Saturday, February 28, 2009

St Patty's Day is Right Around the Corner

Custom Stamps for All Occasions!: St Patricks Day Shirts and Gifts Are Sure To Please All of us who Are Irish for a Day!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Postcards From Friday Harbor: NAVY Plans to Increase Training Exercises over the San Juan Islands

Postcards From Friday Harbor: NAVY Plans to Increase Training Exercises over the San Juan Islands

NAVY Plans to Increase Training Exercises over the San Juan Islands

Imagine a beautiful summer day in the San Juan Islands....calm waters, the echoing blow of killer whales, tiny fins of cavorting porpoises bouncing along the water. Rejuvenating and peaceful, you sit at Lime Kiln State Park embracing the concurrent peace with joy...that is, until the shoreline begins to tremble with the vibrations of afterburners of an E-18 Growler, on a practice mission to simulate jamming enemy radar. Below the flat waters that bring you comfort, missiles fly and sonar resounds, deafening the wildlife that affords you such serenity on shore. Think of the region as a 21rst century combat computer game, only using real planes, ships, munitions and ordinance.

It is no surprise that the Navy has been conducting warfare training exercises in our region for decades, including firing missiles and machine guns, dropping bombs and practicing sonar detection of submarines. But if the Navy has their way in the next month, their training playground and exercises in the Pacific Northwest will be increased with vigor. Plans to expand these operations and others such as adding dummy minefields, scheduling hundreds more training flights and warfare simulations over land and sea, and increasing the use of sonar will add potential threats to endangered and threatened whales and other marine mammals throughout the region. Specifically at risk are the southern resident community of orca whales, whose number have continued to drop to alarming levels. Factoring in to this the Navy's plan to dump depleted uranium in the region, you begin to get the bigger picture.

The Navy says that the pending increases in warfare activities are necessary and their draft environmental impact statement, released Dec. 29, concludes (with no surprise) that expanded training won't harm marine life or the public. But environmental groups, fishermen and some politicians are wary, stating that the military sprang the 1,000-page environmental review of its increased training plan with little notice and has provided only minimal assessment periods or input from residents.

The biggest environmental concern is the Navy's use of midfrequency active sonar, which would significantly increase under the plan. Environmental groups have been engaged in litigation over the sonar use, arguing that it damages whales and other marine mammals that use sound to communicate and navigate. The Navy's plans for increased training would boost potentially harmful mammal sonar exposures from about 110,000 a year to nearly 130,000. But they are quick to predict little damage since they promise to limit sonar use when mammals are spotted near ships and submarines. How do they know when whales are in the area during training exercises? That's right..."trained" spotters on the decks. 

At risk are the southern resident orcas and nine marine mammal species listed as threatened or endangered, including seven whales.  And thanks to George Bush and more recently, The Supreme Court, it certainly appears as though the Navy's plans may go completely unchallenged despite the incongruity of the situation at hand. There is hope, however. The comment period, once limited to a couple of weeks between January 27 and mid-February, has now been extended to March 11, 2009, to allow for additional public input. Should you be so inclined, please take a look at the Draft Impact Statement (as ugly as it is) and send your comments to the Government. You can also send an email or fill out a comment form online. And in the meantime, enjoy your shellfish and salmon while you still have the chance.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

First Whales of the Year!

This morning while on Facebook, I was alerted that one of my friends was listening to whales on the Lime Kiln Hydrophone. Sure enough, I tuned in and after a brief moment was able to hear vocalizations loud and clear. Ran upstairs to the scope and began scanning the Haro Straits. After approximately 15 minutes, we were able to spot two large fins three or four miles offshore, headed north at an amazingly fast clip. It certainly looks like the boys have been growing this winter!!!! No photos- but it certainly sounds and looks like J pod is visiting the islands! My first whale sighting of 2009! Woo hoo!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Update on the Southern Resident Whales as of February 17, 2009

Two new orca calves, but one adult whale is missing
Journal of the San Juans Editor
Today, 2:29 PM · UPDATED

Researchers have confirmed the birth of two Southern resident orca calves, bringing the population to 85.

However, the news comes as one 31-year-old male orca is believed missing, emphasizing the challenges the endangered whale pods face in their recovery.

The latest newborns were spotted swimming with J and L pods off Victoria on Feb. 6 and off Nanaimo Feb. 8. The parentage is not yet known.

"We like to have several encounters before know if (the calf) was hanging out with an auntie or grandma for a while," said Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research.

Both whales were photographed by Balcomb off Victoria, B.C., Feb. 6. L112 was photographed off Depoe Bay, Ore., by Morris Grover on Jan. 21 and by Carrie Newell on Jan. 24. J44 was photographed again on Feb. 8 near Nanaimo, B.C. by Dr. John Ford.

"We are analyzing all of the photographs taken in these encounters, and will analyze photographs taken later this spring to confirm the mothers' identifications and the calves' survival," Balcomb said.

Balcomb said it's unusual for the three whale pods to be in inland waters in winter. Balcomb believes their presence here is linked to the depressed runs of Central Valley stock chinook in California, the whales' usual winter hunting area.

"Our typical first sighting is about May," Balcomb said.

The center's records have the current Southern resident orca population at 25 in J pod, 19 in K, and 41 in L — if L57 shows up.

The historical average age for male Southern resident killer whales is 29, with a maximum in the 50s, Balcomb said. The historical average for females is 52; the oldest female, J-2, is in her 90s and may be 100.

The whales' population has seesawed over the past several years. Six orcas disappeared in 2008, 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.

The orca pods are called "residents" because they spend a majority of the year here, chasing the salmon runs.

One of the whales believed to have died last year, L67, showed signs of malnourishment the last time she was seen; she had "peanut head," a term for a depressed area behind the blowhole that normally stores fat. L67's offspring also have not fared well either: L98, also known as Luna, separated from the pod in Nootka Sound in 2002 and was killed by a boat propeller in 2006. L101, a juvenile male, failed to return with the pod last year.

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.

In an earlier interview, Balcomb said the ups and downs of the orca population over the last 30 years parallel 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.

The whales have been designated J44 and L112.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Baby Whales Confirmed in Both J and L pods!!!


Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Reserach confirmed "there are two new calves (one in J and one in L), but we are not officially specifying mums yet. We are conferring with Dr. John Ford and our Canadian colleagues before stating possible mothers. We would like to have several encounters with the babies and their mothers before assigning because grandma's may also confuse things."

This is really great news! If the calves survive, it would bring the So. Resident population up to about 85 - still way too low for this fragile, endangered population, but every new birth counts and moves this population in the right direction. It is especially good news after the loss of seven members of the So. Residents last year (which included 2 of the 3 calves born, and several reproductive age females). Let's hope the whales come back into inland waters again soon, so researchers can have more encounters and confirm who the new moms are.
Susan Berta & Howard Garrett, Orca Network

Thursday, February 5, 2009