Orca Network News - September, 2010

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
September 1, 2010 through September 30, 2010.

Scientists Use Hovering Zeppelin To Film Whales
September 28, 2010 (NPR)
"The great thing about moving slowly and low — we fly 1,000 feet above the ground and our cruising speed is 40 miles per hour — is that you really get to see the world, you really do get to see the places you're in," Board said.
This past month California-based Airship Ventures, the company that owns the zeppelin, donated a day of flying to a group of scientists so they could film and photograph an orca pod in Washington's Puget Sound.
Scientists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration mounted high definition cameras on the bottom of the zeppelin. A researcher for the Center for Whale Research also took pictures to calculate body measurements.
Whales move at about 3 miles per hour, NOAA biologist Brad Hanson said, which made the zeppelin's hovering pace even more useful for observations.
The researchers were able to observe about two dozen whales from the zeppelin. They watched the whales swim in tight groups, roll around each other and "spy hop," moving with their heads above water.
They were able to catch glimpses of the way whales behave and move under water, something they can't observe from boats, Hanson said.
"I get to see whales every day from a boat, and I get to see them closer than most people do," said researcher Erin Heydenreich. "But seeing them from the air is just a completely different picture...watching the way they move together under water is just incredible. That's something you definitely don't see and can't very much capture from a perpendicular photograph."
More here

Breaking Out of the Wind Ghetto
September 23, 2010 (New York Times blog)
The same storms also brought wind. Bonneville has added 5,000 megawatts of wind power in the last few years, and it is mostly concentrated in the Columbia River Gorge in what is known as the “wind ghetto.” As a result, at any given moment, almost all of the wind machines in Bonneville's territory are either running or not running. In June, they were running.
(Note: The four Snake River dams, which are killing off the last of the Snake Rive...r Chinook that Southern Resident orcas depend upon, only produce 1,000 megawatts, so we don't need them any more.)
More here

Scientists worry Hood Canal may suffer extensive fish kills
September 22, 2010 (Seattle Times)
The bottom fish are at the surface once again, milling about in massive clusters along the upper reaches of Hood Canal, trying to avoid death by suffocation.
The quillback rockfish, copper rockfish, ratfish, Dover sole and eelpouts have moved up from the canal's deep water in their seasonal trek away from an oxygen-starved dead zone.
But this year, if conditions don't improve soon, this new location could prove exceptionally deadly, and to far more creatures than in recent memory.

First step in removal of Elwha River dams begins
September 19, 2010 (Seattle Times)
After decades of talk and planning and debate, the $744,000 project by a Vancouver, Wash., contractor is the first work on the Elwha River in the dam-removal project. It's intended to get the river pointed in the right direction once the two dams start to come down about a year from now.
And with that, officials expect, the prized but threatened chinook salmon population also will head in the right direction — upriver by the tens of thousands.
Chinook are coming back to the Elwha in record low numbers this season, with fewer than 500 adults counted. Mike McHenry, fish-habitat manager for the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, sees a deadly combination of forces taking a toll — from the dams, which confine the fish to the lower five miles of the river and don't allow them to get to traditional spawning grounds, to state hatchery practices and bad flooding in 2006 that affected the number of fish coming back this year.
"It's not good," said McHenry, who sees 2,000 chinook come back in a typical year.
More here

Former whale trainers criticize SeaWorld safety proposal
September 11, 2010 (Orlando Sentinel)
A group of former SeaWorld killer-whale trainers is urging federal regulators to oppose a new safety feature that SeaWorld is developing in hopes of clearing the way for its trainers to re-enter the water during orca performances.
The concept calls for small oxygen supplies — dubbed "spare air" — that could be embedded in SeaWorld trainers' wetsuits and serve as an emergency source of air if a trainer is pulled underwater by a killer whale.
SeaWorld is researching spare-air systems as part of an exhaustive trainer-safety review the company launched after the Feb. 24 death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, killed by a 6-ton orca named Tilikum.
The company has said it will not reinstitute "water work" between its trainers and killer whales until it finalizes its review and makes procedural and equipment changes, though it remains uncertain when that will happen.
More here

SeaWorld hopes to learn what caused Sumar's death
September 8, 2010 (San Diego Union Tribune)
What killed Sumar?
SeaWorld hopes a necropsy, done Wednesday, will yield results as to what caused the death of one of its star, crowd-pleasing killer whales on Tuesday.
The practice of capturing them in the wild - that's how the first killer whales landed in marine parks - has come under fierce attack by animal rights groups and has mostly stopped.
Breeding the animals isn't without controversy either, though. In June, Sumar's mother, Taima, died giving birth in Sea World's Orlando park. She was 20.
"These are common diseases," said Howard Garrett, co-founder of the Orca Network. "It's just a mystery as to why this suddenly does them in."
More here

Lowering Lake Mills begins today; preparation central to clearing Elwha River of dams
September 8, 2010 (Peninsula Daily News)
Lake Mills will be lowered 5 feet starting today in the beginning of the end for the reservoir behind Glines Canyon Dam west of Port Angeles -- and an essential part of preparations for the demolition of the two dams on the Elwha River.
On Wednesday, workers finished barging a big-bucket excavator, a crane and several fuel tanks to a delta of at least 13 million yards of sediment at the southeast portion of the lake.
The delta was created where the Elwha River slows down as it empties into Lake Mills' broader boundaries.
More here

California salmon disaster continues
September 6, 2010 (Seattle Times)
NOAA Fisheries released a report in March 2009 that found the main cause of the unprecedented decline of returning salmon was unfavourable conditions in the ocean that affected the size of the population. Contributing factors included degradation of river and estuary habitats and lower genetic diversity and resilience of hatchery-dependent fish populations.
More here

The Elwha River returning to life
September 6, 2010 (Seattle Times)
Before the river was blocked to generate power for a pulp mill, the Elwha was the storied home of epic fish runs and enormous fish. In due time, the Elwha is expected to be repopulated with salmon and steelhead, Seattle Times reporter Linda Mapes recently explained.
Reviving the Elwha River is not inexpensive. Total cost tops $350 million, and includes the expense of a new water system for the city of Port Angeles and a new hatchery and flood-protection levies on the Lower Elwha Tribes reservation.
Taxpayers are paying the cost of corners cut decades ago, including a charade of a hatchery system installed to make amends for shortcuts in dam permitting.
Efforts to remove the dams began with a push by the Elwha tribe. Others took up and sustained the charge, including environmental advocate American Rivers, which campaigned for the last money to get restoration of the river and fish runs launched.
More here

Lolita's greatest feat may be surviving at Miami Seaquarium for 40 years
September 3, 2010 (Miami Herald)
But after 40 years, there are other issues at play: ``I think she has Stockholm Syndrome,'' said Balcomb, who studies killer whales as director the Center of Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Wash. ``She feels in debt to her captors and relies on them for her survival.''
Lolita certainly has a memory, and research has shown her species is one of the few known to have self-awareness. There's little doubt she has an opinion on her life and her trainers.
But biologists haven't unlocked the keys to her language, so the only creature who truly knows whether Lolita is getting what she wants is Lolita. She stays in her pool, physically able to have offspring but never likely to find another mate, as a female perennially misunderstood.
More here

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