Orca Network News - September, 2003
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2003 through September 31, 2003.
September 27, 2003 (Seattle Times) A Norwegian cargo ship's engineer has pleaded guilty to doctoring records and ordering crew members to lie to investigators to cover up illegal dumping of oil-laden waste water into the Pacific Ocean, the latest conviction in a federal crackdown on illegal dumping.
The Department of Justice maintains illegal dumping is rampant within the maritime industry, and more than 21 ships in the Northwest and Alaska have been caught by federal regulators in the last year. Seven captains and engineers have been sent to prison, and shipping companies have been assessed millions of dollars in fines. Industry sources dispute the Justice Department contention that the dumping is widespread.
It's also hard to say what damage such dumping causes, but oil can kill fish, birds and sea mammals or impair their reproductive systems, and scientists contend even small amounts in sensitive areas can cause long-term damage to marine life.
At issue is how cargo and container ships dispose of solvents and oily lubricants that accumulate in a ship's engine room. The water and oil are supposed to be separated, and the oil stored for disposal on land or burned in an incinerator at sea. The water, required by federal law to contain less than 15 parts per million oil, can be discharged overboard.
But onboard separators are difficult to maintain, incinerators often break down, and ships' crews are finding ever-more-creative ways to bypass the systems and sneak the oil overboard.
State acts to protect marine life in several areas of Puget Sound
September 26, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) To the delight and relief of environmentalists, Washington Public Lands Commissioner Doug Sutherland yesterday designated four sensitive areas of Puget Sound as aquatic reserves. He also gave special protections to two spots in Commencement Bay.
Sutherland said the protections are necessary to bolster the health of the Sound's marine life, which scientists say is faltering under the pressure of urbanization, pollution, over-fishing and population growth.
Environmentalists believe yesterday's development will give them more ammunition to fight the massive expansion of a Maury Island gravel mine.
The moves mean the state will not lease out state-owned underwater land for marinas or other waterfront property uses. In the case of the four reserves, additional protection measures could be put in place later.
Two, at Cherry Point near Bellingham and Fidalgo Bay by Anacortes, are cheek-by-jowl with petroleum refineries.
At Maury Island's Quartermaster Harbor, residents have been bitterly fighting a gravel mine expansion proposed by Glacier Northwest, and scientists are investigating the mysterious die-off of eelgrass beds that shelter marine life.
The fourth reserve is at Cypress Island, near the San Juan Islands.
Hearing will explore effects of Navy sonar on marine life
September 25, 2003 (Everett Herald) State lawmakers will have a public hearing Wednesday to discuss how the U.S. Navy's use of sonar is affecting Puget Sound's marine mammals.
"There's no getting around the fact that whales and dolphins in Puget Sound are, at the very least, getting spooked by the sonar," said state Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, chairman of the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee.
The panel will hold the hearing in Edmonds. The Navy's sonar system has been under scrutiny since the Everett-based USS Shoup used its midrange tactical sonar in early May near Vancouver Island. About a dozen porpoises were later reported beached or floating in nearby waters. Researchers are studying carcasses to find out why they died.
Howard Garrett of the Whidbey-Island based Orca Network said he's glad the state is holding a hearing.
"I applaud that they're raising the profile of the issue," said Garrett, who will speak at a Greenpeace presentation about the effect of sonar on whales at 1 p.m. Saturday at Pier 66 in Seattle.
Representatives from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the state Department of Ecology also will attend.
Hope for Habitat
September 25, 2003 (Bremerton Sun) Protecting and restoring streams to a more natural state takes a lot of people with good ideas.
Starting last week and continuing Thursdays for the next several weeks, The Sun is exploring the challenges, hopes and successes of the summer chum recovery program in Hood Canal.
Today, after millions of dollars spent on road projects, hanging culverts are harder to find in the Hood Canal region. Salmon now have access to hundreds of miles of spawning and rearing habitat that was blocked off for decades.
A million-dollar bridge over Little Anderson Creek north of Seabeck is one of the more expensive projects. The bridge opens up habitat for coho and fall chum, but if summer chum ever used the stream, they went extinct long ago.
Healthy habitat is critical to the long-term success of summer chum, as well as other fish species, he said. Stream flow, water quality, clean gravel and streamside vegetation are just a few of the things scientists are trying to protect and restore. The effort involves both public and private property throughout the Hood Canal region, governed by Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties.
Beginning in 1994, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, led the way in gaining special funding for habitat improvements, first in the Hood Canal region and eventually throughout the Northwest.
But, even with the best volunteers at work, local land-use regulations remain the bottom-line protection for salmon streams, wetlands and estuaries, all critical to the recovery of summer chum, officials agree.
Drop in pink salmon blamed on fish farms
September 25, 2003 (Vancouver Sun) First Nations leaders and conservationists are sounding the alarm again about missing pink salmon in the Broughton Archipelago.
They say while pinks are returning in healthy numbers throughout B.C., rivers feeding into the archipelago off northeast Vancouver Island are virtually empty for the second year in a row.
Department of Fisheries data show a drastic decline in four rivers and a substantial decline in three others.
Researchers point to an epidemic of sea lice in fish farms close to the streams, saying such outbreaks often infect and kill juvenile wild salmon.
The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform blames open-net cage fish farms for the collapse.
A warming trend
September 25, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial) West Coast residents know about sun, surf and, especially in recent years, hot summers. So it's no surprise that the West Coast's three governors have gotten together to address global warming.
Gov. Gary Locke and his colleagues in Oregon and California have a good idea about joining together for responsible environmental policies. Their partnership will include buying hybrid cars, promoting renewable energy and reducing diesel emissions from trucks and ships.
Of course, since mankind's actions -- like sunny Puget Sound summers -- may or may not have anything to do with global warming, there's no saying whether the proposals will slow the climbing temperatures. And the plan isn't as extensive as one favored by Northeastern states, which have called for emission targets for greenhouse gases. With California's Gov. Gray Davis in political trouble, though, the three Democrats had reason to make a show of environmental protection.
Recession slows county's sprawl
September 24, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) And now for the good news about the recession: It has helped King County government control rural sprawl.
No growth, no sprawl.
According to the county's 2003 Annual Growth Report, released yesterday, King County last year had virtually no population increase -- just 5,000 people out of a population of 1.78 million -- for the first time since the recession of the early 1970s.
"This year's growth report is really kind of a no-growth report," observed Chandler Felt, the document's principal author.
County Executive Ron Sims attributed it to a combination of the economic slump, which cost the county more than 60,000 jobs since January 2001, and the success of the county's growth-management policies, which have directed growth into urban areas and helped revitalize higher-density urban centers in Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond and elsewhere.
He said the policies helped cut the rate of rural development in half, to 4 percent of countywide development, since adoption of the county's current planning policies in 1994.
Whaling decimated ecosystem, study says
September 24, 2003 (Seattle Times) Commercial whaling half a century ago might have triggered the collapse of one of Earth's richest ocean ecosystems, setting in motion a chain reaction that has decimated sea mammals and kelp forests in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, according to a new scientific study.
Scientists for years have been debating the cause of massive and abrupt ecological changes surrounding Alaska's Aleutian Islands, where the Pacific meets the Bering Sea.
A team of scientists, led by Alan Springer of the University of Alaska's Institute of Marine Science in Fairbanks, now theorizes that the ecosystem collapse has its roots in the late 1940s, when Japanese and Russian whalers began using modern hunting techniques to kill whales. At least half a million bowhead, sperm, humpback and other large whales were harvested in the North Pacific before commercial whaling ended in the 1970s.
Springer, an oceanographer, thinks pods of orcas used to hunt the whales, and when whaling crews decimated those populations, the orcas were forced to turn to other prey. They then moved down Alaska's aquatic food web, devouring seals, sea lions and sea otters, which, in turn, led to dramatic shifts in life along the ocean floor.
The region always had been a stronghold for marine mammals, and the scope and pace of the declines caught marine experts by surprise. Orcas, the ocean's top predators, are the only mammals that still thrive there.
Arctic ice shelf breakup reported
September 23, 2003 (MSNBC) The largest ice shelf in the Arctic, a solid feature for 3,000 years, has broken up, scientists in the United States and Canada said Monday. They said the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, on the north coast of Ellesmere Island in Canada's Nunavut territory, broke into two main parts, themselves cut through with fissures. A freshwater lake drained into the sea, the researchers reported.
Only 100 years ago the whole northern coast of Ellesmere Island, which is the northernmost land mass of North America, was edged by a continuous ice shelf. About 90 percent of it is now gone, Vincent's team wrote.
The area has been getting warmer, they said. A similar trend in the Antarctic has caused the break-up of huge ice shelves there.
Wind farms produce power from thin air
September 22, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Today, 310 turbine-driving windmills are whirling in Washington and plans are being made to plug in hundreds more. The state ranks fifth nationally for wind-energy production, according to a trade organization.
Environmental groups have thrown their support behind the projects. Utilities catering to pollution-conscious customers and spooked over costly spikes in natural-gas prices are increasingly seeking out "green energy." And farmers are cashing in -- leasing chunks of arid, windswept fields to power producers.
But the state's wind farms are still whipping up controversy.
Some residents say the giant pinwheels are an aesthetic mess, marring unspoiled hillsides. They worry property values will drop and birds will be sliced and diced. Others object to the tax breaks and higher power rates charged by the wind farms.
Pollution threatens some tribal diets
September 22, 2003 (Oregonian) A federal study released last year suggests that many Northwest Native Americans living as Harris does could be at significant risk from environmental pollutants, particularly toxic chemicals in the fish they eat.
The Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians is gathering on the Umatilla Reservation this week and is expected to call for federal action to identify the main sources of environmental contamination in the Columbia River, and to develop a cleanup plan, said Charles Hudson, a spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission in Portland.
The commission is an umbrella organization of four treaty fishing tribes: the Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla and Warm Springs. In all, 54 tribes are expected to be represented at the Umatilla Reservation, Hudson said.
Indigenous people have become the highest-risk people in the world because of their vulnerability to environmental pollutants, said Brian Barry, an environmental consultant on contract with the Yakama Nation in Washington state.
Rotting whale carcass towed away from beachfront neighborhood
September 22, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Residents of a beachfront neighborhood west of Port Angeles can stop holding their noses, now that a rotting 20-ton whale carcass has been towed away for examination.
The 45-foot dead sei whale, an endangered species, was towed early Sunday morning to this town at the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula to undergo a necropsy, said Pat Gearin, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist.
Tissue samples will be taken from the carcass and the bones and skull will be removed for scientific study and possibly display, but the disposal of the rest has yet to be determined, he said.
The carcass washed up a week earlier in Freshwater Bay, about five miles west of Port Angeles and just west of the Lower Elwha S'Klallam Indian Reservation.
Scientists fear whales pay high price for oil drilling
September 20, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) They are marine researchers looking for Western Pacific gray whales, among the world's rarest and most endangered. Only about 100 are alive, and they come to the waters along the northern coast of Sakhalin, a Russian island east of Siberia and north of Japan, to feed every summer.
Oil companies such as Texas-based ExxonMobil and Shell are also in these waters, drilling for oil. The result has been a heated debate over whether the whales and the oil development can co-exist or, as many environmentalists fear, the giant marine mammals are doomed.
"The whales may not be of economic value to Russia, but when they're gone, they're gone," said Bradford, a whale specialist who holds a master's degree in aquatic sciences from the University of Washington.
This year the lighthouse whale project was paid for by the Marine Mammal Commission, a U.S.-government body, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Both oil consortiums now pay for separate whale research projects.
'Mystery' marine toxin closes shellfish beds near Port Townsend
September 19, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A mysterious marine toxin previously found only at trace levels in Washington's inland waters has been discovered at a concentration high enough to force closure of shellfish beds.
The appearance of domoic acid in mussels near Port Townsend alarmed shellfish growers who tend the state's $75 million-a-year shellfish harvest and sent scientists scurrying to investigate. It's the same toxin that has shut down razor-clam digging on the Pacific Coast three times since the early 1990s.
The find near Port Townsend is significant because it's a first for Washington's inland waters, although state officials emphasized that shellfish sold in stores have been thoroughly checked and are safe.
"Domoic acid is unheard of in our commercial shellfish species," said Robin Downey, executive director of the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association. "It's disturbing."
The cause of domoic acid outbreaks remains unclear. It's one of a number of toxins that are produced by microscopic marine organisms. And the incidence of at least one organism, which causes paralytic shellfish poisoning, seems to be increasing in Puget Sound -- perhaps because of increasing population around the Sound and its attendant pollution, scientists say.
Reunite whale with his 'pod,' panel says
September 19, 2003 (Seattle Times) The scientific panel advising Canada on what to do with Luna the killer whale - a juvenile from a U.S.-based pod who's been on his own in Canada for two years - has recommended trying to reunite him with his family.
Details of the proposal were not released.
A contingency plan - in case the young whale does not rejoin his "pod" before it leaves its summer salmon-fishing grounds near Washington's San Juan Islands - is still being fine-tuned, said spokeswoman Lara Sloan with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO).
"The plan has to be complete to be approved, and the contingency plan is an important part of that," Sloan said yesterday, noting that "the U.S. government has to be in line with this as well."
On the tracks of salmon - Squaxin tribal researchers hope to learn why some species failing
September 18, 2003 (The Olympian) Squaxin Island tribal researchers have their eyes -- and their nets -- out in search of South Sound's best nearshore salmon habitat. The goal of the ongoing salmon recovery project is to figure out where young salmon and the habitat and food they rely upon is most abundant.
"By studying as much as we can about the salmon life cycle and how it relates to the South Sound nearshore, we can make better decisions on what habitat is most necessary to protect or restore," said Michelle Stevie, habitat biologist with the Squaxin Island tribe.
Nearshore is considered the region of coast between high tide and where the waves break.
The tribal work complements a Puget Sound-wide project by federal, state and South Sound governments and tribes called the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Program.
The goal is to better understand why a host of marine species, including seabirds, salmon, rockfish and others, are on the decline and what can be done to remedy the problems, said Tim Smith, nearshore project leader for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Tulalips say Boeing pier would harm fishery
September 18, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Tulalip tribal officials have told state officials that a pier for The Boeing Co. would "undeniably and substantially harm" their traditional fishing area.
In a letter, the Tulalips opposed changes to the city's shoreline master plan that would allow construction of the pier.
The project is considered an essential part of efforts to persuade Boeing to build its assembly plant for the proposed 7E7 jetliner in Everett.
"Structures in the area will shade sensitive aquatic life and interfere with free access to fishing areas and free vessel access," the tribes said in a letter to the state Ecology Department last week. "Even the best mitigation and restoration efforts could not remove this harm."
Decision on orca's homecoming soon
September 18, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A decision on what to do with Luna the killer whale -- a juvenile from a U.S.-based pod who has been making it alone in remote Canadian waters -- could come as early as next week.
In Canada, the L-98 Scientific Panel conferred by phone yesterday on possible options, said Marilyn Joyce, marine mammal resource coordinator in the Vancouver, B.C., office of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
How would U.S. officials respond to a decision to try to reunite the whale with his family in U.S. waters?
"I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it," said spokesman Brian Gorman with the regional National Marine Fisheries Service office in Seattle. "This is still a Canadian decision but when it involves us, I feel confident Canada will consult with us in a more formal way."
A collision with Luna ripped the rudder off a small sailboat Monday, disabling the craft, said Mark Pakenham, who oversees the Canadian fisheries department-financed Luna Stewardship Program, which monitors the whale from small boats.
Closed: sign of pollution's spread
September 17, 2003 (Seattle Times) A bay made famous for its historic link to one of the world's most popular shellfish - Dungeness crab - is fast becoming a metaphor for Puget Sound's struggle against the toxic effects of multiple-source pollution.
Fecal-coliform bacteria, which come from human and animal waste, extend so deep into the bay that the Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe must for the first time entirely abandon commercial oyster harvests during its most-lucrative growing season - winter, when tidal circulation compounds the problem.
Meanwhile, upstream near Highway 101, a Wal-Mart and a Home Depot/Target retail center, each with mammoth parking lots, have been proposed roughly 1,200 feet from the river.
"We need fewer great big driveways, more native vegetation, fewer clipped lawns," said Muench, the tribal natural-resources planner.
Dead whale intrigues scientists
September 17, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Scientists examined a 40-foot dead whale that washed ashore about five miles west of Port Angeles and tentatively identified it as an endangered species.
The whale appeared to be an adult male sei (pronounced "say") whale weighing about 30 tons, said John Calambokidis, senior research biologist and co-founder of Cascadia Research scientific group in Olympia.
Scientists examined the carcass Monday and took samples of tissue, skin and blubber to test for contaminants and genetic content.
"We are very interested in the whale because it is endangered, and it is uncommon to see them in this area," Calambokidis said.
The whale was hit by a fish-processing ship, which reported the incident Friday outside Port Angeles Harbor. The whale likely was struck some distance away and may have traveled on the bow of the ship for as long as a week before being dislodged, Calambokidis said.
Environmentalists sue government to safeguard salmon
September 17, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) In a move that could have far-reaching effects on development in the Puget Sound region, environmentalists sued the federal government yesterday to force it to restrict construction that harms salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The suit seeks to compel the Federal Emergency Management Agency to check with federal fisheries officials on what sort of restraints should be placed on FEMA-backed flood insurance in areas around streams expected to flood at least once every hundred years.
Development in areas around salmon-bearing streams hurts the fish in a variety of ways. For one thing, it tends to create more water running off the land after rainstorms, because surfaces that used to soak up water have been paved.
That runoff tends to collect oil, grease, pesticides and other pollutants, which scientists have shown can severely affect a salmon's ability to find food, attract mates and locate its home stream for spawning, among other affects. Research earlier this year suggested that dirty storm water was killing salmon in Seattle-area streams.
Development also tends to concentrate water into fewer channels, and pour more water in faster, eliminating slow-flowing side channels where young salmon like to hang out while they grow up.
In some cases, this means the fish end up getting swept away by fast-moving currents straight into salt water long before they would under natural circumstances, which can affect their body chemistry, leave them vulnerable to predators and cause other ill effects.
EPA fears health threat from Columbia River slag
September 16, 2003 (Seattle Times) For 100 years, one of the world's largest zinc smelters squatted above the Columbia River just north of the U.S.-Canadian border and used Washington's mightiest river as its personal dumping ground.
Until the practice ended in 1994, Teck Cominco, the smelter's owner, discarded about 400 tons of slag a day into the river - a practice the Canadian government allowed. U.S. environmental officials say the pollution has damaged a premier ecosystem and now poses a human-health risk.
The Environmental Protection Agency wants Teck Cominco to clean up a mountainous accumulation of the black, glasslike slag - a smelting byproduct containing mercury, arsenic and lead - which coats the shoreline and sandy river bottom for almost 130 miles.
Hood Canal marine life struggling for oxygen
September 16, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A host of marine creatures in the 60-mile-long fjord are gasping for air. A one-two punch of urban growth pressures and unusually dry weather have sucked oxygen from the water, reducing it to nearly nothing in spots, scientists say.
Yesterday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife indefinitely closed commercial and recreational fishing throughout the canal for all finfish except salmon and trout, as well as octopus and squid.
In recent years, levels of dissolved oxygen in the canal have been dropping, spreading farther up and lasting longer.
In a normal year, the canal's fish populations are healthy enough that some can be caught. But reduced oxygen levels can kill and weaken fish. The condition is most severe at depths below 60 feet, forcing creatures that can to flee to shallower water where they're less protected.
The biggest oxygen thief is algae.
The plant has exploded in the canal, fueled by sunny weather and nutrients from leaking septic tanks, dairy waste and fertilizer runoff from lawns and tree farms. When the algae die, they rot and consume oxygen.
The situation is made worse by the narrow canal's poor water circulation. A lack of stormy weather has meant no wind or rain to help mix the water, circulating more aerated water at the surface with the oxygen-depleted depths.
Quick Fixes Enough To Open Seaquarium
September 15, 2003 (WPLG-TV) The big question today was whether the 48-year-old Miami Seaquarium would be forced to close its doors.
At 9:30 a.m. the answer became apparent. Miami-Dade County building officials said several safety violations were satisfactorily repaired over the weekend and the park could open its doors to the public.
Miami-Dade County building inspectors were and still are concerned about 27 structural violations found at the aquarium last week.
The violations came to light after Russ Rector, president of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, had two colleagues shoot undercover video (pictured) at the park. The tape shows corroded guardrails on the bridge over a shark moat, exposed electrical wiring, and crumbling concrete and guardrails on stairways and viewing decks.
"They made the public areas that we are concerned with safe, meaning they disconnected all exposed wiring and did some repairs," county building director Charles Danger said. "I know they are on top of it. I think it was a wake-up call to get the place up to a level of safety that we agree with." Danger said over the weekend that the anchors on some guardrails, in particular at the reef tank, were so corroded they would not hold up if anyone leaned against them.
The Seaquarium must file a repair schedule by the end of the week, Danger said. Areas still deemed unsafe have remained closed, he said.
Emergency fishing closure on Hood Canal
September 15, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Beginning today, Hood Canal will be closed to most fishing because low levels of dissolved oxygen are creating stressful conditions for marine life, sending fish and other animals into shallower waters. The only fishing allowed will be for salmon and crab.
The ban is to protect bottom fish, which came to the surface last year to get oxygen. The closure affects recreational and commercial fishing for rockfish, surf perch, herring, smelt, flatfish, hake and other forage fish and bottomfish.
This year's fishing closure will also include octopus and squid, which were not included in last year's ban. The busy smelt season, scheduled for October, will be evaluated in the next few weeks.
Seaquarium is ordered to fix code violations
September 13, 2003 (Florida Sun-Sentinel) Tipped off by an animal rights activist, Miami-Dade County building inspectors cited the Miami Seaquarium for a number of code violations that the attraction must fix during the weekend or face being shut down. County Building Director Charles Danger sent inspectors to the attraction after a Fort Lauderdale activist Russ Rector, who has worked for years to have the Seaquarium's killer whale Lolita freed, sent the Building Department a video showing a number of structural and electrical code violations.
After two days of inspections, building officials substantiated many of the alleged violations and ordered some areas cordoned off.
Inspectors cited the park for about 125 violations, among them:
A roof in the stadium for Lolita that rust had damaged beyond repair. A guardrail by the seats also was rusted and its supports loose.
The steel post bases for a dolphin tank were rusted and a rail above the pool was broken and improperly repaired.
Inspectors threatening to close Seaquarium September 13, 2003 (Miami Herald)
Miami Seaquarium Cited For 'Life Safety' Violations September 12, 2003 (NBC6-TV, Miami)
Officials Close Part of Miami Seaquarium September 13, 2003 (The Guardian (UK))
Building officials close sections of Miami Seaquarium September 13, 2003 (Sarasota Herald Tribune)
State Department to fund salmon commission
September 13, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The State Department has agreed to spend $600,000 from other accounts to help keep the Pacific Salmon Commission afloat until money becomes available in the new fiscal year, a spokesman said yesterday.
(Note: see Salmon commission funds dry up
The decision must be approved by Congress.
The Vancouver, B.C.-based commission manages fishing of endangered salmon in the United States and Canada.
It is in danger of closing because Congress has refused to fund the U.S. share of its budget, more than $1 million.
Boat-loving killer whale causes problems for town
September 12, 2003 (National Post) Luna the lovable orca may soon be reunited with its pod of whales.
The curious killer whale has become so enamoured of boats and boaters in B.C.'s Gold River that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is now thinking of repatriating Luna to the U.S. San Juan Islands.
"That's the hope, but we have to re-evaluate," Fisheries communications officer Lara Sloan said yesterday.
"It's starting to interfere with everyday life in Gold River." The department's advisory scientific panel will reconvene next week to devise a reunion plan, but hasn't decided yet whether to proceed.
Ms. Sloan said time is an issue, since the L pod is relatively easy to find now in its island feeding grounds, but will soon depart for the open ocean.
B.C.'s in the Pink - A record number of salmon are massing at the mouth of the Fraser River
September 11, 2003 (Vancouver Sun) A massive run of pink salmon is gathering at the mouth of the Fraser River in what is being touted as the greatest return of the species in at least 40 years and probably the biggest in almost 100 years.
Salmon experts estimate that by the end of the month, about 25 million of the humpbacked fish will migrate into the Fraser system, destined for spawning beds and the final chapter of their two-year life cycle.
However, the commercial fishing industry has only faint interest in Fraser pinks because its canneries and freezers are already glutted with millions taken in strong fisheries in Alaska, the north B.C. coast, where seven million were taken, and the central coast, where the catch hit 800,000.
Few fish processors are still buying pinks but consumers can still find bargains. On Wednesday, fishermen on the dock at Steveston were offering whole pinks at three for $10.
The anticipated size of the run exceeds any pink migration since the federal department of fisheries and oceans began keeping detailed records in 1957, and is expected to top anything since the disastrous Hells Gate slide of 1913 diminished the Fraser population for several decades.
Bush's path through the politics of salmon
September 10, 2003 (Christian Science Monitor) On his recent fundraising trip out this way, he visited the Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake River in Washington State. There, he made a point of talking about government recovery efforts for endangered salmon, which are a regional icon here. His supporters note that seasonal salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin are the highest they've been in decades.
But perhaps more significant, White House political honcho Karl Rove has quietly been making trips West and - according to some reports - putting pressure on federal agencies on behalf of the agriculture industry in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California. Farmers and ranchers there have been complaining about federal efforts to protect endangered species, including salmon, at the expense of irrigation.
As a result, the Interior Department's inspector general has just announced an investigation of possible political interference by the White House in developing water policy in the Pacific Northwest. If any evidence of political pressure is found, says Interior Department inspector general Earl Devaney, "we ... would immediately notify the Department of Justice Office of Public Integrity."
The Bush administration waded into this historical and highly contentious situation mainly on the side of farmers and ranchers. This has left conservationists, native Americans, and downstream commercial fishermen feeling shut out and in some cases litigious. And it's put the political spotlight on yet another administration under pressure to find a way to save salmon without putting farmers out of business.
Neil Young's schooner visits after whale-count odyssey
September 10, 2003 (Seattle Times) The 101-foot, two-masted, gaff-rigged schooner, which was moored here at City Pier during the Wooden Boat Festival, was minus Young on its two-year voyage. Smith and the crew worked with researchers to identify whale populations, monitor noise pollution and conduct other environmental studies.
Smith first saw the Ragland in 1980 when Young and his family dropped anchor in Point Hudson on the way home to California from a world cruise.
Smith and Young became acquainted. After doing some work on the ship, Smith was invited to spend a week sailing Ragland down the coast to San Francisco, near where Young lives.
Two years later, when the ship was again in Port Townsend, he and his wife, Gigi, signed on for a two-year cruise to the Caribbean.
Two years after that, Young hired Smith as the captain. He has held the skipper's job for 16 years.
Smith suggested using the Ragland to help marine-research organizations save money.
Another fall chinook bonanza expected in Columbia River
September 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Experts expect another sizable return of fall chinook salmon in the Columbia River, good news for commercial fishermen and sport anglers. Fishing began Sept. 5.
More than 595,000 fall chinook are expected to reach the mouth of the Columbia, the fifth-largest forecast since 1948.
The expected run features 258,400 upriver chinook from the Hanford Reach, as well as 116,900 lower-river hatchery fish, 101,900 Bonneville hatchery fish and 86,600 mid-Columbia chinook.
Fall chinook counts at Bonneville Dam spiked last week from several hundred to several thousand daily, indicating the season will peak soon.
About 429,000 coho salmon and 360,900 steelhead are also expected to enter the river this fall.
As of Aug. 24, 227,000 steelhead had been counted at Bonneville Dam.
Swinomish may sue over tide gates
September 10, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Swinomish Tribe yesterday announced it plans to sue over the use of gates that block salmon from Skagit County estuaries.
Tide gates are used largely by farmers to keep salt water out of farmland that abuts Puget Sound. The tribe notified one of the 12 Skagit County diking districts, elected bodies that regulate the use of the gates, that in 60 days it could be sued.
The suit in federal court could be averted, tribal officials said, if the parties reach an agreement over the gates that are barring threatened chinook salmon from inland waterways on Fir Island.
The tribe could take action under the Endangered Species Act, arguing that the barriers are harming the fish and therefore illegal.
After the Columbia River, the Skagit River has the state's second-largest wild salmon runs. This year legislators approved a law supporting the use of tide gates.
Regulations not halting aquatic invaders
September 8, 2003 (Seattle Times) Untold numbers of ship operators are lying, cheating or simply misunderstanding state rules designed to keep them from introducing invasive snails, crabs and other foreign species into Washington waters, according to a recent survey.
State rules adopted to prevent ships from accidentally transporting millions of nonnative species are so toothless that regulators plan to ask state lawmakers in January for the power to board and inspect ships to verify they're being followed.
Currently, Washington requires ships to dump, replace or treat the thousands of gallons of water they carry for ballast before heading into Puget Sound or any other state port. The system relies on ship operators to "self-report."
Last week, the federal Environmental Protection Agency decided not to regulate ship ballast discharges, arguing the task was better left to the Coast Guard.
Coast Guard guidelines until now have been voluntary, except in the Great Lakes region. And while the agency is forming mandatory rules, it's still searching for ways to enforce what it will require.
Congress, states and international maritime organizations have pushed to clean up ballast-dumping, as new invasive-species problems are discovered every year.
San Francisco Bay, for example, is considered the most severely invaded waterway in the country, with more than 230 nonnative species - some with no known predators - taking over areas of the coast. Many reproduce rapidly, glom onto structures such as water pipes and cost millions to remove. Zebra mussels in the Great Lakes have squeezed out native clams and clogged the plumbing in power plants.
Scientists are still trying to gauge precisely how many nuisance species have invaded areas of Puget Sound, though its estuaries are clearly at risk from plants such as spartina.
The most problematic area in Washington appears to be the lower Columbia River, where at least 61 of the 292 known species are invasive. In recent years, the discovery of new invaders has grown exponentially.
King of the Food Chain
September 7, 2003 (Skagit Valley Herald) From land and sea, killer whales are being watched
Although the whale-watching boat Odyssey had its motor off at least 100 feet away from killer whales, as is the rule, that didn't stop the black-and-white cetaceans from swimming right up to the boat.
The Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island has been documenting the activity of area orcas since 1976, on a budget of $55,000 to $70,000. The center's director, Ken Balcomb, said he hasn't seen any significant ill effects of boats on orcas in all those years.
The population of the three southern resident pods -- Js, Ks and Ls -- increased from 68 in 1976 to 91 in 1992. (Note: the population increased to 97 in 1994) Currently there are 82. Although that's up from 79 in 2002, the decline over the last 10 years has led to concerns about the resident population.
Public awareness about the plight of area killer whales has been heightened by the death of an orca last year on the Olympic Peninsula, the ongoing campaign to return Lolita to L-pod from the Miami Seaquarium after 33 years of captivity and the antics of a stray, Luna, who has lived for a few years in Nootka Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
The resident orcas are considered a depleted species and are protected under the marine mammals act, meaning it is illegal to harass, feed or hunt them.
To be federally designated as endangered, the population would have to be below 60 percent of its historical level. However, nobody knows what that historical level was, said independent researcher Bain. Some people think it was as high as 1,000 while others think it was never more than 150 or 200, he said.
Other threats to killer whales should be examined more closely, according to Susan Berta of the Orca Network, which tracks whale sightings and behaviors in the Puget Sound and nearby Canadian waters. The network of volunteers aims to increase public awareness about the resident orcas and inspire conservation efforts.
If after 28 years, the Center for Whale Research has concluded that boats aren't a problem, Berta said, then $94,000 is a lot of money to put into one short-term study.
"There are other issues that have much more of an impact on the whales but they're harder to solve," she said. "The money and the focus seems to go toward the easy, visible thing."
With human help, Baker Lake sockeye are back from brink of extinction
September 6, 2003 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) But Baker Lake's sockeye salmon -- feared on the brink of extinction 20 years ago -- have returned to spawn in the lake at all-time high numbers this year -- 20,188 and still counting.
Salmon recovery experts stop short of saying they've outwitted a species known for its complex instincts and migratory odysseys. But the top run has boosted the hopes of fish biologists who believe human interventions, no matter how low-tech or non-flashy, are working.
The new figure shatters a previous record -- a return of 15,991 in 1994, fish biologists say. Six of the top runs in Baker Lake sockeye-count history, since 1926, have occurred in the past 10 years.
"We are getting smarter about helping out the sockeye," said Roger Thompson, spokesman for Puget Sound Energy, which operates two dams on the Baker River and which spearheads salmon recovery efforts.
Cantwell Secures $1.5 Million for Orca Recovery Research
September 4, 2003 (Senator Maria Cantwell) Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) today announced $1.5 million in research funding to study the decline in the Puget Sound Southern Resident orca population and to support ongoing recovery efforts.
"I remain extremely concerned about the fact that our orca population has declined twenty percent over the last few years," Cantwell said. "These research funds will help us understand the challenges facing their recovery."
Cantwell added, "It would be unforgivable to stand on the sidelines while our orca population dies out. These funds will help us take action in saving these majestic Northwest icons."
These funds will support ongoing research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries and build upon $750,000 Senator Cantwell secured in fiscal year 2003 to begin this initiative. The research will determine factors that may be causing the population's decline, define goals for population recovery, identify specific measures to help restore the population, and estimate the associated time and cost.
The urgency of Senator Cantwell's request became increasingly evident following NOAA's May 29, 2003 listing of the Southern Resident orca population as officially "depleted" under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.