Monday, January 26, 2009

Southern Resident Orcas Found Ailing

A bit late with this posting but the news is noteworthy and interesting! Thanks Kitsap Sun For posting!

Puget Sound's orcas collectively harbor more than a dozen different kinds of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — as well as other bacteria known to kill animals that are in a weakened condition, according to Puget Sound researchers. Independent researchers David Bain, a biologist, and Pete Schroeder, a veterinarian, have been studying the droplets emitted from Puget Sound whales' blow holes and culturing the samples.

Their research, discussed this week at a meeting about recent orca deaths, found at least two groups of bacteria known to cause death in immune-compromised individuals.

The findings add to other studies that show the orcas, possibly weakened by toxic chemicals in their environment and a salmon shortage, could be wiped out in a catastrophic event — such as an oil spill or disease. Some say a loss of a third or more of the 83 orcas alive today could trigger a death spiral for the entire population.

And it's not just the whales that are at risk.

"If these things are getting into whales, then they could be getting into swimmers at the beach," Bain said.

Because some bacteria show resistance to antibiotics, it is likely that they are coming from human sources, possibly stormwater or improperly treated sewage.

Another concern is that a disease could get into animals on land and spread to Puget Sound.

"We don't have an effective barrier to keep it out of the marine environment," Bain said. "It is possible that someone could bring a disease from another continent and expose the whales, causing a significant decline in their population."

For example, a fungus called cryptococcus gattii has been implicated in the deaths of dozens of harbor porpoises in the Northwest, he said. That same fungus has resulted in the deaths of numerous pets and serious illness for humans. Some researchers believe the fungus was brought to British Columbia in a eucalyptus tree from Australia, where the fungus is native. Spores may have washed into stormwater flowing into the Georgia Basin, which connects with Puget Sound.

Nobody can say whether the seven deaths of orcas this year were connected to cryptococcus or any other organism, because none of the carcasses were found. Researchers did obtain a blubber sample of one emaciated whale that later disappeared. They are waiting for test results to see if a cause of death can be determined.

"One thing we want to learn," said Bain, "is whether there is a correlation between the number of species (of bacteria) and the mortality rates of the whales," he said.

In other words, are the individuals with a greater bacterial load at greater risk of getting sick and dying?

Schroeder, a marine mammal veterinarian, said two groups of bacteria found by the researchers are of great concern. They are the Vibrios and Claustridiums, which are known to cause death in immune-compromised individuals.

"The same biological rule holds true in people and in animals," he said. "You can carry these pathogens around, but they have to get into your system through an open wound. Even then, you might fight them off if your immune system is in good shape."

One concern for the orcas, however, is that they contain some of the greatest concentrations of toxic chemicals of any marine mammals in the world. The chemicals include polychlorinated biphenyls, believed to impair the immune system.

Another factor that could weaken the whales is a shortage of salmon, which can cause them to use up their fat reserves in search of food. Lack of salmon has been mentioned frequently as a likely factor in the seven recent deaths.

Bain, Schroeder and their colleagues in British Columbia have not found major changes in the bacteria they discovered during their three-year study of the Puget Sound whales, known as Southern Residents. They would like to continue the research, which is funded by the National Marine Fisheries Service, and include Northern Residents, a related group of orcas in British Columbia.

Schroeder said the bacterial counts in water and orcas could become an important indicator of ecosystem health. One reason he and Bain have begun talking about their unpublished research is to get the attention of the Puget Sound Partnership, which is putting together an Action Agenda for restoring Puget Sound.

"My standpoint as a veterinarian is that I want to find out if we can prevent these animals from becoming ill," Schroeder said. "If we identify enough of these antibiotic-resistant bacteria, we can start source studies."

Tracking the bacteria to their sources — possibly sewage-treatment plants, boat discharges and urban stormwater — could be the key to reducing the orca's exposure to the dangerous pathogens, Schroeder said.

Sewage from the city of Victoria is released practically untreated into waters not far from where the whales spend much of their summers.

"That," said Schroeder, "is the elephant in the room."

Treating the whales for illness is beyond the realm of current research. Schroeder has worked with whales and dolphins in captivity where blood tests reveal the health of an individual. In wild "herd animals," such as orcas, signs of illness may go unrecognized until an individual is so ill that it drops out of its group.

If a wild whale could be diagnosed in time, Bain said it could open the door to using the appropriate antibiotics to treat the disease and reduce the risk of wiping out the entire population. That level of manipulation is sure to generate controversy. But knowing that the orcas are surrounded by unnatural bacteria, as well as a variety of man-made chemicals, could change management goals for saving the whales.

By Christopher Dunagan (Contact)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, January 19, 2009

President Obama Inauguration Concert In DC

Last night, while many Americans watched the NFL finals in preparation for Super Bowl XLIII, historians of American History were editing text books for future generations. History was being made throughout the world on this momentous evening as well.

And I am not talking about football games. Last night, hundreds of thousands of people braved freezing temperatures to join Barack Obama and his family at the Lincoln Memorial for one of the most inspirational moments US history. Well, at least for the past 40 years. And the timing is not lost, as it was 46 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King stood on the exact same steps, with President Lincoln overlooking the crowds, and delivered a speech that would change history. Last night, the dream began to come to pass and Tuesday it will be written in history. Only this time, the fists that were raised were in unity, not anger. 

The star power during the "We Are One" concert was unbelievable, the sense of patriotism inspirational.  The show — which was broadcast live from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. — set the tone for Barack Obama's upcoming inauguration. Each time a celebrity appeared to reprise Obama's trademark line about abolishing divisions for a united states of America, the crowd cheered. The sense of barriers falling was infectious. If you missed Woodstock the first time around, here was your make up session.

Interspersed with prolific musical performances were actors such as Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Forrest Whitaker, Jack Black and Steve Carrell and star golfer Tiger Woods, all taking turns giving brief speeches, all patriotic and calling for a new America while invoking former presidents such as John F. Kennedy. A sampling, although not too sure how long YouTube will keep these videos posted. And be forewarned, get your hankies!

 U2 Tribute 

America The Beautiful

Barack Obama's Speech 

President elect Obama took the stage at the end of the festivities to send a message to the crowds. Noting the monuments all around him, Obama said what gives him hope "is what I see when I look out across this mall. For in these monuments are chiseled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith -- a faith that anything is possible in America.

"You proved once more that people who love this country can change it. And as I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me every day I walk into that Oval Office -- the voices of men and women who have different stories but hold common hopes; who ask only for what was promised us as Americans -- that we might make of our lives what we will and see our children climb higher than we did," he said.

Dosen't it make you wonder if this was anything Dr. King could have even imagined when delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963. Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike have to agree on this one thing- the nation is experiencing a unity unmatched in history and a platform for change has been erected. We can only hope this inspiration moves us forward together as a nation and it is not lost in the cynical natures of the past. I, for one, have hope.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Orca Nation - New Website

I was talking to Chantelle Tucker the other day and found out she has an entirely new website up and running- ORCA NATION.

Chantelle Tucker ( has worked on this site and the overall dream for the past 10 years. According to Chantelle, "It is my belief that we need to find new ways to raise awareness around the plight of killer whales and life on the planet. Spreading good karma for killer whales is the goal. Remember that we're all connected so their health is a reflection of our environment and ultimately of our own. I hope this platform will serve as an inspiration ..."

Here's a quote from her new site:

"We believe the message spreads consistently across the seas from the Pacific to the Caribbean. In both places our oceans and wild life face the same situations. The plight of the killer whale on the pacific coast is alarming those in the Caribbean of Mexico. They care as much about the situation as they do for the endangered turtles and jaguars right in their back yards. As passionate people who will not give up, we hope to combine our forces into a more powerful and positive energy. We hope to make a difference. Like the many indigenous cultures on this planet, the “orca nation” (and life itself) need protection."

Definitely worth a visit!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Toxic Orcas in the Puget Sound

Study: Sound orcas eat more toxic salmon

A new study suggests that Puget Sound killer whales appear to be more contaminated than northern orcas because they're eating salmon that is more toxic.

Researchers measuring the presence of toxic chemicals in chinook salmon, a prime food for the whales, found higher levels in salmon from Puget Sound than from British Columbia waters.

Canadian and Washington scientists found that chinook from Puget Sound had lower fat content and were less nutritious than salmon tested farther north.

Researchers think the low fat content could cause Puget Sound orcas to eat 50 percent more salmon, leading to more toxic exposure.

The researchers tested adult salmon and smolts from the Duwamish River in Seattle and the Tumwater Falls Hatchery on the Deschutes River near Olympia.

They also tested salmon from the Johnstone Strait and the mouth of the Fraser River in British Columbia.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Proposed Changes to San Juan Island Disposal Site has Some Islanders Hopping Mad- $600,000 Spent on Studies to Date

On Nov. 14, 2006, the San Juan County Council asked Public Works to work with SWAC (Solid Waste Advisory Committee)  to "move forward with the formal SEPA discussion for siting of a solid waste facility on San Juan Island to strive to include... (1) Municipal solid waste transfer; (2) Collection, transfer and storage of recyclable materials; (3) Selfhauling of both solid waste and recyclable materials; (4) Household hazardous waste collection and storage; (5) Waste exchange; (6) Construction, demolition and land clearing debris recycling; and (7) Green waste. And over the past two years the County’s solid waste utility has spent more than a half million dollars on studies and an environmental impact statement covering five potential sites for a new transfer station and resource recovery facility.

Two years, one month and two weeks after being assigned the task of recommending a site for the San Juan Island transfer station, the county Solid Waste Advisory Committee provided their "findings."  The Island Guardian ran a story on December 30, 2008- regarding changes to our current solid waste disposal site that are apparently imminent. The story indicates that the SJI SWAC is expected to formally approve a recommendion to the County Council on January 12 that a new solid waste transfer station be constructed next to Beaverton Valley Road on San Juan Island. The committee passed around a draft recommendation (pdf 678\k file) -no copies were made available at the meeting for the public- that will serve as the starting point for a final recommendation to the County Council. 

Within hours of the story, this ongoing controversy that appears to be coming to a head of sorts, sparked strong opinions in many islanders- the same islanders who will be paying for the proposed transfer to an entirely new site. Please keep in mind the current site is located on Here's a sampling from Juniper Maas, a lifelong San Juan Island resident :

Having been a mainstay at nearly all of the SWAC meetings for the past three years it is very clear where the members stand, and all for good reasons some personal, some moral.  George Post (Chair of SWAC) declares that the people who think the site should stay where it is, are saying it for the wrong reasons.  George has bullied those meetings for a long time and whenever someone has something legitimate to say about fixing the current site, the fact that we have an amazing recycling center already (Consignment Treasures), or, god forbid, extreme negative impacts on a new piece of land...his ears shut, he refuses to take it in or digest it at all, all the while clenching his fists and feverishly raising his voice saying no, no, no, it will not work. 

What about the reduce, REUSE, recycle mentality. George does have good intention as far as his vision, but he just isn't doing his research, or keeping an open mind. A cool $600,000 plus has been spent on "studies" alone.  That money could have easily put a new roof on the (current facility) tipping floor, built a lean-to or two for steal, metal, copper, electronics, appliances, and built another average sized metal Texmo building for hazardous waste etc. In a time when people are being laid off left and right we should be ashamed of even thinking of dropping multi-millions of dollars on a new facility, when we have other options and resources if we just use a little more ingenuity.

Maybe its time to take a look at the powers that be controlling this messy waste of taxpayers dollars.

Anyone who does a thorough investigation of this charade over the past few years can see a crooked web of lies, spins, and down right poor management. Starting with the tearing down of the tipping floor roof which Jon Shannon CHOSE to do rather than repair. Jon Shannon and Public Works have had the Beaverton property in mind for a Transfer Station long before the public had any idea.

I am sure you have all heard us Beaverton Valley whiners talk about how slighted and full of fear we are because of the less than transparent process of the property purchase and use intention. Before the property was purchased a group of Beaverton Neighbors sat on the porch of Nancy and Willie Jo Cavanaugh's (r.i.p.) while Jon Shannon and Kevin Ranker pointed out to the pristine wetlands straddling both the Beaverton Valley and False Bay watersheds saying this is where the new dump is going to be.

Outraged, terrified, full of disbelief, (anyone would feel this way) we all started asking questions. The question four years later still ringing in my ears is when Dave Hall said "wait, wait, everyone" and got everyone's attention and silence, then asked Ranker, and I quote "So basically this is a done deal and the only way to stop it is to sue you" quote Ranker, "Yes".

The property seller David McCauley made out like a bandit as well. Selling the portion of the property over market value to the county for over a million dollars than what he paid for it and claiming emanate domain avoiding capitol gains taxes, meanwhile putting a slough of covenants and restrictions on the property. A couple of the bordering neighbors delayed paying their land taxes in an attempt to get their bearings about them and slow the process down and make it more transparent (a deal like this can't go through if there are unpaid neighboring taxes). Enter McCauley who graciously paid the elderly peoples taxes against their wishes.

The moral of that story is the rich get richer by avoiding taxes and trampling on the little people. The list of cover-ups and spins go on and on.

As far as all this chatter about NIMBY'S it is a very real and human reaction, we are talking about a garbage dump here, about the only worse thing would be a sewer plant. I find it extremely non "Islander like" of all the folks living near the current site who wish for it to be moved rather than fixed up. If only they could see themselves, I guess the greed has made them go blind.

They are there at every SWAC meeting taking notes with twinkles in their eyes when points are made in favor of relocation and frustrated frowns when points for fixing up the current site are made. They are ready to sue (and have already) if any talk or motion of expansion at the current facility takes place. Let us not forget, they chose and were fully aware of their neighbor, the dump (and probably got a really cheap deal on the land because of it).

I find it ridiculous when they say it can't be done at the current site, where there is a will there is a way. Those in opposition say "it's on a slope, it won't work", "there is an old landfill there". One of the greatest cities in the world was built on a landfill and is quite hilly as well....San Francisco.

Another point that somehow manages to be swept under the rug is the fact that the town can still operate a transfer station there if they wish. They have a myriad of options especially if the price is right. They could end up contracting with Roche Harbor, and of course their own trash.

Why would the town go pay high rates at the Bigger, Better, Faster, More transfer station when they could use their own? Isn't it backwards logic to create an expensive-high-tech-transfer station that caters to a wasteful society making it convenient for people to not have to think about their waste with their purchase?

I personally think the more progressive approach is to start at bottom with education. So what if people have to wait in line on a Saturday to dump their garbage maybe the less convenient it is they will take a moment to really realize what they are doing and think about reduction. As far as a recycling center like 'The Re-Store" you can just check that one off the list, do your homework and check out the Friday Harbor Fire Department Thrift House or Consignment Treasures on Roche Harbor road.

The issues of cost and safety are very real (another thing that George Post doesn't want to consider). The amount of traffic that will be diverted to Beaverton Valley road is huge. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement states that it will be prohibitively expensive to construct at the Beaverton site because of the amount of work needed to be done to the road (including paving No. 2 schoolhouse road).We are talking about a mostly rural road with a few low-impact businesses.

Many of the guests at my Inn choose to walk or bike to town as I, myself, do as well on a regular basis. Beaverton Valley is a skinny road with not much of a shoulder. Even Kevin Ranker can attest to that as he was hit by a car on his bicycle less than a mile from the proposed Beaverton site. I can attest, as well, that it is a bona fide fact that planes fly in low right over the proposed Beaverton site as they come in from the south to make a landing. I see it all the time. That is why the FAA and all of the local pilots are in extreme opposition to this site selection.

I feel strongly that if this were to go to an island wide vote, the vote would be to keep the transfer station where it is and fix it up to serve Islanders better and lessen the impact on current neighbors. I also believe that the recommendation from SWAC in no way reflects what San Juan County resident tax-payers want. I encourage the County Council to develop a referendum so that Islanders can have a say on this extremely hot-button issue.

And here is another opinion email being circulated around the Island:

Friends and neighbors,

Could you please encourage all citizens to participate in the on-line Island Guardian dump poll now being conducted. In observing this process from the beginning, I have never heard of anyone not connected with Public Works or who doesn't live near the current dump speak in favor of moving it.

Most citizens are outraged when they find the county has spent over $ 662,000 on trash consultants to date. Those consultants, the SWAC, or the Department of Public Works have not yet revealed to the public that FAA rules "discourages the development" of the Beaverton Valley and Daniel Lane sites as "incompatible with safe airport operation" and may declare them "a hazard to aircraft" if developed as PW currently plans.

In 2003, the San Juan Board of Board of County Commissioners ruled that trash operations on neighboring sites to Beaverton Valley and Daniel Lane "presented significant safety hazards for aircraft operation," "hazards to public safety" and "proximity to the Friday Harbor airport presented unavoidable adverse impacts to air traffic safety."

The Daniel Lane site is next to the departure path of aircraft and Beaverton Valley is directly under the landing pattern. The San Juan County Pilot's Association have consistently warned of the danger of moving the dump, and promise further FAA and AOPA enforcement action.

On the aircraft safety and increased taxpayer liability issues alone, the dump move should be rejected. To date, no risk/benefit or cost/benefit analyses has been made public by Administrator Rose, PW, or SWAC on the merits of moving versus improving the current facility.

Moving the transfer station is greatly discouraged by multiple federal, state, and county codes and regulations dealing with safety, cost, and environmental issues. Keeping it where it has been for more than 50 years is the safest, most cost effective, most legally compliant course of action. Proponents of moving the dump have brushed aside all cost and liability issues. Where will the county get the millions to move the facility? Raise taxes? The increased liability could bankrupt the county in the event of an accident.

The county administration has not released total expenditures on the project to date. Informed estimates range between $3 and $4 million dollars. A portion of that spent on the current dump would have cured its shortcomings both real and perceived.

A new facility built to county plans and federal regulations could total $10 to $15 million. Facing current economic realities and budget deficits on federal, state, and county levels, that expenditure is not only unwise, it is obscene. How many citizens believe such an expense justified?

The citizens owe neighbors of the current facility a clean, safe, well-run operation. Moving the problems into a new neighborhood is unjustified.

Please make your choices heard via the online poll. The opponents of openness, accountability, and transparency don't want your voices to be heard. Please forward this message to all interested citizens.

Mike Macdonald

Of interest, George Post provided an editorial on these very issues back in 2006 on The San Juan Islander. I find it interesting that he himself wrote, and I quote: "...the Solid Waste Management Plan that is intended to guide policy decisions. Mandated by federal and state legislation, recommended by SWAC and signed by the County, the Town of Friday Harbor and the State Department of Ecology, it sets forth the waste management hierarchy of REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE, DISPOSE....In a responsible democratic community, public policy ought not be made in a vacuum. SWAC is attempting through public meetings and the media to inform and stimulate discussion on how to best provide our fellow citizens with the level of solid waste facilities and services they desire and are willing to support. Are we as a community committed to the long term environmental concerns that fostered the reduce, reuse, recycle hierarchy?"

UPDATED 1/05/09: "Keep The Dump or Move The Dump??"

How would you vote on the question of building a new transfer station? Upgrade and keep it where it is, or build a new facility on a new site?

Send an email to Editor (, and state your vote in the Subject line by typing in either: “KEEP IT” or “MOVE IT”

You must include your name, and where you live, or the vote will not be counted. We will tally the total votes, post them on the front page, and forward them to the County Council members.

The County Council will make the decision, not the voters, but that does not mean the voters cannot be heard. The only chance voters on San Juan island may have to vote on the island dump issue is to vote on the Island Guardian.

This may be the only time you can vote on this important -and expensive- proposal that will have an impact on San Juan Island for decades to come.