Orca Network News - October, 2008

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats

October 1, 2008 through October 31, 2008.

Pink salmon in sharp decline near Broughton fish farms
October 31, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
Numbers spawning in five key indicator streams down 90 per cent
A stunning collapse of pink salmon runs on the British Columbia central coast is reopening a charged debate about the looming extinction of wild salmon that breed near fish farms.
The number of pink salmon spawning this autumn in five key indicator streams in the Broughton Archipelago area has dropped as much as 90 per cent compared to their parent runs in 2006, and constitutes only about two per cent of pink salmon abundance in the year 2000.
Counts of spawning fish, which will be finalized early next month, underscore predictions published last year in one of the world's foremost research journals, Science, that pink salmon will be extinct in the Broughton by 2015.
The Dec. 14, 2007, Science article grabbed international headlines, sparking 500 news articles, particularly in nations with large aquaculture operations.
The article's authors asserted a link between the decline of Broughton pink salmon populations and hyper-concentrations of sea lice at salmon farms in the area, with juvenile pinks devastated by louse infestations arising from the farms.

Recent deaths of killer whales arouse suspicion
October 31, 2008 (Honolulu Star Bulletin)
Killer whales swim in all parts of all the world's oceans, including the Arctic and Antarctic. These widespread whales, also called orcas, are all one species. Biologists, however, separate the North Pacific orcas into distinct groups.
The killer whales of Puget Sound are called residents because they stick to one area and have a small home range. Members of resident orca pods are related to one another and stay together for life. These orcas eat fish, mostly salmon.
Other killer whales, called transients, hunt along the northern coastal waters of North America, swimming large distances up and down the West Coast, in pods of 10 or less. Unlike resident orcas, transient orcas change pod members and aren't necessarily related to one another.
Transient orcas eat whales, dolphins, seals and sea lions exclusively. These orcas aren't interested in eating terrestrial animals, including us. Orcas have ample opportunities to attack people swimming, kayaking and boating, but they do not.
A third type of killer whale is the offshore orca. These whales swim offshore and also visit coastal waters, overlapping the ranges of the other two types. Like the resident orcas, offshore orcas eat fish.
All three forms of killer whales differ slightly in shape, color patterns, behavior and genetics. They do not mix pods or interbreed.
Not much is known about the 200 or so orcas that swim in and around Hawaii waters; they might be their own distinct group. Given the scarcity of food in our warm waters, Hawaii's orcas probably eat anything they come across. Killer whales in Hawaii have been seen eating a humpback whale and squid.

Oceans being killed off to feed livestock, farmed fish
October 30, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer - Dateline Earth)
A startling conclusion emerges from a study released today: More than one-third of all the fish caught in the world's oceans are going into food for livestock and farmed fish.
To quote the press release by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science:
Forage fish account for a staggering 37 percent (31.5 million tonnes) of all fish taken from the world's oceans each year, and 90 percent of that catch is processed into fishmeal and fish oil. In 2002, 46 percent of fishmeal and fish oil was used as feed for aquaculture (fish-farming), 24 percent for pig feed, and 22 percent for poultry feed. Pigs and poultry around the world consume more than double the seafood eaten by Japanese consumers and six times the amount consumed by the U.S. market.

'We're getting down to the last fish in the barrel'
October 29, 2008 (KOMO TV)
It's been a rough summer for Orcas in Puget Sound. Seven killer whales have disappeared form their pods over the last few months and haven't been found. Biologists believe the whales died of starvation.
Telling one whale from another is almost impossible for the common man but for Ken Balcomb, it's second nature. Orcas are like his children.
They feel like family, for sure," he said.
Balcomb even has an album - a family album - that identifies all three pods. Every single whale identified by pod and by special features down to the nicks on their fins.
For 32 years, from his boat and research center on San Juan Islands, Balcomb studied the same three pods - about 80 whales - return every summer to feed on Chinook salmon. This summer, seven orcas disappeared, including two newborns and two reproductive females.
Balcomb doesn't believe they strayed; he's sure they're dead.
"They're certainly in the prime of life. They haven't even reached the average life span. That means we're cutting this population short," he said.
Balcomb believes a lack of food is killing the orcas. He expects more deaths if Chinook salmon are not saved from overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.

Puget Sound: Troubled waters
October 29, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial)
People are starting to understand that Puget Sound is far less healthy than it looks. A worrisome new decline in the orca population underlines the often-hard-to-perceive reality of a deeply troubled body of water.
The news about orcas comes close to alarming. The population of Puget Sound's pods is believed to have dropped to 83, approaching a low of 79 set in 2001. The orcas' population loss comes after what had seemed like a modest recovery. Two breeding-age females, which are particularly unlikely to die most years, are among those missing and thought dead. Low runs of chinook salmon, the ocras' favorite food, appear to be part of the problem, but scientists also wonder about chemicals.

Starving orcas a symptom of much deeper woes
October 29, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Scientists believe that what's making the orcas die so young, if it's not a disease, is starvation. The chinook salmon they prefer aren't as plentiful in our waters at they were once and the killer whales have to travel as far south as California in search of them, and it's still not enough to make up for the energy they've lost in the search.
We've known for years that fishboats are hauling too many of them aboard, and we've known for years that the chemicals we put into the ocean are taken up the food chain to be stored in the fat that orcas call on to sustain them when they go hungry.
Maybe the herring, needlefish, sand lance, anchovy and squid the chinook rely on are disappearing too.
The orca's problems are our problems and they go deep. Very deep.

Killer whales disappearing off southern B.C.
October 29, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
Dwindling numbers due to declining birth rates and possible starvation lead scientists to fear orcas are heading toward extinction
There were early signs of starvation and then declining birth rates - now a growing number of adults and calves have vanished from a population of orcas found in the waters of southern British Columbia and northern Washington.
Although no bodies have been found, it's thought that the whales, which rarely stray from the group, have died, perhaps tipping a key population toward extinction.
And scientists say the worst is yet to come for the southern resident orcas and a second, separate population known as the northern residents, which are both heading into winter undernourished because there are so few salmon to feed on.
"It's been a bad summer for both the northern and southern residents. So we expect more mortalities this coming winter," Lance Barrett-Lennard, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia and co-chair of a federally appointed orca recovery team, said yesterday.
"We all have our fingers crossed, but I think the research community will be surprised if there are not a large number of mortalities through the winter. ... The key thing from a population-conservation point of view is how many reproductive females make it through the winter. And it's not looking good," he said.
Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee, a B.C.-based environmental group, said resident orcas face a number of problems, but the biggest is a lack of their primary prey, chinook salmon.
Dan Drais, associate director of Save Our Wild Salmon, a Seattle-based organization, said the crisis shows how badly salmon stocks have been managed all along the West Coast. "It's a sign that we've had a failure of leadership to really take strong action to bring back salmon," he said.

Seven Puget Sound orcas presumed dead
October 28, 2008 (Los Angeles Times)
The missing endangered killer whales may have starved. Scientists will try to determine whether they died because of reduced salmon stocks or disease that preventing them from eating.
Reporting from Seattle -- Seven killer whales from the endangered population in Washington's Puget Sound are missing and presumed dead in the most significant die-off of one of the icons of the Pacific Northwest in nearly a decade.
Scientists tracking the black-and-white orcas off the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia said there were signs the whales may have starved to death, though whether that was because of insufficient food or disease that made them unable to eat is unknown.
The number of Puget Sound orcas has declined so much that seven whales represent a significant part of the population, especially because at least one reproductive-age female -- the animals essential for replenishing the pods -- are among the missing, scientists said.
"We've noticed that the drop is coincident with the crashing of king salmon supplies," which makes up about 80% of orcas' diet, said Ken Balcomb III, executive director of the Center for Whale Research.

Research hints dam improvements helping salmon
October 28, 2008 (Oregonian)
For years, the massive hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers have been blamed for killing young salmon on their downriver migration to the ocean.
But a striking new study released Monday found that for some endangered salmon and steelhead stocks, just as many young fish survive their journey through the Snake and Columbia dams as survive a similar trip down Canada's Fraser River, which has no dams.
Even longtime fish biologists were flabbergasted by the finding. They figured fish would have an easier time in rivers without dams than those with dams.
Oregon scientists who contributed to the study said that's misleading and leaps to premature conclusions. They said the research may reflect poor survival of fish in the Fraser River, which has been increasingly degraded by pollution and development, as much as it does improved fish survival on the Columbia.
Schreck said his first reaction to the results was, "Maybe the Fraser really is in trouble."
Another scientist not involved in the research said conditions on the Columbia and Fraser vary widely from year to year and the Fraser is affected by a major die-off of British Columbia forests infested by bark beetles. That makes it difficult to compare the two rivers directly, said Howard Schaller of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Columbia River Program Office in Vancouver.
"It's hard to take the information they generated and draw these conclusions from it," he said.
Many scientists who work on Columbia salmon say the fish are subject to "delayed mortality," dying in a weakened state from the stress of passing through dams. That might not have been captured by the new study, Schreck said.
"We really do believe there's a delayed mortality, and there's no question there is mortality in the dams," he said. "The dams may have less impact now, but still a significant impact on reduced stocks that are already precarious."

7 Puget Sound Killer Whales Missing, Presumed Dead
October 27, 2008 (Fox News)
Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound's orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who carefully track the endangered animals.
"This is a disaster," Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday. "The population drop is worse than the stock market."
While the official census won't be completed until December, the total number of live "southern resident" orcas now stands at 83.
"We may be in the beginning of another decline in the population," said Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, a nonprofit education and advocacy group.
He said the whales seem to be having a harder time finding chinook salmon.
The whales recently have been traveling over greater distances than usual, suggesting they may be ranging farther for food, said Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Where have the orcas gone?
October 26, 2008 (Vancouver Province)
The disappearance of seven orcas from B.C. coastal waters is being blamed on a "double whammy" of low chinook salmon numbers and toxins being dumped in the ocean.
"We lost seven over the last year but we had one birth, so the total population change was six," said Susan Berta, of the Washington state-based Orca Network. "Several of the whales we lost were females of reproductive age, which is very troubling to lose."
Berta said the 83 remaining orcas from three groups -- J, L and K pods -- have had to change their foraging behavior due to scarce chinook salmon, their preferred food.
"They aren't finding enough salmon where they have historically fed," Berta said. "The Columbia River used to be their favorite grocery store but the chinook runs there have declined.
"When there aren't enough chinook, we see stuff like this happening with whales looking thin. They'll eat chum salmon in the fall, but they prefer chinook."
"The other thing they are faced with are toxins and PBDE, a fire retardant showing up in high levels in marine mammals," Berta said. "When they can't eat salmon, they feed off their own blubber -- and that is where the contaminants are stored. It unleashes toxins into their system and that can cause problems with their immune system and reproductive systems.
"It's a double whammy."

7 killer whales missing from Wash. waters
October 25, 2008 (MSNBC)
Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound's orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who track the endangered animals.
"This is a disaster," Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday. "The population drop is worse than the stock market."
While the official census won't be completed until December, the total number of live "southern resident" orcas now stands at 83.

Missing endangered B.C. killer whales feared dead of starvation
October 25, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Seven endangered southern resident killer whales are believed to have died over the last year, leading some orca watchers to fear for the survival of the three pods that spend their time around southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound.
The tally comes from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbour, which had difficulty completing its count this year because the whales were unusually spread out.
"I believe they are starving," said Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research executive director. "They need to eat, and that means they need chinook salmon. We have to manage our wild salmon properly, and that means for the benefit of the ecosystem and natural world, rather than jobs."
Some deaths had already been reported, such as the unsurprising death of 98-year-old K7, known as Lummi. Two of the three calves born in the last year - L111 and J43 - have also died. That mortality rate is not unusual, as the survival rate for calves in the first year is 50 per cent, Balcomb said.
However, alarm signals are going up because of the presumed death of two breeding age females, including the mother of Luna, the lone killer whale which turned up in Nootka Sound and died two years ago.
Luna's mom, L67, known as Splash, was 33 years old and Luna's six-year-old brother, L101, known as Aurora, is also missing.
The other female is J11, known as Blossom, who was about 36. The final missing whale is L21, Ankh, who was 58.
Howard Garrett of the Orca Network fears this year is the start of a downturn in the population.
"This is a drastically steep drop-off and, if the conditions don't improve, meaning more chinook, we might see this for the next few years and this population can't stand that," he said.
"It's hard to imagine they could disappear."

7 orcas, regular visitors to Sound, likely dead
October 25, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Seven orcas that regularly visit Puget Sound are feared dead - if so, it would be the biggest die-off in about 10 years - and some experts say dwindling populations of chinook salmon are at least partly to blame.
Among the orcas missing since November are the oldest and youngest members of the group, as well as two females in their peak productive years.
"I was shocked," said David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, scheduled to issue on Nov. 6 its draft plan for preserving and protecting Puget Sound.
The news of the orcas' decline adds to the urgency of the mission, Dicks said. "Time is not on our side."
The orcas were listed as an endangered species in November 2005 and largely depend on Puget Sound chinook - listed as a threatened species nearly a decade ago - for food.
"Orcas don't exist in a cafeteria somewhere; they depend on the overall bounty of the natural world," said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a Whidbey Island-based advocacy group. "Protecting Puget Sound equals saving salmon, which equals saving orcas."
One contributing factor, he said, is food. Studies have shown a correlation between chinook and orca populations, said Hanson, who with other researchers has studied the orcas' diet for a decade. Orcas have a strong preference for chinook, the largest and most nutritious salmon in Puget Sound.
The chinook population is depressed. Only 22 of at least 37 historic populations of chinook survive, and the remaining chinook are at only 10 percent or less of their historic numbers.
"People say they could eat hake, or they could eat cake," said Ken Balcomb of the Friday Harbor-based Center for Whale Research, which has been tracking orca populations in Puget Sound since 1976. "It's just arrogance, or actually ignorance. If chinook aren't doing well, the whales aren't, either."

Are the orcas starving?
October 25, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Showing signs of starvation as salmon runs faltered up and down the West Coast, Puget Sound's orca population lost seven of its number over the past year, bringing the population to just 83, anxious scientists reported Friday.
The development marks the biggest reduction in the orca population since a series of bad chinook salmon seasons in the 1990s battered the killer whales' numbers.
Revealing the degree to which the orcas are interrelated to a far-flung marine ecosystem, the collapse of California's Sacramento Valley chinook run seems likely to be partly to blame for declining killer whale numbers, said Ken Balcomb, founder of the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island.
The same fishery collapse off the California and Oregon coasts shut down salmon fishing this year for humans, too.
"We know that we're having bad chinook years, and every episode of bad chinook years, the (orca) population declines," Balcomb said. "It's like if you don't feed your pets -- they don't survive. ... They start losing body fat. They're like an old sawhorse."
Of particular note: the death of two reproductive-age female orcas in the space of a year. They usually survive at the highest rate of any orcas, with the chance of death in any given year only about 1 percent.
Fred Felleman, an activist who began studying the orcas in the 1980s, said back then they seemed to have little trouble finding food.
"We used to have whales that would rest in groups at the surface, flopping around like lions on the Serengeti sitting under a tree," he said. But now they are underwater hunting more and, "I've watched a steady progression over the years of the whales getting more and more dispersed. ... As the prey became more diffuse, they had to spread out."

Researchers: 7 orcas missing from Puget Sound
October 24, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead in what could be the biggest decline among the sound's orcas in nearly a decade, say scientists who carefully track the endangered animals.
"This is a disaster," Ken Balcomb, a senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, said Friday. "The population drop is worse than the stock market."
"It was a bad salmon year and that's not good for the whales," he said. "Everybody considers these wonderful creatures, but we really have to pay attention to the food supply."
The three pods, or families, that frequent Western Washington's inland marine waters - J, K, and L pods - are genetically and behaviorally distinct from other killer whales. The sounds they make are considered a unique dialect, they mate only among themselves, eat salmon rather than marine mammals and show a unique attachment to the region.
"We may be in the beginning of another decline in the population," said Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, a nonprofit education and advocacy group.
He said the whales seem to be having a harder time finding chinook salmon.

7 orcas missing in Puget Sound, presumed dead
October 24, 2008 (Olympian)
The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island says seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead.
Researchers say low numbers of chinook salmon that the endangered whales eat may be a factor.
If the orcas are dead, the losses would wipe out population gains made the past six years.
The official census of the three Puget Sound whale pods won't be completed until December, but the total number now stands at 83.

7 orcas missing from Puget Sound
October 24, 2008 (KING5 TV)
The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island says seven Puget Sound killer whales are missing and presumed dead.
Researchers say low numbers of chinook salmon that the endangered whales eat may be a factor. If the orcas are dead, the losses would wipe out population gains made over the past six years.

Among the orcas Johnstone Strait, off Vancouver Island, may be the world's best place to encounter wild killer whales
October 24, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Orcas populate just about every ocean and sea in the world, from the Arctic to the Arabian, but one of the very best places to see them is Johnstone Strait, the narrow channel separating the northeast corner of Vancouver Island from the mainland of British Columbia. Barely more than a mile wide in places, it is home to 200 killer whales, which is said to be the world's largest resident population.
The ancient Roman scholar Pliny the Elder wrote that they "cannot be properly depicted or described, except as an enormous mass of flesh armed with savage teeth." In 1961 Canadian officials mounted a Browning 50-cal. machine gun along Johnstone Strait to blast orcas out of the sea - it was never used - and as recently as the 1970s a U.S. Navy manual described them as "extremely ferocious ... will attack humans at every opportunity."
On the other hand, killer whales are the cute and cuddly performers of "Free Willy" and Sea World-style shows - Flipper's larger cousin, with the same goofy grin. A genial and gentle performer entrusted to snatch fish out of the hands of small children, they can also be counted upon to soak everyone in the front row with a good-natured belly flop.
Here's the irony: The "cute" orcas in captivity occasionally turn on their captors and kill them; the much-feared ones in the wild never go after humans.

Solving the financial crisis by averting the climate crisis
October 24, 2008 (Seattle Times op-ed)
Polar ice caps are melting, but Wall Street is melting down. The ongoing financial crisis means that the next president will have to postpone or dramatically scale back plans to address the twin problems of climate change and energy security. We just don't have the money for ambitious new spending programs right now.
That's the conventional wisdom, anyway. Like so much conventional wisdom, however, it is dead wrong. What's more, it demonstrates that we have not yet absorbed the central lesson of the financial crisis: You can't build a healthy economy on illusions. Not forever anyway. Reality bats last. What the economy needs now is twofold: short-term stimulus spending to rev the engine and stable new sources of long-term growth. The next president can help meet both needs with an ambitious four-step program of green regulations and investments.
• Step one is to invest heavily in green infrastructure, where it can immediately put people to work while laying the foundation for sustainable long-term growth. The top three priorities: a smart, truly integrated national electrical grid; expanded urban and long-distance public transit; and block grants to states to kick-start development projects already in the pipeline.
• Step two is an aggressive nationwide effort to retrofit U.S. homes and buildings, which currently represent almost half of total U.S. energy consumption and the largest source of U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions. Weatherizing and solarizing the built sector not only increases energy efficiency and reduces emissions, it's a form of insurance, sheltering every property owner from the impact of rising energy prices. This will require a thoughtful mix of performance standards, market organization and public-private financing mechanisms, but it can be done, and quickly.
• Step three is turbocharging research, development and deployment of carbon-free energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal and cellulosic ethanol, while ramping down subsidies to dirty energy.
• Finally, step four is to put a price on carbon pollution through a cap-and-trade system or carbon tax, creating a market-based incentive for innovations in clean energy and energy efficiency.

Groups approve plan to open Oregon river for salmon
October 24, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
An alliance of more than a dozen groups -- including conservationists, federal agencies and Indian tribes -- signed off this week on $135.5 million in improvements to a series of dams along the McKenzie River that will, in part, open up nearly eight miles of prime habitat to threatened fish.
The agreement outlines modifications that the Eugene Water & Electric Board promises to make on the Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project, a cluster of dams and reservoirs on the river that provide about 9 percent of the electricity for Eugene.
Come 2012, when the construction will likely begin, customers can expect to see a rate increase of 5 to 7 percent.

Environmentalists, cities clash over runoff rules
October 24, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Environmental groups are fighting to require more than 85 Western Washington cities and counties to curb storm water runoff using "green" methods such as retention ponds, native vegetation and cisterns.
The state Pollution Control Hearings Board was hearing challenges to the state's storm water rules Thursday, including an appeal from Puget Soundkeeper Alliance arguing that low-impact designs should be mandated to stem the flow of pollutants into the region's waters.
The rules could affect development in at least 80 municipalities and five counties in Western Washington, including Bellingham, Port Angeles, Everett and Vancouver.
"What we're asking for here is not for them to do something new, but to shift away from traditional techniques that we know don't work very well to low-impact techniques," said Jan Hasselman, an attorney for Earthjustice representing PSA and People for Puget Sound.

Seven Puget Sound Orca Deaths Attributed to Lack of Food
October 23, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
Seven Puget Sound killer whales have gone missing this year and are presumed dead, wiping out population gains over the past six years.
A shortage of chinook salmon - the orcas' primary food - may have contributed to the unusual number of deaths, said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, who keeps track of the individual whales.
"The pattern of their foraging suggests that there hasn't been much to eat out there," Balcomb said, adding that the disappearance of two females of reproductive age is most surprising.
The annual census of the three Puget Sound pods, listed as an endangered species, is officially released in December, but most of the seven have been missing since summer, Balcomb said. L-67, a 22-year-old female named Splash, was showing signs of emaciation before she disappeared in September, he said.
"When they come back next spring," he said, "I think we will see fewer whales."
Balcomb contends that if the Puget Sound orcas are to survive, they need more chinook salmon. He has called for a moratorium on all fishing that takes chinook - sport, tribal and commercial - from Puget Sound to the West Coast. That would include parts of Canada and Northern California, where salmon fishing was so poor it was declared a disaster this year.
Losing reproductive females in a population like this makes it that much more difficult to rebuild the numbers to safe levels, he said. Whereas the number of calves surviving in recent years has been high, this year's losses include young, old and middle-aged animals.

Judges to hear salmon cases
October 23, 2008 (Coos Bay OR World)
The federal government came under fire on all sides Monday for the way it counts hatchery-raised salmon and steelhead under the Endangered Species Act.
Lawyers for building industry, farm and property rights groups asked a federal appeals court panel on Monday to undo the listings of 16 West Coast salmon and steelhead populations under the act, arguing that thanks to abundant hatchery fish, the stocks are nowhere near extinction.
Meanwhile, in a separate-but-related case, attorneys for an environmental law firm argued that federal officials were wrong to reduce the listing of Upper Columbia River steelhead from "endangered" to "threatened" based on high numbers of hatchery fish. The act requires officials to focus on the health of wild fish, they argued.
The three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seemed reluctant to second-guess the judgment of the National Marine Fisheries Service on either count.
In its lawsuit, the Alsea Valley Alliance of Oregon challenged the listing of 16 salmon and steelhead populations in Washington, Oregon and California, claiming the government was lowballing its estimates of salmon and steelhead populations by counting only wild fish. That harmed the economy by restricting development and agriculture to protect salmon habitat, the groups argued.
Environmentalists have argued that the point of the Endangered Species Act is to restore plant and animal populations to self-sustaining levels, without intervention from humans. But the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represents the Alsea plaintiffs, argues that the law is "intended to guard against the extinction of species, not to return ecosystems to the status and conditions they were in over 100 years ago."

Researchers hope to study more about killer whales in our ocean
October 23, 2008 (KHNL)
Not a lot is known about Hawaii's resident killer whale population, but this latest encounter with an orca will help researchers learn more about their lives.
"One in 2004, and one in 1950 off the Big Island," said Dr. Michelle Yuen, a NOAA biologist.
While many of us have never even heard about or seen a killer whale in our waters, there is a population of about 250 orcas that call Hawaii home.

Beached Killer Whale in Hawaii-video
October 23, 2008 (CNN iReport)
We heard there was a beached killer whale down at Brennecke's beach,in Poipu, and took off to go see if it was still there!
Not something you see EVER in hawaii. Brought both video and still camera. The scene had about 1000 people crowded around a fenced off area on the beach and road trying to get a glance at the whale. The whale seemed tired, or very sick as it was being pushed back and forth by the waves that were coming in. It was being pushed up against some reef & rocks and you could see that it had many scrapes from the reef on it's belly, which were bleeding. It wasn't even trying to get out, although it would spout water from the top of its blow hole from time to time so we knew it was still alive.

Killer Whale Stranded On Kauai Beach Euthanized
October 22, 2008 (KITV Honolulu)
The 18-foot female orca was found at 2 a.m. on a small section of Po‘ip Beach Park next to Brennecke's Beach
A small pod of orcas was reported outside Nawiliwili Harbor Tuesday night. Marine biologists said that while killer whales are not commonly seen in Hawaiian waters, there are up to 250 near the island chain.
"They average anywhere from a single individual to a group of 10 and they've been seen throughout the main Hawaiian Islands to northwest islands. They are rare, they are infrequent, but they have been seen here," Yuen said.

Sick orca whale euthanized on Kauai
October 22, 2008 (Honolulu Advertiser)
Kaua'i - A sick killer whale was euthanized by federal wildlife officials at about noon today after it washed ashore early this morning at Brennecke's Beach.
The 18-foot-long female was very emaciated and had cookie-cutter shark bites and whale lice, all signs that it had been sick for some time, said Wende Goo, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The animal was given two rounds of sedatives before it received a euthanasia shot about noon, Goo said. A Hawaiian cultural practitioner conducted rites for the animal before it was euthanized, she said.

Experts eager to study dead whale
October 22, 2008 (Honolulu Star Bulletin)
Scientists hope to learn much from the death of a stranded killer whale, a rare visitor to Hawaii waters.
The sick female orca - about 18 feet long and between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds - beached itself at Brennecke's Beach in Poipu on Tuesday night but was euthanized yesterday by federal wildlife officials after an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the animal.
Covered in bloody scrapes and whale lice, and with circular chunks removed by smaller sharks, the orca was likely sick for weeks before ending up at the popular tourist beach, said David Schofield, marine mammal stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service. There were no obvious signs of attack by a large predator or collision with a ship.
A pod of about three to four killer whales was spotted outside of Nawiliwili Harbor Tuesday, but it is unclear whether the stranded whale was part of the pod.
Anthony Davis heard strange noises Tuesday night outside his hotel room at Poipu Point but thought it was noise pumped in. "It sounded like whales supposedly singing," he said as he watched the whale thrash in the surf.

Long list of ideas to rescue the Sound
October 23, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Buy environmentally sensitive lands. Redouble enforcement of laws to protect fish. Give builders incentives to prevent water pollution. Forbid erosion controls on ecologically sensitive shorelines.
Those are just a few of the dozens of ideas for how to restore ecologically ailing Puget Sound considered Wednesday by leaders of the state's newly re-launched campaign to rescue the estuary.
Facing a recession-battered economy and the potential unseating of their chief political booster, Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council readied its list of proposed fix-it actions. Early next month they'll be asking the public to weigh in.
The partnership is the result of Gregoire's appeal to the Legislature to reinvigorate the state's long-standing -- but so far unsuccessful -- efforts to revive the Sound. Pollution, overfishing, harm to shorelines from docks and bulkheads -- all have had a hand in sending the water body's health plunging. Gregoire appointed members of the agency's leadership council.
"We don't fully understand all the causes of the problem," said Joel Baker, science director at the University of Washington's Center for Urban Waters. "We don't know how to effectively and efficiently restore Puget Sound, but that's not a reason to sit back until we do understand it perfectly."
But the first draft of the plan is far from set, and it's supposed to be released to the public Nov. 6. Price tags have yet to be attached to the recommended actions, although that has to be done before the plan is turned over to the governor's office Dec. 1.

Clean energy: Impetus for action
October 21, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial)
If anything, the economic crisis offers more impetus for working on environmentally friendly energy development, conservation, electrical transmission, efficient vehicles and research on improved electrical storage and transmission techniques. Creating jobs in those areas can counter some of the devastating losses of opportunity for average Americans that will accompany the economic collapse.
More important, it's a transition to new, cleaner energy sources that the entire world will have to make. Without rapid changes, the planet will almost certainly be locked into temperature rises that cause devastating sea level rises, greater storm losses and disastrous water and food problems. Any country that lags in responding will be burdened with unsustainable technologies.
America has made the mistake of retreating from new energy policies before, at big cost to the environment and our increasingly uncompetitive economy. We're hearing the first trumpeting for a new retreat with politicians proclaiming, "Drill, baby, drill." We need leaders who are ready to save the climate, reduce dependence on foreign oil mongers and build a stronger economy in Washington state and nationally.

PSE wins 50-year license for Baker River dams
October 21, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Puget Sound Energy says it has received a new 50-year license to operate its two dams on the Baker River in Skagit and Whatcom counties.
The dams produce enough electricity for 60,000 households.
As part of the new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the Bellevue-based utility agrees to build a sockeye salmon hatchery, to improve systems for moving salmon around the dams and to improve fish habitat.
The utility also says it will increase the flood storage capacity and improve public camping, boating and hiking access.

Conservationists nudge Feds to help save salmon
October 19, 2008 (San Francisco Chronicle)
Chinook salmon that evolved to migrate up the Willamette River during a narrow winter window when they could get over Willamette Falls are one of the most genetically unique salmon in the Columbia River system.
But roughly 95 percent of their once-flourishing runs are gone, cut off from their spawning grounds by dams and their habitat in decline. Biologists say their risk of extinction is high.
Now federal agencies, prodded by conservation groups, are moving to remedy the impacts of 13 dams on Oregon's largest interior river system that have pushed salmon and steelhead to the brink. Their goal: reconnect struggling salmon in the degraded lower river to pristine headwaters above the dams - while leaving the dams in place.
Without helping fish reach those prime spawning streams, "there is just not enough habitat to produce enough fish to rebuild the run," said Stephanie Burchfield of NOAA-Fisheries, which oversees protected salmon.
The work will extend multibillion-dollar efforts to offset the fish impacts of Columbia River dams to include the Willamette. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars worth of engineering, technology and habitat repair, nearly half funded by ratepayers who get hydroelectric power from the dams.
The dams cut off salmon from as much as 90 percent of their spawning habitat on the Middle Fork of the Willamette, 70 percent on the North and South Santiam and about 20 percent on the Clackamas and McKenzie.
Spring chinook salmon and winter steelhead are both protected by the Endangered Species Act, but Willamette chinook are the most threatened. The Willamette once supported about 300,000 wild chinook, but the number is now about 10,000 and is in danger of disappearing.
The assumption when the dams were built was that wild fish, supplemented by hatchery fish, would spawn below the dams, Taylor said. But too little spawning habitat remains below the dams. Part of the problem is that water flowing from reservoirs throws river temperatures off.

Orca survival trumps profits, ‘ownership'
October 17, 2008 (San Juan Journal editorial)
It's time for Lolita to be returned home. The Southern Resident orca, you may recall, was captured in 1970 in our waters and now resides, and performs on demand, at the Miami Seaquarium.
Since 1995, Orca Network and the San Juan Island-based Center for Whale Research have lobbied for the whale's return to the Salish Sea, but the aquarium's ownership rights have apparently trumped the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and other animal welfare laws.
Our view: A single corporation's ownership rights do not trump the survival of a species. Profits, which the Miami Seaquarium has made in the millions, do not trump what's morally right.
Six orcas from Lolita's family disappeared this year, among them breeding-age females, bringing the population to about 83 - far lower than the 120-plus before the capture era. Of the current number, fewer than a dozen are breeding-age females.
To those who might have concerns about the orca's ability to adapt to her birth environment, Balcomb said, "I have every confidence she could be reunited with her pod."
In conclusion:
- There is a strong moral reason for Lolita to be returned home: According to Coupeville-based Orca Network, Lolita lives alone in a 35 by 20 tank; that's tantamount to spending your life in your bathtub.
- There is a sound legal reason for Lolita to be returned home: According to Orca Network, Lolita's living conditions do not meet the minimum requirements of the Animal Welfare Act. In addition, Lolita is an L pod whale, an endangered species.
- Finally, Lolita's family is threatened with extinction, and she could contribute to its survival.
It's time for Lolita to be returned home.

Government declares beluga whale endangered
October 17, 2008 (Associated Press)
The beluga whales of Alaska's Cook Inlet are endangered and require additional protection to survive, the government declared Friday, contradicting Gov. Sarah Palin who has questioned whether the distinctive white whales are actually declining.
It was the Republican vice presidential candidate's second environmental slap from Washington this year. She has asked federal courts to overturn an Interior Department decision declaring polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The government on Friday put a portion of the whales on the endangered list, rejecting Palin's argument that it lacked scientific evidence to do so. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that a decade-long recovery program had failed to ensure the whales' survival.
"In spite of protections already in place, Cook Inlet beluga whales are not recovering," said James Balsiger, NOAA acting assistant administrator.
The decision means that before federal agencies can issue a variety of commercial permits, they must first consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine if there are potential harmful effects on the whales.

Dino Rossi: Q&A about the environment
October 15, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Q: Salmon scientists say enhancement of habitat in the nearshore and estuaries, as well as for spawning and rearing areas in rivers, is needed to recover salmon. What sorts of incentives for landowners would you support? What kinds of additional regulation would be fair?
A: Any strategy done on near shores of estuaries must be done in conjunction with the overall strategies of the Puget Sound Partnership.
I think it is fair to maintain the goals we have laid out for fixing salmon blocking culverts across the state. When it comes to enhancing salmon habitat, we should be following the lead of forest companies and private landowners. The state has laid out goals for them and told that they must fix the salmon blocking culverts on their land, and they have fixed thousands of these culverts ahead of schedule.
Meanwhile, WSDOT has budgeted only $73 million over the next ten years for culvert projects. Instead of opening up 200 miles per year as planned, they are only opening up 61 miles per year. At this rate, it would take 39 years to reach our goal.
We need to accelerate this effort and use the expertise of Washington businesses, conservationists, and others to make sure these projects are finished on time and cost taxpayers less money.
Q: The winter 2007 storms in Lewis County revealed widespread building in floodplains. Last month the National Marine Fisheries Service recommended a moratorium on construction in floodplains to rescue salmon and the orcas that eat salmon. Do you support a moratorium on construction in floodplains until rules for building there can be revised? What limits should be placed on construction in floodplains?
A: This is the kind of decision that needs to be made at the local level. I am a strong advocate for local control; I think Olympia has done far too much directing of local areas of what they should be doing.
When I was a Senator from Sammamish, I did not want someone from Bellingham dictating to me what was best for my district, nor did I think I should dictate to a Senator from Bellingham what was best for her district.
Q: Conflicts between endangered species and humans in Washington are well-known. Do you believe endangered species need more protection, or less protection?
A: The Endangered Species Act is an important piece of federal legislation and we all share the common goal of wanting to protect threatened or endangered species. As governor, I have no control over the Endangered Species Act. Laws regarding endangered species should focus on a balanced, collaborative approach that is centered around species recovery, providing incentives, and compensating private property owners for the lost use of land.
The Endangered Species Act needs to create incentives to keep land and habitats, rather than punishments that encourage land owners to take actions to keep endangered species off their land.

Gregoire: Q&A about the environment
October 15, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Q: Salmon scientists say enhancement of habitat in the nearshore and estuaries, as well as for spawning and rearing areas in rivers, is needed to recover salmon. What sorts of incentives for landowners would you support? What kinds of additional regulation would be fair?
A: Washington leads the region in responding to the salmon listings under the Endangered Species Act. These plans are now being implemented across the state. Washington's citizens have responded to this challenge by using a collaborative, bottom up approach. These watershed groups work out at the local level what types of projects, changes in regulations and incentives they need to get the work done. It takes all of us to solve big problems and by partnering with the state, local citizens can help us improve and bring back salmon runs.
But if these plans do not result in a turnaround -- if populations continue to decline -- then I am open to alternative approaches.
Q: The winter 2007 storms in Lewis County revealed widespread building in floodplains. Last month the National Marine Fisheries Service recommended a moratorium on construction in floodplains to rescue salmon and the orcas that eat salmon. Do you support a moratorium on construction in floodplains until rules for building there can be revised? What limits should be placed on construction in floodplains?
A: After experiencing the floods of 2006 and 2007, I agree we need to better assess the effect of floodplain development on our flood levels in our rivers. Cities and counties lead the way when it comes to local land use and development, and the federal government, in responding to the New Orleans and Iowa floods, is also looking at flood structures, flood maps, flood insurance programs, and floodplain management policies.
These policies will help inform local and state government about what action, if any, should be taken to limit construction on flood plains. No matter what, we must make sure that construction on or near a flood plain is done in a way that will keep people safe, without unnecessary risk to property or the environment.
The federal government has suggested that communities implement a voluntary moratorium on floodplain development until more information and better criteria can be developed for floodplain protection but have appropriately left the interim decisions to the local communities.
Communities may choose to implement the voluntary moratorium. If they choose not to implement the moratorium, they should continue to require a full review of any development proposals that might affect flooding or the floodplain.
Q: Conflicts between endangered species and humans in Washington are well-known. Do you believe endangered species need more protection, or less protection?
A: If a species is listed under the Endangered Species Act, it needs protection. In addition to legal obligations from the Endangered Species Act, we have a greater obligation to our children to provide them with a cleaner, greener future. Protecting wildlife is part of this obligation.
We can step up to the plate just like we did with salmon and develop locally supported recovery plans, as opposed to waiting for the federal government to come in and impose a top-down approach. Second, we can be more proactive to ensure that additional species don't get listed under the federal endangered species act. A good example of this is our Puget Sound clean-up effort.

Fisheries ruling to protect salmon, steelhead, orcas also affects builders
October 13, 2008 (Olympian)
A ruling that development along dozens of rivers flowing from the Cascade Mountains to Puget Sound jeopardizes endangered salmon, steelhead and orcas could shape future construction in floodplains nationwide.
At the heart of the issue is the National Flood Insurance Program, which for 40 years has regulated river corridor development but paid scant attention to endangered species. That could change.
The "jeopardy opinion" from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle, coupled with an injunction blocking development in Florida that threatens the habitat of the endangered Key deer, might force major changes in the federal flood insurance program.
In its opinion, the National Marine Fisheries Service said that those standards are too weak. It said continued development in the floodplains "jeopardized the continued existence" of the salmon, steelhead and orcas. The opinion involved Puget Sound chinook salmon, Puget Sound steelhead, Hood Canal chum salmon and the population of 100 or so orcas that roam the inland waters. Salmon are a staple source of food for orcas.
The river floodplains provide not just critical spawning habitat but also natural shade, cover and forage for juvenile salmon before they head downstream to the ocean.

Snohomish County tries to reconcile restoring salmon habitat, preserving farmland
October 13, 2008 (Seattle Times)
But on the island's grassy east side, the county plans a $13 million wetland- and shoreline-restoration project that would remove the perimeter dikes that once protected low-lying farmland and return it to tidal marsh, wandering channels and the native vegetation that shelters juvenile chinook salmon.
When the chinook were listed as endangered in 1999, Smith Island, with its 500 acres of largely abandoned farmland, was identified as the No. 1 priority for salmon-habitat restoration in the Snohomish River watershed. Upon completion, the project would become one of the largest estuary restorations in the state.
But the effort has run into opposition from farmers, and in September the county's Agricultural Advisory Board adopted recommendations that call for the protection and enhancement of agricultural lands. While the guidelines developed by the board are not binding, they recommend no farmland be lost and that projects that impact farmland - such as Smith Island shoreline restoration - be offset by improvements to agriculture.
At Smith Island, this means that the existing dike will be torn down as planned, but a new dike will have to be built to protect about 80 acres of farmland, even though only 55 acres are currently being used as a tree farm, and that operation is being relocated and the land offered for sale.
Will Hall, a former county planner who now is a policy adviser to the County Council, said that salmon restoration will inevitably impact agricultural land because the county's most fertile farmland is in the flood plains of its largest rivers.
"The rivers salmon depend on run through farms," he said.

A man-made solution to salmon's man-made crisis
October 13, 2008 (Oregonian)
Chinook salmon that evolved to migrate up the Willamette River during a narrow winter window when they could get over Willamette Falls are one of the most genetically unique salmon in the Columbia River system.
Now federal agencies, prodded by conservation groups, are moving to remedy the impacts of 13 dams on Oregon's largest interior river system that have pushed salmon and steelhead to the brink. Their goal: reconnect struggling salmon in the degraded lower river to pristine headwaters above the dams -- while leaving the dams in place.
The work will extend multibillion-dollar efforts to offset the fish impacts of Columbia River dams to include the Willamette. It will take hundreds of millions of dollars worth of engineering, technology and habitat repair, nearly half funded by ratepayers who get hydroelectric power from the dams.
Federal biologists are calling for systems that haven't been devised yet to shunt fish past dams twice as high as those on the Columbia. The work mandated by the Endangered Species Act might require temporarily draining Detroit Lake, a recreational reservoir east of Salem, to install equipment that re-creates natural water temperatures for fish below the dam.

Lummi, whale advocates pay tribute to oldest orca
October 13, 2008 (Indian Country Today)
The Ohileq-sen Canoe Family from the Lummi Nation led a tribute Sept. 26 for K7, a Southern Resident killer whale that did not return with her pod this year.
The Center for Whale Research estimates the whale was born in 1910, making her the oldest of the estimated 87 orcas that frequent the straits and sounds around the San Juan Islands. K7 was given the name "Lummi" through The Whale Museum's Orca Adoption Program, in honor of the first people of the San Juan Islands.
Lummi was a great-great-grandmother – the leader of a five-generation subgroup of orcas within K pod. That pod and two others have been declared endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Depleted salmon runs and pollution are considered two main reasons for the precariousness of the whales' population.
People gathered at Lime Kiln Point State Park lighthouse to celebrate the life of Lummi. "These are songs [she] may have heard in her time," said James Hillaire, of the Ohileq-sen Canoe Family. "These are songs our ancestors used to sing as they paddled their canoes from village to village in this area."

Trouble In The Pipeline For Grey Whales
October 12, 2008 (Science News)
The fate of the world's few remaining Western Grey Whales now rests on the outcome of appeals to Russian authorities and courts following the refusal of an oil consortium to consider alternatives to a proposal to lay an oil pipeline through a shallow lagoon crucial to the whales' food supplies.
Last month the Russian government ignored an outcry over project impacts on Piltun Lagoon to grant approval for the pipeline, part of the Sakhalin-1 project which includes oil giant Exxon and Russian, Japanese and Indian oil companies.
Only around 130 Western Gray Whales are left worldwide, including some 20 females able to reproduce. They gather in the seas around Sakhalin in Russia's far east for four months to feed and build up the fat to survive the rest of the year.
Piltun Lagoon produces organic matter crucial for benthos such as as sea stars, oysters, clams, sea cucumbers, brittle stars and sea anemones which form the Grey Whale's main food source.

Environmental groups force Ottawa to court in bid to save orcas
October 10, 2008 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
A coalition of six environmental groups is taking the federal government to court for allegedly failing to protect British Columbia's endangered killer whales under the Species At Risk Act.
Dr. Barrett-Lennard, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia, said his team spent years identifying the habitat critical to the survival of two distinct populations, the southern residents and the northern residents, only to have that work ignored in the government's finalized plan to save the whales.
He said the killer-whale recovery team battled throughout the process with federal officials who wanted to leave critical habitat out of the plan to save the orcas. In the end, the government issued a statement saying critical habitat is already protected under existing laws, indicating no special action is needed.
But Dr. Barrett-Lennard said that flies in the face of scientific evidence that shows both the northern and southern resident populations are faltering.
In recent years, he said, the southern resident population has dropped to about 80 from 95. This year there were seven deaths and just one birth.
The northern population, which numbers about 200, is in better shape but has declined about 7 per cent since 2000.
Dr. Barrett-Lennard said the orcas may have reached a tipping point this year, because a shortage of chinook salmon - the mainstay of their diet - has put the whales under enormous stress.
"There are now increasing reports of a syndrome called 'peanut head,' in which the head becomes a distinctive shape because of loss of fat in the neck," he said.

Eco-groups sue Ottawa over orca habitat
October 9, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
In a precedent-setting case, which scientists say could decide the future of endangered southern resident and threatened northern resident killer whales as well as all other marine mammals at risk, eight environmental groups, say they have turned to the courts as a last resort.
The aim is to force the federal fisheries minister to apply the Species At Risk Act to safeguard killer whale habitat. There are 87 southern resident and 240 northern resident killer whales left in B. C. waters.
Team members were shocked that government's response to their report was to say that killer whale critical habitat is already protected by existing laws and policies.
"How can they even suggest that the Fisheries Act is doing a good job of protecting chinook salmon? We know it has already failed."
Marine biologist Anna Hall, who works for Prince of Whales whale watching, said critical habitat protection is needed.
The bottom line for the whales is they need enough food, and government should be looking at halting all salmon fishing, whether recreational, aboriginal or commercial, she said.

Killer whales off southern B.C. face extinction, experts warn
October 9, 2008 (Canada.com)
Killer whales in southern B.C. waters could be extinct in as little as a century if things don't change, experts said Wednesday.
Only 87 resident killer whales live in southern B.C. waters, after a 20-per-cent decline between 1993 and 2003. About 240 northern resident killer whales are also threatened.
"For most species a population reduced to 87... they'd be toast. We wouldn't even be considering recovery as a viable possibility," said Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, an international expert on killer whales.

Ottawa sued over lack of legislation to protect B.C. killer whales
October 9, 2008 (CBC)
Six environmental groups filed a lawsuit in Vancouver on Wednesday against the federal government, accusing it of failing to protect endangered and threatened killer whales on the B.C. coast.
The legal action came after Ottawa's decision last month to not protect killer whales beyond existing measures, said Laura Tessaro, a lawyer for Ecojustice, formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund.
"The lawsuit alleges that the federal government has failed to legally protect the critical habitat of endangered and threatened resident killer whales," she said.
Ecojustice, a non-profit organization of lawyers and scientists, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, and the Wilderness Committee.
Killer whales face many serious threats throughout their habitat on the B.C coast such as declining salmon stocks, increased boat traffic, toxic contamination, and acoustic impacts from dredging, said Lance Barrett-Lennard, co-chairman of the DFO's Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team.
Barrett-Lennard agrees that legislation is necessary to ensure endangered and threatened killer whales are protected.
"If the response by the [fisheries] minister stands, it effectively means that nothing has to be done under the Species at Risk Act to protect killer whales, so it's a hard pill to swallow," he said.

Sad news for local orca pods; population declines by six
October 8, 2008 (San Juan Journal)
Six orcas have apparently disappeared from the Southern Resident orca pods this year, dropping the population to 83, the lowest since 2003.
The Center for Whale Research and others are blaming marine pollution, depleted salmon runs, and acoustic impacts from dredging, seismic testing and military sonar for the decline in the population. The Southern Resident orcas are listed as endangered in Canada and the U.S.
"It's a hard hit," said Dave Ellifrit, senior staff assistant at the center.
Three Southern Resident orcas didn't show up with their pods at the beginning of the season K7, believed to be 98 years old and the oldest of all the orcas; J43, a calf born late last fall; and L101, a juvenile male that had been photographed in Monterey, Calif. Jan. 27.
By Sept. 30, when the Center for Whale Research concluded its annual survey of the Southern Resident population, three more were missing: L67, the 30-something mother of L101; J11, a female born in the early 1970s; and L21, a female born in 1950.
J11 has three healthy offspring, according to Ellifrit. But L67's offspring haven't fared as well. In addition to L101, L67 was the mother of Luna, the male orca that separated from the pod in Nootka Sound in 2002. Luna was killed by a boat propeller in 2006.
In addition, L111, a calf born in August to L47, is believed to have died. (Calves are not included in the population count until they survive a year). All told, L47's last four calves have died, according to Ken Balcomb, executive director of the center.
An adult orca can eat four chinook salmon a day, Balcomb said. But the Puget Sound chinook salmon run is expected to be about 22,000 this year; that's slim pickings when shared with commercial and recreational fishers. It's also a far cry from the standard stock of 1 million salmon that Balcomb remembers in the 1970s.
Balcomb said the ups and downs of the orca population over the last 30 years parallels the ups and downs of the chinook salmon population. "If the chinook population doesn't do well, the whale population doesn't do well," he said.

Supreme Court weighs case on Navy sonar, whales
October 8, 2008 (Miami Herald)
Whales may simply have to pay the price as the Navy prepares for war, Supreme Court justices suggested Wednesday.
In a closely watched environmental case, justices Wednesday morning repeatedly sounded sympathetic to Pentagon officials who want to run large-scale Navy exercises off the Southern California coast. While the resulting underwater sonar storm disturbs marine mammals, it also helps prepare sailors for combat.
"I thought the whole point of the armed forces was to hurt the environment," Justice Stephen Breyer said, half-jokingly. "Of course they're going to do harm."

Green groups sue feds over B.C.'s killer whales
October 8, 2008 (Canadian Press)
A coalition of environmental groups is suing the federal government, claiming it's refusing to use legislation to protect threatened and endangered killer whales that live along the B.C. coast.
The group that includes Greenpeace and the David Suzuki Foundation is asking the Federal Court of Canada to force the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to protect whale habitat.
The environmentalists say endangered southern resident killer whales and threatened northern resident killer whales are succumbing to threats such as dredging, increased vessel traffic, military sonar, pollution and the loss of key salmon stocks they live on.
The group says it approached the fisheries department last month but was told existing guidelines and regulations were enough to protect the whales.
Lawyer Lara Tessaro of Ecojustice says this is the first lawsuit of its kind in Canada.
The group's notice of application was filed with the court in Vancouver on Wednesday.
Canadian government faces suit over killer whales October 8, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Feds sued over refusal to protect resident killer whales (Ecojustice press release)

They're back: Orcas spotted off Whidbey Island
October 8, 2008 (South Whidbey Record)
And the orcas are here. After spending most of the summer in the San Juan Islands, orca pods are now beginning to venture south into inland waters for the fall and early winter months, traveling down Admiralty Inlet chasing chum salmon runs into lower Puget Sound.
Orca Network's Susan Berta and Howard Garrett report tracking all three pods of the southern resident orcas off Whidbey Island, Port Townsend and as far south as the Kitsap Peninsula.
Why should anybody care?
"There's an innate recognition of a kindred spirit that excites us," Garrett said. "They are familiar yet magnificent creatures who remind us how vital the living, natural world can be. Whenever we see them, we get a sense of the wonder of nature."
This time of year orcas can be spotted from the shoreline on Whidbey Island, the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, and the inland waters of Puget Sound. Orca Network encourages shore-based whale watching, or watching for whales while commuting on Washington State Ferries.
The Orca Network Web site - www.orcanetwork.org - keeps track of the orcas, but not without a lot of volunteer assistance.
"We are asking for your help in keeping track of the orcas and other whales, and request that you call in whale sightings so we can get the information as soon as possible," Berta said.

Killer whales threatened by salmon shortage
October 8, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Killer whales in the waters off southern Vancouver Island are losing blubber and developing strange behaviour patterns because of a shortage of salmon, say whale experts.
Some endangered southern resident killer whales are developing "peanut heads" because they are not getting enough food, said Howard Garrett of Washington-based Orca Network.
"They are looking sick. There is usually a thick layer of blubber just behind the skull and that seems to be the first place to be drawn from when they need to draw down blubber," he said. "In some of them, there's a dip right behind the blow-hole and, when you see that, you know the whale has been hungry."
The Center for Whale Research is having difficulty finalizing numbers for the three resident pods this year because the whales are so spread out.
Researchers believe there might be some losses, but, tentatively, the number of southern residents is set at about 87.
As the whales search for elusive chinook salmon there are unusual liaisons, Garrett said.
"A small group from L Pod have been travelling with J Pod all summer long and twice J Pod has split into two completely separate groups, out of acoustic range from each other," he said. "It's an indication that they are searching high and low and in every nook and cranny for fish."
Today, environmental groups and Lance Barrett-Lennard, co-chairman of the federal government's Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team, are holding a news conference in Vancouver. They will "announce an explosive new strategy to challenge the federal government's failure to protect the endangered southern resident killer whales and threatened northern resident killer whales," says a news release from the environmental group Ecojustice.
In the U.S., Garrett has firm ideas on what should be done to save the orcas.
"There is already a lot of effort to restore salmon on the U.S. side, and we need to tie orca recovery to salmon recovery every step of the way," he said.
That means tighter fishing restrictions, buffer zones around salmon streams and the removal of dams on the Elwha River and the Snake River in Washington state, Garrett said.

U.S. Navy Sonar Linked To Whale Strandings, Environmental Scientists Argue
October 6, 2008 (Science Daily)
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a series of lower court rulings that restrict the Navy's use of sonar in submarine detection training exercises off the coast of Southern California. The court is due to hear the case after its term begins again this month.
For many years, professor Chris Parsons has been tracking the patterns of mass whale strandings around the world. In his most recent paper, "Navy Sonar and Cetaceans: Just how much does the gun need to smoke before we act?" Parsons and his co-authors bring together all of the major whale and dolphin strandings in the past eight years and discuss the different kinds of species that have been affected worldwide. They also strongly argue for stricter environmental policies related to this issue.
"If the Navy uses proper mitigation efforts, it can still perform its exercises and affect less of the whale population," he says. However, he argues they need to avoid sensitive areas completely, and have trained, experienced whale experts as lookouts when performing these exercises-"not just someone who has watched a 45-minute DVD, which is sadly the only training most naval lookouts get with respect to finding and detecting whales."

Earth Aboil
October 6, 2008 (Washington Post editorial)
A new study raises the imperative to get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
SO MUCH carbon was released around the world from burning fossil fuels in 2007 that it could lead to a sweltering 11-degree Fahrenheit increase in the Earth's temperature by the end of the century, according to data recently unveiled by the Global Carbon Project. To put it more starkly, the relentless buildup of carbon emissions in the atmosphere is outpacing the worst-case scenario outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
According to the new report from the Global Carbon Project, an Australian-based international consortium of scientists, 8.47 gigatons of emissions were released in 2007, up 2.9 percent over 2006. The consortium pointed out that developed countries spewed carbon at a slightly higher rate than in 1990. But the dramatic increase in emissions is coming from developing nations such as China, India and Brazil. In less than 20 years, they've doubled their carbon output and are now responsible for a little more than half of all emissions.

Orcas Move South Into Kitsap Waters
October 1, 2008 (Kitsap Sun)
All three groups of Puget Sound killer whales made a sudden foray into Central Puget Sound on Tuesday morning, when observers spotted them off Kingston.
Each fall, as chinook salmon runs dwindle in the San Juan Islands, the sleek black and white mammals travel south along the Kitsap Peninsula, where they hunt for increasing runs of chum salmon until winter sets in. It appears their southerly travels have just begun.
On Tuesday, observers reported seeing all three pods together - a so-called "super pod." They were off Kingston about 8:45 a.m., according to Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a nonprofit group that keeps track of whale sightings. Somewhere around Kingston, the orcas turned around and were sighted in several places off Whidbey Island to the north. Some animals spent about four hours off Whidbey's Fort Casey, Garrett noted.
Over the next few weeks, residents of Central and South Puget Sound may have a chance to watch orcas from shore or aboard one of the Washington State Ferries. Orca Network, www.orcanetwork.org, provides a Web site and sends out e-mail notices of whale sightings to anyone who signs up.
Any observer who spots a group of orcas is asked to call (866) ORCANET or e-mail info@orcanetwork.org. Observers are asked to provide the location, time of spotting, direction of travel and number of whales. If possible, count the males, which are those animals with an extra-tall dorsal fin.

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