Orca Network News - October, 2009
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
October 1, 2009 through October 31, 2009.
October 31, 2009 (Seattle Times)
The Washington State Board on Geographic Names Friday voted 5-1 in favor of adding Salish Sea as an approved name for the body of water encompassing Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia and the many watery connections in between.
Board members said they approved the name to acknowledge the ecological continuum that spans the international boundary between Canada and the United States.
The name still awaits approval by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names and its Canadian counterpart, which may happen as soon as next month.
Since then, human population in the region has increased, and several key species, including chinook salmon and killer whales, have been pushed to the brink of extinction, signaling more than ever the need for a conservation effort that crosses the border, Webber said.
The board's action does not replace the name Puget Sound. Rather, the board's action means Salish Sea becomes an additional name to be used by cartographers and others to designate the waters encompassing the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia and Puget Sound south to Olympia.
Congress Approves Money for Puget Sound, National Forests
October 30, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
Congress will provide $50 million next year for the cleanup and restoration of Puget Sound, an increase from $20 million in the current year’s budget.
The $32 billion Interior and Environment Appropriations Bill, approved Thursday by both houses of Congress, includes increased funding for the operation of national parks, for road restoration in national forests, for construction of local water and sewage facilities and for addressing climate change on many fronts. The bill now goes to the president for his signature.
The $50 million for Puget Sound will be spent mostly to carry out the projects listed in the Puget Sound Partnership’s Action Agenda, according to U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, who chairs the subcommittee that drafted the bill. The expenditure will put Puget Sound on a par with Chesapeake Bay.
A fund for removing two dams on the Elwha River in Olympic National Park will get an extra $20 million, keeping that program on an accelerated schedule. The removal, now planned for late next year, will open up nearly 70 miles of near-pristine habitat to five species of native salmon. The project, including all related facilities, is expected to cost more than $300 million.
Algae bloom killing seabirds mystifies researchers
October 30, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Bedraggled dead seabirds tangled in sea wrack on this remote, wild beach are just some of more than 8,000 birds killed since just after Labor Day, scientists estimate. The death toll — which might eventually pass 10,000 — is from a mysterious algae bloom still off the coast that has scientists and researchers worried and mystified.
Waves break the cells of the algae, releasing compounds that create a foam that is both sticky and soapy. Any bird that swims or dives into it is at risk, because compounds in the foam strip natural waterproofing oils from the birds' feathers. The birds quickly become hypothermic and stressed, struggling onto beaches to escape the cold water.
The bloom is not harmful to people or pets. And scavengers eating the carcasses of the dead birds aren't in peril.
Volunteers have been taking the birds to rehab centers, including the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelter in Lynnwood. It may take the sea birds as long as six weeks to recover by preening their feathers, said Virginia Huang, president of the board of directors for the Wildlife Center of the North Coast, in Astoria.
The crisis has ebbed, with little foam and few struggling birds found on the beaches this week — so far. But this is a situation that scientists have already seen ramp up and down since September, with the bloom moving, separating, meandering in patches, but not yet dispersing.
"We don't know why it (the algae) is so persistent," said Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, who specializes in harmful algae bloom. She said no one yet knows any one cause of the bloom.
"We need to look at these organisms as indicators of some kind of change, whether climate change or other factors," Trainer said. "The ocean is trying to tell us something."
Killer foam: Was it a freak event or a warning?
October 29, 2009 (Oregonian)
A simple organism that killed thousands of seabirds in Oregon and Washington has stunned scientists who are combing through clues in hopes of unraveling its mystery.
They can name it. They can measure it. They can peer at it under a microscope.
But they do not know exactly why it suddenly burst into deadly profusion for the first time off the Northwest coast and whether this was a freak event or a harbinger of the future.
"This is an amazing story," said Julia Parrish, a marine biologist and professor at the University of Washington.
The organism, which has ignited a flurry of emails and phone calls among oceanographers from Seattle to Santa Cruz, Calif., is a single-cell phytoplankton, or algae, called Akashiwo sanguinea.
Deadly foam kills seabirds, puzzles scientists
October 29, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Scientists know what caused the ocean foam that has killed thousands of seabirds in Oregon and Washington, but they don't know exactly why it suddenly showed up in such deadly abundance off the Northwest coast.
The organism is a single-cell phytoplankton, or algae, called Akashiwo sanguinea.
It has been blamed for red tides off Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Hong Kong.
In mid-September, it began multiplying in an algae bloom off Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The Oregonian reports the algae has turned up in Washington's Puget Sound before, and in 2001, it was detected off Newport. But this time it's killing Northwest seabirds.
While algae blooms are common in the Northwest, and essential to providing food that supports fisheries, this algae created surfactants - detergentlike substances that covered seabirds in foam and stripped away their waterproofing, causing them to become hypothermic and die.
Whales Are Polite Conversationalists: Rhythms Can Be Spotted In Ocean's Chatter
October 27, 2009 (Science Daily)
What do a West African drummer and a sperm whale have in common? According to some reports, they can both spot rhythms in the chatter of an ocean crowded with the calls of marine mammals -- a feat impossible for the untrained human ear.
Now a group of marine biologists at the Littoral Acoustic Demonstration Center has developed a tool that can spot these rhythms and identify individual animals. Their results, which will be presented at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA) next week in San Antonio, suggest that whales make a specific effort to keep their calls from overlapping.
George Ioup at the University of New Orleans and colleagues have developed a way to analyze calls produced by marine mammals. Their technique, which follows principles similar to how the human ear picks out a voice at a crowded cocktail party, groups similar-sounding clicks to isolate the calls of individual animals.
State's habitat project near Stanwood raises farmers' ire
October 21, 2009 (Everett Herald)
Farmers and conservationists are split over a plan to flood farmland that Norwegian homesteaders claimed from the Stillaguamish River delta more than a century ago.
For now, the effort to breach levees near Stanwood is on hold while the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife seeks permits from Snohomish County.
“We are out of construction season at this point and we’ll hope to start up next summer if everything lines up correctly,” said Lora Leschner, a regional manager with Fish and Wildlife.
The project involves about 150 acres, with roughly half of it to be restored as tide-influenced estuary with habitat for salmon and waterfowl, said Tom Rowe, a division manager with the Snohomish County planning department. To do that, the state would remove an existing dike, which it says is failing, and build a new, smaller one.
NOAA, Navy To Protect Whales From Deadly Sonar Off Guam Coast
October 16, 2009 (Guam News Factor)
After years of evidence suggesting that Navy sonar may harm whales and possibly other marine mammals, it appears that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Navy are teaming up to tackle that problem and the possible harmful effects of practice detonations -- even off the coast of Guam.
NOAA announced today that it is seeking comments from the Navy on a proposal to regulate the use of sonar in order to help mitigate injury or death to marine mammals off the Marianas coastline. Some whales in particular have shown a tendency to become confused by sonar, which may cause them to beach themselves.
In a show of solidarity, last month the Navy funded a study in the Mediterranean tracking the behavior of beaked whales, including their reaction to sonar.
A Navy news release acknowleged:
Beaked whales were of particular interest to the project's researchers because they appear, from previous stranding events and related experiments, to be especially sensitive to certain man-made sounds, including mid-frequency active sonar. Researchers believe a better understanding of the basic biology, normal uses of sound communication and the effects of human sounds on beaked whales will allow for improved protection of the species.
Data buoys in Strait to provide real-time marine data
October 16, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
A Navy-funded pilot project being tested in the North Olympic Peninsula's backyard is intended to improve both national security and environmental research.
The "floating area network," developed by the Port Townsend-based company Intellicheck Mobilisa, is designed to use buoys to keep an eye on ports and shipping lanes while at the same time collecting real-time data on environmental conditions in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.
The buoys are made to help national security by being able to carry sensors that can detect radiation from dirty bombs on passing ships and infrared cameras that can be controlled remotely to catch people illegally entering U.S. waters, said Intellicheck Mobilisa project manager Jim Rabb.
They are also designed, with help from the University of Washington's applied physics lab, to be outfitted with sensors that transmit data on the levels of dissolved oxygen, salinity, algae, among other environmental indicators to university researchers and possibly by the end of the year, even local marine life centers.
After two years of research and development and $10 million in federal dollars, five buoys with only the environmental sensors have been deployed.
Toxic "red tide" closes northern Puget Sound to shellfish harvesting
October 16, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Most shellfish areas on North Puget Sound, including all of Whatcom and San Juan counties and as far south as the northern end of Whidbey Island, are off-limits for recreational shellfish harvesting because of dangerous levels of marine biotoxins — "red tide" — capable of causing paralysis or even death if consumed.
Besides shellfish harvesting areas in Whatcom and San Juan counties, the state Department of Health has closed Deception Pass, Fidalgo Bay, Samish Bay, Sinclair and Cypress Islands in Skagit County to the harvesting of clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, geoduck and other mollusks, according to a health department bulletin released on Thursday.
The northern part of Whidbey Island, from Keystone Harbor on the west to Strawberry Point on the east, including Deception Pass, are on the closure list.
The red tide biotoxins that cause paralytic shellfish poisoning have been detected at levels as much as 100 times higher than the established closure level in shellfish samples collected from north Puget Sound, said Frank Cox, of the state Department of Health's shellfish program.
Biotoxins have also been detected in Discovery Bay in Clallam and Jefferson counties, prompting a shellfish harvest closure, there, too. The health department said toxin levels in Discovery Bay weren't as high as those found in north Puget Sound, but should also be taken seriously.
Marine biotoxins, produced by naturally occurring algae that tend to be more common during the warmer months of the year, are not destroyed by cooking or freezing, and can be life threatening.
Symptoms can appear within minutes or hours of eating contaminated shellfish. They usually begin with tingling lips and tongue, moving to the hands and feet, followed by difficulty breathing. Anyone with symptoms should seek medical help immediately.
New Orca Calf Born to L Pod
October 15, 2009 (Kitsap Sun)
A new baby orca has been born into L pod, the largest of the three groups of killer whales that frequent Puget Sound.
The calf’s arrival coincides with the time of year when the whales generally move south out of the San Juan Islands to hunt for chum salmon in Central and South Puget Sound.
Jami Nagel, a naturalist for Island Adventures, captured a picture of the new calf off Point Wilson near Port Townsend on Saturday, as the pod of whales headed into Puget Sound.
The Center for Whale Research has confirmed that the calf has never been seen before. Experts have assigned the calf the number L-113, the next available number in sequence. Having only two pictures, center biologists have not identified the mother.
“During the time we were on the scene, the calf was with L-94 the whole time,” said Nagel. “I would think that would be the mom, but sometimes they baby-sit for each other.”
Local orcas get a new member
October 15, 2009 (KOMO TV)
The Center for Whale research says the calf is traveling with a 14-year-old female and a 32-year-old male orca.
Proof of the new calf brings the population of Southern Resident orcas up to 86.
For more information:
Massive killer whale pod sighted
October 15, 2009 (BBC)
A massive pod of up to 50 killer whales has been filmed for the first time off the coast of Scotland by a BBC crew.
Gordon Buchanan, presenter of BBC Autumnwatch, filmed the group from a fishing boat in the North Sea.
The killer whales are filmed approaching the fishing boat and feeding on mackerel that escape the fishing nets.
The tenacious behaviour reveals an unlikely alliance between fishermen and predators of fish.
Killer whales (Orcinus orca), otherwise called orcas, live in family groups called pods and occur in British waters.
As the largest member of the dolphin family, killer whales are known for their intelligence and range of hunting behaviours.
Lower Elwha Klallam prepare for removal of two dams that inundated 70 miles of sacred sites and salmon habitat
October 14, 2009 (Indian Country Today)
When the dams come down on the Elwha River in 2012, the lake waters will recede, revealing the origins of the Klallam people.
For the first time in almost a century, they will see the rock formations resembling two coiled baskets, where the Creator bathed and blessed the ancestors.
They will see the upper river where salmon returned to continue the cycle of life, their spawned-out carcasses feeding wildlife and their decomposing remains feeding giant cedars and other plant life.
They will see the meadows where the great-grandparents of today’s Klallam hunted, gathered plants for basket making and for medicines, and went on vision quests.
Orcas are on the move again past Whidbey, so it's a great time to watch
October 14, 2009 (South Whidbey Record)
It was whale-watcher paradise at Bush Point during the weekend as the local mammal population continued its annual fall travels.
“I've never seen them that close,” Howard Garrett of Orca Network, the local marine animal tracking organization, said Monday.
“They were in the shallow area right in front of the lighthouse,” Garrett said of the group of 12 to 15 orcas showing off for the spectators late Saturday afternoon.
He said it's difficult to predict where the whales are ultimately going in their eternal search for Chinook salmon.
“They often head for open ocean,” Garrett said. “They could go to California, or to northern British Columbia, but most likely they'll head for the mouth of the Columbia River (between Washington and Oregon) looking for the Chinook moving upstream.”
Garrett also urged anyone who sees the whales anywhere throughout the area to continue to report the sightings to the network, and to send along photos if they have them.
Call the Whale Sighting Network at 1-866-ORCANET toll-free, or call Garrett at 360-678-3451. Or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the Orca Network Web site at www.orcanetwork.org.
Will orcas mix with turbines?
October 14, 2009 (Whidbey News Times)
At the southwest tip of Admiralty Head, in what was once a searchlight post for enemy ships at Fort Casey, two researchers are using the viewpoint to spot killer whales.
While the work is long, and often chilly, it's part of a larger project that could shed light on the future effects of tidal energy.
Within the next two years, the Snohomish Public Utility District is preparing to test tidal-energy turbines in deep water a half mile offshore from Fort Casey.
“It's a new technology that not a lot is known about,” Susan Berta of Greenbank-based Orca Network said.
While tidal energy may one day contribute to the Northwest's portfolio of clean, renewable energy, questions remain about the potential effects on marine life.
It's one of the worst years in history for salmon, and we're still killing them
October 13, 2009 (Vancouver Sun)
Call it British Columbia's Silent Fall. Some of the most prolific spawning grounds on the Fraser River are showing minuscule returns from record brood stocks four years earlier.
At some sites, almost no fish were reported in waters that should be seething with darting, crimson-sided sockeye salmon vying by the millions to lay and fertilize 10 billion eggs.
Eagles, bears, trout, aquatic insects and plants that feed on decaying salmon may face a nutrient desert on some parts of the upper Fraser and its tributaries.
When I checked on Monday, fisheries counts in the week ending Sept. 23 reported no sockeye observed on the west arm of Quesnel Lake, a vast spawning area. On Quesnel Lake's east arm, 1,468 live sockeye were counted in the seven days to Sept. 29.
Dam breaching celebrated on famed Rogue River
October 10, 2009 (Google News)
The wild and scenic Rogue River has become even wilder with the demolition of a dam that had hindered passage of salmon and steelhead to their spawning grounds for 88 years.
A flotilla of some 80 people in rafts, driftboats and kayaks celebrated the breaching of the Savage Rapids Dam on Saturday by floating through the remains of the concrete structure in southwest Oregon.
Since the dam was completed in 1921, the logging and mining that once sustained Southern Oregon have faded. Farms that the Grants Pass Irrigation District once served have sprouted homes that tap the water for lawns and gardens. And the salmon and steelhead have struggled, with an estimated 58,000 adult salmon and steelhead blocked from spawning grounds each year.
"One reason this project took so long is people had to adjust their notions of what progress was," said John DeVoe of Portland, executive director of WaterWatch. "There was a lot of opposition to removing the dam because it was viewed as a symbol of progress."
Another old diversion dam, Gold Ray near the city of Gold Hill, is likely to join Savage Rapids soon. The NOAA has offered federal stimulus money to help with the cost. Another small diversion dam at Gold Hill has already come out. And a half-built dam on a major tributary, Elk Creek, has been notched.
"This is the greatest number of significant dam removals in the country," said WaterWatch spokesman Jim McCarthy.
Martin recalls seeing adult spring chinook salmon throwing themselves against the dam because they couldn't find the poorly designed fish ladders, and those that did jumping out of the ladders and dying on the rocks.
The more insidious harm from Savage Rapids and other dams on the river was caused by slowing the river in reservoirs, allowing the sun to raise average temperatures 1 degree, to the point that fish die from warm water many years.
"Those things aren't a big deal when the river is plenty cold," Martin said. "But when the river is starting to get marginally too warm as it is with more development and climate change, those things can be crucial."
The river quickly cut down through the huge accumulation of sand, gravel and rocks that had built up behind the dam the past 88 years.
"What this really represents today is our culture being capable of backing up a little bit and doing something differently," Martin said as he pushed off from the bank and rowed his driftboat down the newly freed section of river.
Most at meeting prefer 'slow-go' zone, enforcement of existing orca protection rules
October 9, 2009 (San Juan Journal)
"Current regulations need to be enforced before adding more," Friday Harbor's Jeanne Hyde said of the more stringent package of proposed rules. "The whales need salmon to survive, not more regulations."
On Monday, the National Marine Fisheries Service drew another standing-room-only crowd, this time in Friday Harbor, as it conducted its third and final public forum on a proposal to expand on-the-water protections for the Southern Residents, listed as endangered under federal law in late 2005. Nearly 90 people took advantage of two minutes of alloted time each to weigh in on the newly-proposed regulations and, as was the case in Anacortes and in Seattle, opposition was plentiful.
"Kayaks don't make noise," said Clark Casebolt, owner/operator of Outdoor Odyssey, which for 20 years has offered guided kayak tours from San Juan Island's west side. "Nor do we chase the whales. We couldn't even if we wanted to."
The Southern residents, which include J, K and L pods, dropped from 97 to 88 animals in six-year decline beginning in 1996. The population today is 85.
Many who testified at Monday's meeting fault the fisheries service and its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for failing to enforce the 100-yard distance.
"You can't say the present guidelines don't work if they haven't been enforced," commercial fisherman Troy Liljebald said.
Others, like Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research, believe the fisheries service is wasting its energy crafting new vessel regulations.
"We're off-course," Balcomb said. "What the whales need is more salmon. It doesn't make any difference to me if you pass these regulations or not, nor does it make any difference to the whales."
Monika Wieland, a naturalist with Friday Harbor-based whale-watch company Western Prince, added, "I wish this much energy was being put into salmon recovery, the real deal-breaker for the orcas."
Pacific Ocean 'dead zone' in Northwest may be irreversible
October 9, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
Oxygen depletion that is killing sea life off Oregon and Washington is probably caused by evolving wind conditions from climate change, rather than pollution, one oceanographer warns.
Reporting from Corvallis, Ore. - An oxygen-depleted "dead zone" the size of New Jersey is starving sea life off the coast of Oregon and Washington and will probably appear there each summer as a result of climate change, an Oregon State University researcher said Thursday.
The huge area is one of 400 dead zones around the world, most of them caused by fertilizer and sewage dumped into the oceans in river runoff.
But the dead zone off the Northwest is one of the few in the world -- and possibly the only one in North America -- that could be impossible to reverse. That is because evolving wind conditions likely brought on by a changing climate, rather than pollution, are responsible, said Jack Barth, professor of physical oceanography at OSU.
"I really think we're in a new pattern, a new rhythm, offshore now. And I would expect [the low-oxygen zone] to show up every year now," Barth said at a news conference.
Thursday's briefing coincided with the release of a National Science Foundation multimedia report that said the number of dead zones worldwide was doubling every decade.
Although it is possible that the phenomenon could be related to cyclical ocean currents and temperatures, Barth said that he was more inclined to believe it was a long-term result of climate change. He said that researchers had scanned records going back to the 1950s and had seen nothing similar to what has appeared every year off the Oregon coast since 2002.
Groups say nothing new in Columbia salmon plan
October 8, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Groups suing to make Columbia Basin hydroelectric dams safer for salmon say there is nothing new or real about the Obama administration's revised plans for saving threatened and endangered salmon.
Formal responses from the state of Oregon, the Nez Perce Tribe, conservation groups and salmon fishermen were filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore.
They argue that the NOAA Fisheries Service plan, known as a biological opinion, filed last month lowers triggers that would prompt stronger conservation measures to population levels at the brink of extinction, and does not improve on short term measures proven to help salmon, such as increasing the amount of water spilled over dams when young fish are migrating downstream.
"If you are not going to do anything different until you see population crashes of that magnitude, you are running a huge risk," said Steve Mashuda, an attorney for Earthjustice, a public interest law firm representing some of the plaintiffs. "You run the risk of sounding an alarm bell and five years later the fire department shows up."
U.S. District Judge James Redden called for the responses as he decides whether the plan covering dam operations, habitat improvements, hatchery operations and predator control meets Endangered Species Act requirements to restore threatened and endangered salmon to healthy populations.
Bird Cam Captures Albatross, Killer Whale Rendezvous
October 7, 2009 (Wired News)
Tiny cameras attached to the backs of four Antarctic albatrosses have revealed a clever feeding strategy: Instead of randomly scanning the open ocean for prey, some birds appear to fly alongside killer whales and scavenge for scraps left by the mammalian predators.
To track the birds, scientists attached lipstick-sized digital cameras, equipped with depth and temperature sensors, to the backs of four albatrosses from Bird Island off the coast of South Georgia in the Antarctic Ocean. After three foraging trips, the bird-borne cameras had captured more than 28,725 images. Although many photos were too dark to be useful — and 6,600 were obscured by feathers fluttering in front of the camera lens — the remaining images yielded a startling result.
“One surprising finding was that one of the study birds encountered a killer whale, Ornicus orca, during the course of the trip,” wrote the researchers in a paper published this week in the journal PLoS ONE. “This image showed that the killer whale broke the surface and that three other albatrosses were also apparently following the whale.”
Beluga population in Cook Inlet still declining
October 7, 2009 (KTUU TV)
The Cook Inlet beluga population is still declining. New figures released Tuesday count the fewest number of whales in at least 15 years.
No one knows the cause for sure-- it's frustrating for scientists studying the decline, but Cook Inlet has changed.
On one end of the Anchorage Port, a ship is loaded, and nearby, one of the largest civil engineering projects in the state is about to enter its sixth year.
The Port expansion is a $700 million multi-phase project expected to improve cargo flow and stimulate the economy.
In the meantime, it's generating a lot of noise.
This is home to the endangered Cook Inlet beluga, which this time of year is migrating from nearby feeding grounds.
The whale is thought to be sensitive to the construction noise and congestion.
At four points along the Port, hired whale watchers are on alert.
If they spot any nearby animals, they radio it in and construction comes to a halt.
AB InBev To Sell Theme Parks To Blackstone For Up To $2.7 Bln
October 7, 2009 (Wall Street Journal)
Belgian brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI.BT) Wednesday said it will sell its theme parks business to private-equity firm Blackstone Group for up to $2.7 billion.
AB InBev will receive $2.3 billion in cash and the right to participate in the first $400 million of Blackstone's return on investment. The subsidiary, Busch Entertainment Corporation, operates 10 entertainment parks in the U.S., including three SeaWorld parks.
A sad die-off of salmon festivals
October 6, 2009 (Oregonian editorial)
The chinook are coming back to the Sandy River this fall, but the festival is not: Citing a budget shortfall, the Metro Council earlier this year canceled the Oxbow Salmon Festival. There will be no salmon barbecue on the banks of the Sandy this month, no music and storytelling, no salmon walks along the river, no opportunity to learn more about the fish that is a Northwest icon.
Up and down the West Coast, salmon festivals are struggling against the hard current of economic recession, and many of them, exhausted, have given up. The Oxbow Salmon Festival is one of three major Western salmon festivals that are being shut down this fall. The American River Salmon Festival near Sacramento, which drew as many as 20,000 people each year, also has been canceled. So has the Salmon Homecoming Festival in Seattle.
But it's not a small thing for people in places such as Portland, Sacramento and Seattle to give up on festivals that have helped teach thousands of children over the years about the life cycle of the salmon, about their history, about what the fish mean to the region. For a quarter-century, the Oxbow festival was a place where kids could mix horse-drawn hayrides with riverbank conversations with salmon biologists, and then watch real live salmon spawn.
Killer whales heading south - Latest sighting: Pod that was in South Sound spotted off California coast
October 6, 2009 (Olympian)
South Sound harbor seals can rest a little easier these days.
A pod of five transient killer whales that spent most of September in South Sound feeding on harbor seals was spotted Monday morning traveling south off the coast of northern California, according to marine mammal research biologists tracking their whereabouts.
The two adult females and three offspring left South Sound on Sept. 28 after first being seen here Aug. 31, based on reports to the nonprofit Orca Network.
In the past week, they traveled through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Washington coast, then made a beeline south, showing up near the Oregon-California border Sunday, said Brad Hanson, an ecologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle.
Hanson has fairly precise data on the five orcas' location based on a satellite tag he and fellow marine mammal researcher Robin Baird of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia placed on one of the adult orcas during a Sept. 20 encounter near Ketron Island.
The tag transmits signals 16 hours a day, giving researchers 10 to 16 locations every 24 hours beamed back to earth from orbiting satellites.
Orca researchers have been using the tags for a little more than a year to track several groups of transient killer whales in the marine waters from Alaska to California.
The nine days of data gathered in South Sound showed the five orcas repeatedly cruising most of the South Sound inlets and bays, much to the delight of waterfront residents and boaters.
The transient orca population is distinct from the three pods of Puget Sound killer whales, which feed on salmon and other fish and are listed as a federally endangered species. The resident population was 85 in April 2009, according to the Center for Whale Research, a Friday Harbor-based whale research group.
Elwha dams releasing extra water for fish
October 5, 2009 (KONP radio)
Two dams on the Elwha River are releasing extra water to help protect spawning Chinook salmon in the lower river.
The river's average flow for early October is approximately 648 cubic feet per second.
Even with the current augmented flows, the river is flowing at just 353 cubic feet per second.
The additional water provided by the increased flows will protect Chinook salmon redds, or egg nests below the lower dam.
Both the Glines Canyon Dam and Elwha Dam are managed in order to maintain the river's natural flow, by measuring the amount of water entering the reservoirs and then releasing the same amount.
This year's dry weather and very low river flows have generated concern for spawning salmon and the need for increased water release.
Scarcity of King Salmon Hurt Alaskan Fishermen
October 4, 2009 (New York Times)
Just a few years ago, king salmon played an outsize role in villages along the Yukon River. Fishing provided meaningful income, fed families throughout the year, and kept alive long-held traditions of Yup'ik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians.
But this year, a total ban on commercial fishing for king salmon on the river in Alaska has strained poor communities and stripped the prized Yukon fish off menus in the lower 48 states. Unprecedented restrictions on subsistence fishing have left freezers and smokehouses half-full and hastened a shift away from a tradition of spending summers at fish camps along the river.
The cause of the weak runs, which began several years ago, remains unclear. But managers of the small king salmon fishery suspect changes in ocean conditions are mostly to blame, and they warn that it may be years before the salmon return to the Yukon River in large numbers.
Salmon are among the most determined of nature's creatures. Born in fresh water, the fish spend much of their lives in the ocean before fighting their way upriver to spawn and die in the streams of their birth.
In Alaska, fishermen also blame the Bering Sea pollock fishing fleet, which scoops up tens of thousands of king salmon each year as accidental by-catch. The first hard cap on salmon by-catch is supposed to take effect in 2011, but the cap is not tough enough to satisfy Yukon River fishermen.
End to the Klamath War
October 4, 2009 (New York Times editorial)
The announcement that four dams on the Klamath River will be removed to restore imperiled salmon runs is a victory for fish, farmers, Indian tribes and the much-maligned Endangered Species Act.
The dams in Oregon and California will not come down until 2020. In the meantime, PacifiCorp, the Portland utility that owns them, has promised to improve water quality and salmon habitat. The cost could run as high as $200 million, which is roughly what the company would have been obliged to pay anyway to construct fish passage around the dams to increase the salmon's chances of survival.
Neither the restoration plan nor the plan to remove the dams would have been possible without the Endangered Species Act. The act requires the federal government to identify species at severe risk and then devise ways to shape human behavior to give these species a chance to survive. In this case it has worked brilliantly.
Private equity wants Shamu? Blackstone may buy Anheuser-Busch InBev's parks
October 4, 2009 (Daily Finance)
Shamu, the first female orca ever captured, has been dead for 38 years. Isn't it time the world's most famous performing killer whale got her own wax figure? With private-equity firm Blackstone Group, which owns Madame Tussauds wax museums, reportedly in talks to buy SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks from brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) for up to $3 billion, a Shamu immortalized in wax may no longer be out of the question. If this private-equity deal is completed, it would be the biggest in 2009 and one of the largest since the economic crisis began in 2008, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The takeover could be announced as early as next week, but talks are continuing, and the deal could sink, The New York Times and The Journal say, both citing people familiar with the situation. Calls to both companies seeking comment on Saturday were not immediately returned.
News of the potential transaction is already making a splash, apparently. The Journal reports that the animal-rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), sent a letter to Blackstone President Hamilton Jones "urging him to transfer all the animals at SeaWorld to coastal sanctuaries." But the paper said Blackstone declined to comment on the letter. As of June 30, 2009, Blackstone's corporate private-equity operation had $25.2 billion of total fee-earning assets under management, according to the company's website.
Blackstone May Buy Theme Parks Unit
October 3, 2009 (New York Times)
The Blackstone Group, the private equity firm, is close to a deal to buy Anheuser-Busch InBev's theme parks unit, including SeaWorld and Busch Gardens, for $2.5 billion to $3 billion, people briefed on the matter said Friday.
A deal, one of the largest by a private equity firm this year, could be announced as soon as next week. But talks are continuing and may not result in a transaction, these people, who spoke on condition they not be identified, cautioned.
If a deal is struck, it would give Blackstone yet another set of attractions for its own growing theme parks business. The firm owns the Merlin Entertainments Group, a British company that runs more than 50 properties like the Madame Tussauds wax-museum franchise, the Legoland parks and the London Eye Ferris wheel. Blackstone also co-owns the Universal Studios Orlando theme park with NBC Universal.
Elwha River gets an early boost from tribe
October 3, 2009 (Seattle Times)
While the dismantling of two dams on the Elwha River are still a few years away, work has already started on this pristine waterway that used to be the home of chinook salmon pushing the 100-pound mark.
This past summer, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe filled in a 1,500-long hatchery outfall ditch built in 1977 that runs through the middle of the river's floodplain. The goal is to bring the river back to a more natural state, thus allowing water to flow through the entire floodplain, and boost fish habitat.
"This work will help restore natural-habitat-forming processes in preparation for the expected release of the 20 million cubic feet of sediment trapped behind the [Elwha and Glines Canyon] dams," Mike McHenry, the tribe's habitat program manager said in a news release. "Our goal is to reconnect as much of the historic floodplain to the mainstem as possible. We are basically undoing historic channelization actions that have simplified the river."
Humpback whales make West Coast comeback
October 2, 2009 (CBC)
A threatened species of whale that was nearly hunted to extinction seems to be making a comeback off Canada's West Coast, according to observers.
The North Pacific population of humpback whales has doubled in the past two decades, hitting close to 20,000 in the North Pacific, an international study released last year concluded, and local whale watchers say they can vouch for the results.
Humpback whales have been protected by the International Whaling Commission since 1965 in the North Pacific and 1955 in the North Atlantic, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
But Japan dispatched its whaling fleet in 2007 to the southern Pacific in the first major hunt of humpback whales since the 1960s, but the hunt generated widespread criticism and was eventually called off at the request of the U.S.
Despite the hunting bans, the Canadian government says humpbacks are still at risk because of over-fishing of their prey - including tiny crustaceans and small fish. The whales also can become entangled in the fishing nets of commercial trawlers and drown.
And while the numbers are now growing steadily, the population is still just one-fifth of the pre-whaling size, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Jefferson commissioners favor 150-foot shoreline buffer in new plan
October 2, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
After 1,035 public comments, hearings and at least 27 hours of deliberations this week, Jefferson County commissioners finished reviewing a proposed shoreline master program, and said they favor a 150-foot standard marine buffer for new homes, as well as a prohibition on marine aquaculture.
"We went with the 150-foot buffer to start with, that will be adjusted lot by lot, permit by permit, as people can justify it," county Commissioner David Sullivan, D-Cape George and board chairman, said late Thursday afternoon.
McGinn vs. Mallahan: As Seattle mayor, what would either do to save Puget Sound?
October 1, 2009 (Seattle Post-Globe)
Seattle mayoral candidates Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan have come out with some positions about ailing, polluted Puget Sound, which despite its beauty needs as much rescuing as the Florida Everglades and Chesapeake Bay. Both seem to target the No. 1 issue facing the waterway, which is the polluted gunk flowing off streets, roofs and other surfaces as stormwater. Could we see plants growing on more rooftops in the future?
Their positions are light on details. But they strike the right chord with environmentalists we reached.
..."It's great to see both candidates focusing on stormwater-Puget Sound's No. 1 problem, and an issue where city government can have a huge impact," says Kathy Fletcher, founder and executive director of People for Puget Sound.
"It is increasingly obvious that if we are serious about saving the Sound, that our urban areas will have to change, and change quickly," Fletcher says. "Saving rural watersheds and restoring estuaries and shorelines will not bring salmon and orcas back unless we also retrofit our cities to coexist sustainably with the Sound. It's nice to see both candidates' literacy about 'impervious surfaces,' and that they both are aware of low-impact building strategies like green roofs. I also like their sense that now is the time to move beyond pilot projects to large-scale solutions."
Waters flow again at Nisqually estuary
October 1, 2009 (Olympian)
Blocked more than 100 years by man-made dikes, the waters of Puget Sound returned to the Nisqually River estuary Wednesday, creating a watery landscape few if any people alive today have ever seen.
Five of the seven sloughs that braid their way through the river delta filled with water at high tide after decades as empty, muddy channels. The remaining two will be opened up by construction crews to tidal flows by the end of the week, said Jean Takekawa, refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"I think it's so special to see the tides moving in," Takekawa said as she stood on a new, 10,000-foot-long dike, watching Shannon Slough glisten in the afternoon sun with water from the Nisqually Reach in South Puget Sound. "It's hard to describe how ambitious and challenging this project has been."
Estuaries, the places where rivers meet the sea, are considered some of the richest biological reserves on Earth, home to hundreds of species of salt-tolerant plants, invertebrates, sea birds and fish.
In Puget Sound, some 80 percent of the estuary habitat has succumbed to diking, filling and development. The Nisqually Delta, home to a network of dikes completed in 1904 to create pasture and farmland, was no exception.
"This is hugely important for fish and the overall health of Puget Sound," he said.
Work on the Nisqually River estuary has boosted the total South Sound estuary habitat by 55 percent. Fisheries scientists predict the Nisqually estuary restoration will double survival of the river's chinook salmon population, which is one of the stocks that landed on the federal endangered species list as a threatened species in 1999.
"Estuary restoration is the cornerstone of the Nisqually River chinook recovery plan," Troutt said.
For instance, the estuary provides a place for young salmon to hide, rest and feed as they leave the river and enter marine waters. The estuary also is a feeding ground for adult salmon.
Some 20 shorebird species and 90 percent of the waterfowl species that use the refuge are expected to use the newly restored habitat, which helps explain why Ducks Unlimited, a nonprofit conservation group, has worked on the project.
"We've learned in many cases that what's good for fish is also good for ducks," said Steve Liske, a Ducks Unlimited project engineer. "It's a great project."