Orca Network News - April, 2004

News, updates and events about
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
April 1, 2004 through April 1, 2004.

Bush switch on salmon protection stirs outcry
April 30, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Proposal includes hatchery fish in count for listing
Sweeping changes in how salmon and their habitat are protected could result from a Bush administration proposal that would gauge the health of Northwest salmon by counting, for the first time, hundreds of millions of hatchery fish along with those born in the wild.
Critics immediately denounced the plan for ignoring scientific realities and potentially stripping away crucial protections now granted under the Endangered Species Act.
Carried out to its fullest, fishery experts said, it could result in some salmon stocks' being taken off the endangered species list after years and billions of dollars spent to restore dwindling populations.
Removing the fish from the list would weaken -- or even remove -- land-use restrictions designed to protect habitat, representing a boon to timber, mining, agriculture and construction interests that have been barred from working on the protected land.
"I feel like the people of the Northwest woke up to a bombshell this morning," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in response to reports, first published in The Washington Post and The (Portland) Oregonian, that hatchery salmon would be used to determine the overall salmon population.
Fears about the validity of the science underlying a new policy are rooted in part on NOAA's decision to reject the comments of six leading salmon experts who said that using hatchery salmon is misguided, according to an account in The Washington Post.
The policy, which is still in draft form, would have an early impact. The federal government is scheduled to decide this summer whether to remove 15 salmon stocks from the endangered list.
U.S. shift on salmon could cut protection April 30, 2004 (Seattle Times)
Hatchery salmon to count as wildlife - Bush policy shift outrages environmentalists April 30, 2004 (MSNBC)

Fish farming threatens wild salmon, scientist says
April 29, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail) A researcher whose past work has caused heated debate on the Pacific Coast says she has new data showing fish farms are to blame for sea-lice infestations in wild salmon.
Alexandra Morton, who has been criticized for linking farms to a massive collapse of salmon stocks in several rivers, said a spring survey in the Broughton Archipelago indicates wild salmon in the area are facing extinction.
"If this continues, in the end you won't have wild fish," Ms. Morton said. "I truly am watching . . . an extinction."
She said she sampled 5,000 juvenile wild salmon and found they became infested with sea lice as they swam past fish farms. "Before they hit a farm, they look fine. Then they become infested with lice, and within a few kilometres there's no more salmon [left alive]. . . . It takes very, very few lice to kill them."

Flood Dugualla Bay to restore chinook salmon habitat
April 28, 2004 (Whidbey News Times) Dorothy Christensen can look out her window at the rich farmland of Dugualla Bay flats and see a different picture.
When she came to Whidbey Island in 1935 from North Dakota as an 18-year-old Dust Bowl bride, it was all tideflats and brush. A dike built in the 1920s prevented Dugualla Bay tides from flooding more than 600 acres at the mouth of the bay.
Dorothy, her husband Henning, and a handful of others began turning the salty tideflats into farmland. They built the house on Frostad Road where Dorothy, 87, still lives, and began work on their 80-acre slice of Whidbey Island. They cleared the brush away, turned over the soil to let the rain wash away the salt, and added lime to neutralize it.
Its pretty precious to you when you start from scratch,Christensen said. They owned another 70 acres farther up Clover Valley, but had to sell it to the Navy when the base came in.
It was four years before they could plant crops on the lower property. We farmed it little by little,she said. We learned a lot. It was a completely new way of living.
But, before there were farmers or pumpkin patches there were salmon. Or at least salmon habitat. Restoration considered
Now, as part of a state-wide push to restore salmon habitat, a task force is looking at the possibility of breaching the dike across the mouth of Dugualla Bay in order to restore the natural flow of salt and fresh water in the low-lying area beyond the dike. As much as 600 acres of private land and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station could be affected if the dike was breached.

Iraq, Terror Divert Focus from Environment -Annan
April 28, 2004 (Reuters) The Iraq war and terrorism have shoved critical environmental problems like global warming and dwindling natural resources out of the world spotlight, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on Wednesday.
"However understandable that focus might be, we cannot lose any more time, or ground, in the wider struggle for human well-being. Just as we need balanced development, so do we need a balanced international agenda," the U.N. leader said.
Annan was addressing a meeting of more than 80 environment ministers and other high officials, called to gauge progress toward the global goal of "sustainable development," in which economic growth would no longer come at the expense of environmental degradation.

Orcas boost calls amid boat noise
April 28, 2004 (Nature Magazine) Killer whales living off the west coast of the US are extending the length of their calls to each other to be heard above the din of heavy boat traffic.
The findings come from an analysis of killer whale, or orca, calls by British and US researchers which has been published in the journal Nature. The orcas make longer calls when boats are present in an apparent attempt to be heard above the engine noise.
But the orcas only take this action when noise reaches a critical level. The killer whales observed in the study came from a population that lives close to the shore in waters off Washington state.
There has been a sharp increase in the number of boats in the area over the past decade. A major commercial shipping lane cuts through the waters, while tourism and whale-watching have become increasingly popular.
Numbers of killer whales have been dropping here since 1996. Researchers from the University of Durham, UK, and the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, US, compared recordings of calls made by orcas over the periods 1977-81, 1989-92 and 2001-03 in waters made in the absence and presence of boats.
Although no significant difference was found in the length of calls over the 1977-81 and 1989-92 period, the team found a 10-15% increase in the duration of calls made by the orcas during the 2001-03 period.
Long calls
This would appear to suggest that the whales are altering the length of their calls to be heard above the din of background noise from boats. "The whale-watching vessels quite often act as a beacon attracting the tourist boats," co-author Andrew Foote of the University of Durham told BBC News Online.
This increases the amount of traffic around the whales even more. While the whale-watching vessels behave responsibly - try not to start their engines up when they're on top of the whales and so on - the tourists aren't always aware of quite how to behave with the whales."
If the growth in boat traffic continues apace, it could start interfering with the orcas' ability to find food, says Mr Foote. The animals partly make calls to keep in touch, but also to co-ordinate foraging.
However, the researchers suggest that because the number of boats increased about fivefold between 1990 and 2000, the orcas only start making longer calls once boat noise reaches a threshold.
Numbers of boats following the killer whales, including registered whale-watching boats and private tourist boats increased roughly fivefold from 1990 to 2000. Killer whales having to shout over din of orca-watching craft April 28, 2004 (Portland Oregonian)

Tiny fish teeming in river Research that finds salmon thriving year-round in the lower Willamette astounds biologists
April 28, 2004 (Portland Oregonian) Beneath the thrum of traffic on Portland's Marquam Bridge, a team of biologists dragged a broad, fine-meshed net through the Willamette River, expecting to find nothing more than signs of a damaged waterway.
To their amazement, the beach seines yielded hundreds of tiny salmon along shallow, sandy beaches at South Waterfront Park and throughout the polluted and heavily developed lower 26 miles of river.
After four years of study, researchers say they have overturned the conventional view of the lower river as a mere conduit for salmon racing to the ocean.
They have proved that young salmon cruise the waters nearly year-round, feeding and growing during one of the last legs of their migration to sea. Apparently unfazed by contaminants and nonnative predator fish, salmon put on near-optimum gains in size while in the lower river, dining on an abundant food source: a tiny crustacean called daphnia.
Salmon tagged with radio transmitters took from days to weeks to make their way from Willamette Falls to the Columbia River, with side trips to explore inlets and urban streams along the way.
"It's contrary to what everybody thought about the lower Willamette," said Thomas Friesen, the study leader and a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife. The city of Portland commissioned the $1.2 million study to learn the habitat needs of salmon, particularly the four stocks among those inhabiting the lower Willamette that are listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The study has done more than upend conventional wisdom among biologists. The findings and final recommendations -- to be published in a month or two -- could lead regulators to impose new restrictions on waterfront development.

We must act now to save oceans
April 27, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer op-ed) by Kathy Fletcher and Kevin Ranker
The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy has completed the first comprehensive federal study of the oceans in three decades. The broad-based commission is direct and forceful in its message: Our nation's treasured coasts and oceans are in serious trouble. Their excellent report makes detailed recommendations that could help restore the health of Puget Sound and all the nation's coastal waters. Now is the time for action.
Many of the commission's recommendations mirror the excellent proposals by the Pew Oceans Commission's report released last year and underscore the key threats and solutions we are pursuing here in the Pacific Northwest.
The U.S. Commission report finds that increased coastal development, sediment flow, overfishing and dramatic declines in water quality have all damaged the health and safety of our oceans and beaches. Among the more shocking conclusions in the Pew and U.S. Commission reports. Despite a national "no net loss" policy, coastal wetlands are disappearing at a rate of 20,000 acres per year. During those same 12 months, 16.3 million gallons of oil, or 1 1/2 times the total amount lost in the Exxon Valdez spill, runs off our nation's streets and driveways and into our oceans and coastal waters.
Here in the Northwest, we are home to some of the most polluted and endangered sea creatures on Earth, including Puget Sound's orca whales. One-third of the shoreline habitat in Puget Sound already has been permanently altered, removing hundreds of miles of critical habitat for fish and wildlife, as well as limiting beach access for residents and visitors.

The Whale and the Supercomputer
April 24, 2004 (Anchorage Daily News) Changing ice conditions change a way of life
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Arctic is warming. Shorter winters, diminished sea ice, warmer days, thawing ground: Evidence of change has mounted over two decades. This change has been most sharply felt by the indigenous people of the North Slope.
Alaska has become a center of some of the world's most advanced research on climate change, but scientists are far from explaining the drastic warming that has occurred. Now, some of them are turning to Alaska's Native people.
Charles Wohlforth's new book, "The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change," tells the story of these two cultures -- the scientists' and the Eskimos' -- as each group seeks to understand the changing Arctic in its own way, to share that knowledge, and to survive and thrive in a new world. Over the next week, we'll be excerpting portions of the book -- on today's front page and starting Monday in the Alaska section.

"Vanishing ice" an arctic view of changing climate
Part One of excerpt from "The Whale and the Supercomputer"
THE BRINK OF THE SHOREFAST SEA ICE cut the water like the edge of a swimming pool. A white canvas tent, several snowmachines and big wooden sleds, and a sealskin umiaq whale boat waited like poolside furniture on the blue-white surface of the ice. Gentle puffs rippled the open water a foot or two below, except near the edge, where a fragile skin of new ice stilled the surface. Sun in the north reached from the far side of the lead, backlighting the water and picking out the imperfections in this clear, newborn ice with a contrast of yellow-orange and royal blue. This was after midnight on May 6, 2002, three miles offshore from the NAPA auto parts store in Barrow.

Agencies hatch plans to protect wild salmon runs
April 24, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Proclaiming a "new era" in rebuilding Puget Sound's wild salmon runs, state, federal and tribal officials Friday unveiled more than 1,000 recommendations for reforming Washington's salmon hatchery system -- the world's largest.
A panel of top fish scientists concluded it's possible to revamp how some hatcheries are run and close others so people can keep raising and eating hatchery-bred salmon without seeing them overwhelm protected wild runs.
The blueprint, the result of four years and $28 million worth of work, sets the stage to "rethink and redesign one of the most complicated, controversial and litigated elements of salmon recovery," said Barbara Cairns, executive director of Long Live the Kings, the non-profit group tapped by Congress to shepherd the plan.
"It is crucial," said U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., speaking at a news conference in Seattle. "What we're trying to do is restore the wild runs, and yet at the same time have hatchery fish to satisfy our recreational fishermen and our tribal fishermen."
Hatchery-bred fish form the backbone of the state's $850-million-a-year sportfishing industry, the nation's eighth largest. Much of that money flows to rural communities that are heavily dependent on tourism dollars generated by hatchery-bred fish.
But hatcheries traditionally have interfered with wild runs. Many scientists now blame the more numerous hatchery fish for edging out wild fish by eating their food and taking up prime habitat in streams, among other things.
But fish raised in hatcheries usually prove less fit in the wild than their natural-born counterparts. And hatcheries reduce the genetic variability of salmon, causing scientists to wonder if they are as prepared to survive over many generations.
Hatchery report urges restoring wild salmon April 24, 2004 (Seattle Times)

Immediate measures needed to save oceans
April 21, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Americans must get serious now about protecting oceans battered by overfishing, pollution and coastal development, a bipartisan government panel said yesterday in the first major federal look at ocean health in a generation.
Otherwise, the group said, managing the nation's oceans will grow increasingly conflicted as fish farms, wind-power development, mining and projects not yet envisioned move out into waters inside the 200-mile limit of U.S. control.
The National Marine Fisheries Service and its parent agency, and the whole structure for regulating fish catches, were created in the wake of a 1969 report by another national commission. But since then, there has been no comprehensive federal look at the way America treats its oceans.
The commission spent 2 1/2 years traveling the country to hear from hundreds of scientists, fishermen, environmentalists and others concerned about issues affecting the United States' 4.4 million square miles of ocean territory -- larger than the nation's land mass.

Report calls for urgent action on oceans
April 21, 2004 (Seattle Times) To reverse stark declines in ocean health, the country must better regulate commercial fishing, dramatically curb pollution that floods estuaries such as Puget Sound, and better control everything from coastal development to invasive species, according to a draft government report on ocean conditions.
The report urged the government to double spending on marine research, create a White House-level oceans council and funnel at least $1 billion more a year to states to curb pollution, clean up beaches and restore contaminated waterways.
Saying existing oversight of marine waters tackled problems in isolation, the first federal report of its kind since 1969 also called for more than 100 congressional or administrative actions to restructure ocean management.
"We are at a crossroads," said retired Adm. James Watkins, who led a 16-member commission created by Congress and impaneled by President Bush in 2001.

Dolphin advocate rips Seaquarium on hazards
April 20, 2004 (Miami Herald) A marine-mammal advocate whose complaints last year prompted Miami-Dade County to cite the Miami Seaquarium with dozens of violations blasted the popular attraction again Monday.
According to Russ Rector, head of the Dolphin Freedom Foundation, a second review by a private safety consultant showed four new electrical violations as well as failure to adequately provide safety exits at the stadium housing Lolita, the killer whale.
County and Seaquarium officials said the attraction has been working to correct the 137 violations noted by building and fire officials since Rector began his campaign last year to heighten scrutiny of the Miami landmark.
Stuart Bazerman, electrical director for the Miami-Dade building department, said the Seaquarium has ''been very forthcoming and diligent'' in immediately tackling the most severe violations and adhering to a timeline to fix the remainder. At least one of the items noted by private consultant W. Jon Wallace -- a flexible extension cord attached to the metal frame of a tent -- is allowed because the tent is considered a temporary structure, Bazerman said. Andrew Hertz, general manager of the Seaquarium, acknowledged that Lolita's stadium lacks some of the required emergency exits, but has taken steps with the county's blessing -- such as limiting the number of patrons allowed into the shows -- to ensure safety.

Drought threatens salmon as Lemhi River reaches 50-year low
April 20, 2004 (Idaho Statesman) Farmers have been up until late in the evening this last week to turn off their pumps so the last of this yearŽs young salmon are flushed out of the Lemhi River.
The worst drought in more than 50 years threatened to dry up the river where Lewis and Clark first saw Pacific salmon when they crossed the Continental Divide into Idaho. But a cooperative effort by ranchers and the state has kept a trickle of water flowing - enough that biologists believe salmon can begin their migration to the ocean.
"What weŽve got to do is get those salmon down a half mile," said R.J. Smith, a rancher and member of the irrigation district board. "WeŽll do everything necessary to save those fish."
The question is whether the effort from irrigators, who are getting money from the state for the water, is enough to meet the law.
Salmon and steelhead in Idaho are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, which also protects their habitat. If any of the fish are found to have died because of the diversion of water for irrigation, the irrigators could face prosecution under federal law.
The entire Snake River Basin is experiencing the fourth year of drought, making the problem on the Lemhi indicative of challenges facing salmon throughout the region this year. The Boise River watershed is one of the few relatively moist places.
The problem, he said, is that farmers should use pipes and advanced sprinkler systems instead of leaky ditches to deliver water to their crops.
"Even in a dry year, there should be enough water for irrigators and fish," Lucas said. "But weŽre still operating under these outmoded techniques that are very inefficient."

Years to go to rid poisons
April 20, 2004 (Tacoma News Tribune) Thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals seeped into the ground around a chemical plant in Tacoma's Tideflats during the 26 years that it produced industrial solvents.
No one knows exactly how much poison still clings to the soils at the former Hooker Chemical site and to sediment at the bottom of the nearby Hylebos Waterway. Experts say water treatment could go on for 50 years.
"This is one of the most - if not the most - complex cleanups in Commencement Bay," said Sandy Howard, a state Department of Ecology spokeswoman.
High concentrations of tetrachloroethylene (PCE or PERC), used for dry-cleaning and metal degreasing, and trichloroethylene (TCE), a metal cleaner, taint the 33-acre site at 605 Alexander Ave.
Either solvent can be deadly if breathed or ingested. The solvents also can kill or harm fish and other aquatic life, said Chris Peredney, an Ecology Department toxicologist.
Chemical plant workers quit producing the industrial solvents in 1973, several years after Occidental Chemical bought Hooker. In 1997 Occidental sold the land to Pioneer Americas, but Occidental remains responsible for the toxic cleanup.

Some like it hot -- but a robin in the Arctic?
April 19, 2004 (Toronto Globe and Mail) The glaciers are melting. The growing season is getting longer. Creatures are turning up in places where they really don't belong. It's time to stop doubting that global warming is the culprit, MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT reports. Happy Earth Day
The Far North is being introduced to the robin, the South's harbinger of spring and a bird so rarely seen above the tree line that the Inuvialuit don't even have a name for it.
In Southern Ontario, the Virginia opossum now thrives as far north as Georgian Bay. A few decades ago, it was unknown because the climate was too cold.
Wildlife biologists in Manitoba have noted that migratory butterflies are returning earlier in the spring and that polar bears along the province's Hudson Bay coastline are getting thinner because the sea ice is melting earlier, giving the animals less time to fatten up on seals, their main prey.
Why is all this happening? There could be many explanations, but the common thread through all the occurrences is that Canada's climate has been getting warmer.
That climate change might happen some day is hardly controversial. Humans are adding more carbon dioxide and other planet-warming gases to the atmosphere every year. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, concentrations of CO{-2}, the main greenhouse gas, have risen by about 30 per cent, but they will double by the end of this century if usage trends for fossil fuels continue.

Problems surface in Duwamish cleanup
April 18, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) 'Sloppy' dredging of Superfund site results in water-quality violations
A contractor hired by King County to scoop contaminants off the bottom of the Duwamish River repeatedly violated state water-quality standards and may have spread pollutants around the riverbed, records and interviews show.
The mistakes, caused by the contractor's going too fast, suggest that a dredging technique less likely to scatter polluted sediments should be used, says a community watchdog group. But county officials say they aren't ready to switch to a different kind of dredging until they see laboratory tests measuring how much contaminated mud was spread around.
Officials said the construction firm hired by King County scooped up the polluted material in such a way that it sent cloudy water sloshing upstream or downstream depending on which way the tide was going.
"They were going a bit too fast, and we got them to slow down," said Rick Huey, the state Department of Ecology official overseeing the project.
The Duwamish Cleanup Coalition, a community group designated by the EPA to watch out for the interests of those who live and work around the river, complained before the job that officials should use more precise dredging methods.

Where are the Spring Chinook?
April 15, 2004 (Oregon Public Broadcasting) Columbia River fishery managers today cut the number of days for sport fishing effective next week. The action was taken because so far this year's run of Spring Chinook is falling short of projections.
Where are the fish? Liz Hamilton heads the Northwest Sport Fishing Industry Association.
Liz Hamilton: We were expecting 360,000 adults back in the up river run over Bonneville. And this year they're either not showing or they're going to be the latest run in history.
Fish advocates say the run is falling short because of what happened three summers ago, during the 2001 drought year. That when the Bonneville Power Administration stopped spilling water to let the young fish get out to the ocean.
During the 2001 power crisis, the BPA said it had to use all the river water to generate electricity. Liz Hamilton says she's convinced Columbia River management is to blame because fish runs on the Willamette are coming in as forecast.
By way of comparison as of last Friday, a little over 2,000 salmon had reached Bonneville Dam. Last year on the same day 44,000 fish were counted at Bonneville.
This years' shrinking fish run comes at a dramatic time. The Bonneville Power Administration is proposing to limit spills at Columbia River dams this summer as it did in 2001.
Fish advocates worry that curtailing spill this year will again lead to smaller runs three and four years from now when the young fish migrating to the ocean return as adults.

Report: Rivers' futures clouded
April 15, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Spokane and Snake face more pollution
Now the Spokane River has been identified as the sixth-most endangered river in the country, according to an annual report from an environmental group. The report by American Rivers identified the Snake River as the third-most endangered in the nation.
The report was released yesterday.
The Spokane River faces a future of more pollution concentrated in less water as it moves through the metropolitan area, the report said.
"The Lilac City won't be smelling so sweet if officials let sewage plants dump more waste into the Spokane River," said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.
Governments should stop approving more water withdrawal applications for the Spokane River, and should reject a proposed sixth sewage treatment plant, the report said.
The river is also threatened by old mining wastes that flow out of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the river's source, the report said.
The Snake River, which begins in Wyoming, flows through Idaho and connects to the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities, is on the list because four dams on the Washington portion of the river are killing runs of salmon and steelhead, the group said.

Death of killer whale off Lanai is a mystery
April 9, 2004 (Honolulu Star Bulletin) A whale rarely seen in Hawaiian waters was found dead Tuesday in shallow surf off the southeast coast of Lanai.
The 4,000-pound, adult female orca -- or killer whale -- was spotted Tuesday afternoon by scientists off the coast who were conducting research on humpback whales.
They said the whale appeared to be alive but stranded in waters that were about 3 feet deep.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration team was at the site within an hour.
By that time, though, the orca was already dead.
A necropsy of the animal found no cause of death. Its remains were buried on Lanai.

Agencies reach pact on salmon protection
April 9, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Water flow agreements aimed at helping fish in Hanford Reach
Mid-Columbia River dam operators and state and federal agencies have reached a new agreement on managing water flows to protect fall chinook salmon in the Hanford Reach, the Grant County Public Utility District said yesterday.
The new Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Protection Program expands on an earlier agreement by incorporating additional limits on changing water flows. The new agreement is part of the relicensing process for Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams.
"The mid-Columbia dam operators are once again demonstrating a commitment to do the right thing for fish. This is a huge step forward for fish protection in the basin," Jeff Koenings, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a news release.
The Grant County PUD operates the Priest Rapids and Wanapum dams under one license.

A fish's role in the ecology debate
April 8, 2004 (Christian Science Monitor) Salmon have been the leading cultural icon in the Pacific Northwest since well before Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the territory 200 years ago. But now these oceangoing travelers are facing new challenges as steep as the Columbia River dams that precipitated their decline into near-extinction.
A recent series of legal actions and political decisions aimed at protecting fish would limit use of pesticides, curtail river dredging, reduce water available for irrigation, and change the operation of power-generating dams. All this adds up to the likelihood of economic conflict across a region the size of Western Europe.
Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences and another federally appointed panel of scientists have weighed in with controversial warnings. Federal judges have gotten into the act as well.
But wait. Why should one worry about any of this as long as man-made fish hatcheries can fill our backyard grills with succulent salmon by the millions?
It's not as simple as that, say experts, who liken hatcheries to zoos - hardly natural habitat. Wild salmon, they say, are smarter and heartier - better able to withstand the challenges of nature, including things no one has thought of yet. And they may well be an exceptional "keystone species" whose demise could adversely impact whole ecosystems.
During the late 1800s, biologists estimate, annual salmon runs in the 250,000-square-mile Columbia Basin totaled some 16 million fish. Today, annual runs are down to about one-sixteenth that figure. Several salmon species have been federally listed as "threatened" or "endangered." Some runs have gone extinct.

Marine initiative gets a thumbs up
April 8, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A grass-roots-based effort to restore Puget Sound and nearby marine waters was deemed a successful program that should be continued and even expanded, according to an independent evaluation released this week.
The Northwest Straits Marine Conservation Initiative relies on committees -- one for each of the seven counties involved -- to lead restoration and preservation projects in their communities. Funding sources include federal, state, local and tribal governments and non-profit groups.
Scientists, residents and government officials have been concerned by the health of local marine waters. Herring, salmon and orca populations have declined and vast stretches of shoreline have been damaged by construction of docks and rock walls intended to control erosion. Pollution has made miles of shellfish beds too dangerous to harvest.
One of the most successful endeavors by the commission has been the removal of thousands of pounds of abandoned fishing gear, including gillnets, purse seine nets and crab pots.
"This is exactly the type of grass-roots, collaborative effort needed to restore salmon and other declining fisheries," Murray said in a statement. "This communitywide effort continues to illustrate the tremendous results that can be achieved when we work together to solve environmental problems."

Gray whales are returning for annual ghost shrimp feast
April 7, 2004 (Everett Herald) Gray whales that like to munch on Puget Sound's ghost shrimp each spring are back nosing around the mud flats off Everett, Whidbey Island and Port Susan.
Each April, eight to 10 of the 30- to 45-foot-long whales take a break from their two- to three-month migration north to forage in area waters.
It's usually the same whales each year, but unlike orcas, they're not one big family. Instead, they swim solo or in small family groups, said John Calambokidis, a research biologist for Olympia-based Cascadia Research.
"There are six animals that have been the most consistent," he said, including one affectionately known as Patch because of a telltale splotchy white spot on its side.
Patch was one of the first confirmed sightings this year, first probably because his spot makes him easy to pick out, Calambokidis said.
Researchers use photos of the whales to identify them. Seven whales have been identified in Puget Sound so far this season.
The few that venture into local waters give whale watchers a treat when the region's resident orcas are gone, said Susan Berta, program coordinator for the Orca Network, a group of whale watchers that tracks whale movements in the area.
Gray whales can sometimes be seen from shore because they feed in shallow mud flats, Berta said.
"They roll on their sides to scoop in a mouthful of mud and ghost shrimp," she said. "They've got these big, hairy plates in their jaw that they use as a filter. The muddy water goes out, and the shrimp stay in."
Gray whales stop by Puget Sound for ghost shrimp feast April 7, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

Military renews drive to reshape environmental laws
April 7, 2004 (Environmental News Service) The Defense Department wants the government to ease environmental laws to avoid costly cleanups of military ranges and give states more time to handle air pollution from training exercises.
The proposed changes were submitted to Congress on Tuesday, part of the Pentagon's renewed drive to ease several environmental laws in the name of military readiness. Since 2002, the Bush administration has sought more flexibility in complying with the laws, claiming that environmental restrictions are compromising training and readiness.
Congress has approved five of the eight changes sought by the Pentagon so far.
Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, pointed to the $4 billion spent yearly on military environmental programs. "Clearly, this obligation is taken seriously by this department," he said.
But environmentalists said the military has been trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist, seeking changes to laws that would undermine the nation's natural resources under the pretext of national security.
"They're asking for blanket exemptions here, and they're asking for exemptions even in cases where there's no problems," said Karen Wayland, legislative director for Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.
Congressional investigators in 2002 found little evidence to support the Bush administration's claims that environmental laws hamper military training.
Some of the Pentagon's previous requests approved by Congress were fewer requirements for designating critical habitat and a lower threshold for what can be considered "harassment" of a marine mammal.

Navy says it will give orca researchers a little help
April 7, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The Navy is promising to help return a wayward young orca to his family and to use sophisticated tracking equipment to examine a long-standing, potentially crucial mystery about Puget Sound's killer whales -- finding out where they spend their winters.
And the service is redoubling efforts to avoid using sonar where it might hurt orcas, a top Navy Region Northwest official told conservationists here yesterday. Still, he said, national security demands that sailors be able to practice using sonar in the Puget Sound area.
"We're committed to environmental compliance, and we're committed to working with these folks," Navy Capt. Robert Schlesinger, chief of staff to the Navy Region Northwest admiral, said as he prepared to address a conference of orca conservationists.
The announcement came 11 months after the USS Shoup used what onlookers called a particularly loud sonar off the coast of San Juan Island, causing orcas to behave strangely and other marine mammals to flee as if in a panic.
That's where the Navy's plan to help with orca research comes in. If, as expected, Luna has to be captured and transported to meet his family somewhere near the San Juan Islands later this spring, the Navy would attach a tracking device to him. The device was developed for the Navy by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The lack of knowledge about where the orcas go in the winter is considered a major gap by researchers who are trying to explain the local orca populations' decline of roughly one-fifth since the mid-1990s.

Lonely Luna may rejoin orca family
April 6, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Luna, the lonely young orca lost in the back bays of Vancouver Island for nearly three years, will be the subject of joint Canadian-U.S. efforts to reunite him with his whale family later this spring.
Experts will first attempt to lure Luna out to the Pacific Ocean off northwest Vancouver Island when his relatives pass by. But for various reasons, that's unlikely to work, officials announced yesterday.
The agencies plan to attempt a reunification no earlier than May 15, Sloan said, and the process could go on for weeks or even longer, depending on how things go.
Lonely whale Luna to be reunited with family April 6, 2004 (CBC)

Plan underway to reunite lonely B.C. killer whale with its pod
April 5, 2004 (CNEW Canada) Luna, the lonesome killer whale that's been making some unsubtle - and uncomfortable - overtures to befriend boaters, will get a chance sometime by the end of the summer to reunite with his own kind.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Vancouver Aquarium announced a plan Monday that will see authorities monitor the travels of Luna's home pod. "We do not want to see this delayed," said Marilyn Joyce, the marine mammal co-ordinator for the Fisheries Department.
"We really are targeting to have this program, this plan, in place ready to proceed operationally by May 15."
Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, a veterinarian with the Vancouver Aquarium, is confident Luna will make the move just fine. But whether he'll be reunited as successfully as Springer is unclear.
"Really, the question is how quickly the pod will accept him," he said.
Plan Announced For Reuniting Luna With Pod April 5, 2004 (KIRO-TV)
Time For Luna To Go Home April 5, 2004 (KOMO-TV)

State lists Puget Sound orca as in danger
April 5, 2004 (Seattle Times) Hoping to send a message to the federal government, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission has added the region's killer whales to Washington state's list of endangered species.
The commission voted unanimously Saturday to approve the listing, while the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) weighs whether to grant the orcas federal endangered status. Covering the killer whales under the federal Endangered Species Act would likely mean significant policy changes ranging from waterfront construction to cruise-ship operations.
"It's critical that the federal government looks into this and that they don't just blow it off," said Russ Cahill, a Fish and Wildlife commissioner. "This is the major flag that waves over the Puget Sound as far as I'm concerned."
Two years ago, the NMFS decided not to list the whales as endangered. But in December, U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik ruled that the agency had ignored available science when it made that call, and observers remain hopeful that NMFS will add Puget Sound orcas to the endangered list this year.
The state decision was made after the commission discovered the local orca population has declined 18 percent since 1995, according to a department report. Several possible factors were cited, including declining salmon populations, increased pollution and harassment by marine vehicles.
Three social groups make up the region's resident orca population: the J, K and L pods. Cahill said he was particularly concerned with the L pod, which has only one breeding male.
Coincidentally, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is expected to announce plans today to reunite Luna, a 4-year-old orca, with the L pod. Luna has been stranded for two years off Vancouver Island. The Canadian government has already declared the region's killer whales endangered.
While the Washington state listing doesn't carry the weight of a federal endangered-species listing, the state can assist with recovery efforts indirectly.
"This may be a step toward some significant changes," said David Bain, an affiliate assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington who has been researching local whales for 25 years. "One of the reasons killer whales have been troubled is that food supply has been depleted. The state has a major role to play in salmon."
For instance, the state could close certain areas to sport fishing, or make it more difficult to get development permits in sensitive areas, Bain said. Tightening state regulations to prevent oil spills would also protect the orcas, he said. At a minimum, the state could provide more research funding.
But "listing under the federal Endangered Species Act would be much more significant," Bain said. "The fact that Washington state and Canadian government has already listed increases the chances that will happen."

Town torn over oil cleanup
April 5, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Clearing up train fuel could rip Skykomish apart
Fishermen were once so incensed by inch-thick slicks of oil floating down the Skykomish River that they clamored for the arrest of railroad bosses who allowed it to happen.
Nearly 80 years after those first complaints were lodged, globs of tar still burp from the riverbank and explode on the water.
It's taken that long to address the main problem: about 166,000 gallons of oil spilled underneath this mountain town where engines were once fueled before the steep slog to Stevens Pass.
And now, some fear, the railroad that gave Skykomish life might have to tear up the town's historic heart to cleanse it.

Outdoors notes: Welcome back the gray whales in Langley
April 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) It's time for the annual visit by gray whales that move into Puget Sound to feed off ghost shrimp in Saratoga Passage, Port Susan, Possession Sound and other areas. This small group of gray whales arrives each spring and stays in the area for about three months. Now through May, grays constitute the majority of Puget Sound whale sightings. For a list and map of recent sightings, see the Web site. Whale sightings can also be called in to 866-ORCANET.
The Orca Network is sponsoring "Welcome the Whales Day" on April 17 at Langley on Whidbey Island. The festival will honor and celebrate the return of gray whales, and will include a parade of species with a 20-foot gray whale (made of silk) and other creatures, a costume-making workshop, kids activities, whale displays and presentations, including John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research. Join a gray-whale-watch tour from Everett. Details.

Favor salmon over farmers, panel says
April 1, 2004 (MSNBC) Study looked at drought withdrawals from Columbia River
Farmers should not be given permission to withdraw more water from the Columbia River in the hot summer months unless the flow can be cut off during droughts, because salmon already are under assault by water that is too warm.
That was the conclusion of a long-awaited National Academy of Sciences study released yesterday to the praise of environmentalists and the scorn of farmers.
Instead, conservation and purchases from those who hold long-standing water rights should help lessen the effects of droughts on farmers, the panel of the congressionally chartered academy said.
However, the scientists warned that water shortages are likely to get worse as the climate warms. There are no easy answers to the dilemma, the panel said.
"Columbia River salmon today are at a critical point," the report said.
"The basin's salmon populations have been in steady decline, and scientific evidence demonstrates that environmental thresholds important to salmon, such as water temperature, are being reached or in some cases exceeded."

150 'dead zones' counted in oceans
March 30, 2004 (MSNBC) U.N. report warns of nitrogen runoff killing fisheries
The number of oxygen-deprived "dead zones" in the world's oceans has been increasing since the 1970s and is now nearly 150, threatening fisheries as well as humans who depend on fish, the U.N. Environment Program announced Monday in unveiling its first-ever Global Environment Outlook Year Book.
These "dead zones" are caused by an excess of nitrogen from farm fertilizers, sewage and emissions from vehicles and factories. In what experts call a "nitrogen cascade," the chemical flows untreated into oceans and triggers the proliferation of plankton, which in turn depletes oxygen in the water.
While fish might flee this suffocation, slow moving, bottom-dwelling creatures like clams, lobsters and oysters are less able to escape.

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