Orca Network News - October, 2004

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
October 1, 2004 through October 31, 2004.

Duwamish habitat project gives lift to both creek, volunteers
October 31, 2004 (Seattle Times) As planes flew through a clear sky and cars whizzed by on Highway 99, people of all ages attacked the soil with 6-foot shovels along the Duwamish River yesterday.
Jessica Hing, 13, was among some 70 volunteers with People for Puget Sound, a Seattle nonprofit, planting 1,000 trees and shrubs in the Hamm Creek area in South Seattle.
The area is home to bald eagles, ospreys, red-tailed hawks, river otters and coho salmon. By planting the trees, donated by the King Conservation District, the volunteers were building a healthy home for migrating birds and for invertebrates such as insects that the salmon eat.
Founded in 1991, People for Puget Sound oversees about half a dozen sites along the Duwamish, said Frana Milan, the organization's grants and contracts manager. Each year, a total of about 700 people volunteer at monthly large-group habitat-restoration events from March to October, she said.

Report Sounds Alarm on Pace of Arctic Climate Change
October 30, 2004 (Washington Post) The most comprehensive international assessment of Arctic climate change has concluded that Earth's upper latitudes are experiencing unprecedented increases in temperature, glacial melting and weather pattern changes, with most of those changes attributable to the human generation of greenhouse gases from automobiles, power plants and other sources.
The 144-page report is the work of a coalition of eight nations that have Arctic territories -- including the United States, which has hosted and financed the coalition's secretariat at the University of Alaska.
The findings, which reflect four years of study, confirm earlier evidence that the Arctic is warming far more quickly than the earth overall, with temperature increases in some northern regions exceeding by tenfold the average 1 degree Fahrenheit increase experienced on Earth in the past 100 years.
"For the past 30 years, there's been a dramatic increase in temperature and a decrease in the thickness of ice," said Robert W. Corell, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society and chairman of the Arctic climate impact assessment group, which produced the report.
Those changes are already having practical impacts, including a reduction in the number of days each year that the tundra is hard enough to be driven on or drilled safely for oil. They can be expected to have even greater impact in the near future, the report predicts, in terms of agriculture, wildlife ranges for terrestrial and marine plants and animals, and global shoreline flooding because of increases in sea level caused by melting ice.

Canadian catch of Puget Sound fish may hurt recovery efforts
October 29, 2004 (NW FishLetter) The far-reaching effort to recover ESA-listed Puget Sound chinook stocks, still focused on developing plans for all 14 major watersheds, reached a near-term goal earlier this month when officials from Snohomish County and their watershed planning partners called for public comment on an ambitious $136 million, 10-year blueprint for improving salmon habitat in the Snohomish watershed.
But a more immediate problem--Canadian fishing--may stifle such salmon improvements. Although U.S. tribal and non-tribal harvesters have significantly reduced their catches over the past 10 years, Canadian fishermen have actually boosted their catches of Puget Sound-bound fish from just a few years ago.
A post-season report released in August indicates the Canadians caught 36 percent more Puget Sound chinook than expected. "Increases in Canadian catches continue to be a serious problem facing the co-managers," says the document, compiled by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and tribal harvest managers.
On the other hand, the plan says both U.S. tribal treaty and non-treaty fisheries landed 25 percent to 59 percent fewer Puget Sound chinook than expected in 2003, and estimates that the overall catch rates (from all fisheries) for northern Puget Sound stocks have decreased from over 70 percent in the mid-1980s to about 25 percent by 2000.

Experts embark on salmon project
October 27, 2004 (Salem Statesman-Journal) The goal, they said, is to produce a blunt, honest evaluation about the status of wild salmon in the Pacific Northwest, and more importantly what it would take to save the fish.
The salmon and policy ex-perts will participate in two symposiums and publish a book with their conclusions, which may represent a wide diversity of opinion and suggested changes -- some of which they say could be ex-treme.
The initiative, called the Salmon 2100 Project, is being organized by the Center for Water and Environmental Sustainability at Oregon State University, and the Environmental Protection Agency laboratory in Corvallis.
"We don't really expect to end up with a single solution everyone will agree on; there may be a suite of options for the public and policy makers to sort through," said Robert Lackey, a senior fisheries biologist at the EPA and courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at the university.
"But we're going to find out what the leading experts in this field really believe has to be done if we are serious about saving wild salmon.
"Their statements will be what they believe personally, based on many years of experience, and will not be a reflection of a government, group or agency policy. We expect some of the proposed solutions will be pretty drastic."

A day in the life of Tsu-xiit's guardians
October 25, 2004 (Ha-Shilth-Sa) (Note: This close look at how Tsu-xiit - Luna/L98 - spends his days was published in the newspaper of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht in Nootka Sound.)
Tourists happily snap photos before Tsu-xiit slaps his tail on the surface and heads into the log booming ground, where small boom boats are bashing bundles of logs around.
"He likes to go in there, but every time he comes out with new cuts or gouges," said James. "He's got a cut on his chin, his snout, his cheek, and his left flipper has a three-by-one inch chunk missing off the end, but it seems to be healing now," he said.
Tsu-xiit plays around the pair of boom boats, while a grappleyarder wildly swings telephone-pole sized logs directly above him. Only a few metres away, round bundles of more than a dozen logs careen down steel beams, crashing into the water, sending a wall of whitewater 20 feet into the air. After a harrowing half hour watching him swim around the booms, the crew watches as Tsu-xiit heads back to the wharf, and back to the small boats at the dock.
Tourists continue to watch Tsu-xiit bump against the few crew boats and Bayliners tied up, but no one heads down to the dock with the Atlin Post tied up nearby. As part of the Stewardship Agreement signed with the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) was supposed to put new signs up around the dock, but that hasn't happened yet. Nor has the $10,000 payment promised by DFO for part of the cost of the stewardship crew materialized, even though the Tsu-xiit logbook was taken on at the government departments' request.
Although there have been a few highly publicized incidents involving disabled boats and Tsu-xiit over the past year, no incidents have been reported within the last month. And although the five-year old, 22-foot long, 3,000 lb Tsu-xiit has been dubbed a troublesome teenager in some media reports, the number of incidents between boats and Tsu-xiit this year (42) are similar to last year (39).
It's clear that James and Jack love their jobs, and have a huge amount of love and respect for Tsu-xiit. "We're part babysitter and part big brother," says James as he sits on the egde of the boat making clicking sounds, and listens as Tsu-xiit returns the noises. He taps the side of the boat, drawing Tsu-xiit away from the propellers as he starts the engine to leave Tsu-xiit to feed along the underwater cliff they are now floating above. Tsu-xiit follows behind the boat, the black and white markings of his back barely visible beneath the white wake and boat spray. As the engine hits 3500rpm, Tsu-xiit relents, and disappears into the depths. James stops the boat a few hundred metres away in hopes that Tsu-xiit has gone off the feed, but he soon learns the whale still wants to play. He is spotted 200 metres away, heading towards the boat, diving down once again only to pop up at the stern in a game of interspecies tag.
"It's a great job but long hours," Jack says as he ties up the Wi-hut-si-nup to the dock as the sun is now well below the surrounding western mountain tops. The pair works from 7am to 6pm, and is often called upon during their days off to help boaters in need.
"It's an awesome job," says James. "It gives you a deep understanding about how whales act. Being with Tsu-xiit has taught me so much, and it's so much fun to watch him play or feed on salmon," he says.

'Never before has the federal government consciously decided to let something go extinct'
October 25, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Environment Minister Stéphane Dion has refused to place two critically endangered populations of sockeye salmon on the endangered-species list despite a rare special plea from the blue-ribbon scientific committee that advises him on the list.
It is the new minister's first formal act in his new dossier and the first significant test of the power of the Species at Risk Act, which became law in June of 2003.
To conservation groups and scientists, both Mr. Dion and the new endangered-species law have failed a blockbuster test.
"Never before has the federal government consciously decided to let something go extinct and that's what's happening today," said Rick Smith, a zoologist who is executive director of the national organization Environmental Defence. "The precedent this is setting for the future is horrendous."
The Liberal government had promised that the new law would help prevent the country's endangered wildlife from dying out.
Mart Gross, a professor of conservation biology at the University of Toronto who specializes in salmon, said that the government is "in essence forfeiting these populations" of sockeye -- known as the Sakinaw Lake and Cultus Lake populations. They are genetically distinct from other types of sockeye and live exclusively in Canada.
Mr. Anderson turned down the emergency designation, thrusting the sockeye into regular channels for addition to the list. Mr. Dion's decision yesterday means that the fish don't get on the list at all unless his decision is overturned within 30 days.

Small oil spill near Anacortes believed to be diesel fuel
October 24, 2004 (Seattle Times) The U.S. Coast Guard was investigating a small oil spill yesterday near Anacortes, the second spill in the region in less than two weeks.
The spill, estimated to be about 800 feet long and 30 feet wide, occurred in a narrow channel between Guemes Island and the Anacortes shore, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Jeff Pollinger.
Officials say about 20 gallons of fuel spilled, going from the entrance of the Anchor Cove Marina east to just past Capsante.
A silver and rainbow sheen formed over the water, indicating the spill was very thin, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Mark Dix.
The source of the spill has not yet been determined; officials said it appeared to be diesel fuel. Authorities were looking at several potential sources, including a nearby refinery, Pollinger said.

As oil spill dissipates, investigative plot thickens
October 23, 2004 (Seattle Times) State and federal investigators are trying to determine who is behind the hiring of a Kirkland company that collected tainted water samples from South Puget Sound after last week's mystery oil spill there.
The samples were collected this week by Polaris Applied Sciences at the request of an unidentified insurance conglomerate that represents vessel operators.
Gov. Gary Locke, who toured spill-affected areas of south Maury Island yesterday, said the "full force of the law" will be applied to those responsible for the spill.
They will be handed a bill "for the cost of the recovery," he said.
Federal investigators are monitoring the investigation to determine whether to open a criminal probe that could result in fines or prison terms.
Critics have asserted that the response to the spill was slow, but the state and Coast Guard have said heavy fog and darkness kept them from gauging the magnitude of the spill for more than seven hours.
Locke said he wants the task force to find methods of overcoming those obstacles, and that environmentalists would be included in the effort.
Locke also said he would like the state to contract with helicopter operators who can use infrared technology to detect the size of spills. The state now must rely on Coast Guard helicopters based in Astoria, Ore., or local police helicopters.
In addition, Locke called for the creation of a citizen response corps to aid in oil-spill cleanups. He said members must be trained so they can safely deal with toxic materials.
He said he also wants to create a telephone hotline that citizens could use to report on oil spills.
Locke vows task force will address spill issues October 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Salvaging B.C.'s salmon fishery
October 22, 2004 (The National) Two million sockeye salmon have mysteriously disappeared from the Fraser River. So if you're thinking of having "the fish plate" tonight, you'd best reconsider. Because salmon have a four-year growth cycle, don't even think about eating it in 2008 -- there won't be any. And if the federal government doesn't adopt a more serious and honest approach to tackling the problem, salmon dinners will become entirely a thing of the past.
Ottawa's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) blames the loss on unusually warm water temperatures, while a report by the B.C. Fisheries Survival Coalition and Conservative MP (and former fisherman) John Cummins blames "unreported aboriginal harvests" and lax enforcement policies by the DFO.
Disparate theories, indeed. But as Cummins's report extensively outlines, there are plenty of reasons to question Ottawa's assessment.
The MP's analysis is based on the dramatic salmon losses that B.C. fisherman faced in 1992 (500,000) and 1994 (800,000), and the independent studies that were conducted in their aftermath. It may seem a stretch to use previous disasters as indicators of current problems, but similarities between the past and present situations are striking.
By contrast, the theory that native poaching is to blame can easily be supported.
Aboriginal fishermen have access to fish processing plants, commercial freezing operations and transportation out of the province. In July, the upriver Chilcotin native band accused natives at the base of the Fraser of conducting an "undisciplined harvest" of salmon. Evidence suggests that aboriginal fishing occurred almost non-stop throughout migration periods. From July 1 to August 15, there were only three days when native fishing nets (numbering up to 560) did not block the passage of salmon.

Editorials: Savior for salmon
October 22, 2004 (Sacramento Bee) Rain, chill the perfect tonic for rivers
(Note: Southern Resident orcas have been seen south of San Francisco, so the salmon of the American River are part of their critical habitat.)
The salmon are returning once again to the American River. That's good, but the big question is whether the salmon will spawn. A troubling set of conditions - a warm river, a nearly empty reservoir and a prolonged Indian Summer - raised the prospect that salmon might die in the river before its waters cooled enough for the fish to spawn. We're not talking about hundreds of salmon, but tens of thousands of these silvery fish. The salmon return from the ocean to this river to spawn just before death, a natural cycle broken by the federal government's management of the river.
Salmon need water below 60 degrees this time of year. As of just a few days ago, the American River was 67 degrees.
Then winter arrived - in October. And, perhaps, just in the nick of time.
The river is now hovering right around the temperature that allows the salmon to spawn. In just a few days, winter-like storms have helped chill this river at a remarkable rate. State biologists will be monitoring the river in the coming weeks to estimate how many salmon successfully spawn and how many die beforehand. It's quite possible that this spawning season was saved by a dose of December-like weather.

Official defends spill response
October 22, 2004 (Seattle Times) (Note: The area of the spill is on the route that orcas typically travel this time of year and for the next few months.)
As environmentalists criticized the government's response to last week's Dalco Passage oil spill, a Coast Guard official said yesterday the government's plan to protect sensitive shorelines "absolutely worked exactly the way it's designed to work."
Sticky, heavy-grade fuel oil wound up fouling 21 miles of shoreline in South Puget Sound, hitting Vashon and Maury islands hardest. The bill for the 8-day-old cleanup has reached about $1.5 million.
But environmentalists said the plan was implemented so late after the Dalco Passage spill that it didn't end up protecting what it was supposed to protect.
"That's kind of a bureaucratic way of saying the operation was a success, but the patient died," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound.
Fletcher and other environmentalists have criticized the eight- or nine-hour delay between the time the mystery spill was first reported by a tug captain at 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 14 to the time a response boat hit the water.
Fletcher said the response plan that covers Vashon and Maury islands seemed to rely on outdated maps that didn't include important eelgrass beds, a state-designated aquatic reserve and a King County marine park that should have been protected.

Oil-spill timeline not yet disclosed
October 21, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A week after a major oil spill soiled 21 miles of south Puget Sound beaches, top Ecology department and Coast Guard officials still won't disclose the sequence of events during the crucial first six hours. Even though news of last Thursday's spill from an alert tugboat captain reached on-call Ecology officials at 1:41 a.m., it was after 8 a.m. on that foggy morning when county emergency managers, Tacoma fire officials and some private-response crews were notified.
It was another hour or more before work boats began corralling and slurping the oil off the water.
"I can't even fathom what transpired between [the spill being reported] and the time we were officially notified, at 8:28 a.m.," said Ken Parrish, emergency-operation-services manager for Pierce County. "We'd had an inkling there was a spill [even earlier] because the television news was picking up on it at first light."
Ecology and Coast Guard officials insist they won't publicly share what happened in those first hours until they've done a full-blown review - which typically takes months.
And given the darkness and drippy conditions that night, it's not clear whether much else could have been done to contain the syrupy, 1,000-gallon mess before it stretched into ecologically sensitive areas like Vashon and Maury Islands' Quartermaster Harbor.
"Many successful infrared (IR) detections of oil slicks during hours of darkness have been made," the report states.
But the only Coast Guard helicopter with that capability is in Oregon, and while the King County Sheriff's Office has helicopters with infrared capabilities, cooperative working agreements between the state and King County haven't been made, said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, who coordinates Ecology's spill-contingency planning.
Sibbett said he went about his business later that morning of hauling barges up and down the Sound. By about 7 a.m., he was headed toward Blake Island. As he moved through Dalco Passage, off the Tahlequah ferry dock on southern Vashon, he hit the oil again. This time, he said, it took about four miles to clear it. He said the fog had lifted somewhat, and he could see that the sheen had not yet hit the beach but was about 100 yards off shore.
"It was particularly distressing," he said. "With a mile-long boom, they could have easily held it off."
Radar data may narrow oil inquiry October 21, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Coast Guard tightening net in spill inquiry October 21, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Healing bodies and bodies of water
October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Opinion by Brenda Peterson
The same evening of the oil spill in Puget Sound, a friend of mine was suddenly rushed to the ICU, suffering septic shock from some inexplicable source. My friend is a young wife and mother of a 10-month-old daughter; she is also a nature writer who has devoted her life to studying cetaceans, particularly the orca pods of our Puget Sound population. She is writing about Springer, the once orphaned orca calf who lived alongside us in South Puget Sound until happily reunited with her family pod in British Columbia.
During her days in the ICU, this young mother is not told about the spill because her own bloodstream is already poisoned with bacteria. She, like Puget Sound, is struggling to cleanse and return to health.
As I write this, I am sitting at my Alki waterfront desk in West Seattle, following media coverage of the oil spill response team's progress. And I think of those noble ICU nurses and doctors who also expertly labor to bring our friend back to her beautiful body, her child and her home waters.
Hooked up to life support, heavily sedated, I believe our friend knows that her huge community and family sit vigil by her bedside. A collage of visual love surrounds her: a daughter's smiling photo, her husband in Baja exuberantly reaching out for a gray whale calf and an orca she knows by name, breaching up the white walls of the ICU. Hundreds of cards and letters carry the energy of a worldwide circle holding her in their hearts and prayers. We all take turns reading to her from her articles about Luna, another lone orca calf awaiting the mother-child reunion with his Puget Sound pod.
The devoted community that has come together to support our friend is also deeply linked to the conservation of Puget Sound. A cell phone will ring out in the ICU waiting room giving us reports on the containment of the spill; a night nurse generously assures us he will never leave our friend's side. Then he asks, "Is it true that they've found a dead seal pup covered in oil?"
As our friend lies unconscious in ICU, we play her orca and dolphin vocalizations and humpback lullabies. Those who sit the long midnight shifts say the ICU is filled with mechanical bleeps from life support melodically syncopated with the ultrasonic chirps and signature whistles of orcas, like a sweet high-pitched mewling of kittens -- an interspecies symphony. Puget Sound is also in a kind of Intensive Care Unit. But there are no gigantic dialysis-like machines yet invented to flush away all the oil. Our emergency oil spill response was woefully inadequate compared with our high-tech medicine for humans. The way we are holding my friend's poisoned body in ICU is how we also need to hold Puget Sound's poisoned body. Whether we are calling communal vigils near our closed beaches or sitting by my friend's bedside listening to orca vocalizations, singing Paul Simon's "Mother-Child Reunion -- it is the same story.
With our friend, it is easier to know what to do to help: The baby needs formula now that she has no mother's breast milk; the family needs rest and nourishing food. But with Puget Sound, it is more difficult to know how to help. Much good comes from mindfulness and attention. We can also keep watch and witness as this shining inland sea struggles to cleanse toxins; we can volunteer at bird and marine mammal shelters to help clean animals. We can gather in community and celebrations of life instead of sitting paralyzed by the grim newscasts of a Sound "spoiled." We can support People for Puget Sound, OrcaNetwork, SoundKeepers and all the environmental groups that safeguard our precious inland sea. We can bring Luna back home. Most of all, we can imagine our friend and our Sound whole and well -- and enduringly beautiful.
After a week, the antibiotics have stopped our friend's internal bleeding. Doctors believe she will live. Nurses call to her, "Open your eyes. Return!" By latest reports, the oil spill team is also making some headway. Still, both our friend and our Sound will have much healing yet to do. We do not know how long it will take to fully recover from this poisoning.
All we know is that here are two beloved bodies of water -- one a friend and the other this Salish Sea. To both we offer life support. With our small chores, our prayers and rituals, we literally keep the world spinning. "All things are connected," taught Chief Seattle. Some of the spilled oil has now reached his birthplace of Blake Island. "All things are connected -- like the blood that unites one family." And like the waters.
Brenda Peterson is a novelist and nature writer. Her most recent book is "Animal Heart."

Appeals court: Whales have no standing to sue to stop sonar
October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A federal appeals court decided Wednesday that marine mammals have no standing to sue to stop the U.S. Navy from using sonar.
In upholding a lower court decision, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the world's cetaceans - whales, porpoises and dolphins - have no standing under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act or the National Environmental Policy Act.
If lawmakers "intended to take the extraordinary step of authorizing animals as well as people and legal entities to sue, they could, and should, have said so plainly," said Judge William A. Fletcher, writing for the panel.
"The negative effects of underwater noise on marine life are well recognized," the court said. Even the Navy acknowledged any "human-made noise that is strong enough to be heard has the potential to reduce (mask) the ability of marine mammals to hear natural sounds," according to the court.
In arguing for the cetaceans, Hilo, Hawaii-based lawyer Lanny Sinkin asked for an injunction banning long-range sonar until President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld consult with the National Marine Fisheries Services and prepare an environmental impact statement.

Killer whales, newborns in tow, head south
October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) (Photos of L104 and L105)
Washington state's resident killer whales -- with two newborns in tow -- are heading south for the fall "chum festival," says a whale researcher in the San Juan Islands.
If the orcas had departed a week earlier, they could have run into dangerous pollution from the 1,000-gallon oil spill near Tacoma, noted Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research.
"Hopefully they'll skirt the spill," Balcomb said, referring to thin deposits that cleanup technology cannot recover. "As long as the whales don't swim through it and inhale it," they should be OK.
Orcas are at risk from spills because they have no sense of smell, Balcomb said, and newborns would be especially vulnerable.
The calves -- their white patterns still the orange shade of newborns -- were born over the past 10 days to two members of L-pod, which with J- and K-pods makes up the so-called southern resident population.
The births to females L-27 and L-43 bring the state orca population to 85 -- not counting L-98, or Luna, living alone in Canada's Nootka Sound. That's well below the 99 counted in 1995.
The orcas, designated a depleted population under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act and endangered under state law, are believed vulnerable to pollution, declining salmon runs, vessel traffic -- possibly including whale-watching boats -- and other human encroachment.
The births are good news, but not a sure bet to perpetuate the species.
"The calves don't really count till they become sexually mature," Balcomb said.
Killer whale development roughly parallels that of humans, with sexual maturity coming in the early teens.
"They're just mouths to feed now, but if they grow to the point that they're reproducing -- that counts."
(Note: To assist with winter research, anyone who spots orcas is asked to call Orca Network toll-free at 866-ORCANET, or e-mail Orca Network.

Conditions made assessing spill tough
October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Darkness, fog led to early underestimates of lost oil
In the cottony fog Thursday at daybreak, the Dalco Passage oil spill looked small to a Coast Guard employee dispatched to the scene in a boat. A veritable drop in Puget Sound.
"At first he said it was 50 gallons, maybe 100," said Demian Bailey, the spill's scientific-support coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "That's not enough to call out the cavalry."
The cavalry -- cleanup crews, oil-absorbing boom and skimmer boats -- would be untapped until hours later, well after the heavy-grade fuel oil had stained the southern shores of Vashon and Maury islands.
Bailey himself wasn't called until about 10 hours after the spill was discovered by a passing tugboat captain.
"We didn't know how big the spill was; we simply didn't," said Paul O'Brien, the agency's on-scene coordinator for the spill. "The information was inadequate and incomplete, and we could not determine how much oil we had on the water.
Yesterday, cleanup crews kept mopping up oil that washed ashore in the South Sound. Some five miles of shoreline are still coated with a light sheen.
The lone rescued seabird, an oil-stained Western grebe, is still being treated, and federal officials are awaiting the results of a necropsy on an oily seal pup.
Residents of Vashon and Maury islands, environmental groups and others have accused state and federal agencies of taking too much time to respond to the spill. They've asked officials why they didn't use infrared devices that can "see" the spill in the dark by detecting heat from the oil.
Experts say that technology isn't always going to work well, particularly in the fog.
Man saw fire on barge 12 hours before spill October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Report identifies missteps in spill last December October 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Oil-spill probe extends to Alaska October 20, 2004 (Seattle Times)

Newborn orcas sighted
October 19, 2004 (Kitsap Sun) Two newborn orcas have been welcomed into L Pod, one of the three groups of killer whales that frequent Puget Sound.
The two births - with no deaths so far this year - boost the total number for all three pods to 85. The two births renew hope for a population that declined suddenly and mysteriously from 99 to 78 orcas a few years ago, raising red flags among state and federal biologists.
One of the new babies, designated L-104, was born last week to L-43, also known as Jelly Roll, officials said. The other, designated L-105, was born over the weekend to L-27, or Ophelia.
The announcement of Ophelia's new baby is blunted by the history of this 40-year-old female, said Ken Balcomb, who heads the Center for Whale Research in the San Juan Islands.
"She has had four (calves) before and they have all died," Balcomb said. "We're hoping this one makes it."
Ophelia was one of the 19 killer whales that stayed for a month in Dyes Inlet in 1997. At the time, two of her offspring were alive, but they later died.
Jelly Roll, a 32-year-old mother, has had two offspring, Racer (L-72) and Nigel (L-95), and both are still living.
At the moment, both of the newborns seem to be healthy and energetic, Balcomb said. They were exhibiting the characteristic orange tint on areas of their bodies that will become white as they get a little older.
The sex of the youngsters might not be known until they get older. With sexually mature males in all three pods, it would be nice if the youngsters survived to become reproductive females to help rebuild the population, Balcomb said.
See an orca?
To assist with winter research, anyone who spots orcas is asked to call Orca Network toll-free at 866-ORCANET, or e-mail Orca Network.

Subpoenas issued in oil spill; cleanup costs top $750,000
October 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Marine scientists yesterday examined a seal pup that died after being found alive with oil on its fur, as cleanup workers ended their focus on open water to concentrate on beaches fouled by last week's Dalco Passage oil spill.
U.S. Coast Guard investigators have issued subpoenas to individuals, vessels and one facility in search of the culprit behind the mysterious spill, which has spread around Key Peninsula, Tacoma, and Vashon and Maury islands in south Puget Sound, officials said.
Investigators believe the vessel responsible for spilling the heavy-grade fuel oil is at least 65 feet long, said Petty Officer Adam Eggers, a Coast Guard spokesman.
Yesterday, a 150-member cleanup crew battled winds strong enough to trigger a small-craft advisory, as they searched for injured wildlife and continued efforts to cleanse 21 acres of affected shoreline in the south Sound. Workers have recovered 5,900 gallons of oily water and 6.2 tons of oily debris. They used 22 boats and 9,900 feet of protective boom.
From a helicopter, workers spotted small, isolated patches of non-recoverable oil on the water off southern Vashon Island, and southern and eastern Maury Island. They saw more floating pockets of oil outside Ollala and Clam bays.
So far, workers have seen just a "handful" of oiled seabirds, including a Western grebe.
"It's an encouraging sign. It could mean that the animals have made out well," Altose said. "It could also mean there are chronic toxic effects that the animals are suffering that won't be noticeable."
Tacoma/Pierce County Crime Stoppers and the Port of Tacoma are offering a $3,000 reward for information leading to identification of who spilled the oil. Call (253) 591-5959.

Large spill threatens island beaches, wildlife
October 15, 2004 (Seattle Times) Emergency crews yesterday scrambled to control a massive south Sound oil spill that soiled portions of Tacoma's Commencement Bay and stretched for miles in a bluish-black sheen, threatening pristine beaches and wildlife on Maury and Vashon islands.
"We have a major oil spill on our hands," said Larry Altose, spokesman for the state Department of Ecology. "This is a very large, very complex spill."
Officials didn't know where it came from, who was responsible or exactly how much oil had been spilled. They estimated it at roughly 1,000 gallons.
Ten boats from three cleanup companies worked through the afternoon, dragging floating booms through Dalco Passage, just south of the islands, to try to capture several square miles of oil before an early-evening high tide and three-knot winds pushed it to land.
Overnight, crews using emergency lights were expected to lay booms around the southern tip of Vashon and Gig Harbor to try to keep oil out of the most sensitive areas.
From aerial reconnaissance flights, state officials and the Coast Guard could see that the spill had spread five miles along both sides of the islands, covering an area as large as - if not larger than - last winter's 4,800-gallon spill near Richmond Beach in North King County.
Although much of it had yet to reach shore, some had and was leaving its mark.
It will be difficult for the tides to flush the oil out of the bulb-shaped, ecologically sensitive harbor, said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the environmental group People for Puget Sound.
"This is about the worst thing that could happen in that area," she said. "It's very unfortunate. It sickens me."
Spill soils South Sound October 15, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Mystery oil spill sullies Commencement Bay, islands
October 14, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) An oil spill stained a stretch of Tacoma's Commencement Bay and spread to beaches on nearby Vashon and Maury islands on Thursday, polluting an ecologically rich area where grebes, ducks and other birds spend their winters.
State Department of Ecology investigators were working to determine the source of the spill, the type of oil and how much had spread over several miles, Ecology spokesman Larry Altose said.
Spill responders from Ecology and the U.S. Coast Guard were sent to Dalco Passage, between the south end of Vashon Island and Tacoma's Point Defiance, after someone on a tug boat reported thick black oil in the water, said Mary Ellen Voss, an Ecology spokeswoman.
The initial report, phoned in around 1 a.m. Thursday, indicated the spill was about an acre in size, but television video footage shot from a helicopter later in the day showed an oily sheen spreading over a much larger area.
By late Thursday afternoon, Altose said it had spread 5 to 6 miles, contaminating beaches on southern Vashon and Maury islands southwest of Seattle.
"There's really very little that can be done in the dark," he said.
Even after dawn Thursday, it took several hours for thick morning fog to clear enough for spill responders to get out on the water and into the air to investigate.
Kathy Fletcher, executive director of the environmental group People for Puget Sound, called the time lag a big disappointment.
"We know quite a lot about currents and tides in Puget Sound. And so even though it's dark ... knowing the approximate location of a spill could alert the agencies to the possibility of oil coming to shore in certain areas," Fletcher said.

Gravel-mine foes pursue buyout, despite price tag
October 13, 2004 (Seattle Times) While waiting for a key legal decision, opponents of a proposed gravel-barging operation on Maury Island still hope to resolve the battle with a buyout of the 235-acre mining site.
Environmentalists advocate a public purchase of the property, which has a significant stand of madronas and offshore eelgrass beds where herring spawn and young salmon feed. But they say the company's price tag for the land is too high.
Both sides are waiting for a ruling from the state Shorelines Hearings Board on whether King County erred in refusing to issue shoreline permits to rebuild the dock earlier this year. A decision is expected by Nov. 2.
Preserve Our Islands, a group fighting the gravel-barging project, asked the shorelines board to order further environmental review of possible damage to orcas, eelgrass beds and recreational use of the site by scuba divers.
The county initially opposed reopening its environmental study. But after two scientists testified that the effects of barge operations on orcas, or killer whales, merited further study, Ralph Palumbo, an attorney hired by the county, agreed in his closing statement that more study was needed.
Orca researcher David Bain said recent research has shown the behavior of orcas is disrupted by the noise of boats. He also testified that Maury and Vashon islands are an important part of the marine mammals' winter habitat.

Bush scorns environmental responsibility
October 13, 2004 (The Independent Editorial) It is a quite remarkable irony that the scientific data giving the world what may be its most ominous warning yet about the onset of climate change should be coming from the country that produces the largest amount of greenhouse gases, yet whose present government barely acknowledges that there is a problem.
Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO{-2}), the principal greenhouse gas, have made a sudden leap that cannot be adequately explained by terrestrial emissions from factories and motor vehicles. This may be merely an anomalous rise, but, on the other hand, it may signify much more than that, and mark the beginning of a "feedback" effect, in which the Earth's forests and oceans start to lose their ability to absorb large amounts of carbon, and thus remove it from the atmosphere. Should this prove true, the timetable for the advent of climate change and its catastrophic consequences could be very much shorter than anyone at present imagines.
So how on Earth, we find ourselves asking, can the United States simultaneously lead the world in the science of climate change, in the warnings of its dangers and in the obstruction of efforts to find a solution to it? Yet merely to pose the question is to realize at once just how far George W. Bush and his cabal have turned their backs on reality in withdrawing the United States from the Kyoto protocol and the international consensus on the need to take decisive action to deal with global warming.
The United States is, of course, not the only guilty party. India and China have increased emissions massively in recent years as their economies have expanded. But, as the world's pre-eminent political and industrial power, the United States has a duty to take a lead. It is a duty that President Bush has scorned.

Climate fear as carbon levels soar
October 11, 2004 (The Guardian) Scientists bewildered by sharp rise of CO2 in atmosphere for second year running
An unexplained and unprecedented rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere two years running has raised fears that the world may be on the brink of runaway global warming.
Scientists are baffled why the quantity of the main greenhouse gas has leapt in a two-year period and are concerned that the Earth's natural systems are no longer able to absorb as much as in the past.

Salmon pockets
October 10, 2004 (Skagit Valley Herald) Fish researchers working for the cooperative have undertaken an extensive fish sampling study in an effort to find out how young chinook salmon use the tiny estuaries around Skagit Bay.
In a finding that could have repercussions across Puget Sound, tribal researchers have confirmed a link between the loss of Skagit Bay's estuarine habitat and the size of the river's chinook salmon runs.
Scientists working for the Skagit River System Cooperative, formerly known as the Skagit System Cooperative, have produced a study showing that some young chinook rely on "pocket" estuaries spread from the mouth of the Skagit River to Whidbey Island and points south.
The small estuaries, most often fed by small streams near the shore, have been eliminated by diking and development on the shoreline. According to a survey done by the tribes, only one-tenth of the pocket estuaries that once existed on Skagit Bay are still accessible to salmon.
While the study's impact on restoration efforts is unclear, scientists believe the loss of estuarine habitat has a limiting effect on the size of the Skagit River chinook run, said Eric Beamer, the Skagit cooperative biologist in charge of the project.
Young chinook from the Skagit River are thought to have historically accessed about 656 acres of pocket estuary in Skagit Bay, according to a tribal survey. Since the 1900s, about 583 acres of pocket estuary in the bay have been damaged or destroyed.
"This idea … really helped crystallize our approach to talking about protection and restoration," said Scott Redman of the Puget Sound Action Team, the state's coordinating body for habitat restoration work in the sound.

Salmon and Science
October 9, 2004 (New York Times Editorial) ore than a dozen species of salmon in the Columbia and Snake River basins are at risk of extinction. One would think that these fish - culturally significant to Indian tribes and commercially valuable to a large regional fishing industry - could get a break. But they can't. A recovery plan devised by the Clinton administration was tossed out in 2003 by a federal judge who found its recommendations too speculative and ordered the Bush administration to draw up a better one. The Bush plan may be worse.
True, the administration proposes technological fixes to help fish over and around the Columbia and Snake River dams. Yet its habitat protections are no stronger and, worse, it removes from future consideration the idea of breaching the four dams on the lower Snake River - an option the Clinton plan held in reserve in case all other measures failed. Finally, in a bizarre misreading of the Endangered Species Act, it abandons salmon recovery as the goal of federal policy and asserts, in so many words, that its only legal obligation is to keep the current rate of decline from getting any worse.

Environmental groups plan to sue over bull trout
October 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Environmental groups say they will sue the federal government over its decision Wednesday to remove critical habitat designation for the threatened bull trout in 90 percent of the Columbia and Klamath river basins.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Friends of the Wild Swan contend the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service bowed to political pressures in making the decision, which covers areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.
"We can't allow this to stand," said Michael Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. "Failing to protect bull trout habitat will jeopardize clean water supplies throughout the Northwest."
Mitch Snow, a spokesman for the agency in Washington, D.C., said the lawsuit was expected.
In a separate action in June, Fish and Wildlife designated 2,290 miles of streams and 52,540 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Western Washington as critical habitat for the trout.
Bull trout have been reduced to about 45 percent of their native range in the past 150 years because of human encroachment, mining, grazing, logging, overfishing and introduction of nonnative fish.

Conservationists seek to overturn new state logging plan
October 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Conservation groups filed suit Tuesday, seeking to overturn a new 10-year plan for logging state forests in Western Washington.
The groups, led by the Seattle-based Washington Environmental Council, say the state Department of Natural Resources, its board and the Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland did not fully consider how cutting more timber near streams, across slopes prone to landslides and in ecologically sensitive areas would affect wildlife habitat.
Backers of the "sustainable harvest" plan, adopted last month, counter that it takes a measured approach to thinning overstocked state forests in ways that will improve the ecosystem and reduce the risk of wildfires.
Sutherland, a Republican running for re-election, serves as the board's chairman and has adamantly defended the plan, saying it was carefully thought out over nearly three years of deliberations that included dozens of public meetings.
Instead, the plaintiffs contend, the state's new plan calls for building more logging roads, which could dump sediment into salmon-bearing streams.

Appellate court backs hydroelectric operations on Snake
October 5, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A federal appeals court yesterday upheld the federal government's operation of four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River, saying the Army Corps of Engineers keeps water temperatures as low as it can to protect endangered salmon.
The split decision of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Army Corps against environmental groups, and concluded that the agency is complying with state water-quality standards as required by the Clean Water Act.
It was a victory for forces that want to keep the dams over those calling for removal of the structures.
Kristen Boyles, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Seattle, said it was too early to say whether the decision would be appealed.
"We are disappointed with the decision," she said, but added environmentalists agreed with many of the points made in "a strong dissent."
The issue of water temperatures will come up repeatedly in the future as efforts to save endangered salmon and steelhead runs continue, Boyles said.

Restoring the Duwamish River
October 2, 2004 (Seattle Times) They call this part of the Duwamish River the Turning Basin, a bowl of placid water five miles from where the last of the river merges into the mud with Elliott Bay. It's up here in the basin that tugboats and barges have room to come about and point downriver again, ploughing back to the bay and to the sea beyond. Nowhere is the collision of nature and industry more apparent than it is on this, the last stop for ships on the waterway. From a kayak, the Turning Basin reveals a sad tangle of what this once-untamed river has become - and, what it could still be.
Red-wing blackbirds flit from cattails. Shore birds peck at the mud where crippled barges and derelict boats once laid moldering. People have come, hauled away the hulks, and gently nursed the shoreline back to some pale semblance of its natural state. Harbor seals, curious as cocker spaniels, peek around, then dip beneath the ripples in search of something to eat.
Tens of millions will be invested in this five miles from the Turning Basin to the bay, and the final cost is anyone's guess. The pollution problems are so severe that few people think it will ever fully recover. When all is said and done, environmentalists can realistically hope to reclaim only a fraction of the waterway.
After all, the Duwamish was industrial Seattle's sewer, largely hidden from public view, created over a century after city fathers decided to steal it from Mother Nature and fill, dike and channel it in service to commerce. The lower course of the Duwamish once was wide and healthy, meandering through marshes, mud flats and swamps from the base of Beacon Hill to West Seattle. Before humans changed it to fit their needs, it carried water from four rivers spanning 1,643 square miles of watershed. The Black River flowed from Lake Washington, and the Cedar River joined it. The White and Green rivers added to the flow.
It was a life force for the Indians of the area, and for the first white settlers, who erected homes and businesses on its banks.
Now, only about 2 percent of the original estuary's banks still exists.

Is Earth's deep hum a sea song?
October 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) Scientists think they have found the source of a mysterious hum that reverberates through Earth, too low for human ears to hear.
They once believed it came from earthquakes; a big quake will set the whole planet ringing like a bell. Even when there are no big quakes, though, the hum continues, a slow, steady slosh of waves around the planet.
Now, with instruments in California and Japan, scientists have pinpointed the source. The hum, they say, starts in the oceans, when winter storms whip the waves into a frenzy.
"These waves interact with each other to create longer waves that reach deep into the ocean, all the way to the ocean floor," said Barbara Romanowicz, a seismologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Cruise ships to plug in to reduce pollution
October 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Air pollution caused by cruise ships docking in Seattle is expected to be reduced by one-third by plugging Princess Cruises' ships into dockside electrical outlets instead of powering the ships by running their diesel engines, officials said yesterday.
Gov. Gary Locke, Mayor Greg Nickels and others gathered at the port to praise the cruise line's action -- part of a program to reduce diesel emissions in Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and British Columbia.
"Reducing diesel emissions will decrease the incidents of asthma and improve overall air quality," said Ron Kreizenbeck, acting regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle, in a prepared statement.
It's part of a wide-ranging program of voluntary measures to reduce West Coast diesel pollution that officials hope will total $100 million over five years.
The measures announced yesterday are expected to cost $6 million, with most of the money coming from the federal government.
Environmentalists who have pushed hard for the air pollution reductions at Terminal 30 praised the move, but also questioned the tone of the announcement.
"Princess did a great thing, they committed to do a great thing," said Fred Felleman of Ocean Advocates.
"We're very mindful of the fact that thousands of people die from diesel pollution each year," said Terry Tamminen, secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Back to Orca News Archives