Orca Network News - October, 2007
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
October 1, 2007 through October 31, 2007.
Tidal generation cooperation agreement signed
October 31, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) The agreement between the two companies aims to install at least three 1.2 megawatt turbine generators "at appropriate locations near Campbell River."
"Discovery Passage and its adjacent marine areas have some of the world's best tidal energy resources," said Thor Peterson, BC Tidal president.
"MCT's technology seems a good fit for the tidal current characteristics, ocean depths and promises low environmental impact."
More Dead Seabirds Reported Near Kingston
October 31, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) A ferry captain on the Kingston-Edmonds route reported seeing between 50 and 100 dead birds floating on the water Tuesday morning.
"We first thought somebody's net had gotten loose," said Tim Koivu, captain on the ferry Spokane. "They looked like white fishing net floats. Then we realized they were birds."
The birds were floating upside down, their white bellies facing up, Koivu said. He spotted the birds at about 10 a.m. in an area perhaps 300 yards across and less than a mile from the Kingston ferry terminal.
The finding follows an alarming incident last week in which more than 200 dead birds washed up on the beach near Indianola. Both events coincided with commercial fishing in the Kingston area, but Koivu and others involved said they could not specifically tie the bird kills to fishing.
Levee blasts signal a truce in water wars
October 31, 2007 (Oregonian) Fifty-year-old levees blew up in a dramatic display of dirt and smoke Tuesday, freeing lake water as part of an unprecedented wetlands restoration effort to save protected fish and cool the water wars that have divided the Klamath Basin for decades.
At 11:10 a.m., the first in a series of blasts sent chunks of the massive dikes 300 feet into the air. One after another, detonations fueled by tons of explosives pounded the air, shooting up like fireworks in a billowy display of blacks, greens and yellows.
Less than five minutes later, four half-mile sections of peat soil the consistency of powdered sugar lay in heaps. Slowly the smoke settled. Even more slowly, water from Agency and Upper Klamath lakes began seeping into tawny-colored barley fields.
The flooding of 2,500 acres of the Williamson River delta is designed to aid the recovery of two species of fish found only in the Klamath Basin. In 1988, the Lost River and shortnose suckers were declared endangered under federal law. Ever since, sparring interests have been trying to put together an acceptable recovery plan.
Suckers once thrived in the wetlands of the lower Williamson River. Their numbers began to decline after engineers built the levees in the 1950s to drain the river delta for farmland.
But the $10 million restoration project goes well beyond the survival of a species. It reaches into faltering environments, disrupted tribal cultures and struggling farm families, attempting to harmonize human communities and wildlife habitat.
Enormous ocean dump poses huge cleanup challenge
October 31, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stewy body of plastic and marine debris that floats about 1,000 miles west of California, is a shape-shifting mass far too large, delicate and remote to ever be cleaned up, according to a researcher who recently returned from the area.
But that might not stop the federal government from trying.
Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif., who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris -- which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas -- is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean.
"Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans -- it boggles the mind," Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. "There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big."
The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, because of a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. It accumulates the same way bubbles gather at the center of a hot tub, Moore said.
Help for Salmon
October 30, 2007 (Columbian editorial) In addition to the transportation triumph, this was a noteworthy accomplishment in environmental science. The massive weir, after it is attached to the dam in the next few days by diving specialists, will enable migrating salmon and steelhead to more easily answer their instincts and move downstream hundreds of miles to the ocean.
According to the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, this year's fish weir arrived at Lower Monumental Dam on Tuesday, ahead of schedule.
The fish weir technology allows migrating fish to pass more gradually through the dam, starting at a higher level, 10-13 feet below the surface instead of having to dive 50-60 feet down spillways to find a way downstream. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, similar weirs at the Lower Granite and Ice Harbor dams on the Snake River have allowed the migrating fish to achieve survival rates of higher than 96 percent. That's because the deep-water threats of pressure changes and rapid acceleration are lessened or removed by installing the huge steel contraptions.
This relatively new technology, however, cannot be expected to resolve the debate about whether the four Snake River dams should be breached, as many environmentalists have argued. Originally, The Columbian endorsed such a strategy for salmon survival, but we acknowledge that dam-breaching has drawn little support among elected officials. And for now, while the debate rages on, the scientific advancement represented by removable fish weirs is at least a step toward enhancing fish migration.
Central Valley salmon largely absent from fall run - but why?
October 30, 2007 (San Francisco Chronicle) This year's Central Valley fall salmon run is worrying both fishermen and biologists, who say fewer of the prized chinook are out in the ocean or making it up the rivers to spawn.
By this time, usually tens of thousands more fish are being hooked by fishermen or are swimming through the Golden Gate to the tributaries of San Francisco Bay. Upstream, the fish spawn in the same rivers where they were born, carrying on the generations of silvery king salmon.
Yet commercial fishermen who hunt for salmon in the ocean from Monterey to Bodega before the fish start their journey up the rivers report the worst salmon fishing in decades.
Fisheries biologists in Northern California who count the salmon that return up the American, Feather and Sacramento rivers are seeing a big decline in fish for this time of year. Some runs might have as few as 20 to 25 percent of the fish normally expected by this time of year, data show.
The salmon run could just be a little late this year, say state Fish and Game Department officials. On the Klamath and Trinity river systems, biologists say the salmon are about three to four weeks late, but they think the fish will come eventually.
State ban on flame retardant remains intact
October 30, 2007 (Seattle Times) A bill in Congress to strengthen the Consumer Product Safety Commission won't include a provision to override a state law banning the use of a controversial flame retardant.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Democrat, won a promise from the bill's author that an amendment pre-empting the state's prohibition against polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) would not be added to the legislation.
The Senate Commerce Committee, on which Cantwell serves, is scheduled to vote on the bill today.
The legislation is the most significant revision of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since 1990. It could affect thousands of products, including toys, all-terrain vehicles, furniture, mattresses and imports from China.
The bill would mandate more inspections by the safety agency and higher fines for breaking its rules.
Last week, manufacturers and retailers tried to insert a provision to pre-empt a law passed by the Washington state Legislature in April to ban the use or manufacture of PBDE.
The chemical - used in televisions, computers and building materials - has shown up in everything from Puget Sound water to women's breast milk to house dust.
Seattle reports milestone in cutting emissions
October 30, 2007 (Seattle Times) Seattle is one of the first major U.S. cities to claim it has cut greenhouse-gas emissions enough to meet the targets of the international Kyoto treaty aimed at combating global warming.
The achievement, at a time when the city has enjoyed a boom in population and jobs, sets Seattle apart both from the nation as a whole and other cities that have seen greenhouse gases soar in recent years.
But keeping a lid on such emissions in the future means confronting one of the city's most intractable problems: how to get people out of their cars and driving less.
Although critics say trying to meet the Kyoto targets nationwide would hurt the economy without solving global warming, supporters call it a critical first step toward much deeper reductions needed to slow or even reverse the warming.
Seattle's reductions were largely the result of energy conservation by households and businesses, and changes in power production at Seattle City Light, the report said.
Captive marine mammals lead short, miserable lives
October 29, 2007 (Scripps News op-ed) Here in South Texas, marine-mammal mortality was in the news during the past few weeks. On Sept. 21, Cobie, a 15-year-old bottlenose dolphin housed at the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, succumbed to a lung condition that had plagued him all summer. The director of the aquarium says that Cobie was a "wonderful ambassador for his aquatic brethren."
On Oct. 17, Taku, a so-called killer whale, died of pneumonia at Sea World in San Antonio. He was 14 years old.
Marine mammals are elusive in the wild, and scientists have a difficult time determining their normal life expectancies, as compared to those of terrestrial animals. A range of estimates is available, but this one by an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is typical: "Life expectancy for wild female killer whales is approximately 50 years, with maximum longevity estimated at 80-90 years. Male killer whales typically live for about 30 years, with maximum longevity estimated at 50-60 years."
But not necessarily at theme parks and aquariums. These institutions tend to lowball non-captive life expectancies. But considerable evidence suggests that the confines of a typical Sea World display tank isn't the healthiest environment for an animal designed to swim 50 to 100 miles per day, eat fresh fish and live in a complex social structure.
All in all, the Marine Mammal Inventory Report is a gruesome chronicle of killer whales' short lives and their deaths by exotic diseases. And the story is about the same for bottlenose dolphins, as well.
Proponents of marine-mammal exhibitions sometimes argue that captive dolphins and killer whales lead comfortable, pampered lives, free from the dangers of the open ocean. Human companionship and veterinary care are provided. Dinner arrives on schedule every day in a bucket, with snacks thrown in for good performance.
But this line of reasoning is singularly unconvincing. I suspect that the bottlenose dolphin's built-in, goofy grin implies he's having a better time doing his tricks than he really is. Like us, marine mammals are serious, intelligent creatures whose existence makes sense only in the natural habit in which they evolved.
You don't have to commit much anthropomorphization to believe that these creatures lead confined, miserable lives that are, in many cases, mercifully short.
Swimming with dolphins 'is cruelty not therapy'
October 29, 2007 (Times UK) It is promoted as one of the few treatments that can help children with disabilities such as autism, a life-changing experience that can transform their behaviour and prognosis.
Therapy based on swimming with dolphins, however, is cruel to the animals and dangerous to patients, and there is no evidence that it actually works, a new report from a leading conservation group has found.
Its call for an international ban on such dolphin-assisted therapy (DAT) has been endorsed by a respected autism research charity, which described it as "expensive and potentially harmful".
Both the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and Autism Research agreed that the techniques exploit both vulnerable families and captive animals, and have no place in medicine.
SONAR VS. WHALES
October 29, 2007 (Kentucky Courier Journal) Twenty-two varieties of beaked whales roam the seas, feeding on bottom-dwelling squid and small fish on the dark ocean floor. Shy and seldom seen by man, they are among the least understood large creatures on Earth.
But in recent years, these deepest-diving whales have sent out an unexpected distress signal, alerting researchers and marine mammal advocates, through their confused behavior and beachings, to an environmental hazard.
The threat comes from very loud noises, especially Navy sonar, that on at least several occasions have proved fatal to the whales.
The realization that sonar can disorient or frighten whales enough to leave them beached and dying has spurred protests and lawsuits and has given the Navy a problem it first denied but now concedes. Navy officials, however, have strenuously resisted efforts to limit testing of their sonar, saying it is essential to national security.
Named for the distinctive structures extending from their skulls, beaked whales can dive for extraordinarily long periods -- commonly for 30 minutes and up to 85 minutes. Because it's entirely dark on the ocean floor where they feed, they use their own form of sonar, a narrow "flashlight" of clicking sounds, to find their prey. They range in size from the 30-foot northern bottlenose whale to the 10- to 14-foot-long Blainville's beaked whale.
Two whales that were tagged were exposed to sonar-like sounds, as well as the recorded sound of an approaching killer whale, with little apparent change in behavior.
The project, expected to run at least two more years, has been generally welcomed by researchers and advocates for whales.
But some are concerned that the built-in limitations of the research could allow the Navy to declare that sonar is not harming the whales, when the project's protocols do not allow the scientists to expose whales to sounds as loud as those produced by sonar.
Port must take lead in restoring Puget Sound
October 28, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Kathy Fletcher and John Creighton) This year, a new Puget Sound Partnership is taking shape to restore the health of the Sound by 2020. At the same time, the Port of Seattle has announced the goal of becoming the "greenest, cleanest and most energy efficient port" in the nation. The two of us -- a port commissioner and an environmentalist -- are energized by these efforts, recognizing that the port should not only be a partner with other regional stakeholders in restoring our waterways, but should play a leadership role.
Restoring the health of our Sound is not only the right thing to do; it will drive a vibrant regional economy. The port projects strong growth over the next decade in each of its major operational lines of cargo, cruise, fisheries, marinas and aviation, adding to the more than 200,000 jobs that port-related activities create in our region. In order to grow in a responsible manner, it is important that the port be a good neighbor and strong environmental steward. A healthy environment is critical in continuing to increase the flow of cargo, boost tourism, maintain strong fisheries and attract workers.
Plea bargain worked out on oil spill
October 25, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Oil giant ConocoPhillips has been penalized $2.5 million for covering up an oil spill in 2004, with $250,000 going to the crewman from Olympia who reported the crime to the Coast Guard.
Polar Tankers Inc., a ConocoPhillips subsidiary, was ordered to pay a $500,000 criminal fine and $2 million payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in lieu of community service. The company pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to maintain an oil record book. The company also was sentenced to three years of probation.
$125,000 in pollution fines to help Duwamish salmon
October 25, 2007 (Seattle Times) Now, under an agreement announced Wednesday with the state, the transit agency will immediately fund the seven projects.
These projects - ranging from razing invasive plants such as blackberries, to removing tires, boulders and concrete blocks dumped along the shoreline - are to be completed in the next 18 months.
For their parts, the city of Tukwila, through which the Duwamish flows, and various groups that have worked to restore the river were only too happy to accept Sound Transit's money.
Standing along the western shore of the river, where South Riverside Drive dead-ends, Robin Clark gingerly made her way along rocks and concrete slabs lining the shore.
Nature took second place here, amid construction, tool, forging and other industrial companies. Here and there, blackberry bushes were wrapping themselves around rusting trailers, railroad ties and mangled cyclone fencing.
Clark is the habitat-restoration-project manager for People for Puget Sound, a nonprofit that will oversee the seven projects.
"In the process of straightening the river, and dredging the river, and replacing what used to be a significant mudflat estuary, we've lost 98 percent of that habitat," said the coordinator for the Duwamish and Green River Watershed, which is sponsored by a coalition of 17 local governments. "The juvenile chinook salmon have to rear themselves in the 2 percent that's left."
But, Osterman said, "We're pretty excited. We can turn this around."
Heavy Editing Is Alleged In Climate Testimony
October 24, 2007 (Washington Post) Testimony that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to give yesterday to a Senate committee about the impact of climate change on health was significantly edited by the White House, according to two sources familiar with the documents.
Specific scientific references to potential health risks were removed after Julie L. Gerberding submitted a draft of her prepared remarks to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review.
A CDC official familiar with both versions said Gerberding's draft "was eviscerated," cut from 14 pages to four. The version presented to the Senate committee consisted of six pages.
Oil-spill prevention work delayed by death at BP
October 24, 2007 (Bellingham Herald) A BP Cherry Point refinery project designed to prevent oil spills could be delayed nearly a year after a commercial diver died in August working on the project.
The delay means BP will miss a deadline this week to finish a state-mandated booming system that would surround and isolate incoming ships for oil transfers. The systems are required under new state law.
The state Department of Ecology will extend BP's deadline until August 2008, requiring the company to take extra precautions to ensure safe transfers in the meantime.
Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said precautions, which will keep BP in compliance with the state, will include emergency-ready oilskimmer boats, dock-mounted skimming devices and a temporary boom that would help prevent the spread of oil in the case of a spill.
Right whales getting wronged?
October 22, 2007 (Earth Sky Blogs) There's a good plan to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, but the government is not implementing it. A recent Washington Post article explains why.
In the story, Washington Post reporter Juliet Eilperin explains that last year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed a rule to protect right whales. There are only 400 of these creatures left (about 300 in the western North Atlantic, according to the NOAA Web site) and early this year the agency said the species could not afford any more untimely deaths. The death of one more pregnant female right whale, NOAA estimated, could mean the end of the species.
The proposed rule, which took five years to draft and emerged out of a pool of 100 policy options, would make ships slow down to 10 knots or less in certain East Coast waters during the part of the year when right whales migrate.
The biggest threats to the right whale are collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear.
The Bush administration appears to be dragging its feet on the rule and has not yet instituted it. Eilperin notes that the Office of Management and Budget has been studying the economic impacts of the rule since February 2007. Those impacts are estimated to be $116 million per year, or four-hundredths of one percent of the $300 billion East Coast shipping trade.
Whales Descended on Dyes Inlet 10 Years Ago
October 21, 2007 (Kitsap Sun) Editor's Note: A monthlong visit of 19 killer whales to Dyes Inlet in 1997 captured the hearts of many Kitsap County residents. We'd like to hear your recollections of the event and incorporate them into stories being planned over the next month. Please send your experience to email@example.com. Include details, if possible, such as date, time of day and location along with a phone number.
Ten years ago today, 19 killer whales advanced together through Bremerton's Port Washington Narrows.
As they swam, their black triangular fins sliced through the water. Geysers of salty spray shot up into the air as they surfaced to breathe.
The orcas passed under the Manette and Warren Avenue bridges and into Dyes Inlet. For the next month, they stayed, stirring up excitement rarely seen on the Kitsap Peninsula.
Patrick "Red" and Donna Gay Boyle of Tracyton had a ringside seat for the action.
"The whole spirit of the thing was a special, special time for us," Donna Gay said. "Even now, when we go other places, the name 'Tracyton' rings a bell for people. They'll say, 'Isn't that where the whales came in?'"
Researchers from the San Juan Islands quickly identified the 19 Dyes Inlet whales as members of a matriarchal clan called the L-25 subpod. They were known as a close-knit group associated with L Pod - one of the three major groups of orcas that frequent the San Juans in summer, moving south along the Kitsap Peninsula in fall.
B.C., Ottawa will share cost of submersible to probe barge spill
October 20, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) Hours after environmental and whale-watching groups announced they would launch an underwater investigation into wreckage from a barge accident in the sensitive waters of Robson Bight, provincial Environment Minister Barry Penner said the federal and provincial governments will share the cost of the submersible.
The area is a key feeding area for killer whales, including the threatened northern residents, and the whales use the nearby pebble beaches to rub themselves.
Penner said the deadlock on funding use of the submersible was broken when he met federal Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn.
The Living Oceans Society, Greenpeace, the research station OrcaLab, Stubbs Island Whale Watching and MacKay Whale Watching had joined forces to raise $40,000 to send down a submersible.
Jennifer Lash of the Living Oceans Society was delighted by the news. "It is far better if government does this investigation themselves because they need to be involved, but we felt the federal government was not willing to move," she said.
Lash said the groups' goal was to ensure the investigation happened as soon as possible, adding they hope to remain involved. "It's important that we keep this very transparent."
When the $40,000 was raised, donors were told that if government decided to do its own investigation, the money would be used for killer-whale research.
Historic bill in Senate to fight warming
October 19, 2007 (San Francisco Chronicle) A bipartisan group of senators, borrowing heavily from California's efforts to fight climate change, fired the starting gun on what's expected to be a long global-warming debate in Congress with a proposal for limits on greenhouse gases affecting every major segment of the nation's economy.
Lawmakers, industry groups and environmentalists have waited months for the bill, which was introduced Thursday by Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut.
The bill, expected to be the centerpiece of the Senate's efforts to address climate change, would cap emissions and gradually reduce them using a market-oriented cap-and-trade system in which allowances to emit greenhouse gases would be bought and sold.
Environmentalists mostly praised the bill as a good first step, though some groups said the emissions cuts were not deep enough. Some scientists estimate that reductions of 80 percent below 2000 emissions levels will be needed to avoid the worst impacts of rising temperatures.
About half of the proceeds from the auctions would go to deploying clean energy technologies like solar, wind and geothermal energy as well as biofuels and plug-in hybrids. The other half would help poor people pay their energy bills and weatherize their homes, as well for training for "green-collar" jobs and aiding species put at risk by warming.
Summer humpbacks set record at Glacier Bay
October 19, 2007 (Juneau Empire) Visitors to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve were in for a treat this summer: A record number of humpback whales were sighted either in or near Glacier Bay.
The 3.3-million-acre park is increasingly popular with humans, too. Last year, the park welcomed 413,000 park visitors, 54,000 more than the previous year.
The popularity of the park is testing measures updated this year to keep whales away from boat traffic. The vessel management program is working well, park officials say, with no whales reported struck by boats inside the park this summer.
Humpbacks were hunted nearly to extinction. They have been listed as endangered for more than three decades and have been protected internationally since 1966.
There are now an estimated 30,000 humpback whales worldwide, with 6,000 to 8,000 in the North Pacific, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
An estimated 1,000 humpbacks are in northern Southeast Alaska waters, and the North Pacific population is growing by up to 7 percent a year, said Jan Straley, a marine biologist with the University of Alaska Southeast.
Oceans act as global warming 'safety valve'
October 19, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) A new study by researchers at the University of B.C. has found that today's oceans are less effective at storing carbon dioxide than they were during the last ice age, raising fears that if temperatures continue to rise, global warming could accelerate much faster than previously thought.
Eric Galbraith, one of the authors of the study appearing in today's edition of the journal Nature, said that until now, the Earth's oceans have acted as a kind of safety valve for global warming, absorbing about one-quarter of human-created CO2.
This takes place in two ways.
The first is that CO2 is water-soluble, meaning the oceans absorb a certain volume of it straight out of the atmosphere.
The second is that huge quantities of aquatic plant life, such as algae, fall to the ocean floor when they die, ensuring the CO2 they release when they decompose is trapped beneath the sea.
While the top layer of the ocean is constantly being churned up by wind and waves, the deep ocean is so cold (about 2 C) and dense that there is almost no "vertical mixing" with the ocean layers above it, said Galbraith.
What the analysis determined is that the slow, sluggish movement of the deep ocean was even slower during the last ice age -- meaning the CO2 stored within it was even more isolated from the Earth's atmosphere.
Right now, said Galbraith, surface water sucked into the deep ocean typically doesn't return to the surface for 2,000 years.
During the last ice age, he said, that round trip took closer to 3,000 years.
But even a tiny change could have a big impact on Earth, he said, because the ocean contains about 60 times more CO2 than the atmosphere.
Environmentalists and whale organizations launch underwater investigation of Robson Bight
October 19, 2007 (CNW Group) Greenpeace, Living Oceans Society and concerned whale organizations will launch an underwater investigation of the sunken logging equipment in the Robson Bight Ecological Reserve. The investigation, to begin on October 30th, will include sending a manned submersible to inspect the state of the potentially fuel-laden wreckage.
"We are receiving reports that diesel and hydraulic fluid continue to bubble to the surface, indicating that the wreckage is still leaking petroleum into critical whale habitat," says Jennifer Lash of Living Oceans Society. "We must get a clear picture of what is happening in Robson Bight and develop a plan that addresses impacts on the whales and marine life."
Sea World Killer Whale Dies
October 18, 2007 (WOAI) Taku, a 14-year old male killer whale at Sea World San Antonio died unexpectedly late Wednesday.
The Zoological Operations team have not yet determined a cause of death. A post-mortem examination will be performed, but results will not be available for six weeks.
In a statement, a Sea World spokesperson said, "While we recognize that death is part of the life cycle, we are saddened over the unexpected loss of this animal."
Humpback whales return to Island
October 18, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) OrcaLab, on Hanson Island at Blackney Pass, has six hydrophones covering 50 square kilometres listening for orcas. Other than "a few tentative sounds" in recent years and a 10-minute session on Sept. 11, there has been no humpback singing in that territory.
Last week's long, impressive and expressive song meant a lot to Spong. "We were just very moved by it."
The unique series of whale phrases and repetitions occurred in Blackfish Sound at the southern end of Queen Charlotte Strait. Its length and complexity signals that the humpbacks may finally be feeling at home in West Coast waters again. "It's a safe place for them to come -- it's also a place where they can find food."
The repetitive phrases of humpback sound compare to verses in songs, explains Spong, a psychologist. Orca calls are commonly heard by OrcaLab but are not repetitive in the same way as the humpback song.
An inter-species vocalization between a humpback and some orcas was picked up by hydrophone last year in Robson Bight but didn't last long.
Program Helps Protect Alaskan Humpbacks
October 18, 2007 (AP) Visitors to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve were in for a treat this summer: A record number of humpback whales were sighted either in Glacier Bay or in waters just outside the stunning marine wilderness in southeast Alaska.
The popularity of the park is testing measures updated this year to keep whales away from boat traffic. The vessel management program is working well, park officials say, with no whales reported struck by boats inside the park this summer.
Humpback whales, which can grow to 50 feet long and weigh more than 35 tons, were once hunted nearly to extinction. They have been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act for more than three decades, and have been protected internationally since 1966.
There are now an estimated 30,000 humpback whales worldwide, with between 6,000 and 8,000 in the North Pacific, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service.
They gather in summers in Glacier Bay to feed on schooling fish.
The North Pacific population is growing by up to 7 percent a year, Straley said.
It was a good summer for humpbacks in and near Glacier Bay. From early June to the end of August, 161 individual humpback whales were identified by their tail flukes, including 17 females with calves - more than in any previous year.
Sounding Out Whales for Clues to Sonar's Effects
October 15, 2007 (Washington Post) Twenty-two varieties of beaked whales roam the seas, diving as deep as a mile to feed on bottom-dwelling squid and small fish on the dark ocean floor. Shy and seldom seen by man, they are among the least understood large creatures on Earth.
But in recent years, these deepest-diving whales have sent out an unexpected distress signal, alerting researchers and marine mammal advocates, through their confused behavior and beachings, to an environmental hazard that until 10 years ago was not known to exist. The threat comes from very loud noises, especially from Navy sonar, that on at least several occasions have proved fatal to the whales.
The realization that sonar can disorient or frighten whales sufficiently to leave them beached and dying has spurred protests and lawsuits, and has given the Navy a problem that it first denied but now, to some extent, acknowledges. Navy officials, however, have strenuously resisted efforts to limit testing of their sonar, saying it is essential to national security.
In response to angry protests, as well as some pressure from Congress and the marine mammal scientific community, the Navy has now funded an ambitious, $6 million project to learn more about beaked whales and their response to sonar and other loud ocean noises. The research began in earnest last month in the Bahamas under the leadership of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), not far from the spot where, in 2000, the stranding of 17 beaked whales after a Navy sonar exercise first brought the issue to public attention. At least six of those animals died.
The goal is to learn about beaked whales by attaching sophisticated motion detectors to the very few that can be spotted and approached during their brief stays on the surface. The instruments are being used to record the timing, depth and angles of their dives and ascents and to see how the animals react when exposed to sounds approaching (but never reaching) the intensity of sonar signals. It is a clinical trial of sorts, trying to scientifically determine how very loud, man-made sounds may be affecting the elusive creatures.
Unleaded gas helps create an unleaded Columbia Gorge
October 15, 2007 (Oregonian) Amid the muddy skies of the Columbia River Gorge, one of the most polluted natural areas in the West, there's one bright spot: We got the lead out.
Lead, a toxic heavy metal once commonly added to gasoline, used to spew from car tailpipes. In the 1990s, scientists found unusually high levels of lead in rock-dwelling lichens, which are used as barometers of air quality in the gorge because they soak up whatever pollution drifts by.
But the United States removed lead from gasoline starting about two decades ago. That has paid off for the gorge: In new analyses, scientists have found that lead has nearly disappeared from gorge lichens.
Another promising sign, she said, is that sulfur levels in lichens have dropped or remained nearly level, even with more people and more cars in the region. That's a sign that pollution controls have controlled sulfur in the exhaust from those cars, Geiser said.
Right Whales Remain Rare and Elusive
October 13, 2007 (AP) Scientists searching for what is likely the world's most endangered whale came up empty-handed this summer during a one-month tour of an area in the Bering Sea where Pacific right whales like to feed.
From July 31 to Aug. 28, an international team of scientists surveyed an area almost the size of New York in search of Pacific right whales, which have been teetering on extinction for decades.
"We did not see a single whale the entire time," said Phil Clapham, team leader and chief scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. "The bottom line, they were not in the places they had traditionally been in the last six or seven years."
This summer's survey where scientists used high-powered binoculars and underwater listening devices is part of a larger four-year project to assess the seasonal distribution of the whales, their numbers and where they travel in the Bering Sea.
The whales weren't found this summer because it is a "cold pool year" in the Bering Sea, Clapham said. That means the water is colder than normal. The colder water likely affected the distribution of plankton, which is what the large whales feed on, he said.
Many scientists considered right whales a lost cause until a few years ago when 23 were spotted, including two with calves, in an area of the Bering Sea where they like to feed.
"We know ... for the past decade that the southeastern Bering Sea is the most important spot on the planet for North Pacific right whales. We need to not open it up for oil drilling," he said.
More pollutants pumped in Sound than allowed by law
October 12, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) New study cites aluminum plants, sewage facilities
Many industrial and municipal facilities are dumping more pollution into Washington's rivers, lakes and Puget Sound than is allowed by permit, according to an analysis released Thursday by an environmental group.
More than 37 percent of these facilities are releasing more metals, oil and grease, nitrogen, fecal coliform, solid materials, low-oxygen water and other pollutants than allowed by the federal Clean Water Act.
The analysis by Environment Washington, part of the non-profit Washington Public Interest Research Group, looked at compliance for 75 major permit holders in 2005. The study was part of a national analysis that reviewed 6,428 permit holders.
"Definitely Washington is doing quite a bit better than other states," said Amy Peterson of Environment Washington. "But still, just over half of our waterways are considered impaired based on the definition from the Clean Water Act."
Local leaders have expressed their concerns over pollution in Puget Sound and streams that feed it. Last December, Gov. Chris Gregoire presented a blueprint for saving the Sound, including the cleanup of contamination and reducing pollution.
Puget Sound Orcas: Lesson in toxics
October 12, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial) News that orcas are contaminated with enough pollutants to sicken them had a similar effect on us. It's also a lesson on how our shortsightedness with regard to the environment is a gift that will keep on giving, destroying precious life for years to come.
It seems that all the PCBs we've dumped into our waters are still present in the killer whales' blubber in high enough doses to cause health problems for the mammals, including reproductive issues. Previous research on harbor seals showed similar results. PCBs are banned in industrial chemicals, and yet, they linger, albeit in decreasing doses.
But there's more. The study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, indicates that the flame retardant chemical soup known as PBDEs (commonly used in a variety of household items), is showing up in increased levels in the tissue of marine life, in some cases registering at higher levels in younger orcas. Researchers previously assumed that older orcas would register the highest levels of contaminants, which build up in their fat through their food source. It seems younger orcas are getting a more concentrated dose of these toxic substances through their mothers' milk. Oh, good.
Orcas so full of pollutants, it's enough to sicken them
October 11, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A rare peek at the blubber of local orcas shows that the endangered animals are so contaminated with pollutants that it could be making them sick.
U.S. and Canadian scientists reported Wednesday in the Marine Pollution Bulletin that the amount of PCBs, a long-banned industrial chemical, had slightly declined in the orcas that frequent Puget Sound. But the levels in all nine animals that were sampled were high enough to cause health problems based on earlier research done with captive harbor seals.
Also troubling was the increase in the amount of commonly used flame retardants called PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which are structurally similar to PCBs and can cause similar ailments.
In the new study, the researchers found the highest levels of contamination in a 3-year-old male orca. That finding is backed up by preliminary results from a sample from another young male taken this year.
"It's not surprising to find younger animals more contaminated than old animals," said Ross, a research scientist with Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Because of the high fat content, "mother's milk is more contaminated than fish."
Study: high levels of toxic chemicals in younger orcas
October 11, 2007 (Seattle Times) Young Puget Sound orcas have more potentially toxic flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies than their elders, adding to evidence that the controversial chemicals could be hurting the endangered animals, according to a new report by Canadian and U.S. researchers.
In one case, a 3-year-old male orca had roughly twice as much flame retardants as his elders in his pod.
The findings, released today in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, surprised some researchers because they defy a notion that orcas become more contaminated as they age because they accumulate chemicals from their food.
At high enough levels, PBDEs have been shown to impair the thyroids of marine mammals and harm the brains of other animals. Scientists suspect the chemicals could be worse for fetuses and young animals as they develop.
The high levels in the young orca probably stem from its mother's milk, Hanson said. It's thought the female orcas flush the PBDEs through their milk when nursing.
At the same time, the study also helped supply clues to a mystery about the Southern Resident pods: where they go in the winter.
Tests on tissues taken from L pod whales found higher amounts of DDT, which is consistent with pollution levels off the coast of California. The J pod by comparison had higher PCB levels, which is more consistent with Puget Sound. That corresponds with recent sightings of the L and K pods - but not J pod - off the California coast in recent years.
Harmful PCB levels found in orcas
October 10, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) Toxic chemicals banned during the '70s will interfere with the reproductive success of B.C.'s northern and southern resident killer whales until at least 2030, a newly published study says.
Killer whales living in the waters of B.C. still retain high levels of toxic PCBs even though the chemicals have been out of use for 30 years, Trent University professor Brendan Hickie said. And it will take 20 to 50 years more before the toxins fall to "acceptable concentrations."
Killer whale calves born off our coast have the highest levels of PCBs, according to a sophisticated environmental computer model developed by Hickie and his colleagues. The calves are born with PCB concentrations similar to their mothers. The same is true for humans, Hickie points out.
Hickie's results were published last month in Environmental Science & Technology.
The study was co-written by Department of Fisheries and Oceans scientists Peter Ross, Robbie Macdonald and John Ford, all working in B.C.
Fisheries service endorses recovery plan
October 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Federal authorities have released a final plan for restoring populations of chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout on the upper Columbia River.
The 352-page recovery plan, which the National Marine Fisheries Service endorsed Tuesday, covers the chinook and steelhead, which are both listed as endangered, as well as bull trout, which is currently listed as threatened.
The plan suggests analyzing the harm done by habitat degradation, hydropower operations, fishing and hatchery management on the populations. The report says that if proper action is taken, the three species could be removed from the endangered and threatened lists within 10 to 30 years. The estimated cost is at least $296 million over the first 10 years.
"Clearly habitat degradation is one of the themes that all recovery boards, and all of our scientists, have found is a common one in population losses," said Brian Gorman, a spokesman for the fisheries service. "Habitat restoration is one of the keys to improvement."
Hawaii Superferry can't sail and may leave the islands
October 9, 2007 (San Diego Union Tribune) Hawaii's only ferry between the islands can't sail until it shows it won't harm the state's fragile environment, a Maui judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision may run the state's first interisland passenger and vehicle ferry service, costing $300 million, permanently aground after five years of preparations.
The daily ferry to Maui and Kauai from Honolulu had only one successful run to each island before being stopped by the court on Maui and protesters in the water on Kauai in late August.
Hawaii Superferry officials have said the 350-foot catamaran would leave the state if it wasn't allowed to operate until an environmental study was completed, a process that would take at least eight months, and possibly years.
A second giant ferry is about 25 percent completed in Mobile, Ala. It is intended to serve the Big Island in 2009, but its future is now also in doubt.
Consumer Smarts: Use a car wash, the fish will thank you
October 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) If you wash your car at home, on a concrete driveway or pavement, all the soap, dirt, detergent, oil and grime washes off the car and runs straight into the storm drain and directly into local streams, lakes and ultimately Puget Sound.
Environmental experts say it's better to wash your car at a professional car wash because those businesses are required by the federal Clean Water Act to drain their wastewater into the sewer system, where it is treated before ending up back in area waters.
Most soaps contain phosphates and other chemicals that harm fish, other aquatic life and water quality. The oil and grease contain hazardous materials such as benzene, lead, zinc and other metals.
Even if you use biodegradable soap at home, the oil, grease and metals from your car's brake pads are still a problem, said Sue Joerger, executive director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance.
Shampoo, coffee, etc., harming fish in area rivers
October 9, 2007 (Longview Daily News) A new pollution study reveals that use of common consumer products like coffee, shampoo and antibiotics could be hurting salmon populations in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers.
By passing products down the drain, humans are releasing chemicals into the rivers in amounts large enough to cause hormonal changes in salmon, according to a report released in August by the Portland-based Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership. This is the first time a study has tested for personal care products in the area, and their ubiquitous presence in the rivers is prompting environmentalists to search for solutions.
Like pollutants produced by industrial companies, household chemicals "affect the reproductive systems of species and are having an impact on salmons' ability to deal with predators," Debrah Marriott, executive director of the estuary partnership, said last week. "They are showing up in water bodies around the country."
According to the report, researchers also continue to find widespread "legacy" pollutants in the rivers. Most of these toxic chemicals, emitted mainly by industries, were banned decades ago but have yet to break down. These include PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a family of 209 toxic chemical compounds that have potential to cause cancer. They also may cause developmental damage to newborns exposed during pregnancy, according to health officials.
Man gets first orca safety ticket
October 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Boat was going too fast, too close to endangered whales, deputies say
A Monroe man accused of speeding too close to two killer whales has become the first person cited under a San Juan County law intended to protect the endangered orcas from overzealous and aggressive boaters.
Passed only a few weeks ago, the county ordinance makes it illegal to feed killer whales, "knowingly approach" within 100 yards of the whales, or fail to travel at a safe speed within 400 yards of them.
Last month, sheriff's deputies on patrol spotted two whales that seemed isolated from a larger group of orcas off False Bay, on the south side of San Juan Island, Sheriff Bill Cumming said Sunday.
The deputies "moved into that area and had blue lights on. The boat came into that area at a high rate of speed. It began to slow down, but entered the area that was prohibited," he said.
The boater kept approaching the area in his 25-foot white cabin cruiser, and the deputy turned on more flashing blue lights, according to local news reports of the Sept. 27 incident. The boater slowed down but continued in the same direction, and then saw the whale, swerved and missed hitting it, according to news reports.
The citation carries a penalty of up to $750.
San Juan County Councilman Kevin Ranker said he didn't know the specifics of the case, but noted, "The sheriff's deputy felt there was probable cause to cite.
The south resident J, K and L pods number 87 this summer. In 2005, the National Marine Fisheries Service determined that the resident killer whales were at risk of extinction and listed them as endangered species.
Payment for a whale
October 8, 2007 (Seattle Times editorial) Federal indictments bearing the prospect of jail time and a stiff fine offer rapid, appropriate accountability for an illegal whale hunt conducted last month.
The case that began early one September morning with the spontaneous hunting of a gray whale by five Makah Nation tribal members invokes treaty rights, politics and the harsh face of animal brutality in the environmentally sensitive Northwest. But mostly it is about the law. The Makah are the only tribe whose right to whale hunt is explicitly written in treaty. But there are restrictions, set out by tribal, federal and international agreements. The five men ignored those restrictions when they decided to kill a whale without the knowledge or approval of tribal leaders or whaling authorities.
The five each now face three misdemeanor counts of conspiracy, unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling.
The men's legal troubles are not limited to the federal case. Tribal authorities plan to bring their own case against the men. Under tribal law, the five could serve up to a year in jail and pay a $5,000 fine plus a three-year suspension of their treaty right to fish. It is in the tribe's interest to follow the federal case with accountability measures of their own.
The love of nature offended by this case is not held just by a few; it is a central value of this region. The strong arm of justice is appropriate.
Biologists tag smolts, fish for data on why fall chinook linger
October 8, 2007 (Seattle Times) They will tell biologists like McMichael, of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), how the young fish are behaving as they reach Lower Monumental Dam, the next dam downstream from Little Goose.
PNNL scientists are tagging about 25,000 fish for all Columbia River studies this year, but it's this small sample of about 2,000 late-running smolts that might tell the Army Corps of Engineers and biologists with other agencies why certain chinook have been stalling at Lower Monumental and never completing the trip downstream.
The reservoir, or at least conditions in it, are a potential culprit.
Researchers found the fish started lagging at an increased rate at the same time as layers of increasingly different water temperatures were building up within the reservoir.
Warmer water collected at the top, and not just near the dam but well into the lower reservoir. Cool water released from Dworshak Dam flowed under the warmer water in the reservoir but didn't mix well.
McMichael said smolts appeared to stall where the two layers come together.
If the fish aren't moving because of circulation within the reservoir, a new type of fish-passage system being installed at Lower Monumental Dam in November could be the solution.
Called a removable spillway weir, the system allows fish to pass through the dam along the surface water -- up to 10 to 13 feet deep -- instead of requiring them to dive deep below to find a way downstream. Corps spokesman Rick Haverinen said the fish-passage system will be the third of its kind installed on Columbia and Snake river dams.
Trainer attacked by killer whale at Loro Parque theme park on Tenerife
October 7, 2007 (Typically Spanish) The woman is in hospital after the orca dragged her down to the bottom of the pool
A trainer at the Loro Parque theme park on Tenerife is in hospital after she was injured this weekend during a training session with one of the killer whales at the centre in Puerto de la Cruz.
The Canarias 7 newspaper says it happened at the pre-show warm up on Saturday, when the orca crashed into the trainer, injuring her right lung and breaking her forearm in two places.
She was rescued by two colleagues after the mammal dragged her down to the bottom of the pool.
She is now said to be stable after surgery on Saturday.
Luna film wins top honour at wildlife film competition
October 6, 2007 (Victoria Times Colonist) Luna the killer whale is continuing to make waves, 18 months after his death.
Saving Luna, a film produced by Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm of Mountainside Films Ltd., of Sidney, has won a top award in the prestigious Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in Wyoming.
The international festival is held alternate years in the U.S and Britain and attracts filmmakers from all over the world.
Saving Luna, the only Canadian movie accepted, won in the people and animals category, which had 80 entries.
"This is a pretty big deal. This is the biggest wildlife film competition in the world," Parfit said jubilantly yesterday, as he and Chisholm drove back from Wyoming to attend the Canadian premiere today at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
The appeal is the story of Luna, the orca who lived alone in Nootka Sound from 2001 to 2006, when he was killed by a tugboat propeller, Parfit said.
"I talked about Luna (at the awards ceremony). People really respond to his story and understand the complexities of it. You realize it is a universal story," he said.
The young whale, who first turned up lost in Nootka Sound when he was just a baby, tried to compensate for the loss of his pod by connecting with people, but his presence in the waters around Gold River became a major controversy.
While people, and especially boaters, were told to avoid contact, Luna did everything he could to make friends.
The description of the film says "To First Nations, he's a chief. To boaters he's a goofy kid. To activists he's a cause. To scientists he's a puzzle. To officials he's a threat. But Luna's just lost and lonely on B.C.'s wild west coast and all he wants is friends."
Parfit and Chisholm moved to Gold River during the Luna years and part of the film deals with their increasing involvement with the whale and their efforts to protect him.
Chinook count at Ballard Locks hits record level
October 6, 2007 (Seattle Times) A record number of threatened chinook salmon are passing through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard this year, bound for East King County rivers.
The return - nearly 32,000 - far surpasses the previous record of about 19,000 set in 2001. Counts began in 1995.
"It's an exceptional survival for the hatchery fish released from Issaquah," Steve Foley, a fishery biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Friday. "It's also an exceptional survival for those who got out of the Cedar [River] that are naturally produced."
Numbers of sockeye salmon, however, have reached an unusual low at about 60,000. Biologists estimated some 125,000 would enter the Locks this season.
The numbers come from the Muckleshoot Tribe, which conducts the counts.
Sockeyes are returning to Canadian rivers in similarly low numbers.
Whale shot: 5 Makah may face tribal charges as well as federal
October 5, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The five Makah tribal members who face federal charges for killing a protected gray whale may also face tribal charges.
Makah spokesman Micah McCarty told the Peninsula Daily News that tribal leaders told federal prosecutors about the pending Makah charges earlier this week in hopes the federal government would defer prosecution to the tribe. That didn't happen.
"It was our position that we didn't want to see this paraded in federal court, and if there was a decision made, we were concerned about how it would proceed," McCarty said. "The real human victims here are the Makah tribe and its people, who now face a more uncomfortable spotlight."
On Thursday, the five Makah members were charged by a federal grand jury with misdemeanor counts for killing the whale during a rogue hunt last month. The indictment charged the men with conspiracy, unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling, each punishable by a maximum year in jail and $100,000 fine.
Chinook returning to Cedar River big-time
October 5, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Chinook salmon are returning to the upper reaches of the Cedar River in record numbers -- albeit a short record.
This fall about 300 fish have returned, compared with 79 chinook four years ago, and the salmon should keep coming until late October.
"We're not done with salmon recovery by any stretch of the imagination, but it's nice to see some success along the way," said Bruce Bachen, a director for scientific and technical services with Seattle Public Utilities.
In 2003, the utility completed an elaborate fish ladder on the Cedar to allow chinook, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act, to pass a dam used to divert drinking water. The $12 million project was part of a habitat conservation plan to help the fish pass the dam as adults and juveniles and to compensate for harm caused by removing water from the river.
The strong returns provide mounting evidence that salmon will recolonize rivers once dams or other blockages are removed. Many environmentalists have argued for the removal of dams on the Snake River to boost lagging salmon runs.
Grand jury indicts 5 Makahs in illegal whale hunt
October 4, 2007 (Seattle Times) A federal grand jury returned indictments today against all five men arrested in the killing of a gray whale in early September.
The charges are all misdemeanors.
According to the indictment, the whalers allegedly sought weapons and ammunition from the Makah Tribe the day before the hunt, claiming they wanted them for practice, according to the indictment. The whalers also got permission to get a 12-foot boat from the tribe and obtained a large buoy from a Makah tribal employee.
The next morning the five men set out in two boats, encountered a gray whale and struck it with at least four harpoons, the indictment said. They then attached four buoys to the whale and shot it at least 16 times with high-powered weapons obtained from the Makah Whaling Commission.
According to the indictment, the fatally injured whale swam nine miles. About 12 hours after it was struck, it died and sank in about 700 feet of water.
The five men have been summoned to appear in federal court in Tacoma Oct. 12.
The federal prosecution does not take the place of tribal action against the whalers, said an attorney for the tribe, John Arum. "The tribe has promised prosecution to the fullest extent of the law, and it intends to do that," Arum said.
If convicted under federal law, the whalers could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. Under tribal law, the whalers could do up to a year in jail, pay up to a $5,000 fine and face suspension of their treaty right to fish for up to three years.
Makah Tribal Council member Micah McCarty said the tribe is eager to get on with trying the case, but it has been held up, waiting for federal officials to finish their work. Federal authorities have all the most pertinent evidence in the case and won't turn it over to the tribe until the federal case is concluded.
Johnson has said repeatedly since the hunt that he didn't regret his actions. But he was more circumspect Thursday.
"I got three counts against me," Johnson said. "I'm a little worried, of course."
Five U.S. Indian men indicted for hunting whale
October 4, 2007 (Reuters) A federal grand jury indicted five Washington state American Indian men on Thursday on three misdemeanor charges each for their involvement in an illegal hunt of a gray whale last month.
The five members of the Makah tribe, frustrated over lack of progress gaining federal approval to resume a tribal whale hunt, shot a 30-foot (9.1-metre) whale at least 16 times with a high-powered rifle before it died.
The Makah, a tribe of about 1,200 members in western Washington, has been waiting since 1999 to resume its gray whale hunt after a federal court ruled that the tribe needs to secure a waiver from the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Each misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
"We sought out the harshest penalties we could find for the conduct. We believe this is egregious conduct," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Oesterle said in a news conference in Seattle.
According to the indictment, the group entered into a conspiracy to illegally hunt and kill a gray whale. The men are also charged with the unlawful taking of a marine mammal and unauthorized whaling.
The five men are also expected to face charges from their own tribe, who denounced the hunt and promised to prosecute the hunters to the fullest extent of the law.
One of the men charged in hunt, Wayne Johnson, a Makah whaling captain who was involved in the tribe's legal hunt in 1999, told the Seattle Times last month that he was not sorry and that he should have done this years ago.
Lawmakers Will Proceed on Climate Plan
October 4, 2007 (Washgington Post) Legislative leaders in the House and Senate said yesterday that they plan to press ahead with proposals to limit U.S. emissions linked to global warming, focusing on mandatory, economy-wide caps of the kind that President Bush explicitly rejected last week in a climate conference he hosted.
While the bills are less ambitious than many climate scientists and environmental activists have wanted, they indicate that Congress plans to press ahead with a sweeping climate change proposal despite the president's opposition.
Pacifica whale death likely caused by orca attack
October 2, 2007 (San Jose Mercury News) A veterinarian for the Sausalito-based Marine Mammal Center has determined that the humpback whale calf that washed up on a Pacifica beach on Sunday bore signs of a killer whale attack, not a ship strike.
"We do not know why the humpback died, but it had lesions suggestive of killer whale attack," Dr. Frances Gulland, who performed a necropsy on the 27-foot whale, wrote in an e-mailed statement. "We can't rule out underlying disease. As vet on scene, I saw no evidence of a ship strike."
The 9-month-old female calf washed up on Esplanade Beach in Pacifica on Sunday morning, and parts of the carcass still remain on the beach. Locals remain hopeful that the rest of the body will wash out with the tides this afternoon. On Monday, Gulland found signs of bruising and hemorrhaging around the whale's head and jaw, raising the possibility that it had be struck by a ship.
Ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death among stranded whales in California, according to officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Algae levels higher than ever
October 2, 2007 (Daily Triplicate) High concentrations of toxic blue-green algae in the Klamath River last week spurred tribal and governmental agencies to post signs warning the public to avoid contact with the water.
Two reservoirs located up the Klamath River-Iron Gate and Copco-are believed to be the source of the algae blooms, and could help sway the debate on whether dams along the waterway should be removed.
The Yurok Tribe and California North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board posted warnings on nearly 200 miles of the Klamath River starting from the mouth after levels of toxic algae (Microcystis aeruginosa) were found to be more than double the state-mandated thresholds.
Toxins released from the algae when it dies is known to cause severe liver damage after long-term exposure and can cause minor sickness, such as eye irritations, skin rash, vomiting and diarrhea, from limited contact.
"It can be quite dangerous and is certainly based on the dose that you receive. The more you get the more likely you're going to have a poisoning event."
The algae comes from large blooms formed in the Iron Gate and Copco Reservoirs located upstream in Siskiyou County, where McKernon says the levels are astronomical.
"To put it in perspective, in the Copco and Iron Gate dams, (these numbers) are in the tens of millions of cells," he said, because the reservoirs provide a perfect habitat for the blue-green algae.
Klamt says nutrients from Upper Klamath Lake, the drainage of wetlands and agriculture along the upper Klamath River dumps nutrients into the river. These nutrients come into in the reservoirs and collect, he said, and with sunlight and heat, this creates a good environment for large blue-green algae blooms to flourish.
"The dams are like a reactor. They grow the algae really well," Klamt said. "All those things come together to grow that algae bloom."
With Craig's power diminished, Democrats go to bat for salmon
October 1, 2007 (Idaho Statesman) With Idaho Republican Larry Craig weakened by a sex scandal and expected to depart from the Senate, Democrats will have more say than ever about the future of Northwest salmon and dams.
Craig, who has been removed from leadership posts on the Appropriations and Energy committees, is known as one the most powerful voices in Congress on behalf of the timber and power industries. Environmentalists have fought Craig for years on issues from endangered salmon to public land grazing.
Now Senate Democrats, exercising their slim majority, have waded into two contentious issues - both related to Snake River salmon.
First, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada asked federal regulators to require passage for salmon and steelhead for relicensing of the Hells Canyon Complex, a series of dams on the Snake River between Oregon and Idaho.
Reid says the passage would allow salmon to return to their historic spawning grounds in northern Nevada, where the fish used to run thick nearly a century ago.
Meanwhile, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., has asked her colleagues to undo Craig's bid to use a federal spending bill to dictate water flow for Snake River fish.
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