Orca Network News - November, 2009
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
November 1, 2009 through November 30, 2009.
November 27, 2009 (UK Telegraph)
Several populations of skilled orcas around the world have learned how to overcome sharks using a combination of superior brain power and brute force.
The Great White and Mako are just two of at least nine species of shark known to be eaten by some orca families.
Populations of orcas in territories across the globe - including New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Farallon Islands off America's west coast - have devised a number of strategies for tackling sharks.
But to make sure they don't end up seriously injured when attacking such dangerous prey, the orcas spend years perfecting the various techniques and watching more experienced adults demonstrate how to do it properly.
"The most impressive strategy is the 'karate chop'," said expert Dr Ingrid Visser, 43, who has studied orca behaviour for 17 years.
A whale of a fright
November 26, 2009 (Stuff New Zealand)
Two snorkellers who scrambled from Army Bay as an orca zeroed in on them were unlikely to be in danger.
That’s the view of orca researcher Dr Ingrid Visser.
While it may have been frightening, she says the orca were probably after stingray to eat.
“There have been no reports internationally of orcas attacking and killing people,” she says.
The snorkellers clambered on to rocks and the orca then rolled on its side and circled around before drifting off.
Orca are also known as killer whales – literally killer-of-whales – and are a species of large dolphin, Dr Visser says.
“They have a culture as do we, which revolves around social structure and food. For us it’s differences in preparing – for them it’s how they catch it. Like us they learn from their peers and family members. Their culture is different around the world. The orca in Argentina feed on seals, here in New Zealand they feed on stingray.”
Fewer than 200 orca are around our coastline. While they may stay for a few days they will also often travel 100km to 150km a day.
Whales save seal from orcas
November 24, 2009 (UK Guardian)
But here's a sight to gladden the eye. Earlier this year, Californian scientists Robert L Pitman and John W Durban sailed to the Antarctic in search of killer whales. They were looking for a possible new species, known to hunt Weddell seals — one of the plumpest of the pinnipeds (the suborder that includes seals and sea lions) — by washing them off ice floes with their wake.
As the killer whales moved in, the plucky pinniped leapt on to the vast ribbed belly of a humpback, and nestled in the animal's armpit. Not only that, but when a wave threatened to return the seal to danger, the humpback used its massive flipper (at five metres, the longest in the animal kingdom) to nudge it back on.
Working plan looks closer for Northwest salmon protection
November 24, 2009 (Oregon Live)
In court Monday, however, Redden had kind words for the third version of that plan, called a biological opinion, or Biop.
"This I think is the most significant hearing we’ve had so far, and I really think that with a little more work, we’ve got a Biop,” Redden said.
What Redden thinks is important because his ruling will govern everything from ratepayer electricity bills to river shipping.
If Redden signs off on the plan, all parties – Oregon, Washington, Northwest tribes, the Bonneville Power Administration to name just a few – will finally be out of court.
But this fall the federal government tacked on a series of habitat improvement and other measures it called an “insurance plan” for fish.
It tripped Redden up on Monday. In adding those changes, made without the same level of public disclosure as their other salmon-saving measures, the U.S. government could throw open to the door to yet more legal challenges. (Live coverage from Monday's hearing is here.)
Deep-sea census finds 17,650 creatures living in 'eternal watery darkness'
November 23, 2009 (Oregon Live)
Census of Marine Life scientists have inventoried an thousands of deep sea species that have never known sunlight -- creatures that somehow manage a living in a frigid black world down to 3 miles below the ocean waves.
Revealed via deep-towed cameras, sonar and other technologies, animals known to thrive in what census scientists call "an eternal watery darkness" now number 17,650, a diverse collection of species ranging from crabs to shrimp to worms.
Most have adapted to diets based on meager droppings from the sunlit layer above, others to diets of bacteria that break down oil, sulfur and methane, the sunken bones of dead whales and other implausible foods.
Federal judge pushes for answers on salmon recovery
November 22, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The federal judge getting ready to decide whether the government is doing enough to save Columbia River salmon will have a question for its lawyers Monday: If you have plans in your hip pocket in case the fish numbers crash, why not put those plans to work now?
For good measure, Judge James Redden underlined the word "now" in a memo he sent to the lawyers last week.
Redden's hearing Monday is likely to be the last before he rules for a third time on government plans to manage Columbia River dams to save fish species protected by the Endangered Species Act but in precarious shape for decades. Twice before, in litigation stretching back to the 20th century, he's turned thumbs down.
The biggest source of tension could be the question of breaching of four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state.
Bowing to Redden, the Obama administration's plan acknowledges the idea as a last resort. It's one that would set off an uproar among dam-dependent interests such as irrigating farmers and probably require Congress to act.
Fight is on between pro-fish camp, mine defenders
November 17, 2009 (AP)
The fight is on between backers of an Alaska mine being developed near the world's most productive wild salmon streams and 13 Seattle restaurants.
This week, the establishments are featuring wild Alaska salmon on their menus, dished up with warnings about the future of Bristol Bay salmon if the copper, gold and molybdenum mine is permitted and built in southwest Alaska.
One of the Pebble Mine's most prominent supporters over the weekend called for a boycott of the restaurants taking part in Trout Unlimited's Savor Bristol Bay campaign.
Gail Phillips, the president of Truth about Pebble, a group of mine supporters, sent out her appeal for a boycott via e-mail to her "family and friends" — including the chefs — following an Associated Press story featuring chef Kevin Davis at the Steelhead Diner and chef Seth Caswell at Emmer & Rye. The chefs are among those participating in the Trout Unlimited campaign.
The e-mail from Phillips, also a former Alaska state legislator, prompted food blogger Ronald Holden — Seattle's Global Gourmet — to ask a question Monday.
"Seriously, Ms. Phillips, are you nuts?" Holden asked on two blogs, including his own.
"Every single visitor and every single local knows Seattle is famous for salmon," Holden responded to Phillips. "Like it or leave it, salmon is at the heart of Seattle's restaurant economy."
Birds, boats threatened by the Pacific's Great Garbage Patch
November 16, 2009 (USA Today)
The area in question is a massive soup perpetually stirred by ocean currents that prevent its captive trash from escaping. It's huge: roughly twice the size of Texas. Some trash comes off cargo ships and oil platforms; most floats out to sea off Pacific Rim beaches.
Multiple trips made by Moore's Long Beach, Calif.-based Algalita Marine Research Foundation to the area reveal a growing and alarming ratio of plastic to life-sustaining plankton.
Increasingly, confused seabirds eat floating plastic that has been broken down to pellet size by the sun's UV rays. Many of those birds roost at Midway Island, northwest of Hawaii. The place is literally a dump, says Wayne Sentman, a field biologist with the San Francisco-based Oceanic Society who did island-based studies of the problem.
"Between birds dying due to plastic or regurgitating it to their chicks, some five tons of the stuff are deposited on Midway each year," says Sentman, who routinely found dead birds whose stomachs were filled with bulbs, flashlights, small toys and syringes – complete with needles.
Jellyfish swarm northward in warming world
November 15, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Scientists believe climate change - the warming of oceans - has allowed some of the almost 2,000 jellyfish species to expand their ranges, appear earlier in the year and increase overall numbers, much as warming has helped ticks, bark beetles and other pests to spread to new latitudes.
The gelatinous seaborne creatures are blamed for decimating fishing industries in the Bering and Black seas, forcing the shutdown of seaside power and desalination plants in Japan, the Middle East and Africa, and terrorizing beachgoers worldwide, the U.S. National Science Foundation says.
A 2008 foundation study cited research estimating that people are stung 500,000 times every year - sometimes multiple times - in Chesapeake Bay on the U.S. East Coast, and 20 to 40 die each year in the Philippines from jellyfish stings.
With New Baby in Tow, J Pod Moves South
November 13, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
The new baby has been given the designation J-46, the next available number in sequence, said Susan Berta of Orca Network. The calf has been seen swimming close to J-28, a 16-year-old orca named Polaris who is presumed to be the mom.
This birth brings the population of J Pod to 27 and the total for all three pods to 87. The Southern Resident population was declared an “endangered” species in 2005, after the population had dropped to a recent low of 79 animals in 2001.
J Pod has been out of the area for days but appeared with K Pod off San Juan Island on Wednesday afternoon and later in Canadian waters near Victoria, Berta said. Late Thursday morning, the two pods were spotted off Whidbey Island. And by Thursday afternoon, they had moved to Possession Sound, south of Whidbey and west of Hansville, where biologist Fred Felleman observed them for three hours from his boat.
“It was a spectacular encounter,” Felleman said. “They were spread out on both sides of the (Possession) Bank, running north and south.”
He described one young male orca hunting salmon by swimming in a circular manner; he noted several others literally “surfing” on the wake of a container ship; and he spotted the new baby just as the sun was dropping below the horizon.
Recently born killer-whale calf appears off Victoria waterfront
November 13, 2009 (Vancouver Sun)
A brand-new killer-whale calf made its first public appearance off the Victoria waterfront on Remembrance Day.
The birth is the fifth this year for the three endangered resident killer-whale pods and brings the total number of animals in the pods to 87.
"It's a baby boom," said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a group that runs a whale-sighting network.
With gestation taking 17 months from the spring and summer mating season, calves are often born in the fall and winter, he said.
Last year there were seven deaths in the summer-resident pods, sparking concerns about their survival, especially since some of the whales showed signs of malnutrition before they disappeared.
Coincidentally, the two whale researchers who tracked and photographed the new calf -- Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Centre for Whale Research in Friday Harbor and Mark Malleson of Victoria -- were both celebrating their birthdays Nov. 11.
There couldn't be a better birthday present, they agreed.
"This is wonderful. I hope they are finding plenty of food this year. It's the key to their survival," Balcomb said.
Newborn killer whale buoys hopes
November 13, 2009 (CBC)
A second newborn killer whale has been spotted in the waters off Washington state's San Juan Islands and near Victoria.
The calf, given the scientific designation J-46, is the newest member of what marine scientists call J-Pod, part of a larger group of endangered killer whales called the southern residents.
The presumed mother is a 16-year-old known as J-28, or Polaris, according to the Orca Network, a non-profit whale monitoring organization.
This was the second killer whale birth in the area in recent weeks, after a new calf was spotted in another pod last month and brings the southern resident population to 87, said Susan Berta, co-founder of the network.
The southern residents' numbers have been dwindling for decades, possibly because of ocean pollution and conflicts with the fishing industry, according to marine scientists at the University of British Columbia.
In the calf's favour, however, is the southern residents' diet of chinook salmon. An unusually high volume of chinook returned to the area in the summer, Berta said.
This might mean the mother will be able to bulk up and nurse the calf. Young orcas nurse for up to two years but can start including meat in their diets after their first year.
The first test for the calf will be to survive the winter.
How Many Fish Do The Orcas Need?
November 12, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Candace Whiting)
The single most important thing that needs to be done in order to ensure that the orca families of J, K, and L pods continue to thrive in our inland waterways is to provide them with adequate food. And for these whales, that means salmon, and lots of it. Whale biologists have been sounding this alarm for years:
Estimates vary, and there are some variations in culture between our southern resident orcas and their cousins to the north, but decades of research shows that both populations prefer Chinook salmon, followed by Chum and Coho. Sockeye and Pink salmon are not often consumed even when present in large numbers. This preference is so strong that it may drive the whales to follow the preferred salmon to a new location, or the orcas may actually starve if sufficient fish can't be found, and/or new hunting strategies in a new location can't be learned in time.
November 12, 2009 (KUOW)
Chinook salmon may be the beneficiaries of the federal economic stimulus program. Work is now underway on a three year, $7 million restoration project in the Skagit River Delta. It's aimed at improving salmon habitat and flood protection for neighboring farms.
The project is being managed by the Nature Conservancy. The group is trying to restore an area in the Skagit River Delta called Fisher Slough. The area was historically a wetland, prone to flooding, at the mouth of the Skagit River. But over the years, a system of dikes and tide gates have turned it into productive farmland as well.
The Nature Conservancy has purchased 60 acres of farmland in and around Fisher Slough. They plan to move back a levee, so the area can be flooded and restored to fresh water tidal marsh.
Feds approve 'Salish Sea' name idea
November 12, 2009 (Bellingham Herald)
Using the name "Salish Sea" when referring to the interconnected waters of Puget Sound, the Strait of Georgia and the Strait of Juan de Fuca now has official U.S. approval.
The federal Board on Geographic Names approved the idea Thursday, Nov. 12. The vote means Salish Sea can be now added to U.S. maps and other materials.
Washington's Board of Geographic Names approved the idea at the state level Oct. 30.
Recent Killer Whale Birth Boosts Salish Sea Pod's Population
November 12, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
A newborn killer whale calf has been reported in J Pod, one of the three pods that frequent the Salish Sea, which includes Puget Sound.
The new baby has been given the designation J-46, the next available number in sequence, said Susan Berta of Orca Network. The calf has been seen with J-28, a 16-year-old orca named Polaris who is presumed to be the mom.
J Pod has been out of the area for days but appeared off San Juan Island this afternoon, Berta said. The pod headed south but made a turn somewhere. At dusk, J and K pods were sighted in Canadian waters near Victoria.
This birth brings the population of J Pod to 27 and the total for all three pods to 87.
NOAA chief Lubchenco to attend salmon hearing
November 11, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will be attending what is likely to be the last court hearing before a ruling on how to run hydroelectric dams in the Columbia Basin without driving wild salmon to extinction.
NOAA Fisheries Service spokesman Brian Gorman said Tuesday that U.S. District Judge James Redden agreed to move the hearing to Nov. 23 in Portland, Ore., to accommodate her.
Gorman says this is the first time a head of NOAA has attended a hearing in the long-running case. She is to be an observer, and will not be called as a witness.
Salmon advocates still don't think the changes Lubchenco announced to the Bush administration's plan - increased monitoring and research, climate considerations, new triggers for taking stronger conservation measures, and a fallback position that considers breaching some dams on the Snake River in Washington - are anything to cheer about, but welcomed her interest.
Human-Generated Sound and Marine Mammals
November 10, 2009 (Ocean Leadership)
Despite reason for concern, decades passed with little work on how shipping noise affects whale communication. One problem was methodological. How could one study whether shipping noise was the reason that a whale did not detect a call emanating from 200 km away? It has taken marine biologists decades to develop methods to study effects of sounds from sources only a few kilometers away.
We still do not know how often shipping noise prevents a whale from detecting important signals. Recent work, however, has shown that marine mammals can compensate for noise, at least to a point, by increasing the level of their own calls, shifting their signals out of the noise band, making their signals longer or more redundant, or waiting to signal until noise is reduced. Many of those compensation mechanisms involve increased energy expenditure or other costs to the signaler. For the signaler to modify its behavior and accept that cost suggests a problem with the reduced range of communication caused by shipping noise.
As oceans fall ill, Washington squabbles
November 8, 2009 (St. Louis Today)
ff the coast of Washington state, mysterious algae mixed with sea foam have killed more than 8,000 seabirds, puzzling scientists. A thousand miles off California, researchers have discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling vortex roughly twice the size of Texas filled with tiny bits of plastic and other debris.
Every summer a dead zone of oxygen-depleted water the size of Massachusetts forms in the Gulf of Mexico; others have been found off Oregon and in the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie, and the Baltic and Black seas. Some studies indicate that North Pole seawater could turn caustic in 10 years, and that the Southern Ocean already may be saturated with carbon dioxide.
As the grim news mounts, a storm is brewing in Washington, D.C., over who should oversee oceans policies. A White House task force has recommended creating a National Ocean Council that would develop and implement national ocean policy and include the secretaries of state, defense, agriculture, interior, health and human services, labor, commerce, transportation and homeland security.
However, NOAA, the nation's primary ocean agency, which includes the National Ocean Service, the nation's premier science agency for oceans and coasts; the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages living marine resources; the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, which studies climate, weather and air quality; and the National Weather Service -- is missing from the task force's list.
New antenas help biologists study salmon
November 6, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Biologists studying salmon in the Pacific Northwest have for decades lost track of the fish just as they set out on life's last leg, that final upstream lunge to spawn and die in the remote, backcountry streams and creeks in Oregon, Washington and central Idaho.
In many ways, an inability to track the fish has taught them even less about the first year of life, forcing researchers to make assumptions about salmon behavior and the influence habitat restoration and other expensive recovery programs are having on the threatened and endangered species.
That is changing, as crews have installed giant antennas in nearly two dozen rivers and streams across the region to track fish - at least those implanted with a microchip the size of a rice kernal - when they swim by. Researchers hope to learn more, much more, about the species they are desperately trying to preserve.
The biggest of these antennas, or arrays, was anchored recently in the rock and cobble of the South Fork of the Salmon River in a rugged corner of Idaho wilderness. Built of six, 20-foot-long sections, the array looks like a submerged sidewalk to the opposite bank.
Sea lion numbers fall, but appetites rise at Bonneville Dam, researchers say
November 6, 2009 (Oregonian)
Sea lions ate more salmon at Bonneville Dam in 2009 than in prior years despite a controversial program to capture and kill some of the hungry mammals, federal fish biologists say.
Biologists with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimate that California sea lions ate 4,014 salmon at the dam in 2009, down from 4,294 in 2008. But Steller sea lions -- a second type at the dam -- ate 475, up from 176 in 2008, increasing the overall total to the highest since tracking began in 2002.
That represents about 2.5 percent of this year's spring run. The figure doesn't include consumption in the Columbia River before the salmon reach Bonneville, the first dam in the their run to spawning grounds.
Researchers for the corps and Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife still think the killing and relocation of California sea lions in 2008 and 2009 helped reduce consumption of salmon, including wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. The effect should grow next year, they said.
But the researchers identified some troubling trends: Numbers of federally protected Steller sea lions, which can't be killed, rose this year at the dam. And those left each ate more salmon on average than in years past.
Canada to Investigate Disappearing Pacific Salmon
November 5, 2009 (ABC News)
Canada will launch an investigation into why far fewer sockeye salmon than scientists had predicted returned to the Fraser River on the Pacific Coast this summer.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the judicial inquiry on Thursday, saying the federal government was concerned about the declining sockeye population.
Federal government scientists had predicted that as many as 13 million sockeye salmon would return to the river this year to breed, but it is now estimated that only about 1.4 million fish actually returned.
The collapse gutted the commercial Fraser sockeye fishing season, and prompted the government of the West Coast province of British Columbia and federal opposition parties to ask Ottawa to investigate whether federal officials have mismanaged salmon stocks.
Deadly foam off NW coast subsides, but more than 10,000 seabirds die
November 5, 2009 (Oregonian)
The deadly foam that clobbered seabirds in the Pacific Northwest has subsided and several hundred birds rescued from the slime are being released. But the death toll worries conservationists.
More than 10,000 scoters, or seaducks, were killed by the first onslaught of algal foam that hit the Olympic Peninsula in mid-September, said Julia Parrish, marine biologist and seabird specialist at the University of Washington.
That toll -- mostly surf scoters and white-winged scoters -- amounts to 5 percent to 7 percent of their overall numbers on the West Coast, she said.
"The washing process is very stressful for them," he said. "Many of these birds haven't seen a human being before so it has to be thorough and quick."
Once clean, the birds are put in plastic cages with netting on the bottom, giving them a soft surface not unlike the ocean. Built to live at sea their whole lives, they develop sores and other injuries when forced to stand on hard surfaces.
November 3, 2009 (Sierra Club magazine)
Three pods of orcas known as the "Southern Residents" have feasted on salmon in Puget Sound for thousands of years. Now they're vanishing.
Ken Balcomb's living room feels like a natural history museum. Two life-size fiberglass porpoises, cast from the frozen remains of animals that Balcomb found dead in the field, hang by ropes beside the fireplace. Mounted above a doorway is the baleen plate from a bowhead whale, its plankton-filtering hairs brushing the wall. On the coffee table, crowding a pile of books, rests the giant, toothy skull of a 26-foot killer whale, nearly as big as the table itself. There's a small television by the piano, but for years the most exciting shows around here have unfolded on the other side of Balcomb's bay windows, in the frigid waters of Washington's Salish Sea.
"When the salmon are running, the killer whales come right up against the shore," Balcomb says, pointing to an exposed chunk of reef a few feet offshore. The 69-year-old scratches his white beard and continues in a quiet, patient drawl. "That's why I picked this house."
The skull sitting on Balcomb's coffee table illustrates one of the reasons why. "See how thick the jaws are and the size of the teeth?" he says, pointing to dentition that looks like miniature artillery shells. "This was a seal-eater from Japan. The Residents aren't built like that. They're built for fish."
That's become a problem. Much of the Southern Residents' diet consists of chinook, the world's largest salmon, which can top 100 pounds. But nine chinook runs in the western United States are either endangered or threatened. In predevelopment times, up to 30 million salmon crowded the Columbia River basin each year. Between 1938 (when the Bonneville Dam began producing electricity) and 2000, annual runs peaked at 3.2 million. But estimates for 2008 total only 1.5 million fish.
In eastern Washington, big plans for solar power
November 3, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The Teanaway Solar Reserve, proposed by Kirkland, Wash., businessman Howard Trott, is seeking approval from the county to install 400,000 photovoltaic panels in a large array that will convert sunlight into enough power for 45,000 households.
Because of the housing slowdown, everyone's eager for an estimated 225 construction jobs over a three-year period. The city of Cle Elum and Kittitas County are likewise eyeing close to $2 million a year in new property tax revenue. And businesses suffering in the recession are hoping to win contracts to make parts.
Some residents worry the panels will disrupt elk migration while others worry their views will be obstructed, although the solar modules will sit amid vegetation below the ridge lines. Some trees will have to be cut, but for each one felled, three will be planted.
But by far the biggest question about the $300 million-plus project - which would be one of the largest in the world - is this: Will it ever get built? After all, the promise of solar energy has always exceeded the reality.
For 22 years, Trott was the investment manager for telecom giant Craig McCaw of Seattle, a pioneer in the wireless industry.
"That was something people didn't think would last either," Trott said in an interview last week after giving a presentation on the project to members of the Cle Elum City Council.
For Trott to make a planned construction start date of April next year he's going to need commitments from buyers - namely big utility companies.
How taking out dams splits environmental groups
November 3, 2009 (Crosscut)
The mighty are falling. Right now, they're toppling one after another — those dams and dikes that have altered the natural flow of Northwestern waters for the past century.
Consider: On October 9, the 500-foot-long earthen Savage Rapids Dam, which had blocked the lower Rogue River since 1921 bit the dust. A week before, contractors breached the last of the dikes that had kept Puget Sound tides from most of the Nisqually River estuary since the turn of the 20th century.
Next year, PacifiCorp will take down its 125-foot concrete Condit Dam, which has blocked southwest Washington's White Salmon River just north of the Columbia Gorge since 1913. The Elwha dams, which have kept salmon from the watershed that forms 20 percent of Olympic Natonal Park since long before the park was created, will start coming down in 2011. And 25 government agencies, state governments, tribes, and interest groups have agreed with PacifiCorp on a process that may lead to removal of four dams that have blocked the Klamath River for most of the past century.
Need more? Some environmental groups also hope that the Klamath agreement points the way toward a decision to breach the lower Snake River dams.
For more information and directions to the farm, contact Kathy Jacobson at 360-464-6722 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Project will work to restore salmon habitat, stop floods
November 2, 2009 (Olympian)
A community project to restore more than 2,500 feet of riparian salmon habitat and help protect the Boistfort Valley Farm from future flooding is set for Thursday through Saturday.
With the help of local students, the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, the Chehalis River Council and volunteers, 1,500 native trees and shrubs will be planted along the south fork of the Chehalis River at the Curtis-area organic farm.
People are invited to participate in the habitat-restoration project from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult, and volunteers are encouraged to bring shovels, water bottles and a sack lunch.
For more information and directions to the farm, contact Kathy Jacobson at 360-464-6722 or email@example.com