Orca Network News - September, 2008
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2008 through September 30, 2008.
September 30, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
To protect salmon and orcas, federal fisheries managers are calling for a moratorium on development near rivers in the Puget Sound region.
In a potentially far-reaching decision for more than 270 municipalities, the National Marine Fisheries Service said the federal flood insurance program that protects homes and businesses built in flood plains is illegal. The reasoning: Flood insurance allows development that harms salmon and, consequently, the orcas that eat salmon. Both are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
"It's a significant wake-up call to (municipalities) who might have begun to think the Endangered Species Act didn't carry a lot of implications for local land use," said Jan Hasselman, the Seattle lawyer who filed suit over the issue on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, which led to the Fisheries Service decision.
The moratorium on development in flood plains could be withdrawn, the agency suggested, after FEMA issues new rules and cities and towns revise their development regulations to make them more salmon- and orca-friendly.
But it's unclear how long that will take, and what the effect will be.
The Fisheries Service's 226- page decision cites one estimate that 10 percent or less of the land inside urban growth boundaries in Western Washington is in flood plains.
But the maps delineating those flood plains are being redrawn and in many cases expanded a great deal. An analysis for the Washington Realtors noted that this has "effectively frozen all development and redevelopment in the South Snohomish Urban Growth Area. Similarly, under FEMA's new maps, large portions of the Kent industrial area will become part of the floodplain. ..."
That trend is likely to continue as climate change throws stronger storms at the region, said John Kostyack, director of wildlife and global warming for the National Wildlife Federation. Coupled with a court ruling on the same point in the Florida Keys, he said, the Fisheries Service decision shows that FEMA has to consider endangered species -- but that also might help protect people.
World falls in love with Luna
September 29, 2008 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Husband-and-wife filmmakers elated as Tokyo rolls out the green carpet for orca's tale
Gulf Island filmmakers Michael Parfit and Suzanne Chisholm have grown accustomed to being showered with praise as Saving Luna, like the endearing orca of its title, continues to charm audiences worldwide.
Superlatives have been lavished on their film, which documents the life, impact and tragic death of the playful Vancouver Island whale. Awards -- 13 and counting -- keep piling up after showings at festivals in Santa Barbara, Houston, San Francisco, Palm Beach, Bermuda and beyond.
Invited to even more festivals -- including ones in Abu Dhabi, Ireland, England, Spain and Paris -- the couple are thrilled by response to their homegrown labour-of-love.
Nothing has caused the husband-and-wife team as much elation, however, as being selected to screen Saving Luna at next month's 21st Tokyo International Film Festival.
Filtration system would clean up polluted runoff
September 29, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
As the rains of early fall bathe the close-packed apartment houses and car-jammed streets of Capitol Hill, it's a sure thing that the drops will hit hard surfaces, ooze together on their way into storm drains, then gurgle downhill -- carrying oil, pesticides, antifreeze and other pollutants.
It's this stormwater pollution that scientists say is the top source of many of the worst pollutants flowing into ecologically imperiled Puget Sound and its tributaries.
But it doesn't have to be that way, say the city of Seattle and Vulcan Inc. The city and the developer are unveiling plans for an ambitious project to clean up a lot of that dirty water as part of the redevelopment of the South Lake Union neighborhood.
They're calling it "The Swale on Yale" -- a 10-foot-wide swath of streetside greenery that starts catty-cornered from the REI flagship store by Interstate 5. In the 6- to 8-inch-deep channel, the water will flow slowly enough for dirt and pollutants to settle out. It's supposed to clean up about 188 million gallons of water each year.
Fruits of steward farmers bring smiles on King County tour
September 28, 2008 (Seattle Times)
David Burger, executive director of Stewardship Partners, was showing off the mile-long forest his organization began planting three years ago on the bank of the Snoqualmie River at Jubilee Farm near Carnation.
Erick Haakenson, the farmer, was leading a hayride for city folks Saturday as part of King County's 10th annual Harvest Celebration Farm Tour.
The fast-growing alder, cottonwood and willow trees are already shading the river, stabilizing its steep bank and allowing Jubilee Farm to sell its organic produce under the "Salmon Safe" label being promoted on the sides of Metro buses and on local public-radio broadcasts.
More important, Haakenson said, he believes the forest makes his farm more productive by bringing back the rich array of plants, birds and insects that disappeared long ago.
Last year, when the leaves fell off the young trees, he saw a sight not seen since an older forest was cleared for dairy farming: "There were birds' nests all over. It's just starting. That whole thing used to be just these blackberries. Birds never nest in blackberries."
Jubilee Farm, one of 26 stops on the tour, is the biggest habitat-restoration project the 10-year-old Stewardship Partners has done in the Snoqualmie Valley.
"You can treat the soil like an 'it' and it becomes dirt. Or you can treat it like a 'thou' " - and you realize it's "a living presence."
Stingray chase leaves orca stranded (+pics)
September 27, 2008 (Stuff - New Zealand)
AN ORCA whale that stranded on Papamoa Beach early yesterday morning was refloated after a massive rescue attempt by locals and marine experts.
The adult male whale - nicknamed Nobby - was last seen swimming towards Taumaihi Island, apparently none the worse for his 10-hour ordeal.
"I was in the water with him and he was swimming especially strongly," said orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser, who jumped into a surf boat and followed Nobby for about 15 minutes as he made his way out to sea.
Learning to love a Northwest icon
September 26, 2008 (Seattle Times op-ed)
Why, we wondered, learn the difference between the hooknosed sockeye and the unassuming pink? Who cares about the adipose fin? The salmon are gone, why on Earth should we care?
The idea of requiring students to study salmon is, of course, to allow students to befriend this sodden enigma and develop an attachment to it and the cultures supported by it for so many centuries. But often students don't grasp this connection.
From our experience, it's difficult for students to develop a connection to salmon or to the Pacific coastal region until they are provided opportunities for deeper involvement. The Student Conservation Association (SCA) provides such opportunities. SCA is a national nonprofit group that seeks to link high-school students with conservation efforts. As selected members of SCA's Conservation Leadership Corps in high school, our involvement left us with knowledge of our region's ecology and a loyalty to all things Northwest.
Tribute planned for missing orca Lummi
September 26, 2008 (Vancouver Sun)
She's been missing and presumed dead for several months, so now it's time to say good-bye.
Lummi, the oldest orca among the three pods of endangered southern resident killer whales, did not return to the waters off southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound this summer, and a celebration of her life will be held Saturday at Lime Kiln Point State Park lighthouse on San Juan Island.
The ceremony, organized by the Orca Network and The Whale Museum at Friday Harbor, will include stories about Lummi and a tribute by the Ohileq-sen canoe family from the Lummi Nation.
Whales must be missing for a year before being officially declared dead by the Center for Whale Research. Although Lummi was last seen Dec. 23, 2007, her absence from the pod since leaves little doubt she is dead, said Howard Garrett of the Orca Network.
The whale, officially designated K7, is believed to have been born in 1910.
"Her loss removes a repository of cultural knowledge and history of the southern residents," Garrett said.
"She knew more than anyone about the last 90 to 100 years, and it was a tumultuous century."
In her youth, Lummi experienced the first slump in salmon stocks and orcas were considered vicious killers and routinely shot.
"She had to guide her family to find scarce salmon and avoid hostile humans fishing for the same fish," Garrett said.
Then came a period of intense whale hunting that lasted until the 1970s, when legislation finally offered the mammals official protection.
Local scientists urge Sound protection effort
September 25, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Prominent local scientists have a message for those working to save Puget Sound: Don't repeat the failed efforts of the past, and protect the land in order to protect the Sound.
The letter was sent Thursday to David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, the group appointed to lay the foundation to restore the Sound by 2020. It urged the Partnership to propose bold steps as it finishes the draft action agenda for protection and recovery. The agenda will be released for public comment before it's finalized.
While restoration will be an important piece of healing the Sound, the scientists focused on protection. To reach the recovery goals set out by Gov. Chris Gregoire, the region's leaders need to lay the groundwork for "significant changes in policies, law and behavior that would continue long after our generation is gone," the scientists said.
That includes, they said, reducing the amount of impervious surfaces such as roads and parking lots to control stormwater runoff. It also means doing "low-impact development" so the ground can soak up rainwater and pollutants instead of allowing them to stream into the Sound.
The letter was signed by 13 researchers, including the University of Washington's David Montgomery, who was given a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award this week for his work in geomorphology.
"(W)e do not want to bear collective witness," the scientists said, "to another failed attempt to restore and protect Puget Sound."
Global Warming: Beyond the Tipping Point
October, 2008 (Scientific American)
Because including all these factors in calculations about the effects of CO2 increase is hugely difficult, it is no surprise that climate scientists are still struggling to understand how it all will likely turn out. It is also no surprise, given his track record as something of a climate change agitator, that James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has been circulating a preprint of a journal paper saying that the outcome is likely to turn out worse than most people think. The most recent major report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 projects a temperature rise of three degrees Celsius, plus or minus 1.5 degrees-enough to trigger serious impacts on human life from rising sea level, widespread drought, changes in weather patterns, and the like.
But according to Hansen and his nine co-authors, who have submitted their paper to Open Atmospheric Science Journal, the correct figure is closer to six degrees C. "That's the equilibrium level," he says. "We won't get there for a while. But that's where we're aiming." And although the full impact of this temperature increase will not be felt until the end of this century or even later, Hansen says, the point at which major climate disruption is inevitable is already upon us. "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted," the paper states, "CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm [parts per million] to at most 350 ppm." The situation, he says, "is much more sensitive than we had implicitly been assuming."
Fall chinook seasons set on Snake, Columbia rivers
September 24, 2008 (Seattle Times)
For the first time in more than 20 years, anglers will be allowed to catch and keep fall chinook from the Snake River in Washington state, starting Thursday.
The catch limit also was increased for fall chinook in the season that opens Thursday along the Columbia River between Washington and Oregon from the mouth of the Lewis River north of Vancouver about 60 miles eastward to Bonneville Dam.
An unexpectedly large run of the fish, known as upriver brights, was cited for both actions by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
On the Snake, the principal tributary of the Columbia, the run is estimated at 20,000 to 35,000 fish and scientists believe that's enough for a recreational catch of about 400.
Only barbless hooks may be used, fishing is limited to the daytime and only hatchery-reared fish - identifiable by a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar - may be kept. Wild chinook, coho and steelhead must be returned to the river immediately.
State on team to cut greenhouse gases
September 24, 2008 (Seattle Times)
After years watching from the sidelines while industrialized countries around the world tackled globe-warming greenhouse gases, Washington and six other Western states on Tuesday became the first in the U.S. to propose a comprehensive approach to the problem.
The states, along with four Canadian provinces, unveiled a plan designed to cut their greenhouse gases 15 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.
It would put Washington near the forefront of climate-change politics in the country and would provide a test for regulations much like the ones environmentalists and the two major presidential candidates want nationwide.
California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah are all part of the initiative, as are the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.
A desperate fight to save an ugly, fat fish
September 22, 2008 (Seattle Times)
A fish ladder deep within the Bonneville Dam complex isn't designed for salmon. It's a mock-up of a fish-ladder entrance, part of a little-known but urgent drive by federal and tribal agencies to make Northwest dams friendlier to an odd and ancient fish that draws scarce attention and less love.
In the upper reaches of the Columbia River and its major tributary, the Snake, lamprey populations are winking out, said Bob Heinith, a biologist at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. "We're running out of time. We don't have the animals anymore. There's a real sense of urgency."
Lamprey are not merely another species in decline. Their disappearance may reverberate through the food chain. They've been called "earthworms of the river" because they dwell as young in the river bottom and are thought to be an important food for species from salmon to sea lions.
Without lamprey, which are richer in fats and easier to catch than salmon, sea lions may prey more heavily on salmon.
Only about half of adult lamprey headed upriver make it past each dam. That means scarcely 10 of every 100 can get past three dams in a row.
In a roundabout way, the lamprey's decline may hold a high cost for salmon. Young salmon are thought to feed on juvenile lamprey, benefiting from the lamprey's high fat content.
Lamprey also have long been a key food for seals and sea lions because they're so nutritionally rich and easy to catch. Without lamprey, seals and sea lions might prey more heavily on salmon.
Any changes for lamprey are reviewed carefully to make sure they don't interfere with salmon passage, said David Clugston, a corps fish biologist. Because the two species are so intertwined and have similar habitat needs, one will probably not flourish without the other.
North Cascades glaciers victims of climate change
September 21, 2008 (Seattle Times)
Chelan County - Lyman Glacier, sitting just below 8,459-foot Chiwawa Peak, is dying.
Nearby, Spider Glacier is already gone. The scientist who pronounced it dead three years ago thinks one-third of the glaciers in the North Cascades - including Lyman - are doomed.
Mauri Pelto says the other two-thirds may have a chance, if the world does something to stop climate change. Pelto is an environmental-science professor at Nichols College in Dudley, Mass., and has studied glaciers for more than two decades.
In August, he completed his 25th hiking trip to several North Cascade glaciers. He's been watching and measuring the great slabs of moving ice every year since 1984. It is the largest study of glaciers in the North Cascades, home to one-third of all glaciers in the Lower 48 states.
He visits 10 glaciers every year for in-depth measurements, and monitors 37 others with less-regular trips. Five of them have already died, and all of the glaciers he's studying are now retreating. They've lost 20 to 40 percent of their volume.
He chose specific glaciers to represent different geographical features across the North Cascades - some are high-elevation, some are lower, some are north-facing, some face south, some are in Western Washington, and some - like Lyman - are on the east side of the range.
He wonders what has to happen before people are convinced that the climate is changing. "What's the straw that's going to break the camel's back?"
Pelto says he also wonders how people - especially those who depend on water from the glacier-fed rivers, lakes and streams on the east and west slopes of the Cascades - will react once they realize what it means to lose these frozen reservoirs of water.
Troubled waters: Did we really save the whale?
September 20, 2008 (Independent UK)
The whalers often took the biggest animals – the largest bull sperm whales, or their female equivalents – and their removal has had a drastic effect on the current population. Whitehead has proved that sperm whales are highly intelligent animals, capable of communicating in complex series of sonar clicks. The brain of a mature sperm whale weighs up to 17 pounds – the heaviest of any known animal – with a complex neocortex structure. If allowances are made for the animals' blubber, the body-to-brain-size ratio (the Encephalization Quotient, a rough estimate of possible intelligence) of sperm whales indicates significant acumen. Having swum eye-to-eye with these creatures in the Azores – and felt my ribcage scanned by the animals' echo location – I can bear personal testament to their placid and obviously sentient nature.
Studies show that cetaceans can solve problems and use tools, exhibit joy and grief, and live in complex societies. Not only that, but they also pass on these abilities in "cultural transmission" – a gift that has become a problem in itself. Twentieth-century whaling may have destroyed "not just numerous individuals," says Whitehead, "but also the cultural knowledge that they harboured relating to how to exploit certain habitats and areas". The remaining animals have also experienced lower birth rates as a result, and the slow-breeding sperm whale population is growing at a mere 1 per cent a year. The 1986 moratorium, which took effect the following year, may have come only just in time for Physeter.
I've often watched humpbacks blow "bubble nets" underwater, creating spiralling circles to corral their prey, then rising in the middle, mouths wide open, to claim their prize. It is clear, from their proximity, that they use the side of the vessel as a buffer to push their catch to the surface. It works both ways, too. Spanish fishermen work with pods of killer whales which chase their catch into shallow waters, where cetaceans and humans benefit from the fishes' confusion.
Other inter-species relationships are more problematic. In the 1960s, the controversial scientist John C Lilly proposed that whales and dolphins were so intelligent that they should be considered as a parallel, alien life force sharing our Earth. Lilly even declared a new cetacean language, delphinese, and persuaded one female researcher to live in a semi-submerged house so that she could spend more time in intimate observation of her dolphin charges. Unfortunately, Lilly's wilder theories caused him to be shunned by his fellow scientists. Matters weren't helped when he began experiments into the use of LSD on human guinea pigs.
Popular killer whale 'Ku' dies at Nagoya Port Aquarium
September 20, 2008 (Mainichi Daily News)
"Ku", a killer whale kept at the Nagoya Port Aquarium and a popular tourist attraction, died on Friday, the aquarium announced.
The 6.1-meter-long, 2.7-ton female killer whale stopped eating around July 23. An examination found that Ku's skin was inflamed by herpes, and, despite treatment, Ku was found dead at the bottom of a pool on Friday morning.
"We're really sad, because Ku was familiar to many people. We want to do more research on the unidentified diseases of marine animals and plants. Ku's death must not be in vain," said Itaru Uchida, the curator of the aquarium. A research team at the veterinary department of Gifu University is currently studying the cause of Ku's death in more detail.
With her dead, the number of killer whales bred in Japan has decreased to just seven, kept at Kamogawa Seaworld in Chiba Prefecture and Wakayama's Whale Museum.
White Salmon River chinook travel above dam
September 20, 2008 (Seattle Times)
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's tanker truck is normally used to stock lakes with catchable trout, not as a bus service for 30-pound tule fall chinook ready to spawn.
And, more notably, it marked the first time oceangoing salmon have populated the White Salmon above Condit Dam in almost a century.
This year's trap-and-haul program is actually a test run for next year. When dam owner PacifiCorp punches a 15-foot-diameter hole through the dam's 85-foot-wide concrete base, engineers expect it will take six hours to drain the 92-acre Northwestern Lake. With the water will come 98 years' worth of sediment.
Restoring the free-flowing river will reap long-term benefits for salmon, but it will make life a living hell for fish in the short term.
Engineers estimate the lake contains 2.3 million cubic yards of sediment, which will surge into the White Salmon's lower three miles to its confluence with the Columbia.
Even after the dam is breached, no one expects the White Salmon to become a massive producer of wild salmon.
Its banks are cut from ancient lava flows, leaving relatively little in the way of braided channels and wide floodplains that characterize iconic salmon streams such as the Cowlitz, Lewis or Yakima rivers.
Declining salmon runs blamed for wilderness tourism slump
September 19, 2008 (Globe and Mail)
Few people in British Columbia know how to find killer whales better than Bill MacKay, who tracks them in a high-speed, super-quiet boat from Port McNeill, on northern Vancouver Island.
But Mr. MacKay, who with his wife, Donna, runs MacKay Whale Watching, has had an increasingly difficult time finding large numbers of killer whales to show his customers this year.
All along the B.C. Coast, wilderness tourism operators who run bear-viewing, whale-watching and sport-fishing resorts are reporting tough times because of declining salmon runs.
But the biggest impact may be occurring in the Broughton Archipelago, where Mr. MacKay operates, and where pink salmon runs have all but vanished, sending a shock wave through the region's ecosystem.
"Some of the northern pods are just not here," Mr. MacKay said yesterday. "And we've had three occasions [this summer] when we did not see any orcas at all. That's pretty weird."
He said northern killer whales visit the area during the summer months, collecting in big social gatherings where breeding takes place.
"When they get together like that it's called Super Pod Day, and we will see over 100 dorsal fins out there at a time," Mr. MacKay said. "That didn't happen this year, for the first time since we've been collecting data, which is almost 30 years."
Mr. MacKay said it's not coincidental that the whales have vanished along with the salmon.
Pink salmon, which usually spawn in prodigious numbers, are a keystone species on the West Coast. Chinook salmon, the mainstay of the orca diet, feed on young pinks, while grizzly and black bears depend on spawning adult pink salmon to bulk up for hibernation.
"The bear-viewing businesses, the whale-watching operations, they built up a lot of equity showing people these wild animals. Now the fish aren't there and they are seeing their equity drain away. ...If the salmon go, so does the wildlife, and so does the business."
Mr. Gunn blamed the fish-farming business, saying a heavy concentration of net pens in the Broughton Archipelago has created sea-lice epidemics which kill young salmon.
Study: Giving fishermen a property right to fish may save imperiled stocks
September 18, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Dateline Earth)
A new study out in the last few hours says that giving fishermen a property right to a share of the catch reduces by half the chances of a fishery collapsing. "Catch shares" are most well-established in New Zealand, Iceland in Australia. But they are becoming more common here, as we've discussed before. Here is a well-done take-out by my colleague Mike Lewis on the "rationalization" of the Alaskan king crab fishery, and here is a good follow-up piece.
Also known as "individual fishing quotas," or IFQs, these ownership shares are hard for many people to take because they ends open access to the fish. But proponents say it staves off the tragedy of the commons. This study, funded by that fun local boy Paul Allen through his foundation, examined more than 11,000 fisheries prosecuted between 1950 and 2003.
The principle at work is simple and widely understood: greed. Once you own a particular share of a fishery, it's to your advantage to make sure the catch is as large as possible. That means you're willing to tread lightly on the sea when the stock takes a downturn, rather than fishing it hard.
North Pole ever closer to having no ice
September 17, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has cranked up the heat on the frigid North. The Alaska governor filed a lawsuit against Endangered Species Act protections for polar bears, is urging expanded oil exploration in the ecologically sensitive Arctic climes and has expressed doubts over the role of people in causing climate change.
These latest developments make even more important the role of scientists who are unraveling the causes behind what's chipping away at the ice floes in the summer and stifling its regrowth in the winter.
Rigor and his colleagues at the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory, including Jamie Morison and Ron Lindsay, are all troubled by how fast the Arctic ice has disappeared.
"The long-term trend is very disturbing," said Lindsay, a climatologist who has done extensive work on models that predict the ice loss. "There's a lot of thin ice up there."
"In recent years it's gotten a lot worse," echoed Morison, an oceanographer. "In 2007, it pulled back so there was no ice (at the pole). I mean, it was open water."
"It's hard to see how the ice might come back," Rigor said, "unless we are able to curb the greenhouse gases."
Oceans are 'too noisy' for whales
September 15, 2008 (BBC)
Levels of noise in the world's oceans are causing serious problems for whales, dolphins and other marine mammals, a report warns.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) says undersea noise blocks animals' communication and disrupts feeding.
Naval sonar has been implicated in the mass deaths of some cetaceans.
In some regions, the level of ocean noise is doubling each decade, and Ifaw says protective measures are failing.
"Humanity is literally drowning out marine mammals," said Robbie Marsland, UK director of Ifaw.
"While nobody knows the precise consequences for specific animals, unless the international community takes preventive measures we are likely to discover only too late the terrible damage we're causing."
In its global assessment of cetacean species, released last month, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) concluded that ocean noise posed a significant threat.
Right Whales - On the brink, on the rebound
September 15, 2008 (National Geographic)
They dive 600 feet, brushing their heads along the seafloor with raised, wartlike patches of skin, sometimes swimming upside down, big as sunken galleons, hot-blooded and holding their breath in cold and utter darkness while the greatest tides on Earth surge by. Then they open their cavernous maws to let the currents sweep food straight in. This is one way North Atlantic right whales feed in the Bay of Fundy between Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Or so the experts suspect, having watched the 40- to 80-ton animals surface with mud on their crowns. Mind you, they say, that could result from another activity-one nobody can imagine yet.
By the time New Englanders got into the right-whale-killing business, they were chasing leftovers. The Yankees hunted down another 5,000 or so, partly because whales became even more prized for their baleen than for oil. Hundreds of strips of this tough yet flexible material, each six to nine feet long and finely fringed, drape from the upper jaw. They form a colossal sieve that allows the giants to strain tiny crustaceans from the water for food-a billion flea-size copepods a day to supply the minimum 400,000 calories an adult whale needs (the ratio of a whale's body mass to its prey's is 50 billion to one). Society, however, thought baleen was best used for corset stays, stiffeners in fashionable gowns, umbrella ribs, and (consider: "I'm going to whale on you!") horsewhips.
About 350 to 400 North Atlantic right whales exist today. The survivors migrate along North America's East Coast between feeding grounds in the Gulf of Maine and wintering sites farther south-roughly 1,400 miles one way for pregnant females that journey to traditional calving areas off Georgia and Florida. They travel through an intensely urban stretch of ocean.
A research team from Boston's New England Aquarium spends the summer stationed in Lubec, Maine, studying the whales that gather to feed and socialize in the Bay of Fundy and nearby Roseway Basin, off Nova Scotia's southern tip. The scientists, who have built an archive of around 390,000 photographs, can recognize nearly every whale in the population by its unique callosity pattern (those wartlike patches on their heads), along with scars and other irregularities, and, increasingly, DNA samples.
One August morning in 2006, when the sea was a sheet of dimpled satin shot through with silver threads, I joined Scott Kraus, the New England Aquarium's vice president of research, and Rosalind Rolland, a veterinarian and senior scientist with the aquarium, on an unlikely quest in the Bay of Fundy. When leviathans rose in the distance through the sea's shimmering skin, Kraus steered the boat downwind of where they had briefly surfaced, handed me a data sheet to log our movements, and zigzagged into the faint breeze. Rolland moved onto the bow. Beside her was Fargo, the world's premier whale-poop-sniffing dog.
Cape Cod provides a sanctuary for whales
September 14, 2008 (The National)
Watching a pod of whales arch above the waterline on all sides of a boat an hour's sail out of Provincetown, it is hard to imagine these vast beasts are endangered.
With an apparent lack of regard for a 27-metre motor launch full of passengers nearby, the humpback whales and two calves breach the water in turn for a last, large intake of air before diving to feed for up to 10 minutes in the deep.
Mike Bertoldi, a marine biologist who is the guide on this trip run by Dolphin Fleet, recognised some of the whales from the distinctive black and white markings on their tails and fins. He spotted Canopy and Pele first, before adding that a calf can drink each day around 284 litres of whale milk, which apparently has the consistency of "cottage cheese".
Cape Cod and this stretch of the north-east United States made its riches until the 19th century from whale oil for lamps before the invention of gas lighting. These days, however, tourists flock to view, not kill, these majestic mammals and to learn about their precarious existence.
"This stretch of the North Atlantic is a giant restaurant for the whales," said Mr Bertoldi, who explained they would soon migrate to warmer waters in the Caribbean where they mate, give birth and nurse. They do not eat during the winter months until they return north in the spring. "It's their Club Med," he said.
"The US started to let things slip under the Clinton administration as it concentrated on building political capital on other issues, such as coalitions for war or in the UN," said Naomi Rose, senior scientist with the Humane Society International in Washington.
Last month, the Bush administration finally agreed to speed limits on ships of 10 nautical miles per hour in a coastal buffer zone stretching to 32km. Groups such as Greenpeace said a 50km zone would have offered maximum protection, particularly to right whales. But campaigners said shipping and business interests prevailed and found a receptive audience in Dick Cheney, the vice president.
Bottlenoses enjoy a whale of a time
September 13, 2008 (Scotsman)
THEY are the shiest of sea creatures, preferring the depths of the Arctic Ocean to Scotland's shallow coastal waters. The Northern Bottlenose [whale] rarely surfaces in sight of man. At least until last week.
Two of the whales have made a sudden and dramatic appearance in Mull's Loch Scridain. And, despite only have to surface once an hour or so for air, they seem to be spending much of their time in plain view of the shore.
The pair have been frollickng in the loch for days. One looks to be nearly 30 feet long, the other smaller.
"They are a very social species," said Suzannah Calderan of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, a charity which monitors sealife off Mull. "That's why they were nearly hunted to extinction. When one was injured, the others would stay with it."
Northern Bottlenoses might like each other's company; but they are not too keen on humans. Calderan fears their relatively unusual appearance off Mull could attract too many passing boats. "There really isn't much space in the loch," she said. "And they would find it difficult to get out."
The whales have been coming close to the shore, in depths of just 15ft. Normally they prefer to swim in at least 1000ft of water.
Legs Propelled Whale Ancestor
September 13, 2008 (National Public Radio)
A paleontologist has discovered a missing link in the evolutionary chain of whales. Mark Uhen, a paleontologist at the Alabama Museum of Natural History, has found evidence that an early species of whale, Georgiacetus, used to swim using the power of two hind legs.
Chile Passes National Whale Sanctuary Law
September 12, 2008 (Environmental News Service)
The Chilean Congress today unanimously approved a bill declaring Chilean jurisdictional waters to be a whale sanctuary. Now, the bill heads to the desk of President Michelle Bachelet who originally submitted the measure to Congress. She is expected to announce the bill as a Law of the Republic shortly.
Chilean conservation and fishermen's groups praised the legislators for supporting the will of the Chilean people regarding cetacean conservation in the waters off Chile's 3,400 mile (5,500 km) long coast.
They said the final approval of the law will allow Chile to attend the intersessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission next week in Florida with a strong message of conservation and non-lethal use of cetaceans.
Referring to an action alert made last Thursday to collect signatures in support of the sanctuary that were handed to the president of the Chamber of Senators yesterday, Galletti said, "We would like to thank the thousands of people that responded to our final call to have the project approved. Their signatures were fundamental to have a whale sanctuary in Chile today."
Juan Carlos Cardenas, executive director of Centro Ecoceanos, said, "This is the first historical landmark of the 21st century in marine environmental conservation in Chile and demonstrates that the informed participation of the civil society can achieve changes towards a new relation with nature, which is what the majority of the people wants."
Scientists Complete their Joint Study on Elusive Beaked Whales
September 11, 2008 (News Wire)
A group of Europe's leading marine conservation and research organisations joined forces to carry out crucial research into some of the rarest and most elusive marine animals on the planet – beaked whales. The research programme, called "Diver 2008", after these animals' deep diving ability, ran during July 2008 off the northern coast of Spain, within the Bay of Biscay – an area with a number of deep water canyons which is renowned for sightings of these mysterious marine mammals.
The research was important and timely because beaked whales are known to be very sensitive to certain sub-sea noise and there have been numerous cases of mass strandings of these animals which have been linked to concurrent use of military sonar.
Dr Kelly Macleod, Project Coordinator of the Diver surveys and Chairperson of the charity ORCA (Organisation Cetacea), commented: "The team worked extremely well together during the research and had a number of opportunities to investigate these rare whales at close quarters. This has provided the opportunity to really correlate sightings of the whales with underwater features and will help map their preferred habitat".
This was a highly successful trip. During the study programme, the research team recorded 120 sightings of whale and dolphins, including nine definite Cuvier's Beaked Whales, seven of which were photographed for future identification purposes. Other species seen included a pod of 13 Sperm Whales, globally endangered Fin Whales, many dolphins and another rarely seen beaked whale species - the Sowerby's Beaked Whale.
José Antonio Vázquez Bonales, Sightings Coordinator for AMBAR, said "We were able to take a number of high quality photo-identification images of the whales we encountered which will form part of a catalogue. The distinctive patterns of scratches and marks on the fins and bodies of these whales make each photograph like a fingerprint for that particular animal and will aid identification of the same animals should they be sighted again".
Orcas make rare visit to Port Angeles Harbor
September 10, 2008 (Peninsula Daily News)
A pod of three orcas made a rare trip Tuesday afternoon into Port Angeles Harbor, trailed by about a dozen boats of whale watchers.
The marine mammals arrived at about 2 p.m. and were headed back into the Strait of Juan de Fuca two hours later.
Rich Osborne, former director of the Whale Museum of Friday Harbor, now a Clallam County employee, said the orcas could have been hunting fish or seals.
Osborne said orcas observed on the Strait side of Ediz Hook probably are hunting fish.
Closer to shore, they may hunt weaner harbor seals, animals newly independent of their mothers and easy prey for orcas, also called killer whales.
Orcas are either fish eaters or marine mammal eaters, according to Howard Garrett of Whidbey Island, co-founder of Orca Network.
Garrett said a pod of orcas had been spotted near Port Angeles on Saturday and near Dungeness Spit on Thursday.
Banks said that, besides staying 100 yards from an orca, observers should approach them only from the side, not from in front of them or behind them.
He said this warning, and more cautions about observing orcas and other marine mammals, can be found in the pamphlet, "Be Whale Wise."
It and other information about orcas can be found at the Orca Network Web site, www.orcanetwork.org.
The site includes both a link to report orca sightings and accounts of recent sightings, plus links to photos, books and other marine mammal organizations.
Lawsuit filed over proposed gravel mine expansion
September 10, 2008 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Challenge could test protections for orcas
Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday alleging that the proposed expansion of a sand and gravel mine on Maury Island could harm orcas, chinook salmon, humpback whales and other endangered animals.
The case is believed to be the first calling for better orca protections since the animals joined the ranks of federally endangered species three years ago.
The suit also comes as efforts are mounting to devise a multibillion-dollar strategy for restoring Puget Sound to better health by 2020.
"This part of Maury Island has been proven time and time again to be recognized as one of our last best places," said Amy Carey, president of Preserve Our Islands, one of the groups filing suit.
"We're in a situation where we're spending millions of dollars correcting the mistakes we've already made" in the Sound, she said. "This is a mistake waiting to happen."
The proposal, by Glacier Northwest, is to increase the amount of sand and gravel mining on the island from about 10,000 tons a year to 2 million tons. The expansion includes the construction of a pier and a conveyor, and would boost the amount of barge traffic in the Sound.
The environmentalists, which in addition to Carey's group include People for Puget Sound and the Washington Environmental Council, allege that a variety of laws were broken in issuing the permits. The laws cited include various provisions of the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and others.
Gravel mining at the site started in the 1940s, but the huge increase in production puts the marine habitat at risk, critics say. In particular, there are worries that the industrial activity -- with its extra noise and boat traffic -- will drive away orcas that are often seen in the area in the winter.
"This site on Maury Island is a very important part of Puget Sound habitat, and the project itself is a major example of exactly the kind of thing that needs to stop if we're going to restore the health of Puget Sound," said Kathy Fletcher, executive director of People for Puget Sound.
Cold water rejuvenates Oregon ocean, salmon
September 9, 2008 (Oregonian)
As fishing communities suffer through the first nearly complete closure of ocean salmon catches, some good news is surfacing off the coast: The Oregon ocean is once again booming with life.
A flush of cold northern water, rich with food, is nurturing a dramatic turnaround in ocean conditions this year, marine experts say. The situation contrasts with poor offshore conditions in recent years that left fish and birds desperate for food and probably contributed to the collapse of Sacramento River salmon, a keystone of Oregon's salmon fishery.
"This will be the year that saves a lot of fisheries," said Bill Peterson, an oceanographer based at Newport's Hatfield Marine Science Center with the NOAA-Fisheries, the federal agency that monitors oceans.
The dose of chilly water from the Gulf of Alaska may also be what is bringing an odd mix of sea creatures onto Oregon's shores this summer. They include young salmon sharks, a relative of the great white that feeds on salmon -- and a robust clubhook squid, the third-largest squid in the ocean, measuring up to 13 feet long.
Also, the eerie "dead zones" that suffocated marine life along the coast in recent summers have been less pronounced this year, Oregon State University scientists said.
But the biggest payoff could come in the form of rebounding salmon stocks.
Grisly find off coast of Greenland
September 9, 2008 (Northern Advocate)
A Northland whale expert has found dozens of massacred narwhals on the east coast of Greenland.
Tutukaka's Ingrid Visser, founder of the Orca Research Trust, found the carcasses of 48 narwhals while guiding tourists on a nature cruise aboard the Polar Pioneer in Arctic waters.
The narwhal, which has a single long tusk, is a small Arctic whale long hunted for its "ivory".
The whale bodies were in the Romerfjord, south of the isolated eastern Greenland town of Ittoqqortoormiit.
Dr Visser, the ship's naturalist, told the Greenland newspaper Sermitsiaq that she found 48 whales, and only three of the carcasses had been butchered for meat.
On many of the other whales, only the tusks had been taken. The mayor of Ittoqqortoormiit was quoted as saying that five or six boats had taken the whales in a hunt, but had to leave some behind because of lack of space.
"The discovery has led to hefty debate in Greenland, which fears bad media coverage, which in turn would harm the country's attempts to increase its whale hunt quota," the newspaper said.
Eastern Greenland has no quotas limiting the narwhal hunt, and it is not illegal to sell the tusks inside Greenland. They are worth about $3000 on the legal market, but are highly prized by collectors overseas.
Clean-up to start in B.C. whale reserve after diesel spill
September 5, 2008 (CBC)
The B.C. government has awarded a Netherlands company and its Seattle partner a contract to recover wreckage from an overturned barge in Robson Bight.
Mammoet Salvage and Global Diving and Salvage beat out two other proposals to retrieve a fuel truck loaded with 10,000 litres of diesel, logging equipment and hydraulic oil when it tipped into the killer-whale reserve in August 2007.
Salvaging operations are expected to take place in the fall or next spring when the weather allows equipment recovery with minimal impact on the area's wildlife off Vancouver Island's east coast.
Ten charges have been laid against barge owner Gowlland Towing, Ted LeRoy Trucking, the company that hired the barge, and the tug's skipper.
ICELAND: Filling Up on Hydrogen
September 2, 2008 (Environmental Network News)
Earlier this year, the Icelandic whale-watching boat Elding was fitted with a hydrogen-powered generator that fuels its lighting system, electric equipment and navigation machinery. It is the first of its kind in the world.
The hydrogen generator replaces an oil-based generator. It is particularly appropriate for the whale-watching ship as the generator is silent, which means that when whales are spotted and the ship's main engines are switched off, there is no background rumble of a diesel generator.
The project is part of Sustainable Marine and Road Transport -- Hydrogen in Iceland, or SMART-H2, as it is more commonly called. SMART-H2, which was started in March 2007, is run by the company Icelandic New Energy and the University of Iceland, and will run for three years.
Gravel study examines how dams affect salmon
September 1, 2008 (The World - Coos Bay OR)
Since rocks like these serve as nest materials for steelhead and salmon, the project is designed to see if the Pelton-Round Butte dam complex, located just upstream, is blocking necessary components of fish habitat in the wild and scenic river.
After at least five floods have had a chance to wash rocks downstream, crews will gather the data. They'll check whether hand-placed, electronically tagged rocks have moved, and use cameras mounted on weather balloons to check on the changes in the riverbed.
"We're doing this gravel study to see, are we losing gravel from the system," said Bob Spateholts, the aquatic habitat team leader with Portland General Electric, which operates the dam complex with the tribes.
Some biologists think that's the case, and that the gravel that lines the riverbeds washes downstream but isn't replenished because of the dams, said Jim Manion with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.
And if the study shows the stretch of river is losing gravel, and therefore potential fish habitat, the two dam operators could have to start replenishing the supply.