Monthly Archives: December 2008

The 6th H of salmon abundance: Heat

The clipping below is from a Daily Astorian article on an EPA report regarding global warming’s potential influence on Northwest salmon.  Of most import for killer whale conservationists are the implications of what James Martin calls a “perfect storm” for salmon: low snow pack with low, warm flows in the summer.
Martin provides a nice quote regarding the economic impact of such a storm:
“In Oregon, Washington and Idaho, it’s a 35,000-job industry, and it’s worth $3 billion dollars per year,” he said. “So it’s a lot more than just a hobby. There’s a lot at stake.”
That’s about 30x the $100M estimate of ecotourism value associated  with the southern residents.
The article also mentions a report co-authored by Martin and Patty Glick called A Great Wave Rising. Dan Drais of Save Our Wild Salmon recently handed me a copy and it looks like an admirable, balanced attempt to bring climate science into the on-going struggle to devise a legal federal plan for recovering endangered fish in the Columbia/Snake basin.  I particularly like that it is rich in reputable citations with which I (and global warming skeptics) can understand the uncertainties in the trends and projections.
A quote from Glick suggests that “Heat” should be added to the 4 H’s that govern northwest salmon abundance: harvest, hatcheries, hydropower, and habitat.  But just last night, David Montogomery claimed the 5th H should be “History” — the history of salmon-human interactions, particularly in Britain and in the Northeast U.S.  So, for me “Heat” has become the 6th H and I’m even more convinced that salmon recovery (linked with killer whale recovery) is one of the most complex, grand environmental challenges of our time.
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12/26/2008 11:21:00 AM
The EPA warns that climate change threatens Oregon’s cold-water fish populations
By Michael Burkett
East Oregonian Publishing Group
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on global warming
contains some dire predictions for Oregon’s time-honored reputation as a Mecca for coldwater fishermen.
Released July 17, the report warns that the time may come when salmon- and trout-fishing trips are no longer much of an option for residents or visitors. EPA scientists further caution that warming temperatures could lead to a 50- to 100-percent decline in Chinook salmon returns in some areas, since salmon require cool water and are extremely sensitive to increasing temperatures.

Once Oregon is hit by a perfect storm comprised of “a little less snow pack, lower summer water flows and higher summer temperatures, bam! We’ll go over a threshold, and suddenly we won’t have salmon or steelhead or trout,” Martin said.
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New research money related to Navy sonar

Not sure what this means for southern residents and funding for their researchers, but this is surely good news for beaked whales, as well as killer whales when they may transit Navy training areas in the Salish Sea or off the Washington coast. Thanks to Val Veirs for the tip on this press release.
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Natural Resources Defense Council

Environmental Coalition Reaches Agreement with Navy on Mid-Frequency Sonar Lawsuit

Navy to follow environmental compliance schedule, release classified information on sonar and fund research to benefit marine mammals
LOS ANGELES (December 28, 2008) — After years of litigation with the U.S. Navy over its refusal to prepare environmental impact statements (EIS) for sonar training exercises, a settlement announced Saturday commits the Navy to complete a schedule of full environmental reviews on major training exercises around the world, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The settlement also requires disclosure of previously classified information regarding the Navy’s sonar use and commits the Navy to fund nearly $15 million in new marine mammal research designated by NRDC and co-plaintiffs.
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No new orcas in late 2008

This is a pretty general treatment of endangered species with a nice from-the-field synopsis of prey/fecal sampling by KUOW intern Irene Naguchi, but it didn’t deliver what I expected — new information derived from the fecal sampling. The main news I caught from Brad was that they, Ken, and Mark haven’t noted any new calves in J, K, or parts of L pod this late fall/winter.   Nice work getting an intern out on the water, Brad! (There is a link to the archived podcast at the bottom of the clipping…)

I was impressed with Pimm’s unwavering focus on delivering a positive message about the global extinction trend and with LaBorde’s careful statements about Northwest salmon recovery progress in 2008. Sara surprised me with the fact that 75% of Washington State is home to one of the 28 listed evolutionarily significant units of salmon.

(Thanks to Val for the head’s up about this programming.)

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KUOW 94.9 FM


The State of the Wilderness in 2008

12/29/2008 at 9:00 a.m.

Weekday closes out 2008 with a survey of animals facing extinction. In the Pacific Northwest, the endangered include Orcas, salmon, grizzlies, and owls. Tune in to find out the state of the wilderness from the experts. Also, we take a boating excursion on Puget Sound to track Orcas. Which animals are struggling to survive? What does it mean for our future and what can we do about it?
Stuart Pimm is a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University. He joins us from the Florida Keys.
Chris Morgan is director of the Grizzly Bear Outreach Project, and producer of the feature documentary, “Beartrek.”
Sara LaBorde is a special assistant to the director of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife. She works on salmon and Steelhead.
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Ocean conditions promising future orca food

Some good news re offshore productivity in 2008, though the southern residents may not see the benefits for a couple years…
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Oregon ocean conditions best for fish in 50 years
After several years of poor ocean conditions that left birds starving and fish dwindling, this year brought a healthy influx of cold, nutrient-rich water along the Oregon Coast that likely represent the best year for fish in decades, scientists say.
Surveys along the coast from Newport north to LaPush, Wash., found more juvenile chinook salmon than they’ve seen in the 11 years the surveys have been done, researchers said.
That suggests that the Northwest could see a salmon boom once those fish mature and migrate back to their home rivers in the next few years.
The key to ocean productivity off the Oregon Coast is upwelling of deep, cold water that is rich in nutrients. The water typically nurtures rich marine ecosystems, but last year and in the few years before the upwelling has happened erratically and hasn’t provided the nutrients essential to fish and other coastal life.
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Lubchenco could save NW salmon and orcas

Wonderful news that one of the pioneers of sustainability science will head NOAA in the Obama administration! This could really turn around the pitiful funding of the recovery plans for Northwest salmon and killer whales. Jane is an exceptional marine ecologist has long been working out practical solutions to saving our marine food supplies (and she’s married to Bruce Menge, another top marine ecologist).
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The Washington Post

Lubchenco Will Helm National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

By Juliet Eilperin
President-elect Barack Obama has tapped Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, one of the nation’s most prominent marine biologists, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Lubchenco, a conservationist who has devoted much of her career to encouraging scientists to become more engaged in public policy debates, is also a vocal proponent of curbing greenhouse gases linked to global warming.
“When has NOAA been headed by a member of the National Academy and a fellow of the Royal Society?” he said, referring to America and Britain’s most prestigious scientific societies. “That’s exactly the right signal. It establishes NOAA as one of those key scientific agencies.”
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Could leader change at BPA help orcas?

This editorial gives a glimpse into the uppercrust of the BPA and ponders whether President Obama and Energy Secretary Chu will alter the BPA leadership. Could this be an opportunity for a dramatic acceleration in the re-balancing of the Northwest’s priorities: renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, thriving salmon, and healthy killer whales? First and foremost, we should watch during this potential transition for a chance to gain political momentum for removing the dams on the lower Snake River!
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by The Editorial Board

Thursday December 11, 2008, 4:20 PM

Dams, wind, power and politics
Who should lead the Bonneville Power Administration into a bold new era of green energy?
Obama and his strong choice for Energy Secretary, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu, will set a very different course on national energy policy, and by extension, will put different demands and expectations on Bonneville and its executives.
But we’d caution against any rush to change the leadership at the BPA. Wright, a careeer BPA official appointed administrator by former President Clinton, and kept by President George W. Bush, is a talented executive who’s done a fine job under difficult circumstances.
He’s forged an agreement on salmon recovery with Native American tribes

COMMENTS (4)Post a comment
Posted by sonicyouth
Sure, Wright is effective at making sure the dams produce ‘affordable’ electricity
We are also paying through the nose for salmon programs that aren’t working and will never lead to recovery.
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Killer whales call louder as vessel noise increases

This clipping from the NOAA/NWFSC Marine Mammal Program shows that southern residents are increasing the source level of their S1 calls by about 1dB for every decibel increase of the ambient noise level. Counts of vessels within 1km of the hydrophone correlate with the ambient noise levels.

While the ecological consequences of this behavioral change are up for debate and further study, these results could motivate owners of vessels that operate near the whales to reduce their underwater noise production. They could also lead to the development of new regulations regarding how vessels interact with the endangered killer whales.

The peer-reviewed article is expected to be published in the next couple months. Similar results have been acquired by a Beam Reach student in fall 2007 (Elise Chapman, ) and by Val Veirs in spring 2005 ( ).

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NOAA logo: go to NOAA web site

NWFSC home

Marine Mammal Program

Speaking up: killer whales compensate for vessel noise

A photograph of a woman looking at a group of killer whale from a boat.
NWFSC postdoctoral researcher Marla Holt measuring the sound levels of killer whale
calls near San Juan Island.

A study by NRC postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Marla Holt, and collaborators including NWFSC, Colorado College and Beamreach researchers have found that Southern Residents compensate for the masking effects of vessel noise by calling louder. In a new article (in press) in JASA Express Letters, “Speaking up: killer whales compensate for vessel noise,” these researchers show that whales increase their call level by one decibel for every decibel increase in background noise levels.
The researchers also report that noise levels increase as the number of motorized vessels around the whales increases, illustrating the contribution vessel traffic has to background noise levels in the whales’ underwater environment.
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Blackmouth and blackfish in Seattle

J, K, and members of L pod have been down in central and south Puget Sound quite a bit thus far this November and December.  The nice sighting maps at Orca Network show they’ve been sighted as far south as Seattle and Vashon on 12/2 and 12/7.  In comparison, here are the days in past Decembers when SRKWs were detected near Vashon Island: 0 days 2007,  2006;  12/15, 12/17, & 12/20 in 2006; 12/2 &12/16 in 2005;  11 days in 2004 (as late as 12/31); and 7 days in 2003.  They came into northern Puget Sound 8 times in November (Admiralty Inlet down to about the southern end of Whidbey Island), which is about normal compared with November ’06 and ’07.

Will they keep hanging around this fall?  And what are they eating?  It will be fascinating to learn what is revealed by the fecal and prey sampling that NOAA has accomplished in Puget Sound recently…

The following note from WDFW suggests they could be picking off some of the blackmouth Chinook that human fishers are catching.  Does anyone have handy some near-real-time escapement numbers for Chum in the southern Puget Sound rivers?

Excerpt from the WDFW Weekender Report: December 10, 2008 – January 6, 2009:

On Puget Sound, the blackmouth  fishery is under way, and the catch rate could increase as additional marine areas open for salmon.

“We’ve seen a drop in effort in the marine areas since the holiday season began,” said Steve Thiesfeld, WDFW fish biologist. “But those anglers who did get out on the water have found some fish in the last several days.” Creel checks in the region show fair fishing for blackmouth – resident chinook – in Marine Area 10 (Seattle/Bremerton). At Shilshole Ramp, 26 anglers were checked with two chinook Dec. 5, while 48 anglers took home eight chinook the following day.

Those fishing Marine Area 10 can keep two hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit. They must, however, release wild chinook, which have an intact adipose fin.

Beginning Jan. 1, options will increase for blackmouth fishing, when marine areas 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay) and 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) open for salmon. Anglers in those two marine areas will be allowed to keep two hatchery chinook as part of their two-salmon daily limit.

Chinook swim bladder smaller than sockeye & coho?

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Sounds Like My Favorite Fish

By Phil Berardelli
ScienceNOW Daily News
12 November 2008

Some of the killer whales off the coast of Washington state are picky eaters, preferring Chinook salmon even though the coho and sockeye varieties are much more plentiful. Researchers report that the whales seem to be able to tell the three species apart by the sonar echoes bouncing off their swim bladders
Their analysis showed that one characteristic–the structure of the echoing sound waves–differed among the coho, sockeye, and Chinook salmon. As bioacoustician and team member Whitlow Au of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, reported Tuesday at a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Miami, Florida, further study showed that the salmon swim bladders vary considerably in size. The Chinook’s bladder is only half as large as those of the other two species.
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BC salmon worse off than DFO says

We’ll need to examine the actual publication, but at first glance this new study demolishes what trust I had that DFO was doing a reasonable job of measuring escapement and managing the catch of B.C. salmon. It seems we should radically adjust how we monitor and manage salmon… perhaps some combination of a coherent, timely test catch program and real-time telemetry of returning adults could enable us to adjust quotas and time openings so that enough salmon are able to make it into the rivers and the stomachs of endangered orcas.

Or maybe we should just stop fishing for Pacific salmon for a decade?! Then at least we could discern whether there is any need to keep suggesting that declines are caused by climate change or ocean conditions, rather than harvest.
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Overfishing pushing salmon stocks near collapse, study warns

VANCOUVER — Salmon stocks in British Columbia are on the brink of collapse largely because the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has consistently allowed too many fish to be killed in commercial and recreational fisheries, according to a new research paper.

The researchers said that based on the monitoring of 137 streams between 2000 and 2005, DFO found 35 per cent of salmon runs in northern B.C. were classified as depressed. But an assessment based on 215 streams that included weak stocks rated 75 per cent of runs as depressed.

“The lack of information [fisheries managers have] is troubling,” said Misty MacDuffee, one of three biologists on the research team.

And during the 2000-2005 period, chum, sockeye and chinook runs failed to hit escapement targets up to 85 per cent of the time.

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