The region also must show continued resolve to protect and recover salmon runs in Puget Sound, not only for sport and commercial fishers, but also for the health of the ecosystem. Remember, they are the most important food source for Puget Sound orcas.
The Alaskan transient orcas rely on marine mammals for food. Harbor seal populations in Alaska are in sharp decline, lessening the chance of survival for the so-called ATI pod.
Puget Sound's L-pod welcomed two newborn to the family this fall, increasing their number to 85, which is still down from the 99 individuals that swam the waters of Puget Sound as recently as 1995.
Now they need the necessary protections of their food supply and habitat to have a fighting chance.
Bush ready to reshape federal forests
November 18, 2004 (The Oregonian) President Bush enters his second term poised to refashion the Northwest's public forests, reviving some logging after its near collapse while curtailing environmental reviews that opponents use to restrain cutting.
His actions over the next four years may fell more old-growth trees, reconsider safeguards for the northern spotted owl and shrink the U.S. Forest Service -- the biggest federal land manager in Oregon and Washington. Together the moves could rebalance federal land use by stressing logging for jobs and revenue -- and as a tool to clear overgrown, flammable stands.
Although forest issues received little notice during the presidential campaign, "there's very little doubt we're going to see comprehensive changes in the rules," said Michael Goergen, chief executive officer of the Society of American Foresters.
Judge: Flood-plain policy ignores impact on salmon
November 18, 2004 (Seattle Times) The Federal Emergency Management Agency wrongly let tens of thousands of new building developments spring up on some of the region's most flood-prone property without considering the impact to threatened Puget Sound salmon runs, a federal judge has ruled.
In the half-decade since Puget Sound chinook were listed for protection, FEMA, the agency that offers insurance to landowners who build in flood plains provided they meet baseline rules to reduce the risk of floods, never consulted with salmon experts at other agencies as required by law, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly ruled this week in Seattle.
Instead, FEMA actually encouraged the destruction of salmon habitat by letting landowners avoid regulation if they built within flood plains, Zilly wrote in the decision made public yesterday.
Fish enhancement and flood-risk reduction often are in conflict, Zilly wrote. FEMA actually rewards through its rate structure, for example, activities detrimental to fish habitat by encouraging levees, berms and floodwalls.
And in the first three years after chinook were first protected in 1999 under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), FEMA provided 26,000 new flood-insurance policies for structures within the fish's habitat, according to court records.
"The whole point of salmon listings was that we were going to have to change the way we do business," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with the National Wildlife Federation who sued FEMA on behalf of environmentalists. "But FEMA was AWOL; they kept authorizing more and more development."
Ruling helps salmon, not developers November 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Climate change divides
November 17, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) Warming of the Alaska Arctic at up to 10 times the rate of the rest of the planet is wrecking villages and melting glaciers and might make polar bears and ringed seals extinct, leading scientists told members of the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday.
Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens, soon to be chairman of the committee, agreed that the problem is serious. But he does not accept the conclusion the scientists reached in their new high-profile report: that the driving force behind warming is people burning coal, oil and natural gas, the fuels that produce greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere.
That put Stevens at odds with the current Commerce chairman, Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, who declared that action is needed now to curb emissions of greenhouse gases.
"Unless we address them, the people in Arizona are going to have the same problem as the people in Alaska face today," McCain said at the Tuesday hearing.
Poco the whale dies
November 17, 2004 (CBC) A playful beluga whale known for cavorting with divers along the Atlantic coast has died.
Poco was discovered Monday on a mud flat near South Portland, Maine. There were no signs of external injuries.
Maritimers have been tracking Poco's wanderings since he was first sighted near an aquaculture site at Pocologan, N.B., in September 2003.
The young whale would swim around fishermen and commercial divers while they worked in the Bay of Fundy. Some people said he almost seemed to be trying to make friends.
Last May, Poco was spotted in Boston Harbor. He was later seen as far south as Cape Cod and as far north as Bar Harbor, Maine.
Belugas aren't usually found in the region, so the Whale Stewardship Project in Nova Scotia was tracking Poco closely.
Although the group warned people to stay away, there were no attempts to capture Poco. Project director Cathy Kinsmen is reluctant to say if his death could have been prevented.
"With Poco, certainly he was in some situations that pose some danger. Until we know exactly what the cause of death is it's still hard to know," she said.
NOAA necropsy report on Poco
International Agreement Calls on Member States to Curb Military Sonar and Other Noise Technology
November 15, 2004 (Progressive Newswire) In the third recent international government action calling for limits on the use of high intensity military sonar, the 16 member states of the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area (ACCOBAMS) today approved a resolution calling for "extreme caution" in conducting activities that produce intense underwater noise, including military sonar activities. This action comes just two weeks after the European Parliament, seeking to protect marine mammals and other marine life, adopted a groundbreaking resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of high-intensity active naval sonars. It also comes days after the Spanish Ministry of Defense announced its intention to ACCOBAMS to prohibit all active sonar exercises off the coast of the Canary Islands, the site of many whale strandings coincident with military training exercises.
In the resolution approved today, ACCOBAMS recommended that ideally activities producing harmful noise, such as military sonar activities, "would not be conducted" in the Mediterranean and Black Seas pending the development of environmental guidelines. The ACCOBAMS is an international agreement established pursuant to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, and consists of Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, France, Georgia, Greece, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Monaco, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and Ukraine.
Fighting a dead sea
November 15, 2004 (Kitsap Sun) Fishing nets, overflowing with chum salmon flipping and flopping in huge masses, are pulled up onto the beach just outside the Hoodsport Hatchery in southern Hood Canal.
During chum season, men, women and children of the Skokomish Tribe come down to the shore twice a week to pull in the heavy nets, known as beach seines. Offshore, tribal fishermen in boats harvest chum salmon that swim into their floating gillnets or into nets they keep tied to the shore.
The price of chum salmon has been down for so many years that it's almost second nature for tribal fishermen to slice open the female chum and pour out the round, red salmon eggs, rather than keeping the fish whole.
But a surprising study released earlier this year showed that instead of feeding the ecosystem, the tons of decaying fish were contributing to low-oxygen conditions believed to be killing marine life in southern Hood Canal.
Suddenly, large numbers of people - tribal and non-tribal - began looking for ways to reverse the destructive practice.
It was a firm step forward, everyone agreed, but dead fish are not the biggest problem, according to the study. Human waste discharged through septic systems was estimated to contribute up to 240 tons of nitrogen a year to Hood Canal, or possibly 60 percent of the problem. Agricultural fertilizer and livestock manure was listed at 14 percent of the problem. The salmon carcasses came in third, at 13 percent, followed by polluted stormwater at 11 percent.
Marine Mammals Eavesdrop on Orcas
November 12, 2004 (Discovery.com) When killer whales sound off, mammals listen, according to a recent study that found seals, sea lions, dolphins, porpoises and other marine mammals eavesdrop on the killer whales that like to eat them.
The study suggests some animals pay attention to other animals communicating when it is in their best interests to listen to the enemy. It also reveals how call patterns of animals can co-evolve because of eavesdropping.
Although the two types of whales are from the same species, Orcinus orca, they have very different lifestyles. According to the research, resident killer whales live in large, stable groups and feed only on fish, especially Pacific salmon.
Transient killer whales live in less tightly structured groups and exclusively hunt warm-blooded prey, which include harbor seals, Steller and California sea lions, harbor and Dall's porpoises, Pacific white-sided dolphins and an occasional seabird snack.
The scientists who listened in on the resident and transient whales paid attention to the killer whales' vocalizations before, during and after hunting, which often could be heard on the hydrophone because the whales munched and crunched with great gusto.
Overall, the scientists found that residents were a much chattier group. They produced .34 calls per minute versus .05 calls per minute for transients.
When we played calls of transients, the seals disappeared under water and moved toward shallow areas and patches of seaweed where they would be safe from killer whales," Deecke told Discovery News. "When we played calls of familiar killer whales (residents), the seals could not have cared less - they stuck around and, if anything, moved a little closer to our loudspeaker."
Most oil spills remain a mystery
November 12, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scores of dead and dying seabirds kept washing ashore on beaches near San Francisco, feathers coated with black goo.
It seemed like the obvious aftermath of an oil spill, but none had been reported.
Then in the fall of 2001, the toll suddenly spiked -- more than a thousand oil-stained birds were recovered in two months -- triggering a full-scale investigation by state and federal agencies.
Slicks seemingly appeared out of nowhere. There were no likely suspects, just the steady stream of casualties.
Until investigators decided to look under the water.
"I don't think that occurred to anybody early in the game," said Mary Jane Schramm of the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, which aided in the investigation.
Like Puget Sound's ongoing Dalco Passage mystery spill inquiry, investigators working the San Francisco case relied heavily on oil samples. It would lead them to a surprise source -- a sunken freighter.
U.S. tugs to aid freighter that leaked fuel
November 12, 2004 (Seattle Times) Tugboats from the United States and Canada were dispatched yesterday to aid a Greek freighter that had been leaking fuel oil in the Pacific 150 miles west of Vancouver Island.
Canadian officials ordered the vessel to stop 100 miles from shore and wait for the tugs, which were expected to reach it by daybreak with experts who can assess and perhaps repair the damage.
It was not immediately known how much fuel was lost by the 783-foot bulk carrier Thrasyvoulos V, said John Millman of the Canadian Coast Guard. Fuel from a punctured tank had been transferred to a secure one and the leaking had stopped, he said.
After the leak was stopped, the 37,000-ton vessel reported "a relatively small hole in the hull a couple of feet above the waterline," the state Department of Ecology said in a memo to environmental groups.
Opinion - East Fork of Lewis River is in danger
November 11, 2004 (Vancouver Columbian) If Clark County is to maintain its present quality of life, it must protect, sustain and nourish its environment. That endeavor took a dreadful and perhaps environmentally fatal step backward last week with a decision allowing gravel mining to resume next to the East Fork of the Lewis River.
It is difficult to understand how mining 12 million tons of gravel over 15 years will help the besieged stream. J.L. Storedahl and Sons of Kelso wants to dig five pits on 78 acres near five existing pits. Since when does gravel extraction trump conservation?
Prince William Sound killer whales appear doomed by oil spill
November 11, 2004 (Juneau Empire) It's probably too late to save a small pod of killer whales whose numbers plummeted after the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled nearly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.
"We need to do whatever we can," said Bridget Mansfield, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries specialist who led a three-hour discussion Wednesday on what should go into a recovery plan. "Realistically, I think it is really hard to say we can do anything to save this group."
Craig Matkin, a marine mammal biologist with the North Gulf Oceanic Society who has been studying the whales since the 1980s, agreed.
"You have to be damned optimistic to think they can be saved," he said.
One participant stressed the need for more restrictions on shoreline development.
Matkin said boat traffic noise needs to be quieted not only in the sound but in Kenai Fjords, where the whales have been seen more often lately.
When the group was first recognized in 1984, there were 22 whales. Scientists discovered the pod was genetically different from other transients in Alaska.
High levels of PCBs uncovered near river
November 9, 2004 (Seattle Times) Seattle and King County are scrambling to replace a road, dig up yards and test the air in a small Duwamish River neighborhood after tests uncovered toxic PCBs at levels up to 93 times higher than those requiring cleanup.
Soil samples associated with the massive effort to clean up the battered river corridor that bisects Seattle's industrial core showed high levels of the toxic chemical in road dust and topsoil at several sites along a four-block area near the South Park Marina south of downtown Seattle.
Environmental and public-health officials have not pinpointed the source and maintain there is no immediate health risk to residents. But they've gone door-to-door to urge residents to wash their hands, wear gloves while gardening and remove their shoes before entering their homes.
Helen Dexter, who has lived in the neighborhood near Dallas Avenue and 17th Avenue South for eight years, said the occasional smell of oil inside her home has convinced her there is something toxic in the air.
"Sometimes I have this overpowering oily smell in the air - the kind people describe as rotten eggs, or a newly tarred road," she said. "The last time I dusted off my TV, a real thick black stuff came off on the cloth. I couldn't even rinse it out."
Global warming study finds real change in America
November 9, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) From Florida to Alaska and from coast to coast, nature's indicators show strong evidence of global warming in America, scientists said yesterday.
A report co-written by University of Texas biologist Camille Parmesan concluded that more than 40 scientific studies link climate change with observed ecological changes. In half of the studies, the link is strong, the report stated.
Satellite data and a century of temperature records have shown an overall increase in global temperatures to parallel the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
But in a report released by the Pew Center for Global Climate Change, Parmesan and University of Colorado ecologist Hector Galbraith say there is growing and scientific evidence that now shows specific trends in the United States.
"What we were able to show is it's happening in everyone's back yard," Parmesan said.
In some cases, the buildup of heat-trapping greenhouse gases has caused plants and animals to shift their habitats northward. In others, the timing of natural cycles has been altered, the scientists said.
Despite the release of the studies, President Bush is unlikely to significantly alter his stance on the issue, a key White House official said yesterday.
Release of the U.S. report coincided with a massive study concluding that the Arctic region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.
Victoria's sewage disposal under political scrutiny again
November 8, 2004 (Longview Daily News) You could pluck a New Zealand mudsnail out of a pristine mountain stream, pass it through a fish's digestive tract, dump it into the salty Columbia River estuary -- and it might not only survive the journey, it could clone itself into a colony of billions.
The snails are among the most worrisome of 81 invasive species documented in a new report that found that more than one in five -- and maybe even a majority -- of the animals and plants that live in the Columbia today don't belong in the river.
Moreover, the rate of invasions has quickened so that in the past decade a new non-native species is discovered every five months.
Though they often slip in unnoticed aboard foreign ships or by other means, invasive species pose serious environmental and economic consequences. Environmentalists seek tighter controls to protect the river's native species from such "biological pollution."
Victoria's sewage disposal under political scrutiny again
November 8, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Civic politicians are poised to re-visit the sewage treatment debate in Greater Victoria, one of the few regions in North America to pump millions of litres of raw sewage into the ocean every day.
"It sounds fantastic," said Peter Ronald, marine habitat co-ordinator for the Georgia Strait Alliance. "It sounds like an acknowledgment of the responsibility that they should be taking to choose a better path than: 'Let's keep doing what we're doing and hope that the problem goes away.'"
Getting ready for the next oil spill in Puget Sound
November 8, 2004 (Seattle Times OpEd) I was mayor of Valdez, Alaska, when the Exxon Valdez hit Bligh Reef 15 years ago. My neighbors and I watched in pain and anger as regulators and responders fumbled, waters and beaches were fouled, wildlife died and communities crumbled. Much of the anguish of that time came back to me as I read and watched coverage of the Dalco Passage spill in Puget Sound.
I was particularly dismayed to see that - despite the lessons of the Exxon Valdez - your responders appeared to have been nearly as unprepared as ours were in 1989. According to news reports, it took more than six hours for the simple first step - notification - to occur, and more precious time after that for people and equipment to reach the scene. By then, as with the Exxon Valdez, it was too late. The oil had spread too far to be contained and miles of beaches were fouled.
Luckily, your spill was relatively small and damage to wildlife appears limited because many species hadn't arrived for the winter. Still, given the lack of readiness that apparently slowed the response, it's impossible not to worry about what would happen if Puget Sound had a catastrophic spill.
While nothing can guarantee against another catastrophic spill, I believe citizen oversight has been crucial in reducing risks in Prince William Sound. Citizens never let up. They stay in place as industry and agency personnel rotate through the system. Unlike regulators and elected officials, citizens are relatively immune to being lobbied or "captured" by the industry they oversee. And, perhaps most importantly, citizens have the most to lose from a catastrophic spill.
What does it take to make citizen oversight work? Many things, but two top the list.
Independence is the first necessity. The governing board must consist entirely of citizens. No company or agency should have a voting seat. And board members must be chosen by the communities and interest groups they represent, not appointed by an elected official, an agency head, or an industry executive.
Guaranteed funding is also essential, and it should be paid by the cost-causer - that is, the shipping industry being overseen - not by the communities at risk from shipping operations. Overseeing a complex shipping system is expensive, requiring a professional staff and frequent recourse to hired experts for technical analysis and advice. We have a staff of 17 and a yearly budget of about $3 million.
While our oversight responsibilities are confined to the North Slope crude-oil trade in Prince William Sound, we also serve as a demonstration project under federal law. If someone wants to set up a Puget Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, we'd be happy to explain in detail how we work and what we've learned since 1989.
U.S., Canada hook up in bid to help orcas
November 7, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) A team of Canadian and U.S. experts has begun the daunting task of trying to protect killer whales in their increasingly toxic environment.
The southern resident whales, found in waters around the Gulf Islands, southern Vancouver Island and San Juan Islands, are contaminated with high levels of cancer-causing PCBs and other chemicals that threaten their reproductive and immune systems.
Because of the combined impact of pollution, heavy boat traffic and reduced salmon stocks, the southern resident population has been labelled endangered and the northern residents are deemed threatened. The northern group is typically found around Johnstone Strait and Robson Bight.
The killer whale recovery team, which was selected by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in January and includes representatives from the whale watching industry, wrapped up a two-day meeting in Victoria this week.
A big question the group faces is why the killer whale population declined after peaking in the mid-1990s, and what can be done to reverse that decline.
The experts know they need to carry out more research. During the two-day session, they reviewed recent findings showing whales prefer chinook and chum salmon, so researchers will now focus conservation efforts on these species, said Ford.
But the big question -- where killer whales go in the winter and what they eat in winter -- still has to be answered.
"We may have to go out in deepest, darkest winter and try to find them acoustically," said Ford.
Dr. Peter Ross, a scientist with the Institute of Ocean Sciences, said the main challenge is to protect the whales from pollution by reducing the impact of toxins that accumulate in the environment.
"There are 350,000 homes on the peninsula and each is intrinsically linked to the quality of the ocean," said Ross. "Each time you flush the toilet or use chemicals in the sink, household or lawn, it has the potential to get into the water. You have not solved the problem by flushing it out of your house or by rinsing the driveway."
Victim sets law on Luna
November 6, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) A Gold River resident whose sailboat has repeatedly been attacked by Luna the killer whale asked his RCMP detachment this week to lay attempted murder charges against the orca and DFO.
The request was not taken seriously, said Keith Bell. "But, I told them that he's going to kill someone out there and then they're going to get orders to shoot him."
An interim agreement between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation to monitor the five-year-old orca, which has been accused of damaging several boats, ended Oct. 31. Although both sides say the agreement could be renewed, talks have yet to take place.
Bell has had three run-ins with Luna in his eight-metre sailboat. The whale broke the rudder and tiller and knocked the engine off its mounting.
In desperation, Bell left the sailboat at Critter Cove last winter, but Luna found the boat.
This summer, Bell brought the boat back to a logging camp near Gold River, but Luna again decided to dismantle parts of it.
The final straw came last month, when Bell and a friend were in his small aluminum dinghy heading for his sailboat to install the repaired tiller.
Although they were moving across the inlet as fast as they could, Luna caught them, Bell said.
"He lifted the boat right out of the water. Then he veered to the side and lifted us up again. He was just playing around, but if he'd tipped us over, we'd have been in the water," he said.
Aging tanker focus of spill inquiry
November 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The search for the Dalco Passage oil spiller is focusing on an aging tanker, even though the vessel left the area about seven hours before the spill was discovered. The tanker had even reached Port Angeles before the slick was reported near Vashon Island last month.
The Polar Texas is owned by Polar Tankers, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips that has been the subject of three oil spill investigations in Alaska this year.
In two of those cases, Polar Tankers captains failed to immediately report the spills, but the company notified the U.S. Coast Guard as soon as it learned of them, said John Devens, executive director of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council.
In the third case, an investigation continues into allegations that a junior ship's engineer deliberately dumped oil.
The Polar Texas left the U.S. Oil refinery by Tacoma's Commencement Bay at 5:50 p.m. on an outgoing tide on Oct.13, records of marine traffic show. It reached the Port Angeles vicinity around midnight.
B.C. mining company fights pollution suit
November 5, 2004 (Seattle Times) A lawsuit against a Canadian mining company accused of polluting the Columbia River for decades should be dismissed because the U.S. government cannot impose rules on Canadian companies that operate on foreign soil, a company lawyer argued yesterday.
The U.S. District Court hearing was the latest step in a conflict between Canada and the United States over cross-border enforcement of environmental laws.
Late last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanded that Teck Cominco of Vancouver, B.C., pay to study and clean up heavy-metals the EPA says flowed for decades down the Columbia from Teck's giant smelter in Trail, B.C., and into Washington waters. The lead-zinc smelter is about 10 miles north of the border.
The Colville Confederated Tribes sued the company in July for failing to comply with that order. In September, the state joined the lawsuit.
Teck Cominco argued yesterday the dispute should be resolved via diplomatic channels, rather than in the courts.
Imposing U.S. environmental regulations on a Canadian company operating on Canadian soil violates that nation's sovereign rights, said Gerald George, a San Francisco attorney representing the mining company.
Lawyers for the tribe and the state argued the United States is well within its bounds to demand cleanup. They contend as much as 20 million tons of heavy metals from the smelter traveled down the river to Lake Roosevelt.
Oil-spill samples may point to Conoco tanker
November 5, 2004 (Seattle Times) Oil samples taken from Puget Sound after last month's mystery spill appear to match samples taken from a ConocoPhillips oil tanker, said two federal officials familiar with the inquiry.
Coast Guard investigators are focusing on the Polar Texas, a tanker operated by Polar Tankers, Conoco's Long Beach, Calif.-based shipping subsidiary, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But chemical testing on the samples leaves room for dispute, and so far Conoco insists it isn't responsible for the spill, the officials said.
The identity of who is responsible has remained a key question weeks after the nighttime spill, which fouled 21 miles of beaches in south Puget Sound. Efforts to clean up at least 1,000 gallons of oil were hindered by fog and darkness.
Public invited to discuss fate of troubled seal-eating orcas
November 4, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) Can people help a dwindling family of killer whales known for hunting seals in Prince William Sound and the ocean south of Seward?
Or has exposure to Exxon Valdez oil, industrial poisons and lack of prey doomed these genetically unique predators to extinction?
A public meeting on the fate and conservation of the AT-1 group of killer whales will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday at the Anchorage Federal Building. Biologists and managers say they want information about the whales and their habits, and ideas about what actions might keep them alive.
"What are the possibilities?" said Homer killer whale biologist Craig Matkin, of the North Gulf Oceanic Society. "It's easy to get discouraged in this situation, but I think it's an exercise that we need to go through."
Last summer, seven of the group's remaining whales repeatedly hunted in Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay, once killing a harbor seal off Seward's downtown camper park. Matkin speculated that an increase in the seals along the Kenai Peninsula's outer coast is attracting them.
In a decline never documented before among the region's killer whales, the AT-1 group lost more than half its members over the past 15 years, dropping from 22 animals in the 1980s to seven or eight still alive this summer. Killer whales can live for decades.
After federal biologists agreed that the whales never associate with other marine-mammal-eating orcas in the eastern North Pacific, the AT-1 group was designated as a separate stock and listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act in July.
Whale watchers rejoice at birth of orca calves
November 4, 2004 (Victoria Times-Colonist) Whale researchers are optimistic the birth of two killer whale calves in October will stabilize and ultimately increase B.C.'s endangered southern resident killer whale population.
They are also encouraged by the births of 16 calves this year in the more populous northern resident population.
"It's a good thing," said John Ford, senior marine mammal scientist at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo. "The southern residents are starting to show an increase in numbers after a steady decline and the successful calving season in the northern residents is a really great thing."
Whether the calves are male or female has yet to be determined.
"Neither one of them has rolled over for us yet," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Centrer for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash.
VHS radios were crackling with excited chatter when whale watchers and researchers saw the first new calf. "It seemed like it was exciting for the whales as well," said Balcomb. "There was an increase in vocalization and more exciting sounds. Maybe we read into it. Anyway, everybody was happy."
Killer whale calves are usually born in the fall or winter, after a 16- or 17-month gestation period. They weigh about 175 kilograms and are about two metres long.
If the two latest calves survive, it will be good news for the troubled L pod, said Balcomb. Pods are made up of one or more mature females and their immediate descendants and usually travel together. From 1995 to 2003, the population of L pod -- the pod abandoned by the troublesome orca Luna -- declined from 50 to about 43.
"We were going downhill," said Balcomb. "But the decline leveled off in 2003 and has risen slightly this year."
The scientist is optimistic the southern resident population will increase because colder, oceanic La Nina conditions have brought bigger and healthier runs of salmon -- which killer whales feed on -- than seven or eight years ago.
Like his fellow researchers, Dr. Peter Ross, a marine mammal toxicologist at the Institute of Ocean Sciences, is excited by the births. But after documenting high levels of PCBs and flame retardant chemicals in this population of killer whales, Ross is cautious about their survival.
"Every individual is important to a small population," said Ross. "But I remain concerned that the young calves will be exposed to high levels of toxic contaminants through their mother's milk. We need more research and we need preventative measures to stop the poisons from entering killer whale habitat."
Toxins found in recently cleaned waterway
November 4, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Toxins have been found in a portion of the city's Foss Waterway that was recently cleaned as part of a Superfund restoration.
The waterway had been listed among the nation's most polluted sites since 1983.
New tests of sediments in the cleaned area showed high concentrations of mercury, plasticizers, pesticides and other toxins -- the same kind of materials that were removed.
"It's hard to know what this is from," said Piper Peterson Lee, project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees Superfund sites.
A group of utilities paid for the earlier $8.5 million cleanup of the area near the Foss Landing marina on the east side of the waterway.
The recontamination appears to have occurred in early September, when the city's dredging contractor removed toxic sediment from an adjacent Superfund site. It's unclear if that work caused or contributed to the contamination, officials said.
Activist's fight for stream with no name earns her title
November 4, 2004 (Seattle Times) Elizabeth Mooney has spent the past three years in elementary classrooms, in the city halls of two towns, on the porches of dozens of her neighbors, in court and in the mud - all for a stream in Kenmore that doesn't even have a name.
Tonight, for her efforts to restore Stream 0056, the Adopt-A-Stream Foundation will name her the Seattle area's "Streamkeeper of the Year."
Mooney is a bit like a salmon swimming upstream. She never stops moving, and her task seems so long and exhausting that one wonders how she keeps going.
Mooney and her family moved to Kenmore in 1995. In front of their house on 60th Avenue Northeast, Stream 0056 runs in a roadside ditch. Only a few cutthroat trout now live in the stream, which once was home to coho salmon.
"She's gotten the community mobilized to turn things around in that creek," Murdoch said. "She's a wonderful example of a watershed leader. She's gotten people thinking that what seemed to be impossible is now possible - and that's getting a salmon run back in that stream."
Gravel-mine barging gets state board OK
November 4, 2004 (Seattle Times) The state Shorelines Hearings Board yesterday gave its blessing to a sand-and-gravel company's plan to load barges from a rebuilt dock off a largely untouched stretch of Maury Island shoreline.
Even while reversing King County's denial of shoreline permits for the dock, however, the hearings board ruled out regular operations at night or on weekends.
Opponents of Glacier Northwest's barging plan said they will appeal.
"It's a setback for us, but it's just one decision in many, and I think that all of us feel that there is no way a dock belongs out in that pristine spot," said Marnie Jones, a spokeswoman for Preserve Our Islands, a group that has fought the gravel mine for years.
Preserve Our Islands had asked the Shorelines Hearings Board to find that King County did an inadequate job of studying the dock's environmental impacts, and Glacier Northwest had asked the board to overturn the county's denial of the necessary permits.
During the state board hearings, the citizens group also said the county didn't give serious consideration to possible harm to orcas. Though a county environmental official agreed during his testimony that the impact on orcas deserved more scrutiny, the state hearings board yesterday dismissed those concerns as "remote and speculative."
Experts expect the Northwest to feel the heat as Earth warms
November 1, 2004 (The Oregonian) Nearly four dozen experts on global warming and its effects say the Pacific Northwest is likely to be hard-hit by a changing climate over the next few decades.
Warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, diminished snowpack and water quality, a longer wildfire season -- all are among the measurable phenomena at the core of the scientists' "consensus statement" issued Friday.
The scientists -- most of the 46 are from Oregon State University and the University of Washington -- said they "agree that climate change is underway" and "that since 1975 the warming is best explained by human-caused changes in greenhouse gases."
The assertions, although not new and suggested by earlier studies, are striking because of their widespread support in a scientific community often rife with disagreement. Global warming has been the subject of contention since the early 1980s.
The full report is available.