Orca Network News - November, 2010
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
November 1, 2010 through November 30, 2010.
November 30, 2010 (Publicola)
After a so-so showing last year, environmental advocates have identified their agenda items for the 2011 legislative session in Olympia. They are: Phasing the TransAlta coal-fired plant off coal; cleaning up stormwater runoff around the state; restricting the use of phosphorous-based fertilizer; and protecting basic environmental programs in this year’s shaky budget.
Two of these are repeats from last year’s official agenda: 1) cleaning up stormwater runoff and 2) protecting green programs. They lost on the first item—a proposed hazardous substance tax on oil companies that would have funded stormwater cleanup failed last year.
Hatchery fish may be eating up food supply for wild salmon
November 26, 2010 (Tacoma News Tribune)
With the number of salmon in the North Pacific having doubled in the past 50 years, scientists are increasingly concerned there may not be enough food to support them, and changing ocean conditions could make it even worse.
On the surface, the mounting scientific evidence would seem to contradict conventional wisdom that salmon are a disappearing species. But as with everything salmon, it's more complicated.
While more than $13 billion has been spent since 1978 to try to restore endangered wild salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, salmon hatcheries in the U.S., Russia, Japan and Canada have expanded rapidly.
In 1970, 500 million hatchery-raised salmon were released. In 2008, more than 5 billion hatchery fish headed out to sea. As with wild salmon, only a small percentage of the hatchery fish actually survive to spawn.
That may not be true. With nearly 650 million adult Pacific salmon swimming in the ocean at any given time, the competition for food is increasing, and the already shrinking wild stocks could be crowded out.
"It could lead to a reduction in wild stocks," said Randall Peterman, a professor in the School of Resource and Environment Management at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia.
Studies over the past several years suggest competition for food is affecting salmon runs up and down the West Coast, from Puget Sound chinook to Bristol Bay, Alaska, sockeye. In some instances, the fish are smaller when they return, making them more susceptible to predators. In others, runs are actually declining.
Scientists worry salmon may run out of food
November 26, 2010 (Seattle Times)
With the number of salmon in the North Pacific having doubled in the past 50 years, scientists increasingly are concerned there may not be enough food to support them, and changing ocean conditions could make it worse.
While more than $13 billion has been spent since 1978 to try to restore wild-salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest, salmon hatcheries in the United States, Russia, Japan and Canada have expanded rapidly.
In 1970, 500 million hatchery-raised salmon were released. In 2008, more than 5 billion hatchery fish headed out to sea. As with wild salmon, a small percentage of hatchery fish actually survive to spawn.
Once in the ocean, the hatchery fish compete for the same food as wild salmon. While the North Pacific and the Bering Sea may be vast, salmon often congregate in the same feeding grounds.
Since the mid-1970s, the waters of the North Pacific have been slightly warmer, creating an upwelling that brings zooplankton, krill and other salmon food favorites to the surface. But a 20- to 30-year weather cycle known as the Pacific decadal oscillation could reverse itself soon, and colder water means less food for salmon.
Despite years of study, salmon remain pretty much a mystery fish. While much is known about the time they spend in fresh water and their journeys down rivers and streams to the sea, once they enter saltwater they pretty much disappear for up to three years, only to return to fresh water to spawn.
False Killer Whale Is Endangered, Says Agency
November 22, 2010 (Courthouse News)
The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that the 143 false killer whales living around the Hawaiian islands are endangered by the long-line fishery there, and should be protected. The Hawaiian population numbered nearly 1,000 twenty years ago.
The mammals, actually dolphins, often are hooked incidentally or caught up in fishing lines, according to the agency's proposal to add the insular population to the list of endangered and threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. The name false killer whale comes from the fact that like the more widely known Orca, the dolphins eat other marine mammals. When left alone, they may live 60 years and grow up to 15 feet in length.
The agency's proposal is in response to a petition by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The species has been protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act since 1972, and earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration created a Take Reduction Team tasked with developing new procedures to protect the false killer whale from incidental by-catch.
The agency requests information regarding critical habitat and other information that may inform the development of the formal listing rule.
U.S. Navy Told To Avoid Whales During West Coast Exercises
November 9, 2010 (OPB News)
The Navy plans to expand its training activities in the open ocean off the Northwest Coast.
Beforehand, it consulted the National Marine Fisheries Service. These new rules are the result.
During exercises, the Navy now must use spotters to keep an eye out for whales, porpoises, and seals. If marine mammals are seen or heard, the Navy is to shut down sonar operations and not set off explosives.
Orca Network director Howard Garrett grants the Navy is trying to do right, but he worries the spotters will still miss things.
Howard Garrett: "Especially the mammal eating orcas out there are very stealthy. Their prey of course are also very silent and can run for long distances underwater very silently. So they're not likely to be very easily detected."
The federal fisheries service concedes some whales might be disturbed by sonar noise. But it's convinced any impact will be minimal, temporary and have no lasting ill effects.
NOAA Sets Conditions for Northwest Navy Sonar Use
November 9, 2010 (Kitsap Sun)
NOAA's Fisheries is requiring the U.S. Navy to minimize impact to marine mammals when using sonar and explosives during training exercises off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and northern California.
The federal agency said Tuesday the Navy must establish a safety zone round vessels using sonar, use spotters to shut down sonar operations if marine mammals are seen in safety zones and not detonate explosives when animals are detected within a certain distance.
The Navy requested authorization from NOAA because noise from mid-frequency sonar and explosives may affect the behavior of some marine mammals or cause temporary hearing loss.
California group seeks protections for gray whale
November 6, 2010 (San Jose Mercury News)
Sixteen years after the gray whale was taken off the endangered species list, the California Gray Whale Coalition says their numbers are dwindling again and is leading a campaign to protect the marine mammals further declines.
As a first step toward the goal of having the gray whale listed as endangered once again, the Coalition has petitioned the U.S. National Marine & Fisheries Service to list the Eastern North Pacific gray whale population -- also known as the California gray whale -- as depleted, a designation which would then prompt the agency to develop a conservation plan.
While observers of the gray whale population are in agreement that the number of calves has significantly dropped in the last three years -- averaging 423 per year from 2007-2009 and 1,164 per year between 2004-2006 according to NOAA -- there is disagreement as to why.
The gray whale population data due out next year from NOAA should help clarify the matter.
SeaWorld installs new net device
November 1, 2010 (Everett Herald)
SeaWorld Orlando on Monday installed a new device in one of its killer-whale pools designed to allow trainers to more quickly deploy safety nets in case of an emergency with an orca.
The "net box" is the latest measure to emerge from an internal investigation that SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment has been conducting since the February death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was battered and drowned by a six-ton killer whale named Tilikum.
Trainers at the company's marine parks in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio have been barred from swimming with killer whales since the tragedy. SeaWorld has said it will not allow trainers back into the water unless it can make sufficient safety improvements.
SeaWorld has already installed removable guardrails around killer-whale pools in Orlando. And the company has said it is studying tiny air supplies that could be embedded in trainers' wetsuits, though some former company trainers have said such reserve oxygen would do little to improve safety.