Orca Network News - September, 2009

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2009 through September 30, 2009.

NRDC Asks Obama Administration to List Endangered Whale Species
September 30, 2009 (Natural Resources Defense Council)
Hawaiian False Killer Whale Population Faces Extinction
The Natural Resources Defense Council today called on the federal government to list the Hawaiian population of false killer whales as an endangered species and designate critical habitat to ensure its recovery under the Endangered Species Act. The Hawaiian false killer whale population is a small and ecologically unique population of 120 animals that has suffered a significant decline over the last 25 years.
"Given the extremely small size of this population, the loss of even a few mature adults could have serious and long-term reproductive consequences," said Sylvia Fallon, wildlife biologist with NRDC. "Toxic chemicals, reduced food sources and interactions with fishing vessels are the biggest threats to this unique mammal."
Hawaiian false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) are large members of the dolphin family. Females can grow up to 15 feet and males can reach 20 feet. In adulthood, false killer whales can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. They are pelagic deep, open water animals, and the Hawaiian inshore population is the only one of its entire species known to make its home near land. This indicates not only the uniqueness of the population, but also the biological importance of Hawaiian waters as an oasis for marine mammals.
The population faces a number of threats including interactions with local fisheries, reduced food sources and exposure to toxic chemicals. False killer whales are likely affected both by long-line and unregulated near-shore and "short" long-line fisheries. A recent study showed that disfigurement from fishing gear in this population was four times higher than for other dolphin and toothed whale species, suggesting high rates of interactions with fisheries. These fisheries may also be contributing to a decline in the size or number of the primary food source for false killer whales, which are large deep water fish including mahi mahi and yellowfin tuna.
More here

Feds may expand restrictions to keep humans from whales
September 30, 2009 (Seattle Times)
New restrictions are being considered to keep the Northwest's whale population from being loved to death by everyone from kayakers to whale-watching tourists.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing a 200-yard barrier - double the current barrier - between boats and migrating whales and closing off a half-mile-wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island from May 1 through the end of September, when whales are present.
An exemption would be made for commercial-fishing boats, cargo ships and some limited exceptions for landowners accessing their property.
A community meeting will be held in Seattle tonight to discuss the proposal.
Exempting the commercial- fishing boats makes no sense, she said, because the fishermen are taking the food the whales eat. She said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the government agency of which the National Marine Fisheries Service is a part) hasn't done enough to clean up the Sound's water quality.
More here

Utility agrees to removal of 4 Klamath River dams
September 30, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
It won't happen until after 2020, but is seen as vital to restoring California's dwindling salmon stocks. The decommissioning would be the nation's largest and most complex dam removal project.
In a major boost for California's dwindling salmon stocks, a utility company has agreed to the removal of four hydroelectric dams that for decades have blocked fish migrations on one of the West Coast's most important salmon rivers.
The dam decommissioning is vital to restoring the Klamath River, which for years has been the subject of bitter feuding among farmers, fishermen and tribal interests.
The dams, which range in height from 33 feet to 173 feet and are spread across 65 miles of the Klamath, haven't just kept chinook and coho salmon out of the upper river and its tributaries. They also have hurt water quality.
Along with the Columbia and the Sacramento rivers, the Klamath has traditionally been one of the country's most productive salmon rivers. But the West Coast salmon stocks have been in such poor shape that for the last three years, California has canceled its commercial salmon fishing season.
More here

San Juan shutdown?
September 28, 2009 (ESPN)
Sport anglers will no longer be able to fish the west side of Washington's San Juan Island during the peak of the summer and early-fall Chinook season if a new killer-whale protection zone is approved by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Citing a need to "further (protect) Southern Resident killer whales in Washington's Puget Sound," NOAA is proposing a half-mile-wide "no-go zone" along the west side of one of the largest islands in the San Juan Archipelago, a collection of 450 islands on the U.S./Canada border in extreme northern Puget Sound, 65 miles north of Seattle.
The proposed rules would prohibit all vessels from approaching within 200 yards of ESA-protected killer whales, but, more onerous to sport anglers in one of the most popular salmon-fishing destinations in the Pacific Northwest, they would also institute a half-mile-wide exclusionary zone from May 1 through the end of September where a limited amount of vessel traffic would be allowed off the San Juan shoreline from Mitchell Bay to Eagle Point .
"There are a lot of recreational anglers who like to fish off that west side because of its access to kings in the summer," says Frank Urabeck, representative of the Fishermen's Coalition, a consortium of San Juan-area businesses, salmon conservation groups and charterboat operators. "Being precluded from fishing there would still allow access to pink salmon and coho, but for the Chinook fisherman, this is going to hurt."
The west side of San Juan Island - which falls into Marine Area 7 under Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife marine-management regulations - has long been one of the most productive, popular Chinook salmon fisheries in the San Juans.
It's been estimated that roughly 70 percent of a killer whale's salmonid diet is comprised of Chinook, and that an adult killer whale can consume roughly 30 adult Chinook salmon per day. The combined extrapolated consumption of the three Puget Sounds pods is over 750,000 Chinook per year.
More here

Huge turnout for meeting on NOAA Orca rules
September 28, 2009 (Anacortes Now)
Representatives of NOAA Fisheries Service got an earful from dozens of sport fishermen and whale watch operators over proposed new regulations designed to keep boats further away from Orcas than is current allowed.
More than 150 people filled the Port's Warehouse Thursday night and, in effect, told the NOAA representatives 'no' to the proposed regulations which would require boaters to stay at least 200 yards from Orcas. The regulations would include a half-mile wide no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island from May 1 to Sept. 30.
Most of the crowd seemed to sport fishermen, charter operators, whale watch operators and kayak tour leaders. Complaints ranged from "you've got a huge gap in your data," to "the Orcas aren't impacted by fishing boats now."
Whale watch operator Shane Aggergaard said he thought the current state law, which requires boats to stay 100 yards from Orcas, was satisfactory. "Forcing boats to stay more than one-half mile from San Juan Island will damage the whale watch industry." He added, "The economic cost will be far greater than just the whale watch industry."
In fact, the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce prepared a statement which said said "Put simply, whale watching is a substantial economic driver in Skagit County, which we estimate generates at least $7.2 million annually," adding, "we believe this figure to be conservative-the "no go" zone under consideration would have a negative impact on various other industries-fishing, kayaking, and charter boat operations--that is not quantified here."
Not everyone at the meeting was opposed to the new rules, though. Evergreen Island leader Tom Glade said "We support any regulation that will help protect the Orcas." He pointed out that there are only 85 Orcas in existence, about half the number of people that showed up for the NOAA meeting.
At one point in the meeting, the crowd all but took control, insisting on continuing a question-and-answer portion instead of moving on to giving testimony that NOAA was prepared to video record.
More here

Killer whales love to dine on chinook salmon, which could further endanger their future
September 27, 2009 (Oregonian)
Killer whales attack prey as large as gray whales and as small as herring. But the killer whales of the San Juan Islands prefer to eat chinook salmon -- and that could be their ruin.
Researchers tracking the whales found their numbers fell sharply during the chinook salmon decline in the 1990s. Even though seals, sea lions and even other kinds of salmon and fish remained relatively abundant, the San Juan whales died at unusually high rates, probably from malnutrition.
The new findings highlight how animal behavioral traditions, passed from adults to offspring, can be more powerful than genetics. The study also shows the whales depend on chinoook salmon more than wildlife managers recognize.
And the findings, researchers say, may strengthen the case for imposing additional limits on salmon fishing to sustain the whales, protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Killer whales form tight-knit societies. Among the resident killer whales, even adult males stick with their mothers for life. Within clans, individuals call to each other in local dialects.
Clans also develop specialized hunting. The northern and southern residents hunt salmon and other fish but no marine mammals. A separate clan, ransient killer whales that spend time in the same waters, hunt seals and sea lions but not fish.
Killer whales survival abruptly improved after a climate shift set the stage for stronger chinook salmon returns in 2002. Both the southern and northern resident killer whale populations are now growing again. Ford, with Kenneth Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash., and two other colleagues reported the findings this month in the online edition of the journal Biology Letters.
Darus Peake, a fisherman in Garibaldi and chairman of the Oregon Salmon Commission, says bans on fishing are politically easy, but less effective than removing dams, cleaning up decades of pollution and stopping logging and development along rivers.
More here

Study shows some reduction in Elliott Bay toxins
September 26, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The state Ecology Department said Friday that a new study shows a reduction in some toxins in sediments in Seattle's Elliott Bay.
The findings follow data collected from sediments in 30 spots in Elliott Bay in 1998. The new study, "Urban Waters Initiative 2007: Sediment Quality in Elliott Bay," shows lower levels of such toxic metals as mercury, lead and tin.
Researchers also found lower levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and some PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). The latter are formed during the incomplete burning of coal, oil and gas, garbage, or other organic substances.
But there was no significant change in levels of arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper and nickel in Elliott Bay. Levels of other toxins increased.
Those include zinc and some chemicals used in the production of plastic. Also increasing were some chemicals caused by the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline.
More here

New Worms Eat (and Eat and Eat) Only on Dead Whales
September 23, 2009 (National Geographic)
Nine new species that dine only on dead whales have been discovered, a new study says. And what the menu lacks in variety it makes up for in portion size-a whale carcass can provide food for 20 years, to be fed on by generations of worms. (See whale pictures.)
The marine worms, which feast on whale carcasses on the seafloor, were collected by remote control subs off the coasts of Sweden and California.
Generations of worms "could be there for maybe 20 years depending on how big the whale was," Wiklund added. "Bones from a big whale last really long on the seafloor."
But when the whale is finally disposed of, the bacteria-munching worms must find another whale carcass, and that could be many miles away.
How the tiny creatures hop from dead whale to dead whale remains a mystery. Some bristle worm species, though, have microscopic larvae that ride ocean currents, Wiklund said.
More here

Obama science goes schizophrenic on salmon restoration
September 23, 2009 (Crosscut)
A Biological Opinion factors in the effect of climate change on California salmon runs and the orcas that depend on them. So why is the recent BiOp by NOAA on the Columbia and Snake so oblivious?
Has the Obama administration gone schizophrenic on salmon? Wild-salmon advocates who were disappointed when the Obama administration defended the last Bush Biological Opinion on Columbia River dam operations say that the government not only could have done better, it did better, just a few months back. They point to the government's recent Biological Opinion on operation of the Central Valley Project and California State Water Project as examples of what NOAA should have done here.
The California opinion looks at impacts on salmon and other fish in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems, and on the Southern Resident Killer Whales (aka Puget Sound orcas) that eat some of those salmon. It is "better and I would say significantly better" than what the government has done on the Columbia, says Earthjustice attorney Steve Mashuda. It's "not necessarily a road map" for dealing with all the Columbia's particular problems, but it does address some crucial issues "probably in the best way we know how." You can expect salmon advocates to use some of the approaches and some of the science that NOAA employed in California to attack what NOAA has done - or failed to do - in the Northwest.
More here

Where we go with wild salmon: A blueprint for saving them
September 23, 2009 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Eliminate run of river power. Fish can't spawn where a watershed is destroyed. The Toba Inlet project alone will destroy 17 watersheds.
Get fish farms in closed containers, on land, with effluent treatment that also includes taking out the chemicals used, so downstream water is as clean as the upstream water.
Put diploid pink salmon netpens virtually everywhere immediately to provide an alternate fishery from wild salmon. Follow up with diploid clipped chinook for the same wild aversion reasons and for alternate fisheries opportunities. The latter has two purposes: Chinook is the species we fish 12 months of the year; and, let's use Cowichan stock because they are the most important for peanut head killer whales. This is so because Cowichan Chinook circle the Strait of Georgia for a couple of years before exiting to the open ocean.
And, in one breath because I have run out of room: Put hatcheries closer to saltwater. Make salmon the priority in rivers, for example, consider the Englishman River where there are 33 different stakeholders. Eliminate fishing for herring. Foster saltwater otters on the inside straits because they eat sea urchins and thus result in way more baitfish hiding kelp. Exhume the Tousignant blueprint for wild salmon. Work with the big environmental corps instead of against them. Buy back trolling licences at very fair prices. Eliminate gillnets...
More here

Seismic bangs 'block' whale calls
September 23, 2009 (BBC)
On days with seismic surveys, the whales made two-and-half-times more calls than on days without.
The ratio was the same when the recordings were analysed in blocks of 10 minutes; survey noise induced more than a doubling of calls.
The researchers suggest the whales are having to "repeat information", as some of the calls are blocked or degraded by the seismic bangs.
A number of recent reports have highlighted the increase in ocean noise brought about by humanity's use of the oceans, in particular shipping.
One study indicated that the level of background noise from ships' propellers was doubling every decade in the Pacific Ocean.
Conservation groups are raising the issue because many marine animals, including whales and dolphins, use sound to communicate and to hunt.
The sharp sounds of seismic surveys are a particular concern. Engineers use very sharp, very loud bangs because these produce the clearest images of geological structures below the sea floor.
The surveys are typically used to map oil and gas deposits.
Earlier this year, companies involved in the Sakhalin Energy consortium agreed to suspend seismic work after seeing evidence that it was driving the critically endangered western gray whale, of which only about 130 remain, away from its summer feeding ground.
More here

Report: SeaWorld to inform employees of new ownership
September 22, 2009 (Orlando Sentinel)
SeaWorld Orlando plans to tell its employees Wednesday that the popular water park and several others owned by Busch Entertainment, have been sold to the same company that owns half of Universal Orlando, Central Florida News 13 is reporting.

South Sound boaters urged to stay away from orcas
September 22, 2009 (Seattle Times)
Whale experts are warning boaters to keep their distance from five transient killer whales that are visiting south Puget Sound.
The whales - two mothers and three offspring - have spent the past four weeks in Eld Inlet, near Olympia. Some residents tell The Olympian newspaper that they have seen boaters close to the group.
More here

Orcas show off in South Sound
September 22, 2009 (Olympian)
An extended stay for five transient killer whales in South Sound entered its fourth week Monday amid reports that some boaters are violating guidelines for viewing the mighty marine mammals.
NMFS has proposed turning the guidelines into rules and to expand the "no-go" distance to 200 yards, said Lynne Barre, an NMFS marine mammal specialist.
The new regulation would apply to Puget Sound resident orcas, which are listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act and also protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, as well as the transient killer whales, which are protected by the federal marine mammal law.
For the marine mammal-eating transients, human disturbance could hinder their ability to echolocate and hunt their prey, said Robin Baird, a research biologist with Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia.
On Sunday, Baird and fellow researcher Brad Hanson of the federal Northwest Fisheries Science Center used a dart to place a satellite tag on the dorsal fin of one of the five South Sound transient orcas they encountered off the east side of Anderson Island.
The pack of whales includes two mothers and three offspring. The whales have been spotted feeding on harbor seals during their South Sound journey. By comparison, the Puget Sound resident population feeds on fish.
More here

Obama decision protects NW salmon
September 22, 2009 (San Francisco Chronicle editorial)
Following intense scientific review, the administration added a plan full of contingency measures as precautions against uncertainties such as climate change.
This is important for the whole West Coast, where fishing fleets share salmon runs from different rivers. Northwest dams have also been a major contributor to California's own energy portfolio, and, in times such as during the West Coast energy crisis, have literally helped the state keep its lights on.
The administration added specific measures to quickly respond to unexpected salmon declines, including further examination of breaching dams, but only as an option of last resort.
More here

A plan for Columbia River salmon recovery to please a critic
September 21, 2009 (Seattle Times editorial)
Reworking the Columbia River biological opinion, the federal blueprint for salmon recovery, is turning into a growth industry. Pursuit of the perfect plan consumes time and energy better invested in putting a good plan into effect, watching it work and adapting it under way.
Redden, who has twice rejected a Bush administration version, gave Obama's team extra time last spring to put its mark on the biological opinion, which they resubmitted last week.
After endorsing the underlying science, the new administration pledged to accelerate a variety of actions and enhance others. Contingency plans, rapid-response programs and emergency triggers presume to spur more action.
Now it falls to Redden to measure sincerity and capacity behind the promise.
More here

Not There on Salmon
September 20, 2009 (New York Times editorial)
The Obama administration has submitted an amended version of a Bush administration plan to rescue 13 endangered and threatened salmon species in the Pacific Northwest. The fish may be better off under this plan. But under the Endangered Species Act, better off is not enough. The act requires the government to make every effort to ensure a species' long-term survival.
Judge James A. Redden of Federal District Court in Oregon will decide whether the plan meets that requirement. We do not believe that it does. Judge Redden has already rejected two federal plans for restoring salmon, one from the Clinton administration and one from the Bush administration. He was on the verge of ruling on a second Bush plan when the Obama administration asked for time to review it and strengthen it where necessary.
The administration has added several enhancements. It offers $100 million a year to improve salmon habitat; pledges new efforts to control invasive species and other predators; and promises to monitor the potential impacts of climate change, which could create serious problems for cold-water species like salmon.
Yet the plan does little to address the chief cause of fish mortality: the eight dams that the salmon must navigate on their way to and from the sea. Nor does it propose major changes in the way those dams are operated, like additional water flows over the dams to help the salmon move downstream.
More here

Another step forward for removal of the Elwha River dams
September 20, 2009 (Peninsula Daily News)
Construction of a new fish hatchery, part of preparation for the removal of two dams on the Elwha River, is expected to begin sometime this fall, now that the contract for the $16 million project has been awarded.
The new hatchery will help maintain existing Elwha River fish stocks during removal of the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams, scheduled to begin in 2011 and be completed in 2014.
Removal of the dams - the largest such project in the nation - was authorized in the federal 1992 Elwha Act to restore salmon habitat on the river once fabled for its dense runs of large salmon.
The Elwha fish hatchery will produce coho, pink and chum salmon and steelhead for restoration of the river ecosystem.
The existing state Department of Fish and Wildlife rearing channel will continue to support the river's chinook salmon population.
"Elwha River restoration has been, and will be, a priority for the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe until the river is restored," Elofson added.
More here

Wash., trollers team up to improve chinook harvest
September 20, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Hoping to preserve future fishing harvests, commercial fisherman Doug Fricke did something different while trolling for chinook salmon this year.
Each time he reeled in a salmon off Washington's coast, he clipped a piece of fin, attached a barcode to the fish jaw, took a scale sample and recorded the GPS location.
Fricke kept his catch, but he sent the DNA samples to state scientists, who are working with commercial fisherman to improve beleaguered salmon harvest and protect weakened stocks.
"We're trying to catch salmon, but we're trying to find ways to avoid the endangered stocks," said Fricke, of Westport, president of the Washington Trollers Association.
Scientists analyzing the DNA of salmon tissue samples are able to determine within 24 hours the river of origin for many of the chinook salmon caught off Washington's coast.
The goal is to get near real-time information on the stocks of salmon being caught as fishermen are catching them, said Scott Blankenship, a geneticist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Such data could help direct fishing fleets away from weak salmon stocks, and toward more abundant healthy ones while also improving harvest forecasts, he said.
In Washington, preliminary data shows that the percentage of Puget Sound chinook salmon caught matched the department's preseason expectations. There was also higher than expected catch of upper Columbia River summer and fall chinook.
More here

How might tidal project affect marine life? PUD gets grant to find out
September 19, 2009 (Everett Herald)
The Snohomish County PUD received a $600,000 federal grant to study marine life and the potential impacts of underwater turbines.
The grant is among nearly two dozen, totaling $14.6 million, awarded this week by the federal Department of Energy. Each grant will be used to study hydropower and hydrokinetic energy.
"We're breaking new ground here and leading the nation in the development of this clean, renewable technology," PUD General Manager Steve Klein said.
PUD officials plan to work with University of Washington researchers to study aquatic species in Admiralty Inlet -- and the potential acoustic impacts if hydrokinetic turbines are placed there. The research is set to begin next year and will last for about two years, Klein said.
More here

New Northwest salmon plan modifies Bush approach
September 16, 2009 (Los Angeles Times)
Reporting from Seattle - Fisheries managers announced Tuesday that they would enhance but not significantly alter the government's current strategy for saving salmon from extinction in the rivers of the Pacific Northwest, drawing criticism from conservationists.
The long-awaited review left intact key components of the George W. Bush administration's controversial 2008 "biological opinion," which concluded that salmon could be kept alive on the Columbia and Snake rivers without removing dams or significantly increasing water flows.
It also proposes rigorous scientific monitoring that would automatically put into play a broad range of additional protection measures -- even removal of four dams in Washington as a "last resort" -- if salmon and steelhead trout numbers plunged.
The four small dams on the lower Snake River stand between the salmon and millions of acres of pristine wilderness habitat.
The new plan orders the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin outlining the studies that would be needed to demolish them.
Conservationists, however, expressed misgivings Tuesday over what they saw as the Obama administration's failure to make the substantial changes needed to protect the fish.
Todd True of Earthjustice, who represented fishing and conservation groups that sued over the Bush-era plan, said:
"The government has failed completely to use the last four months of review for a serious, substantive or cooperative effort to build a revised plan that follows the law and the science and leads to salmon recovery. Instead . . . they are offering a plan for more planning and a study for more studying."
Although some salmon stocks are at unusually robust numbers this year, at least one was unexpectedly low.
Conservationists said the healthy returns resulted from U.S. District Judge James A. Redden's 2007 order that federal officials allow more water to spill into the rivers to help juvenile fish during their crucial migration to the sea.
More here

Gregoire, Obama administration ink $40.5M salmon deal
September 16, 2009 (Columbian)
A day after endorsing a Bush-era plan to operate federal hydropower dams, the Obama administration finalized a deal Wednesday with Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to spend an additional $40.5 million improving salmon habitat on the north side of the Columbia River.
"It's time to get out of the courtroom and into the streams," Gregoire said.
Habitat-related work in Clark County accounts for eight of the 21 estuary projects underwritten by the money, which will be spent over the next nine years. Washington gets the money in return for endorsing the legality of the latest federal plan to balance the operation of federal hydropower dams with 13 runs of threatened or endangered salmon and steelhead.
Oregon, which shares the estuary but is challenging the dam plan in court, gets zilch.
"The rewards are going to those who are joining the federal government's side of the litigation here," said Mike Carrier, natural resources policy adviser to Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski.
Snake River dams
Meanwhile, in an interview with The Columbian, Gregoire said she was not surprised that the new administration amended the feds' 2008 dam-management strategy to consider breaching four federal dams on the lower Snake River if other measures fail to conserve endangered salmon.
Gregoire, along with most major elected officials in the Northwest, has opposed the idea of breaching the dams in Eastern Washington. However, Gregoire noted that U.S. District Judge James Redden made it plain that he expects tougher action by the government to comply with the Endangered Species Act.
More here

Killer Whales Die Without King Salmon
September 16, 2009 (Discovery News)
Some killer whale populations favor king salmon so much that the whales will actually die when numbers of this largest member of the salmon family drop, according to new research.
The study, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, suggests that although killer whales may consume a variety of fish species and mammals, many are highly specialized hunters dependent on this single salmon species.
Lead author John Ford explained to Discovery News that "nutritional stress" probably leads to killer whale deaths because it can make the whales "susceptible to other factors leading to mortality, such as disease and parasitism," and possibly also more vulnerable to the "immuno-suppressive effects of PCBs" and other ocean pollutants.
The killer whale population's ups and downs mirror those of king salmon for the same periods. The researchers suspect El Nino-like conditions in the early 1990's resulted in the deaths of juvenile salmon, which then brought down the entire king salmon population for the region.
It's doubtful that the weather events directly impacted the whales.
"Killer whales are very adaptable to a remarkable range of water temperatures, being found in the tropics as well as ice-covered waters," Ford said. "The range of temperatures associated with El Nino events would be unlikely to have any direct effect."
Ford and his team instead believe some killer whale populations are dependent upon Chinook salmon as their primary year-round food resource, even though these enormous apex predators physically have the ability to eat different types of fish, walruses, other large whales and additional prey.
"Animals born to a particular population learn foraging tactics to efficiently exploit particular prey types, but this specialization seems to constrain their ability to effectively hunt alternative prey," Ford said. "Specialists can often be more successful than generalists because they are more efficient at their specialization, as in the old adage, 'A jack of all trades is a master of none.'"
In a separate study, bioacoustician Whitlow Au of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and his colleagues found that killer whales prefer king salmon to such a degree that they can identify these fish when the Chinooks are swimming alongside Coho and Sockeye salmon.
Given that the fate of some killer whales seems tied to that of king salmon, Fisheries and Oceans Canada calls for strengthening killer whale populations by ensuring adequate availability of prey.
More here

Obama Follows Bush on Salmon Recovery
September 15, 2009 (New York Times)
In its first major effort to address the plight of endangered salmon in the Pacific Northwest, the Obama administration on Tuesday affirmed basic elements of a recovery plan set forth last year by the Bush administration.
Thirteen species of salmon are listed as endangered or threatened, and critics say the new Obama plan, like the Bush one, is too ready to accept only slight gains in their populations, a potential violation of the Endangered Species Act.
Obama administration officials said that while the plan affirmed the scientific and legal basis of the Bush approach, it included revisions that would hasten and expand efforts to improve habitats, monitor any effects of climate change and put in place contingency plans should fish populations "decline significantly."
"It's clear that dams provide good clean energy," said Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversaw the review of the Bush plan. "They allow integration of wind into the grid. It's not clear what impact their removal would have on salmon, and we believe that removal of them is not necessary in the short term. We want to give these other actions a chance to work."
Judge Redden has rejected two federal plans for restoring salmon in the Columbia basin, one by the Clinton administration and an earlier plan by the Bush administration. He is expected to decide whether to accept the Obama plan within the next several weeks.
Nicole Cordan, the policy and legal director for Save Our Wild Salmon, a coalition that includes many of the plaintiffs in the case, said, "Yes, dam breaching is on the table, but the table is over the river and through the woods and 1,000 miles away."
More here

The Obama administration reveals its salmon plan
September 15, 2009 (Oregonian)
Today the Obama administration is rolling out its plan to run federal power-producing dams in the Columbia Basin without pushing endangered runs of salmon closer to extinction. The plan, called a Biological Opinion, affects everything from reservoir levels to electricity bills in the region. And it needs to pass muster with a federal judge in Portland for the government to legally operate the dams.
U.S. District Court Judge James Redden gave the federal government until today to review and make changes to the plan, which was originally submitted last year by the Bush administration.
8:25 a.m.
The Obama administration has concluded it will largely support a plan submitted during the Bush years for Northwest salmon.
The government said today it had conducted a full review of the plan, and "the administration concluded that the BiOp is legally and scientifically sound."
But the administration said it has reservations about how uncertainties like the impacts of climate change could affect the success of the plan, so it will speed up implementation of things like habitat improvement projects; improve monitoring of the effectiveness of salmon friendly projects; and put in place contingency plans should those actions turn out to not be enough to help salmon avoid extinction.
"The time has come to move out of the courtroom and get to work recovering salmon and preserving the region's unique way-of-life," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said in a statement. "This biological opinion, backed by sound science and tremendous state and tribal support, will help preserve the vibrancy and vitality of the Columbia and Snake River basins for generations to come."
Significantly, the revised plan directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin studying what would be required to remove four lower Snake River dams. Salmon advocates argue removing the dams would be the single most beneficial thing the government could do for the fish.
The 42-page plan is here, and supporting materials are here.

What is Obama's plan for the Northwest's imperiled salmon?
September 14, 2009 (Oregonian)
More than a century ago, the Columbia River and its tributaries so roiled with wild salmon it was said that in places you could walk across the water on their backs.
No more. Canneries, mining, cities and many dams later, it's all changed. Generations have argued about how to bring the fish back from the edge of extinction. More than $1 billion a year is spent trying, but there are no more fish returning to the river now than there were two decades ago.
What's holding the fish back?
On Tuesday, the Obama administration will reveal how it thinks we can have the many hydroelectric dams that bring us cheap power, navigation routes and flood control without pushing salmon past the brink.
But dams aren't the only suspect. A changing climate, warmer water, competition from nonnative fish, outdated hatchery operations -- all have been blamed at one time or another for the decline of the Northwest's signature fish.
Many hope the new administration -- with Oregon ecologist Jane Lubchenco leading its top fisheries agency -- will hasten a productive change in the nation's most expensive species recovery conundrum.
More here

Killer Whales Have a Fighting Chance to Survive...Us
September 14, 2009 (Salem News)
Orcas may not have a clear-cut conservation status internationally, but the U.S. government is concerned enough about the animals that ply the waters of Washington's Puget Sound and San Juan Islands (known as the "southern residents") to put them on the federal endangered species list.
Chief among threats to orcas there is loss of food supply, mostly West Coast salmon populations destroyed by hydroelectric dams and other human encroachment. Habitat loss, chemical pollution, captures for marine mammal parks and conflicts with fisheries have also each played roles in the decline of the Northwest's orcas.
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, an arm of the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the southern resident orca population-the best studied wild animal population in the world-has fluctuated considerably since researchers began studying it in earnest some three decades ago.
In 1974 the group was comprised of 71 whales, but then spiked to 97 animals by 1996. But since then the population fell below 80 and has remained around that level ever since.
Of course, increased concern about the health of marine ecosystems in recent years is good news for orcas, which are dependent on a wide range of fish and marine mammals for sustenance.
If world leaders continue to value marine ecosystems and limit the extraction of seafood species and contamination by pollutants, killer whales will have a fighting chance to keep on as icons of the sea-and those of us onshore and bobbing on boats will continue to be delighted and amazed by them.
More here

EPA puts limits on 3 pesticides to protect salmon
September 11, 2009 (AP)
The Environmental Protection Agency revealed new limits Friday on three pesticides commonly used on western farms to protect endangered and threatened Pacific salmon.
The restrictions announced Friday apply to the use of chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion near salmon waters in Washington, California, Oregon and Idaho.
The chemicals have been found by the U.S. Geological Survey to interfere with salmon's sense of smell, making it harder for them to find food, avoid predators and return to native waters to spawn, according to federal biologists.
The new regulations come after anti-pesticide groups and salmon fisherman sued the federal government in 2001 for not considering the impact of pesticides on federally protected salmon and steelhead.
More here.

Sea lice a drag on their hosts
September 11, 2009 (Victoria Times Colonist)
Biologist suggests the parasites could reduce salmon survival rates.
Try swimming in the Pacific Ocean wearing a backpack, and that might hint at difficulties faced by juvenile salmon when sea lice are hitching a ride, according to conservation biologist Michael Price.
After years of researching the number of lice on salmon in the Discovery Islands, where there is a high concentration of fish farms, Price believes the wrong question is being asked in the polarized and often bitter debate over sea lice and the effect of farms on wild salmon.
"A lot of the mortality work done on pink and chum focuses on the size and lethal levels of lice," Price said.
Instead, the question should be whether lice reduce survival because afflicted fish cannot swim as fast or catch as much food and are more susceptible to predation, Price said.
More here.

Orcas may be continuing tour of South Sound
September 11, 2009 (Olympian)
Five transient orcas were spotted patrolling the waters of South Sound on Thursday, according to reports compiled by Cascadia Research of Olympia.
"It's highly likely they're the same whales seen in Oakland Bay a week ago," Cascadia marine mammal researcher John Calambokidis said.
He said the whale sightings came from several locations, including Eld Inlet, Dana Passage and Harstine Island. The whales also were seen in Budd Inlet as far south as Gull Harbor, Ralph Munro said.
Unlike the resident Puget Sound orcas, which feed on fish and are listed as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act, the transient orcas, which roam the waters from Alaska to Mexico in small groups, eat marine mammals and aren't listed as endangered.

Slaughter of dolphins and whales begins in cove made famous by film
September 9, 2009 (MongaBay.com)
Japan Probe reports that the annual dolphin slaughter by fishermen in the Japanese town of Taiji has begun. The hunt was delayed by the presence of Japanese and foreign press in the cove during the first days when the hunt was supposed to begin.
Japan Probe states that thirteen boats left the harbor at 5:30 AM, they then surrounded and drove 50 pilot whales and 100 bottlenose dolphins into the cove. Neither of these species is protected by the International Whaling Commission.

Grizzlies starve as salmon disappear
September 8, 2009 (Toronto Globe and Mail)
As salmon numbers drop, bears are also few and far between along B.C.'s wild central coast – signalling what conservationists say is an unfolding ecological disaster.
First the salmon vanished, now the bears may be gone too.
Reports from conservationists, salmon-stream walkers and ecotourism guides all along British Columbia's wild central coast indicate a collapse of salmon runs has triggered widespread death from starvation of black and grizzly bears. Those guides are on the front lines of what they say is an unfolding ecological disaster that is so new that it has not been documented by biologists.
"Now you go out there and there are zero bears. The reports are coming in from Terrace to Cape Caution … the bears are gone," he said.
"And we haven't seen any cubs with mothers. That's the most alarming part of this," Mr. McAllister said.
He said the problem is that chum salmon runs in the area have collapsed.
While there are strong runs of pink salmon into rivers on the central coast, chum, which are much bigger fish that spawn later in the year, are the key food item for bears preparing for hibernation.
Without an adequate supply of big salmon late in the year, said Mr. McAllister, bears do not have enough fat to survive the winter in their dens.
More here.

The Proposed Killer Whale Vessel Guidelines - The 'What' and 'When'
September 4, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
"NMFS is proposing to adopt regulations that would prohibit motorized, non-motorized, and self-propelled vessels in navigable inland waters of Washington from:
• Causing a vessel to approach within 200 yards of any killer whale
• Entering a restricted zone along the west coast of San Juan Island during a specified season- May 1st to September 30th, starting in 2010
• Intercepting the path of any killer whale in inland waters of Washington"
Exceptions to the regulations
"1. The regulations would not apply to Federal, state, and local government vessels operating in the course of official duty.
2. The regulations would not apply to vessels participating in the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard Co-operative Vessel Tracking System and operating within the defined Traffic Separation Scheme shipping lanes.
3. The regulations would not apply to activities, such as scientific research, authorized under permit by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
4. The regulations would not apply to treaty Indian fishing vessels lawfully engaged in actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending fishing gear.
5. The regulations would not apply to vessel operations necessary to avoid an imminent and serious threat to a person or vessel.
6. The no-go zone regulation would not apply to privately owned vessels that transit the no-go zone for the sole purpose of gaining access to privately owned shoreline property located immediately adjacent to the no-go zone."

Thank efforts over the years for salmon show
September 4, 2009 (Olympian)
Schools of big chinook salmon haven't always returned to Capitol Lake and South Sound's own Deschutes River.
The Deschutes River's big falls - which still thunder away at Tumwater Falls Park - blocked any natural runs of chinook salmon for centuries.
Coho salmon and steelhead had the speed - and lighter weight - to jump the falls, but the thicker, heavier chinook couldn't make the leap.
That all changed in 1953 and 1954, when the state Department of Fisheries - now the Department of Fish and Wildlife - built the fish ladder at Tumwater Falls.
The fish ladder, a series of staircasing concrete boxes that help fish climb the falls, made it possible to introduce chinook salmon to the Deschutes River. A fish hatchery was built at the top of the falls, and humans created a run of chinook salmon.
More here.

Chinook salmon are moving into improved Nooksack River channel
September 4, 2009 (Bellingham Herald)
Chinook salmon are already taking advantage of a new stretch of spawning channel on the north fork of the Nooksack River that was improved in the past year through a project overseen by the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
The fish spawning in the channel are part of the threatened spring stock of chinook that have been the target of restoration efforts for decades.
Tribal habitat biologist Ned Currence said he wasn't expecting to see much activity in the three-quarter-mile stretch of riverbed upstream from Boulder Creek when he visited it just a few days ago. But he was thrilled to see dozens of the big fish pairing up to deposit their eggs in the gravel bottom.
"Last year, no fish spawned in there during the spring chinook period," Currence said. "It was dry."
In recent years, that side channel has held water only during winter floods, too late in the year to help the struggling spring chinook run. But with $370,000 in grants from state and federal sources, tribal biologists and the tribal public works department set about encouraging the river to flow through the channel in late summer. Logjams were anchored in place with steel cable to gently divert the river's flow into the channel, and a bit of excavation work was done to enable the water to flow where it was needed.
Currence said the episode demonstrates the importance of habitat restoration in nursing depleted fish populations back to health. For now, most of the spring chinook that return to the Nooksack and its tributaries were reared at the state's Kendall hatchery.
"There's a lot of habitat work that still needs to happen," Currence said. "The hatchery is helping to maintain the population while we improve the habitat. ... The population of wild fish is slowly building, very modestly, but it is building ... I would say they're in a very slow, gradual improvement pattern but nowhere near out of the woods."
More here.

Orca pod veers into Budd Inlet
September 4, 2009 (Olympian)
A group of orcas wandered south in Budd and Eld inlets toward Olympia on Thursday.
Erin Falcone of Cascadia Research said the five transient orcas were three adults and two juveniles.
Cascadia Research had a team that included Falcone and Greg Schorr observing the animals. Falcone said that state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials also were on the water.
Falcone said the Cascadia team had acquired identification data and would compare its observations with information on transient orcas to determine where the animals might have been sighted before.
Farther north, whale experts with the Marine Stranding Network are seeking help to find a dead orca calf that was spotted by a boater Sunday off Orcas Island.
Anyone finding the carcass is asked to call the Stranding Network at 1-800-562-8832.
More here.

Chinook salmon are moving into improved Nooksack River channel
September 3, 2009 (Bellingham Herald)
Chinook salmon are already taking advantage of a new stretch of spawning channel on the north fork of the Nooksack River that was improved in the past year through a project overseen by the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
The fish spawning in the channel are part of the threatened spring stock of chinook that have been the target of restoration efforts for decades.
Tribal habitat biologist Ned Currence said he wasn't expecting to see much activity in the three-quarter-mile stretch of riverbed upstream from Boulder Creek when he visited it just a few days ago. But he was thrilled to see dozens of the big fish pairing up to deposit their eggs in the gravel bottom.
"Last year, no fish spawned in there during the spring chinook period," Currence said. "It was dry."
In recent years, that side channel has held water only during winter floods, too late in the year to help the struggling spring chinook run. But with $370,000 in grants from state and federal sources, tribal biologists and the tribal public works department set about encouraging the river to flow through the channel in late summer. Logjams were anchored in place with steel cable to gently divert the river's flow into the channel, and a bit of excavation work was done to enable the water to flow where it was needed.
More here.

Group hopes to expand restoration work on the Columbia River estuary
September 2, 2009 (Oregonian)
An environmental partnership has raised its goal for restoring habitat on the Lower Columbia River estuary, a region that reaches from the Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean.
The Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership wants to reclaim 19,000 acres by 2014, restoring tidal swamps and natural areas that disappeared during 120 years of human development. The nonprofit originally set 16,000 acres of restoration as its goal, but upped the ante to deal with the severe degradation on the lower reaches of the river.
"We have accomplished a lot, but there is still so much to be done," said Debrah Marriott, executive director of the estuary partnership, which works with state agencies from Oregon and Washington, as well as nine counties and 25 communities.
New federal guidelines emphasize enhancements to improve fish survivability, which required the partnership to shift its approach from ready-to-go projects to extensive monitoring of toxins, evaluating habitat restoration and creating a sediment management plan.
More here.

The Proposed Killer Whale Vessel Guidelines- The 'Where'
September 2, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog by Candace Calloway Whiting)
Where will the proposed new rules be applied?
The new rules that are under consideration by the National Marine Fisheries Service will apply to all orcas anywhere for some of the rules, with an area off the west side of San Juan Island to be designated a "No Go Zone" that will prohibit most vessels- including all tour boats and private vessels other than those particularly excepted - from entry during the spring and summer/autumn months.
This is an area that the southern resident orcas have been observed to feed/and or travel frequently. Their rest areas, as defined by the National Marine Fisheries Service, are not included.
More here.

UW gets $126 million grant -- largest ever -- for ocean observatory
September 2, 2009 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The University of Washington announced Wednesday that it will get a $126 million federal grant -- the largest award the school has ever received for one project -- to study the ocean as it as never been studied before.
The grant is to construct an observatory off the Pacific Northwest. It will uses miles of power and fiber-optic cables, robots and instruments to investigate the ocean from Alaska to Oregon.
It is part of $385 million in funding over 5 1/2 years for the National Science Foundation and its ocean observatories initiative.
The initiative is to provide a network to observe such ocean processes as climate variability, ocean circulation and ocean acidification at coasts, on the open ocean and on the sea floor.
"The ocean observatories initiative will enable entirely novel forms of interactive human telepresence throughout much of the global ocean, said John Delaney, a UW oceanography professor in fact sheet posted on the university's Web site.
More here.

What they found in the Pacific Gyre
September 1, 2009 (San Francisco Blog)
The tall ship Kaisei has returned from its month-long voyage to the plastic garbage vortex swirling through the North Pacific Gyre, and the preliminary findings of the ocean researchers are something of a wake-up call.
"We trawled thousands of miles, and we tested surface samples across the whole distance," said Doug Woodring, cofounder of Project Kaisei, created in May of 2008 to study and address the growing problem of marine debris. "Every single sample came up with plastic."
"We barely scratched the surface," added Woodring, who was speaking at a press conference at San Francisco's South Beach Harbor on Sept. 1.
Project Kaisei is a project of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a Sausalito-based nonprofit founded in 1979. The voyage was conducted in partnership with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, which sent a second research vessel, called the New Horizon, to collect samples of the marine debris for further study. The voyage was just the beginning of the mission, and now Scripps scientists have a good six months of lab analysis ahead to try and better understand the impact of plastic on the marine environment.
More here.

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