I love this quote from a spokeswoman from the Marine Sanctuary outside of San Francisco Bay where L pod was observed foraging last week:
“It’s nice they’re showing up, but it’s too bad there’s not enough food for them up north,” Schramm said.
That’s pretty funny since L pod is almost surely pursuing salmon of the Sacramento and San Joaquin River Basin — populations which have been plagued by dismal returns in recent years, despite seeing the best returns last fall since 2006. So, what struggling northern river systems and salmon populations is she pondering? (The Columbia I hope!)
It goes to show you that we Washingtonians have a lot of communicating about orcas and their prey to do with the keepers of other river systems that feed the southern residents, particularly during the winter.
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During the last few weeks as portions of J and K pod (strangely split up into unusual associations) have traveled around Puget Sound, I’ve been wondering where L pod (not the L12s) has been since they were last sighted with a newborn on December 6. An sfgate.com article on Sacramento chinook salmon returns offers a hopeful hint that L pod may be foraging along the west coast and encountering a few more CA chinook than last year. The article also suggests that next fall may bring even better returns (possibly as much as 3x this year’s return of 163,000 (which would be about half of the 2002 peak of 770,000).
It’s interesting to think about what portion of the fish the SRKWs catch along the west coast during the winter months are from CA, versus Oregon rivers, the Columbia, WA rivers, or BC rivers. Could it be that the CA salmon are important to SRKWs in proportion to their role in local fisheries: making up 90% of salmon catch in CA and 60% in OR?
A few excerpts:
The California Department of Fish and Game recorded 163,181 chinook in the river system during the annual count this past fall. That’s the best return in the once-thriving Central Valley system since 2006, but it is still below federal predictions and well below the historic average.
In 2009, only 39,500 fall-run chinook returned to spawn, the worst showing on record.
“Yes, 163,000 is better than 39,000, but that’s all that returned after an extremely limited fishing season,” said Larry Collins, president of the newly formed San Francisco Community Fishing Association and a longtime fisheries advocate. The salmon run “is a shadow of its former self.”
The Central Valley run in September and October has for decades been the backbone of the West Coast fishing industry. The local salmon, also known as king salmon, have traditionally made up 90 percent of the salmon caught in California and 60 percent of the chinook harvested in Oregon.
At its peak in 2002, 769,868 fish spawned in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries. The Central Valley chinook pass through San Francisco Bay and roam the Pacific Ocean as far away as Alaska before returning three years later to spawn where they were hatched.
On January 31, 2011, Michel Cousteau was a guest on Steve Scher’s Weekday show on KUOW. Though he was talking generally about how our actions (even far inland) affect the oceans, he ended up talking extensively about killer whales. He proved himself quite knowledgeable about resident killer whales (especially 5:00-8:00 and 25:30- 27:30).
As an acoustician, my favorite quote was:
“It’s all sound, all communication. See, our primary sense is vision. Their primary sense is acoustic because sound travels very well underwater, unlike in the air. And you know, for dogs it’s smell. For us it’s vision. For them it’s sound. That’s how they find each other. That’s how they find food. That’s how they find their way…”
Near 26:00 he talks about the potential extinction of southern residents, but failed to articulate how we might save them. Instead of talking about amending NW and Canadian salmon populations (as NOAA suddenly is doing), banning and cleaning up PBDEs, PCBs, and DDTs, and mitigating vessel interactions, he took off on a discussion of sewage and plastic bags.
Another highlight (at ~36:00) was the comment from Libby Palmer of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center about the transient killer whale skeleton they are preparing for exhibition. That led Cousteau to discuss fire retardants and make the good suggestion that orca contamination should be associated with human contamination to enhance public awareness of the problems and solutions.