Monthly Archives: November 2008

Seven killer whales disappear from B.C.’s south coast

This article has a nice synopsis of the lost animals, their ages, names, and demographic significance…
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Larry Pynn,
Vancouver Sun

Published: Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A total of seven killer whales are thought to have died since last fall, reducing the population of endangered southern residents to just 83 in three pods. That’s up from 71 in 1973, but down from 100 in 1996.

Two of the seven were old females past their average life expectancy – K7, Lummi, estimated to be 98, and L21, Ankh, age 58.

Most troubling for scientists is the loss of the remaining three, especially two breeding females – Luna’s mother, L67, known as Splash, age 33, and J11, Blossom, about 36.

Two others were newborn calves – L111 and J43 – thought to have a 50-per-cent chance of survival.

Luna’s younger brother, six-year-old L101, Aurora, is also thought to be dead.

“This is of concern,” said John Ford, a whale researcher with the federal fisheries department in Nanaimo. “Those two females were in the prime of their reproductive years. They normally have high survival.”

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Orcas to come up empty mouthed in CA?

The southern residents typically migrate all the way down to California’s Monterey Bay, often arriving there in January.  The presumably feed on salmon returning to or departing WA, OR, and CA rivers.   Below is an interesting article — in part because  members of all three pods have been sighted in the Salish Sea multiple times this November.  It is becoming past the time of year when L and K pods have typically departed for points unknown west of Cape Flattery.  Ken is putting up posters along the outer coast in preparation for their transit southward.  At what point in the decline of CA salmon will the orcas discern that it is no longer worth the trek to Monterey?

This article also speaks volumes about an issue that has been focusing my attention recently: no one in the killer whale and salmon communities in the Pacific Northwest seems to be talking to each other, nor is there open discussion of the “big picture orca/salmon.”   It’s fascinating that the same lack of perspective has persisted in California salmon science. There are heroes akin to Moyle up here — scientists who think at the right integrative level and speak for the endangered species — like Fred “It’s the ecosystem, stupid” Felleman and Ken Balcomb — check out his most recent MASTERFUL synopsis of the orca population trends and salmon abundance.  But we need much, much more of that.  It all makes me wonder whether WDFW/DFO will end up getting a slap on the wrist like the one CA Fish and Game may get.

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Expert sends out SOS for California’s fish

Two-thirds of California’s native salmon, trout and steelhead are headed for extinction unless major changes are made to the way the state’s rivers are managed and protected, according to a report by one of the state’s top fish experts.

“I was surprised that nobody has done an overview of what’s happening to California trout and salmon. Nobody was looking at the big picture,” Moyle said.
Still, Moyle said the breadth of the problem was escaping notice because biologists all were focused on problems with the particular species and rivers in which they were interested.
“You always had the feeling that somewhere there were good populations,” Moyle said. “Things were much worse off collectively than I thought they were.”
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An example of NMFS restricting pesticide use in Oregon

Has this been done in Washington State already?
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Restrictions placed on three pesticides deemed harmful to fish

by Michael Milstein, The Oregonian

Tuesday November 18, 2008, 9:07 PM

Federal fisheries biologists today, concluding that three pesticides used throughout the Willamette Valley harm imperiled salmon, ordered sharp new restrictions on use of the chemical compounds.
The pesticides — chloropyrifos, diazinon and malathion — are among the 60 most used in Oregon, with hundreds of thousands of pounds combined spread throughout the state each year.
Lethal pulses of pesticides wash into streams during storms, said Jim Lecky, director of the Fisheries Service’s Office of Protected Resources. But biologists are more concerned that low levels of pesticides interfere with the ability of fish to zero in on prey and find their way home to their spawning streams.
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WDFW says fish for Blackmouth

After hearing Sandra O’Neill talk about how resident Chinook are so much more contaminated with PCBs and PDBEs than offshore Chinook, I’m wondering if WDFW shouldn’t encourage harvesting of all blackmouth in a manner that maximizes the sequesteration of bioaccumulating toxins in landfills and/or humans.  Maybe we could limit recreational, commerical, and tribal catch of the cleanest Chinook and chum so that orcas have plenty of clean fish to eat and thereby minimize the flux of additional polllutants into their bodies?

Or maybe we should keep orcas from coming into Puget Sound to forage for toxic fish?  Of course, we need to clarify with Sandra where North Puget Sound ends (and toxic fish are less prevalent) versus where Georgia Basin and the Strait of Juan de Fuca begin…

This from the latest email announcement from the WDFW Weekender Report (November 12-25, 2008):

Once the weather does improve, Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist, recommends fishing for blackmouth salmon – resident chinook – in marine areas 9 (Admiralty Inlet) and 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). Anglers fishing Marine Area 10 can keep one chinook as part of a two-salmon daily limit. Those fishing in Marine Area 9 also have a two-salmon daily limit but can keep up to two hatchery chinook per day. Wild chinook salmon, which have an intact adipose fin, cannot be brought aboard the boat in Marine Area 9.

Thiesfeld reminds anglers that there are still a lot of shakers out in the Sound, and suggests using larger spoons and plugs to minimize the catch of those juvenile chinook. “Treat those fish with extreme care when releasing them because they are next year’s crop of blackmouth,” he said.

Dave Dix as guest columnist in Seattle Times

Dave’s doing a good job of getting the Draft Action Agenda out in the public eye. I’ll have to give it a read before the 20th when comments are due, but it’s distressing that he mentions neither the profound risk of an oil spill decimating the southern residents, nor the potential impact of underwater noise on the orcas and their ability to communicate and forage.
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Guest columnist

Orcas are a call to action on Puget Sound cleanup

The recent alarming news that Puget Sound’s orca population may be starving to death is more than just sad news about an endangered species, it’s a clarion call for action to clean up Puget Sound.

 David Dicks

If orcas, which are at the top of the food chain, are dying from hunger, it doesn’t take a marine biologist to figure out what is happening further down the food chain.

While Puget Sound remains a beautiful sight, just below the surface the evidence is clear that Puget Sound is sick and dying: 52 million pounds of untreated toxic chemicals including oil and petroleum products, PCBs and phthalates flow into the rivers, streams, lakes and bays that make up Puget Sound every year, according to a new report being issued today.

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Dave Dix, Brad Hanson, and Robin Baird on KUOW

This is an hour-long conversation about southern resident killer whales involving Dave Dix, Brad Hanson, and Robin Baird on KUOW’s weekday with Steve Sher.  With luck there will be similar conversations about the state of Puget Sound as we all digest the Puget Sound Partnship’s Draft Action Agenda – 06Nov2008.

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Orcas Dying in Puget Sound

11/06/2008 at 10:00 a.m.

Seven orcas in the Puget Sound region are missing and are presumed dead. What happened? Did food become too scarce when the flow of Chinook slowed down, or is this a much bigger problem? Also, a local agency releases a report on the state of the Sound today. What are the biggest problems in Puget Sound and what can we do to save it?

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Bad news for orca prey research

The funds from the Pacific Salmon Commission could be a great catalyst of research about the behavior and ecology of the Chinook and chum salmon that southern residents appear to prefer. This decrease in endowment coupled with the recent news of losses in the SRKW population — possibly related to starvation — add up to increasing bad news.
Maybe such funds should be invested much more conservatively?  A mix of 70% equities and 30% bonds seems too risky to me.  Of course, this begs the question: “How prudent is it to tie funding for salmon protection and research to interest-bearing accounts?”  The 1999 agreement stipulated that the Northern/Transboundary and Southern funds would be capitalized by the U.S. ($75M and $65M) and Canada ($250k each) and that “annual expenditures shall not exceed the annual earnings from the invested principal.”
With this economic downturn, it seems the fund managers have dipped significantly into the capital itself…
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Fund to save salmon shrinks with economy

$165-million endowment loses more than $35-million, could endanger projects in Canada and the U.S.

VANCOUVER — A $165-million endowment established by the governments of Canada and the United States to fund key salmon projects on the West Coast has been so badly battered by the economic downturn there may be no grant money available for 2009.
Over the past few months, the overall value of the endowment, which consists of two separate funds managed jointly as a master trust by the Pacific Salmon Commission, has fallen by more than $35-million.
This could shut down more than 100 projects in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Alaska that last year got about $10-million in funding.
The full extent of the crisis won’t be known until fund managers sit down with PSC officials in the next few weeks for a detailed report.
But already researchers are being warned to expect a shock.
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