Orca Network News - September, 2007
News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2007 through September 30, 2007.
La Niņa winter may mean more snow than usual
September 29, 2007 (Seattle Times) Forecasters say La Niņa - the unusual cooling of water in the Pacific Ocean - will cause more rainfall and varying temperatures in the upcoming months. Those conditions generally mean more snow.
Ferry too close, fast for comfort – whale expert
September 28, 2007 (Maui News) A whale expert and opponent of the Hawaii Superferry continued another full day of testimony Tuesday, outlining the potential danger the company's 350-foot double-hulled catamaran poses to endangered humpback whales and other sea creatures.
Greg Kaufman, the president and co-founder of the Pacific Whale Foundation, also criticized the Superferry's whale avoidance policy and its own captain's testimony about his ability to prevent a whale strike.
Kaufman was called to the witness stand as an expert witness for three environmental groups – Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition – challenging the Superferry's ability to operate without an environmental assessment on ferry operations.
The Hawaii Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 23 that the state Department of Transportation was wrong to bypass an environmental review of $40 million in ferry-related improvements, including work done at Kahului Harbor.
Meanwhile, Superferry officials, on their own, have stopped service to Kauai, because of concerns surrounding passenger safety arising from vehement public protests against the ferry on the Garden Isle.
On Monday, Kaufman testified that he believes the ferry poses a substantial threat to humpback whales and other marine mammals swimming in the islands' waters. They would be particularly vulnerable from mid-October through early July when their highest concentrations are just north of Molokai and in other parts of Maui County waters. Hawaii provides calving grounds for the endangered whales.
Itinerary of fish tag stuns biologists
September 27, 2007 (Oregonian) Salmon are known as terrific travelers, but a young steelhead left a Washington hatchery in 2005 on a far more incredible journey than most.
Late in April a tiny electronic tag implanted in the 2.9-inch fish at the hatchery on the Columbia River turned up some 7,700 miles away -- inside a young bird killed by a native hunter on an island off southern New Zealand.
Nearly 2 million fish leave the Columbia system with such tags each year, most heading north and west on a more mundane circuit toward Alaska.
Emergency Ship Speed Limits Sought to Protect Blue Whales
September 26, 2007 (Environmental Network News) The Center for Biological Diversity today formally petitioned the federal government to set speed limits for ships in the Santa Barbara Channel off southern California to protect endangered blue whales.
At least three dead blue whales have been documented in southern California over the past two weeks. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which conducted analyses of the dead whales, determined that ship strikes caused all three of the deaths.
It was reported the week of September 9 that there were about 100 blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel and that their primary food source, tiny crustaceans called krill, was prevalent in the shipping lanes.
Most large vessels plying the Santa Barbara Channel are heading to or from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Several thousand container ships transit the channel each year.
The whales were found dead September 8, September 14, and September 21.
Scientists seek clues on how Navy sonar affects whales
September 23, 2007 (North Country News) Robin Baird's research team gazes for hours into the horizon, searching for rarely seen beaked whales.
The small, grey animal has been at the center of the dispute over the Navy's use of sonar ever since several washed ashore bleeding around their brains and ears during Navy exercises in the Bahamas seven years ago, along with a few similar incidents.
Scientists, environmentalists and the military have been scrambling to prove whether the use of sonar has been causing beaked whales to wash ashore bleeding around their brains and ears.
Marine biologist Robin Baird recently spent three weeks off Hawaii's Big Island studying the small, gray animals.
He says they appear to be more susceptible to damage from sonar, possibly because they dwell in deep waters and the sonar makes them rush toward the surface.
The studies come at a critical time for the Navy and the whales.
Training sailors to use sonar has become one of the Navy's top priorities as more nations, including China, have acquired hard-to-detect diesel submarines.
But the whale strandings have caused environmentalists to file lawsuits challenging the Navy's plans to exercise with sonar because they claim the drills will harm whales.
Third Blue Whale Found Dead Off California Coast
September 22, 2007 (Environmental Network News) Three dead blue whales have been found floating off the coast of Southern California within the past two weeks, alarming and puzzling marine mammal experts.
As many as 200 blue whales, members of the largest species on Earth, have been feeding in the Santa Barbara Channel during their annual summer migration from Mexico and Central America. About 3,000 of the world's 12,000 blue whales swim off the west coast of the Americas.
The latest dead whale was spotted Wednesday floating in the Santa Barbara Channel.
Paul Collins, curator of vertebrate zoology at the museum, says it is normal for large sized ships and tankers to be in the Santa Barbara Channel, as it is normal for blue whales to be in the channel. This particular summer, there seems to be greater numbers of blue whales in the channel, possibly due to richer food sources.
The museum has reported only six other blue whale strandings since 1980.
It takes a city to limit greenhouse gases
September 22, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Steps for slowing climate change will confront you on the flip side of the No. 12 cheer cards waved by fans at the Seahawks game. They'll nudge you from posters hanging at the local Starbucks when you're grabbing a mocha to go. The friendly librarian might add a fluorescent light bulb to your stack of books to take home.
But if you're pumped up to do what you can to slow global warming -- strategizing the best bus routes and bumping down the thermostat -- you might embrace the city's new Seattle Climate Action Now campaign in all its manifestations.
After the hoopla of vowing that Seattle will cut its greenhouse emissions on par with the Kyoto Protocol -- plus getting 672 U.S. cities to join the effort -- leaders here are trying to kick-start public involvement.
"Mayors and councils can't do this," Mayor Greg Nickels said at a news conference Friday. "It takes the entire community."
Central to the campaign is a new Web site, seattlecan.org, a sort of clearinghouse for local and national climate change information.
PUD tidal power passes first test
September 20, 2007 (Everett Herald) Currents in Sound are strong enough to make electricity
ADMIRALTY INLET - Tidal currents that could generate electricity for thousands of homes and businesses run stronger than expected here, pumping life into Snohomish County PUD's bid to embed thousands of tidal turbines in the bottom of Puget Sound.
PUD officials on Wednesday were on a chartered boat, touting the potential of tidal energy, while nearby oceanographers fished current-measuring devices from the bottom of Puget Sound.
The devices measured tidal currents for 28 days, or two tidal cycles, in Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass.
Preliminary data collected in July and August gathered by a different device that also measures tidal currents suggest Admiralty Inlet could produce more electricity than initially estimated, said Brian Polagye, a research associate with the University of Washington's Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The turbines the PUD wants to use are like underwater windmills fixed to the seabed. Tidal currents turn the turbines, and the natural energy would be converted into electricity. Turbine sizes would vary. Many could be 100 feet tall with their slow-turning blades as big as 66 feet in diameter.
Area tribes and environmental groups have been watching closely. They worry about the effect on endangered chinook, orcas and other marine wildlife.
In addition to Admiralty Inlet and Deception Pass, the PUD's study sites are Spieden and San Juan channels in the San Juan Islands, Guemes Channel near Anacortes, Agate Passage near Bainbridge Island and Rich Passage near Bremerton.
Lice from fish farms called threat
September 20, 2007 (Anchorage Daily News) Eighteen prominent scientists and researchers say there is no question that sea lice from fish farms are lethal to wild salmon, no evidence to the contrary and a need for greater protection.
The scientists, ranging from David Suzuki to National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence Wade Davis, wrote in an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell that the future of juvenile wild salmon is at risk.
The open letter called for immediate installation of stronger barriers between wild and farmed salmon, closed containment rather than the typical open pens at fish farms, as the only safeguard.
Where farmed and wild salmon mingle in narrow passages such as around the Broughton Archipelago off the northeast coast of Vancouver Island, long-term decline of wild salmon stocks is inevitable, the scientists wrote.
Installing closed containment systems will be expensive, but Canadians must decide whether the benefits of aquaculture outweigh the threats to wild salmon and to the ecosystems and economies that depend on healthy stocks, they added.
World whale first - South Tenerife whales and the cephalopod connection
September 20, 2007 (Tenerife News) Investigators from the Society for Cetacean Study have scored an historic first in waters off south Tenerife by filming a whale eating a giant squid..
"We looked hard and saw a tentacle of a squid hanging from its mouth and there were other pieces of squid stuck to the whale's body. It made a number of brusque movements on its side in the water to free the tentacle to eat it – and there we were filming and photographing it all."
He reckoned the squid could have been some five metres long, a comparatively modest size for the species. Examples have been found which reach 20 metres in length and weigh in at a thousand kilos!
He explained that pilot whales dive time and time again between brief five minute rests, submerging at a speed of 2 to 3 metres a second.
It is known that they can dive as deep as 1,200 metres without any problem though the average submersion reaches depths of around 800 to 900 metres. Unlike other whale species they dive down and swim back up at speed, staying down for no more than 22 minutes at a time.
Despite Gains, Gray Whale Population Still Not Recovered
September 17, 2007 (Voice of America) In the 19th century, intensive hunting brought the gray whale close to extinction. Although whales in the western Pacific are still endangered, protection efforts in the eastern Pacific seemed, at first, to have brought the population there back to pre-whaling numbers.
But new genetic research shows gray whales may once have been much more abundant than they are today. The finding suggests the world's oceans may no longer be able to support such a large population.
Earlier estimates of the pre-whaling population had been based largely on historical accounts from commercial whalers, and were in the same range as the current average population estimate of 22,000.
Alter found that the genetic diversity in gray whales today is much higher than would be expected. In fact, Alter says, the measured diversity would be more typical of a population of 78,000 to 117,000. "That indicates to us that there once were many more gray whales, as many as three to five times more in the Pacific Ocean than there are now."
The new whale numbers may also help to explain more recent changes in the species' population dynamics. Between 1999 and 2001, gray whales began starving to death. Scientists hypothesized that the population might have recovered too well, that there were now more gray whales than the ocean could support.
But the new research suggests that the ocean once supported many more whales than exist today. Liz Alter says that this finding supports an alternative explanation for why the whales are starving: large-scale, ecosystem level changes are affecting the whales' feeding grounds in the Bering Sea. Other research has suggested that climate change may have reduced the gray whale's food supply, by warming deep arctic waters.
Arctic sea route opens as ice melts
September 17, 2007 (Vancouver Sun) The Arctic's Northwest Passage has opened up fully because of melting sea ice, clearing a long-sought but historically impassable route between Europe and Asia, the European Space Agency said.
Sea ice has shrunk in the Arctic to its lowest level since satellite measurements began 30 years ago, ESA said, showing images of the now "fully navigable" route between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
Polar regions are very sensitive to climate change, ESA said, noting that some scientists have predicted the Arctic would be ice free as early as 2040.
Almost all experts say global warming, stoked by human use of fossil fuels, is happening about twice as fast in the Arctic as elsewhere on the planet. Once exposed, dark ground or sea soak up far more heat than ice and snow.
Orca ordinance's legality murky
September 16, 2007 (Skagit Valley Herald) San Juan County's passage of an ordinance aimed at protecting Puget Sound's endangered orcas might be sailing into murky legal waters.
A conundrum created by two federal laws - both aimed at protecting sensitive species, including the southern resident killer whale - could open the new ordinance up for legal challenges. Possible solutions to the problem include the San Juan County Council obtaining congressional authority or the secretary of commerce's approval.
The ordinance, passed Tuesday, Sept. 11 prohibits boaters from knowingly getting within 100 yards of a southern resident killer whale. Violation carries a $750 fine, and the ordinance only applies to the county's waters. San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord said it is aimed at only the most "obvious" cases of orca harassment.
"It acts like a deterrent, giving the local and state law enforcement officials a tool to really actively protect the whales," said Amy Trainer, staff attorney for Friends of the San Juan Islands, one of several groups that sought the change.
Boaters who happen to encounter an orca by surprise, such as a whale unexpectedly surfacing near a boat, don't violate the ordinance, Gaylord said.
Both Trainer of Friends and Susan Berta of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network said that the new ordinance doesn't eliminate other problems the orcas face. Studies indicate that the affects of vessel traffic, including sound and proximity, along with a reduction in salmon and pollution have caused the orcas' decline.
The ordinance is a temporary measure until the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency responsible for orca recovery, puts vessel regulations into place, County Councilman Kevin Ranker said. The council has been concerned that orcas could decline further without some action to address the vessel problem.
Makah judges talk tough on whalers
September 16, 2007 (Seattle Times) No matter what the federal government decides to do with them, the five Makah tribal whalers who illegally killed a gray whale last weekend will still have to face Jean and Emma.
That's Jean Vitalis, chief judge of the Makah tribal court, and Emma Doulik, the associate judge. They're lifelong residents of Neah Bay and longtime leaders among the Makah. And they'll be the first to tell you this truth: Reservation justice is not blind.
"I look them right in the eye," Vitalis, 58, said of defendants before her court. "They know where I live and I know where they live. I know what kind of car they drive, and whether they have a license. I am a mother in the community, and grandmother, and to say we are blind, that is impossible."
Federal prosecutors said they'll likely decide this week whether to file charges against tribal members Wayne Johnson, Theron Parker, Andy Noel, Billy Secor and Frank Gonzales Jr. for getting into a motorboat Sept. 8, chasing down a gray whale and harpooning and shooting it. After struggling some 10 hours, the whale died and sank to the bottom of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Unlike state courts on "the outside," which operate under uniform state laws, tribal courts here and at other reservations all over the state adhere to laws unique to each tribe. Each tribal court also hands out its own styles of sentences.
Those can include traditional penalties such as banishment from the reservation and suspension of a tribal member's treaty right to hunt and fish.
Vitalis and Doulik are appointed by the tribal council and have 55 years of experience between them. Neither of them makes any pretense of a presumption of innocence for the five whalers. And that's not unusual in tribal court.
Makah leaders, whaler offer insight
September 15, 2007 (Seattle Times) A week after five Makah whalers illegally hunted a gray whale off Neah Bay, some of the tribe's leaders have begun to say that while they disapprove of the hunt, they understand why the whalers did it.
Friday, with the help and permission of the head of the tribe's whaling commission, whaler Wayne Johnson sent out a lengthy written statement defending his actions and expressing frustration with the system that has held up a legal whale hunt for the tribe.
And though Makah tribal leaders have uniformly denounced the hunt, many now are also saying they appreciate the frustration that drove the whalers to their motorboats.
"You could see this as an act of civil disobedience," said Micah McCarty, a member of the Makah tribal council who trained in the whaling canoe alongside some of the same men who legally hunted the tribe's first whale in more than 70 years in 1999. "It's not like they were rebels without a cause."
Makah tribal member in illegal whale hunt issues statement
September 15, 2007 (Seattle Times)
Sound of Orcas
September 14, 2007 (KING5-TV) VIDEO A 1-hour documentary covering all the main issues affecting the survival of Southern resident orcas. New legal lines are forming in the Pacific Northwest. Once in place, if you cross them, you're in the realm of the region's most recently listed endangered species: the Puget Sound orcas.
Humans have never made it easy on the orcas. We've hunted and captured them, pulled them from their families and stuck them in theme parks for our own enjoyment. We've exposed them to the poisons we get rid of by sending them down the drain or off in a cloud of smoke.
Makah delegation in D.C. faces marine mammal panel
September 14, 2007 (Peninsula Daily News) Makah tribal officials were grilled on Thursday by the federal Marine Mammal Commission about last Saturday's unauthorized whale hunt.
"They had some real pointed questions on the details of what transpired, the process in the Tribal Council and possible charges the whalers will be facing," said Micah McCarty, a Makah Tribal Council member.
Makah tribal officials flew to Washington, D.C., this week to confirm to the congressional delegation and other federal officials that the killing of a gray whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca was without the permission of the Makah Tribal Council.
Makah representatives also emphasized on Thursday that it was a high-powered sporting rifle that was used in the unauthorized hunt, not a machine gun, McCarty said.
The Associated Press erroneously reported worldwide shortly after the whale was wounded Saturday that it had been shot with a machine gun.
A spokesman for Rep. Norm Dicks said Thursday that the unauthorized hunt probably won't hurt the Makah tribe's chance for a waiver.
"Our assessment after the meeting Thursday is that [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials] understand this was an isolated incident and shouldn't impede the waiver process in any way," said George Behan, spokesman for the representative of the 6th Congressional District, which includes the North Olympic Peninsula.
Dicks is expected to meet today with Makah Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson Jr. in Port Angeles after a 3 p.m. groundbreaking ceremony for the Elwha River Restoration Project's first water treatment plant.
McCarty said during every meeting so far this week, tribal officials were told that federal agencies and elected officials will monitor the tribal legal action against the five tribal members accused of hunting.
Senator puts block on Wild Sky bill
September 14, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A plan to protect more than 106,000 acres of wilderness in Washington state from motorists, logging and new roads has hit an unexpected snag in the Senate.
Supporters of legislation to create the Wild Sky Wilderness Area had expected the Senate to quickly send the bill to President Bush after the House unanimously passed the measure in April.
Instead, it has run into a roadblock set up by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., a fiscal conservative on a mission to stop what he considers out-of-control spending by Congress.
Coburn has employed one of Congress' most powerful weapons against the Wild Sky bill: a parliamentary maneuver that allows members of the Senate to covertly block legislation.
The Wild Sky bill would confer the highest level of protection afforded federal property on 106,577 acres in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.
Most of the land is already publicly owned, but some land held by local governments and private citizens would be acquired as part of the program.
The area would be off-limits to vehicles, including bicycles and snowmobiles, though wheelchairs and emergency vehicles would be permitted.
Logging, mining and other commercial uses also would be banned.
Makah leaders apologize to federal officials
September 13, 2007 (KOMO-TV) Leaders of the Makah Indian tribe were in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday and expressed regret to federal officials and members of Congress for the unauthorized killing of a gray whale off the coast of Washington state.
At separate meetings with Washington state's two senators and top leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tribal leaders reiterated their condemnation of the whale's killing.
"We know that there are potential violations of discharging a weapon close to Neah Bay," said Micah McCarthy, a tribal council member who attended the meetings. "There are animal cruelty violations within our own law and order code, and certainly there is a violation of an ordinance of how we manage our whaling."
The Makah delegation tried to make amends by presenting a laundry list of charges against the rogue whalers.
The accused Makah men could face trial in tribal court later this month.
Makah leaders optimistic after D.C. meetings
September 13, 2007 (Seattle Times) A Makah tribal leader Wednesday said he is "cautiously optimistic" that the unauthorized killing of a gray whale last Saturday by five tribal hunters won't hurt the tribe's future chances to legally hunt the mammals.
Before the illegal shooting and harpooning of the whale off Neah Bay, the tribe had been pursuing an exemption to the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act that would allow a legal hunt. After the whale was killed, tribal leaders voiced worry that it might hurt chances for the waiver. But so far, they said Wednesday, that doesn't seem to be the case.
"I am cautiously optimistic," said Micah McCarty, a member of the Makah Tribal Council and one of five tribal leaders who went to Washington, D.C., this week to reiterate a distinction between the whalers who illegally killed the animal and the official tribal leadership.
Makah Tribe vows to punish whale killers
September 13, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A delegation from the Makah Tribe met with senators and federal officials Wednesday, assuring them that five tribal members who killed a gray whale last weekend would be dealt with severely under tribal law.
Micah McCarty, a tribal councilman and spokesman for the delegation, said the delegation told the senators and officials that the tribe "denounced the actions of the five and will prosecute them to the fullest extent of our laws."
Under tribal law, McCarty said at a news conference, the perpetrators face a range of possible charges, including the illegal discharge of firearms, animal cruelty and violation of the tribe's whaling laws.
They also face possible federal charges.
Tribal leaders Tuesday forced two of the five individuals to resign as members of the tribe's whaling commission, he said.
Tribal leaders also met with William Hogarth, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, an agency within the Department of Commerce.
The agency is considering the tribe's request to be able to hunt whales legally.
Makah take their whaling case to nation's capital; meetings set today with senators
September 12, 2007 (Peninsula Daily News) Makah representatives arrived in the nation's capital on Tuesday to begin three days of meetings regarding Saturday's unauthorized killing of a gray whale.
Five Makah men - Theron Parker, Andy Noel, Bill Secor Sr., Frank Gonzales Jr. and Wayne Johnson - are under investigation by the National Marine Fisheries Service of breaking federal law by harpooning and shooting a whale in the Strait of Juan de Fuca on Saturday morning.
The Makah Tribal Council has vowed to prosecute those "who took it on themselves to hunt a whale."
The gray whale was pronounced dead at about 7:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Makah tribal representatives want to assure the state's congressional delegation that the council did not approve the hunting and killing of the whale.
The tribe has been working toward a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act so that it can use a treaty right to hunt whales on a subsidence basis.
Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson has said that the whale's death has hurt the tribe's case.
The International Whaling Commission granted the Makah in May a harvest quota of 20 whales in five years, and not more than five in any given year, for subsistence.
But, before the tribe could hunt legally, it needed a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act from NOAA, which was in the process of being considered.
Hunting for trouble in the path of whales
September 12, 2007 (Seattle Times editorial) Northwest Indian tribes spent the latter part of the 20th century arguing that, far from being the dusty relics of another time, treaty rights were living documents, vested with vital legal imperatives.
The rule of law and legal process must be respected. That cuts both ways. The test will be how the Makah Nation treats an illegal gray whale hunt conducted Saturday morning east of Neah Bay.
The hunt was apparently as spontaneous as it was colossally dumb. Without the knowledge or approval of tribal leaders or tribal whaling authorities, five men harpooned and then blasted away at a whale, mortally wounding the aquatic mammal, which died and sank below hundreds of feet of water 12 hours later.
Port rethinks dumping of PCBs
September 12, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Contaminated mud may go into landfill instead of Elliott Bay
PCB-contaminated mud dredged from a Superfund site may be headed to a landfill rather than being dumped into the open waters of Elliott Bay as planned.
Port of Seattle commissioners unanimously directed their staff Tuesday to work with King County on a proposal to send the material from a dredging project in the Harbor Island Superfund site to a landfill.
The project had cleared the environmental hurdles set for it by federal and state agencies, but environmentalists -- with support from the state's newly formed Puget Sound Partnership, King County Executive Ron Sims and various scientists within the state's Department of Ecology and Department of Fish and Wildlife -- said the current momentum toward a cleaner Puget Sound calls for higher standards.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic chemicals used in flame retardants banned in the late 1970s. Because they do not readily dissolve in water, preferring instead to glom onto fat, PCBs left in the marine environment can be passed up the food chain until they reach humans and Puget Sound's resident orcas, which scientists and environmentalists say are the most polluted orcas in the world.
PCBs are so toxic that they are measured in parts per billion. While the concentration of PCBs within the mud to be dredged meets state standards for dumping in the open water, environmentalists say those standards need to be updated.
Scientists with Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest Fisheries Science Center said the effect of PCBs on Puget Sound salmon -- and the orcas and people who eat them -- shows that taking them out of the water is the better option.
Across the state, port executives' biggest concern is that going above and beyond the environmental requirements will set a precedent that will increase costs for future dredging projects, said Eric Johnson, deputy director of the Washington Public Ports Association, formed by the Legislature in 1961 to lobby for the state ports.
Study Questions Comeback of Gray Whale
September 12, 2007 (Truthout.org) One of the great success stories of the ocean, the return of the Pacific gray whale, may have been based on a miscalculation, scientists reported Monday in a study based on whale genetics.
What was assumed to be a thriving whale population actually is at times starving from a dwindling food supply, said study co-author Stephen Palumbi, a Stanford University marine sciences professor. And global warming is a chief suspect.
Scientists may have underestimated the historical number of gray whales from Mexico to Alaska, according to the study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And that may have led to a misdiagnosis of what is behind surprising die-offs over the past few years and the appearance of many so-called "skinny" whales.
Earlier this month the National Marine Fisheries Service reported that at least 10 percent of gray whales returning to one of their four main calving and breeding lagoons off Baja California showed signs of being underfed. Some of the whales even had bony shoulderblades.
Makah tribal leaders head to D.C. today
September 11, 2007 (Seattle Times) A delegation of Makah tribal leaders will head to Washington, D.C., today to attempt damage control after five tribal members illegally shot and killed a protected gray whale Saturday.
The tribe has been seeking an exemption to the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act from the National Marine Fisheries Service to allow legal whale hunts. Now tribal leaders say they are worried the actions of a few have hurt the tribe's chances.
The carcass is expected to surface within a few days as the whale's body decomposes and fills with gas. If the carcass is found, the fisheries service will take samples to analyze the animal's DNA, and test the blubber for any presence of contamination. Then the animal will be towed out to sea "to let it return to nature," Gorman said.
Gov. Christine Gregoire also expressed dismay over the illegal hunt in remarks made at a regularly scheduled news conference Monday: "We've got to make clear, and I think the tribe is really doing a good job of making clear that they will not tolerate members of the tribe who go and disrespect their law and our law."
Warming May Be Hurting Gray Whales' Recovery
September 11, 2007 (Washington Post) As many as 118,000 gray whales roamed the Pacific before humans decimated the population through hunting, and human-induced climate change may now be depriving those that remain of the food they need, according to a study released yesterday.
The research, based on a detailed analysis of DNA taken from gray whales living in the eastern Pacific, highlights how human behavior has transformed the oceans, the scientists said.
Today there are only about 22,000 Pacific gray whales, including about 100 in the western Pacific. By examining the genetic variability of the current population, scientists at Stanford University and the University of Washington at Seattle calculated that there were between 76,000 and 118,000 gray whales in the Pacific before commercial whaling in the 1800s shrank their numbers.
Federal officials took eastern Pacific gray whales off the endangered species list in the mid-1990s, but a rise in sea temperatures appears to have limited the whales' available food. A recent spike in deaths among gray whales may suggest "this decline was due to shifting climatic conditions on Arctic feeding grounds," the researchers wrote in the paper, being published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Makah delegation heads to D.C. for 'damage control'
September 11, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Tuesday's trip was arranged in haste two days after a rogue group of five Makahs hunted and killed a gray whale. There's no set agenda, other than to meet with various agency managers and congressional leaders to assure them the tribe remains committed to the legal process toward a whaling permit.
The Makahs' 2,300 members, he said, realize that political leaders and the federal government will watch how the tribe deals with five of its own who could face federal and tribal charges for Saturday's illegal kill.
"The integrity of our tribal court is at stake here. So is our tribal government's credibility."
One of the five men, Makah Whaling Commissioner Andy Noel, gained access to a whale gun and boat used in Saturday's hunt by allowing people to believe he and the other four were just going out for practice.
Whaling Commission President Keith Johnson said he approved the use of the high-powered gun, but an actual whale hunt never crossed his mind. "We had no clue, no nothing. Who would have thought that?"
The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating the incident and no decision has been made on whether to charge the men with a misdemeanor violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Emily Langlie of the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
Political fallout from the hunt remains unclear. The Makah delegation headed to Washington, D.C., hoped to meet with Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and with Rep. Norm Dicks, all Washington Democrats.
McCarty said he's not confident anymore in the immediate success of the group's effort to get a Marine Mammal Protection Act waiver to allow limited whaling. The legislation had been earmarked for next year.
On Monday, Cantwell said she is "deeply concerned by the unsanctioned killing of a gray whale by a few Makah tribal members. It's wrong that these individuals bypassed an ongoing legal process."
McCarty calls the activists "anti-whaling professionals," who don't bother to understand Makah culture or the rights granted by treaty with the U.S. government. He said the tribe now must redouble its efforts to legally establish what it never should have had taken away.
Makah Tribe Identifies Rogue Hunters
September 11, 2007 (KIRO-TV) The five Makah tribal members who killed a gray whale over the weekend were also part of the tribe's historic whale hunt in 1999, KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reported.
The Makah Tribe identified the five men accused of killing the whale in an unauthorized hunt. They are Theron Parker, Andy Noel, Billy Secor, Frank Gonzales Junior and Wayne Johnson. They were released from tribal custody.
The Makah Tribal Council said the killing was "a blatant violation" of tribal law and promised to prosecute the men. Chad Bowechop, a member of the Makah Indian Tribe's whaling commission, said the panel did not authorize the killing of the whale that was harpooned and shot several times.
In addition, each man could face up to a $20,000 fine and a year in jail if convicted of violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
Wayne Johnson, who led the crew that legally killed a whale eight years ago, told The Seattle Times he's proud of killing the whale and wishes he had done it earlier.
Gov. Chris Gregoire on Monday said she is "very upset" by the killing of the whale. She told a news conference in Olympia she's encouraged that the tribe did not condone Saturday's hunt and that it's prosecuting the whalers.
Also on Monday, the Port Angeles Daily News reported that representatives of the Makah tribe are traveling to Washington, D.C, to assure members of Congress it did not approve Saturday's hunt.
The delegation hopes to meet with Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Congressman Norm Dicks. Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson, Jr. said they need to know the tribe did not condone the hunt.
He said the killing has hurt the Makah's case with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the public. The tribe is seeking a permit to resume authorized whaling.
Illegal hunt makes things worse for whales and for tribe
September 11, 2007 (Seattle Times op-ed by Brenda Peterson) In what looks more like sullen target practice than traditional hunt, Makah tribal members have again killed a gray whale.
Though there are the haunting aerial photos of a gray whale dragging orange buoys and swimming in dying circles, this rogue hunt stands in tragic contrast to the Makah's ancestral hunts. There was not even a canoe. There were two motorboats, a harpoon and a machine gun, from which one nearby fisherman reported hearing 21 shots. There were roughly 12 hours of inhumane suffering for a gray whale whom many of us might have encountered, called by name and actually touched in the birthing lagoons of Baja.
The first time I ever encountered a great gray was in 1995 in San Ignacio Lagoon, a Mexican biosphere reserved for the mating and birthing of gray whales. For thousands of years these grays have migrated between the arctic summer feeding grounds and the buoyant, salty waters of Baja.
There, too, people migrate every spring to experience what scientists call "The Friendly Whale Syndrome." When a 45-ton mother gray whale lifts her glossy, barnacled snout to gaze eye-to-eye at humans, so small and vulnerable in our 18-ft. skiffs, the whole world changes. When she then trustingly rolls on her belly and lifts her calf up with her wide pectoral fins as if to present this newborn to our care, we feel more than responsibility. We feel there is a sacred treaty made between whales and humans. This is an interspecies trust built upon 70 years of a moratorium on hunting gray whales in our world and in our country.
And when that mother gray whale, who may have lived more than 100 years, again turns on her side to reveal the white, raised slash of a healed harpoon scar, we have to wonder, as one of our Mexican boatwomen asks, "Is this forgiveness?"
What the tribe says and does in response to this rogue hunt is vital to its stature and dignity, here and internationally. There is always tension between tradition and evolution. The search for any person's or tribe's identity is always a struggle to weave together one's own legacy with what is around us in the present. A hunted whale belongs to the past; healthy whales not only show us the fate of our shared oceans, they also offer all people hope for a sustainable future.
Plan to dump PCB-tainted soil raises concerns
September 11, 2007 (Seattle Times) Environmentalists are questioning plans by the Port of Seattle to dump contaminated sediment into Elliott Bay, saying it would run contrary to state efforts under way to clean up Puget Sound.
As part of a $118 million plan to deepen a docking terminal south of Safeco Field and Qwest Field to make way for more container ships, the Port is planning to dig up 59,000 cubic yards of marine sediment that is slightly polluted with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
The issue is what to do with it all. The Port has received federal approval to put it into Puget Sound, but a dozen environmental groups are pushing for the agency to get rid of the pollution, not just move it around.
"Given that we already have a PCB problem, they should see this as an opportunity to do something different," said Fred Felleman, a leader of the group Friends of the Earth.
PCBs were banned in 1977 but remain in the environment, working their way through the marine food chain. A state study in 2000 found PCB levels in Puget Sound chinook, eaten by whales, were three times higher than those in other Pacific Coast salmon.
PCBs are believed to contribute to immune-system and reproductive problems in the Sound's resident orcas, which are listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Channel unblocks creek to fish
September 10, 2007 (Tacoma News-Tribune) A $400,000 fish passage project has opened the headwaters of Spanaway Creek to migrating fish, at the same time preserving a century-old mill pond and neighborhood treasure.
Spanaway Creek is part of a stream system that empties into Chambers Bay and Puget Sound near Steilacoom.
The new channel is expected to benefit coho salmon, cutthroat trout and perhaps steelhead, which have nearly disappeared from Puget Sound.
Orcas, Killer Whales May Suffer from Contamination Next 30 to 60 Years
September 10, 2007 (Science Mode) Orcas or killer whales may continue to suffer the effects of contamination with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) for the next 30 – 60 years, despite 1970s-era regulations that have reduced overall PCB concentrations in the environment, researchers in Canada report.
Their study, which calls for better standards to protect these rare marine mammals, is scheduled for the Sept. 15 issue of ACS' Environmental Science & Technology, a semi-monthly journal.
In the study, Brendan Hickie and Peter S. Ross and colleagues point out that orcas face a daunting array of threats to survival, including ship traffic, reduced abundance of prey and environmental contamination.
Orcas, which reach a length exceeding 25 feet and weights of 4-5 tons, already are the most PCB-contaminated creatures on Earth.
Scientists are trying to determine how current declines in PCBs in the environment may affect orcas throughout an exceptionally long life expectancy, which ranges up to 90 years for females and 50 years for males.
PCBs make whales more vulnerable to infectious disease, impair reproduction, and impede normal growth and development, the researchers say.
"The results of our study on PCBs may paint an ominous picture for risks associated with emerging chemicals, as the concentrations of structurally-related PBDEs are doubling every 4 years in marine mammals," researchers added.
Another flawed fish plan: Latest version fails to consider major dam changes
September 10, 2007 (Eugene Register-Guard editorial) Despite a clarion warning from U.S. District Judge James Redden, the Bush administration has failed to make major improvements in its strategy for boosting imperiled Columbia River salmon runs.
That could mean serious consequences from a no-nonsense judge who has thrown out the last two federal plans for protecting salmon because they did not satisfy the requirements of the Endangered Species Act.
As recently as June, Redden directed federal agencies to fix glaring deficiencies in a draft version of the latest plan. "I'm going to be very picky because I want a bi-op that works," the judge said. "This is a very, very, very important document."
Based on the final plan submitted Thursday, it doesn't look as if the federal agencies responsible for crafting the strategy were listening. While the plan has yet to be formally assessed by federal fish biologists, it appears dismayingly similar to the previous plans that have been ruled illegal.
The new version includes a billion dollars in extra funding over the next decade for equipment to protect fish from the turbines that chew up young salmon, habitat restoration, hatchery productions and other measures. But it fails to consider any major changes to the region's hydroelectric dams, in particular the four dams on the Lower Snake River that represent the greatest threat to the survival of salmon runs in the Columbia basin.
Plans to dump PCB-tainted soil in Elliott Bay raises concerns
September 10, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) PCBs are polychlorinated biphenyls, toxic chemicals used as fire retardants that were banned in the 1970s. They are so toxic and so long-lived that they are usually measured in parts per billion -- yet the port proposes to dump 9 pounds of them into the bay for an upcoming dredging project. The mud to be dumped would come from an area being studied for cleanup as part of the Harbor Island Superfund site.
The dredging project -- which would dispose of 66,000 cubic yards of PCB-contaminated mud in the winter of 2008-09 -- has passed muster with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Ecology Department, the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
But a coalition of environmentalists says the tests used by those agencies are inadequate and do not protect the health of humans and orcas, which eat salmon that over time have been exposed to Puget Sound's polluted waters. Scientists say PCBs likely are making it tough for orcas to reproduce and possibly to find food.
Environmentalists would like the port to send the most contaminated part of the dredged materials -- roughly one-third of it, containing about 7 pounds of PCBs -- to a landfill rather than to the waters of Elliott Bay as planned.
Scientists who study Puget Sound's 86 resident orcas, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act, fear that the high levels of PCBs in their offspring are killing them or, if they survive, making it difficult for them to reproduce.
Stephanie Jones, the port's senior manager of seaport environmental programs, said it would cost $1.8 million to dispose of the most contaminated part of the dredged materials in a landfill, rather than in the open water as planned.
The materials are being dredged to make way for deeper-draft ships at Terminal 30 as part of a $118 million port project to reconvert the terminal into a cargo terminal instead of using it for cruise ships, which would dock at Terminal 91 in Interbay.
Under the port's plan, "the solution to pollution is dilution," said Fred Felleman, the Northwest representative of Friends of the Earth, which is leading the push for taking the toxic mud to a landfill. While the EPA and the Corps of Engineers use some of the same state standards for contamination, the EPA does more-specific testing and can sample 15 feet deep into the mud, if necessary. In this case, the area to be dredged is 44 feet deep,
If this dredging were governed under Superfund cleanup standards -- which will be applied there in coming years -- the most toxic mud would not be dumped into the bay, Felleman said.
Hunter not ashamed of killing whale without a permit
September 9, 2007 (Seattle Times) Sunday, even as tribal council members strongly denounced the hunt, Johnson said he had no regrets. "If anything, I wish I'd done it years earlier," he said.
Into the animal's flesh, crew members plunged at least five stainless-steel whaling harpoons and four seal harpoons "so we wouldn't lose it," Johnson said. They then shot the whale with a gun powerful enough to fire a slug four miles.
The former captain of the whaling crew that in 1999 took the Makah tribe's first whale in 70 years, Johnson confirmed that the hunt that shocked his own tribe and anti-whaling activists Saturday was carried out without the permission of his Tribal Council or Whaling Commission.
And it was done without conforming to conditions of the federal permit that controlled that 1999 hunt -- permission from the tribe; prior notification to a federal observer who had to be in place at the time of the kill; restricting the hunt to the outer coast to protect "resident" whales in the Strait of Juan de Fuca; approaching the whale in a traditional canoe; and using first a harpoon and then a .50-caliber gun to dispatch the whale.
On Saturday, there was no permit, no observer, no canoe; no restricting the hunt to the coast. Just five whalers, four from the 1999 hunt, casting loose from the downtown dock.
Early Sunday afternoon, the Tribal Council issued a statement denouncing the whalers' actions and promising prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
The tribe said it would cooperate with any federal investigation of the hunt and that the whalers will stand trial in tribal court.
"We hope the public does not permit the action of five irresponsible persons to be used to harm the image of the entire Makah Tribe," part of the statement said.
Tribal leaders promise prosecutions in whale killing
September 9, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Makah Tribal leaders Sunday denounced an illegal whale hunt over the weekend and said they would prosecute those tribal members who are responsible.
Sunday afternoon, the council issued a statement denouncing the hunt and saying that the five would be prosecuted in tribal courts. The five could also face charges in U.S. District Court of violating laws intended to protect whales and other marine mammals.
Several tribal members who participated in the tribe's successful and legal 1999 hunt were involved in Saturday's hunt.
The crew harpooned and shot the whale, but the Coast Guard took the crew into custody before it could finish the job, the source said.
Barney Burke, a freelance photographer from Port Townsend, watched the scene from a single-engine plane, flying about 4,000 feet above the water at 3:15 p.m.
He said the whale had at least a half-dozen orange floats attached to it. It appeared to be pulling a small boat. There were about a dozen other boats, including the Coast Guard and a fishing trawler nearby too, he said.
The last action came in March 2006, when the National Marine Fisheries Service expanded the scope of public comment for an environmental study of the tribe's request to hunt gray whales. In 2005 the tribe sought a waiver of the Marine Mammals Protection Act moratorium on taking marine mammals, and on the effect of issuing quotas under an international agreement.
That came after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals twice ruled the tribe must seek and win an exception from the marine mammal law before being allowed to legally whale ever again. Observers said seeking such a waiver was almost unheard of, and winning one would be unprecedented.
Saturday, tribal members at Neah Bay, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said some members of the tribe, including some who went after the whale, are fed up with the delays in getting the permit and that they went hunting Saturday, asserting their tribal rights.
Under the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, people who harm whales could face up to $20,000 in fines and criminal penalties, he said.
Statement by the Makah Tribal Council
September 9, 2007 (Seattle Times) The Makah Tribal Council denounces the actions of those who took it upon themselves to hunt a whale without the authority from the Makah Tribal Council or the Makah Whaling Commission. Their action was a blatant violation of our law and they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. We are cooperating with the National Marine Fisheries Service in their investigation of this incident and will continue to do so.
The individuals who took part in this act were arrested by Makah enforcement officers and booked in our detention facility. They were released only after meeting the bail requirements set by the court. They will stand trial in our court at a future date.
We had a meeting of the general council of the Makah Tribe to discuss this incident and the membership of the tribe supports our action. The tribe has demonstrated extraordinary patience in waiting for the legal process to be completed in order to receive our permit to conduct a whale hunt. We are a law-abiding people and we will not tolerate lawless conduct by any of our members. We hope the public does not permit the actions of five irresponsible persons to be used to harm the image of the entire Makah tribe.
Scientists study white whale language VIDEO
September 9, 2007 (Russia Today) Although white whales have long been a subject of scientific research there is still much to learn about the mammals. Researchers from the Moscow Institute of Oceanology spend every summer at the Solovetsky Archipelago, in the White Sea, studying the habits of beluga whales.
Scientists observe the belugas without handling them and make sure tourists do the same. Unlike their close relatives – dolphins – belugas are afraid of humans.
Yet scientists say belugas are communicating with each other constantly: "Their language is rather diverse. Actually, they appear to be very intelligent creatures," says Roman Belikov, senior researcher from Moscow Institute of Oceanology.
Tribe Did Not OK Whale Shooting
September 9, 2007 (AP) The Makah Indian Tribe's whaling commission did not authorize the killing of a gray whale that died after being harpooned and shot several times in northwest Washington's Strait of Juan de Fuca, a member of the tribal panel said.
"The commission had not reviewed this," Chad Bowechop told the Peninsula Daily News in a story that appeared Sunday.
The U.S. Coast Guard detained five men believed to have killed the whale on Saturday, then turned them over to tribal police for further questioning.
Gray whale shot, killed in strait
September 9, 2007 (Tacoma News Tribune) A California gray whale that was shot Saturday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in an unauthorized and likely illegal Makah whale hunt was declared dead about 7:15 p.m.
Will Anderson, the Seattle man who sued the federal government after the Makahs' infamous 1999 hunt, said he was appalled by news that the gray whale was wounded and bleeding in the strait at the tip of Western Washington. (Note from Will Anderson: Apologies for the reporter claiming essentially I was the "one who sued" among other things.)
"Everybody is shocked and stunned," he said. "It's wanton cruelty against whales who have known no harm against human beings," he said. Saturday's hunt was a "tragic breach of faith and ethics," Anderson said.
His friend Chuck Owens is a former commercial fisherman who lives in Joyce, a hamlet west of Port Angeles on the Olympic Peninsula. He said he's getting distraught phone calls from as far as Ireland.
The question now is whether the federal government will prosecute, both Owens and Anderson said.
The Makahs, who number more than 1,000, occupy a small reservation at Cape Flattery, the extreme northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula.
The whale was about a mile off Cape Flattery on Saturday evening when it failed to surface, Eggert said. He said there had been no determination on what might happen to the carcass.
Whale killed in rogue tribal hunt
September 9, 2007 (Seattle Times) Five Makah Nation members harpooned and shot a gray whale east of Neah Bay on Saturday morning, shocking environmentalists and tribal leaders alike.
"I don't know why they did this. It's terrible," said John McCarty who, as a former member of the tribe's whaling commission, has advocated for the Makah Nation's right to resume whaling under an 1855 treaty.
"I think the anti-whalers will be after us in full force, and we look ridiculous," McCarty said. "Like we can't manage our own people, we can't manage our own whale."
The men who attacked the whale could face civil penalties of up to $20,000 each under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, Gorman said.
Criminal prosecution under the act is almost unheard-of, but some environmentalists said the federal government should get tough on the whalers.
"This is a crime. It's illegal and should be prosecuted," said Will Anderson, of Seattle, who has fought against Makah whaling on behalf of Friends of the Gray Whale and other organizations. "I don't think they should hide behind any treaty rights if the information we have currently is correct."
"It's not good," said tribal council member Micah McCarty, a former captain of the whaling crew in 1999, as he headed back to the reservation from out of town upon hearing the news. "I'm still trying to figure out what happened."
Gray whale killed in Strait; five Makah detained in act unsanctioned by tribal authorities
September 9, 2007 (Peninsula Daily News) A California gray whale harpooned and shot Saturday morning died hours later in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Coast Guard reported.
Five Makah tribal members were detained after the whale, which was about 30 feet long, was wounded.
It was declared dead at 7:15 p.m. by a marine biologist working for the Makah tribe, after it had stopped moving and did not surface, he said.
The Coast Guard has no plans to recover the carcass, leaving it about a mile east of Cape Flattery, Eggert said.
Officials said harming the whale was done without permission or consultation with the tribe's whaling commission or its tribal council.
"The commission had not reviewed this," said Chad Bowechop, a member of the tribe's whaling commission.
"When the whale would go down, the buoys would go down, then it would come up and the boats would change direction to correspond."
The whale was thrashing in the water, he said, and the Makah members started shooting it with high-powered rifles.
"We see whales out here every day, just kind of lazy, going over here, going over there," Sallee said.
"This one was seriously pissed off. It was flying through there; the boats on either side had do some pretty fancy maneuvering."
Sallee said he heard 21 shots from the boats on Saturday and watched the whale stop moving.
Gray whale dies
September 9, 2007 (KOMO TV) A California gray whale died late Saturday after being shot with a machine gun off the western tip of Washington state, officials said.
Officials monitored the whale throughout the evening and said the animal died about 10 miles west of Neah Bay
Tribe members were being held by the Coast Guard but had not been charged, said Mark Oswell, a spokesman for the law enforcement arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
A preliminary report said the whale was shot with a .50-caliber machine gun.
The tribe resumed the hunts in 1999 and successfully killed a whale. Soon after, it stopped in order to go through a federal process to get a permit. But tribal members at Neah Bay on Saturday said some members of the tribe grew fed up with the delays in getting the permit and decided to go hunting.
The appalling fate of the polar bear, symbol of the Arctic
September 9, 2007 (Guardian - UK) It has been declared at risk by conservation groups. Yet rich Westerners are paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of shooting an animal whose very existence is already threatened by environmental disaster.
Polar bears – the very symbol of the Arctic's looming environmental disaster – are crashing towards extinction as a result of global warming, the US government has found. The admission, the result of a massive investigation by the Bush administration, could force the President finally to take action against climate change.
The development comes at the end of the most momentous week in the human history of the Arctic, which is warming faster than anywhere else in the world. Satellite observations have revealed that its ice has shrunk to much its lowest ever level, raising fears that it had reached a "tipping point" where it would melt irreversibly, disappearing altogether in summer in less than 25 years, with incalculable global consequences.
The Arctic crisis has become so compelling that leaders of the world's main religions gathered this weekend on the iceberg-studded sea off this small town, deep in the Arctic Circle on the west Greenland coast, to pray for the planet. Bartholomew I, the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church – who convened the group – told them: "the danger of an avoidable catastrophe is now more acute than ever." On Friday senior representatives of the Roman Catholic and protestant churches, Sunni and Shia Islam,and the Hebrew, Hindu, Shinto and Buddhist Zen religions joined the Patriarch in silent prayer on the prow of a liner under a lowering sky in the shadow of giant icebergs.
Robert Corell, who heads the world's main monitoring project on the region– the international Arctic Climate Impact Assessment – said the melting was becoming "catastrophic", and experts increasingly fear that it is approaching the point where the disappearance of the entire icecap becomes inevitable. That would raise sea-levels worldwide by over 20 feet, inundating coastal cities.
Makah tribal members shoot, injure gray whale
September 8, 2007 (Seattle Times) Charlotte King, a Makah tribal member, said several men had been handcuffed and taken to the Coast Guard's Neah Bay station. Parker could not immediately confirm that report.
Reached earlier today, Makah Nation Tribal Chairman Ben Johnson said tribal whalers had been out practicing hunting skills in connection with their sovereign treaty rights to hunt whales. He could not confirm that a whale had been killed.
The Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service and state Department of Fish and Wildlife are investigating, in cooperation with Makah tribal police, Parker said. Three Coast Guard vessels from Neah Bay set up a 1000-foot-diameter "safety and security zone" to keep other boats away.
The shooting took place about a mile east of Neah Bah and half a mile offshore, the Coast Guard reported. The Coast Guard was alerted to the incident at 11 a.m. and arrived on the scene at 11:45.
Dave Sallee of Forks, Clallam County, a non-Indian fisherman, said he saw two boats surrounding a gray whale and pursuing it as it pulled buoys through the water that appeared to be attached to the whale by harpoon lines. Sallee said he heard a total of 21 shots.
Sallee said the whale appeared to be an adult and that he'd seen it rising and diving, but that before long it appeared to be still.
Johnson, the tribal chairman, was reached while he was consulting with the tribe's attorneys. He confirmed that the tribe has been seeking an exemption from the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act so that it could take up to five gray whales per year. However, Johnson continued, the tribe has not yet secured that exemption.
In 1999, the tribe had a permit to whale from the National Marine Fisheries Service, allowing it to hunt on the outer coast of its homeland on the north Olympic Peninsula at Neah Bay. That permit is now tied up in court challenges. But even if it were in force today, if the whale was taken within the Strait of Juan de Fuca, as appears to be the case, that would be a violation of the permit.
The tribe hunted its first whale in 70 years in 1999 with the permission of the U.S. government and the Makah tribal council. However, today's shooting was not authorized by either the tribal council or the federal government.
Report: Makah rebels shoot, harpoon whale
September 8, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Five tribal members shot and harpooned a California gray whale Saturday, Coast Guard Petty Officer Kelly Parker said. The injured whale is one mile east of Neah Bay, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, about a half-mile off shore.
The Coast Guard heard about the incident late Saturday morning. The agency has deployed three ships to the area off the northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula to create a security zone. Washington State Patrol troopers also have responded.
The Makah Tribe has historically hunted whales, and its treaty of 1855 preserves its right to do so. But after the tribe resumed the hunts in 1999 and successfully killed a whale, it stopped, waiting to go through a federal process to get a permit.
But tribal members at Neah Bay on Saturday said some members of the tribe are fed up with the delays in getting the permit and that they went hunting Saturday.
Federal authorities and even some members of the reservation were caught by surprise by the news of the hunt. The Makah Tribe applied for the permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The National Marine Fisheries is sending an enforcement officer to the area, said Gorman, who is based in the agency's Seattle office.
Breaking news: Whale apparently hunted in Strait of Juan de Fuca
September 8, 2007 (Peninsula Daily News) A California gray whale was harpooned and shot by five members of the Makah tribe Saturday morning, said Petty Officer Third Class Kelly Parker, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard's District 13 office in Seattle.
Peninsula Daily News photojournalist Keith Thorpe, in a chartered airplane over the scene, said the gray whale appeared not to be dead, countering earlier reports. Yellow floats were seen in the whale's tail area.
The whale remains injured in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, attended by three Coast Guard Vessels from Neah Bay that are enforcing a 1,000-yard safety perimeter, Kelly said.
The U.S. Coast Guard, Makah Tribal Police, National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington State Patrol and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are investigating the matter, Kelly said.
According to eye witnesses, a gray while had been harpooned by 9:30 a.m. about a quarter-mile off Seal and Sail rocks, about 2 miles east of Neah Bay.
The witness said the boaters also fired rifles at the whale until it stopped moving.
The Makah Tribal Council was meeting, and a PDN reporter is outside the closed-door session.
California gray whale shot near Neah Bay
September 8, 2007 (Bellingham Herald) The U.S. Coast Guard reports a California gray whale has been shot with a machine gun but not killed near Neah Bay.
Petty Officer Kelly Parker says five people thought to be members of the Makah Tribe shot and harpooned the whale on Saturday morning.
Members of the tribe are being held by the Coast Guard but have not been charged, said Mark Oswell, a spokesman for the law enforcement arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the incident off Neah Bay, including tribal police. Oswell said a preliminary report said the whale was shot with a .50-caliber machine gun.
New tool to fight global warming: Endangered Species Act?
September 7, 2007 (Christian Science Monitor) A recent deal to protect the habitat of endangered coral may offer US environmentalists new leverage.
Environmentalists may have gained a powerful new legal weapon to fight global warming: the Endangered Species Act.
That's the fallout some expect from a settlement last week between environmentalists and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The government agency agreed to protect the "critical habitat" of elkhorn and staghorn coral, the first species to be recognized as threatened by global warming.
By protecting habitat, not just species, the federal government could be in a position to fight any threats to that habitat, including possibly, global warming, some environmentalists say. While no one expects the US to stop, say, a coal-fired power plant in the Midwest to save Florida coral, the settlement does expand the leverage of the 1973 law that protects species from extinction.
Acre of polluted Elliott Bay mud to be removed
September 7, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A polluted patch of Elliott Bay mud is scheduled for cleanup this fall.
Mud covering approximately 1 acre offshore from Seattle's Myrtle Edwards Park will be dredged and disposed in a landfill. The sediment is polluted with lead, mercury, silver, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other dangerous chemicals.
The $3.5 million cleanup project is being paid for by King County's Wastewater Treatment Division.
The pollution came from a pipe carrying storm water that streamed off roads and sewage that overflowed during heavy rains. The pipe -- known as the Denny Way Combined Sewage Overflow -- was replaced two years ago with a deeper outfall in combination with a project to better treat and control the water.
The dredged area will be covered with clean sand and gravel. The project should take 10 weeks beginning in mid-November.
The public can comment on the plan through Oct. 8. It is available online at goto.seattlepi.com/r965, at the downtown Seattle Public Library, or the Department of Ecology's Northwest Regional Office at 3190 160th Ave. S.E. in Bellevue. Copies can be ordered by calling 360-407-7472.
Getting to know a whale by its tail
September 6, 2007 (Toronto Globe and Mail) Minutes after the pod of killer whales slaughtered a sea lion, 15 humpbacks appeared on the eastern edge of Swiftsure Bank.
"The killer whales were deadly quiet leading up to the kill, but afterward they got loud, and this seems to have attracted the humpback whales," he said. "The approaching humpbacks were very hostile toward the killer whales ... they were trumpet breathing, and using diagonal tail slashes like karate kicks."
Mr. Gisborne had been following the humpback whales in hope of photographing their tail fins, which are as unique to individual humpbacks as fingerprints are to humans.
Such fingerprinting represents the only way researchers can confirm what they have been witnessing off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island for at least a decade - the return of humpback whales to the waters where they were hunted to near-extinction early last century.
"In my 25 years of field work in B.C., humpback [sightings] have gone from rare to routine," said DFO marine biologist John Ford, who employs Mr. Gisborne as a part-time contractor. "Humpbacks today are making tremendous recovery strides, and they are repopulating areas of the B.C. coast over the last 10 years where I have never seen them before."
As encouraging as this sounds, no one really knows how many whales comprise the North Pacific humpback population.
Estimates from the early 1990s pegged the population at about 6,000 whales, up from a low of 1,200 in 1967, the year commercial whaling ceased in B.C. The International Whaling Commission estimates there are currently at least 10,000 North Pacific humpbacks, but there is no wide consensus on that. The most recent assessment by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (2003) states that no estimates exist for the number of humpbacks that use B.C. waters, although they are probably in the hundreds.
"The increased sightings of humpbacks off places like Victoria, Telegraph Cove and Port McNeil, this suggests population growth, but it might also be population shifts as humpbacks move to new areas to access food," Dr. Ford said. "All of the current estimates are guesswork, and these numbers will be revised with the completion of the SPLASH study."
Started in 2004 and scheduled for completion in 2008, SPLASH (Structure of Populations, Level of Abundance and Status of Humpbacks) is an international humpback census of sorts, enlisting 300 researchers (including Dr. Ford) from 10 countries to collect whale "fingerprints" and skin biopsies from thousands of North Pacific humpbacks. Participants hope to better understand humpback migrations and how the whales cope with ongoing threats, including warming seas, exposure to human-made toxins, noise and boat strikes.
"Those are killer whale marks," said Mr. Gisborne pointing to numerous photos displaying rake-like scratches and crescent-shaped bite marks. He explained that a killer whale will not touch an adult humpback out of fear for its life, but it will go after a calf, much like the whalers of the recent past. Put in that perspective, Mr. Gisborne's tale of humpback aggression toward killer whales seems less mysterious.
WSU, enviros teeing off over water rights
September 6, 2007 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed by Chuck Pezeshki) But old habits die hard. Take water, for instance. The state Department of Ecology, Washington State University and a group of environmentalists are engaged in a classic Western tale -- a shoot 'em up over water rights. But this story has a new flavor. The centerpiece of the fight is a decidedly New West concept -- a new championship golf course and the potential retirement community enhancement that it could offer. WSU wants to pump more water for the golf course, Ecology has given them the green light and the enviros are suing both of them.
Instead of diverting or damming rivers, there's a new twist -- groundwater pumping out of the ancient, deep aquifer where Pullman gets its drinking water. When settlers first came to Pullman, they found artesian water bubbling out of the ground. A hundred years later, those springs are gone, and the source of this hydrological abundance continues to drop 1.5 feet per year. Water mining is just that -- and sooner or later, someone's going to have to pay the piper.
A golf course and the water issues associated with it may seem a small thing, in the overall profligacy of water use in the West. Outside Phoenix, where people live a life in the summer that resembles future human existence on the moon, society is destroying mountains for coal to power pumps to lift overallocated Colorado River water to irrigate cotton fields, subdivisions, casinos and golf courses. Clearly, their day of reckoning is coming, too.
But universities, and Western universities in particular, are supposed to be about future societal survival, which is not going to be the way of the Old West. One thing about being surrounded by the knowledge at WSU is the humility it gives when looking at all the history books about collapsed civilizations from water problems. If we can't learn from this, who can?
Migrating Squid Drove Evolution Of Sonar In Whales And Dolphins, Researchers Argue
September 6, 2007 (Science Daily)
Behind the sailor's lore of fearsome battles between sperm whale and giant squid lies a deep question of evolution: How did these leviathans develop the underwater sonar needed to chase and catch squid in the inky depths
Now, two evolutionary biologists at the University of California, Berkeley, claim that, just as bats developed sonar to chase flying insects through the darkness, dolphins and other toothed whales also developed sonar to chase schools of squid swimming at night at the surface.
Because squid migrate to deeper, darker waters during the day, however, toothed whales eventually perfected an exquisite echolocation system that allows them to follow the squid down to that "refrigerator in the deep, where food is available day or night, 24/7," said evolutionary biologist David Lindberg, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology and coauthor of a new paper on the evolution of echolocation in toothed whales published online July 23 in advance of its publication in the European journal Lethaia.
"When the early toothed whales began to cross the open ocean, they found this incredibly rich source of food surfacing around them every night, bumping into them," said Lindberg, former director and now a curator in UC Berkeley's Museum of Paleontology. "This set the stage for the evolution of the more sophisticated biosonar system that their descendents use today to hunt squids at depth."
Lindberg and coauthor Nick Pyenson, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Department of Integrative Biology and at the Museum of Paleontology, reconstructed this scenario after looking at both whale evolution and the evolution of cephalopods like squid and nautiloids - relatives of today's chambered nautilus - and relating this to the biology of living whales and cephalopods.
All toothed whales, or odontocetes, echolocate. The baleen whales, which sieve krill from the ocean and have no teeth, do not. The largest of the toothed whales, the sperm whale, grows up to 60 feet long and dives to 3,000 meters - nearly two miles - in search of squid. Though poorly known because they live entirely in the deep ocean, the many species of the beaked whale dive nearly as deep. Belugas and narwhals descend beyond 1,000 meters, while members of the dolphin family - porpoises, killer whales and pilot whales, for example - all can dive below the 200-meter mark where sunlight is reduced to darkness.
According to Pyenson, who focuses on the evolution of whales, the first whales entered the ocean from land about 45 million years ago, and apparently did not echolocate. Their fossil skeletons do not have the scooped forehead of today's echolocating whales, which cups a fatty melon-shaped ball that is thought to act as a lens to focus clicking noises.
Skulls with the first hints of a concave forehead and potential sound-generating bone structures arose about 32 million years ago, Pyenson said, by which time whales presumably had spread throughout the oceans. Whales had developed underwater hearing by about 40 million years ago.
Proposed Navy Expansion Could Bring More Undersea Explosions to Washington Waters
September 5, 2007 (Seattle Weekly) Environmentalists-some already mulling a lawsuit for underwater tests-say the Navy's new plan poses a broader risk to the Sound and its marine life.
The war on terrorism may not be openly fought here, but it increasingly will be practiced here. Under a new Navy plan, the waters of Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the Washington coast will be used for more testing and training, officials say. The plan calls for deployment of more unmanned vehicles, including submersible and aerial weapons platforms, and an increase in war games off the coast, partly in a marine sanctuary.
In general, more stuff will get blown up and the use of sonar will be expanded, according to interviews and government documents. The public may not always be aware, since many of the exercises will be underwater. But fish are sure to notice.
"We're losing the Sound and now the Washington coast to the military on a month-by-month basis, and people are oblivious to it," warns Seattle activist Glen Milner, a longtime member of Ground Zero Center for Nonviolent Action, which opposes the plans. "You're not going to realize this until a Navy or Coast Guard boat comes up to you and asks what you're doing in their waters."
Without knowing what the Navy is really proposing to do, it's impossible to figure out how to mitigate the damage, says Fred Felleman, a Seattle marine consultant and photographer active in the campaign to protect sea animals. He worries in part about more frequent use of active sonar in inland and coastal waters that can be harmful to whales and other sea life.
"The new operations should require permits or at least a thorough review," Felleman says, "which is near impossible given the classified nature of the operations."
Navy spokesperson Murray says the service expects to hear about sonar from the public at the coastal scoping meetings-starting Sept. 10 in Oak Harbor and continuing the following two days in Pacific Beach and Aberdeen before moving to Oregon and California. (Initial public meetings on the Keyport Range plan have already been held; more hearings should follow after the EIS is issued.) "I'm sure it [sonar] is going to come up," Murray says, "and I'm sure people are going to feel very passionate about it. We certainly understand. The Navy is committed to using active sonar, but we go to great lengths to try to be aware of potential effects on the environment and marine life."
Ice-free Arctic could be here in 23 years
September 5, 2007 (Guardian - UK) The Arctic ice cap has collapsed at an unprecedented rate this summer and levels of sea ice in the region now stand at a record low, scientists said last night. Experts said they were "stunned" by the loss of ice, with an area almost twice as big as Britain disappearing in the last week alone. So much ice has melted this summer that the north-west passage across the top of Canada is fully navigable, and observers say the north-east passage along Russia's Arctic coast could open later this month. If the increased rate of melting continues, the summertime Arctic could be totally free of ice by 2030.
Mark Serreze, an Arctic specialist at the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre at Colorado University in Denver which released the figures, said: "It's amazing. It's simply fallen off a cliff and we're still losing ice." The Arctic has now lost about a third of its ice since satellite measurements began 30 years ago, and the rate of loss has accelerated sharply since 2002.
Dr Serreze said: "If you asked me a couple of years ago when the Arctic could lose all of its ice, then I would have said 2100, or 2070 maybe. But now I think that 2030 is a reasonable estimate. It seems that the Arctic is going to be a very different place within our lifetimes, and certainly within our children's lifetimes."
The new figures show that sea ice extent is currently down to 4.4m square kilometres (1.7m square miles) and still falling. The previous record low was 5.3m square kilometres in September 2005. From 1979 to 2000 the average sea ice extent was 7.7m square kilometres. The minimum extent of sea ice usually occurs late in September each year, as the freezing Arctic winter begins to bite.
Severe drought conditions spread
September 3, 2007 (Spokane Spokesman Review) Severe drought conditions are expanding across the Inland Northwest, with forests and fields crackling under weeks of heat and rivers trickling with record-low flows, according to a briefing issued Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.
All of Idaho is now under severe drought conditions and a third of the state – mostly centered in the Clearwater River area of north-central Idaho, where huge wildfires have burned this summer – is considered to be suffering from extreme drought, according to information from the University of Nebraska-based drought tracking center.
"It's been creeping in our direction," said John Livingston, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Spokane.
Each day, new record low flows are being registered on rivers across Idaho, Abramovich said. On Friday, at least five rivers, including the Salmon and the South Fork of the Clearwater rivers, hit new lows, according to gauging stations operated by the federal government. In northeast Washington, both the Kettle and Colville rivers are flowing with about a third of their average water right now.
UH tests sonar on sea mammals
September 3, 2007 (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) Wearing suction cups that pick up brain waves, Boris the dolphin obeys orders to put his head in a small ring underwater.
A waterproof speaker dips into the water, sending out intermittent high-frequency signals.
How Boris' brain waves respond to the sound is the focus of research under way at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.
Boris, a 20-year-old male bottlenose dolphin, demonstrated his role Friday morning to U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and the news media as part of efforts to determine whether Navy sonar is harmful to marine mammals.
Abercrombie said work by University of Hawaii scientists at Kaneohe Bay will help separate fact from fiction on the effects of sonar, deemed necessary to detect increasingly quiet foreign submarines.
Rising sea level worries shoreline areas
September 1, 2007 (KOMOTV - AP) Washington's low-lying capital city is a bit nervous in planning a new $38 million City Hall near the shoreline of Puget Sound, fearing that global warming and rising waters could submerge much of the downtown in this century.
Climate change experts say one of the most profound and visible effects of global warming will be felt along the thousands of miles of shoreline along the Pacific Coast and the Sound, where even a rise of a few feet can submerge vast acres of prime farm, forest, businesses and residential land, sending folks heading for higher ground and new ways of coping.
Experts predict the global sea level rise could increase as much as 23 inches in the next hundred years.
The issue was brought into stark relief by the council's recent debate over whether to build the new city hall on prime Port of Olympia land - or head for the hills. The city decided to build in harm's way, raising the project two feet above current flood level, but conceding that water may lap at the doorstep before the end of the century.
The vote to brave the tides was a considered a symbolic gesture, too. The unacceptable alternative, says Mayor Mark Foutch, is to essentially abandon the downtown core, which includes the community center, farmers' market, regional sewage treatment plant, child-care center, and an entire business and housing district.
"We've got some real vulnerability here," says Rich Hoey, the city's director of water resources and an adviser to the governor's climate change panel.
But if Olympia is lit up over the whole issue, other coastal areas seem more blase. Recent news of a new sea-level report, and dramatic potential damage, caused a brief flurry of attention, and then nothing further, coastal leaders and scientists said.
"I think people are still in denial," says House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, who lives nervously on the Grays Harbor waterfront. "They haven't taken it to heart - or else they think they'll be dead and gone by the time it happens."
"With sea levels changing, one has to ask if we can guarantee people they will be safe and secure if they build in these areas," said Gov. Chris Gregoire.
Over the coming years, average people will have to get use to adapting, Adair says.
"We need to talk about climate change and adaptation," she says. Climate change, including sea change, is "poised to be part of everyday government decisions. The train is leaving the station. You can stay on and help steer it, or let it run over you."
Humpback Whales Recorded Clicking And Buzzing While Feeding For First Time
September 1, 2007 (Science Daily) For the first time, researchers have recorded "megapclicks" - a series of clicks and buzzes from humpback whales apparently associated with nighttime feeding behaviors - in and around NOAA's Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
As detailed in the most recent issue of the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, this study offers the first documentation that baleen whales produce this type of sound, normally associated with toothed whales and echolocation.
"We've known that humpback whales exhibit a variety of foraging behaviors and vocalizations, but these animals as well as other baleen whales were not known to produce broadband clicks in association with feeding," said David Wiley, sanctuary research coordinator and leader of the research team. "However, recent work with special acoustic tags has made us reexamine our previous assumptions, with this expansion of the acoustic repertoire of humpback whales."
The researchers report that the similarity of the megapclicks to sounds made by toothed whales suggests echolocation-assisted feeding behaviors, especially where buzzes at the end of a series of clicks appear to be associated with attempts to capture prey. The sounds may also be used to detect the sea floor or other large targets. Another possibility for the megapclicks could be to attract prey, such as herding schools of fish or chasing animals out of the sediments. But the research team notes that a lack of knowledge about baleen whale hearing and sound production prevents any definitive answers at this time about the function of the megapclicks.
Recordings of clicking and buzzing whales can be found here.
Court gives Navy go-ahead to use sonar off coast
September 1, 2007 (Los Angeles Times) A federal appeals court in San Francisco has given the U.S. Navy a temporary go-ahead to use high-powered sonar during nearly a dozen upcoming training exercises in Southern California waters.
Friday's ruling puts a temporary stay on an injunction ordered last month by a Los Angeles federal judge to stop the powerful bursts of sonar -- used to detect hostile submarines -- because they could "cause irreparable harm to the environment." Scientists have linked sonar use to mass whale die-offs.
A three-judge panel ruled 2 to 1 that U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper did not give adequate consideration to the public's interest "in having a trained and effective Navy."
"The safety of our whales must be weighed, and so must the safety of our warriors. And of our country," wrote Judge Andrew Kleinfeld of the U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The ruling Friday is not the final say on the issue. Another 9th Circuit panel will hear more in-depth arguments to decide whether to reinstate the injunction or maintain the stay, which would allow the Navy to continue to use sonar until the lawsuit is settled. That hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5 in Pasadena.
The dissenting judge, Milan D. Smith, wrote that the Navy did not make a compelling case that the nation's security would be jeopardized if it took the same precautions to protect marine mammals that it used just last year in Hawaii as part of an earlier court settlement.
Unless "someone can demonstrate that the Navy jeopardized our national security and failed to properly train our involved military personnel [then]. . . it is hard to imagine why implementing some of those same environmental mitigation measures would do so now."
The suit was brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, citing reports by scientists over the last decade tying mid-frequency active sonar to a number of mass whale strandings or panicked behavior after naval exercises in the waters off Greece, Hawaii, the Bahamas and elsewhere.
Smith, appointed by President Bush last year, said the suit to stop the Navy's sonar use is likely to prevail.
Underfed gray whales observed
September 1, 2007 (Seattle Times) Researchers off Mexico's Pacific Coast have observed what might be a case of global warming's effects in the far north: gray whales returning to calving grounds malnourished.
At least 10 percent of gray whales returning to Laguna San Ignacio, one of four main calving and breeding lagoons off Baja California, Mexico, showed signs of being underfed, said Steve Swartz, a National Marine Fisheries Service whale expert based in Silver Spring, Md.
Researchers are trying to find out if it's a warning sign that climate change in the North Pacific is affecting the tiny crustaceans the whales eat.
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