Orca Network News - November, 2005
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
November 1, 2005 through November 30, 2005.
November 30, 2005 (Univ. of Washington News) When sperm whales talk, Michael Dougherty listens.
Not only that, the University of Washington researcher and electrical engineering doctoral student can recognize the voice and tell you exactly which whale is speaking.
Dougherty has developed a method of acoustic analysis that allows him to identify individual sperm whales by the sounds they emit. The technology, which performed with nearly 100 percent accuracy during a pilot study on a limited number of whales, is believed to be the first of its kind. It promises to help researchers better understand how the leviathans interact as individuals and groups. It could also be an efficient means of tracking the movements of one of the ocean's more elusive mammals.
"It worked even better than we had hoped during our pilot study," Dougherty said. "I think biologists who study the whales will find it very useful after we develop it into a field-deployable technology."
"Whereas other species, such as orcas, will swim together, sperm whales tend to spread out," Dougherty explained. "They may be a kilometer or more apart. They're certainly in acoustic contact with one another, but you can't keep track of who's where with just a camera."
To compound the problem, sperm whales tend to be out of sight more often than not. They are considered among the deepest diving of the whales, descending thousands of meters in a single dive and staying submerged for as long as two hours at a time.
Data for the pilot study were gathered during two trips to Norway in 1997 and 1998. Dougherty worked off the country's northern coast on a whale-watching boat, where the operators made room for him and his equipment during tours. When the boat got close enough to a whale, he would photograph it then record the sounds it made as it dived. That way, he had a record of which whales made what sounds.
Next, Dougherty ran the whale clicks through a computer program that uses an algorithm he developed to analyze features of the sounds in terms of "wavelet coefficients." Simply put, the program looks at various ways the sound changes during the duration of a click.
Idaho Senator Eliminates Funds for Center on Salmon Survival
November 30, 2005 (Washington Post) In a surgical strike from Capitol Hill, Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) has eliminated a little-known agency that counts endangered fish in the Columbia River.
The Fish Passage Center, with just 12 employees and a budget of $1.3 million, has been killed because it did not count fish in a way that suited Craig.
Salmon math has clearly riled up Craig, who in his last election campaign in 2002 received more money from electric utilities than from any other industry and who has been named "legislator of the year" by the National Hydropower Association.
The Fish Passage Center has documented, in excruciating statistical detail, how the Columbia-Snake hydroelectric system kills salmon. Its analyses of fish survival data also suggest that one way to increase salmon survival is to spill more water over dams, rather than feed it through electrical turbines.
This suggestion, though, is anathema to utilities -- and to Craig -- because water poured over dams means millions of dollars in lost electricity generation.
Sea Life Park's approach to killer whales can work with business
November 27, 2005 (Fairbanks News-Miner) First, let's talk about killer whales. You know, those huge black and white creatures with big teeth. Ken says you can't really get them to do anything well for very long they don't want to do. Killer whales are intelligent. They live at the top of their food chain. They hunt in packs and live in pods. They experience fear and they love to play.
In order to train these multi-ton mammals, the trainers use the "Whale Done!" approach, an on.going process in which building trust is the first of three essential elements needed for success. Whale trainers build trust thtough consistent sincerity and honesty, since whales can see through insincerity and dishonesty and bite accordingly. These mammals have to know the trainers will do them no harm, a knowledge gained through patience, consistency and time.
Second, they accentuate the positive. The more attention the trainers pay to what the animal is doing--right or wrong, it makes no difference--the more that behavior will be repeated. Therefore, killer whale trainers have to know what motivates each individual whale if they are going to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
Unfortunately, each killer whale is motivated by different things--so trainers have to give special treatment to each whale and figure out what each whale considers "motivating and fun," since it's different for each animal.
Finally, killer whale trainers practice "redirection." When a whale does something wrong or something it shouldn't do, the trainer nonthreateningly redirects the whale's energy and at.tention back to what they were supposed to do or on to something else. The focus of the trainer isn't on punishing the killer whale; it's on keeping things positive and fo.cused on the right behavior. Smacking a killer whale is not the recommended approach to behavior modification.
Clues to global warming from tiny bubbles
November 25, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) There is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today than at any point during the last 650,000 years, says a major new study that let scientists peer back in time at greenhouse gases that can help fuel global warming.
By analyzing tiny air bubbles preserved in Antarctic ice for millennia, a team of European researchers highlights how people are dramatically influencing the buildup of these gases.
The remarkable research promises to spur "dramatically improved understanding" of climate change, said geosciences specialist Edward Brook of Oregon State University.
The study, by the European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica, was published today in the journal Science.
Skeptics sometimes dismiss the rise in greenhouse gases as part of a naturally fluctuating cycle. The new study provides ever-more definitive evidence countering that view, however.
Today's still-rising level of carbon dioxide already is 27 percent higher than its peak during all those millennia, said lead researcher Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern, Switzerland.
Moreover, that rise is occurring at a speed that "is over a factor of a hundred faster than anything we are seeing in the natural cycles," Stocker added. "It puts the present changes in context."
Sonar, nets killing more dolphins
November 23, 2005 (Science Blog) A United Nations-sponsored report released today urges extra protection for the world's small cetaceans -- dolphins, porpoises and related species -- more than two-thirds of which are at risk from entanglement in fishing nets and which are vulnerable to pollution, habitat degradation and military sonar.
The report, produced by the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), was launched today at the eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention taking place at the Nairobi, Kenya headquarters of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which co-sponsored it through its Regional Seas Programme.
It argues that eight small cetacean species, including the Ganges River dolphin, the Atlantic spotted dolphin and northern right whale dolphin, should be given new protection under the CMS agreement, and that conservation of seven other species, including the white-beaked dolphin of North American waters, should be strengthened.
Munro wins one for the whales
November 23, 2005 (Bainbridge Review) Ralph Munro can finally claim victory in his hard-fought battle to win the ultimate protection for Puget Sounds resident killer whales.
The federal government announced last week that a group of killer whales that visits Puget Sound every summer has been listed under the Endangered Species Act, which officially signifies a species is at risk of extinction.
During the 1940s and 50s, Munro listened to the giant mammals sigh in their sleep near Crystal Springs and watched them scrub their hides on Point Whites rubbing stones.
In Munros youth, between 150 and 200 killer whales made their home off Washingtons coast and inland sea.
In the mid-1970s, following a rash of captures and accidental killings by aquariums and amusement parks, that number sank to 71.
While PCB levels at 8 to 10 parts per million are considered toxic for humans, male southern resident killer whales average almost 150 three times as high as killer whale populations that ply the Pacific between Vancouver Island and Alaska.
According to the Orca Network, PCBs and the decline in salmon have contributed to an alarming rate of killer whale deaths in the last 10 years, with 20 percent of the sounds killer whales disappearing since 1995.
Thanks to their designation under the ESA, a resurgence in the whale population may be on the horizon, Munro said, but only if local jurisdictions take the risk of extinction to heart.
Along with whats going on with the federal government, we have to have strong critical areas ordinances in the state to protect streams and the salmon that spawn in them,he said.
The burden of protecting whales isnt just on government. Each citizen can make personal choices that lessen human impacts on the whales. You shouldnt even think twice about dumping motor oil down a drain,he said. Everybody needs to think about this because were all a part of it.
Salmon recovery relies on Sound health
November 23, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) Recently, questions have been raised about whether money for the Puget Sound salmon recovery plan might be more efficiently spent if it were focused just on large rural rivers with a lot of fish and not on urban rivers with fewer fish.
Salmon recovery isn't just about counting fish. It's also about the overall quality of Puget Sound and the diversity of animals that it supports.
The Sound, the land around it and the streams that flow into it make an ecosystem.
Salmon hatched in the Skagit River as well as other rivers across our region, spend much of their early life swimming and feeding throughout Puget Sound.
The salmon are telling us our ecosystem is sick. Beyond shrinking salmon populations, we're also seeing declines in the orca population, marine birds and other fish.
We've lost more than one-third of the salmon diversity that once existed. If salmon are going to survive global warming and other pressures, we can't lose any more diversity -- in the urban or rural areas.
Protecting The Sound: Zero is right
November 23, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) With orcas and salmon under threat, it's imperative that the Sound's water quality be as good as possible. Politically, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and other defenders of the Sound need visible support from a state seen protecting its most precious resource to the utmost.
Ecology's report is good, but maybe not tough enough at a time when threats could multiply.
State considers tighter oil-spill regulations
November 22, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In the wake of oil spills that fouled Puget Sound and shook public confidence in Washington's spill-prevention efforts, state officials took steps Monday to beef up regulations governing ships loading or unloading oil.
Floating oil-containment curtains designed to corral spilled oil would be required in many circumstances. Currently the devices, known as "boom," do not have to be set up ahead of an oil transfer.
The draft rules proposed by Department of Ecology staff also would impose additional requirements for training and spill-response equipment for the growing number of trucks that refuel ships. Increasingly, these mobile units are taking the place of large stationary marine gas stations that are required to have lots of spill-response equipment on hand.
The rules are required by law to be in place by the end of June 2006.
Maritime interests have generally opposed imposition of a blanket rule requiring the deployment of boom ahead of oil transfers, saying circumstances are too variable for such a one-size-fits-all approach.
Ecology's answer is to require the floating oil corrals "if it is safe and effective." In those cases, various other protective steps would be required, such as having boom and trained workers on hand and ready to go.
Oceans getting too noisy for dolphins and whales
November 22, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Increasing levels of ocean noise generated by military sonar, shipping, and oil and gas exploration are threatening dolphins and whales that rely on sound for mating, finding food and avoiding predators, according to a new report.
The report released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the effects of ocean noise on marine life range from long-term behavioral change to hearing loss to death.
Scientists who examined more than a dozen whales that beached in the Canary Islands in September 2002 found bleeding around the brain and ears and lesions in the animals' livers and kidneys.
"It is a set of symptoms that have never before been seen in marine mammals," said Michael Jasny, the report's principal author. "That physical evidence has led scientists to understand that the sonar is injuring the whales in addition to causing them to strand."
Researchers believe that whales are suffering the same type of decompression sickness that is known as "the bends" in humans. The leading theory is that sonar either causes whales to panic and surface too quickly or forces them deeper before they can expel nitrogen, leading to nitrogen bubbles in the blood.
A federal investigation into the mass stranding of 17 whales in the Bahamas in March 2000 cited the Navy's use of midfrequency sonar as a contributing factor.
Orca protection plan calls for few changes
November 20, 2005 (Everett Herald) Last week's listing of Puget Sound-area orcas as an endangered species raises questions for industry, boating, cargo shipping, ports and even sewage plants.
What will they be asked to do to help the killer whale population rebound?
A look at a federal report that will be the backbone of an orca recovery plan due out in 2006 paints a picture of modest requirements, many already under way because of existing endangered species listings.
Two of the three factors thought responsible for the orcas' decline are linked to salmon. One is the depleted fish stocks. The other is pollutants ingested by the salmon that the whales eat. The latter is a problem for orcas because, at the end of the food chain, the chemicals build up in their bodies as they age.
The risk of oil spills, however, represents a quicker, catastrophic threat.
Q: With only 88 orcas in three local pods, or families, experts say one large oil spill could lead the entire population to extinction. What new restrictions could be placed on shipping oil and fueling ships on Puget Sound and its northern waters?
A: Environmentalists are going to push for tighter restrictions on oil tanker routes, trying to move them farther away from rough or shallow water, as well as areas most frequented by orcas.
"I suspect the route that we will go down is more likely to be addressing issues ... project by project, rather than putting new regulations into effect," Gorman said.
For example, that means if Lynnwood's sewage treatment plant or the Kimberly Clark pulp mill in Everett want to expand, federal biologists would have to decide whether new emissions would harm the orcas.
The agency already does this for salmon, Gorman said.
Fisheries service agents have found that most private boaters who get too close to orcas are simply unaware of the rules, Gorman said.
Repeat or brazen offenders face stiffer consequences now that orcas are listed as endangered, Gorman said.
Another option, if research shows that boat noise is a big enough concern, is to set up safe zones for orcas where boats would not be allowed.
The whale-watching industry already voluntarily stays out of one such zone on the west side of San Juan Island, said Howard Garrett, board president of the Orca Network on Whidbey Island.
Orcas and ESA: no shades of gray
November 20, 2005 (Seattle Times editorial) The National Marine Fisheries Service raised a few eyebrows when it chose to give Puget Sound orcas, the region's favorite black-and-white plush toy, the full, protective embrace of the federal Endangered Species Act.
This might be the beginning of surprises to come. After decades of the mammals being shipped off to aquariums and suffering the degradation of their living environment, a particular pod of the "southern resident" killer whales has been judged to be at imminent risk of extinction. Not threatened, but doomed unless action is taken. Do the endangered orcas require the designation of critical habitat to provide the physical and biological margins to conserve the species?
These questions occurred with regularity in the forests around logging towns or farmers' fields. Now the questions get raised in an urban proximity about a creature we love to love.
The next step could be a doozy.
Navy, orca scientists compromise on sonar
November 19, 2005 (Everett Herald) The Navy and federal biologists say they have already enacted measures to avoid sonar damage to whales and other mammals that rely on echolocation or sensitive hearing for their food.
One whale advocate is cautiously hopeful of those steps, but another says it's not enough.
One of the key factors biologists fear has hurt orcas is underwater noise. That's where the Navy comes in.
On May 5, 2003, the Everett-based Navy destroyer USS Shoup drew fierce criticism from whale researchers for conducting military exercises using midrange tactical sonar in Haro Strait between San Juan and Vancouver islands.
Some researchers reported watching orcas acting distressed, and 11 harbor porpoises washed ashore dead in the following few days.
A federal investigative team later cleared the Shoup and the Navy. That decision was denounced by some private whale researchers, but since then the debate has mellowed a bit.
The reason is that the Navy has reached out to scientists and taken steps to avoid using sonar when whales are near ships, said Howard Garrett, board president of Orca Network, based on Whidbey Island.
"There hasn't been another incident that we know of," Garrett said. "I can very cautiously say things seem to have improved."
Navy officials started communicating regularly with private researchers after the Shoup incident, Garrett said.
The Navy developed a new computer database that can track the time and location of training exercises and compare it with the latest locations where researchers have spotted orcas or other marine mammals, said Sheila Murray, a Navy spokeswoman.
The Navy already was using lookouts to spot whales, as well as passive sonar to listen for whale vocalizations.
Rules now stop sonar transmissions if any whales are spotted within 200 yards, Murray said.
Since the Shoup incident, each ship is required to get an admiral's authorization from Pacific fleet offices in Hawaii before engaging sonar, she added.
The Navy still needs to do more, said Fred Felleman, the Seattle-based northwest director of Ocean Advocates. The Navy has sophisticated equipment that listens for enemy vessels, and that equipment should also be used to track whales more effectively, Felleman said.
"To have the third largest naval complex (of installations) in the world rely on Orca Network for their maps is embarrassing," Felleman said.
Garrett said he hopes the new endangered status helps focus attention beyond the orcas' summer feeding areas near the San Juan islands.
Recent research indicates that local orcas spend part of the winter in the Olympic Marine Sanctuary off the coast on their way to the Columbia River, Garrett said.
The Navy still does sonar testing near the sanctuary, Garrett said. He said he hoped the Navy would avoid testing there, too, when whales are present.
"That's probably the most we can ask for," he said.
Orca listing reaction split November 19, 2005 (Everett Herald)
Species spiraling into extinction
November 19, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) When a strategy to save spotted owls on state timberlands was approved eight years ago, Washington officials predicted a slow decline in the population of the reclusive birds and planned accordingly.
Newer data show spotted owl numbers plummeting statewide -- seven times faster than expected. While the cause of the decline is complicated, why isn't the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with protecting the threatened birds, bolstering the strategy?
Some environmentalists blame a provision in the Washington habitat conservation plan that prevents federal officials from making the state Department of Natural Resources do more to protect the owls.
The "no surprises" clause -- a common ingredient in habitat plans -- is a shield against further onerous federal requirements.
It's part of a national program intended to let landowners log, develop, mine and recreate on their property. In trade, they're supposed to benefit creatures protected by the Endangered Species Act. That can mean leaving a portion of the land untouched or restoring damaged habitat.
But environmental groups are challenging the provision, contending in a lawsuit filed last week in Washington, D.C., that it is driving species into oblivion.
Famous whale's small talk is big news for researchers
November 18, 2005 (Toronto Globe and Mail) When Luna, the lonely orca who lives in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, began to exchange calls with a passing pod of killer whales, it was a conversation heard around the world.
It soon started a flurry of e-mails among killer-whale researchers who say the contact, and the nature of the calls, raises hope that Luna will one day reunite with the family group it lost contact with several years ago.
"It's very exciting . . . a very rare event," Allan Muir, a research volunteer, said in an overnight e-mail from Scotland, where he was the first to hear the whale-to-whale communication.
Mr. Muir is part of a worldwide web of researchers who, via the Internet, have been monitoring a hydrophone listening post on a 24/7 basis for the past year, as part of the LunaLive project.
Scientists have been watching Luna from shore-based observation sites, tracking it in boats and listening to its calls with a hydrophone that was placed in a bay it likes to visit.
It was about 10:30 in the morning where he was, and whale researchers on Canada's West Coast were sound asleep.
"Some of the calls were unfamiliar to me, which had me wondering," Mr. Muir wrote. "Suddenly I realized the calls were overlapping and that there was more than one orca present. I could clearly hear Luna's 'rising call' and the other vocalizations intermingling . . . I had heard Luna vocalizing before, but this was different. . . . There being other orca in close proximity was very special."
He immediately sent an e-mail to whale researcher Keith Wood, who was on his boat in Tofino, B.C.
"[It] was a milestone event," said an enthused Mr. Wood, who heads an organization called Act Now for Ocean Natives. He was the one who placed the hydrophone in Nootka Sound.
"It's really exciting . . . transients and residents rarely exchange calls."
'Endangered' Listing Gives Leverage for Orcas
November 17, 2005 (Kitsap Sun editorial) It was good news for Puget Sound's orca whales that nobody would have wished on them.
On Tuesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared them "endangered" - the most critical ranking under the Endangered Species Act. The listing means our regional orcas are at risk of becoming extinct. But the "endangered" tag also comes with research and enforcement resources aimed at ensuring that doesn't happen.
The "endangered" listing puts a spotlight on orca whales, but that's only the beginning. Helping orcas survive will likely involve more other species and environmental elements than can be imagined. Put another way, what's good for orcas is good for Puget Sound.
Saving the orcas must be a multifaceted effort, involving federal, state and local entities, as well countless residents whose daily actions can - for better or worse - cumulatively impact the whales' habitat in Puget Sound.
Without further research, many issues remain uncertain. But not this one: Orca whales don't live in a vacuum. Neither do we.
Magnificent orcas get protection they deserve
November 17, 2005 (Bothell Herald) The 88 or so fascinating and friendly orcas who make Puget Sound their home have finally been declared endangered.
The designation comes after years of lawsuits seeking the protection. In December, the National Marine Fisheries Department announced it would list the orcas as threatened. On Tuesday, the agency announced the orcas are, in fact, endangered - the most serious designation allowed. The declaration is most welcome and necessary, whether prompted by new research or more lawsuits, or both.
Scientists believe the orcas are dying off because of many factors: Polluted waters and polluted fish, declining salmon populations and noise.
The listing means any development in Puget Sound and related waters must not harm the orcas or their habitat. While this sounds like it could bring all projects on or near the water to a halt, it's not likely. Because the same protections exist for endangered salmon, agencies such as the Port of Everett are already required to assess the effects any project would have on the endangered fish.
Because the Puget Sound orcas only eat fish, the health of the salmon populations and the health of the whales are inexorably intertwined.
Global warming study forecasts more water shortages
November 17, 2005 (San Francisco Chronicle) A warmer world is virtually certain to be much thirstier, too, according to a new study by West Coast researchers of the impact of global warming on water supplies.
Climate change experts led by Tim Barnett at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla (San Diego County) found that at least one-sixth of the world's population, including much of the industrial world and a quarter of global economic output, appeared vulnerable to water shortages brought about by climate change.
Details appear today in the journal Nature, along with a separate study suggesting climate models are proving to be an effective way of analyzing and forecasting disruptions in water supplies brought on by global warming.
Most experts see a clear warming trend over much of the world, although regional impacts may vary. All leading computer models of the global climate system indicate that natural variability isn't enough to explain the changes being observed, causing most observers to conclude that human activities, notably the emission of carbon and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases, are the culprit.
Endangered Species Act: Black & white call
November 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) It is about much more than the orcas. The listing of the beloved killer whales as an endangered species sounds a sharp signal.
Puget Sound itself is in trouble. Salmon are struggling. A variety of toxins are accumulating. Storm runoff remains poorly controlled. In places, oxygen levels have slipped.
The National Marine Fisheries Service's declaration on the orcas is a stunning message. The agency's announcement caps a series of well-reasoned decisions on the orcas, adding the strongest possible protections. Under the law, the endangered listing is more serious than the threatened status of spotted owls and some salmon. After earlier accepting that the Puget Sound orcas represent a distinct population, agency leaders in the region listened carefully to scientists and raised the warning level.
Practically speaking, as Naki Stevens of People for Puget Sound observes, the Sound is no better or worse today than before the orcas' listing Tuesday. Change will take time. At the federal level, it's possible the ruling will lead to protections for northern Sound salmon, new rules on some ship or boat traffic or more congressional research money.
But passively awaiting a federal rescue is foolish. The listing's real significance will be if it spurs greater state, regional and local action on septic system discharges, storm runoff and other issues. Gov. Christine Gregoire is working on the outlines of a plan for saving the Sound. That takes on more significance now, with clearer stakes. We must save the whales to protect Puget Sound for ourselves as much as for its wild creatures.
Feds make dramatic move to save orcas
November 16, 2005 (Seattle Times) Puget Sound's orcas are in such danger of extinction that the federal government on Tuesday ended years of legal squabbling and agreed to protect them using its strongest and most controversial tool under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
"Oh my goodness, that's beautiful," said Fred Felleman, regional director for the environmental group Ocean Advocates. "It's a recognition that we have an ecosystem problem, and whales are at the top of it."
Unlike the northern spotted owl or Puget Sound chinook salmon, both of which are given a less-strict "threatened" designation, Tuesday's orca listing gives the mammals the full weight of the ESA and affords the government very little wiggle room if its own scientists determine that any sort of activity - such as a proposed expansion of a gravel pit on Maury Island - may be harmful to orcas.
But even though activists like to say the three pods of orcas that glide around Puget Sound are the most studied whales in the world, scientists are only beginning to understand the threats they face.
Unlike many other ESA listings, groups whose activities could impact whales - including salmon fishermen and whale-watching tour operators - applauded this listing.
"It's not like the spotted owl, where it's loggers versus owls," said David Bain, a University of Washington orca expert. "We're all on the same side on this one."
Then again, the listing could have no impact at all if Congress changes the ESA, Bain said. In October, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to significantly scale back the federal government's role in preventing species extinction. It's not clear how the Senate will side on the issue.
Scientists believed the whales were struggling because of a shortage of salmon to eat, the buzz of boats overhead, and years of chemical pollution, which accumulates in the long-lived creatures' blubber. In one case, a young male orca that washed ashore dead in Vancouver, B.C., was covered with sores - a sign that contamination had destroyed its immune system. It was also found to be sterile.
Since the population of southern resident orcas already is so small, scientists then feared a major catastrophe such as an oil spill or disease outbreak might spell extinction.
Puget Sound orcas to be put on endangered list
November 16, 2005 (Northwest Cable News) In a victory for environmentalists, the federal government listed Puget Sound's killer whales as an endangered species Tuesday, giving the animals the highest protection available under the law.
The three pods of orcas that live in Puget Sound from late spring through early fall total 89 whales -- down from more than 100 in the middle of the last century but up from a low of 79 in 2002. Their decline has been blamed on pollution and a drop in the population of salmon, their primary food.
Kathy Fletcher of the environmental group People for Puget Sound said the new listing could also help speed the cleanup of contamination in the sound.
Government gives orcas a shield
November 16, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) By declaring them endangered, "we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations," said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for the fisheries service, in a statement.
"Because the population has such a small number of sexually active males in it, a catastrophic event -- an oil spill, a chemical spill -- could really make a huge difference in the population," said Brian Gorman, spokesman for the fisheries service.
Scientists have identified many other factors that put the local orcas at risk of disappearance. There has been a decline in the amount of salmon -- their favorite food source -- from historic levels. The killer whales are contaminated with industrial pollutants that can reduce fertility and make them more vulnerable to disease. Research has indicated that boat traffic and other manmade noise can disturb the highly social animals.
Tuesday's announcement also could reinvigorate calls to reunite an orca called Luna that's related to the local population but has spent the past few years alone on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. An effort to capture and reunite the young male orca with its family was derailed in 2004. A local tribe opposed aspects of the effort.
And the announcement has inspired an even more vocal defense of the Endangered Species Act and an act by the late Sen. Warren Magnuson that limits the flow of crude oil to Puget Sound refineries.
PATH TO PROTECTION
May 1, 2001: Twelve environmental groups petition National Marine Fisheries Service to list Puget Sound orcas as endangered.
June 25, 2002: The fisheries service decides not to list orcas under Endangered Species Act, decides to protect under Marine Mammal Protection Act instead.
Dec. 18, 2002: Nine environmental groups and individuals sue in federal court, challenging decision not to declare the orcas endangered.
May 29, 2003: NMFS officials determine that the orcas are "depleted" under the marine mammal act.
Dec. 17, 2003: U.S. District Court judge rules in favor of environmentalists, tells fisheries service to reconsider listing decision.
April 3, 2004: State Department of Fish and Wildlife lists orcas as "endangered."
Dec. 16, 2004: Fisheries service announces plan to list orcas as threatened.
Nov. 15, 2005: Fisheries service declares local orcas "endangered."
Sound's orcas put on endangered list
November 16, 2005 (The Olympian) Three families of Puget Sound orcas, totaling 89 individuals and collectively known as the southern residents, were listed as endangered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service.
It means without further measures to protect them, the orcas of Puget Sound could become extinct.
"It's long overdue," said Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound. "Listing orca whales is kind of like listing Puget Sound as endangered. We have no more time to lose."
Fletcher said the orcas' status as an endangered species should add a sense of urgency to efforts to protect Puget Sound habitat, clean toxic contamination, prevent oil spills and recover salmon, which are a big part of the orcas' diet.
"The orca listing should give the Puget Sound legislation a huge push," said Susan Berta, a Whidbey Island resident and co-founder of the Orca Network, which keeps tabs on the J, K and L pods' whereabouts.
"I think they started to realize how fragile this population is: small and such a small number of breeding males," Berta said.
Local orcas listed as endangered
November 16, 2005 (Everett Herald) Smaller salmon runs, industrial pollution and boat noise led a federal agency to place three pods of orcas living in Puget Sound-area waters on the endangered species list Tuesday. The listing is effective immediately.
Putting about 88 resident orcas on the federal list means any federal agency - or anyone who spends federal money on projects in Puget Sound or its northern waters - must make sure their actions don't harm orcas or their habitat.
"It's good that they're getting more protection than we hoped for, but it's bad because they're in more danger than many people thought," said Susan Berta, program director for the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network, which tracks orcas using volunteers.
Gorman said the endangered status was selected because the resident orca population, made up of family pods known as J, K and L, is so small. The orcas' limited numbers make the population highly vulnerable to a large oil spill or disease outbreak, especially since individual orcas will only mate with animals from another pod.
The decline of fish populations, especially salmon - which provide orcas with key reserves of fat - have left orcas with too little to eat, he said.
Feds Agree To List Puget Sound Orcas as Endangered Species November 16, 2005 (Environmental News Service
Puget Sound Orcas to Be on Endangered List November 16, 2005 (Environmental News Service
Conservation groups hail decision placing orcas on endangered list November 16, 2005 (Skagit Valley Herald
NMFS announces decision to list the Southern Resident killer whales as endangered under the ESA
November 15, 2005 (National Marine Fisheries Service)
Contact: Brian Gorman, 206-526-6613
A group of killer whales that visits Washington state's Puget Sound every summer has been listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries Service) announced today.
Known officially as Southern Resident killer whales, they were proposed a year ago for threatened status under the Endangered Species Act.
Recent information and further analysis leads our agency to conclude that the Southern Resident killer whale population is at risk of extinction, and should be listed as endangered, said Bob Lohn, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries Service's Northwest region. By giving it protection under the ESA, we have a better chance of keeping this population alive for future generations.
A species listed as threatened is at risk of becoming endangered; an endangered species is one at risk of extinction.
The Southern Resident killer whale population experienced a 20 percent decline in the 1990s, raising concerns about its future. Many members of the group were captured during the 1970s for commercial display aquariums.
The group continued to be put at risk from vessel traffic, toxic chemicals and limits on availability of food, especially salmon. It has only a small number of sexually mature males. Because the population historically has been small, it is susceptible to catastrophic risks, such as disease or oil spills.
Southern Resident killer whales already are protected, as are all marine mammals, by a 1972 law, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, under which the whales were officially listed as a depleted stock more than two years ago. A proposed conservation plan required by the depleted designation was published last month laying out the steps needed to restore the population to full health.
The new listing under the Endangered Species Act will require federal agencies to make sure their actions are not likely to harm the whales. NOAA Fisheries Service said its ongoing efforts to restore salmon stocks in Puget Sound should benefit the whales. Other federal agencies efforts are likely to focus on toxic chemicals and vessel traffic.
The population peaked at 97 animals in the 1990s and then declined to 79 in 2001. It currently stands at 89 whales, including a solitary male that has taken up residence in a small inlet in British Columbia.
Although researchers have collected more than 30 years' worth of information on the Southern Residents, agency biologists said there are major gaps in knowledge, such as where the animals go when they're not in local waters. Because killer whales may live up to 90 years in the wild, existing data doesn't cover even one full life span for older animals. Research by NOAA Fisheries Service scientists to fill these gaps will continue, the agency said.
More details will soon be posted on the Web at www.nwr.noaa.gov.
Feds: Puget Sound orcas in danger of extinction November 15, 2005 (KING5-TV)
Sen. Stevens' crude attack on Puget Sound
November 15, 2005 (Seattle Times Editorial) Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is having a hissy fit, trying to take his frustrations out on Puget Sound.
Stevens, R-BridgetoNowhere, is upset the House of Representatives balked at opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil leasing and drilling, and Senate Republicans are flinching as well.
Stevens' ire is directed in particular at Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, who introduced an amendment as part of a budget reconciliation bill, the current turf for ANWR battles. Her amendment lost, but Stevens was incensed. Stevens immediately sought to lift restrictions on BP's Cherry Point refinery near Bellingham, which would increase production capacity and expand tanker traffic in Puget Sound. Both were capped in 1977 by Sen. Warren Magnuson with a tweaking of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Magnuson identified the navigable waters of Puget Sound as a national asset threatened by increased domestic and international tanker traffic, adding that the waters and surrounding natural resources needed protection. The foresight of his actions was affirmed a dozen years later by the example of the Exxon Valdez travesty in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Cantwell responded in the honorable tradition of Northwest legislators defending - protecting - things unique to the region, from its natural and visual resources to the Bonneville Power Administration and the region's hydroelectric resources.
Salmon above the dams
November 14, 2005 (Eureka Times Standard) A fierce debate and charges of misrepresenting scientific work on what's best for salmon on the Klamath River have risen from the reams of papers submitted to the federal agency charged with relicensing the river's dams.
That's nothing new on one of the West's most troubled rivers. This time the contention is over a report requested by major parties in the proceedings. It found that taking out all of PacifiCorp's dams is most likely the best option for fish.
But when PacifiCorp filed its consultant's paper with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, it included its own take, which cast a most pessimistic view on dam removal. The consultant lashed back, charging that the utility grossly misrepresented her work.
She was backed up by California agencies, conservation groups and tribes, who excoriated PacifiCorp for bucking the methods the group had agreed upon.
Powerful senator revives plan for more oil tankers in Sound
November 10, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Reviving an idea that was scuttled last month in the House, a powerful senator from Alaska has introduced legislation that would open Puget Sound to significantly more traffic from oil tankers.
The bill by Republican Sen. Ted Stevens would rescind restrictions enacted in 1977 that severely limit the number and size of tankers serving Washington's five refineries.
The late Sen. Warren Magnuson, D-Wash., put the protections in place after concluding that the Cherry Point refinery in Whatcom County could become a "superport" for crude oil flowing south from Alaska.
But at a joint committee hearing Wednesday in which executives from five major oil companies were grilled about prices and profits, Stevens said the restrictions handcuff the nation's ability to squeeze every drop of capacity out of existing refineries.
But environmental interests and political leaders in the state say the damage potential far outweighs the benefits from additional production and they will fiercely oppose the proposal.
"My motivation is not to stop tanker traffic," said Fred Felleman, Northwest director of Ocean Advocates, an interest group that took BP to court to stop it from expanding docking facilities at Cherry Point.
"My desire is to spare Puget Sound the lessons learned from Prince William Sound," Felleman said, referring to the cataclysmic 1989 accident that spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil from the Exxon Valdez tanker into the Sound. It remains the largest U.S. oil spill.
OIL DRILLING IN REFUGE A STEP CLOSER
November 4, 2005 (San Francisco Chronicle) The Senate rejected a last-ditch effort by Democrats on Thursday to stop plans to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, moving closer to ending one of the most heated environmental disputes of the past quarter century.
By a 51-48 vote, the Senate defeated an amendment that would have stripped a provision allowing drilling in the Alaskan refuge from the huge budget reconciliation bill.
"It's the beginning of the end of the opposition" to drilling, said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "I think we're going to get it -- finally. This giant resource is going to be developed."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., a longtime opponent of drilling, said of the vote: "The Republican Senate has shown its true colors -- it is clear by their overwhelming support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that they have no respect for the environment."
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., led the battle against drilling on the Senate floor, offering the amendment to strip the right to sell oil and gas leases in the refuge from the budget bill.
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Drilling credibility
November 4, 2005 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) After years of resisting a bad idea, Congress appears close to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling in the worst possible way: dishonestly.
Republicans have put the proposal into a budget bill, avoiding a potential filibuster in the Senate if it were honestly treated as a legislative matter. Even so, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., put up the good fight, coming just three votes from stopping the environmentally destructive plan with a floor amendment Thursday.
With President Bush eager to give the oil companies an early holiday present, one of the last lines of defense for the refuge is the U.S. House of Representatives. GOP leaders will put heavy pressure on U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Bellevue, and other Republicans who question the plundering of pristine public lands.
Cantwell is not a tree hugger, or a caribou coddler. She's a careful student of energy issues. As she argued, oil from the refuge would do little for energy supplies. Besides enriching oil companies, however, Arctic drilling would set a bad precedent for further expansion of oil and natural gas exploration on public lands in many farm and ranch communities.
Whales at Risk From New U.S. Navy Sonar Range, Activists Say
November 3, 2005 (National Geographic News) The U.S. Navy is moving ahead with plans to build an undersea warfare training range on the U.S. East Coast despite fierce opposition from conservation and animal welfare organizations.
Groups opposed to the military project say endangered North Atlantic right whales, dolphins, and sea turtles could potentially be injured or killed from powerful sonar blasts emitted during training exercises.
"Protecting whales and preserving national security are not mutually exclusive," said Fred O'Regan, president of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
An undersea sonar training range already exists off the coast of Hawaii. But the Navy said another one is needed to train its Atlantic fleet because of the growing threat posed by ultra-quiet diesel submarines.
The Navy has identified three possible new training range sites, each about 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coasts of North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida.
Last week the Navy published a draft environmental impact report. Officials will hold public hearings about the ranges this month near each of the proposed sites.
In 2000 17 whales from three species beached themselves in the Bahamas after Navy ships conducted mid-range sonar exercises. Of those stranded, seven animals died.
A federal investigation concluded sonar was the most likely cause of the whales' stranding.
Adding to the controversy, the military's preferred training site in North Carolina is near an area where a mass whale stranding took place in January, not long after the Navy conducted sonar exercises in the region.
Risk to dams leaves Mid-Columbia helpless
November 1, 2005 (Tri-City Herald) U.S. District Judge James Redden recently breathed new life into the idea of breaching the Snake River dams, and he is unlikely to be swayed by protest rallies or any other form of public pressure.
The 13-page order directs the four federal agencies -- NOAA Fisheries, the Bonneville Power Administration, Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation -- to collaborate with state governments and Native American tribes on a new plan.
The courts have rejected three other proposals for saving Columbia River fish since 1993. Another failure would leave the court to "run the river," the judge warned.
If that happens, Redden added, "Additional measures, including the breaching of dams" may be necessary.
That's not idle rhetoric. Redden demonstrated his willingness to take control of the river system this past summer, ordering additional water spilled through five dams to aid migrating salmon. The Bonneville Power Administration estimated the value of power lost by diverting water away from the dams' turbines at $67 million.
Coastal drilling back as hot issue
November 1, 2005 (Press Democrat) A decades-old federal ban on offshore oil and gas drilling could be dismantled by year's end, shifting the fight over coastal exploration to state legislatures.
Environmentalists, who vehemently oppose the Republican-led effort, already are raising the specter of drilling rigs sprouting along California's 1,200-mile coast.
"There is reason to be scared," said Richard Charter, co-chairman of the National Outer Continental Shelf Coalition. "The public may have taken the protection of the coast for granted, but the oil industry didn't."
The measure also would open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to drilling, an option long sought by the Bush administration and fiercely opposed by environmentalists.
A key sponsor of the bill, Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Tracy, maintains that the measure will take Congress out of the decision making and give states control over their own waters. Pombo is chairman of the House Committee on Resources, where the provision originated.