Orca Network News - September, 2006

News about the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2006 through September 30, 2006.

Investigators Look at Whether Navy Helicopter Disturbed San Juan Orcas
September 29, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Investigators from the National Marine Fisheries Service are trying to determine whether a Navy helicopter disturbed a group of orcas last week near San Juan Island.
The agency recommends aircraft stay at least 1,000 feet above marine mammals, but the Marine Mammal Protection Act specifies only that the whales be left undisturbed, said spokesman Brian Gorman.
"The bottom line and the one that's written into law is whether the whales' normal behavior was disrupted," he said.
Observers saw a gray and red helicopter with the word "NAVY" on the bottom hovering for about 20 to 30 seconds over a group of orcas Sept. 21 on the west side of the island, just outside of Deadman's Bay, according to a report from the Orca Network.

Klamath dam removal seen as safe, cheap
September 28, 2006 (Eureka Times Standard) Just after federal regulators proposed only minor changes for a Klamath River hydroelectric project, the California Coastal Conservancy filed a report that suggests it would be safe and relatively inexpensive to take down the four dams altogether.
The conservancy report found that some 21 million cubic yards of sediment has been trapped behind the dams, built between 1908 and the 1960s. But removing the Pacificorp dams would only release one-fifth that amount, and it could be allowed to happen naturally through erosion.
A Conservancy contractor also examined the muck for contamination, but found nearly all samples were clean.
American Indian tribes, fishermen and environmental groups, as well as California agencies, have been pressing Pacificorp and federal agencies to consider taking out the dams. They block salmon and other migrating fish from historic spawning grounds that stretched upstream of Upper Klamath Lake.
That call has gotten louder in recent years, with fisheries managers cutting quotas to protect weak runs of wild salmon, devastating commercial and tribal fishing operations this year. Water supply conflicts and Pacificorp's application for a new 50-year license to run the project also have brought the issues into the spotlight. Toxic algae blooms in the reservoirs have prompted health warnings.

Navy Helicopter Buzzes Orca Pod
September 28, 2006 (Kitsap Sun) Investigators from the National Marine Fisheries Service are trying to determine whether a Navy helicopter disturbed a group of orcas last week near San Juan Island.
The agency recommends aircraft stay at least 1,000 feet above marine mammals, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act specifies that the whales be left undisturbed, said spokesman Brian Gorman.
"The bottom line and the one that's written into law is whether the whales' normal behavior was disrupted," he said.
Observers saw a gray and red helicopter with the word "NAVY" on the bottom hovering for about 20 to 30 seconds over a group of orcas Sept. 21 on the west side of the island, just outside of Deadman's Bay, according to a report from the Orca Network.
A kayaker nearby saw two whales that had just surfaced "forced by the air blowing straight down, to dive," the report said. Witnesses estimated the helicopter came within 50 to 100 feet of the water.
They also saw flashes of light coming from the helicopter, which they took to be camera flashes.
An H-60S Nighthawk search and rescue helicopter from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island was in the area that day conducting a routine training mission, said Kim Martin, the base's spokeswoman.

Orcas On the Edge
September 28, 2006 (National Wildlife Federation) SEEING KILLER WHALES ply the waters of Washington State's Puget Sound has long been a great thrill for Seattle-area residents. No other U.S. urban community can boast of resident orcas a few miles from downtown. Whale watching there is a multi-million-dollar tourist draw. As one orca expert puts it, "Everybody wants a kiss from a killer whale."
But the thrill may soon be gone.
Three orca pods living in Puget Sound from May through October, known as the southern resident killer whale population, were declared federally endangered late last year by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the federal agency responsible for protecting marine species. Scientists believe the decline of wild chinook salmon-a major orca food source-as well as global warming, toxic pollution and vessel noise could eliminate this orca population, which ranges beyond Puget Sound into the San Juan Islands and Georgia Strait. "They are teetering," says Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington. It is "highly likely," Balcomb adds, that this population of killer whales will be extinct within 100 years if conditions do not improve for both whales and salmon.
"The Puget Sound is our backyard," adds James Schroeder, an NWF senior environmental policy specialist. "If it's unhealthy for killer whales because the water is polluted, the sediments are laced with toxins and the food web has collapsed, it's ultimately uninhabitable for humans."
West Coast waters once were rich with wild salmon. The Columbia and Snake Rivers alone produced between 10 million and 16 million salmon yearly, the majority of them chinook. Overfishing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, followed by decades of dam building, logging and other salmon-habitat destruction have reduced wild salmon to a fraction of their original abundance. Today, Columbia and Snake River wild fish runs number only in the tens of thousands. "Perhaps the single greatest change in food availability for resident killer whales since the late 1800s has been the decline of salmon in the Columbia River basin," according to the NMFS draft orca recovery plan. Even British Columbia's resident killer whales, declared threatened by Canada in 2001, feed on Columbia and Snake River salmon. "In order to save our orcas, we need to save the salmon runs that sustain them," Schroeder says.
Beleaguered salmon populations are now further jeopardized by a new challenge, global warming, which is heating some rivers and streams to temperatures lethal to fish. The average temperature of British Columbia's Fraser River, for example, increased about 1.8 degrees F from 1953 to 1998, yielding a 50-percent mortality rate among the river's sockeye salmon. "The higher river temperatures are largely due to global warming, as opposed to dams and other significant human-caused problems," says Patty Glick, an NWF global warming specialist. The Canadian Ministry of Environment agrees. Citing the fact that the climate is warming, the ministry declared in a 2002 report that logging, agriculture and industrial factors have small impact on river temperature "in comparison to the impact of climate change."
Saving Puget Sound orcas will require cleaning up toxic waste sites, stemming storm-water pollution and stopping global warming. The most critical step, however, is restoring salmon runs so orcas have enough to eat. "The Snake River basin once produced more than a third of all the chinook in the Columbia River basin," Schroeder says. "If the federal government would take out the four outdated lower Snake River dams, it would go a long way toward recovering endangered Columbia River salmon and Puget Sound killer whales."

Narwhal vocalizations are studied
September 28, 2006 (United Press International) U.S. marine biologists say they've found preliminary evidence that narwhals, a species of Arctic whales, produce signature vocalizations.
Ari Shapiro of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and colleagues say the vocalizations by narwhals might facilitate individual recognition or their reunion with more distant group members.
The researchers recorded the sounds of three adult male narwhals in Admiralty Bay at Baffin Island, Canada, in August 2004. Recordings from two of the tagged animals revealed individually distinctive pulsed and tonal signals and whistles. The recordings from the third whale were lost.
"Many unanswered questions remain about narwhals, and understanding their vocal communication will provide insights into their social behavior," said Shapiro.
Narwhals are found in Arctic waters and may live 40 years or more. They can migrate thousands of miles in large numbers with subgroups moving in a coordinated fashion.
Shapiro said he also plans to study vocalizations and movements of free-ranging killer whales in Norway this November.
The results of the study are reported in the September issue of the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.

Judge sends U.S. agencies strong salmon message
September 28, 2006 (Seattle Times) A salmon recovery plan for the upper Snake River that has sharply divided conservation groups and lawmakers is headed back to federal agencies with a warning from a judge who says he will not tolerate any more delays.
The ruling Tuesday by U.S. District Judge James Redden in Portland formally sent the plan, called a biological opinion, back to NOAA Fisheries to account for the effects of a related plan for the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.
"Given the precarious condition of the Snake River salmon and steelhead runs, the consequences of another failed biological opinion will be serious indeed," Redden wrote.
Redden had already ruled last May the upper Snake plan needed to be rewritten to meet Endangered Species Act requirements that protect salmon and steelhead.
The latest ruling, however, "is definitely a shot across the bow of the federal government," said Glen Spain, Northwest regional director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "Redden said there will be no more delay and no more denial," Spain said. "It's very strong language. I rarely see anything like that from a judge."
Redden ruled previously that NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must consider how salmon are affected by a dozen irrigation projects on the upper Snake River along with hydroelectric dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers.

NMFS investigating helicopter flight
September 27, 2006 (San Juan Journal) Federal marine mammal protection agents are investigating reports that a Navy helicopter flew too close to a pod of orcas on the west side of San Juan Island Sept. 21.
If it is determined that the incident constituted harassment of a marine mammal, it could be punishable by up to one year in jail or a fine of up to $50,000, according to Brad Vinish, deputy special agent in charge, National Marine Fisheries Service Enforcement Office in Seattle.
Tony Popp, deputy public affairs officer of Whidbey Naval Air Station, said the Navy confirmed the helicopter was one of its own after it was contacted last week by NMFS.
Popp said the MH-60S Nighthawk search-and-rescue helicopter was "in the area conducting routine training."
Witnesses said the incident occurred just outside of Deadman's Bay, south of Lime Kiln, at about 2 p.m.
According to Orca Network, a whale advocacy group based in Coupeville, "a gray and red helicopter with the word 'NAVY' written across the bottom hovered over a group of resident orcas who were swimming in the area. The copter hovered for approximately 20-30 seconds, perhaps longer."
Orca Network reported, "According to a kayak operator who was rafting right beyond the water disturbance, two whales had just surfaced - and both were forced by the air blowing straight down, to dive. The helicopter then continued south, following the path from which the whales were coming."
Active whale-watcher Jillian Hopkins was driving south on West Side Road when the helicopter lowered itself "parallel to me on the road."
"I was stunned there was a helicopter that close to the cliff and the water," she said. "I pulled my car over. (The helicopter) did a quick pivot, started heading north and dropped even lower to the water. There was tremendous turbulence on the water. I could see whales surfacing. (The helicopter) dropped down on top of one. I saw flashes from cameras - three or four flashes.
"What was stunning was the helicopter was so low, then dropped even lower."

Agents investigating orca harassment by Navy
September 27, 2006 (KING5 TV) Agents are looking into whether a Navy helicopter flew too close to a pod of orcas off San Juan Island last week.
According to The San Juan Journal, federal marine mammal protection agents are investigating reports that the helicopter hovered just 40 feet above the orcas on the west side of the island.
Whale watchers along the shoreline and a kayaker nearby said the incident happened just outside Deadman's Bay, south of Lime Kiln, at about 2 p.m. on Sept. 21. They said the aircraft lingered above the whales for at least 30 seconds, causing a lot of turbulence on the water.
They said two whales had just surfaced for air, but were forced to dive again because of the air pressure caused by the helicopter.
One whale watcher reported flashes from cameras being visible in the helicopter.
If the harassment is substantiated, the Navy could be fined $50,000.

Earth's Warming: Think Pliocene
September 27, 2006 (Eugene Register-Guard) Mother Earth is beginning to resemble a Peggy Lee song - "fever in the morning, fever all through the night."
The planet's temperature has climbed to levels not seen in thousands of years, warming that has begun to affect plants and animals, researchers report in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Earth has been warming at a rate of 0.36 degree per decade for the last 30 years, according to the research team led by James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.
That brings the overall temperature to the warmest in the current interglacial period, which began about 12,000 years ago.
The warming has been stronger in the far north, where melting ice and snow expose darker land and rocks beneath, allowing more warmth from the sun to be absorbed over land than water.
Water changes temperature more slowly than land because of its great capacity to hold heat, but the researchers noted that the warming has been marked in the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. Those oceans have a major effect on climate and warming that could lead to more El Niño episodes affecting the weather.
The study said the recent warming has brought global temperature to a level within about one degree Celsius - 1.8 degree Fahrenheit - of the maximum temperature of the past million years.
"If further global warming reaches 2 or 3 degrees Celsius, we will likely see changes that make Earth a different planet than the one we know.
The last time it was that warm was in the middle Pliocene, about 3 million years ago, when sea level was estimated to have been about 25 meters (80 feet) higher than today," Hansen said.

Mayor has plan to clear the air
September 27, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Saying Seattle must lead the world in battling the globe-warming gases that spew from our cars and furnaces and power plants, Mayor Greg Nickels today will unveil the most comprehensive plan to date to reduce Seattleites' impact on the climate.
The plan amounts to a call for everyone who lives here -- along with the city's businesses -- to change how they get around and how they heat and light their homes and offices. It could mean charging tolls for using certain roads, additional taxes on parking and other measures to encourage people to get out of their cars and use mass transit.
The 34-page list of actions Nickels is proposing range from the very specific -- spending $530,000 over the next two years to save natural gas in city buildings, for instance -- to aspirations whose outcome the city can't control, such as persuading the Legislature to follow California's lead and cap so-called "greenhouse gases."
The basic message: Seattle can do this. And so can the world.
"We can make a difference," Nickels said.
"The struggle with climate change is that since it is global by nature, no individual or city feels like it has the power to change the course. However, we're all in it together, and if we act together, we will be able to make a difference," he said.
The proposal is heavily reliant on voters approving two ballot measures in November, the city's proposed nine-year, $365 million property tax for transportation improvements and King County's one-tenth of 1 percent increase in the sales tax to fund improved bus service.
That would provide better sidewalks, trails and stairways to encourage pedestrians; more-frequent buses; additional bike paths; a doubling in size of Seattle's modest system of on-street bike lanes; planting of trees; and improvements to help move freight through the city more efficiently.
Of the $37 million Nickels' plan would cost the city over the next two years, $34 million would come from the "Bridging the Gap" property tax for transportation on the November ballot. King County's "Transit Now" sales-tax increase would provide $10 million annually.

New oil spill prevention rules
September 28, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The state Department of Ecology issued two new rules Tuesday designed to help prevent oil spills in Washington waters.
One, called the "contingency plan rule," describes how much oil spill response equipment should be in position around the state in case of emergency.
It also requires companies that transport oil in and out of Washington to have a response plan in place before entering state waters.
The other new rule, known as the "transfer rule," governs transfers of fuel over water from oil tankers, oil barges, shore-based marine terminals, marinas and fuel trucks.
That rule was prompted by the Legislature after a 4,700- gallon spill that fouled beaches in Snohomish and Kitsap counties, including an important Suquamish Tribe shellfish bed.
"These new requirements are crucial for helping protect Puget Sound, Columbia River and other water bodies from the adverse effects of oil spills," Dale Jensen.
Environmental activist Fred Felleman, of Ocean Advocates, said the rules generally are an improvement.

Global meltdown feared: UN report
September 25, 2006 (Vancouver Sun) A landmark climate change report coming early next year will reveal such a strong link between global warming and fossil fuels that the world will have to end its addiction to oil, says a leading Canadian climate researcher.
Ignoring the findings of the report will lead to widespread environmental catastrophes, Andrew Weaver added.
"We do not need more research to tell us what the first-order problem is, and what needs to be done," said Weaver, Canada research chairman at the University of Victoria's school of earth and ocean sciences.
He is one of the authors of a climate change report -- the first major study since 2001 -- that will be released next year by an international panel of scientists.

Roadless policy salvaged
September 25, 2006 (Seattle Times editorial) Conservation rules painstakingly developed in the Clinton administration to protect millions of acres of roadless forests from logging, mining and drilling have been restored by a federal judge. This is good news for the environment and taxpayers.
The Bush administration abandoned the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which covered national forests and grasslands in 39 states, in favor of local forest plans. Three years of review by the Clinton administration went into the policies that were to take effect in 2001, before newly elected President Bush suspended them and eventually repealed them in 2005. In Washington, the roadless rule protected about 2 million of 9.2 million acres of national forest. The fight, here and nationally, attracted the interest of more than the environmental community.
The expense was compounded when poorly maintained or abandoned logging roads washed out salmon habitat or destroyed restoration projects.
The court victory is a win for the tenacity of Western states, including Washington, and environmental groups, which filed suit to protect millions of pristine acres for future generations.

Hood Canal fish suffocate
September 20, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intellligencer) Scientists are scrambling to document what appears to be the most widespread fish kill to date in Hood Canal, the deep and poorly flushed waterway that researchers say suffers from oxygen levels at their lowest ebb in at least five decades.
Pollution from septic tanks and possibly other sources is strongly suspected of aggravating the problem.
Reports from area residents started early Tuesday of dead shrimp, Dungeness crab, lingcod, flounder, sand lance and other fish. The kill stretches about six miles along the "Great Bend" of the 60-mile-long, glacier-carved fjord.
Low-oxygen water in the bottom of the canal quickly surged up to overtake fish between midnight and 6 a.m. Tuesday. Scientists were able to measure it because of a major new scientific investigation started after fish kills in 2002, 2003 and 2004.
"What we don't know is why it happened so quickly," said Brad Ack, director of the Puget Sound Action Team, the state agency coordinating the recovery of Puget Sound and Hood Canal. "It focuses our attention again that we have a serious problem in Hood Canal, and just because the last couple of years haven't seen these kinds of fish kills doesn't mean that the problems have gone away."
"It appears the (oxygen) levels are getting worse in the sense that they're covering a larger area of the canal and the oxygen levels are getting lower," Bargmann said.
The waterway has been closed to fishing for bottomfish, squid, herring and other fish because of the stress low oxygen levels cause, he said. The only fishing allowed in the canal now is for coho salmon, which are sure to move away from areas where oxygen levels drop, he said.
No firm cause for the fish kill has been established, said Jan Newton, a University of Washington oceanographer heading up a study of the waterway. But it appears two factors could be at work, she said.
First, winds that had come from the north for many weeks shifted in recent days to come from the south -- including the big storm that drenched Seattleites early Tuesday -- just as Hood Canal's oxygen levels were dropping.
The southerly winds are thought to have pushed the water in the upper levels of the canal, which has the most oxygen, to the north. Then, low-oxygen water from the bottom of the canal surged up, catching some slow-moving fish off guard.
The second factor thought to be at work is the natural infiltration of low-oxygen seawater at this time of year, which is related to larger-scale oceanographic events tied to the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Newton said.
Linda Farmer, a spokeswoman for the Puget Sound Action Team, said it's impossible to extrapolate what's happening in Hood Canal to future problems elsewhere, but, "We have been warned that if things continue going in the direction they're going without anybody stepping in, the rest of Puget Sound could start looking like Hood Canal."

Russia Revokes Permit for Sakhalin Energy Project
September 19, 2006 (Environmental News Service) Russian environmental officials have withdrawn a key permit for a massive oil and gas project off the coast of the Sakhalin Island, citing concerns that work on pipelines was harming salmon runs. The decision was praised by environmentalists, but drew sharp criticism from Japanese and European officials keen to see the $20 billion project completed.
The controversy is unlikely to be the final blow for the massive project, which promises to tap vast supplies of oil and natural gas in the waters around the island, which lies north of Japan in the Sea of Okhotsk.
"The Sakhalin II project is being extremely badly managed from the environmental point of view and threatens not only highly sensitive ecosystems, but also the livelihoods of thousands of Sakhalin islanders who depend on fishing," Hlobil said.Hlobil's group is a member of a campaign to stop public financing of the massive project and the groups contend the decision by Russian authorities is further evidence that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development should not loan the consortium money for Sakhalin II."SEIC cannot credibly demonstrate that Sakhalin II complies with EBRD's policies," the coalition said in a letter sent Monday to the bank's president.The letter specifically cited EBRD's Environment Policy, which "requires that projects financed by the bank comply with applicable national environmental law."Environmentalists oppose the plan for a variety of reasons, including concerns that the project will degrade the habitat of the critically endangered western Pacific gray whale.Scientists estimate there are only some 130 of the whales remaining in the world and fear the project will harm the waters around the island - the species' only known feeding ground.

Dolphins' slaughter spark embassy protest
September 19, 2006 (Daily Mail (UK)) Protesters are set march on the Japanese Embassy to demand the country halts the 'brutal and inhumane' slaughter of thousands of dolphins. It comes after horrific footage taken by animal rights activists was broadcast across the world, showing Japanese hunters trapping a terrified pod of dolphins in a cove before netting their victims and cutting their throats out with large knives.
These gentle, intelligent mammals can be seen thrashing about in agony in a blood-red sea, some taking up to 10 minutes to die from their wounds. Around 20,000 dolphins and porpoises will be butchered by fishermen off the coast of Japan in the next six months, if the Japanese Government does not ban the 400-year-old hunting tradition.
This savage practise is now largely bankrolled by 50 Japanese aquariums, which will pay up to £3,500 for a hand-picked specimen. Only a handful of the dolphins were picked out for aquariums, while the rest are killed for meat. These dolphinariums are then free to sell "show-quality" dolphins on to marine amusement parks in other countries where they will fetch prices of up to £25,000. French-based animal rights group One Voice, secretly filmed this savage hunt last week, carried out by Taiji "drive hunters" on Japan's south-east coast.
The harpooners drove 25 dolphins into a lagoon after an exhausting day-long chase, and surrounded the frightened pod with boats. The hunters than banged long metal poles underwater which creates a wall of sound, disorientating their sensitive sonar system which they use to navigate.

3 states join in effort to improve health of Pacific
September 19, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The governors of Oregon, Washington and California announced an agreement Monday to work together to improve Pacific Ocean health, saying "oceans should be managed on an ecosystem level."
"Polluted waters, declining populations of fish and other marine life, degraded nearshore habitats, risks of severe storms and tsunamis and impacts related to climate change" were among the threats cited by the governors of the three ocean-dependent states.
The announcement at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry said the governors would, among other things, send a joint message to Congress within six months opposing oil and gas leasing, development or exploration off the coasts.

Permanent Arctic ice disappearing
September 14, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The year-round layer of ice that covers the Arctic Ocean even during the warmest months has shrunk dramatically in the past two years, scientists reported Wednesday.
NASA researchers say that since 2004, the 10-foot-thick layer of perennial sea ice has decreased in size by 280,000 square miles, an area roughly the size of Texas -- an abrupt change from recent decades, which were marked by modest declines.
"The recent changes in the ice are both rapid and dramatic," NASA researcher Son Nghiem reported in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Although researchers have witnessed a steady decline in the Arctic's summer ice cover, shrinking by about 8 percent a decade since satellite surveys began in 1979, the new report is the first to suggest that the thicker, permanent, year-round ice is also vulnerable to the gradual warming of the Arctic Ocean.
"The amount of Arctic sea ice reduction in the past two winters has not taken place before during the 27 years that satellite data has been available," said Josefino Comiso, a senior scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Although winter temperatures in the Arctic average 30 degrees below zero, Nghiem says earlier thawing in the spring, and later freezing in the autumn, have combined to reduce the extent of perennial ice as well.

Scientists examining dead fin whale on Lummi beach
September 12, 2006 (KNDO/KNDU) Scientists are taking a close look today at a dead 60-foot fin whale that washed ashore on a Lummi Indian reservation beach near Bellingham.
The team includes John Calambokidis (cal-um-BOH'-kee-dis) of Cascadia Research in Olympia.
They'll try to determine how the open-ocean whale was killed and how it ended up in inland waters. In past years other such dead whales where killed by ship strikes and carried on the bow of ships.
Calambokidis says the beach where the whale has been moved is inaccessible to the public. He says the tribe plans to preserve the whale bones for educational purposes.

For Pods of Whales, Celebrity Status and Now a Lawsuit
September 8, 2006 (New York Times) Mr. Balcomb has plied these waters for three decades on a mission to identify every killer whale, or orca, by the gray "saddle patch" behind its black dorsal fin. Half a million photographs later, the tribulations and triumphs of the three local orca pods, or families, that he follows are major news in the Pacific Northwest.
"People used to say, ‘What good are they?' " said Mr. Balcomb, 65, who started the low-budget Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, 80 miles north of Seattle. "Now they want to relate to the whales they've seen."
The public affection Mr. Balcomb and others have stirred up for these 10,000-pound creatures, the largest members of the dolphin family, has pushed the federal government to pay closer attention to their health, federal officials say. Last year, southern resident killer whales - the 90 current members of J, K and L pods - were added to the endangered species list.
By November, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the Department of Commerce, plans to establish boundaries for the "critical habitat" the three pods need to survive: 2,500 square miles in Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca that also constitute one of the nation's busiest waterways for commercial shipping.
Orca protection, though, has brewed its own legal battle in a region familiar with debates about endangered salmon and the northern spotted owl. Washington's homebuilders and farmers, assisted by a conservative legal foundation, have sued the federal government to strip the killer whales of their endangered status.
Lawyers for these groups say the government should not distinguish orcas in Puget Sound from a healthy global population numbering in the tens of thousands. The state's Farm Bureau and Building Industry Association warn, in particular, that local governments might react to federal protection of the orcas by locking up land near streams or along the coast to improve water quality for the orcas and for salmon, their main food source.
"Radical environmentalists" are using killer whale protection to block otherwise legal economic activity, said Russell C. Brooks, a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is handling the case for the plaintiffs.
A windowless room downstairs holds much of Mr. Balcomb's research: the vast archive of photographs and wall posters detailing each pod's matrilineal family tree. Females typically give birth every five years until age 40 and can live into their 90's. Males rarely live beyond 50.
Resident killer whales like those in Puget Sound behave differently from two other types, called transient and offshore orcas, that roam the oceans. The residents have tight family relationships, especially between mother and calf, and communicate in dialects understood by their relatives. They return to the same waters every year and mainly eat Chinook salmon. Transient whales eat seals, sea lions and other marine mammals.
As Mr. Balcomb and others work on behalf of the larger orca population, they also imagine what it would be like to reunite Corky and Lolita with their pods one day.

Beloved beluga dies at Point Defiance
September 8, 2006 (Tacoma News Tribune) One of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium's largest and most visible residents is gone. Turner the beluga whale died Thursday morning at the Rocky Shores exhibit. "It's always felt by the staff when we lose an animal, certainly one of this stature," said John Houck, deputy zoo director. "It's a painful day here."
Zoo keepers are not sure what caused the death, but Turner had been ill for about six weeks, sporadically refusing food and getting treated for an infection. The 12-year-old male struggled with a chronic kidney condition since before he came to Point Defiance in 1998.
"His death was a surprise," said John Rupp, the zoo's aquatic curator. "He had come back from a number of these bouts and bounced back."
But concern grew as his condition worsened in the last two weeks and especially in the last two days, Rupp said. He died at about 11:30 a.m.
In the wild, the small, white whales live in Artic and sub-Artic regions.
Turner and his tank-mate Beethoven were on loan from SeaWorld, part of a breeding program of 29 belugas at seven institutions. They were both born in captivity at SeaWorld in Texas.
Just a week short of 13, Turner was a teen-ager as belugas go. Whales in captivity can easily live into their 30s, Rupp said. At his age, Turner was a prime candidate for breeding, he said.
"He was bright, playful, inquisitive," Houck said. "A great animal."

A SPECIAL REPORT: The evidence is here - North Coast scientists warn that warming trends are irrefutable
September 7, 2006 (Daily Astorian) The planet is changing; it is getting warmer.
And our way of life is changing - whether we are ready or not.
Sayce is diligent in her task, knowing that good science is the key here.
"When there is a lot of phytoplankton in the water, the waves are creamy, frothy brown; you'd think they were dirty, but that's a good sign," she says. "Today the water looks pretty clear."
Oysters, clams, and salmon are about to have less to eat.

Global warming gases seep out of thawing permafrost
September 7, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Global warming gases trapped in the soil are bubbling out of the thawing permafrost in amounts far higher than previously thought and may trigger what researchers warn is a climate time bomb.
Methane -- a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide -- is being released from the permafrost at a rate five times faster than thought, according to a study being published today in the journal Nature.
The findings are based on new, more accurate measuring techniques.
"The effects can be huge," said lead author Katey Walter of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks said. "It's coming out a lot and there's a lot more to come out."
Scientists worry about a global warming vicious cycle that was not part of their already gloomy climate forecast: Warming already under way thaws permafrost, soil that has been continuously frozen for thousands of years. Thawed permafrost releases methane and carbon dioxide. Those gases reach the atmosphere and help trap heat on Earth in the greenhouse effect. The trapped heat thaws more permafrost and so on.
"The higher the temperature gets, the more permafrost we melt, the more tendency it is to become a more vicious cycle," said Chris Field, director of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, who was not part of the study. "That's the thing that is scary about this whole thing. There are lots of mechanisms that tend to be self-perpetuating and relatively few that tend to shut it off."

Mayor wants to plant 649,000 trees
September 5, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) About one new tree for every man, woman and child in Seattle.
That's what it will take to reach Mayor Greg Nickels' goal for regreening the city over the next three decades -- the planting of 649,000 trees, plus keeping the tree cover we already have.
Since the early 1970s, Seattle has lost more than half of its tree canopy as more businesses and people have moved into the city and smaller homes have given way to apartments and megahouses. Invasive ivy and blackberry bushes have smothered and killed native trees.
Trees increasingly are being viewed as an asset to urban spaces. They clean pollution from the air and turn a key global warming gas into oxygen. They catch rainfall and slow the flow of contaminated stormwater from roadways into salmon streams.
A program to educate the public about the importance of trees and how to care for them will be a big part of the effort, officials said.
Some tree advocates are skeptical. They say that previous efforts have failed and that there needs to be a solid source of money, such as a tree fee in utility bills. More enforcement is needed to make sure developers protect trees when construction takes place.

Restoring a river and its salmon habitat
September 5, 2006 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Crews are dropping trees and boulders in a section of the Mashel River as work continues on a series of logjams to provide shelter and spawning grounds for salmon.
Excavators are erecting 13 large logjams as part of a $440,000 project to restore the river, a major tributary to the Nisqually River that supports chinook salmon.
Over the past 100 years, the Mashel has endured heavy logging close to the riverbanks, and fallen trees have been removed from the water.
The activity took a toll on both the river and salmon, said Jeanette Dorner, salmon recovery manager for the Nisqually Indian Tribe, which is collaborating on the project with South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group.
"We're now trying to put natural wood, spawning areas and natural processes back into the system and create good habitat for fish," Dorner said.
Logjams offer shelter for salmon and help rivers carve out shallow gravel bars to provide pools for spawning grounds, where fish can also rest.

How American cities have bypassed Bush on Kyoto
September 1, 2006 (The Independent UK) It is not just the state of California that is bypassing the authority of the US government to take action on global warming.
The mayors of more than 300 cities across the country have signed a Climate Protection Agreement in which they have pledged to meet the emissions-cutting timetable laid down by the Kyoto Protocol - regardless of what the Bush administration decides.
Some of those cities, such as Seattle, which took the lead on drafting and lobbying for the agreement, are bastions of liberal politics and environmentalism, acting out their ideological convictions. Others, though, such as the exclusive Colorado ski resorts Vail and Aspen, are also motivated by a powerful self-interest. If global warming continues unabated, the Rocky Mountain snowpack will melt and there will be no skiing in Vail, Aspen or anywhere else by the end of this century.
Seattle's Mayor, Greg Nickels, proposed the mayors' agreement whenKyoto came into effect at the start of last year. By June 2005, he had 140 signatories, and the number has more than doubled since.
The goal is to "meet or exceed" the Kyoto target of cutting global warming pollution to 7 per cent below 1990 levels by 2012.

'A CRITICAL STEP' ON WARMING IMPACT: California's action could spur feds, other states to cut emissions, experts say
September 1, 2006 (San Francisco Chronicle) California's new effort to curb greenhouse gases will cut less than one-half of 1 percent of the world's emissions, slowing global warming by just a tiny fraction of a degree, scientists say.
But the groundbreaking program is likely to be a catalyst for other states and the federal government to curtail fossil fuel emissions and will spur development of innovative technologies and policies, experts said Thursday.
Dan Cayan, director of the climate research division of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, called the law's passage "a critical step.''
Global scientists agree that to prevent catastrophic temperature increases in this century, greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 would have to be 70 to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels.
That would stave off some of the worst global warming effects, including a jump in heat-related deaths, a drastic rise in sea level and broad extinction of species.

World's seas bear brunt of industrial emissions
September 1, 2006 (Seattle Times) Scientists report that the seas are more acidic today than they have been in at least 650,000 years. At the current rate of increase, ocean acidity is expected, by the end of this century, to be 2 ½ times what it was before the Industrial Revolution began 200 years ago. Such a change would devastate many species of fish and other animals that have thrived in chemically stable seawater for millions of years.
Less likely to be harmed are algae, sea grasses and other primitive forms of life that are already proliferating at the expense of fish, marine mammals and corals.
In a matter of decades, the world's remaining coral reefs could be too brittle to withstand pounding waves. Shells could become too fragile to protect their occupants. By the end of the century, much of the polar ocean is expected to be as acidified as the water that wrought such damage on the pteropods aboard the Discoverer.
Some marine biologists predict that altered acid levels will disrupt fisheries by melting away the bottom rungs of the food chain - tiny planktonic plants and animals that provide the basic nutrition for all living things in the sea.
When carbon dioxide is added to the ocean gradually, it does little harm. Some of it is taken up during photosynthesis by microscopic plants called phytoplankton. Some of it is used by microorganisms to build shells.
Today, however, the addition of carbon dioxide to the seas is anything but gradual.

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