Orca Network News - October, 2006

News about the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
October 1, 2006 through October 31, 2006.

The day that changed the climate
October 31, 2006 (The Independent (UK)) Climate change has been made the world's biggest priority, with the publication of a stark report showing that the planet faces catastrophe unless urgent measures are taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Future generations may come to regard the apocalyptic report by Sir Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank, as the turning point in combating global warming, or as the missed opportunity.
As well as producing a catastrophic vision of hundreds of millions fleeing flooding and drought, Sir Nicholas suggests that the cost of inaction could be a permanent loss of 20 per cent of global output.
Across the world, environmental groups hailed the report as the beginning of a new era on climate change, but the White House maintained an ominous silence. However, the report laid down a challenge to the US, and other major emerging economies including China and India, that British ministers said cannot be ignored.

Large dead zone leaves Oregon coast
October 31, 2006 (Seattle Times) A large and persistent dead zone of low-oxygen water off Oregon's central coast that killed crab and other sea life has finally faded away thanks to shifting ocean winds, according to university researchers.
The low-oxygen conditions were of record intensity and encompassed a roughly 70-mile-long swath of water larger than Rhode Island just off the coast. These conditions lasted for about four months, far longer than any of the previous dead zones tracked off Oregon during the past five years, according to Oregon State University researchers who have monitored oxygen levels through the summer and fall.
In August, scientists documented record-low oxygen readings, which appeared to wipe out most bottom-dwelling sea life in one reef that the scientists explored with the aid of a remote-operated video camera. In a second August visit to the reef, the video camera relayed images of a white mat of bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen, a condition never previously documented off the Oregon coast.

Self-awareness reaches new heights in animal kingdom
October 31, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For those who study the development of intelligence in the animal kingdom, self-awareness is an important measurement. An animal that is aware of itself has a high level of cognitive ability.
Awareness can be tested by studying whether the animal recognizes itself in a mirror. Only humans, apes and, more recently, dolphins, have been shown to recognize that the image in the mirror is of themselves.
Now, in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers report that an Asian elephant has passed the mirror self-recognition test.

Province will help fund Greater Victoria sewage treatment, premier pledges
October 28, 2006 (Victoria Times Colonist) The provincial government will help pay for a third of the funding needed for the Capital Regional District to build sewage treatment facilities, Premier Gordon Campbell said today.
A condition of the pledge is that Partnership B.C. will review whether public-private partnerships are possible as part of the project, which is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
Greater Victoria currently dumps its raw sewage, after screening for solids, directly into the ocean.

At last! Victoria will clean up its act
October 28, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The premier's announcement is a major breakthrough in the 15-year controversy over millions of gallons of human and toxic waste that Victoria and surrounding communities dump daily into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
The provincial government has put the Capital Regional District on a wiggle-proof timetable. The district must deliver a status report to Penner by year's end, and a plan for how it will treat Victoria's human waste by mid-2007.
"The plan must be submitted to me by June for our approval, or non-approval," Penner said Friday.

New Web site tracks ecosystem's health
October 27, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The project, Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Indicators, is an international effort led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Environment Canada. Numerous other state agencies and local governments as well as non-governmental groups contributed.
The effort focuses on nine key indicators: population growth, urbanization and forest cover, trash and recycling, shellfish, air quality, marine species at risk, toxic chemicals in harbor seals, freshwater quality, and marine water quality.
Overall it shows that "conditions are a little worse than people thought," said Michael Rylko, EPA's strategic coordinator for Puget Sound grants.
None of the nine measures was improving. Five were rated as worsening, and four hadn't shown progress.

New alert on eating salmon
October 27, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) For the first time, the Washington State Department of Health is warning consumers about eating salmon from Puget Sound.
Because of relatively high levels of mercury and PCBs, the department said Thursday that consumption of chinook should be limited to one meal per week. Resident chinook, or blackmouth, should be limited to twice a month, the department said.
Still, state officials emphasized that fish should be part of a healthy diet.
"Many fish from Puget Sound remain a smart choice for the dinner table; however, this news is another sign that the Puget Sound is sick and we must take action now," Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a statement. "The Puget Sound Partnership is tackling this challenge head-on."
"Puget Sound's toxic pollution -- both historic and ongoing -- threatens not only the orca whales but also us human beings," Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People For Puget Sound, said in a joint statement from several groups. "This new fish advisory underscores the urgency of the governor's commitment to restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020."

Australian scientists record sounds of rare whale
October 22, 2006 (ABC Australia) Australian scientists now have one of the few recordings of the sounds made by the endangered sei whale.
The species was heavily exploited by whalers in past decades and little is known about its population distribution.
A scientific team from the Australian Antarctic Division has recorded whale sounds in the Southern Ocean for a year.
Antarctic biologist Jason Gedamke says published research on sei whales has provided clues in analysing the data the team gathered.
"This paper, that was published a couple of years ago, was the first really rigorous description of their sounds," he said.
"It's the first time that somebody's been able to say with near certainty that the sounds they were recording were from sei whales and our recording of it, that was our first time, and in fact there are very few people that have actually recorded sei whales at this point."
The research team mounted equipment on the ocean bed for a year to record the whale sounds, and also deployed sonar buoys on a recent voyage.
Dr Gedamke says the vocalisations of blue and sperm whales are also on the recordings.
"Acoustics has incredible potential to be used, for example, during the winter, when it's difficult to get down there and actually conduct studies," he said.
"[With] acoustics you can put a recorder on the bottom and you can say, or you can determine for a year, wow, we didn't suspect it but there may be whales down there during the winter time."

Iceland breaks 21-year-old whale hunting ban
October 22, 2006 (Reuters) Icelandic whalers broke a 21-year-old international ban on whaling on Saturday when they harpooned the first fin whale since the moratorium was imposed in 1985, a whalers' spokesman said.
Fin whales are rated an endangered species on a "Red List" compiled by the World Conservation Union but Iceland says they are plentiful in the north Atlantic.
Reykjavik decided on Tuesday to catch nine fin whales and 30 minke whales in the year to August 31 2007 despite the 1985 moratorium imposed by the International Whaling Commission.
"One fin whale was caught today and will be landed tomorrow," said Rune Froevik, spokesman of the Norway-based High North Alliance which represents the interests of Arctic hunting and fishing communities.
He said the whale was a large specimen, 65-70 ft long. Whales are caught for food, often favoured as steaks.

Whale that dived record 6,230ft and held breath for 85 minutes
October 21, 2006 (The Times (UK)) Beaked whales have astonished animal researchers by smashing the record for the deepest dive by an air-breathing animal.
Zoologists studying Cuvier's beaked whale recorded specimens diving 6,230ft (1,899m) under the surface, easily beating the record of 4,000ft held by the sperm whale.
The beaked whale was able to hold its breath for 85 minutes while it completed the epic dive. The scientists studying the marine creature were able to record echolocation clicks that bounced off smaller animals during the dive, suggesting that the whale was hunting.
"This extreme deep-diving behaviour is of particular interest since beaked whales stranded during naval sonar exercises have been reported to have symptoms of decompression sickness."

At-risk orca calf is now presumed dead
October 21, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) One of the calves born this summer whose mother was recently discovered to have vanished has disappeared, scientists said Friday. That brings the number of missing and presumed dead orcas to four and the total population to 86.
Orcas have tightly knit families, and researchers had hoped that the baby's aunt, who also had a calf, would be able to nurse and take care of the orphaned animal.
But when the rest of the orca's family was recently spotted, the baby was gone, said Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research, based on San Juan Island.
"We assume that it didn't make it," he said. Whale watchers are urged to contact the Orca Network (866-ORCANET) if they see a baby orca on its own.

Fish-farm friends, foes square off over industry's future
October 20, 2006 (Victoria Times Colonist) The morning's first speaker accused the B.C. fish-farm industry of lying and described aquaculture practices in this province as a "global embarrassment.''
The next five presenters in a row spoke in favour of the industry. And one said his fish-farming company has fallen victim to misinformation by environmental groups.
Based on data from similar Norwegian operations, Price estimates that there are more than 200,000 escapes into B.C. waters each year. Atlantic salmon are now successfully spawning in B.C. rivers and taking over habitat desperately needed by wild salmon, he said.
Farmed salmon are also causing juvenile wild salmon to be infected by sea lice, which can be fatal, he said.
"They're not being honest,'' Price said of fish farms. "I'm saying we're being lied to. We're being lied to about parasite issues, sea lice loads, and it's a global embarrassment.''

Three Young Orcas Missing From Pod Are Presumed Dead
October 19, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Puget Sound's killer whales begin their annual trek into nearby waters.
As Puget Sound's killer whales begin their fall excursions into Central Puget Sound, researchers have announced the apparent deaths of three young adult orcas since mid-July.
The apparent deaths follow three births earlier this year, bringing the total population back to 87. But the most disturbing aspect of the deaths is that all three animals were in their prime reproductive years, said Kelley Balcomb-Bartok of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island.
On Wednesday afternoon, a group of killer whales was spotted off the south end of Vashon Island going into Tacoma Narrows, according to Susan Berta of Orca Network, which tracks whale movements via shoreside observers. The whales were believed to be all or part of L Pod, one of the three major Puget Sound groups.
Although there is speculation that the whales may have starved to death, another scenario relates to decreased immunity caused by high levels of toxic chemicals in their bodies. Puget Sound orcas are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. A lowered immunity can lead to disease, which can affect their ability to obtain food.

Puget Sound orca pods lose 3
October 18, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Experts believe missing adult whales may have died of starvation
Three of the 90 orcas that call Puget Sound home are missing and presumed dead, researchers said Tuesday. At least two had shown signs of starvation.
Although it's fairly common for young orcas to perish, the deaths of three adults in or near their reproductive prime is worrisome, researchers said. It's also much more common for whales to die in the winter, when food is scarce, rather than in the usually abundant summer.
But two other factors have combined to frustrate rebuilding of the orcas' population: a declining amount of their favorite food, salmon; and the continued buildup of industrial chemicals that affect reproduction and the immune system and are believed to make the orcas hungry and weak.
The first orca to disappear this year was a 20-year-old male known as L71, or Hugo. He was last seen July 15. A picture taken of the whale the day before showed he "was in a very thin condition," equivalent to a person's ribs sticking out, said Rich Osborne, director of The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.
At 20, Hugo had just entered the height of his reproductive years.
On Sept. 2, a 34-year-old mother of three known as L-43 or Jellyroll was spotted for the last time. The orcas headed out to the Pacific Ocean for several weeks. She hasn't been seen since. She also had a calf, although he is 2 years old and is probably weaned.
The third missing orca, Raven, was last spotted Sept. 19. The area behind her blowhole that normally stores fat was depressed, a condition known as "peanut head" that is attributed to a loss of calories.
Reports coming into the Orca Network, which follows the orcas' movements, indicate they are having trouble finding enough salmon, said Susan Berta, the group's vice president.
When salmon are plentiful, the whales tend to travel close together, she said. But this year's sightings revealed the whales as spread out, indicating they were foraging and food supplies are short, she said.
"It's a degree of starvation that is very disturbing," Berta said. "It's a scary thing. How many more are we going to lose over the winter?"

Orcas Mysteriously Vanish; Feared Dead
October 17, 2006 (KIRO-TV) Three young adult killer whales -- members of the family groups that spend their summers chasing salmon around Washington's San Juan Islands -- have not been seen in weeks and are feared dead, researchers said Tuesday.
One of the orcas leaves a 4-month-old orphan, whose care apparently has been taken over by another female.
The three salmon-eating orca families that frequent the state's inland waters are J, K and L pods. J-pod spends virtually the entire year in the waters north of Puget Sound, while the other two groups head out to the open ocean in winter.
The pods, called the southern resident population, are unique in diet, language and DNA, and were declared an endangered species last year, with a recovery goal of 120 animals. If the three missing whales have died, the three pods will total 87 orcas, with just 23 reproductive females.

Researchers: Missing whales feared dead
October 17, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Three young adult killer whales - members of the family groups that spend their summers chasing salmon around Washington's San Juan Islands - have not been seen in weeks and are feared dead, researchers said Tuesday.
One of the orcas leaves a 4-month-old orphan, whose care apparently has been taken over by another female.
The three salmon-eating orca families that frequent the state's inland waters are J, K and L pods. J-pod spends virtually the entire year in the waters north of Puget Sound, while the other two groups head out to the open ocean in winter.
The pods, called the southern resident population, are unique in diet, language and DNA, and were declared an endangered species last year, with a recovery goal of 120 animals. If the three missing whales have died, the three pods will total 87 orcas, with just 23 reproductive females.
Whale experts worry about the effects of pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs - an industrial product banned since the 1970s but persistent in the environment - and fire-retardant polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are still produced.
Federal action in response to the orca's endangered listing is still being decided. The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed declaring as critical habitat virtually all the state's inland waters, except shorelines where water is less than 20 feet deep and areas near military installations.
Developers and agricultural interests have already challenged the draft proposal in federal court, contending the whales are part of a larger healthy population and do not warrant special protections - a stance initially taken by NMFS but reversed by a federal judge whose ruling led to the current listing.
Center for Whale Research news release:
Three adult Southern Resident Killer Whales considered "missing" as of October 17, 2006
Following the addition of three new calves to this "Endangered" population of whales earlier in the summer of 2006, three young adult whales have now gone missing in September, and are presumed dead. Although the population appears to have slightly recovered numerically from a low point of less than eighty whales in the past decade, it is demographically unstable with the loss of reproductive age whales.
Currently, there are 87 whales, but only 23 of these are reproductive females. On average, a reproductive female will produce one calf every five years from teenage to age 40. The loss of reproductive age whales is particularly troubling for this population's survival.
A 20 year-old male, a 34 year-old female mother of three, and a 12 year-old new mother - leaving behind a four month-old calf - have gone missing and may be dead, according to the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington.
Based upon numerous encounters in September with members of the entire Southern Resident Orca population, staff at the Center for Whale Research now suspect that K28, L43 and L71 are missing, and may be dead.
The most troubling information that particularly concerns staff at the Center for Whale Research is the possible loss of K28, a 12 year-old mother, who leaves behind a four month-old orphaned calf. Killer whale calves generally do not begin to eat solid foods until they are at least a year old - and are not fully weaned of mother's milk until nearly two years of age - making it questionable whether K28's calf, K39, will survive the winter.
During an encounter with K-pod Sept. 19, the 12 year-old female K28 was photographed with a depression behind the blowhole - referred to by researchers as "Peanut Head" - which generally indicates an animal is sick or malnourished. In subsequent encounters with K-pod during late September, K28 was absent from the pod, although her calf was observed swimming with close family members including K22, K33 and K41.
The two other whales listed as missing and feared to be dead include L43, a 34 year-old mother of three that was last seen Sept. 2, and L71, a 20 year-old male that was last documented July 15.
If L43 is dead, she leaves behind a two year-old son, L104, a 10 year-old son, L95, and a 20 year-old daughter, L72, with two year-old grand-daughter, L105.
If L71 is dead, he leaves behind his mother, L26, his 13 year-old sister L90, and an 11 year-old nephew, L92. L71's death will be the most recent in a series of losses for matriarch L26. In 2002, L26's first born daughter, L60, washed up at Long Beach, along the coast of Washington state, orphaning her grand-daughter L92. L26's second calf died at the age of three in 1983. In 1997, her grandson, L81, died at the age of seven.
Though the Southern Resident Orca population may have temporarily reached 90 individuals in 2006 with the addition of the three new calves, the three recent missing whales will return the population to 87. We hope that at least one more calf will be born in this population before year end.

Climate shift blamed for mass die-off
October 16, 2006 (Vancouver Sun) Hundreds of thousands of Cassin's auklet chicks starved to death last year on Triangle Island, their fluffy corpses left to litter the largest bird colony on Canada's West Coast.
The 40,000 auklets on the craggy Farallon Islands, west of San Francisco, also had an "unprecedented breeding failure" and abandoned their nests en masse, say scientists, who are now linking the 2005 disaster at the colonies to a strange quirk in the climate off Alaska.
An "anomaly" in the Gulf of Alaska impacted the jet stream and may have been responsible for delaying the upwelling of nutrient-rich ocean waters that fuel production of krill and
other key foods for seabirds from British Columbia south to California, a team of U.S. and Canadian scientists report in the Geophysical Research Letters last week.
Within days of hatching, the chicks were abandoned in their burrows by parents who couldn't find enough food to feed their young.

Granny's Struggle: When Granny is gone, will her story be the last chapter?
October 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Sixth of six stories by M.L. Lyke
If orcas can't find food, they draw on their own blubber, the thick blanket of fat that's increasingly loaded with harmful man-made toxins. Fewer salmon equals higher orca mortality.
Restoring fish populations is the first order of business under new Endangered Species Act protections for southern resident orcas.
The protections were approved last November and went into effect in February. They'll remain in effect until the southern resident population hits a target number: 120. The population this year is estimated at 90.
Scientists say that, at one point, numbers for J, K and L pods might have been 200 or more. But the dirty waters and shrinking food supply can no longer sustain that kind of population.
Are humans ready to make those sacrifices?
"I don't think any of us really knows where the ESA is going to lead," said Ralph Munro, former secretary of state and longtime orca advocate.
"But I think all of us will have to take 10 steps back from the waterfront."
Of the three endangered southern pods, researchers say that Granny's is the most likely to carry on here. Population numbers in J-Pod have stabilized. Calf survivability is relatively high: Of 25 J-Pod calves born since the early '70s, when killer whale surveys began, 18 have survived, including calves born in 2004 and 2005. No new J-Pod calves were spotted this year, but the tribe has a good number of young females nearing reproductive age, at about 11 to 12 years.
Whether they can reproduce is a question that preys on scientific minds.
"We have to wait and see," said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island. "We're reaching the critical years."
Who are the two-leggers who have abhorred and adored Granny, shot at her, netted her, crowded her waters, despoiled her home, called her their "kindred spirit," wooed her with music and poisoned her body?
What kind of an animal does that?
The old female turns, dives, plunges into the deep, where their eyes can't follow.

Oil company to pay huge fine over Sound spill
October 13, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) ConocoPhillips will pay a $540,000 fine -- the largest ever paid for a spill to marine waters in Washington -- as a result of the mystery spill in Puget Sound near Vashon Island two years ago.
"That's a pretty significant milestone," said Curt Hart, spokesman for the Department of Ecology, which announced the fine today.
Conoco steadfastly has maintained its innocence. Calls to the company's public information office today have gone unanswered.
Federal prosecutors in Seattle recently declined criminal prosecution of the Houston-based oil company.
The spill ultimately prompted the Legislature to create a citizens' advisory council to oversee oil-spill-prevention efforts of the Department of Ecology and the maritime industry.
The spill was reported about 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 15, 2004. State officials believe the spill came from the Polar Texas, heading north after making a delivery of crude oil in Tacoma, the night of Oct. 14.
The Coast Guard has now arranged to have a plane and helicopter available to check out nighttime spill reports using heat-sensing equipment.

Puget Sound panel details daunting cleanup endeavor
October 13, 2006 (Olympian) A blue-ribbon panel charged with restoring the health of Puget Sound by 2020 outlined ambitious priorities Thursday, including reducing toxic chemicals and sewage, improving shorelines, reducing stormwater runoff, restoring and preserving habitat and getting people involved.
"The partnership talks about accountability as the key issue, and it is," said Kathy Fletcher, partnership member and executive director for People for Puget Sound. "But we have not yet worked out an agreement on a final proposal.
"And accountability is where we will succeed or fail."
Gregoire created the partnership - 22 leaders from business, environmental groups, science, higher education and government - in late 2005 to create recommendations for the huge job of restoring Puget Sound by 2020.
The partnership will give Gregoire a draft report today and hear comments during public meetings on Monday, Tuesday and Oct. 24.
The final report to Gregoire is due in late November. She'll use those recommendations to craft legislation for the 2007 Legislature.

Granny's Struggle: Are we loving to death orcas once feared as 'demons'?
October 13, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fifth of six stories by M.L. Lyke
"When I see the orcas, I always feel like I could die right now, I'm that content, at peace," said Susan Berta, who oversees a Whidbey Island whale-sighting network (www.orcanetwork.org). "I think we have a lot to learn from them, about sharing resources, and living sustainably, peacefully."
Though a few old-time fishermen in the San Juans grumble about too many "enviros" and say they "hate the stupid whales" that take away their fish, tourists are mad for the black-and-white celebrities.
In 1988, whale-watching boats had about 15,000 customers. By 2001, that number was more than 400,000. Floatplanes and vessels -- including privately owned powerboats, sailboats, kayaks -- have long dogged the whales.
Humans successfully reunited Springer with her tribe in 2004. Luna, from L-Pod, didn't make it. The young male orca -- believed by a tribe of First Nation natives to embody the spirit of their deceased chief -- died this March when he was sucked into the prop of a large ocean tugboat.
Orca advocates went into mourning.
Research scientist Ken Balcomb has witnessed many made-for-movies moments.
One day, he was motoring out of Admiralty Inlet across the Strait of Juan de Fuca when he ran into a thick blanket of fog. Within 10 minutes, the southern residents converged on his boat, crowding around. There were more than 80 whales, some only inches from the hull.
Granny was among them. So was Ruffles. The old one and her family swam slowly with the boat for two hours, until the fog cleared.
Were they guiding the boat around shallow shoals? Balcomb wonders. "Wherever they were, there was enough water depth for the boat," he said. "It was a very moving experience."

Slaughtered orcas' DNA a chance to save the species
October 13, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A slaughter decades ago could provide clues that scientists need to ensure the survival of Puget Sound orcas for generations to come.
Buried in multiple sites on Whidbey Island are the bodies of orcas killed in 1970 in a botched effort to catch the killer whales for aquarium displays. Now scientists are preparing to unearth them for genetic analysis.
The excavation could prove important to defending the government's plan to protect the orcas under the Endangered Species Act. The effort is being attacked by building and farming organizations who say there are plenty of orcas in the world, and Puget Sound's aren't special enough to deserve the nation's highest level of protection.
The DNA of the lost orcas could help settle that debate.
"I've always known that some of the whales from the Penn Cove capture that were killed were buried on the island," said Whidbey resident Susan Berta, program director of the non-profit Orca Network, which tracks the whales. She'd figured that "someday that information may come in handy."
The shorelines are key to orca survival because of their importance to the orcas' prey, environmentalists say. Forage fish such as herring and sand lance lay their eggs on and near beaches. Juvenile salmon inhabit shallow waters, eating insects that fall from shoreline plants and avoiding deepwater predators. Forage fish are eaten by the salmon, which in turn feed the orcas.

Granny's Struggle: Orcas' quiet world shattered by sonar, intruding civilization
October 12, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Fourth of six stories by M.L. Lyke
By some estimates, the underwater decibel level is around eight times louder than it was in Granny's childhood. It will increase even more if shipping traffic doubles over the next decade, as expected.
For Granny, who holds the memory of a quieter time, it's like living in the middle of New York City, under a busy subway. The underwater cacophony interferes with her family calls and the signals used to coordinate family hunts.
Researchers suggest orcas have to raise their voices to even be heard now. "Birds living by freeways do the same thing," said Rich Osborne, director of the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.
If Granny's calls are now louder, they're also longer. She sometimes has to repeat herself to be heard.
Despite the congestion, she stays -- and plays. Her J-Pod family has been spotted gaily surfing the bow wakes of big tankers and ocean-going tugs in Rosario Strait, prime family feeding territory.
Maybe they can tolerate the boat noise.
Sonar is another matter.
On May 5, 2003, the Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup was testing its tactical midfrequency sonar near San Juan Island. The sonar, used to detect stealthy enemy submarines, was so loud whale-watchers could hear it pinging through boat hulls several miles away. Divers recorded it underwater. Tide-poolers could hear the screech in the air. Up to 100 Dall's porpoises sped away from the destroyer, high-tailing down Haro Strait.
The pulses reverberated off the rock canyon underneath Haro Strait, where Granny and her tribe herd their prey. Researchers said almost all of the 24 members of J-Pod were in the thick of the blasts, confused, likely unable to determine where the sounds were coming from.
Some researchers described the orcas as "panicked." Research scientist Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, described them as "terrorized."

Major oil spill presents greatest short-term threat to orcas' survival
October 12, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Only now, nearly three years after the spill and almost six years after Ecology started updating key rules dating back as far as 1991, the new regulations go into effect this month. While they set standards higher than those required under federal law, critics say they don't go far enough to protect one of the nation's busiest waterways.
Still, in the years since the Point Wells spill, improvements have been made in the spill-protection system. Last month Ecology began distributing some $1.5 million worth of containment and cleanup equipment in caches to be left with Indian tribes, fire stations and operators of ports and marinas. The aim: a quicker initial response to spills -- a crucial factor in limiting environmental damage.
The Coast Guard also arranged for access to a helicopter and plane equipped with special devices to allow tracking of spilled oil in dark or foggy conditions -- a key failing in the Point Wells spill and a subsequent spill near Vashon Island. Ecology contributed software. Officials also have upgraded the pre-positioning plans for where to deploy oil-containment curtains called "boom" to protect the Sound's most ecologically sensitive shorelines.
"We have a good program now, but the Legislature asked us to make a recommendation for a state-of-the-art program," said former state Rep. Mike Cooper, who led the effort.
The Point Wells spill served as a potent reminder that despite vast improvements in Puget Sound's and the nation's oil-spill record in recent years, spills are still happening here -- some 1,850 were reported to the state last year -- and big ones are still very much a possibility.

Granny's Struggle: A black and white gold rush is on
October 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Third of six stories by M.L. Lyke
Bold men could make their fortunes trapping them.
How could Granny, matriarch of J-Pod, know that the big fishing nets she had so artfully dodged would soon encircle her?
The craze for Puget Sound killer whales took off in 1965, with the assist of an entrepreneur and raconteur named Ted Griffin, a 29-year-old with a nose for publicity.
Griffin had built the Seattle Public Aquarium on Pier 56 in 1962 to attract crowds attending the World's Fair in Seattle -- the seminal event that would put the odd, soggy city in the corner of the country on the international map.
The aquarium owner named his orca Namu, and trademarked the name to sell records and novelties. Namu, he said, was his "closest companion," his "personal pet." He hand-fed the Canadian orca, taught him tricks, donned a black Neoprene wet suit and swam with him. In a 28-page spread in National Geographic, he touted the leviathan's agility and intelligence.
Griffin named the troubled 14-foot female Shamu and leased her to SeaWorld for $2,000 a month, for as long as she lived. Shamu was flown 1,066 miles to San Diego, and a waiting saltwater tank at SeaWorld. There she spent her first day sending distress calls in the J-Pod dialect that had held her family together for generations.
Two groups of resident orcas work the Salish Sea. The northern residents fish the waters of British Columbia, north to Frederick Sound in Alaska. The southern residents, Granny's community, fish south, from lower British Columbia down into Puget Sound, as far as Olympia.
Northern and southern populations keep their respectful distances.

Suit filed over chinook-salmon harvest
October 11, 2006 (Seattle Times) A regional coalition of fish conservationists went to court Tuesday in Seattle to try to force the federal government to re-evaluate its management of Puget Sound chinook salmon so more of the species can return to spawn.
The complaint filed in U.S. District Court says a salmon-harvest-management plan approved in 2004 jeopardizes the recovery of chinook, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
"This goal is kind of closing the circle in terms of a comprehensive recovery plan for Puget Sound chinook," said Bill Bakke of Native Fish Society in Portland, which joined the Salmon Spawning & Recovery Alliance, Washington Trout and the Clark-Skamania Flyfishers in bringing the lawsuit.

Low-impact methods have high impact on ecosystems
October 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Rain barrels, green roofs play a key role in saving orcas
In the front yard of the Ballard house is a hole wider than a bathtub. It has sloping sides and the bottom is lined with shiny ocean-blue rocks. It's planted with native iris and grasses. A drainpipe from the roof at the front of the house empties into it.
Installed last year, the cistern and hole -- actually a "rain garden" -- are tools to control stormwater, holding it where it falls and letting it soak into the earth.

Toxic stormwater is one of the Sound's biggest threats
October 11, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The killer? Stormwater runoff.
With each rainstorm, a dose of algae-fertilizing nutrients, plus assorted toxic filth, washes off the streets and yards of the town and flows into the harbor.
Stormwater pollution is plaguing Puget Sound, and government efforts to control it are running far behind the 270-person-a-day population increase and ensuing development.
Federal scientists have made preliminary predictions that the Sound's coho salmon could be extinct in 60 years because of stormwater pollution. Chinook -- the favorite food of local orcas -- seem more resilient, but remain at risk.
"People don't understand that Puget Sound is turning into a cesspool," Cara Cruickshank says.
So the environmental consultant launched a tiny non-profit group that is taking a stab at cleaning up the harbor, which also is being polluted by sewage treatment plants and leaking septic tanks.

Granny's Struggle: Ignorance, fear lead to a death by art
October 10, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Second of six stories by M.L. Lyke
For centuries, humans had viewed orcas -- which are actually super-size dolphins -- as bloodthirsty beasts. They believed the predators would attack, kill and devour a man in an instant, like so much fish food.
Sailors told tales of Jonahs rotting away in the bellies of the gluttons with the menacing teeth. The Aleuts of Kodiak Island called orcas polossatik, "the feared ones." The Haidas of British Columbia called them skana, "killing demons." Some Northwest tribes held that orcas had supernatural powers, that they were sea-gods who captured canoes, dragged humans underwater and transformed them into killer whales.
Attitudes were rooted in eyewitness accounts of transient orcas, nomadic ocean-dwelling killer whales. The transients attacked gray whales, blue whales, porpoises, sea lions, seals, even great white sharks, often jumping on their prey and holding them down until they drowned. These cunning wolves of the sea hunted the open ocean in packs.
Transients and resident orcas might share the same ancestry, share the same tuxedo coloration and imposing physique, even the same animal intelligence, but they are genetically distinct. They avoid one another, even when they swim the same seas.
They haven't interbred in thousands of years.
Bullets didn't make such distinctions in the first half of the century. Whalers shot at the whale-eaters as freely as they shot at fish-eaters. So, for decades, did commercial fishermen. These "blackfish" were thieves, spoilers, defilers of human fortune. The salmon they snatched rightfully belonged to humans, not animals.
One commercial fisherman in the San Juan Islands said he knew when killer whales were coming through gill net fleets by the sounds of gunfire.
No one knows how Moby Doll was related to Granny, but Canadian researchers linked the orca -- mistakenly identified as a female -- to J-Pod through his distinctive dialect, an old language of squeaking hinges and high-octave bleats carried generation to generation.

A rising tide of chemicals and sewage
October 10, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The samples will strengthen a body of research tracking contamination in seals in Puget Sound, around Vancouver Island and along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The scientists are looking for long-lived toxic chemicals that can sicken animals -- including orcas and people. Contamination is one of the bigger threats to local killer whale populations.
"Harbor seals give us a good snapshot, a good overview of these chemicals in our ocean food web," Ross said.
The picture isn't black and white. Contamination levels have remained steady for some of the pollutants, but the amount of chemical flame retardants has skyrocketed, doubling in the Sound's harbor seals every four years dating back to 1984.
Microscopic bits of plastic are sucked up by sea life of all shapes and sizes. Humans flush their pharmaceuticals and birth control and caffeine into the ecosystem, in some cases making male fish more female. Nutrients in sewage waste are helping stoke algal blooms that then die, rot and suck oxygen from the water, making it lethal to fish, crabs and octopuses.
There are bright points. About 1 million pounds of creosote-soaked logs have been removed from Whidbey Island beaches alone. Across the Sound, efforts continue to recover abandoned fishing nets that catch and drown sea life. Two high-tech sewage treatment plants are being built and state-led plans are in place to reduce the release of dangerous chemicals, including mercury and the flame retardants.
Cleanup projects were launched and completed. The PCBs wouldn't go away.
Sandie O'Neill, a research scientist with the state Fish and Wildlife Department, believes the solution is tangled in the web of marine life. The chemical -- which can accumulate in animal tissues and blubber -- is traveling from the mud-dwelling creatures and tiny floating plants to salmon and orcas and back again as the creatures die and decompose.
"You turn off the (PCB) tap, what's in the food web is cycling around and around and around," O'Neill said.
The geologic structure of the Sound -- a deep tub with a shallow underwater ledge at its northern end -- limits the amount of flushing from the ocean.
Now many people fear that chemical flame retardants could cause similar environmental and health woes. The retardants are called polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, and are a sort of chemical cousin to PCBs.
"The poop, the solids, the foods, they're easy to get out," continues Plank, who works for the county's sewage department.
"The shampoos, the medicines, all the chemicals -- they're the hardest," she says. "We're not designed to get out chemicals."
The advice used to be to flush old, unused medicine down the toilet. Now people are advised to put the drugs in the trash.

Granny's Struggle: Survival perfected by years spent navigating a changing sea
October 9, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) First of six stories by M.L. Lyke
She leads, they follow. She is their tribal elder, keeper of family knowledge. She holds the maps for survival. She knows when salmon return to the rivers' mouths, knows the kelp forests where they hide, knows the ancient underwater canyons and crevasses that once held great schools of fat chinook.
She has lived long, seen much, some of it best forgotten: Bullets, bombs, nets, babies born dead. She understands the world of orcas. It's always about survival, always about community.
Her family travels together, porpoising in easy rhythm, their black fins slicing the surface like so many windmills. They hunt together, spread out in lines that stretch for miles. They talk, using chirps and whistles, squawks and squeals that sound like metal files on a saw blade. Scree-eeeeeee, scree-eeeeee.
They play, surf boat wakes, toss jellyfish, sensuously rub and roll atop one another in sexual romps.
Their bonds are strong and formal. They travel with their mothers for life. They are family.

In the battle between fish and farmers, orcas are the losers
October 9, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) About a third of Puget Sound's chinook salmon come from the Skagit River. There is no rescuing Puget Sound orcas without rescuing the chinook, the orcas' main food source. And there is no rescuing chinook without bringing back those in the Skagit.
And yet, the Skagit -- the largest river flowing into Puget Sound, one where all five native salmon species still can be found -- is the classic example of how much people resist changes that are necessary to rescue Puget Sound's sea life.
While the population is at only a fraction of its historic levels, the number of wild Skagit chinook has seen a gradual increase over the past decade. Last year, a diverse coalition of interests called the Shared Strategy for Puget Sound released its draft proposal for further boosting their numbers.
Yet many vows made previously in the name of salmon recovery remain unfilled, leaving plenty of room for doubt that Gov. Chris Gregoire's new campaign will work.
Probably the biggest bottleneck for Skagit salmon, biologists say, is the destruction of the river's delta, where fresh water and salt water mix. Historically, young salmon could hang out here, getting acclimated to the brine of Puget Sound while hiding from predators.
But more than three-quarters of that so-called "estuary" is gone, blocked with dikes installed to keep salt water out and create farmland. The dikes included "tide gates" to allow rainwater to drain off the fields.
After the salmon gained legal protection in 1999, environmentalists and tribes began to push the issue. Letting some salt water into farmland would help regain part of the lost estuary, they reasoned.
But that would reduce the amount of land available for crops. So farmers and their allies in the Legislature found a simple solution: They changed the law. Suddenly, it was no longer illegal for the farmers' tide gates to keep young salmon out of their historic rearing grounds. Problem solved. For the farmers.
Farmers say letting fish in means letting salt water onto land drained a century ago. The diked land now is used for growing peas, potatoes, berries and other crops eaten locally, as well as spinach and other seeds exported worldwide. If farmers are driven out, many conservationists worry the land will be paved for development -- a worse scenario ecologically for the fish.
Wasserman, of the tribal fishing group, was the co-author of a 2000 study that severely criticized Fish and Wildlife's hydraulic permit program as understaffed and unwilling to regulate strongly. He says little has changed in six years.

Marine life is disappearing from Puget Sound, and fast
October 9, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Elected leaders have promised for decades to save Puget Sound. But weak regulations, spotty enforcement, political foot-dragging and a surge of new residents have led to little progress.
Will the recent adoption of Endangered Species Act protections for orcas and a pending plan to restore the Sound finally change that?

Australian fungus cited in deaths of porpoises
October 7, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A microscopic fungus native to Australia and blamed for the death of people and animals in British Columbia is now linked to the deaths of porpoises and at least one cat in Washington state.
Necropsies have revealed that cryptococcus gattii, first detected in the region on Vancouver Island in 1999, was the cause of death in six porpoises and a cat in the state, Washington's former public health veterinarian, Almira Jane Leslie, told The Herald of Everett.
The cat that died and two others that were infected with the fungus last year were in Whatcom County, and the porpoises were among 25 that have died in Washington and B.C. waters since 1999, Leslie said.
Except for a few isolated cases in animals in aquariums, doctors and veterinarians said, it was the first time the fungus, which is invisible to the naked eye, has been documented in the United States.
Another possibility is that the fungus was long present in British Columbia but became a threat to animals only with warmer weather, said Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist with the Animal Health Center in Abbotsford, B.C., just north of the border from Sumas.
"Part of the hypothesis is that because of increasing global temperatures, the environmental conditions are better," Raverty said.

Two former governors endorse breaching four dams
October 7, 2006 (Seattle Times) Congress is tiring of shelling out millions to save Snake River salmon, and four dams on the river should be breached to help the runs and free the money for alternative energy and to protect river users, two former governors said Friday.
"What is at stake here goes far beyond the issue of salmon and dams and the regional economy," former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber told the Portland City Club.
Government agencies, meanwhile, defended the dams and said efforts to save salmon are getting results.
"The simple question is not whether we breach these four Snake River dams," Kitzhaber said, but whether there is a regional desire to restore the health of the Columbia River ecosystem.
Bruce Babbitt, a former governor of Arizona, said, "I want to leave you with a sense of urgency of this issue. We've been grappling with it for 15 years now."
After billions of dollars, he said, "The game is just about up."
"In the time that we've been spending this money the Snake River coho salmon have become extinct. The sockeye salmon has become functionally extinct. There is no way to justify such spending for those results."
Babbitt said the $600 million to $700 million a year spent to help the salmon runs could be used to help farmers get their grain to market by improving the rail system and guaranteeing fair shipping rates.
Babbitt said the dams generate only 5 percent of the power of the Bonneville Power Administration grid and about 2 percent of the power used in the Pacific Northwest.

Whale's death draws the curious
October 7, 2006 (Seattle Times) When a 15-ton, 50-plus-foot carcass ends up on the Long Beach Peninsula beach used by tourists and locals for driving around in four-wheelers, and, in season, for digging razor clams, it can bring out a bit of philosophizing.
"It was a noble death," said Yvonne Richard, 55, of Vancouver, as she stood by the carcass.
"I feel sad. They're having quite a hard time, with all the pollution and whatnot," Bob Stotts, of Sandy, Ore., said about whales. "Too bad it can't talk."
The humpback whale, a female, was spotted near the beach on Wednesday by state fish and wildlife researchers in a helicopter who were doing a count of seals and sea lions.
Friday morning, about a dozen researchers from various agencies used long knives to cut into the carcass and remove its organs, hoping to determine what killed the whale.
The cause of death wasn't anything obvious, such as the whale having been hit by a ship, said Jessie Huggins of the Cascadia Research Collective, an Olympia-based nonprofit that studies whales.

Other countries heeding climate change
October 6, 2006 (The Independent - UK) One cheer for Monterrey, which is where ministers from the G8 rich nations and from the emerging economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa have been meeting to discuss climate change. That they met at all is progress, for not all of them have signed the Kyoto agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions -- which by 2050 will be 137 per cent higher than in 2003, on present rates of inaction.
And they took some steps forward. They agreed there is an urgent need to scale up investment in low-carbon technologies. They endorsed some important confidence-building measures on bio-ethanol in Brazil, in rural villages in India and on new scenarios for co-operation with South Africa.
More significantly, they went beyond the familiar arguments on the science, which by now have convinced all but those who do not want to hear.
So far so good. But the proceedings still lack a real sense of urgency. Governments think they have until 2010 to agree an international framework simply because negotiating Kyoto took that long. The British government is keen to bring on board the United States, the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide. It is important to sustain the effort, and to try to fast-track world leaders into more action at the next G8 summit in Germany in 2007. And it is vital to keep pushing for a tougher European carbon cap-and-trading scheme -- one in which others, like the state of California perhaps, could join.

Hood Canal: New dead zone
October 6, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) A new dead zone reflects Hood Canal's perilous state. Although officials are making serious efforts to deal with the looming ecological catastrophe, the latest findings underline the need for more urgent responses.
The possibility of new trouble had been widely predicted before countless shrimp, crab, lingcod and other fish died in September. The canal had very low oxygen levels as it entered a period of peak vulnerability in the summer and early fall.
But there was still an element of shock when researchers for the Skokomish Indian Tribe reported the widespread nature of dire conditions they had found near the fish kill site earlier in the summer. The researchers reported finding white, jellylike underwater mats of bacteria. In the same area, dead Dungeness crabs and fish floated.
"No living invertebrates or vertebrates were found" at the depths where the mats existed, according to a Skokomish scientific assessment.

Intelligent, emotional, ingenious: the amazing truth about whales and dolphins
October 5, 2006 (The Independent - UK) A growing number of behavioural studies strongly suggest that whale and dolphin brain power is matched only by the higher primates, including man, according to a new review of the scientific literature by one of Britain's leading save-the-whale campaigners.
It means that the potential impact of whaling may be far greater than it appears, and we should adopt a new approach to the conservation of these species which takes into account their intelligence, societies, culture - and potential to suffer, says Mark Simmonds, director of science for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Group living, in fact, is at the centre of cetacean existence, perhaps because the sea has few refuges from predators, and many species "have nothing to hide behind but each other". It has led to the evolution of many types of sophisticated co-operative behaviour, from hunting, to young males banding together to secure mating partners. And there is an "emerging but compelling argument", Mr Simmonds says, that some cetacean species exhibit culture - behaviour that is acquired through social learning.

$1 million grant for wetlands secured for North Willapa
October 3, 2006 (Gray's Harbor Daily World) The North Willapa Bay Wetlands Conservation has received a $1 million federal grant to help protect 2,116 acres of wetlands.
Funding will be used to purchase 1,391 acres of wetlands for conservation and an additional 725 acres of land will be restored through dike removal and invasive species control.
"Willapa Bay is a pristine estuary that is home to amazing biodiversity," said Congressman Brian Baird, D-Wash., who helped obtain the funds. "The grant will help ensure it is protected for future generations to enjoy."

10 rare Irrawaddy dolphins born in Cambodia
October 3, 2006 (Yahoo News) At least 10 young Irrawaddy dolphins have been discovered in Cambodia, a government official has said, raising hopes the rare animal was being pulled back from the brink of extinction.
The calves, observed by fisheries officials, were most likely born between May and July in the Mekong river not far from the Lao border, said Touch Seang Tana, who chairs a government commission established to protect the dolphins.
The commission was set up earlier this year after at least 12 dolphins died in January and February, raising extinction fears. Conservationists estimate that fewer than 100 Irrawaddy dolphins exist in the wild.
But Touch Seang Tana said that number could be around 130 and that he hoped there would be as many as 170 within the next five years.

Doing right by West Coast waters
October 3, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Kevin Ranker) I live on San Juan Island overlooking Haro Strait and am used to seeing our beloved southern resident orca whales swim by. Whenever I hear them outside my window, I can't help but smile.
Whether we're fishing for salmon, chasing our kids around tide pools or listening to orcas, we should all experience the glory of the waters on our coast. Gov. Chris Gregoire and her fellow West Coast governors have taken a bold step in that direction by launching a concerted effort to protect the health of the ocean.
This is a big move, and not just because it involved Govs. Gregoire, Ted Kulongoski of Oregon and Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. It's big because the ocean is big, with a lot of different people in different places making different decisions. Now we're going to start making the big, hard decisions together and treating our ocean the way scientists are saying we should, as a single, vast, interconnected web of life.

Stronger oil-spill protections urged
October 3, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Washington should double the size of its oil-spill prevention program, station a rescue tugboat year-round at Neah Bay, better protect such sensitive spots as the San Juan Islands -- and pay for all this by boosting oil and gasoline taxes, a citizens watchdog panel said Monday.
Established by the Legislature after a 2003 oil spill in Edmonds that fouled beaches across Puget Sound in Kitsap County, the Washington State Oil Spill Advisory Council laid out a program that also includes a big push to clean up abandoned and derelict vessels that can leak oil.
And the council asked legislators to expand its two-person staff and significantly boost its budget so it can continue identifying shortcomings in the state's oil-spill prevention efforts.
Either the federal or state government should come up with money or a regulation requiring a tug at Neah Bay to rescue ships in distress that could run aground and cause a spill, the council said.
A patchwork of funding plans has managed to station a tug there in fall and winter months since 1999. But the state is having trouble finding a tug to do the job this winter, and no funding has been identified to keep the tug in place after 2008.
A bigger, better tug that can save a vessel even in the punishing seas off the coast is needed, Cooper and the council said.
And it has to be there year-round. The current fall and winter assignment "is a little like saying we're only going to have medics in the firehouses on weekends, so be careful when you have your heart attack," said Cooper, who recently retired as a Shoreline firefighter.

Study finds lice from fish farms kill tiny salmon
October 3, 2006 (Seattle Times) A team of Canadian scientists has found the most direct evidence yet that baby salmon pick up fatal infections of sea lice while swimming past salmon farms in British Columbia's Broughton Archipelago, and that the more salmon farms the more baby salmon die.
"Before we knew there were potential problems," said Martin Krkosek, a doctoral student at the University of Alberta who was lead author of the study released Monday by the American journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Now it is very clear we have severe problems here."
In natural conditions, the adult salmon that carry the sea lice aren't in the migration channels and rivers at the same time as young pink and chum salmon, so the little fish are not infested, said Mark Lewis, University of Alberta senior Canada research chair in mathematical biology, who oversaw the research.
But fish farms have changed that, raising hundreds of thousands of adults in floating net pens anchored year round in the channels where the young fish migrate. The young pink and chum salmon are only an inch long, and do not yet have scales to protect them from parasites, he said.
Ransom Myers, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, who was not part of the study, said it was the most comprehensive to date on the issue and hoped it would push the Canadian government to take action to protect wild salmon.

Bering Sea, Part 2 - Scientists at sea: hard work, rough seas - and a bit of fun
October 2, 2006 (Seattle Times) Every research cruise is a balancing act. The five-week trip this spring required extra juggling because so many different specialties were represented. Scientists studying water chemistry and microscopic plants and animals were vying for ship time with those looking for fish, counting birds and tagging seals.
At 274 feet, the Thompson is like a small city. It has six diesel electric motors, a desalination plant for drinking water and rudimentary sewage-treatment capacity. It carries 260,000 gallons of fuel and burns 3,600 gallons a day going full speed.

Bering Sea, Part 1 - Ecological upheaval on the edge of the ice
October 1, 2006 (Seattle Times) But the nation's richest ocean ecosystem is in the midst of a major upheaval, and scientists suspect global warming is at least partly to blame. Researchers like those who spent a month this spring on the University of Washington's Thompson are trying to figure out what the future holds for the region called America's "fish basket."
Warmer water favors some species, including pollock, the "money" fish that dwarfs all other fisheries worldwide and winds up primarily in imitation crab, fish sticks and fish burgers. A fleet of ships, mostly from Washington, mines nearly 3 billion pounds of pollock from the Bering Sea each year - the equivalent of 10 pounds for every man, woman and child in the United States.
"This is not a clear doomsday story," said George Hunt, a University of Washington ecologist who monitored birds during the Thompson cruise. "If temperatures continue to increase, there's a better than even chance pollock fishing will improve."
But there also are indications the Bering Sea's fabled productivity may be diminishing - and that sustained warming could bring nasty surprises.
Where ice has vanished, algae don't bloom until later in the spring. By then, the water has warmed slightly and zooplankton are abundant. The little animals gobble up the plants, so less food falls to the bottom. Instead, the zooplankton nourish a food chain that favors fish like pollock and cod and fish-eating mammals like killer whales.

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