Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow in the San Juan Islands- An Early Christmas Present

This week the San Juan Islands have "enjoyed" the rare essence of Christmas known and loved by young and old- snow. Winter on the islands tends to provide locals with a closure to the inherent cycle of beauty, a respite from the hustle and bustle of the summer months and the chance to recharge the battery pack that generates energy, fire, and stamina for the year to come. Winter can bring solitude but with it comes a sense of peace- and the beauty offered up by the quiet snowfall certainly adds to that allure!

The first now brushed the island on December 14th and it certainly has not let up since then. Snow kept many islanders hunkered down in warm homes over the weekend and the early part of this week, as storms continued to blanket the region. I do not have an accurate total of inches, but in our daily hikes it looks as thought the west side may have about 7 inches, and we're expecting more this evening. Now seven inches of snow in areas prepared for snow is "just another day." But we know that Island living adds a whole new meaning to such descriptors. Snowfall, icy conditions and lots of freezing cold winds have kept the islands shrouded in a beautiful but dangerous wintery wonderland. SEATAC and the eastern side of Washington took the brunt of the storm, but brunt also gets redefined when there are just a few plows on an island covered in snow. Add to the limited number of plows the tendency to stockpile the limited amount of sand we have here- and you begin to get the picture. Poor road crews- they could barely stay on the roads themselves to deliver the greatly needed traction!

Still, I just love this time of year. When we moved from Maryland back in 2005, we were told by the locals "that we never get snow on the Islands." Hmmm... In 2006, our second winter on the Island, we woke up to nearly 17 inches of "never" on our deck. We had not even brought a snow shovel for the move! Shortly thereafter, Mother Nature deposited another 9 inches- and so the stage was set- snow most certainly does fall on the Islands. And we learned, NEVER say NEVER. Another thing we've learned? Take it all in stride, welcome the respite and embrace the beauty of snow sitting on a beach brushed by waves.

Some pics from the week- pretty limited but driving has been questionable at best! Enjoy and happy holidays!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Storm Projected to Hit Washington State With a Fury in Areas

Click Here 
for a presentation from NOAA regarding the expected storm slated to hit Washington State this evening through Sunday.

NOAA Has A New Lead! And Changes are On the Horizon (Fingers Crossed)


Two IMPRESSIVE appointments set the stage for change in advocacy. This could be substantial!
San Juan Island Friday Harbor 2009 Photo Calendar calendar
WASHINGTON – President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday named a Harvard physicist and a marine biologist to science posts, signaling a change from Bush administration policies on global warming that were criticized for putting politics over science.

Both John Holdren and Jane Lubchenco are leading experts on climate change who have advocated forceful government response. Holdren will become Obama's science adviser as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Lubchenco will lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which oversees ocean and atmospheric studies and does much of the government's research on global warming.

Holdren also will direct the president's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. Joining him as co-chairs will be Nobel Prize-winning scientist Harold Varmus, a former director of the National Institutes of Health, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Eric Lander, a specialist in human genome research.

"From landing on the moon, to sequencing the human genome, to inventing the Internet, America has been the first to cross that new frontier because we had leaders who paved the way," Obama said in announcing his selections in his weekly radio address. "Leaders who not only invested in our scientists, but who respected the integrity of the scientific process." "Because the truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources — it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology," he said. "I could not have a better team to guide me in this work."

In their posts, the four scientists will confront challenges in global warming after years of inaction by the Bush administration, which opposed mandatory cuts of greenhouse gas pollution. Last year, former Surgeon General Richard Carmona testified to Congress that top Bush administration officials often dismissed global warming as a "liberal cause" and sought to play down public health reports out of political considerations.

Since 1993, summer Arctic sea ice has lost the equivalent of Alaska, California and Texas, and global warming is accelerating. The amount of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere has already pushed past the level some scientists say is safe.

Holdren, 64, is a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington who has pushed for more urgent action on global warming. As Obama's top science adviser, he would manage about 40 Ph.D-level experts who help shape and communicate science and technology policy.  Colleagues say the post is well-suited for Holdren, who at Harvard went from battling the spread of nuclear weapons to tackling the threat of global warming. He's an award-laden scientist comfortable in many different fields.

"Global warming is a misnomer. It implies something gradual, something uniform, something quite possibly benign, and what we're experiencing is none of those," Holdren said a year ago in a speech at Harvard. "There is already widespread harm ... occurring from climate change. This is not just a problem for our children and our grandchildren."

Lubchenco, an Oregon State University professor specializing in overfishing and climate change, will be the first woman to head NOAA. A member of the Pew Oceans Commission, Lubchenco has recommended steps to overcome crippling damage to the world's oceans from overfishing and pollution and has expressed optimism for change once President George W. Bush leaves office.

"The Bush administration has not been respectful of the science," she said earlier this year. "But I think that's not true of Republicans in general. I know it's not. I am very much looking forward to a new administration that does respect scientific information and that considers it very seriously in making environmental policies."

Varmus, who was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for his research on the causes of cancer, served as National Institutes of Health director during the Clinton administration. A former medical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, he helped found the Ralph Lauren Center for Cancer Care and Prevention and chairs a scientific board at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Lander, who teaches at both MIT and Harvard, founded the Whitehead Institute-MIT Center for Genome Research in 1990, which became part of the Broad Institute in 2003. A leading researcher in the Human Genome Project, he and his colleagues are using the findings to explore the molecular mechanisms behind human disease.

In his radio address, Obama said he planned early next year to more closely address the issue of engaging the nation's technology community to "harness technology and innovation to create jobs, enhance America's competitiveness and advance our national priorities."
"It's time we once again put science at the top of our agenda and worked to restore America's place as the world leader in science and technology," he said.
Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Sound's Future Still Murky

Orca Whale Collage Wildlife Photography print
Sound's future still murky
Development, growth, runoff threaten gains


Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, after digging up and studying some well-preserved muck tracking Puget Sound's water quality changes going back to the 19th century, report both good and bad news for the ongoing effort to clean up the region's ecologically wounded waterway.

The good news is that repeat sediment analyses performed by the researchers over the past quarter-century show that when major pollution regulations were passed decades ago, there were marked declines in contaminants such as arsenic, lead and copper from "point sources," such as the old Asarco Smelter in the Tacoma area.

"It demonstrates the positive impact these environmental regulations had on the overall water quality of Puget Sound," said Jill Brandenberger, a marine chemist at the national lab's marine sciences branch in Sequim who, with national lab colleague Eric Crecelius, conducted the study.

The bad news, Brandenberger said, is that the sediments indicate that these dramatic gains started to slow down in the late 1980s -- and, in some cases, appear to have even started to worsen -- the result of "nonpoint" pollution from the region's population growth, development and consequent increases in contaminated stormwater runoff.

"If we continue on with what we're doing now, it is likely Puget Sound will never recover," Brandenberger said.

Never is a lot farther off than 2020.

That's the target set by Gov. Chris Gregoire and a fairly new state agency called the Puget Sound Partnership for finally restoring the inland marine body to a healthier, near-natural ecological state. An official "action agenda" was released earlier this month, asking for an additional $199 million on top of the plan to spend $400 million over two years.

On the 197-page agenda for the Puget Sound cleanup are some 150 recommendations, including beefed-up enforcement of shoreline regulations, improved building requirements that reduce stormwater runoff, more protection of fish runs and natural shellfish beds, mitigation of wetland damage from development and other measures.

A draft of the agenda drew ire from some experts who felt it failed to suggest strong enough actions to reduce runoff.

"It's been a little bit of a confused situation," said David Dicks, executive director of the partnership. Dicks acknowledged that the draft plan neglected to emphasize the need to control runoff, but said most of the early critics have since agreed that the final version sufficiently addresses the problem.

"This study is consistent with our own findings and shows we've got to get after this now," Dicks said.

Regulating effluent from a smelter is a lot easier than controlling pollution that comes from homes, gardens, automobiles and innumerable other sources that the region's regular rainfall eventually carries into the Sound.

On three occasions over 23 years, national lab scientists collected 10-foot-long sediment cores from the seafloor in various locations deep beneath the surface of the Sound. These cores, collected in 1982, 1991 and 2005, contain within them the chemical history of the marine water going back more than 100 years. Every centimeter of sediment, the scientists said, is like a "rap sheet of toxins" going back in time.

The first hazardous metals showed up in the sediments about 1890, the study found, when metal smelting began near Tacoma. Lead and arsenic (byproducts of the smelter) concentrations began rising, slowed during the Great Depression when work slowed and picked up again in amounts during World War II. With the onset of clean water regulations and with the closure of the smelter, Brandenberger and Crecelius found, marine arsenic levels have now returned to pre-industrial levels.

"This shows Puget Sound has the ability to recover," Brandenberger said. Lead levels have also declined, she said, but not as much likely because of lead still being dumped into the Sound by other sources of contaminated runoff.

But another class of chemicals associated with gasoline combustion known as PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), Brandenberger said, is increasingly showing up in the sedimentary record. These byproducts of automobile use and other kinds of fuel combustion are entering the sound through runoff, she said.

The scientists say their findings strongly suggest that "new approaches to regulating nonpoint sources are necessary" if the Puget Sound cleanup is to have any hope of success.

P-I reporter Tom Paulson can be reached at 206-448-8318 or tompaulson@seattlepi.com.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Coming January 1: Free Electronics Recycling

Click on the link for details and happy recycling at no charge!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Orca Scat and Tucker the Dog Make headlines!

Unique Gifts From Friday Harbor and the San Juan Islands

Looking for unique wildlife photography and gifts from Friday Harbor to commemorate your visit to the San Juan Islands? Now you have a one stop shop for all your Friday Harbor gifts and unique clothing from the San Juan Islands!

I'd Rather Be in the San Juans! bumpersticker
PRLog (Press Release) – Dec 01, 2008 – Located in the Pacific Northwest, the San Juan Islands offers beautiful views, stunning wildlife encounters and those ever sought after Orca Whale encounters. Now you can commemorate your visit to Friday Harbor and the San Juan Islands with the opening of a custom gift shop online for your convenience! Visit http:///www.zazzle.com/sandybuckley* for gifts featuring the local southern resident community of orca whales, wildlife posters, sports gear and more! 

Every gift from the San Juan Islands is completely customizable and there are many sizes and styles to fit your needs? Looking for a great kayaking shirt? Custom wedding stamps? Orca whale collage posters? You need look no further than http:///www.zazzle.com/sandybuckley*. Great selections of wildlife photography from the San Juan Islands, gear and gifts for one and all! Sales happening all the time this holiday season- so check in now to see what's going on!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Brief Respite From The Orcas

A Belated Happy Thanksgiving to all!  The southern residents have actually been around over the holiday- they passed by the Lime Kiln Lighthouse headed south yesterday morning MILES offshore, apparently headed west towards the open ocean. We've also been hearing them at the Port Townsend hydrophones...and that's about all the whale new I can share.

Life on an Island this time of year can be inspirational in its solitude- the visitors have returned to their off island homes and the Islanders begin to prepare for winter. The fog often rolls in off the Haro Straits and blankets the town in a salty sea scented mist, the eagle cries wafting overhead and out of sight temporarily.  The Trumpeter Swans have returned for the winter- their passes overhead making a brightly outlined juxtaposition against the grey of the waters beneath their flight. Grebes and loons as well as Harlequins dot the waterfront, their calls echoing up the hillsides.  There is a certain beauty to the solitude of this season which the Islanders embrace, even if the throngs of tourists do not.

One of the wonderful aspects of life devoid of shopping malls (or even McDonalds for that matter) is avoiding the potential for isolation by huddling together with some of the closest friends I have ever had the joy of knowing.  Friendships have a new meaning here- the relationships are meaningful and enlightening- each adding a nuance of beauty into your life for whatever reason. The people here are truly genuine- no goals other than to enjoy life to the fullest and embrace the beauty offered by not only the landscape and wildlife but one another. 

I have been inspired by some of these very kind souls to look introspectively, approach the world with a different outlook and embrace the beauty of art. Yup, drawing. Oh well- it had to happen someday, right? We started out a couple of years ago making jewelry (how addictive that can become!), moved on to pencil sketches and watercolors. The girls in the studio are all accomplished artists, some nationally recognized- and yet they are unfailingly encouraging and generous with their instruction. Every Sunday and most Thursdays we gather together to collaborate and accomplish, share inspirations and dreams and most importantly, create. Honestly, I cannot have ever imagined this spirited camaraderie back in Maryland- then again, maybe I was simply not looking.

So, not to bore you with the details, thought I would post my first colored pencil sketch just for fun. I know it's not a whale photo- but artistic license is the word of the day...smiles.  I think I overcompensated the colors subconsciously because of our currently grey landscapes- but if the color fits.... Happy Sunday!

Monday, November 24, 2008


Hot off the presses!!

Katy Johansson
Puget Sound Partnership, EPA award $700,000 for salmon recovery efforts
OLYMPIA – Vital salmon recovery efforts throughout Puget Sound will receive a $700,000 boost, thanks to grants awarded by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Each of the Sound’s 14 watersheds will receive a $50,000 grant – issued as part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) National Estuary Program – to implement salmon recovery. 

“The salmon recovery work happening in the watersheds is the cornerstone of broader Puget Sound recovery efforts,” said David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, which officially became the region’s lead salmon recovery organization Jan. 1. “The Partnership is looking at the watersheds’ collaboration on salmon recovery as a model for the recovery of the entire Puget Sound ecosystem. Our success depends on this kind of approach. Everyone who has a stake in the Sound must be part of the solution.” 

The money is part of a $20 million federal appropriation for EPA’s research and remedial program, which addresses the overall health of the Puget Sound ecosystem. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., was instrumental in obtaining that funding. 

“I am excited that we were able to secure these funds and that they are being used to continue critical local efforts to restore Puget Sound and recover salmon,” said Congressman Dicks.

The $50,000 grants will allow watershed groups the ability to perform the core functions of local salmon recovery implementation, including:
• Selection, review, prioritization and implementation of restoration and protection efforts;
• Education and outreach;
• Tracking and measuring project implementation progress;
• Adaptive management of recovery plans;
• Coordinating local citizen and technical groups; and
• Generating operating, programmatic and capital funds.

“It is encouraging that the Puget Sound Partnership and the EPA realize the strength of the partnerships built to restore Puget Sound,” said Clallam County Commissioner Steve Tharinger, chair of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board and a member of the Partnership’s Ecosystem Coordination Board. “Watershed groups contribute creativity, knowledge and motivation to implement lasting, community-supported solutions for the complex challenges facing salmon and the Sound.”

“In these tough economic times, we need to affirm our commitment to recover salmon in Puget Sound,” said state Sen.-elect and San Juan County Councilmember Kevin Ranker, former co-chair of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council. “These grants are timely and critical for local communities. This support goes a long way toward protecting and restoring Puget Sound by maintaining the dedicated, trained people who work daily to recover our threatened and irreplaceable salmon.”

Only 22 of at least 37 historic Chinook populations remain in Puget Sound. Those that still exist are at only 10 percent of their historic numbers, with some down lower than 1 percent. The decline in salmon is closely associated with the decline in the health of Puget Sound.

Salmon recovery is guided by implementation of the Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Plan, adopted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association in 2007. That plan, as well as the individual watershed recovery plans within it, can be found on our Web site: http://www.psp.wa.gov/SR_map.php.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Puget Sound In A Quagmire

Having JUST blogged about this very issue earlier this week, I thought some follow up was appropriate.

Sound cleanup criticized
Scientists say plan headed for failure


The state's emerging plan to rescue Washington's ecologically troubled inland sea seems headed for failure, a group of leading Puget Sound scientists said Friday.

"Our prediction is that the proposed action agenda, if adopted as is, will not halt nor even slow the decline in the health of the Puget Sound ecosystem by 2020," Gov. Chris Gregoire's stated goal, said a letter written by the scientists.

The agency putting the finishing touches on the "action agenda" to save the Sound disagreed, saying it has heard the scientists' previous criticisms and adjusted the plan accordingly.

The letter was the latest criticism by the scientists, who have accused the Puget Sound Partnership and its predecessor of pushing inadequate rescue plans for the Sound.

The Sound is troubled by historical overfishing and toxic waste disposal, as well as ongoing pollution, mostly from water that runs off hard surfaces like streets and parking lots after rains.

The partnership's plan is to be submitted to state officials Dec. 1. Partnership officials are putting the finishing touches on the document, which seeks to reinvigorate Sound-rescue efforts that have failed to halt the decline of the water body since they were launched in the 1980s.

The three-paragraph letter to the partnership was addressed to Executive Director David Dicks, who expressed frustration Friday, saying the scientists' previous advice had been carefully incorporated into the action blueprint.

Dicks cited parts of the plan that respond to previous criticisms, such as where it calls for developing criteria next year to determine the highest-priority locations to stop the polluted stormwater runoff.

"We literally have said in almost the same verbiage they used that, yeah, we got it," Dicks said. "What about 'yes' do (the scientists) not understand?

"We've done I think almost exactly what they said to do, and in some cases gone further. ... We agree with them. I don't know how much more we can agree."

Fourteen scientists, including engineers and biologists, signed the letter. About half have ties to UW.

P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or robertmcclure@seattlepi.com. Read his blog on the environment at datelineearth.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Naturalist Gear Down Workshop Fall 2008 Overview

On November 7, I attended the Naturalist Gear Down Workshop at The Grange in Friday Harbor which was sponsored by The Whale Museum. What a great and informative session this was, covering everything from the Status of the Southern Resident Orca Whale population to Salmon Recovery Efforts underway in the San Juan Islands.  Beginning at 9:30am, this one-day workshop was held as a continuing educational training for naturalists already working in the field and graduates of the Marine Naturalist Training Program. So, what did we learn?

Update on the Southern Resident Killer Whale Population
The session was opened by Dave Ellifrit, a biologist from the Center For Whale Research. The current count for the endangered Southern Resident community of orca whales is 83- meaning that there is a loss of seven whales since last fall, with J pod appearing to be the strongest of the three in terms of overall survival these past few years. Of interest, Dave mentioned that this year was the first time scientists actually watched a whale (L106) seemingly fill back out after having been watched for what is called "peanut head." There is usually a thick layer of blubber just behind the skull, which begins to deteriorate, forming what appears to be an indentation- a dip right behind the blow-hole. Scientists believe that the "deterioration" collaborates with starvation- for whatever reason (ie: decline in fish populations, a sickness, etc)- but the whales seen losing that blubber layer are monitored closely for emaciation. This year, L 106 beat the odds and apparently restored the blubber layer! 

Overall, Dave indicated that the actual overall size of this endangered population of orcas do not seem as large as they once were- the dorsal fins are much smaller that years gone by and the overall size appears to be diminishing for reasons unknown.  The Southern Residents here average 24 feet for adult males and about 20 feet for females, a bit smaller than most orca populations around the globe. As well, there were comments about the changes in travel patterns and super pod activity this year as compared to others, wherein this year we had many frequent inter pod grouping traveling together for extended time frames - specifically a group from L Pod traveled with J Pod most of the summer, and twice J Pod has split into two completely separate groups, out of acoustic range from each other. Super pods were less frequently seen and when they were, they were usually spread out and not all whales were present? So what does that mean? Well, it could be an indication of food stress, but more time will be needed to see how this unfolds. Fingers crossed the whales have a good winter.

And next year? Well, we'll see if there are still funds for the continuation of the helicopter monitoring (aerial girth and measurement field study) and they are also looking for funding to tag some of the southern residents. Permitting is in the works, I guess we'll have to see how that pans out...

Salmon Recovery in the San Juan Islands
Next we were treated to an hour of discussion lead by Barbara Rosenkotter, the San Juan County Lead Entity Coordinator for the Salmon Recovery Program.  Because of their location, the San Juan Islands serve as a critical habitat for the young salmon heading from their fresh water birthplaces out to the open sea. It is here that the young fish live and grow strong enough to survive their lifespan at sea and it is in these waters when they will live, forage and be protected from predators. As well, many of our beaches provide critical habitat for spawning forage fishes such as sand lance and Pacific surf smelt. Forage fishes are a major food source for salmon.

At this point in time, we are looking at Chinook having been listed as endangered in 1999, the Southern Resident Orcas in 2007 and steelhead in May of 2007.  Currently, there is only 10% of the historic numbers of Chinook in the waters in and around the Islands. While studies suggest that Dams kill nearly 92% of young salmon headed downstream and 25% of spawning adults headed up, we still need to be mindful of our footprint on the delicate ecosystem in which we coexist. Research has not yet been directed towards an understanding of the most effective ways to protect and restore marine and nearshore habitats for salmon recovery. What is known is that human activities in the watershed - from the uplands to the marine waters - can significantly alter ecosystem processes and habitats needed for salmon in the region. Our local strategy is to focus first on filling gaps in knowledge about nearshore contributions to migratory salmon and other aspects of nearshore habitats and utilize this information to enhance protection measures and identify and prioritize restoration activities.

Acceptable Risk
If you were asked what level of hazardous toxins you would be willing to ingest on a daily basis, what would your answer be? Well, if we asked our southern resident community of orca whales, they'd have to tell you "you are what you eat." Kristen Burgess was our next speaker who advised  that geologists are often called to the scene of a hazardous site with the obligation to meet or exceed EPA requirements for decontamination of PCB's. They are expected to clean the area to an "allowable" threshold of 1 ppm in a single particle of soil. PPM is a term commonly used to express contamination ratios, as in establishing the maximum permissible amount of a contaminant in water, land, or air. In this instance, it means 1 person per million would die when exposed to that level of PCB in that particle of soil. Comforting? Read on...

Orcas face a daunting array of threats to survival, including ship traffic, reduced abundance of prey and environmental contamination- not the least of which are PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls ). PCBs make whales more vulnerable to infectious disease, impair reproduction, and impede normal growth and development. Our whales don't need voices to tell us about their experience of eating the salmon in these waters and the levels of hazardous waste they hold in their blubber layers. Remember, a geologist must clean up a particle of soil so that it contains less than 1 ppm. Male orcas in our resident whales contain 150 ppm and females, 50ppm- (reduced through maternal transfer when feeding their young- so each new baby whale is fed PCB laden mother's milk.)

According to Kristen Burgess, a geologist charged with consulting with the EPA on major superfund clean ups, the Puget sound basin has 16 superfund sites containing PCBs- most of them huge military fortresses which once served as the naval military hub during between the late 1800's and mid 1900's. While clean up is progress, the PCB's continue to steep into the waters of the Puget Sound, which does not have enough tidal backwash to really ever decontaminate itself. However, the government allows sediment profiling (basically monitoring over the years- just taking down numbers) to serve as a justifiable method of adhering to clean ups- without really ever forcing the clean up to continue. Kristen was pretty clear that the EPA needs to change their model for true reduction in PCB's to take place in the area. And in the meantime, don't eat the shellfish unless you answered the first question here as "I like to glow in the dark."

Orca Acoustics: Breaking News
Scott Viers was our final speaker of the day- and his news was enthralling. It seems as though his students and he have been able to provide real data that our local Southern Residents are indeed being forced to "speak louder" due to noise impacts in the Local waters. Using methodology that is so advanced and complicated I would never try and recount it for fear of becoming lost, Scott can now prove, using multiple sub water hydrophones attached to their vessel, Gato Verde’s (who's electric motors are silent in the waters)- they were able to locate the whales who were "talking" and monitor the dB level with and without ship noise in the area. The questions this brings to mind? What exactly will the cost be to the whales for having to have to raise their voices due to increased boat traffic in the area? And do their calls have anything to do with foraging- if so, will this be impacted? Meaning, are boat noises adding to or creating problems for the whales and their efforts to find available and very limited food sources right now? Can whales lose their hearing?

Stay tuned, I am sure there is more to come. But overall, this was a sobering day- a lot of information to absorb- most of which left me feeling pretty helpless about the whales and our own habitat. I do intend to look onto the Puget Sound Partnership Efforts. Tell the Puget Sound Partnership what you think: Speak up for real actions to restore the Sound to health.  

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bad News For Salmon And The Orcas

One of the causes for dying off of the local Orca population may well be a lack of food. One way to know -and there are many- is to count the number of salmon coming through the locks Only 38,000 sockeye are said to have been counted at one lock location, whereas an expected historical number would have been 300,000 or more.

One of the theories as to why the sockeye numbers are so low is related to warmer water. After the young fish leave fresh water for the ocean they be entering one of the so called dead zones that have been created off the coast of the western states and British Columbia.

It is believed these zones are caused by a change in water temperature, which can cause an upwelling of low oxygenated water to come to the surface. Living things in this zone can be killed due to the lack of oxygen, and the lack of food then results in the killing of the young salmon, which in return reduces the amount of food for the Orca.

It has also been noted that warmer waters can extend the range of predators into areas where they would not normally be, and they may have found the starving salmon smolts as a waiting feast.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez sent out a press release stating they had “determined that there has been a commercial fishery failure due to a continued fisheries resource disaster in the sockeye salmon fisheries in Puget Sound and the northern Pacific coast of Washington.” Not new really, but not too many people will argue the point.

Another theory is that because the waters are becoming warmer, more predators have moved up north to feed on salmon smolts; many of which it is believed may be starving.

“Several Northwest Indian tribes and non-tribal fishermen in the state of Washington have been hurt by drastic declines in sockeye salmon runs and harvests that are so important to these communities,” said Secretary Gutierrez. “Our fisheries scientists continue to study the possible causes of this decline in an effort to find solutions.”

This is the second time that the Department of Commerce has found a fishery resource disaster in the Fraser River sockeye salmon fishery. A similar determination was made in 2002. This commercial fishery failure is separate from the Klamath and West Coast salmon disaster determinations made in 2006 and 2008 for ocean salmon fisheries.

“NOAA’s Fisheries Service will continue to work with the tribes and the state of Washington to assess economic damage to the fishing communities and look for long-term solutions,” said Jim Balsiger, acting NOAA assistant administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Economic collapse puts salmon revival in jeopardy

The Day After: How can one NOT be inspired following an evening where Barack Obama, standing at the podium accepting his Presidential Win, tells supporters that "change has come to America." In our new president-elect's terms, "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even one term, but America -- I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you -- we as a people will get there." 

I sit here awed by what has transpired for our nation, feeling as though I have been a witness to something much larger than an election year candidacy- and am very proud of where this nation has come.

We can only hope that stories such as the next will ultimately be proved incorrect and that our actions will speak for the survival of the paradise known as the Puget sound, along with its inhabitants. Read on.... and congratulations, America!!!!!!

Seattle PI: Economic Collapse Puts Salmon Recovery in Immediate Jeopardy

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

It's Really All About the Food Chain, Isn't it?

I will be attending a "gear Down" session for Marine Naturalists sponsored by the Whale Museum. The workshop is a continuing educational training for naturalists already working in the field and graduates of the Marine Naturalist Training Program. Since the news this year has been so focused on the decline of the Southern Resident Orca population, the program will include a discussion about salmon recovery efforts by Lead Entity Barbara Rosenkotter, and an update on the health of the Southern Resident orca population by David Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. We'll also be covering Acceptable Risk (Contaminants in the marine environment) and Threats from Underwater Sound. I really expect this to be not only an interesting day but hope to come back with thoughtful ways to address the issues affecting the orcas. I will most certainly update the blog this weekend and share the highlights.

In the interim, another opinion piece about the bottom line- food.

We have to be salmon tough | Being Frank
Journal of the San Juans Columnist
Oct 30 2008, 1:09 PM · UPDATED

We need to be as tough as the salmon themselves if we’re going to see their recovery.

South Fork Nooksack River native spring chinook are almost extinct and need our help. It wasn’t long ago when about 13,000 of these early-timed chinook came back to the river each year. They were the first salmon to arrive each spring, feeding Indian people after long winters, when no other salmon were in the river.

Spring chinook have a much tougher journey than other salmon because they spend more time in fresh water before spawning. They are especially sensitive to poor habitat conditions in the river.

Time has not been kind to salmon habitat in the South Fork Nooksack. The loss of trees and other plants along streams has removed important shade and reduced the source of wood needed for in-stream fish habitat. Spring chinook need deep, sheltered pools of cool water for their extended rest before they spawn. Water that is too warm can result in disease, reduced salmon egg survival and even death.

This summer, to give the river the building blocks it needs to restore degraded habitat, both the Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe built specially engineered logjams in the South Fork. Over the next few years, these logjams will help create the deep pools that young and adult salmon prefer.

While we are fixing the habitat, we also have to make sure that we are protecting the unique genetic traits of these fish. The Lummi Nation and the Nooksack Tribe are working with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on an important program to raise juvenile South Fork Nooksack River chinook in captivity and spawn them. Their offspring will be released in the river to migrate naturally and return as adults a few years later.

Our goal for this stock is the same for all wild salmon stocks: to recover their populations to levels that can again support harvest. By taking these naturally spawned juvenile chinook into protective custody, the tribes are safeguarding their future.

The path to recovery takes a side-by-side approach of boosting numbers now while also fixing the habitat so the river can support a healthy, productive population. I’m proud that the tribes are taking a leadership role in both areas.

Salmon face great challenges during their life journey. With their numbers falling, we have to work harder to help them on their way. As long as they continue to swim upstream, so should we.

— Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually, is chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. Members with ties to the San Juan Islands include the Lummi Indian Nation, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Tulalip Tribes.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Southern Resident Orcas Need Lolita's Return

An incredibly interesting and thought provoking article. Please click above to read and share your thoughts. Should Lolita be returned to the wild and reintroduced to L Pod, an endangered species of Orca Whales who, as part of the Southern Resident community of Orcas, have now lost 6 of their own this year?

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sometime Pictures Simply Cant Speak a Thousand Words

The cool fall air and colorfully leaved trails on San Juan Island are not only  harbingers of another winter yet to come.  This time of year you wake up to the hoots of various owls, the animals are foraging with resolute courage and the sunsets over the Haro Straits begin to burn with colors not seen in summer months.

For me, the season, although my absolute favorite of the year, brings about a bit of nostalgia for all of the wonders experienced since the unfurling of the first little forest flowers in March. I cannot help but look back over the year in photos, pining for the youth of spring and the robust colors of summer. And I realize, that sometimes photos simply cannot speak the thousands of words I would love to portray about the inherent beauty of the Islands we call home.  Described as  "jewels," with their "timeless beauty" referred to so often that it almost becomes trite... you have to wonder how do you truly encompass the magic known as life in the San Juan Islands? Since I am not a writer, that task (thankfully) will be left to others.  I will, in the interim, do my best to "describe" with my lens- a photographic diary of images and thoughts so that I will remember each day and give each person a glimpse of a surreal reality. Can you tell I am nostalgic?  Some reasons why, and these are not the "best of"- just little snapshots of life on an island miles off the coast of Washington State:

Days spent at the local coves swimming with Bogey..ok she swam, we threw sticks.

Low tides have so much to offer, thankfully, while we sat on the rocks at Lime Kiln waiting for the whales.

Countless hours spent at dawns throughout the summer at American Camp, watching for fox pups and waiting for the perfect shot which never came, but enjoying their antics nonetheless.

Reveling in the majesty of the hundreds of eagles perched on rocks an in trees across the expansive waterfronts.

Following the moulting of a local elephant seal, waiting patiently for his true beauty to emerge.

Days spent on the water with the Marine Mammal Stranding network, where with sadness comes majesty...an interesting juxtaposition.

A once in a lifetime visit to Stuart Island, courtesy of the Whale Museum!
And my reason for living on San Juan Island ....the most enthralling animals in the world.
The first of many glorious winter sunsets over the Haro Straits.
As the southern resident community of whales spend their days this week at the mouth of the Fraser River desperately seeking out the last salmon of the season, we patiently wait for the inevitable last glimpses we will have of our underwater compatriots this season- the lives around which most of the island's lives flourish during tourist season. And watch the beauty of the late fall sunsets unfurl.

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Postcards From Friday Harbor: Six Southern Residents Officially Termed "Missing"

Postcards From Friday Harbor: Six Southern Residents Officially Termed "Missing"

Six Southern Residents Officially Termed "Missing"

This just in today...

Six orcas have apparently disappeared from the Southern Resident orca pods this year, dropping the population to 83, the lowest since 2003. The Center for Whale Research and others are blaming marine pollution, depleted salmon runs, and acoustic impacts from dredging, seismic testing and military sonar for the decline in the population. The Southern Resident orcas are listed as endangered in Canada and the U.S.

"It's a hard hit," said Dave Ellifrit, senior staff assistant at the center.

The news comes amid dire reports in Canada and Washington state that depleted salmon runs are leading to the orcas' starvation. And in Vancouver, B.C., the environmental advocacy group Ecojustice today sued Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, alleging the agency has failed to legally protect critical habitat of the endangered Southern Resident and threatened Northern Resident orcas. The orca pods are called "residents" because they spend a majority of the year here, chasing the salmon runs.

Three Southern Resident orcas didn't show up with their pods at the beginning of the season — K7, believed to be 98 years old and the oldest of all the orcas; J43, a calf born late last fall; and L101, a juvenile male that had been photographed in Monterey, Calif. Jan. 27. By Sept. 30, when the Center for Whale Research concluded its annual survey of the Southern Resident population, three more were missing: L67, the 30-something mother of L101; J11, a female born in the early 1970s; and L21, a female born in 1950.

L67 appeared to be malnourished the last time center staff members saw her; she had "peanut head," a term for a depressed area behind the blowhole that normally stores fat.

In addition, L111, a calf born in August to L47, is believed to have died. (Calves are not included in the population count until they survive a year). All told, L47's last four calves have died, according to Ken Balcomb, executive director of the center.

The resident orcas have long been beleaguered. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, fishermen saw them as competition and shot them. Later, orcas were captured for marine parks.  Their population, believed to have once been in the 120s, plummeted to 71 by 1973. It rebounded to 99 in 1995, then plummeted to 79 six years later.  The population rebounded to 80 in 2002, 83 in 2003, 85 in 2004 and 89 in 2005, then seesawed around 88 since then. The local pods were declared endangered by the U.S. and Canada by 2005 and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has been patrolling the area to enforce rules requiring boats to maintain a distance of 100 yards from the whales.

Howard Garrett, director of Orca Network, told the Victoria Times-Colonist in a story published today that Southern Resident orcas he's observed are "looking sick."  "There is usually a thick layer of blubber just behind the skull, and that seems to be the first place to be drawn from when they need to draw down blubber," he told the Times-Colonist. "In some of them, there's a dip right behind the blowhole and, when you see that, you know the whale has been hungry."

An adult orca can eat four chinook salmon a day, Balcomb said. But the Puget Sound chinook salmon run is expected to be about 22,000 this year; that's slim pickings when shared with commercial and recreational fishers. It's also a far cry from the standard stock of 1 million salmon that Balcomb remembers in the 1970s.

Balcomb said the ups and downs of the orca population over the last 30 years parallels the ups and downs of the chinook salmon population. "If the chinook population doesn't do well, the whale population doesn't do well," he said.

Balcomb suggested that a 10-year moratorium on salmon fishing would enable salmon populations to rebound. But even a suggestion of a moratorium by fisheries managers would be politically difficult, he said.

Regarding that Ecojustice lawsuit: Representatives of the organization said they and other plaintiffs are frustrated by the Canadian government’s failure to take steps under its Species at Risk Act to protect the orcas. The lawsuit claims that on Sept. 10, DFO declined to issue an order to “protect the orcas’ critical habitat from destruction.”

Ecojustice is joined in the lawsuit by the David Suzuki Foundation, Environmental Defence, Greenpeace Canada, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Raincoast Conservation Society and the Wilderness Committee.

“This is the first lawsuit ever of its kind in Canada,” Ecojustice staff lawyer Lara Tessaro said in a press release. “We hope to force the federal government to legally protect the critical habitat of endangered species, like the Southern Resident killer whales.”

Bill Wareham, senior marine conservation specialist at the David Suzuki Foundation, said Canada needs to legally protect areas that serve the orcas’ basic needs for food and rest.  “Comprehensive marine-use plans that include new protected areas are essential, if we hope to recover populations of these magnificent whales.”

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Postcards From Friday Harbor: Bush's Last Stand..thankfully!

Postcards From Friday Harbor: Bush's Last Stand..thankfully!

Bush's Last Stand..thankfully!

A very disconcerting story.....

Wednesday morning repeatedly sounded sympathetic to Pentagon officials who want to run large-scale Navy exercises off the Southern California coast. While the resulting underwater sonar storm disturbs marine mammals, it also helps prepare sailors for combat.

"I thought the whole point of the armed forces was to hurt the environment," Justice Stephen Breyer said, half-jokingly. "Of course they're going to do harm."

The Pentagon and environmentalists disagree over exactly how much mid-frequency active sonar injures marine mammals, and justices Wednesday couldn't resolve the conflict. An apparent majority of justices, though, did appear ready to defer to military expertise in matters of national security.

Chief Justice John Roberts raised the specter of an undetected "North Korean diesel submarine to get (closer) to Pearl Harbor" if sailors couldn't train with sonar, and Justice Samuel Alito asked pointedly if a judge could be considered "an expert on anti-submarine warfare." Alito added that there is "something incredibly odd" about a trial judge making a decision "contrary" to the Navy's requirements.

Even Breyer, who at times has been skeptical about other claims of executive authority, suggested that "an admiral (who) comes along with an affidavit that seems plausible" might outrank a "district judge who just says" the training should stop.

"You're asking us (for a decision), who know little about whales and less about the Navy," Breyer told Los Angeles-based attorney Richard Kendall, who is representing environmental groups.

The technical but crucial legal question in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council is when a federal agency can sidestep conventional environmental protections by declaring an emergency. A Pentagon victory could make such emergency declarations more common, and on more than just military matters.

Even before the hourlong oral arguments Wednesday, legal scholars were predicting the conservative-led court was likely to defer to military necessity in time of war. The prediction is enhanced by the fact that Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council arises from the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court reversed in eight out of 10 cases last year.

It's the conflict between whales and sailors, though, that gives the case its sizzle.

Underscoring the stakes - and perhaps as part of a bit of courtroom staging - an array of uniformed Navy officers sat prominently in the front row of the visitors section Wednesday.

The Navy needs the Southern California Operating Area for training exercises, which prepare naval strike groups for deployment to the Pacific Ocean and Middle East. Sailors use mid-frequency active sonar to detect otherwise hard-to-find submarines.

The Southern California coastal waters are also home to at least 37 species of marine mammals, including pygmy sperm whales, coastal bottlenose dolphins and endangered blue whales.

The Navy's sonar produces piercing underwater sounds that Kendall said was 2,000 times louder than a jet engine. Some scientists say sonar use can cause hearing loss, cranial bleeding, behavioral modifications and mass strandings.

A district court imposed additional safety measures on the Navy, including stopping sonar use when marine mammals were spotted within 2,200 yards and powering down the sonar under certain other conditions.

"The Navy is perfectly able to train under these circumstances," Kendall said.

The Bush administration's Council on Environmental Quality declared "emergency circumstances" existed, which the administration argues should dissolve the district court's training limitations. Administration officials also dispute the extent of harm, noting that Navy exercises have been taking place off the Southern California coast for the past four decades.

"No marine mammals will be killed as a result of these exercises," Solicitor General Gregory Garre told the court. "They hear the (sonar) sound, and they go in the opposition direction. It also has some temporary effect on their feeding patterns."

Justice David Souter pressed Garre vigorously, insisting that the Navy may have brought the emergency circumstances on itself, but Justice Anthony Kennedy added that a presidential declaration of military necessity "certainly must be given great weight."

Kendall predicted the court should rule within two months, prior to the next - and final - training session planned for the Southern California Operating Area.

Whales at Risk

Judith Lavoie , Canwest News Service
Published: Tuesday, October 07, 2008

VICTORIA - Killer whales in the waters off southern Vancouver Island are losing blubber and developing strange behaviour patterns because of a shortage of salmon, say whale experts. Some endangered southern resident killer whales are developing "peanut heads" because they are not getting enough food, said Howard Garrett of Washington-based Orca Network.
"They are looking sick. There is usually a thick layer of blubber just behind the skull and that seems to be the first place to be drawn from when they need to draw down blubber," he said. "In some of them, there's a dip right behind the blow-hole and, when you see that, you know the whale has been hungry."

The Center for Whale Research is having difficulty finalizing numbers for the three resident pods this year because the whales are so spread out.  Researchers believe there might be some losses, but, tentatively, the number of southern residents is set at about 87.  As the whales search for elusive chinook salmon there are unusual liaisons, Garrett said.  "A small group from L Pod have been travelling with J Pod all summer long and twice J Pod has split into two completely separate groups, out of acoustic range from each other," he said. "It's an indication that they are searching high and low and in every nook and cranny for fish."

Environmental groups are holding a news conference Wednesday in Vancouver to protest the federal government's fisheries policies.  "The announcement marks a tipping point in a two-year battle between the federal government and concerned scientists and environmentalists about the need to protect the orcas from threats to their critical habitat," according to a news release from Ecojustice.  "There are ongoing scientific concerns about conservation of the species, particularly in light of the fact that killer whales are not looking good this year," said Lance Barrett-Lennard, co-chairman of the federal government's Resident Killer Whale Recovery Team.  The recovery team worked with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to produce a killer whale recovery strategy, which was finalized earlier this year.

The strategy's objectives are to ensure the whales have an adequate and accessible food supply, that chemical and biological pollutants and disturbance from human activities do not prevent recovery and that critical habitat is protected.

John Ford, marine mammal scientist at DFO's Pacific Biological Station, is an expert on the eating habits of resident killer whales. Ford wrote last year in a University of British Columbia paper, that "resident killer whales may be dependent on chinook salmon, and the abundance of this prey species may have a direct effect on their survival."

In the U.S., Garrett has firm ideas on what should be done to save the orcas.  "There is already a lot of effort to restore salmon on the U.S. side, and we need to tie orca recovery to salmon recovery every step of the way," he says.  That means tighter fishing restrictions, buffer zones around salmon streams and the removal of dams on the Elwha River and the Snake River in Washington state.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sea Shepherd Soon To Have A New Series on Animal Planet

I received a note from Sea Shepherd today letting everyone know they will soon be TV stars!  In November, Animal Planet will begin a  new series called "Whale Wars" which will include material collected during Sea Shepherd's 2007-2008 campaign to save the whales.  On board with the ocean advocates, Animal Planet captured the intensity of Sea Shepherd's mission and the trials and tribulations of the crew, apparently documenting the days as each moment unfolded. The final program, a seven-part, hour-long weekly series premiers Friday, November 7 at 9 PM. 

The series draws attention to this global conservation issue that has caused friction between several nations over the practice of whaling in oceanic territories. Each week on Whale Wars, Animal Planet will take viewers on a powerful and adrenaline-fueled adventure and spotlight how the group takes action against alleged illegal whaling operations. This year's campaign was particularly eventful with multiple engagements, capsizing, possible hostage taking and alleged shooting, and Animal Planet crews were onboard to document it as it unfolded. Sounds interesting!

Here's a sneak peek!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Waking up to Whales on the West Side

6:00am:  So what exactly is life like on an island surrounded by blue seas miles off shore of the Coast of Washington State?  Well, if this morning is any indicator...  there is a little fox mother outside of my office slider playing with a tennis ball and checking out the few tomatoes that have actually ripened this "summer"-it's been so cool this season that even the vegetables are confused. The fog has rolled in across the Haro Straits, cloaking the west side of San Juan Island in a chilly fall mist.  And the southern resident community of resident Orca whales has just passed my house headed North. In reading this, it sounds surreal, but it's our life!
MISTS OF FALSE BAY, San Juan Island print
Monday night I attended a gathering for the Soundwatch  Boater Education Program- a little get together at Snug Harbor to show appreciation for all the work that has been done by not only the program but the local volunteers. It was a fantastic evening spent under a starry sky, with warm breezes and an even (thankfully) warmer fire. Great to see Kari Koski who heads up the program, lots awesome volunteers and local scientists gathering to say goodbye to the end of another beautiful season with the orcas. Soundwatch has been INSTRUMENTAL in boater education this year, coordinating enforcement and educational efforts in the never ending attempt to teach boaters about not only the plight of the whales but also the impact we have through our actions.  I am quite sure if the whales could communicate with us, Kari would be first on their list.  For this reason, I am personally donating all proceeds from  Zazzle sales between August 1 and November 30 to Soundwatch- without them, I may not have the shore based photos I do! I am hoping to have at least a check for $1,000 for them for the holidays! :)
Orca Whale Killer Whale Endangered Species Courage card
On a more somber note, I did run into Ken Balcomb from the Center for Whale Research- and it certainly sounds as though the orca whales are having a particularly bad year as far as sustainability goes. The salmon in these waters will need to begin to recoverer in order to provide the food needed for the orcas.  Although CA and OR have begun to provide strategies to protect the salmon, WA has been very slow to follow. In the Pacific Northwest, the West Coast salmon runs are undergoing their worst ever crisis, as is evidenced by the collapse of the Central Valley fall chinook salmon and the California Delta food chain. The coho salmon, an endangered species, have also collapsed to record low population levels, due to decades of habitat destruction, over- fishing and pollution. Addressing the long-term restoration and management of salmon is imperative in the region if the food chain is to be sustained- and at the top of that food chain are our beloved orca whales.  We will have to watch, in the interim, to see how badly these declining numbers of feeder fish impact the Southern Resident Community of Orca Whales, who do not feast on seals and other abundant mammals. They need the salmon for  their survival, as do we all.
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Super Pod Returns to the San Juan Islands

Yesterday, what appears to be members of all three pods of southern resident orca whales returned to the west side of San Juan Island. Though far offshore and incredibly spread out (so much so photos were not even an issue)- we were able to see K's, J's and L's traveling towards the Island. At last sighting (approx 5:45), most of the whales had headed North, with some remaining to forage off the west side near Hannah Heights. So nice to see them this time of year! No pics, but here's a few from months gone by ... keep in mind that yesterday the water was ANYTHING but blue- we finally had some rain, lots of mist on the water and gray skies- but hey, even paradise needs a little rest from the sunshine once in a while!!

And just after I posted this blog we had a moment of sunshine with just enough moisture in the air to allow a brilliant rainbow to appear for a few moments...the island you see is Discovery.

Even though the whales were back in town,  I dragged one of my whale buddies off the west side to attend the opening/release party of a local band at Bella Luna's Blues Night. Wow! The music was fantastic and the crowds were out the door! Cant tell you how much I love these guys- great blues, awesome rhythms and great rapport with the crowds.  Wednesday nights at Bella Luna in the winter months are one of few things we look forward to (as far as winter goes- not much going on here in the colder months!). But great Blues by local islanders and lots of camaraderie is certainly high on the list!!!. And the pizza we had for dinner? Yum! Try the Luna Pizza...it's to die for! (And no, I am not just saying that 'cause it is named after an iconic whale...smiles...it's really good!

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