Orca Network News - November, 2007
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
November 1, 2007 through November 30, 2007.
November 30, 2007 (Oregonian editorial) Runoff from streets, roofs and even forests is the largest source of most of the worst pollutants plaguing Puget Sound, according to a study released Friday. Air pollution is the prime culprit for a few of the toxic chemicals. Oil spills and sewage treatment plants contribute smaller fractions of the waste.
Some of the findings were surprising -- and highlight the need to complete a more thorough analysis, possibly resulting in a refocusing of cleanup priorities.
"We're trying to sort of move away from random acts of kindness to prioritize actions based on the analysis and substance of what we find to be out there," said David Dicks, director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the government agency responsible for the health of the Sound.
The report is the first attempt to chase down and quantify all the sources of pollution that sicken orcas and make fish and shellfish unsafe for human consumption. It cost $135,000, paid for by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Protecting a priceless resource
November 29, 2007 (Oregonian editorial) President Bush startled many last year when, with the stroke of his pen, he committed the biggest single act of marine preservation in history, designating 84 million acres in the northwestern Hawaiian island chain as America's 75th national monument. He said he was inspired by what he had learned about the biological diversity of coral reefs and how threatened they are by human activities, from dumping to overfishing.
In that spirit, the full Senate should act quickly when it reconvenes to follow the House of Representatives in extending and amending the Coral Reef Conservation Act. The act will commit the government to a program intended to prevent further destruction of delicate marine environments by protecting what remains in U.S. waters.
Divers, snorkelers, tourism officials, scientists and environmental activists know the urgency of the matter all too well. Coral structures are living organisms, constructed over great stretches of time by the accretion of billions of tiny coral polyps. They provide an ecosystem for some 4,000 species of fish and hundreds of corals, plants and other marine animals. And they are a dwindling resource.
There seems to be no serious opposition to the bill, but delay is fatal to reefs. The Senate should take care of this quickly.
Circle of life
November 29, 2007 (Seattle Times letter to the editor) We all know the orcas of Puget Sound are on the brink of extinction. And now we all know they are endangered because they are starving. There are simply not enough adult chinook salmon returning to West Coast rivers to feed them ["At Entiat hatchery, coho are taking the place of chinook," Local News, Nov. 26]. Yet, up until now, solutions to this problem have been few and far between.
The recent announcement by six leading orca researchers that Puget Sound orca recovery is dependent on the recovery of our salmon runs, and in particular those of the Columbia and Snake rivers, has finally hit home.
No more salmon, no more orcas. It is as simple as that. Scientists also agree that removing the four lower Snake River dams is necessary for recovery of Snake River salmon. So it is no longer a question of "salmon or dams," now it is "salmon and orcas or dams."
What's next? It is time we rethink our policies and reconsider what matters to people of the Northwest. And we need to make these choices while we still have the chance to recover these iconic species. Prudent policy requires examination of all of the options and clearly dam removal needs to be one of them.
Kudos to these orca scientists for informing the debate.
- Robyn Carmichael, Seattle
Protect the orca and salmon
November 29, 2007 (Christian Science Monitor letter to the editor) In regard to the Nov. 28 article, "Clean energy vs whales: How to choose?" It doesn't have to be an either/or choice.
Researchers of the orca, who called for removal of the four lower Snake River dams, did so because it will benefit endangered orcas in Puget Sound. But it will also benefit the people of the Pacific Northwest by restoring another icon of the region: the wild salmon.
Removing four dams that produce a small amount of our region's power (less than 5 percent) and replacing it with conservation and renewable power will bring benefits to communities throughout Washington, Oregon, and Idaho that once depended on abundant salmon for their way of life.
If we aren't willing to consider removing just these four outdated dams, of more than 200 dams in the Columbia River Basin, are we willing to write off the unique population of these orcas that depends on salmon to survive?
Senator to keep EPA focused on Duwamish
November 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Saying pollution of the Duwamish River has been Seattle's "dark secret" for too long, Sen. Patty Murray on Wednesday promised to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency enforces a thorough cleanup of the waterway.
Murray, reacting to a three-day series in the Seattle P-I, also said EPA needs more than one investigator on staff to track down past polluters to help pay for the cleanup.
"When you have one EPA investigator, that is unacceptable," the Democratic senator said. "You're not going to be able to know what you need to know to do this right."
The cleanup is being directed under the federal government's Superfund program, allowing EPA to hold past polluters liable. In the 1990s, EPA's Seattle-based Region 10 had five civil investigators whose duties included tracking down past polluters; now the region has one.
Northwest's dams are a source of clean energy. But scientists say they endanger salmon and orcas.
November 28, 2007 (Christian Science Monitor) Dams in the Columbia River Basin have been a major cause of plummeting salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest for decades. It's a problem that costly government programs so far have failed to solve, despite continual federal court orders.
Scientists and policymakers now realize the situation could become worse as climate change looms and other iconic ocean species are affected as well – a classic tale about the interconnectedness of environmental challenges and their solutions.
Six prominent scientists recently warned that the survival of endangered orcas in Puget Sound, which rely on salmon for sustenance, could rest on the removal of four major dams along the basin.
Scientists urge $2-3 billion study of ocean health
November 27, 2007 (Yahoo News) Marine scientists called on Sunday for a $2-3 billion study of threats such as overfishing and climate change to the oceans, saying they were as little understood as the Moon.
A better network of satellites, tsunami monitors, drifting robotic probes or electronic tags on fish within a decade could also help lessen the impact of natural disasters, pollution or damaging algal blooms, they said.
"This is not pie in the sky ... it can be done," said Tony Haymet, director of the U.S. Scripps Institution of Oceanography and chairman of the Partnership for Observation of the Global Oceans (POGO).
He told Reuters that a further $2-3 billion would roughly match amounts already invested in ocean research, excluding more costly satellites. New technologies were cheaper and meant worldwide monitoring could now be possible.
"Silicon Valley has come to the oceans," said Jesse Ausubel, a director of the Census of Marine Life that is trying to describe life in the seas.
"Lots of cheap disposable devices can now be distributed throughout the oceans, in some cases on animals, in some cases on the sea floor, others drifting about," he told Reuters.
Eating from Duwamish?
November 27, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A chinook salmon's iridescent scales gleam under the street lamps of the First Avenue Bridge. Blood drips from its gills, soaking into the wooden pier. The smells of fresh fish, creosote and diesel exhaust mingle.
Health officials say the only fish or shellfish that should be eaten out of the Duwamish is salmon.
Duwamish salmon, scientists say, is as safe as any caught in southern Puget Sound, meaning it has marginally higher levels of PCBs compared with those caught farther north.
Eternal dam nation
November 26, 2007 (Crosscut Seattle) The life cycle of Columbia River salmon might be endangered, but not so the cycle of litigation over how to save the fish. The feds so far have refused to consider breaching dams in the vast river system, while federal judges are rejecting as insufficient all other measures to help fish pass through. We seem to be years from resolution.
This version is less obviously creative than the one Redden shot down two years ago. The judge had sent the Clinton administration's previous effort back to the agency because the measures it proposed to reduce damage to wild salmon runs weren't reasonably certain to occur. The judge called for a little tweaking. Instead of tweaking the old bi-op, the Bush administration started from scratch and came up with an unprecedented new theory: The big dams had become part of the environmental baseline, so the government didn't have to consider their effects on wild salmon. Redden rejected that reasoning. The Ninth Circuit sustained his ruling.
NMFS had also reasoned that it could consider only the survival, not the recovery, of wild salmon populations. That theory didn't pass judicial muster, either. So there is this new plan.
Clearly, a lot of people have big stakes in the status quo. But federal law comes down squarely on the side of the fish. To save the fish – and comply with the law – we'll have to change our whole approach to the problem, True suggests. Government won't do that voluntarily. Ultimately, government may not have a choice – just as, ultimately, it didn't have a choice about saving old-growth forests for the northern spotted owl and a host of other critters. "The courts can help us catalyze that kind of change," he says.
Many question if Seattle's Duwamish waterway can ever be restored
November 26, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) These scenes from the past speak to an ugly truth: We have systematically abused and negligently defiled the river that for millennia nourished Seattle's first people -- and brought the city much of its modern-day wealth.
The river has started to limp back. But a nascent effort to revive it under the federal government's Superfund program has been plagued by a series of missteps on early cleanups, recalcitrant polluters and a mind-numbingly complex cleanup process that critics say won't get the job done.
Today, six years after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the river polluted enough to become a Superfund site, more than $70 million has been spent -- yet officials carrying out the cleanup don't even know the source of a lot of the pollution.
And pollution continues to pour into the river, including an emerging class of contaminants called phthalates, which can lower testosterone levels, lead to a pre-diabetic condition and, in rats, impair testicular function.
Much of today's pollution had its roots in World War II, when Boeing cranked out nearly 7,000 "Flying Fortress" bombers. At the height of the war, a plane rolled off the assembly line about every two hours.
It helped save our country, but today that plant is arguably the river's most noxious toxic dump. PCBs leaked out of the bottom of the main plant, without anyone noticing, for decades.
Orca Scientists Call for Lower Snake Dam Removal to Help West Coast's Endangered Orcas
November 21, 2007 (Earth Times) Leading Northwest scientists and orca advocates are urging NOAA Fisheries to consider removal of the four lower Snake River dams in order to protect endangered Puget Sound orca populations that need Columbia-Snake River salmon as a critical food source.
"Restoring Columbia River Chinook salmon is the single most important thing we can do to ensure the future survival of the Southern Resident Community of killer whales," said Dr. Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. "We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years. Their futures are intricately linked."
The comments from the six prominent orca scientists, delivered in a letter to Northwest members of Congress and NOAA regional administrator Robert Lohn, came in response to the Oct. 31 release of a new draft Biological Opinion from NOAA Fisheries for Columbia-Snake River salmon management. Salmon advocates say the new plan, the result of a court-ordered rewrite of an earlier, illegal 2004 federal salmon plan, fails to do enough to recover imperiled salmon in the seven-state Columbia-Snake river basin, and ignores altogether the four dams on the lower Snake River that do the most harm to these fish.
"History will not be very forgiving of the resource managers who failed in their responsibilities to these icons of the Pacific Northwest, Chinook and orca," said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research.
"The draft plan relies heavily on actions that science and time have proven will not restore these fish to the levels necessary for self-sustaining populations of salmon, or abundant enough to provide a healthy food resource for these killers whales," said Dr. David Bain, a killer whale biologist at Friday Harbor Labs. "Not only are salmon from the Columbia River an important historic food source, recovered abundant salmon in this river are an indispensable requirement for the future recovery of Southern Residents."
"The new Federal salmon plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than previous plans in providing access to the basin's best remaining salmon habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River," said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. "The resulting declining salmon runs have a very real impact on the 88 endangered southern resident orcas that depend on these fish, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry."
"The best science tells us," Garrett added, "that to revitalize Snake River salmon, we'll need to bypass the dams that block fish passage, and that dam removal, combined with a variety of economic investments, will bring benefits to upriver communities in eastern Washington as well as to Puget Sound."
The Columbia and Snake River Basin was once the world's most productive salmon watershed, with tens of millions of fish returning annually. Today, returns hover near 1% of those historic levels. More than 200 large dams on the basin's rivers are the major cause of this crisis, with 13 populations now listed under the Endangered Species Act, and four directly impacted by the lower Snake River dams. Yet, the Columbia-Snake Basin still holds more acres of pristine salmon habitat than any watershed in the lower 48 states.
It is this opportunity, notes Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, that we must take advantage of, if we hope to protect and restore these two iconic Northwest species whose fates are inexorably intertwined.
"Our leaders must look for solutions not only in Puget Sound, but also in the rivers that bring the salmon to the sea throughout the Northwest," Fletcher said. "The great salmon rivers like the Columbia and Snake can once again produce the healthy runs of Chinook, on which our majestic orcas feed, but only if we recover salmon habitat. We must act quickly to restore clean water, abundant, sustainable salmon populations, and a safe home for orcas. The scientists tell us there is no time to waste."
Full text of the scientists' letter, as well as a complete list of signers, is available at http://www.wildsalmon.org/.
Orca Researchers Call for Dam Removal
November 21, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Six killer whale researchers say removing dams on the Snake River would benefit not only endangered salmon but also the killer whales of Puget Sound.
"We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the abundant salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years," they stated in the letter.
The letter to administrator Bob Lohn, was signed by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research; Robin Baird of Cascadia Research; David Bain of Friday Harbor Labs; Rich Osborne of The Whale Museum; Val Veirs of Colorado College and president of The Whale Museum; and Dr. Pete Schroeder, a marine mammal veterinarian in Sequim.
Research over the last few years shows that many of Puget Sound's orcas, also called Southern Residents, move out of inland waters in winter and travel along the coast, stopping at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Scott Simms, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the dams, said there is no "silver bullet" for restoring salmon. It's important to take a "holistic approach" dealing with harvest, hatcheries and habitat as well as improving the dams, he said.
The Columbia and Snake watersheds were once the most productive salmon habitat in the world, the orca researchers said. Today, returns are only about 1 percent of their historic levels.
"The science is clear that removing four federal dams on the lower Snake River is needed to avert extinction of the Snake's four unique salmon populations..." they said. "The recovery of Southern Resident killer whales depends on abundant food, which will be difficult if not impossible to provide without restoring productivity from the Snake River components of Columbia Basin salmon runs."
Bush administration drops effort to ease salmon protections
November 21, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Bush administration has abandoned efforts pushed by the timber industry to allow more logging around salmon streams on Northwest national forests.
The administration's motion to withdraw an appeal of a lawsuit brought by salmon advocates to reinstate what is known as the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan was approved Tuesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In April, a federal judge ruled that the Bush administration illegally suppressed and misrepresented the views of scientists who objected to revising the salmon protections.
"It's a victory for salmon protections against years of efforts by the Bush administration to roll them back on federal lands," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
Remove the dams, save the orcas
November 20, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog) Orca supporters are throwing their weight behind efforts to get the four lower Snake River dams removed. Usually the case for dam removal focuses pretty specifically on salmon recovery -- but as chinook are the favorite food of local orcas, the leap in logic is pretty clear.
Prominent orca promoters -- Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research; Rich Osborne, research associate with The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor; David Bain, a killer whale biologist at Friday Harbor Labs; and others -- sent a two-page letter Tuesday to Bob Lohn, head of NOAA Fisheries in Seattle.
The orcas and salmon are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists recently came out in strong opposition to a proposed recovery plan for Columbia and Snake rivers salmon.
Navy sonar lethal to whales, group says
November 19, 2007 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Powerful military technology meant to protect U.S. soil and citizens from threats lurking under the Atlantic will be lethal to the 300 remaining endangered right whales that summer in the Bay of Fundy, warns one of the largest environmental organizations in the United States.
The U.S. Navy counters that the warning is based on distortions and exaggerations of the science about sonar's effect on marine mammals.
The environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council claims sonar can kill whales by causing internal bleeding, mass beachings and even a form of "the bends," which can kill scuba divers who surface too quickly.
At issue is the U.S. Navy's plan to create a new undersea warfare training zone off North Carolina's Cape Hatteras starting in 2012. The project is now undergoing an environmental assessment.
The zone would be equipped with undersea cables and sonar buoys to receive and transmit extremely loud sounds to expose "enemy" subs as ship, submarine and aircraft crews train in anti-submarine detection and warfare.
Although it's a long way from the Bay of Fundy, the NRDC claims the training site would sit along the migration route the whales take each year to and from their calving grounds.
Klamath dam report raises hope of removals
November 19, 2007 (Sacramento Bee) A study released by federal regulators Friday confirms that removing four dams on the Klamath River would be far cheaper than fitting them with fish ladders, boosting hopes among Indian tribes, fishermen and environmentalists that the dams are doomed.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released the final environmental impact study as part of its process to relicense the dams near the Oregon border, owned by Portland-based PacifiCorp. The report does not recommend dam removal, but its findings may make that more likely.
The Klamath River was once home to the third-largest salmon run on the Pacific Coast, after the ones on the Columbia and Sacramento. But dam construction, water diversions and the poor water quality that followed have played a role in endangering those runs.
Springer and friends OK, despite fuel spill
November 19, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) Northern resident killer whales appear to have survived this summer's oil spill in Robson Bight without adverse health effects -- so far.
After a barge carrying logging equipment, including a fuel truck containing 10,000 litres of diesel fuel, tipped its load into the sensitive waters of Robson Bight in August, there were fears the threatened orcas were at risk of everything from lung lesions to death.
About 60 of the whales -- including Springer, the whale captured in Puget Sound five years ago as a sickly orphan and taken to rejoin her family in Johnstone Strait -- spent several hours swimming in the spilled diesel oil.
Many of the whales then disappeared from the area, but Paul Spong, a whale researcher with OrcaLab on Hanson Island, said three family groups, including Springer's, have now shown up again in Blackfish Sound.
"All the behaviour looked, at least superficially, to be normal. The youngsters were in a playful mood, splashing about and flipping their flukes, and several of the orcas spent time foraging as they entered Blackfish Sound," Spong said.
Springer was traveling with three of her cousins, he said, adding it's too early to say whether the oil will have lasting effects.
Japanese whalers raise stakes by targeting vulnerable humpbacks
November 19, 2007 (Japan Times) The Japanese whaling fleet set sail yesterday in defiance of international condemnation with plans to land what could be the biggest catch of minke and humpback whales since the 1960s.
As it has for more than two decades, the Japanese Government referred to the expedition as "scientific". It is a description that infuriates anti-whaling activists. Whale meat harvested on the expeditions is sold on to the Japanese market and the profits used to fund "future research".
As part of its declared mission to collect scientific data on the age and "mode of life" of Antarctic whale stocks, the Japanese fleet is hoping for a haul of 850 minke - an increase of 70 per cent from last season. But for the first time in more than 40 years, the whalers' harpoons will also be aimed at humpback and fin whales - species beloved of whale-watchers.
Surfing event attracts orcas
November 19, 2007 (News Talk - New Zealand) A pod of orca whales has given some junior surfers a lesson in how it is really done during a championship event in Gisborne. The pod cruised the coastline yesterday and swam right through the event at Makorori Beach.
Their presence put the event on hold for at least an hour until they moved out to sea. Witnesses say the water was cleared after a 1.5 metre high dorsal fin broke the surface at speed.
Bush Administration: Exploit at will
October 29, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) When it comes to the environment, there's a web of life. There's also a web of deceit, which appears whenever the Bush administration touches almost anything in the Northwest ecosystem.
The Earthjustice law firm last week released documents indicating that Julie MacDonald, a former Fish and Wildlife Service deputy assistant secretary, had meddled in scientific reports on marbled murrelets, a threatened Northwest seabird the administration has tried to remove from Endangered Species Act protections. Earthjustice is properly asking the service, which has already scrapped other work tainted by MacDonald's repeated political interference, to withdraw a biological review of the murrelet.
When it comes to the environment, the administration's record is remarkably consistent. Whenever possible, the science is fixed around the policy of ruthless exploitation of natural resources.
Researchers use fin-prints to create salmon database
November 16, 2007 (Salem Statesman Journal) Researchers at the University of Washington plan to use salmon DNA samples they call "fin-printing" to create a genetic database for North Pacific salmon and track their ocean migration.
The database of genetic information about thousands upon thousands of fish will be open to fisheries managers, treaty-makers and other scientists, the university said in a news release Thursday.
Fisheries scientists previously have tracked salmon migration by tagging juvenile fish and then hoping fishermen would return the metal or plastic tags.
Several state and federal agencies in the United States and Canada have been collecting salmon genetic information for more than 20 years. This project aims to combine and merge all the existing databases plus gather much more information in a uniform way.
UW researcher Lisa Seeb, who until this fall worked for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said one goal of the new project in the UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences is to improve international relations.
She and her husband and fellow researcher, Jim Seeb, are known for their work using single nucleotide polymorphism markers for tracking salmon migration.
This "fin-printing" project will be paid for by a $4.1 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation of San Francisco.
Navy told to reduce sonar effects on marine life
November 16, 2007 (MSNBC) A federal appeals court ordered the U.S. Navy to lessen the harm its high-power sonar does to whales and other marine life during exercises off the Southern California coast.
The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday sent the matter to a trial judge in Los Angeles to figure out exactly how to fix the problem it says is apparent with the sonar.
The three-judge panel said the sonar needs to be fixed before the Navy's next planned exercise in January. The action was taken because the court said it is likely the Natural Resources Defense Council will win its lawsuit to force the Navy to lessen the harm.
The appeals court previously overturned a blanket ban on the naval exercises, ruling that prohibition was too broad.
The council's lawsuit alleges the Navy's sonar causes whales to beach themselves among other environmental harms. In 2000, naval sonar contributed to 16 whales and two dolphins being beached in the Bahamas, according to a federal study.
"There are simple, proven ways to avoid this problem without compromising the Navy's readiness," said Joel Reynolds, senior attorney and director of the Marine Mammal Protection Project at the NRDC.
Death of whale was neither humane nor swift, Makahs report
November 16, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A gray whale illegally killed by five members of the Makah tribe in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in September took nearly 10 hours to die because the hunters didn't know what they were doing and shot the animal in the wrong place, according to a new tribal report.
The report also says it took federal officials more than seven hours to authorize a tribal request to put the whale out of its misery.
The report was delivered Thursday to federal fisheries officials in an effort to clarify how and why the animal's death came so long after the rogue hunt. It reveals the hunt as a floating fiasco that broke every rule in the tribe's own whaling-management plans set out to ensure a quick, humane kill.
Gravel-mine foes say old documents make their case
November 15, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) After a decade of wrangling over a massive expansion of a gravel mine on Maury Island, opponents -- who fear lasting environmental harm -- believe they may have hit pay dirt in deeds-of-sale that are nearly a century old.
Those documents, they say, show that the state never transferred the rights to the millions of tons of sand and gravel being mined there by Glacier Northwest.
Not so, say Glacier officials who have steadfastly pursued the expansion. The state seems to agree.
At issue is the meaning of "minerals" and "gravel" in the old records.
For more than a decade, environmentalists and residents of Vashon and Maury islands have tried to stop Glacier from increasing 200-fold or more the amount of sand and gravel being mined from the island. Lawmakers tried to outlaw it, and a former lands commissioner tried to make the island's shoreline a marine reserve.
Now Preserve Our Islands -- the lead opposition to the project -- is pointing to deeds from 1910 and 1923 that say the state holds the rights to "all oils, gases, coal, ores, minerals, and fossils of every name, kind, or description, and which may be in or upon said lands above described, or any part thereof. ..." The "minerals" referred to would include the millions of tons of sand and gravel mined by Glacier, opponents said.
"This opens a bigger question than just 'What now on Maury?' " said Amy Carey, a Preserve Our Islands board member. "It begs a bigger question. This is a resource that the commissioner of public lands is supposed to be minding for the public, not mining companies."
A spokeswoman for the Department of Natural Resources, which is led by Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland, denied the state has the rights to the sand and gravel.
"That right went to the purchasers of the property at the time," Patty Henson said. "The state does not have the right to that, so it's not an issue."
Environmentalists worry about plans to disturb surface soils that are polluted with cancer-causing arsenic released decades ago by a Tacoma smelter. They worry about the loss of numerous madrone trees. There are concerns about damaging eelgrass beds that provide shelter to fish and other marine life. Orcas, salmon and small fish are found along the shore. The mine is adjacent to the state's first aquatic reserve.
Spawning chum get no privacy
November 14, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On the Skagit River, biologists netted a 3-foot chum salmon with stripes the color of a bad bruise and vampire teeth just beginning to show.
The fish will be dead within a month. But during the next few weeks, they'll learn more than they have in the past 30 years about how this wild fish behaves.
The information should help dam managers better understand how to release water during spawning season from three hydroelectric dams that power Seattle homes.
Bay Area Oil Spill: A worry for us, too
November 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) It could have happened here. The oil spill in San Francisco Bay has revived the longstanding worries about an environmental disaster in Washington's inland waters.
Last week's spill was so preventable as to verge toward the absurd. The spill when a pilot ran a container ship into a Bay Bridge tower created a state of emergency, killed or injured hundreds of birds and contaminated beaches.
As environmentalists here point out, the apparently key role of human error in the San Francisco spill bears resemblances to what Washington has experienced repeatedly over the years. And the slow recognition of the harm's extent is also hauntingly familiar, with the 2004 Dalco Passage spill in Puget Sound as a recent reminder.
We think officials learned lessons from the difficulties here, but prevention and preparedness efforts need to be renewed constantly and improved. Otherwise, complacency and turnover among key personnel will create slippage.
Returning urban salmon provide a thrill and a lesson
November 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Each fall, the Northwest's iconic fish return to city streams -- including Pipers, Longfellow, Taylor and Thornton creeks. With water that's often polluted and muddied from street runoff, it's not the most hospitable of homecomings. But after millions of dollars in restoration, the streams are sufficiently welcoming to draw hundreds of fish and even more spectators.
The water isn't very deep along much of the creek, leaving the fish woefully half out of water in places. The shoreline is littered with dead salmon, which, one hopes, spawned first. Their carcasses are left to be eaten by wildlife or decay and return nutrients to the ecosystem.
The students played games to reinforce the perilous journey of the salmon's lives as they hatch in rivers, swim out to sea to eat and grow, and then return to spawn and die.
They ran a gantlet of jump-ropes (spinning dam turbines), salvos of rubber balls (exposure to pollution) and fellow students chasing to "tag" them (predators and fishermen). Few completed the trip.
There are wild salmon, hatchery salmon and educational salmon, said Beth Miller, watershed educator for Pipers Creek. "We have educational fish that carry the message about what you do upstream and how your daily life and the choices you make affect the water quality and the critters in Puget Sound. They're here to spread the word."
Biologists use high-tech equipment to spy on Skagit River chum
November 12, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On the Skagit River, biologists netted a 3-foot chum salmon with stripes the color of a bad bruise and vampire teeth just beginning to show.
The information should help dam managers better understand how to release water during spawning season from the three hydroelectric dams that power Seattle homes.
The technology is being used to track everything from sixgill sharks in Puget Sound to cutthroat trout that recreational anglers love to catch. The other markings will help biologists from local tribes and state wildlife managers more accurately count a species that hasn't been extensively inventoried on the Skagit since the 1970s.
Since then, the river and its tributaries have meandered, with some historic spawning areas disappearing entirely. As other salmon populations have suffered, the more abundant chum has sustained one of the area's most valuable commercial fisheries.
Despite its derogatory nickname -- dog salmon -- chum hold cultural and culinary significance for local tribes. Carcasses serve as food for the Skagit River's wintering bald eagles and replenish the river with nutrients.
Since the mid-1980s, numbers of pink and chum salmon spawning in the stretch of river closest to the dams have increased dramatically, according to a recently published study by City Light.
Numbers of threatened chinook salmon -- which spend more time in estuaries and are more influenced by problems like armored stream banks and urban pollution -- went up only slightly.
Whale-watchers pleased by arrival of newborn 'J43'
November 11, 2007 (Vancouver Province) Whale-watchers have a new baby to look out for this winter with the arrival of J43.
The baby orca was discovered on Tuesday off Whidbey Island in Washington, swimming alongside its mother, Samish, and older brother, Riptide.
"Being an endangered species, any new birth is great news," said Susan Berta, co-founder of Orca Network, a non-profit based in Greenbank, Wash., that tracks the whales.
Berta says scientists generally wait to see if the calf will be strong enough to live past a year before assigning it a non-scientific name.
The arrival of J43 brings the total number of orcas in the pod to 26 and the total off the B.C. and Washington coast to 88. The orcas range from Puget Sound to Juan de Fuca Strait and Queen Charlotte Strait.
In Canada, this dwindling population was designated as endangered in 2001 under the federal Species at Risk Act.
The local orca population is being threatened by a shortage of salmon to feed on and the toxic pollutants that have been dumped into the ocean.
Orca stripped thin
November 10, 2007 (Seattle Times letter to editor) The new Federal Salmon Plan for the Columbia and Snake rivers is no better than the previous plans that have been rejected because they fail to provide salmon access to vital habitat in the upper reaches of the Snake River.
The resulting depletion of salmon runs and all the plants and animals that survive on an annual bounty of salmon far upriver is very real and very tragic.
Also very real are the 87 (now 88) endangered southern resident orcas that depend for their survival on those chinook returning to the Columbia and Snake rivers each year, as they have for centuries. As the salmon disappear, the orcas go hungry.
The best science tells us that to revitalize Snake River habitats, we'll need to bypass the dams that block fish passage, and that dam removal, combined with a variety of economic investments, will bring benefits to upriver communities.
Where are the leaders who are able to see and describe the disastrous effects of dwindling salmon runs, who will guide habitat restoration and economic revitalization along the Snake River?
- Howard Garrett, Orca Network, Greenbank
New baby born to resident killer whales
November 9, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) A tiny black head, protectively flanked by two adult whales, was the first sign of a new addition to a pod of resident killer whales this week.
The new calf, which is believed to have been born Monday night or Tuesday morning, is the second birth this year in J Pod - one of three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales.
The new baby, nestled next to mom, was spotted west of Whidbey Island, where the pod has been for several days.
"There's lots of chum (salmon) in Puget Sound and that's their favourite food after chinook," Balcomb-Bartok said.
Mother of the calf is J14 - also known as Samish - which bodes well for the baby's survival as four out of five of her calves are still alive.
This is the fourth calf born to southern residents this year and so far there have been no deaths, Balcomb-Bartok said.
It brings the number up to 88 - 26 in J Pod, 19 in K Pod and 43 in L Pod - not counting Lolita, an L Pod whale who has been at Miami Seaquarium since her capture in 1972. (Note - Lolita was captured in 1970)
Newborn killer whale in Puget Sound
November 9, 2007 (UPI) An Orca pod in Puget Sound in Washington State has a new arrival, a calf named J43.
The baby killer whale was first spotted Tuesday, and government whale observers confirmed the birth on Wednesday, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported. The calf is the fifth born to J14, also known as Samish, a 33-year-old female.
Orcas, or killer whales, are assigned identifiers that include a letter representing the pod and a number giving their rank within it.
The Puget Sound Orcas spend the summer. In late fall, they move out to sea and travel up and down the U.S. West Voast until late spring.
Numbers of Orcas in the sound dropped in recent years because of a decline in one of their main food sources, salmon, boat traffic and toxic pollutants. Those are especially dangerous because they build up in females' fat and are transmitted to their calves during gestation and nursing.
Experts say that J43 is lucky to be Samish's fifth calf because the mother has had "a chance to offload a lot of her toxins on the other calves," said Susan Berta, one of the founders of Orca Network.
Experts: Oil Spill Is Threat to Wildlife
November 9, 2007 (AP) Assessment and recovery teams hit the skies, waters and beaches Friday trying to contain the damage from a 58,000-gallon oil spill that has stained some of Northern California's coastline.
Sunrise allowed oil skimmers, surveillance flights and shoreline cleanup teams to resume their work mopping up the damage, even as questions persisted about why the Coast Guard took so long to report the scope of the spill. The spill - believed to be the biggest in the bay since 1988 - has fouled miles of coastline, closed several beaches, canceled weekend outdoor events and threatened thousands of birds and marine animals.
"The effects of the oil spill could persist for months and possibly years," said Tina Swanson, a fish biologist with the Bay Institute.
Tides carried a plume of heavy fuel beneath the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Pacific Ocean. By Thursday afternoon, oil had been sighted about 15 miles north of the city, and at least eight beaches in San Francisco and Marin County were closed.
Coast Guard knew of big spill hours before warning the public, logs show
November 9, 2007 (San Francisco Chronicle) As oil contaminated more beaches and birds throughout the Bay Area, Coast Guard officials admitted today that they had taken too long to notify the public about the skyrocketing size of the ship-fuel spill but defended their response to the mess.
The admission was driven home by an examination of the federal agency's log of events Wednesday when the container ship Cosco Busan struck the base of a Bay Bridge tower.
That log, which the Chronicle obtained today, showed that Coast Guard investigators realized at 4:49 p.m. Wednesday that 58,000 gallons of heavy-duty bunker fuel oil had spilled into the bay - not 140 gallons as they had reported all day. But the agency did not say anything publicly until 9 p.m.
"That is unacceptable," Coast Guard Adm. Craig Bone replied when asked about the length of time it took for his agency to announce the magnitude of the spill.
New baby orca spotted off Whidbey Island
November 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Orca fans are celebrating the arrival of J43 to one of the local pods.
It's not the catchiest name, but does follow the scientific format of designating which group of orcas it belongs to and its birth order.
And since no one knows yet if it's a boy or a girl, J43 will suffice for now.
The baby orca was discovered by observers on Whidbey Island on Tuesday, and confirmed by government scientists Wednesday. It's the fifth offspring of J14, or Samish, a 33-year-old orca. That's a plus for the new arrival.
The mother "has had a chance to offload a lot of her toxics on the other calves," said Susan Berta, co-founder of Orca Network, a non-profit that tracks the animals.
The local orca population has declined in recent decades and was declared at risk of extinction under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2005.
This birth brings the number of orcas in J, K and L pods to 88. Photos are online at orcanetwork.org.
Puget Sound's J pod has new baby orca
November 9, 2007 (Seattle Times) Puget Sound's own J pod has another orca baby in the family.
The newest addition, for now designated only by her scientific orca name, J-43, brings the number of whales in the pod to 26, and the total population of southern resident orcas to 88, the highest in nearly 10 years.
The southern residents of Puget Sound were listed as an endangered species by the National Marine Fisheries Service in December 2005, so all births are good news. Four calves have been born to the pods so far in 2007 - a five-year high.
The southern residents travel in three pods, J, K and L. Their population has fluctuated from a low of about 70 animals in 1976 and a peak of about 97 in 1996.
Ship crashes into Bay Bridge tower, spills fuel oil
November 8, 2007 (San Francisco Chronicle) An 810-foot-long container ship crashed into the base of a tower of the Bay Bridge's western span in heavy fog Wednesday, spilling 58,000 gallons of fuel into San Francisco Bay.
It was the first time in memory that an oceangoing ship had run into the bridge. There was no apparent major damage to the span, but the hull of Hanjin Shipping's 65,131-ton Cosco Busan was ripped.
Within hours of the 8:30 a.m. crash, oil was showing up on the San Francisco waterfront and on Pacific Ocean beaches in Marin County. By nightfall, several beaches in San Francisco were closed to the public, and the state's Office of Emergency Services had instructed Bay Area counties to begin assessing potential dangers to the public from contamination.
It's a BABY - Orca that is!
November 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Orca Network Whale Report - November 7, 2007
NOAA Fisheries was with J pod today in the Seattle/Vashon/Bainbridge area, and report finding a new calf with J14!
Then we received photos from a Lagoon Pt, Whidbey Island resident from Tuesday afternoon when J pod was off west Whidbey , and there we found the new little J43 nestled next to J14! The calf was not present on Monday when NOAA Fisheries was with J pod, so likely was born sometime between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon.
This brings J pod up to 26 members, and the total population of the Southern Resident orcas to 88, not counting Lolita, the L pod whale at the Miami Seaquarium.
New Orca Calf Spotted November 7, 2007 (Kitsap Sun)
Quest tracks nursery of whales
November 7, 2007 (Oregonian) Oregon researchers are on the verge of positively identifying the first known breeding and calving area for blue whales -- a quest that could result in higher protections for an animal that is the largest on Earth but also among the most elusive.
Scientists with Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute in Newport hope to confirm and study a remote, nutrient-rich region in the tropical Pacific Ocean where some blue whales gather in the winter.
Bruce Mate, an OSU professor and the institute's director, is leading a 14-member team to the site south of Mexico about 750 miles west of Costa Rica. If it finds the site is critical habitat for the endangered whales, the team hopes the international community will take steps to ensure the area -- far outside any nation's jurisdiction -- is protected.
"There's never been a known breeding and calving area for blue whales in the entire world," Mate said. "But because we've tracked animals now for a number of years, this is where we expect them to be."
Australian scientists decode whale sounds
November 7, 2007 (Reuters) Australian scientists studying humpback whales sounds say they have begun to decode the whale's mysterious communication system, identifying male pick-up lines and motherly warnings.
Wops, thwops, grumbles and squeaks are part of the extensive whale repertoire recorded by scientists from the University of Queensland working on the Humpback Whale Acoustic Research Collaboration (HARC) project.
Recording whale sounds over a three-year period, scientists discovered at least 34 different types of whale calls, with data published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
The researchers studied migrating east humpback whales, as they travelled up and down Australia's east coast, and recorded 660 sounds from 61 different groups.
Many of the whale sounds could overlap in meaning, said Dunlop, but some had clear meanings.
A purr by males appeared to signify the male was trying his luck to mate a desirable female. High frequency cries and screams were associated with disagreements, when males jostled to escort females during migration, she said.
A wop sound was common when mothers were together with their young. "The wop was probably one of the most common sounds I heard, probably signifying a mum calf contact call," said Dunlop.
Humpback, fin whales spotted in Arctic Ocean
November 7, 2007 (Anchorage Daily News) Endangered humpback whales swam into the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's northern coast this summer, far beyond their usual range, but federal officials monitoring the waters say it's too soon to determine whether it's a trend or an anomaly.
Environmental groups say the presence of humpbacks hundreds of miles north of their usual habitat likely is another sign of the effects of global warming and the shifting Arctic ecosystem. They are calling for more study of the endangered animals' habits before industrial activity is allowed to expand off Alaska's northern shores.
No one was expecting humpbacks near the activity connected to Outer Continental Shelf lease sales, said Brad Smith, a protective resources biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We expected those to be further south and west of the OCS planning areas," Smith said. "We didn't anticipate that they'd been encountered in any of the OCS exploration activity that we're doing this year."
"It looks like the populations are suffering from it," he said. "All signs point to global warming. That would be the first suspect of why the whales are there."
Deborah Williams, a former Department of Interior special assistant for Alaska, and now an advocate for finding solutions to climate change, said the presence of humpback and fin whales so far north has significant implications for the animals' management and development.
"We now have even more compelling reasons to protect the Arctic Ocean and the species dramatically affected by climate change," she said.
Orcas Begin Move to South Puget Sound
November 6, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) J pod, one of three groups of Puget Sound killer whales, appears to have begun its annual excursions into South Puget Sound this week.
Each fall, as salmon runs dwindle in the San Juan Islands, J pod - and often K and L pods - come south along the Kitsap Peninsula in a hunt for chum salmon. J pod generally moves in and out of the area throughout the winter.
On Monday, numerous observers reported seeing J pod traveling down the east side of Blake and Vashon islands in the morning, coming back up the west side in the afternoon, according to Susan Berta of Orca Network, which keeps track of whale movements. The last sighting was at 5:30 p.m. Monday, as the whales came through Colvos Passage on their way north, she said.
The location of the K and L pods are unknown at the moment, Berta said, although a portion of L pod - known as the L-11 and L-12 subpods - were spotted a week ago by two Cascadia Research scientists in Bodega Bay, Calif., north of San Francisco. The researchers, based in Olympia, were conducting research on humpback whales when the orcas were spotted.
While the two L subpods were seen in San Francisco, the rest of L pod and K pod were observed in the northern San Juan Islands, moving into Canada. Subpods have been known to split up, but the distance between the L-11s and L-12s and the rest of the pod was fairly surprising, Berta said.
Over the next few weeks, Central and South Puget Sound residents may have a chance to watch orcas from shore or aboard the Washington State Ferries. Orca Network provides a Web site, www.orcanetwork.org, and e-mail notices of recent whale sightings to help observers and scientists keep track of whale movements.
Anyone who spots orcas is asked to call (866) ORCANET or e-mail to email@example.com. Berta said it is helpful to have information about the location, time of sighting, direction of travel and number of whales. If possible, count the males, which are those with an extra-tall dorsal fin.
Salmon advocates sue over pesticides
November 6, 2007 (Seattle Times) Salmon advocates filed a lawsuit Monday to force the Bush administration to obey a five-year-old court order requiring it to make permanent rules to keep agricultural pesticides from killing salmon.
Filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, the lawsuit asks a judge to order NOAA Fisheries, the agency in charge of protecting salmon, to formally consult with the Environmental Protection Agency over the use of 37 pesticides. Several are commonly found in rivers around the country and can kill salmon at minute concentrations.
U.S. District Judge John Coughenour had ordered the formal consultations in 2002 and imposed temporary restrictions that barred crop-dusting next to salmon streams and required home-and-garden stores to post warnings for consumers.
"Apparently what it takes to get this administration to do its job under [the Endangered Species Act] is to have someone there enforcing the law every step of the way," said Joshua Osborne-Klein, an attorney for Earthjustice, the public-interest law firm representing salmon advocates.
It was brought by the Northwest Coalition Against Pesticides and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations.
SkyKING: Orca pod spotted off Maury Island
November 5, 2007 (KING5-TV Video)
White House continues to put dams ahead of salmon recovery
November 5, 2007 (Idaho Statesman editorial) The federal government has released its latest "biological opinions" that promise a plan to protect the Northwest's salmon. Let's call these documents what they really are. They are another batch of dam preservation plans - not salmon recovery plans.
Sure enough, and no surprise, the feds have ruled out breaching four lower Snake River dams in Washington state - the one move that may provide Idaho wild salmon their best and perhaps last chance at recovery. While this plan shows no regard to fisheries science, it is at least a bow to consistency. The Bush administration will leave office with an unblemished eight-year record of placing dams ahead of Idaho salmon.
The administration is once again arguing that the dams do not place the future of the Northwest's salmon and steelhead in jeopardy.
In order to buy what the feds are selling, you have to conveniently ignore the fact that only four adult sockeye salmon managed to navigate their way around the dams this year to return to Central Idaho's Sawtooth Basin.
Four. Sixteen years after the sockeye were added to the feds' endangered species list - and became eligible for the protections that are supposed to come with such a designation.
Redden has held out for salmon recovery plans that will actually save salmon - in sustainable, fishable numbers. He is holding the feds to their legal obligation under the Endangered Species Act. This is not judicial activism. It demonstrates a strict adherence to the law that represents the last hope for salmon runs such as the sockeye.
World's growing dependence on coal leaving a trail of environmental devastation
November 5, 2007 (International Herald Tribune) It takes five to 10 days for the pollution from China's coal-fired plants to make its way to the United States, like a slow-moving storm.
It shows up as mercury in the bass and trout caught in the Willamette River in the western U.S. state of Oregon. It increases cloud cover and raises ozone levels. And along the way, it contributes to acid rain in Japan and South Korea and health problems everywhere from Taiyuan to the United States.
This is the dark side of the world's growing use of coal.
Cheap and abundant, coal has become the fuel of choice in much of the world, powering economic booms in China and India that have lifted millions of people out of poverty. Worldwide demand is projected to rise by about 60 percent through 2030 to 6.9 billion tons a year, most of it going to electrical power plants.
But the growth of coal-burning is also contributing to global warming, and is linked to environmental and health issues ranging from acid rain to asthma. Air pollution kills more than 2 million people prematurely, according to the World Health Organization.
ConocoPhillips oil spill case will make the state's waters safer
November 5, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A whistle-blower's courage and federal prosecutors in Alaska have given Washington state some extra protection against oil spills in local waters.
And their actions have resulted in something that didn't happen after a mysterious spill blackened Vashon Island beaches three years ago: criminal accountability for ConocoPhillips, the nation's third-largest oil company.
For the next three years, the company's five huge tankers will operate under the collective gaze of a court-appointed monitor, officials from the U.S. Probation Office, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Anchorage, an independent auditor and the Coast Guard.
Every aspect of ship operations is due to be scrutinized, recorded on paper and observed during shipboard visits, according to a 75-page plea agreement and attachments. The company must also install more safety devices on ships designed to prevent spills.
ConocoPhillips tankers regularly visit refineries in Washington and elsewhere carrying tens of millions of gallons of Alaskan crude oil.
Failure to comply with probation could result in felony prosecution, according to court documents, although compliance could shorten the probation period by a year.
Activists comfort dying dolphins
November 3, 2007 (Japan Times) Opponents of Japan's annual dolphin slaughter have taken their campaign to a new level of confrontation by paddling into the bloody waters off a western killing cove to comfort animals moments before their deaths.
Dave Rastovich, a champion pro surfer from Australia, on Monday led a group of fellow antiwhaling activists into the waters off Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, where 30 or so captured pilot whales - adults and calves - were being held in a netted enclosure for butchering, according to Richard O'Barry, of the United States, who helped coordinate the event. Pilot whales are a variety of dolphin.
Local fishermen shouted threats and brandished propeller blades and a long wooden pole to chase the activists away, said Barry, 68, who once captured and trained the dolphins used in the 1960s hit U.S. television series "Flipper" about a family and their outdoor adventures with a dolphin, before becoming a celebrity dolphin-rights activist.
"The reason we surfers were there was to share the water, stained red with blood, at eye level, with our ocean kin awaiting their execution," Rastovich said.
Washington refineries now putting oil booms around tankers
November 1, 2007 (Columbian) The Shell and Tesoro refineries at Anacortes have hired contractors to comply with new oil boom requirements.
They are putting booms around tankers before oil is transferred.
The Ecology Department put the requirement in place Friday to help prevent spills at 18 facilities in state waters were large volumes of oil are moved.
Fish to survive dam plan, agency says
November 1, 2007 (Seattle Times) The agency in charge of restoring Northwest salmon concluded Wednesday that the latest court-ordered plan for running federal dams in the Columbia and Snake River basins is not likely to jeopardize the survival of threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.
After Indian tribes and Northwest states have been consulted and a final review is produced, it will go to U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland.
He tossed out the last plan, saying it violated the Endangered Species Act. He warned he wants something that will help the fish thrive, not just survive.
Lohn noted that the biological opinion did not consider a proposal long favored by some tribes and conservation groups, breaching four dams on the lower Snake River in Washington, because only Congress can do that.