Orca Network News - October, 2002
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
October 1, 2002 through October 31, 2002.
Judge Blocks Navy Sonar Plan
October 31, 2002 (ABC News) Judge Temporarily Blocks Navy Sonar Plan Amid Concerns That System Could Harm Sea-Life
She ordered both sides back to court Nov. 7 to begin work on a plan that would balance environmental and military concerns.
The case stems from a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations that sought to stop the Navy from training in most of the world's waters with a powerful sonar system the groups maintain can harm marine mammals.
"The possibility that the stranding in the Bahamas, and other strandings, could foretell similar injuries ... is very troubling," the judge wrote.
Spread of Active Sonar Threatens Whales Natural Resources Defense Council
Navy's use of sonar halted, to spare whales November 1, 2002 (Seattle Times)
Farm-fish boycott targets 3 U.S. states
October 30, 2002 (Vancouver Sun) The B.C. Salmon Farmers Association expressed alarm Tuesday about an international boycott campaign against its product, saying it could threaten jobs and damage a $270-million market it has taken three decades to cultivate.
The campaign by an environmental coalition targets consumers, restaurants and retailers in Washington, Oregon and California -- the three states accounting for most of the 160,000 tonnes of farmed salmon that B.C. annually exports.
The industry has been under siege from environmental groups since its inception in 1971, with concerns voiced about escapes of Atlantic salmon, pollution of the seabed under farms, and disposal of diseased fish.
The alliance encompasses groups including the David Suzuki Foundation, B.C. Aboriginal Fisheries Commission, the fishermen's union-linked T. Buck Suzuki Foundation and the Living Oceans Society.
Judge Halts Baja Research After Two Whale Deaths Note: airguns are used extensively in undersea research, possibly also in the Salish Sea.
October 29, 2002 (Environmental News Service) A federal district court judge ordered the National Science Foundation to stop using high decibel airguns in the Gulf of California yesterday, citing concern over possible harm to whales that environmentalists believe the research project has caused.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) had been using the airguns to fire high energy acoustic bursts at the sea floor to help map a fault in the earth's crust.
It is these high energy acoustic bursts that The Center for Biological Diversity believes is the likely cause of the death of two beaked whales, which were found stranded on September 25 at Isla San Jose in the Gulf of California which separates Mexico's Baja Peninsula from mainland Mexico.
Salmon are our neighbors, Bellevue 'watchers' discover
October 29, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The water isn't exactly unspoiled here at the Mercer Slough fish ladder, a few yards from where a construction company has the ground all torn up and Interstate 405 has drivers all in a rush.
Missy Lacy and Tiffany Hoyopatubbi are among those keeping an eye out for fish these days. The two Bellevue Community College students are taking part in the city's Salmon Watchers program, in which volunteers count and note the kinds of salmon coming through. They, along with eight other BCC students, are among the 36 volunteers watching 53 sites in the city.
"Just to think about the journey the salmon take, right through the heart of the city," Lacy said of her time watching over the ladder twice a week and more. "You don't have to go out into the wild to see them. . . . They are our neighbors."
For her course requirement, Hoyopatubbi said, she might write about how one person watching a little patch of water can make a difference by becoming a steward of that waterway by making sure there are no obstructions or pollution.
The work is a reward in itself. "Once you start volunteering, you can't stop. You get addicted to it."
For more information about the science projects at Bellevue Community College, check out the science club's Web site.
After 13 years, Valdez's oil damage lingers
October 29, 2002 (Christian Science Monitor) "When you look out over the water, everything seems fine. But you can't judge the health of the environment on that," says Sanger. "The impacts of the spill are hidden beneath the surface."
A newly released assessment of marine life in Prince William Sound concurs with that view, highlighting a number of creatures that have yet to recover from the accident.
"People who spent a lot of time in Prince William before the spill will tell you it has become the 'Sound of silence,'" Mr. Steiner says. "There used to be a profusion of seabirds filling the sky with their calls but their absence is, I believe, symptomatic of something more far- reaching. The oil spill left the system in a condition of chaos."
The council's latest report identifies several species as not yet having recovered. Among the wildlife on the list: loons, three species of cormorants, harlequin ducks, harbor seals, a pod of killer whales (orcas), and herring, a food staple for more than 20 species.
Whales show high PCB levels
October 28, 2002 (Monterey Herald) The blubber of Monterey Bay killer whales hides high concentrations of a toxic chemical which may devastate the development of young whale calves, said researchers whose work will soon be featured in a National Geographic television special.
The accumulation of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in the fatty tissue of killer whales has been well documented in whales whose habitats range from the Pacific Northwest to the Alaskan coast. Fish eat plankton that are contaminated by PCBs, toxic chemicals used in a variety of industrial applications. These fish are eaten by other fish, who are eaten by marine mammals, who in turn are eaten by transient whales. At each step of the chain, chemical contaminants build up. The transient orca population of Monterey Bay showed some of the highest levels of PCBs recorded.
PCBs can fool cells into thinking they are naturally occurring hormones. Hormone levels usually fluctuate, sending signals that control behavioral and physiological functions. While hormones degrade quickly, PCBs can remain in the fatty tissue for years, overriding the normal hormonal system. This effect is especially toxic to pre-natal whales and young calves, which can develop reproductive or neurological abnormalities.
"We're talking about chronic effects," said Ross. "Little chemicals that subtly alter things that are going on, such that you might have a calf or an embryo exposed to these contaminants and suffering from permanent effects so that it can't manage in this world."
The best method to study the effects of contaminants on Monterey Bay whales is through long-term population studies. Black and her colleagues at Monterey Bay Whale Watch have identified the migratory whales through their distinctive black and white markings, and have followed their movements for 15 years.
State investigators go fishing for leads on mercury's menace
October 27, 2002 (Seattle Times) Many of Washington's fresh and salt waterways have yet to be tested, but some that have been checked show mercury at troubling concentrations.
Mercury can damage human brains, nervous systems, kidneys and lungs, particularly in children, perhaps even at low levels of exposure. A new study for the first time showed some U.S. residents who ate lots of fish - even from the grocery store - carried more of the poison than is considered safe.
Sources of mercury are as common as thermometers and fluorescent lights, diesel fuel and coal-plant emissions. It's found in tooth fillings and old car batteries. It's frequently disposed of in ways that allow it to get into the air or water. In Washington, a handful of industries legally pumped nearly two tons of mercury into the air in 2000, and fuel emissions - from jet fuel to diesel - may have contributed another 750 pounds.
The state Department of Ecology is considering a mammoth undertaking: phasing out the use of most mercury in Washington. But even as it moves to reduce mercury at its source, officials only now are checking to see how widespread the problem is.
Will the Coast Guard balk at funding an oil-spill-prevention tug at Neah Bay?
October 25, 2002 (Seattle Weekly) Everybody originally expected it to be a tugboat. Last spring, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., talked about getting federal money to keep a rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay, at the far northwestern tip of the state. It was a measure fervently sought by those who would suffer most should a drifting tanker pull an Exxon Valdez on Washington's wildest, most pristine shoreline. The $1.6 million appropriation Murray got passed (pending final budget approval) specifically mentions a rescue tug. But it leaves a loophole: It defers to the agency in the field, giving the Coast Guard discretion to spend the money as its captain of the Port of Seattle thinks best. And if the Coast Guard's past stance is a guide, what's "best" won't be a rescue tug.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound, is unimpressed by such declarations of neutrality. "Not only doesn't the Coast Guard want to spend money on the tug, it's even testified against the state spending money on the tug. Clearly their bias is against it."
Baby orca spotted in Sound
October 25, 2002 (Seattle Times) Break out the cigars. There's a new baby in Puget Sound's southern resident orca community.
After a week or two of rumors, the Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research spotted and photographed the newborn whale this week as it swam with its mother on the west side of San Juan Island.
Researchers won't know its sex without first getting a picture of its underside, but Ken Balcomb, co-principal researcher for the center, said he suspects it is a male. The whale is a few weeks old, judging by wrinkles in its skin from being bent over in the womb.
L-67 is among a handful of L-pod females who share the lone responsibility for carrying on their matriline, the extended family that reaches back to a lone female. L-67 has had one other calf, L-98, who was separated from the pod and is living alone off the west coast of Vancouver Island, where he has attracted the attention of an adoring public. Canadian and U.S. officials are deliberating over whether to try to reintroduce him to the pod by moving him closer.
Whale of a birth
October 23, 2002 (Bremerton Sun) A newborn killer whale has been identified in the San Juan Islands, boosting the population of the Puget Sound orcas by one this year.
So far, no deaths have been reported in 2002.
The baby, designated L-101, is believed to be the offspring of L-67, also known as Splash, said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor.
Splash also is the mother of L-98, or Luna, the 3-year-old orca apparently left behind and still living alone in a quiet bay along the west coast of Vancouver Island in Canada.
"I would judge from the behavior - and I'm probably wrong - that it is a male," Balcomb said. "He's an energetic little animal and very independent."
L-101 - perhaps just a month old and still showing a typical orange tint - already is "romping around with other whales and is being more adventurous," Balcomb said.
The newborn whale spotted Tuesday off San Juan Island was last seen heading north with his pod through Haro Strait, which separates San Juan Island from the south end of Vancouver Island.
Researchers worry that toxic chemicals could be affecting the whales' reproductive and immune systems.
Toxin cleanup to cost billions, Anderson says
October 23, 2002 (Vancouver Sun) It could cost Canadians as much as $6 billion to clean up dozens of contaminated sites such as Victoria Harbour, Environment Minister David Anderson said Tuesday.
Gelinas listed Victoria Harbour as one of the major contaminated areas requiring action.
Decades of industrial activity have created 17 contaminated sites around the harbour covering 270 hectares containing contaminants such as petroleum hydrocarbons and asbestos.
State closes Hood Canal to most fishing
October 22, 2002 (Bremerton Sun) Low-oxygen conditions forced the restriction, which might be the canal's first.
Taking emergency action Monday, state officials closed Hood Canal to fishing - except for salmon or crab - because of extremely low oxygen levels that are killing some marine organisms and driving fish to the surface.
The emergency closure, imposed at noon by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, covers recreational and commercial fishing for rockfish, surf perch, herring, smelt, flatfish, hake, other forage fish and all bottomfish.
"These fish are coping with some extreme conditions," said Morris Barker, marine resource manager for WDFW. "We need to give them some breathing room until these conditions ease up."
The closure has blocked small commercial fisheries for smelt, herring and dogfish.
"A good storm would really mix things up," Barker said. "There's not much we can do about the environmental conditions, but we do plan to keep the fishery closed until we see some sign of improvement in water quality that prompts the fish to redistribute themselves in a more normal pattern."
Power council plan calls for releasing less water for fish
October 22, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) The Northwest Power Planning Council is recommending that federal dams in the Columbia River Basin increase wintertime electricity generation and that reservoirs in Montana and Idaho release less water each spring to help carry young salmon to the sea.
The council rejected proposals by Oregon and Columbia River tribes to increase releases of water to benefit salmon. The council plan is not binding on the federal government but is important because it represents the consensus of Northwest states.
Board backs marine area shield policy
October 22, 2002 (Anchorage Daily News) The Alaska Board of Fisheries has voted unanimously in support of drafting a policy for marine protected areas. These are swaths of ocean often closed to human activities, including commercial fishing, dredging or oil production. The goal is to foster biodiveristy in some cases or to help particular species recover from overfishing, pollution or other threats.
In some of these marine reserves, all such activities may be restricted. Other areas may be recognized as a protected but have no management limitations. It's much like an underwater national park, monument or grassland, where rules and uses vary.
Tom Gemmell, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, noted that tens of thousands of square miles of the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea have been closed to commercial fishing, based on scientific research that underscored the need. Overall, he's not opposed to the idea of marine protected areas, as long as the research proves there's a need.
Tacoma dredging begins
October 21, 2002 (Seattle Times) Workers have embarked on a $56 million operation to dredge sediment and toxins from the bottom of the Hylebos Waterway.
Dredging began last week, nearly two decades after the federal government declared the channel off Commencement Bay part of Tacoma's Superfund site.
Mud at the bottom of the waterway was found to include dangerous chemicals, including benzene compounds used in pesticides, PCBs and arsenic.
Early investigations of the Hylebos found bottom fish infected with cancerous lesions.
The Great Salmon Debate
October 20, 2002 (MSNBC) A critical backlash against salmon farms raises questions about whether this icon of healthy eating is such a miracle fish after all.
Because chances are the salmon on the plate, underneath its frizzle of dandelion greens and verjus reduction, is nothing like the familiar star of a thousand nature documentaries, heroically flapping up a pristine river to spawn. Instead, it is likely to be the product of an industrial-agricultural system not that different from the one that produced the steak on the next table.
Surprisingly, it is canned salmon, the raw ingredient of school-lunch salmon croquettes, that is always wild; the filet you buy at the fish market or the restaurant is usually farmed.
A large fish farm may have more than 2 million 10- to 12-pound fish in net pens covering several hundred acres. Salmon produce a lot of waste, which can build up and combine with uneaten feed into a bacteria-breeding layer on the seabed. The unnatural population densities in the pens can result in epidemics, which could spread to the wild stock. And the fish themselves have been known to escape and interbreed with local populations, with potentially harmful consequences.
State far from reaching goals of Clean Water Act
October 18, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Opinion by Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound.
Recently the Environmental Protection Agency released its biannual report of U.S. water quality conditions, and the news is not encouraging. While water quality across the nation had been improving since the Clean Water Act was passed, the trend has shifted back toward allowing more pollution into our waters. From 1998 to 2000 the percentage of polluted rivers, estuaries and shorelines all rose, according to the EPA report.
To make matters worse, on this landmark anniversary the Bush administration is actually in the process of dismantling the Clean Water Act -- almost every aspect of the law is being weakened, from prohibitions on dumping industrial waste and raw sewage into community waters to saving critical wetlands.
With this kind of "leadership" from Washington, D.C., it is critical that Washington state stand up to those efforts and does what it takes to improve the quality of our waters.
It is still legal to discharge pollutants, including toxic chemicals such as mercury, dioxin and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) directly into Puget Sound. In 2000, Washington industries dumped almost 3 million pounds of toxic chemicals into our waterways and more than 4 million pounds into public sewer systems.
The Puget Sound food chain -- English Sole, rockfish, juvenile salmon, harbor seals and orca whales -- all suffer injuries from toxic chemicals like PCBs, PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and mercury found in our water and sediments. Fish advisories in urban areas throughout the sound warn people not to consume shellfish and bottomfish.
Anniversary of water act spurs criticism of Locke
October 18, 2002 (Seattle Times) Environmentalists painted a bleak picture of Washington's waterways yesterday, blaming the state Department of Ecology for what they called failure to enforce the Clean Water Act.
Today is the 30th anniversary of the federal law's passage, but spokeswomen for several environmental groups said there wasn't a lot to celebrate, and they blamed Gov. Gary Locke for not pushing harder on enforcement of water-quality protections.
Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, environmental advocate for the Washington Public Interest Research Group, said it's time for action:
• Some 600 water bodies in the state don't meet water-quality standards.
• The killer-whale population in Puget Sound is suffering, in part because of suspected pollutants.
Fletcher said that since 1995, the orca population in the area has declined from 98 to 78.
A call for joint orca effort
October 17, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., pressed yesterday for a progress report on their call for an international protocol to deal with lost or orphaned killer whales -- notably those who move between U.S. and Canadian waters.
The letter -- sent to regional director Bob Lohn of the National Marine Fisheries Service and his counterpart at Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans -- says the need for such guidelines has been underscored by the recent cases of two wayward orcas. Both young killer whales became separated from their family groups -- one based in U.S. waters, the other in Canada -- and wound up on the other side of the international border.
"We believe that bilateral international cooperation must be the guiding principle in our efforts to protect these magnificent creatures, which are cultural icons of our entire region," the Democratic senators wrote.
Willy is home free for the winter
October 16, 2002 (Independent Online) Keiko the killer whale, star of the Free Willy movies, got a new winter home in an ice-free Norwegian fjord on Tuesday after a battle between local communities vying for a new tourist attraction.
The orca will stay in western Norway, where he has made a splash with the locals since he showed up last month at a remote fishing community of 1 750 people. He was released from captivity in Iceland in July.
Keiko's surprise visit to Norway has sparked big controversy in the only nation in the world that hunts whales commercially and where whales are viewed more as meat than entertainment.
In Taknes, Keiko will not be disturbed by local fish farms or boat traffic and the area is ice-free through the winter. Many whales die every year from being trapped under the ice in deep Norwegian fjords.
Keiko, tracked by satellite since leaving Iceland, will be free to swim off at any time. But he has stuck close to a boat from which his handlers feed him herring since arriving in Norway.
Transient orcas kill lone minke whale
October 16, 2002 (Vancouver Sun) Four members of a transient killer whale pod hunted and killed a lone minke whale in front of about 200 Saltspring Island spectators Tuesday afternoon.
"It's something we've never seen in over 25 years of studying killer whales."
Ford says about 225 so-called transient killer whales have been identified along the B.C. coast. That's compared to about 300 so-called resident whales.
Now it is understood that both populations of whales travel great distances, though how far and where is not known.
What is known, Ford said, is that two distinct populations exist and they don't mix. Also, while resident whales consume large numbers of coastal salmon, transient whales live on an apparently exclusive diet of marine mammals, including seals, sea lions, porpoises and baleen whales.
The reasons for the differences in diet are not known, though Ford says he believes them to be cultural rather than physiological.
Look for good and bad effects from El Niño
October 11, 2002 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) El Niño is back, and that means the Northwest is in for drier and warmer-than-normal conditions this winter, a federal climate expert said yesterday.
Although the current El Niño will influence winter weather in the Northwest, its effect will be less than the 1997-98 version.
Murrelet land to be protected
October 10, 2002 (Tacoma News-Tribune) Federal officials have approved a $5.5 million grant to preserve 365 acres of timberland near the Washington coast as habitat for a nearly extinct seabird.
The money will allow the state Department of Natural Resources to buy three parcels of Rayonier timberland, including land that once hosted the highest known nesting density of marbled murrelets.
"This guarantees permanent protection," said Tim Romanski, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who recommended the grant. The grant, which prohibits logging, is designed to protect murrelets and complement the Department of Natural Resources' existing 1.6 million acre, multispecies habitat conservation plan.
Whales Shifting Position Off Northwest Coast
October 9, 2002 (Tidepool) Gray whales usually found off the central Oregon coast this time of year -- in between the great Alaska to Baja and back migrations -- are not in their usual areas.
There appears to be less of these so-called "resident" whales off the central Oregon coast this summer, and specific whales usually seen off the central coast appear to have stopped their northward movement further south than usual. Whale watchers heading out from Newport or Depoe Bay are likely to see whales more familiar to residents of the Washington coast.
The northward migration, from their birthing grounds in saltwater lagoons off Baja California, starts in February and runs through June, peaking off the Oregon coast in March, April and May. The two migrations sometimes literally cross in the ocean during June.
By June and July the whales in the migration heading north who don't want to go all the way to Alaska have usually returned to the feeding grounds they are most familiar with, off Oregon.
"In effect, this is as far north as they go," Cochran explained. "The residents begin moving in here during June and July" and stay off the Oregon coast until it is time for them to again head south to the warmer Mexican waters.
Grieving for the Salmon Nation
October 9, 2002 (Indian Country News Editorial) Old timers will tell you that nature is undergoing severe impacts as a result of the human population's use of natural resources. It is one of those ongoing imbalances that gets worse and worse. This season the Pacific salmon are paying the price.
With much more water given over to agriculture during this past summer drought and a particularly heavy chinook run this fall, tens of thousands of Klamath River fish, perhaps as many as thirty thousand so far, have died as chinook spawning gets underway. The fish did not have enough water to complete their full cycle of life. There are too many people, too many concerns, vying for too little water.
The issue is the right of the Salmon Nation to exist and thrive.
Our hearts ache for our lost relatives.
New stream course attracting salmon
October 8, 2002 (Seattle Times) Salmon have been returning to a new stream north of Redmond since the waterway was connected to the Sammamish River two weeks ago.
Biologists hoped the new 2,200-foot meandering course would attract salmon, who hadn't frequented the area for 40 years. The stream was built by King County road workers as part of a project to widen Northeast 124th Street. It replaced a muddy, 77-foot-long ditch that didn't directly connect to the river, where salmon do swim.
Since water was diverted to the new streambed on Sept. 25, dozens of adult sockeye have been spotted making their way upstream for hundreds of feet. County biologists say they hope the salmon will continue to explore the tributary and may one day choose to spawn there.
Strait of Georgia marine conservation action plan earns applause
October 3, 2002 (Environmental News Service) The Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area (NMCA), announced today in Ottawa, will add significant protection for the marine environment of British Columbia's south coast, according to a leading B.C. marine conservation group.
"This is a major milestone in the protection of British Columbia's exceptionally diverse marine ecology," said Peter Ronald, Marine Habitat Coordinator of the Georgia Strait Alliance. "This area is extremely rich biologically, but it is under increasing stress from population growth, transportation and other development pressures."
"The Southern Strait of Georgia National Marine Conservation Area will contribute significantly to the vision of the Orca Pass Stewardship Area, a large, international, zoned area specially managed for protection of aquatic habitat and species of the Strait of Georgia and northern Puget Sound," said Ronald.
Sonar Tests a Likely Link to Whale Deaths
October 1, 2002 (Los Angeles Times) The 15 beaked whales that beached themselves last week on the Canary Islands off northwest Africa during a multinational naval exercise suffered ear and brain trauma that may have been caused by high-intensity sonar, according to a preliminary analysis.
If a final analysis confirms these findings, it would be the second time that scientists have direct evidence linking mass stranding of whales to bursts of powerful active sonar used by U.S. and other warships.
An exhaustive study of a similar stranding of whales in the Bahamas 2½ years ago showed that intense bursts of midfrequency sonar tore apart delicate tissues of whales' inner ears and brains, leading to hemorrhaging, disorientation and death.
Deep sea orcas take detour
October 1, 2002 (CBC) There is something strange happening in B.C. coastal waters.
A pod of almost 250 [note: actually only about 50] orcas which usually travels only on the west side of Vancouver Island has been seen swimming through the Juan de Fuca strait and up the Strait of Georgia.
This unusual event has baffled Pacific Biological Station marine scientists
Marine biologist John Ford says this is a rare chance to research these mysterious whales.
Ford says he doesn't know why this pod has decided to enter B.C. waters and how this invasion will affect the other inshore pods.
Bush's revised rules may lead to more logging
October 1, 2002 (Portland Oregonian) In a move that could clear the way for more logging, the Bush administration agreed Monday to revise elaborate environmental rules for cutting on federal land in the Northwest.
Timber industry and administration officials said they expect the changes to ease laborious surveys for little-known forest life, including snails and fungi. Such "survey-and-manage" demands can take years in some cases, and they cost the federal government more than $25 million last year.
The administration will revise the wildlife safeguards through an open process that will include public comment and should conclude with a decision in July, officials said.
Environmental groups said the process also should consider the option of placing all old-growth timber in the Northwest off-limits to logging.
"We can fight over things like survey and manage and things like it from administration to administration," said Mitch Friedman of the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance. "Or we can just stop logging in old-growth forests and focus on thinning."