Orca Network News - March, 2003
the Southern Resident orcas,
orcas worldwide, and their habitats
January 1, 2004 through January 31, 2004.
January 31, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Puget Sound's killer whales are a step closer to becoming an endangered species today, as the federal government has decided not to appeal a court ruling over the issue.
NOAA Fisheries, the federal agency responsible for marine mammals, will reconvene a panel of biologists to take a fresh look at whether Puget Sound's orcas should be listed as endangered, according to agency spokesman Brian Gorman.
If local orcas are listed, whale advocates say the full force of the Endangered Species Act could be brought to bear on activities affecting Puget Sound's whales. New rules could be proposed for pollution from industrial and urban sources, salmon fishing and even whale-watching, some say.
In 2002, members of a biological review team said they could not recommend listing Puget Sound orcas as endangered even though the animals were at risk of extinction. They said their hands were tied by the current scientific grouping of orcas worldwide -- even though the grouping was known to be out of date.
Current grouping essentially lumps all killer whales into a single species with no official subspecies, even though most whale biologists think of seal-eating transient orcas in the Northwest as being substantially different from the fish-eating resident orcas.
Nooksack log jams help create havens for salmon
January 30, 2004 (Bellingham Herald) About two years ago, on a section of the south fork of the Nooksack River, chinook salmon would spawn only in an area just beneath a 200-foot tall landslide. The slide would then fill their spawning beds with fine silt and scour their egg nests down river.
Today, chinook have many more places to spawn - and to rest if they want to make their way farther up river.
Pools and riffles have been created and hundreds of tons of glacial till spilling off the landslide have been mostly stopped from going into the water.
The reason is six logjams that were built in the summer of 2001 by Lummi Nation on the south fork, just across the Skagit County line. The largest is about 300 feet long and has been filled in by silting from the landslide.
The work is one of the largest projects undertaken on the Nooksack to help bring back dwindling numbers of chinook salmon. Chinook in the Nooksack are listed as threatened on the federal endangered species list. In the south fork, fewer than 300 chinook return to spawning grounds each year.
Fisheries agency won't appeal orca decision
January 30, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) The federal government is restarting the process to decide if local killer whales qualify for endangered species protection.
National Marine Fisheries Service officials announced yesterday that they would not appeal a U.S. District Court ruling last month that found that the agency had erred in its decision not to list the orcas under the Endangered Species Act. They're assembling a team of biologists to tackle the problem.
Area 12 times size of Seattle sought for Cascades preservation
January 30, 2004 (Seattle Times) The idea is as big as it gets: Lasso the Puget Sound region's stampeding growth once and for all, before it marches up the Cascade foothills over hundreds of thousands of acres of private forest.
Top officials with King, Pierce and Snohomish counties plan to sign an agreement Monday that for the first time would commit them to jointly seek every available means short of regulation to permanently keep development off 600,000 acres of working forest - an area 12 times the size of Seattle, and more than twice as big as Mount Rainier National Park.
The three county executives, along with the state commissioner of public lands and two of the region's most successful land conservancies, plan to dedicate staff time, seek federal money and try everything from conservation easements to massive transfers of development rights to keep the Douglas fir-dominated forests from morphing into suburbia.
How soon - or whether - the plan outlined in a six-page "letter of intent" the parties plan to sign next week amounts to anything, only time will tell.
But officials have been working quietly behind the scenes for almost a year to build a framework that would have the state's population center work as a single unit to tap money and use free-market techniques to prevent the Cascades' private forests from sprawling with homes and strip malls.
"I cannot overstate the importance of having these four elected officials, from both political parties, all willing to dedicate resources to saying we're not going to let our foothills become the Front Range of Colorado - developed from Boulder to Colorado Springs," said Gene Duvernoy, director of the Cascade Land Conservancy.
Locke targets long-lived toxins
January 29, 2004 (The Olympian) Gov. Gary Locke signed an executive order Wednesday to step up the battle against long-lasting toxic chemicals that build up in the food chain, threatening the health of humans, fish and wildlife.
He singled out toxic flame-retardants called polybrominated diphenyl ethers for immediate attention, giving the state Department of Ecology until Dec. 1 to develop a list of action the state can take to reduce exposure to the chemicals.
PBDEs are included in a class of chemicals such as PCBs and DDT, which have been linked to birth defects, cancer and learning and behavioral problems in children.
The flame-retardants are used in plastic-based products such as televisions, computers, carpets and upholstery. They don't bind with plastics, so they're constantly leaching out of the products.
"This chemical is aggressively increasing in our environment," the governor said. "We need to do more and we need to do it faster."
Erika Schreder, a staff scientist with the Washington Toxics Coalition in Seattle, agreed. She participated in a national study of 20 first-time American mothers who had their breast milk tested last year for PBDEs.
Exxon fights $6.7bn payout
January 29, 2004 (The Age) A US federal judge has ordered Exxon Mobil Corporation to pay about $US6.75 billion ($A8.8 billion) to thousands of Alaskans affected by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
The ruling is the latest of several damage awards in the case over the past decade - the result of successful appeals in the federal court by Exxon. The company plans to appeal again.
Wednesday's ruling by US District Judge Russel Holland ordered the Texas-based company to pay $4.5 billion in punitive damages and an estimated $2.25 billion in interest.
The money is to go to 32,000 fishermen, Alaska natives, landowners, small businesses and cities affected by the 40-million-litre spill in the Prince William Sound.
San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area a reality
January 29, 2004 (San Juan Islander) The Jan. 28, 2004 signing ceremony for the resolution establishing San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area included a variety of people. From Samish Tribal members, whose people have recognized the importance of the waters surrounding the islands for hundreds of years, to former U.S. Representative Jack Metcalf, sponsor of the original legislation which resulted in the Northwest Straits Commission, to Marine Resources Committee Chair David Loyd who thanked the citizens of San Juan County who will participate in the next steps.
The county's resolution formalizes a voluntary Marine Stewardship Area and directs the MRC to produce a formal study in two years with detailed recommendations regarding additional protections for specific areas.
The Samish Tribal Council passed a resolution which stated:
The Samish Nation Tribal Council does hereby welcome the designation of San Juan County as a Marine Stewardship Area and commits to working cooperatively with the county and the residents of the islands to realize our shared vision of a healthy productive marine environment for generations to come.
Senate approves funding for NW Straits and whale research
January 26, 2004 (San Juan Islander) The Ominbus Appropriations funding measure passed by the U.S. Senate last week includes $750,000 for the Northwest Straits Commission. The bill also includes $1.5 million for whale research by the National Marine Fisheries Service. These funds will fund research into vessel impacts, year round distribution of the population, year round studies of prey resources and the effects of pollution on the Southern Resident killer whale population. The bill now goes to President Bush for his signature.
Southern Resident Killer Whale Research
The Southern Resident population of killer whales, which consists of three pods, resides in Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Georgia Strait from late spring to early fall. The rest of the year they travel along the west coast, but their activities during this time are not well understood. The population of Southern Resident killer whales has declined 20 percent from 1996 to 2001, from 97 whales to only 78. These funds will fund National Marine Fisheries Service research into vessel impacts, year round distribution of the population, year round studies of prey resources and the effects of pollution on the Southern Resident Killer Whale population.
Salmon protection from lawn to farm
January 26, 2004 (Seattle Times Editorial) Agricultural interests - and taxpayer-supported salmon-recovery efforts - were ill-served by the Environmental Protection Agency ignoring pesticide hazards for years.
No matter how hard the EPA might have been lobbied by those same farm interests, the agency is supposed to see the bigger picture, and follow the law.
Federal District Judge John Coughenour Thursday ordered temporary buffer zones around salmon-bearing streams, and restricted the use of dozens of pesticides until the EPA drafts permanent rules to protect salmon.
After years of being out of compliance with the Endangered Species Act, the agency was ordered by Coughenour in 2002 to protect salmon from harmful pesticides. The lawsuit was brought by commercial-fishing and environmental groups.
His latest ruling establishes temporary protection while the bureaucratic process putters along, but the judge was not opining about process. Coughenour clearly acknowledges actual harm is being done and protection is needed.
The judge's ruling appropriately points a finger at city dwellers. Responsibility for a share of the problem, and a healthy part of the solution, falls to urban gardeners and lawn tenders.
Seasonal spikes in pesticide application are found in urban waterways. The judge has ordered "Salmon Hazard" signs posted at hardware and garden stores, with an accompanying explanation of the problem.
Farming is a net-loss proposition -- ecologically, socially and economically
January 25, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed) On average, farm-raised salmon have an order of magnitude higher load of cancer causing POPs (persistent organic pollutants) than wild caught salmon. This is not new. In fact over the last few years three other such studies -- albeit much smaller -- have come to nearly identical conclusions. As the dust settles around the current research, attention is shifting to consumer reaction and what effect this news will have on the aquaculture industry.
Each net-pen (numbering in the hundreds on both of Canada's coasts) is tantamount to an untreated sewer outfall introducing solid and dissolved wastes directly into the marine environment. This is in every way "industrial waste," disposed of at no charge.
The unnaturally high densities of animals in the feedlot environment of net-pens make that environment a breeding ground for disease and parasites. Recently in British Columbia, farm-derived parasites were implicated as the causal agent leading to the largest salmon cohort collapse on record anywhere in the world, ever.
Three to five kilos of edible fish are used to make one kilo of farm salmon; a net loss of protein badly needed by humanity.
The take-home message of the recent research is that we can no longer ignore the natural law that what is bad for the environment is bad for your health. Perhaps if industrial salmon aquaculture really held promise to feed the world's hungry or revitalize our struggling coastal communities or even provide a worry-free epicurean experience, there would be reason to give that industry the benefit of the doubt.
Alas, the farm-raised salmon destined for your dinner plate arrives with overwhelming environmental and social baggage, in addition to -- as we now know -- not being as healthful as you've been told.
A diet in danger: Pollutants enter Arctic food chain
January 25, 2004 (Seattle Times) But as northbound winds carry toxic remnants of faraway lands to their hunting grounds in extraordinary amounts, their close connection to the environment and their ancestral diet of marine mammals have left the Arctic's indigenous people vulnerable to the pollutants of modern society. About 200 hazardous compounds, which migrate from industrialized regions and accumulate in ocean-dwelling animals, have been detected in the inhabitants of the far north.
The bodies of Arctic people, particularly Greenland's Inuit, contain the highest human concentrations of industrial chemicals and pesticides found anywhere on Earth - levels so extreme that the breast milk and tissues of some Greenlanders could be classified as hazardous waste.
Studies of infants in Greenland and Arctic Canada who have been exposed in the womb and through breast milk suggest that the chemicals are harming children. Babies suffer greater rates of infections because their immune systems seem to be impaired, and their brain development is altered, slightly reducing their intelligence and memory skills.
Scientists say the immune suppression could be responsible, at least in part, for the Arctic's inordinate number of sick babies. They believe the neurological damage to newborns is similar in scope to the harm done if the mothers drank moderate amounts of alcohol while pregnant.
Pesticides restricted to protect salmon; West Coast ruling is sweeping
January 23, 2004 (Seattle Times) A federal judge yesterday banned application of 38 pesticides along Northwest salmon streams, and required retailers in major West Coast cities to post warnings that read "Salmon Hazard" where seven of the most harmful chemicals are sold.
The sweeping order by U.S. District Judge John Coughenour affects everything from sprays used in orchards, dandelion-killers used on farms and yards, and industrial herbicides applied on forests, golf courses and roadsides.
The ruling, while not unexpected, rattled Northwest farming representatives, who said it raised many questions and punished growers for the failures of federal regulators - though they acknowledge it's too soon to know how drastically they may need to change their practices.
Federal scientists knew through studies that the pesticides could affect the ability of salmon to smell, reproduce, avoid predators, swim or detect prey.
"Delay has harmed salmon for a long time," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with Earthjustice, which fights court cases for environmental groups. "It's about time we had some protections." Limits imposed on pesticides January 23, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
Lessons stream from watershed teacher
January 21, 2004 (Seattle Times) Watershed educator Suzi Wong Swint eyeballs the fast-running waters of North Creek, searching for the best spot to pour out three buckets of what may be dying fish.
The best spot will revive them or sweep them away. Two dozen fifth-graders, their teacher and a small group of parents watch intently.
The students have raised these tiny coho salmon, nurturing them for four months in a tank in their school library. On this field trip, the group had planned to release the fish in another river. But then students began noticing fish lying sideways in the buckets, and organizers realized the battery-powered aerators had been left behind. These fish need oxygen - and fast.
"You wouldn't think you'd come to Surface Water to learn about civics," Swint conceded.
But she has come to believe it's a necessary part of the curriculum. Her class includes lessons on how to look up county codes and how laws are established, in addition to strictly environmental subjects such as fish life cycles and the effects of pollution.
Depleted Alaskan whales holding steady, study finds
January 20, 2004 (Seattle Times) The beluga population in Cook Inlet is depleted but appears to be steady, according to scientists.
A detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of video footage taken by observers in an airplane during counts last June produced an abundance estimate of 357 whales, almost identical to estimates in 1998, 1999 and 2001.
It appears the belugas are reproducing just fast enough to keep numbers from falling dramatically.
Over the past six months, biologists studied videotape for any whales missed and calculated how many animals were underwater when counters zoomed past at 110 mph. Applying a complicated formula, they derived an estimate of the population.
Dumping of wastes by cruise ships targeted
January 20, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Spurred by a recent dumping of sewage by a cruise ship in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a Seattle lawmaker has introduced legislation to provide new penalties against the practice.
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, said her original idea for House Bill 2549 came from an Alaska lawmaker who helped to enact a similar measure in that state, a major destination for cruise ships calling in Seattle.The discharge in May of 40 tons of sewage from the Norwegian Sun northwest of Port Townsend "added to my inspiration," Dickerson said.
The measure, introduced last week, would impose $25,000-aday penalties for dumping a variety of wastes, including untreated sewage, sludge from ship toilets and sinks and oily liquid from bilges.
It would allow the state Department of Ecology to monitor cruise ships' compliance and charge a per-passenger fee to pay for the program.
Restoration Stories: Chuckanut Creek
January 19, 2004 (Tidepool) Chuckanut Creek (near Bellingham, WA) in recent years has seen runs of chum salmon of robust proportions. Last fall was no exception; chum salmon flooded the system from the intertidal zone, all the way to the waterfalls at the base of Chuckanut Mountain. Stream surveyors reported that 5,000 chum salmon returned to spawn in the system during November of 2002.
In the early days of salmon enhancement efforts, volunteers working with the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association spent many a cold and wet winter nurse-maiding chum salmon eggs. These individuals recognized the potential and the importance of salmon to our community. From 1988 – 1995 chum salmon eggs where incubated deep in the Chuckanut stream gorge. Each winter, roughly 100,000 eggs were loaded into the incubator; with attendants checking daily to make sure all was well with the incubators.
The chum salmon in Chuckanut Creek are keystone species in this stream ecosystem, supporting all kinds of life. 5,000 returning chum salmon represent 25 tons of ocean derived food and nutrients entering this ecosystem. This converts to 1 ton of nitrogen and phosphorous that acts like a catalyst in the aquatic environment. In addition a considerable amount of important fatty acids and carbon are contributed to the stream and terrestrial food web.
Study: Alternatives to dams affordable
January 19, 2004 (Idaho Statesman) Conservationists say farmers could use rail to move grain
Upgrading railroads and grain elevators to accommodate grain shipments if the four lower Snake River dams were breached could cost the same as one year of maintaining those dams, conservationists contend.
Some fish biologists believe removing the four dams is the most certain way to recover endangered salmon. Breaching them would restore 140 miles of free-flowing river, but end barge traffic on the lower Snake River.
All the retrofitting on the railroads and other facilities might cost no more than $43.8 million, report American Rivers, Idaho Rivers United and the National Wildlife Federation.
The conservation groups said the lower Snake River transportation study comes in the wake of a 2002 review prepared by RAND Corp. that concluded removing the dams and investing in energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, such as wind power, would not damage the regionīs economy and could create up to 15,000 new jobs.
Oil spilled at The Dalles Dam contains PCBs
January 19, 2004 (Portland Oregonian) The leak is blamed on water pipes split by freezing; wildlife officials try to assess the damage to fish and birds
The leak, first reported Thursday, involves an undetermined amount of oil from a transformer on the powerhouse's roof. The transformer's capacity is 6,000 gallons, but authorities said it had been partially drained for winter maintenance.
The oil leak is the latest in a series of dam-related spills that have frustrated wildlife organizations and state and federal regulators.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers, has been implicated in 35 oil spills of varying quantities during the past five years. Nearly half the spills have been reported at Bonneville Dam.
Although state agencies in Oregon and Washington have issued violation notices to the corps over past spills, it says states have no authority over the operations of its generators and related equipment.
Although oil containing PCBs -- polychlorinated biphenyls -- has been banned for more than two decades, the mineral oil inside the dam's transformers has become contaminated through its contact with machinery predating the ban. PCBs can cause cancer and damage the immune and reproductive systems of humans and wildlife.
Oil slick from spill stretches 23 miles January 18, 2004 (Eugene Register-Guard)
Court Allows Sonar Whale Tests Despite Protests
January 17, 2004 (Reuters) A U.S. federal court judge allowed researchers on Friday to continue conducting sonar research that some environmental groups said would be damaging to whales.
The research by a private New Hampshire firm, Scientific Solutions, began a week ago to detect whales aimed at stopping them from colliding with ships or getting hurt from other human undersea activity. The tests, allowed under a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, are due to continue until the end of the month.
Attorney Lanny Sinkin, who represented environmental groups that opposed the tests, said the sonar could harm porpoises by leading them out of their feeding ranges and leave newborn whales disoriented and stranded.
Tests on waterways should include insects, say scientists
January 17, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) Clear, cool water flows around fallen logs, tumbles over brown cobblestones. Mossy trees, sword ferns and yellowed grasses line the banks.
A prehistoric-looking great blue heron appears overhead, coasting lazily on a cushion of air.
Welcome to rural Snohomish County's Little Pilchuck Creek -- the epitome of a healthy stream.
But appearances can be deceiving, as scientists discovered when they put seemingly pristine Little Pilchuck under the microscope. They went beyond traditional environmental measures to scrutinize tiny insects.
The creek, they discovered, was on the brink of serious trouble.
That's why researchers at the University of Washington are urging the state Ecology Department to add studies of bugs, fish and algae to new, tougher water-quality standards that are awaiting approval.
The battle to establish new rules has been long and controversial. Farmers argued the rules were too "fish-centric." Environmentalists claimed they didn't go far enough.
For a given region, there is a diverse suite of life that's expected to thrive in a healthy stream. In a damaged stream, perhaps only one or two of the heartiest species will be found.
Taking a sample of insects in the fall indicates what the water quality has been "during the time those bugs have been alive," said Kit Paulsen, environmental scientist with Bellevue Utilities. "That's something that's really, really useful."
List of polluted local waters grows
January 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) 75 lakes, rivers, and creeks deemed 'impaired' by state ecology agency
Sprawling suburbs, trees lost to logging and development, and record numbers of pollution-spewing cars and trucks have combined to leave more Washington streams and lakes branded "polluted" than ever before.
More than 700 waterways are in trouble -- most often because they're too warm to keep fish healthy, but also because of pollution from toxic chemicals and bacteria, state Ecology Department officials said yesterday.
Seventy-five lakes, rivers and creeks were added to Ecology's impaired-waterways list since it was last compiled in 1998, many of them in the Puget Sound region.
But the increased number doesn't necessarily mean the problem is getting worse. Improvements in water-quality testing around the state have helped turn up more violations, and officials say some waterways have been cleaned up.
"We see ... very meaningful progress," said Dick Wallace, Ecology's water-quality program manager.
Salmon runs are affected by a number of factors, and most fish biologists say large flows help outgoing smolts reach the ocean. Those fish return after two to five years, but a key factor in the success of runs is how much water is in streams, biologists say.
In the Columbia River Basin, salmon start to get into trouble when the water temperature rises above 68 degrees, said Bob Heinith, fish biologist with the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission.
If they're in the warmer water long enough, it can kill salmon outright. But before that happens, the fish can suffer a number of other effects, including disease and young salmon ceasing to migrate, making them easy prey for predators such as birds and large fish.
Taking water out of streams "has really taken its toll on fish," Heinith said. "It's really going in the wrong direction."
But Ecology officials warn that rules and lawsuits aren't going to solve water quality problems and that recovery will take time.
"You can't regulate your way out of polluted water bodies," said Larry Altose, an Ecology spokesman. "You have to have people wanting to change behaviors in order for it to happen."
Tighter oil spill rules sought
January 16, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On the heels of one of Puget Sound's worst oil spills in years, a key lawmaker is pushing to require ships filling up with fuel to take additional steps to prevent oil overflows from damaging beaches.
Rep. Mike Cooper, an Edmonds Democrat who heads the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee, said yesterday that he will file a bill next week requiring deployment of floating curtains known as a boom around at least some vessels when they are taking on fuel oil.
A boom corrals oil so it can be easily skimmed up. Without a boom, oil spreads out across the surface of the water extremely fast.
When about 4,800 gallons of oil spilled from a Foss Maritime barge Dec. 30 at Point Wells, no boom had been put out. It ended up swirling across the Sound to foul shellfish beds and marsh on the Kitsap Peninsula used by the Suquamish Tribe for traditional purposes.
The idea of requiring a boom to be put out while fueling was characterized as premature by the shipping industry yesterday during a hearing before Cooper's committee.
Oil spill damages marine estuary at Suquamish
January 15, 2004 (Indian Country News) An estimated 4,800 gallons of heavy fuel oil overflowed from a barge on Dec. 30 while it was being loaded and has damaged a pristine area on the Suquamish Indian Reservation just across Puget Sound about 30 miles west of Seattle.
The oil damaged area, estimated at 400 acres by tribal officials, is regarded as a prime cultural and environmental site for the tribe. Among the areas affected are a salt-water marsh, old growth timber areas, a tribal beach and a clam bed used by tribal members.
The area is also part of the tribal fishery in an area rich with shellfish including soft shell clams, geoducks and Dungeness crabs, all of which are expected to be impacted by the spill. The extent of damage is still unknown however until biologists can finish tests.
Tribal officials said that though adult fish species like salmon and seafowl were not likely to incur major damage, young fish and eggs which use the protected waters of the estuary could be affected for years to come.
How oil spill in Sound might have been stopped in its tracks
January 15, 2004 (Seattle Times) Unlike Washington state, California requires fuel-transfer terminals to run oil-spill containment booms around almost every large marine vessel before it loads or unloads petroleum - a precaution that allows workers to quickly corral any spilled oil before it can spread.
The pre-placement of an oil-spill boom may have helped spare Puget Sound from damage in last month's spill near Richmond Beach, say some outside experts.
The fast-moving, 4,800-gallon fuel spill quickly shimmered across Puget Sound, soiling eelgrass, crab and shellfish beds and polluting the Suquamish Tribe's once-pristine beachfront. The tribe has estimated it lost several thousand dollars worth of shellfish, and the total cleanup costs for the spill already has topped $1 million.
"Over the years there has been a lot of talk about pre-booming," said Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, the Department of Ecology's spills coordinator. "But I'm having a really hard time finding anyone who can remember the history on this."
In recent months, state officials reconsidering their oil-spill plans have talked again about requiring it but have reached no conclusions. State Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, who has called a public hearing on the matter today in Olympia, has said he might propose legislation to make it mandatory.
Marine biologists have long known an oil spill in Puget Sound could be calamitous. Even small spills can be damaging, and federal scientists recently determined a catastrophic one posed the single greatest threat to the survival of killer whales.
Sound's salmon carry high PCB levels
January 15, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) But state says health benefits of eating the fish outweigh risks
Puget Sound's wild chinook salmon carry long-lived industrial chemicals at levels as high as those spotlighted by last week's landmark scientific report on farm-raised salmon, tests show. In a few cases, the local fish were even more polluted.
But state health officials, after studying Puget Sound salmon contamination levels for about a year, say they probably won't issue advice on how often the region's signature fish should be eaten.
The reason: They believe the heart-healthy benefits of eating salmon outweigh the risks posed by PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, stored in the fish.
The state Health Department is planning to advise limiting consumption of rockfish and English sole -- two varieties of bottomfish -- which are more polluted than salmon, officials said this week. That would represent the first Soundwide guidance on reducing fish consumption.
Many tribes have advised members to increase their traditional diet of seafood to fight high rates of cancer, diabetes and heart disease thought to be linked to the modern American diet, Williams said.
"It sounds like now it's reached the point where we're going to have to take this (contamination) into serious consideration," Williams said.
The source of the PCBs remains a puzzle. Used as a lubricants and coolants, PCBs were banned in the United States in the late 1970s. But the compounds stick around in the environment, cycling from the mud into worms that are eaten by fish that in turn are eaten by mammals such as orcas. Fish and mammals can pass the PCBs on to their offspring. When dead, they are consumed by scavengers and the cycle continues.
PCBs still lie in the mud of Puget Sound, and scientists suspect the long-lived pollutant is also carried in the air from other countries where PCBs are unsafely disposed of or still being used.
Study looks at whale culture
January 13, 2004 (KING-5 TV) Killer whales usually travel in groups, extended families called pods. But Luna was accidentally separated, and instead has sought out people.
"His situation looked pretty dire over the summer because he was bothering a lot of boats to the point of endangering people and himself," said Howard Garrett of the Orca Network.
Garrett says there's hope for Luna because another whale was reunited with her pod and quickly fit in.
"It will re-learn, how to be with their family, how to behave, how to swim along, of course how to catch fish and all the rituals and all the other kinds of behaviors that they do," said Garrett.
It's this kind of learning that has convinced some scientists that whales have what we would call culture.
Dr. Hal Whitehead of Canada's Dalhousie University, writing in the journal "Behavioral and Brain Sciences," explains whale life sounds pretty familiar.
"Evidence is coming up from quite a number of species that in a whole range of ways they they're learning things from each other and they're passing it on to other whales and that's culture," said Whitehead.
Whitehead adds that different pods of whales even seem to have their own cultures even though they share territory.
"We find this situation where we have multi-cultural societies. In one place there are animals who make their living in very different ways, said Whitehead.
Whitehead acknowledges that not everyone agrees with his conclusions. But, if he's right, when reunited, Luna will have some catching up to do.
The plan is to try and reunite Luna with his family sometime this summer. Whale Culture January 13, 2004 (Science Central)
Judge denies environmentalists' call to stop testing of whale sonar
January 13, 2004 (The Olympian) A federal judge on Monday rejected a request to immediately halt testing of an experimental sonar system to detect whales, but he set a hearing to decide whether to ban research on the system.
Environmental groups had asked U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, who temporarily blocked testing of the system last year, to again stop research on the sonar, claiming it can harm whales and other marine mammals.
The company that designed the sonar, Scientific Solutions Inc. of Nashua, N.H., resumed testing the sonar earlier this month after receiving a new permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The day after testing resumed, a coalition of environmental groups -- including Australians for Animals, Sea Sanctuary and others -- went back to court seeking another judicial ban. Those groups claim the high-frequency sonar could disturb and disorient whales, drive them from their feeding grounds and separate calves from their mothers.
The company, which has been testing the sonar off the coast of Central California near San Luis Obispo, says the system is safe and will help protect whales from ship collisions and underwater explosions.
'US climate policy bigger threat to world than terrorism'
January 9, 2004 (UK Independent) Tony Blair's chief scientist has launched a withering attack on President George Bush for failing to tackle climate change, which he says is more serious than terrorism.
Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, says in an article today in the journal Science that America, the world's greatest polluter, must take the threat of global warming more seriously.
"In my view, climate change is the most severe problem that we are facing today, more serious even than the threat of terrorism," Sir David says.
The Bush administration was wrong to pull out of the Kyoto protocol, the international effort to limit the emission of greenhouse gases, and wrong to imply the protocol could adversely affect the US economy, Sir David says. "As the world's only remaining superpower, the United States is accustomed to leading internationally co-ordinated action. But the US government is failing to take up the challenge of global warming.
Study warns of danger in eating farmed salmon
January 9, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) People shouldn't eat farm-raised salmon more than once a month in most cases because the fish contain long-lived industrial chemicals that increase the risk of cancer, a major study concludes.
Wild salmon carry lower levels of PCBs, dioxins and other contaminants but also could present a cancer risk if eaten too often, according to the study released yesterday, the most comprehensive examination of the issue to date.
Farmed fish, on average, showed a level of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, about seven times higher than that of wild fish. The average dioxin level in farm-raised salmon was 11 times higher than in wild salmon.
The key difference is what the fish eat -- the same difference that prompted last year's controversy over artificial coloration of farmed salmon.
Farmed fish are fed a mixture whose creation relies heavily on catching fish such as small anchovies, then processing them into fish oil and fish meal. This concentrates contaminants that have scattered across the globe. PCBs, a family of chemical compounds used in industrial lubricants and coolants, were banned in this country in the 1970s but still are used overseas.
'Bombshell' PCBtudy finds farmed salmon unsafe to eat because of toxins, environmental group says
B.C.'s $300-million-a-year salmon farming industry is bracing for a desperate public relations battle today as a respected international science journal delivers a "bombshell" study that examines the links between farmed Atlantic salmon and toxins that are hazardous to human health.
A U.S.-based group of researchers has spent two years sifting through more than two tonnes of farmed and wild salmon flesh -- obtained from sources all over the globe -- in a hunt for the presence of cancer-causing toxins.
The respected U.S. journal Science will reportedly carry details of their findings to a worldwide audience in this week's edition. Government agencies, researchers, industry groups, The Vancouver Sun and some other media have been provided advance copies of the study but are forbidden to divulge its contents until 11 a.m. today under strict conditions of an embargo by the publishers of Science.
Warming May Threaten 37% of Species by 2050
January 8, 2004 (Washington Post) In the first study of its kind, researchers in a range of habitats including northern Britain, the wet tropics of northeastern Australia and the Mexican desert said yesterday that global warming at currently predicted rates will drive 15 to 37 percent of living species toward extinction by mid-century.
Dismayed by their results, the researchers called for "rapid implementation of technologies" to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and warned that the scale of extinctions could climb much higher because of mutually reinforcing interactions between climate change and habitat destruction caused by agriculture, invasive species and other factors.
"The midrange estimate is that 24 percent of plants and animals will be committed to extinction by 2050," said ecologist Chris Thomas of Britain's University of Leeds. "We're not talking about the occasional extinction -- we're talking about 1.25 million species. It's a massive number."
The study marks the first time scientists have produced a global analysis with concrete estimates of the effect of climate change on habitat. Previous work -- much of it by the same researchers -- focused on smaller regions or limited numbers of species.
Another baby orca joins K Pod
January 6, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Killer whale researchers are celebrating the birth of a new baby orca in K Pod, one of the three orca clans that frequent Puget Sound.
Seattle researcher Mark Sears said he first saw the newborn, a male, the day after Christmas. He figures the calf was born between Dec. 20 and 26.
The 32-year-old mother, K-12, known as Sequim, nuzzled the calf as other family members crowded around, according to Sears.
"They rolled him right over my way," he said. "I was able to get a sex on it real quick. Sometimes it takes a while to get that belly shot."
As with most newborn orcas, an orange tint was evident on the animal's white patches. Sears also noted puckered skin known as "fetal folds."
Designated K-37, he is Sequim's fourth calf. Her oldest has a baby of her own.
Researchers identify orcas by their markings, particularly "saddle-patch" patterns behind their dorsal fins. Each newborn is assigned the next available number for their pod.
The new baby brings the population of K Pod to 21, with the total of all three pods now 84, assuming none have died.
"The larger we can get this population, the more stable it will be for future generations," said Susan Berta of Orca Network, an organization that tracks whales in Puget Sound.
Since last January, two whales have been born in J Pod, one in L Pod and now two in K Pod.
Unusually, K Pod has remained in Puget Sound this fall and winter while J and L pods no longer seem to be around. If anything, K Pod usually follows L Pod out into the ocean and along the coast.
Berta said L Pod hasn't been sighted since Nov. 8 -- similar to its timing of several years ago.
"For the last few years, all three pods have been in inland waters between Christmas and New Year's," Berta said. "What's weird is for J's and L's to be out and K's to be in here."
Whether that is related to the calf is hard to say, she noted.
Some people worried that the orcas might have passed through last week's oil slick that drifted from Seattle to North Kitsap after a spill from a fuel barge at Point Wells, but observers say the whales seem to have avoided the oil.
Spill spreads alarm in environmentalists
January 3, 2004 (Bremerton Sun) Tuesday's oil spill, which damaged a pristine estuary in North Kitsap and tainted a major shellfish resource, should worry everyone who cares about Puget Sound, local environmental groups say. Mike Sato of People for Puget Sound called for a public fact-finding effort to determine whether government agencies should do more to protect against an environmental disaster from an oil spill in Puget Sound.
"Our main concern has always been vessel safety," Sato said. "We've worried about fog or bad weather in which all kinds of things can happen on the water."
But Tuesday's spill of 4,800 gallons of bunker fuel took place while a 1.3 million-gallon barge was tied up near a Chevron-Texaco facility at Point Wells. Immediate containment efforts failed to keep the oil from drifting across Puget Sound, washing up on beaches between Indianola and Point Jefferson.
"When you're in port, that should be a controlled situation," Sato said. "That should be the last place you have an accident, if the right procedures are in place."
Fred Felleman, who heads the group Ocean Advocates and serves on a state committee reviewing oil spill contingencies, has campaigned for years in favor of stronger oil-transport rules.
"I'm of the belief that these are not accidents," Felleman said. "These are inevitable incidents because of lax regulations."
Lack of standards clouds future of shellfish harvest
January 3, 2004 (Seattle Times) State health officials say they're unsure how to determine when shellfish near Indianola in Kitsap County will be safe to eat following an oil spill earlier this week that has contaminated four miles of shoreline.
There are no federal health standards for shellfish contaminated by oil, state health officials said yesterday, so testing guidelines aren't available. Historical data also is relatively rare because it's been about 15 years since an oil spill contaminated a commercial shellfishing zone in Washington, they said.
One seal pup has died from contact with oil and two birds have been recovered and are being treated. There's also concern that orcas may have come into contact with the oil slick as it traveled across the Sound to Indianola. Members of the orca K-pod have been seen twice in the area since Tuesday's spill, said Howard Garrett, board president of the Orca Network.
Oil spill prompts worries for orcas
January 3, 2004 (Everett Herald) Wildlife biologists discovered a new orca calf in waters only 15 miles from the spot most contaminated by Tuesday's oil spill, creating fears that the baby whale could by harmed.
The family of whales the new calf was born into, known as K-pod, was seen off of Vashon Island on the day after the Edmonds-area spill. Vashon Island is considerably south of the most contaminated area, directly west of Shoreline on the Kitsap Peninsula.
With new baby in tow, the K-pod was seen off of Whidbey Island near Mukilteo on Friday, which means the family could have been exposed to the oil as it moved north. The spill occurred near Edmonds and migrated across Puget Sound to the Kitsap Peninsula.
"I was fairly concerned about the oil spill, but I didn't see any sheen," said Candice Emmons, a Center for Whale Research biologist who was on the whale-watching boat that confirmed that K-pod has a new addition.
"We don't know if (the spill) will impact the whales," she said, but added that all 21 members of the pod were accounted for, including the calf, which is 1 week to 3 weeks old. "It looked normal and healthy. The mom was rolling the calf around, and it was playing with its older siblings."
Female orca give birth every three to five years, which means any birth is critical to the species' survival.
Oil spill costs -- in dollars, ecological damage -- rising
January 3, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) There was major progress yesterday in the cleanup of an oil spill that has polluted a pristine beach and wetland owned by the Suquamish Tribe, cleanup officials say.
But the environmental damage is still troubling to many tribal members.
Some have visited the beach near Indianola on the Kitsap Peninsula -- coated in heavy oil from a Tuesday morning spill that originated all the way across Puget Sound. Others are too heartbroken to look.
"It just makes them sick," said Rob Purser, the Suquamish fisheries director. "They don't want to come and see it."
Cleanup costs have swelled to more than $1 million and will keep growing, said Sam Sacco, a spokesman with Foss Maritime Co., which owns the tank barge where the spill occurred.
Hardest hit was the Suquamish reserve, favored among tribal members as a secluded clam-digging spot. The reserve includes some 400 acres of wetlands.
Particularly troubling was the oil that swept over protective barriers and into a marshy estuary.
"The sheen's not as bad, but what looks worse is the grass all turned black in some spots, and there's a lot of oil moving back and forth with the tides," Purser said.
Also of concern are resident orcas. Researchers yesterday said that one of the family groups, or pods, has a new calf. They're worried because the killer whales -- whose numbers have been in decline -- were seen near Vashon Island shortly after the spill and may have been exposed.
Gravel company's Hood Canal plan whips up a storm
January 2, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) On the shores of Hood Canal here, there is silence on a midday afternoon. No boats pass, and the nearest road is a 20-minute trek uphill through dense, mossy forest. The only apparent activity is that of nature -- huge tree trunks, washed by the tides, resting on quiet sands.
But this stretch of pristine beach is the focus of an increasingly heated battle between an industrial company poised to rocket from hometown hero to national-level player and more than 2,000 neighbors who have banded together to fight it.
Fred Hill Materials, a family-owned gravel and sand company that has been mining the nearby hills for 57 years, plans to build the largest commercial project Jefferson County has seen. It would turn this quiet shoreline into a major shipping center where 75 barges a month would dock at a nine-story-tall pier, load up with millions of tons of gravel and deliver it all over the West Coast.
Final decisions on the proposal are years away, but already blistering e-mails peppered with personal attacks have been flying among Fred Hill, those who oppose its plans and county officials caught in between.
White House plans on global warming yield little
January 2, 2004 (Seattle Times) Two years after President Bush declared he could combat global warming without mandatory controls, the administration has launched a broad array of initiatives and research; yet few companies have curbed their greenhouse-gas emissions voluntarily, according to official documents, reports and interviews.
At the heart of the president's strategy is "Climate Leaders," a program that recruits the nation's industrial polluters to voluntarily devise ways to curb emissions by 10 percent or more in the coming decade. Scientists believe these greenhouse-gas emissions, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, are contributing to a troubling rise in Earth's temperature that could disrupt weather patterns and cause flooding.
Plan readied to preserve local chinook
January 2, 2004 (Bellingham Herald) In an upstairs office of the Nooksack Tribe's Natural Resources Department, Ned Currence and Treva Coe are writing the first draft of the plan for returning chinook salmon to the Nooksack River in healthy numbers.
They are wading through hundreds of documents, fact-checking a complex computer model of chinook habitat on the Nooksack River and using computer mapping techniques to show forested areas above salmon-producing tributaries.
The public will get its first look at the Nooksack River's salmon restoration plan in June, just more than five years after the National Marine Fisheries Service listed Puget Sound chinook salmon as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The listing includes both the north fork and south fork species of spring chinook in the Nooksack River, as well as 20 other chinook populations in the Puget Sound.
Tribe assesses oil-spill damage to clam industry and estuary
January 2, 2004 (Seattle Times) Suquamish tribal members, assessing the environmental damage to a marine estuary at Camp Indianola from this week's oil spill, yesterday said several hundred thousand dollars worth of geoducks and other clam species could be lost.
The tribe also complained that cleanup officials failed to assess the severity of the spill before it contaminated the estuary, and suggested that more workers should have been deployed when it was discovered that the oil slick was headed to the beach.
Cleanup crews, led by Foss Maritime, initially used a protective boom spread across the estuary's entrance to prevent an oil spillover, but strong winds and high tides allowed the contaminants to breach the barrier. Cleanup efforts also continued yesterday at Jefferson Point and Point Wells.
The culturally sensitive and economically lucrative area was swamped by oil Wednesday when efforts to stave off contamination failed. Besides being known as a sacred tribal ground, the 400-acre beach and estuary is home to geoducks and other clams that contribute to a $2 million industry for the tribe.
Tides rapidly pushed oil pollution across Sound
January 1, 2004 (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) A relatively small oil spill in dead-calm waters -- with lots of cleanup equipment readily at hand -- couldn't be stopped from sloshing five miles out into Puget Sound and then swirling around to leave the Suquamish Indians' clamming beds a sticky, stinky mess.
And although cleanup workers tried to protect the shoreline with big floating curtains intended to keep out the oil, a high tide swept it over the protective devices. It washed a multihued sheen into a vast nursery for fish and other marine creatures, one of the largest and most productive of its kind in the state.
That was the picture that emerged yesterday as health authorities closed the shellfish beds of Jefferson Point, just north of Bainbridge Island on the Kitsap Peninsula. The spill could also affect the upcoming spawning of herring nearby, which researchers say can be hurt by miniscule concentrations of the toxins found in petroleum products.
Over the course of Tuesday, the oil was pushed south by winds and tides to near Seattle's Carkeek Park. Then overnight, it swirled north and west, overwhelming the boom near the shellfish beds in Kitsap County late yesterday morning.
"This is an important area because the estuaries are really important rearing areas for juvenile salmonids and other fish," said Tom Ostrom, a biologist for the Suquamish Tribe. "They're extremely productive ecosystems."
Also possibly at risk are the Puget Sound orcas that were seen in the area yesterday, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, an activist group.
"There is real danger the whales could ingest the fuel and be severely injured or killed," Garrett said.
State Rep. Mike Cooper, D-Edmonds, said the time may have come for state law requiring safer oil transfers.
"I believe, particularly on a barge, where you're (refueling), it would make a lot of sense to boom," Cooper said.
Cooper is chairman of the House Fisheries, Ecology and Parks Committee, which has jurisdiction over environmental matters, including oil spills.
Oil spill threatens Puget Sound wetlands
January 1, 2004 (Seattle Times) A pristine, 400-acre marine estuary on Suquamish tribal land on the Kitsap Peninsula was badly fouled by oil drifting across Puget Sound yesterday after a 4,800-gallon marine-fuel spill near Richmond Beach.
Oil-blackened Dungeness crab lay heaped on a beach used by the tribe for sacred gatherings and family picnics. Frantic efforts to hold a protective boom in place around the mouth of a freshwater lagoon failed when high tides, whipped by rising southerly winds, washed the heavy fuel oil over the boom.
"Everyone's pretty sick about it. They're pretty devastated," said Rob Purser, fisheries director for the Suquamish and a tribal-council member.
The oil spilled into Puget Sound after a refueling barge was overfilled early Tuesday at a ChevronTexaco fuel-transfer terminal at Point Wells.