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 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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