Monthly Archives: February 2010

Good news for wild orcas, captive orca in distress

The tragedy of the trainer killed at Florida’s sea world was all over the news yesterday. 40 year old Dawn Brancheau was an experienced trainer who had worked with Tilikum, an orca captured from Icelandic waters when he was just two years old. The trainer’s death is a tragedy to her family and coworkers, but it also sheds light on the tragedy of orcas in captivity. This particular orca has been involved in two previous violent incidents with trainers, one in 1991 and another in 1999. All accounts of killer whale violence involving humans have occurred while the animals are in captivity. In their own natural environment orcas maintain a remarkably peaceful culture. The SRKWs have never been known to kill humans, kill each other, shun or make outcasts of their members. Their society seems to have achieved a peacefulness which we humans only dream of.

Like humans, they are sophisticated social creatures who need freedom, wide open space to move and the lifelong companionship of their family and community. This event serves as a reminder of just how important it is to preserve the orcas’ natural environment. If their natural world is depleted to a point that we feel we are saving them by keeping them in marine parks and they end up in captivity, they end up incarcerated in a way that is dangerous to the humans that dedicate their lives to them as well as to themselves.

In Listening to Whales, Alexandra Morton contemplates marine mammals in captivity and whether the ‘education for children’ argument holds up. In regards to children learning respect for and the desire to protect orcas, she says,
“More often, though I’d see a different kind of interaction. Some kids taunted the whales and pitched popcorn at their blow-holes…They argued over whether the whales were real. ‘They’re like rubber man. Look at ‘em: just like the dinosaurs at Disneyland. They’re stupid, fat, dead, fake…’
What exactly were these children learning? Before the advent of marine parks, killer whales had all too often been considered the wolves of the ocean, nomadic man-eaters, good for nothing…But thanks to parks like Marineland…public opinion had swung to the opposite extreme. They were considered obedient, cute, tongue-wagging performers, tame enough for petting, and the children I observed were learning that it was a human right to enslave, harm and ridicule another creature just for fun. In a single generation the human memory of orcas as dangerous predators had faded away-and with it the respect that predators command” (Morton 56).

It’s interesting to consider the difference between people’s desire to protect orcas they see in their natural world, where they are witness to their intelligence, resourcefulness and the complex and social way they live their lives compared to the anecdotal apathy for preservation when they think orcas are docile, cute and stupid.

This news comes just days after the first spotting of new calf L-114. L-114 is the first known calf born to 22 year old Matia (L-77) and the seventh orca born within the past year. This brings the population up to 89 orcas and marks the largest number of births since the 1980s. But of course, more orcas, means more mouths to feed, and even greater need for salmon.

Humans and salmon compete for CA water

Feinstein’s Water Bomb (Feb 12 article in the High Country News) indicates that things are really starting to heat up in California.  Water stress is manifesting in political lobbying and reversals that may jeopardize the Sacramento River salmon that K and L pod presumably pursue each winter.  Up here in the Northwest the water competition is due to human thirst for electricity.  In the Southwest, the driver is farmers’ increasingly strident demand for water.

State of the Sound by Bill Ruckelshaus

Sound Waters 2010 meeting, Coupeville, WA

It is possible to make progess!

  • We’ve largely brought point-sources under social control.  40 years ago, 85% of pollution was from big industrial or municipal sources, while 15% was from non-point sources.  Now the percentages are reversed.
  • The Clean Air Act helped.  Think of the people in Denver that can see the mountains now, and the people in Los Angeles who can see each other.
  • The Clean Water Act helped.  We don’t have rivers catching on fire any more.

It is much more difficult to detect and manage the non-point pollution sources!

  • We must raise awareness to solve these legacy problems.
  • We’ve found there are two things people really don’t like in urban planning: sprawl and density!
  • Jim Wilcock (prominent farmer) and Billy Frank (Nisqually tribe) showed that effective lowland development and estuary restoration is possible in Puget Sound.  They’ve been in process of implementing their plan for 20 years and they’ve received the most stimulus money of all Puget Sound organizations (though the Nisqually isn’t the most important river).  They have a plan, they agree on solutions, and they are good at seeking funds from the Government.
  • Sammish River has a fecal coliform problem that has shut down Taylor Shellfish multiple times.  The pollution could be coming from many possible sources: cows, ponies, buffalo farm, septic systems, geese…  You can guess what happens: everyone says it’s the geese.  Mac Kaufman of Dept. of Ecology is able to broker solutions, but many regulators aren’t so skilled.  But the fundamental problem in these non-point source solutions is that Americans are happy to agree there is a problem that should be solved, but are rarely willing to change their behavior.
  • Here on Whidbey you have some good plans (e.g. Salmon Recovery Funding Board projects).


  • Dick Feely: How are climate change (sea level rise, ocean acidification) being addressed by the Partnership?  The Partnership’s contribution to reducing carbon flux to the atmosphere will be small compared to other entities.  The UW climate solutions group is trying to tell us what the Northwest effects will be and we will try to help mitigate the impacts.
  • What is the status of the stormwater cleanup bill the State government is considering?  We’re thinking about it.  There has been no decision to increase the tax, but many think it should go into the general budget to fund services that are being cut due to the economic downturn.  Some may be spent on environmental cleanup and that may increase proportionally over time.  (Heather Trim of People for Puget Sound helped answer this.)
  • Are brake pad manufacters supporting the brake pad legislation?  Heather says some are and some aren’t.  Bill says: It will be easy if there is an alternative.
  • In 1970 when I moved here, if you drove to Everett to Tacoma there were only a few cars on the road.  Now it’a a mess.  What are you doing about it, Bill?  Why don’t we just jump to abortion!?  We’re not alone in not having figured out what to do… but if I hear anymore about what to do about the viaduct…  My first time I was at EPA I learned that Americans feel really strongly about their cars.  I think you have a better chance of regulating them in the bedroom.  I spent 65% of my time on automobiles that first time.  Legislators know about that attitude.
  • Mayor of Oak Harbor: Do you see a time in the future when the effort of organizing entities around the region will manifest in a simplification of the permitting process?  There is no reason for the permitting process to be as antagonizing as it is.  We also need more than the 6 regulators that Dept. of Ecology has covering river water quality.  Rationalizing our permitting process is hard in part because of the vast complexity of the rules and it just gets worse as more people live together in higher impact ways.
  • I’ve been unimpressed with Federal funding of the killer whale recovery plan and Lubchenko’s approach to (not) solving the Columbia salmon problems.  What are prospects for Federal funding over next 3 years given the Nation’s economic difficulties and the recent surges in National leadership related to ocean conservation (Pew reports, National Ocean Policy)?  We may actually do best at intermediate levels of funding.  We got 20M last year and are looking at 50M this year, though Obama has 20M requested in budget.  So, maybe we’ll be static for a bit and optimistic that this Administration holds great promise for reinforcing promising efforts should the economic climate (and budgets related to marine conservation) improve.

Stormwater, salmon, and the health of Puget Sound

Keynote speaker at Sound Waters 2010

Dr. Nathaniel ‘Nat’ Scholtz, NOAA/NWFSC

Coho salmon are our first choice for a ‘sentinel species’ because they:

  • are widely distributed
  • inhabit lowland steams that are important and familiar to humans and areas impacted directly by stormwater runoff (if we can reduce toxics in lowland streams, then we’ll likely keep them out of the marine environment, so may solve problems for rockfish, lingcod, and other marine species).
  • live >1 yr in freshwater, so are exposed to stormwater at multiple life stages (adults, eggs, juveniles)
  • are supported by a diverse food web
  • are sensitive to water quality and quantity
  • are a species of concern under the ESA (only listed local species are chinook and southern resident killer whales)
  • provide an accessible narrative to the public, exemplify an ecosystem-based approach to stormwater management

Research results

  • Longfellow Creek (urban W Seattle) experimental facility
  • Urban runoff is toxic to coho embryos (in streams and in lab)
  • For juveniles, the problems are in the foodweb (macroinvertebrates from Cedar River are happy in Longfellow until a storm because they are very sensitive to toxic runoff).  The bugs leave or die, reducing food for juveniles and impacting salmon mortality.
  • Copper (common in brake pads) is specifically toxic to the salmon nose (Science News “descent of smell; pollution imparis olfaction”).  This impairs their ability to imprint on their home stream and avoid predators (attacked fish release a pheremone upon mechanical damage that causes downstream juveniles to freeze).  Predator-prey studies on the Olympic Peninsula shows juvenile coho suffer greater mortality from cutthroat trout when exposed to copper.
  • Over last 9 years, we’ve observed very high (40-90%) pre-spawn mortality of adult coho (full of eggs) in urban streams throughout Seattle.  Extinction projections don’t look good and they don’t yet include possible future pressures: further human population growth (with pursuant urban development) and climate change (drier summers with more intense rains, implying more toxic stormwater events).

Solutions to the stormwater challenge:

  • Pervious pavement in Pringle Creek Community
  • NOAA Bay-Watershed Education and Training funding (translating research to education and service-learning)
  • Local example: Service, Education, and Adventure (SEA) and Edmonds Community College Learn and Serve Environmental Anthropology Field (LEAF) School
  • Salmon-Safe Certification (Nike Ad and PCC labels) — developing local incentives for pollution reduction using NOAA research findings
  • Evaluating effectiveness of low impact development (LID) — partnership with Washington State University Puyallup Extension Campus at its new research facility (experimental plots)
  • About 8% of Seattle is re-developed every year!  Seattle street vacuums are being tested.  SEA street retention of stormwater is ~98%!
  • HB 3018/SB 6557: Limiting the use of copper and other substances in brake pads
  • Personal actions: support outdoor education, Puget Sound farms, and look to Puget Sound for optimism (Southern CA is much worse!) — see Florian Graner’s high-definition video on underwater Puget Sound.


  • Why can’t we just filter all the streams?  We could (it works on Longfellow Creek), but it’s one step from a dialysis machine — it’s prohibitively expensive.
  • There is also legislation under assessment re: mercury in lighting, and other marine issues.  How does the public know about activism opportunities?
  • What should we do about pollution from a local golf course and farms?  That’s the purview of the Department of Ecology.  Unfortunately, State standards and rules lag our research on many contaminants.  Thank goodness we have the Federal precedent of the Clean Water Act.
  • How does the 34M gallons/year of raw sewage from Victoria affect Puget Sound water quality?  I’m not sure, but would be concerned about new contaminants of concerns and pharmaceuticals.  We’re seeking funding to use mussels around Puget Sound as indicator species.
  • Why is it better to have runoff going into ground?  How long before the ground becomes contaminated?  Using copper as an example, many contaminants bind to clay and are pulled out of harms way.
  • Are those movies you were going to show available on line.  Yes on our web site.
  • Are the street vacuums effective?  Though Seattle didn’t put metals on the streets, they’re responsible to Dept. of Ecology. They can tell us how much they take off the streets; we’re working with them to determine what is left on the street.
  • Is there any way to make impermeable surfaces permeable, like with a street drill?  I’m not sure, but would worry about the ability of the roads to take their engineered loads.

New Tacoma ship terminal & tidal energy permits

Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee meeting notes

Feb. 3., 2010, 10-12 a.m., South Federal Building

New container ship terminal in Tacoma (SSA Marine presention)

  • Puyallup Tribal Terminal
  • 3-4 berths (~850′ spacing, 51′ deep)
  • 200 acres
  • About the scale of Terminal 18
  • Market demand is too low to proceed
  • Permits should be in place in ~1 year
  • Construction will take at least 2 years
  • Port has already constructed one 1200′ berth
  • 50-80k cubic yards of soil is contaminated (used to be a Navy Dock; Lincoln ditch)

Puget Sound Tidal Energy (presentation by Craig Collar, Senior Manager; manages renewable energy projects)

  • Filed draft license application with FERC about 2 months ago
  • 80% comes from Columbia hydropower, Initiative 937 dictates added generation be new renewables
  • Only 2 of 7 initial sites are still of interest (dropped Speiden recently)
  • Focused mostly on Admiralty Inlet as pilot plant
  • Open Hydro turbine was developed in U.S. but is licensed by an Irish company
  • Nova Scotia Power just deployed second largest Open Hydro device in Bay of Fundy (largest is in Ireland)
  • Deployed at Falls of Inverness in Ireland (tug/barge held station in 10 knot currents)
  • Site is ~1/2 mile outside shipping station
  • At ~60m, this will be deepest deployment to date, globally.
  • FERC 10 year license should allow us to run/maintain 2 turbines for a test period of 3-5 years, allowing reasonable amount of time for installation and removal.  We need data on how much maintenance is needed.  We could re-license again as a pilot, or shift to a commercial permit and more turbines in a second phase (~5-10 turbines in second phase)?
  • Polyage studies indicate you’ll have to put order 100s of turbines into Admiralty inlet to appreciable affect the tidal exchange within Puget Sound.
  • We need about 140MW, about half of that has already been provided by wind.  (1MW powers about 700 homes)

Other business

  • Most other Harbor Safety Committees are funded by Coast Guard or State sources (e.g. CA)
  • New article on “Industry Standards of Care” in U.S. Coast Guard quarterly publication Proceedings.
  • Links to all U.S. Harbor Safety Committees are now on the Oil Spill Task Force web site.
  • Upcoming meetings in Long Beach, Portland…

Vessel Traffic Safety related to the BP pier expansion

  • Vessel Traffic Safety Risk Analysis model was developed and reported on by George Washington University (BP paid ~$1M for it, then asked for further analysis related to some U.S. Army Corp questions).
  • EIS draft may be available later this year (Olivia Romano, BP is supportive of a presentation to the Committee by someone from George Washington U team that developed basic model)
  • The data are all public, but the model is proprietary.