Author Archives: scottveirs

Marine mammals and climate change

Notes on a talk by Sue Moore entitled “Marine Mammals: Insight to climate change through surveys and song” at UW (16:00-16:45)

Overarching question: are grey whales a sentinel species to climate change in the Arctic and North Pacific?

Polar bears now expected to be down 30% by 2050.

Arctic ice down 3Mkm^2 from 7M.  10x increase in walrus haul-out on land in Russia in 2007.

Grey whales

  • ~18-10k whales (delisted in 1992)
  • 99-00 mortality event was a puzzle (post 97-98 El Nino)
  • 1967 abundance estimates (3%/yr, steady until event)
  • Six observations tell a story
    1. 1 week delay after ’78 NPAC shift (Rugh et al., 2001)
    2. calving increases in years after ‘early’ ice-free Chirikov Basin (Perryman et al., 2002) — due to early access to feeding in Chirikov
    3. fewer calves in lagoons after ’98 El nino (Urban et al.); more calves sighted off S CA…
    4. Surveys in 2002 vs 81-85, 17x drop in central Chirikov, but many 100s further north in Chukchi Sea (Moore et al, 2003)
    5. 10-100s of greys feeding year round offshore Kodiak Island, AK (Kate Wynne)
    6. ARPS recorded grey whale calls through the winter (Bioscience cover; Moore et al., 2006; Stafford et al., 2007)
  • Acoustic tools: HARP and SeaGlider
  • Kristin Laidre recorded bowhead whales song in March with sonobuoy (main period of conception)


1986: Feeding ecology of the killer whale (4.4Mb)
“Feeding ecology of the killer whale (Orcinus orca)” by Fred Felleman. A Masters thesis (177 pages) from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington.

1988: Association patterns and social dynamics in greater Puget Sound (3.4Mb)
“Association patterns and social dynamics of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in greater Puget Sound” by Sara Heimlich-Boran. A Masters thesis (98 pages) from San Jose State University.

1999: A historical ecology of Salish Sea “resident” killer whales (2.9Mb)
“A historical ecology of Salish Sea ‘resident’ killer whales (Orcinus orca) with implications for management” by Rich Osborne. A doctoral thesis (262 pages) from the Department of Geography, University of Victoria.

2000: Northern resident noise compensation (1.5Mb)
“Analysis of the vocalizations of Orcinus orca in response to anthropogenic noise” by Carolyn Talus. A masters thesis (139 pages) from University of Alaska Fairbanks that analyzes northern resident call frequency and rates.

2005: Correlates of variability in killer whale stereotyped call repertoires (3.2Mb)
“Correlates of variability in killer whale stereotyped call repertoires” by Andrew Foote. A masters thesis (137 pages) from the University of Durham.

2006: Distribution and population of southern resident orcas and Pacific salmon (3.0Mb)
“Space Use Patterns and Population Trends of Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Relation to Distribution and Abundance of Pacific Salmon (Oncorhynchus spp.) in the Inland Marine Waters of Washington State and British Columbia” by Shannon McCluskey. A masters thesis (184 pages) from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington.

2006: Summer space use of southern residents (7.3Mb)
“Summer space use of Southern Resident killer whales (Orcinus orca) within Washington and British Columbia inshore waters” by Donna Hauser. A masters thesis (130 pages) from the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington.

2007: Repertoire usage of Southern Residents (12.6Mb)
“Repertoire Usage of the Southern Resident Community of Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)” by Monika Wieland. An undergraduate thesis (88 pages) from Reed College.

2008: Social behavior and ecology of southern residents (5.3Mb)
“Social behavior and ecology of southern resident killer whales (Orcinus orca)” by Jennifer Marsh.  A doctoral thesis (113 pages) from the University of Washington Department of Psychology.



Masters and PhD theses related to orcas and their ecosystem(s).

2002: Do orcas use symbols? (208K)

An online treatise by Howard Garrett positing that the theory of symbolic interactionism may help account for the divergent and complex cultural traditions found in sympatric orca populations. (October, 2002; 15 page PDF.)

2005: Proposed conservation plan for southern residents (NOAA) (1.1M)

October, 2005 draft of the “Proposed Conservation Plan for Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca)” by National Marine Fisheries Service, Northwest Regional Office (183 pages). Delineates actions that the best available science indicates are required to conserve and protect the species. Source: NOAA Conservation planning page for Puget Sound orcas.

Live blog: Bill Ruckelshaus on ecosystem based management

Notes on “Ecosystem Based Management – It’s now up to us” at the NOAA/NWFSC Monster Jam seminar.  Bill introduced the talk by discussing how 97% of Puget Sound residents feel obligated to pass on a clean marine environment to their children, but very few think there are any substantial problems with Puget Sound.

11:15 Puget Sound Partnership led by E.D. Dave Dix has three components:

  1. Leadership Council (Bill leads a council of 6 appointed by Governor)
  2. Science Panel (~100 scientists)
  3. Ecosystem Coordination Board (representing disparate interests providing advisory function)

Yesterday we presented a draft Plan and we got spirited advice back from the ECB.  A year-round tug owned in Neah Bay is on that list.

11:20 Important past/current efforts (some now incorporated):

  • Salmon Recovery Plan (came from PS Shared Strategy)
  • PS Regional Council (4 central Counties with a vision for Puget Sound in 2040)
  • Cascadia Land Conservancy (100 year plan for Puget Sound)
  • 12 counties that border the Sound

11:30 Despite fractious players, he believes citizens can understand the complexities and derive solutions.  The Partnership will need to use carrots ($) and sticks (e.g. exhaustion through courts and legislature)

11:35 Progress and problems

  • + Most discharge permits are in compliance
  • + Reduced use of pest/herb-icides and fertilizers
  • + Improved shoreline habitat for fish, birds, etc.
  • - Our monitoring protocols are poor (can’t measure Salmon Recovery Board’s progress after 7 years and ?? million spent)
  • - Easy actions have already been done
  • - Population is growing at 100k/yr (2x U.S. avg growth) with ~4M presently around Puget Sound

11:40 Ultimately, our land use will be a major factor in how Puget Sound does.

  • Controlling existing and future runoff pollution will be key.
  • Forest management and development are huge
  • Farmers and rural developers will need help
  • Making dikes and dams less impactful is a daunting challenge

11:45 The restoration of Lake Washington is a good example of how we can tackle difficult environmental problems.  “No one else has figured out how to restore great ecosytems and maintain the level of human prosperity that we seem to demand.”  The blue crab in Chesapeake Bay is not yet recovered.  The Everglades progess was just heavily criticized. Restoration of the Great Lakes is being attempted yet again.

11:51 Takes questions

  1. How do we sustain momentum given the current State deficit? One of our roles is coordinating.  Sometimes we have 6 watershed groups working on one stream, some with State funding, some with Federal, etc.  Some of their resources could be pooled, or the (sometimes redundant) projects could be made more cooperative/efficient.  $200 million is slated for Puget Sound in current biennium; 1 billion has been spent in Puget Sound.  We’re going to spend money on something, so what is important to us?  One of our jobs is to ensure the public understand the threats.
  2. What sort of sacrifices do we expect Joe/Jane 6-pack to make? Most lists of “10 things you can do” have not been vetted scientifically.  We should take an adaptive management approach (in case we’re wrong about our priorities presented to the public).
  3. Will a year-round tug be funded? It’s in our draft plan.
  4. Fred Felleman: Do you favor permit systems that include fees to cover independent monitoring, like the fees associated with wastewater discharge permits?  Would you support a chronic assessment of herring larvae at discharge points?  And what about ships which don’t currently need permits to discharge? Weigh in with those ideas.  Our draft plan contains a no-discharge rule for ships in Puget Sound.
  5. What strategies could lead to a systematic monitoring system? Rationalizing our monitoring system is critical and it may be easier (to make it more efficient) in lean financial times (like now).  Indicator work has started.  We have interim indicators and a promise of long-term ones.  An issue is who should pay — there is a habit within the State agencies of assuming some other level will pay for the coordination.  There is a *lot* of inertia — folks don’t want to give up the monitoring they’ve already done!
  6. You seem to assume that public understanding will lead to funding.  Why haven’t we had success with our transportation system?  The public gets confused when there isn’t a unifying voice offering a clear solution to the transportation problem.  Our role (at the PSP) is to present the problems clearly and ultimately gain their support — after all 97% say they have an obligation to hand down a healthy PS to their children.

12:10 end

Live blog: Duwamish talk by Maclure at UW

Here’s my first attempt at live-blogging… 8:40-9:20 a.m. from the University of Washington’s Water Seminar.

8:40 Key findings of his and Lisa Stiffler’s investigation of the Duwamish estuary:

  1. Pollution is historic an ongoing; diversity is down; everyone is contributing to the problem (e.g. run-off)
  2. Some chemicals lethal; some not (Cu not good for young salmon; first run-off flush in fall was toxic enough to kill spawning adults)
  3. Super-fund sites are not all cleaned up!  There are 900 pollution permits in the Sound; many permits are expired; PCBs are still released (e.g. by Naval Shipyard in Bremerton); State Parks and small towns are worst violators (e.g. Blake Island was dumping raw sewage — now fixed)
  4. PCB contamination: Chinook with most PCBs were found in Duwamish, Nisqually, and Sinclair inlet.

8:50 aside: Storm water can be controlled.  There was a nice retrofit of a residential street in N Seattle with “rain gardens.”  Vulcan development near Seattle REI will soon demonstrate swales as a way to filter run-off before it reaches Lake Union.

8:53 Duwamish

  1. Used to be agricultural area supplying Pike Place market with vegetables, etc.
  2. Industrialization led to multiple super-fund sites being defined in the lower Duwamish.
  3. With Colin McDonald, Robert did a series on Duwamish in preparation for the remedial study (Nov 29, 2007).  This was last opportunity for public comment on polluters’ perception of the problems — King County, City of Seattle, Boeing, etc.  Concluded they were probably underestimating impacts on some of the animals and tried to articulate it in common language — “concepts were complicated, but otter penises are easy to understand.”

9:00 Robert’s main information sources

  1. Governmental reports (NOAA/NMFS, EPA)
  2. Responses to his requests for information releases
  3. Talking to people (Government doesn’t always listen): example of Port of Seattle and moon suit examination of a site that was subsequently taken off the market

9:03 Overall message from polluters: It’s going to be too expensive!

  1. Some cleanup will happen
  2. But getting clean enough for people to eat fish may not be palatable to public (extra $400 million to get further than the plateau of the curve — cost vs cleanliness.

9:05 Takes questions:

  1. Is State providing non-English speaker reasonable access to the process?  Not really, though the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition (DRCC) is a possible mechanism.
  2. What are cleanup methods and how will recovery be established?  Many pollutants are in sediments that need to be dug up and treated/sequestered.  Hot spots like the Duwamish Diagonal were dredged (too fast, too sloppily), but pollution was spread around…
  3. Are your articles edited/censored?  Not censorship; big stories can get a lot of feedback/iterations, but editing can be very light if there is a quick deadline.  One concern is losing advertisers to stories that impact key businesses.
  4. How long does it take to write these articles: hours for quick ones (e.g. today’s article on NMFS moratorium on building in flood plains), many days for big projects.
  5. How did you get into journalism?  In 8th grade journalism class, Robert argued for a smoking area across from School and was encouraged by his teacher who was vehemently anti-smoking.
  6. How do you settle on a subject when there are so many issues?  The blog helps us comment quickly on minor news (e.g. press releases).  We interview and investigate for stories in the paper.
  7. Do you have formal environmental training?  Fellowship at U Michigan.  Before that it was highschool chemistry.  Society of Environmental Journalists is a very helpful resource; they have a great listserve that can be a very responsive source of expertise.
  8. Have you felt like you had a powerful influence on public awareness or an issue?  I wrote early and often about Everglades restoration and it’s now one of the biggest efforts in the world.  I think I’ve helped catalyze local cleanup, like the creation of the Puget Sound Partnership.
  9. Are scientists hard to work with?  Yeah, many journalists weren’t interested in math/science in school., but I really like hanging out with scientists.

When will we free the Elwha River?

It’s said that the Elwha River once sustained impressive runs of Spring Chinook salmon:

“Elwha chinook are one of the Puget Sound chinook stocks listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act and are also legendary in that they typically reached over 100 pounds at maturity…. Prior to the dams, the Elwha River was famous for producing healthy runs of all five salmon species…” (Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Fights for Existence of Sol Duc Hatchery)

Chinook appear to be the favorite food of our endangered southern residents. So, why aren’t we moving faster to remove the two dams on the lower Elwha and free up ~200 square kilometers of pristine habitat within Olympic National Park?

Check out my post on the Beam Reach blog about an Oregon dam removal video that should inspire us all to accelerate the Elwha dam removal process.

List of near-real-time sensors in orca habitat

There is an increasing number of near-real-time sensors like webcams out in SRKW habitat. In an effort to keep abreast of these resources (as a community), you can now access and modify my list of favorite sensors for monitoring orca habitat in the Orcasphere wiki. This is primarily a list of web cams and environmental sensors like weather buoys and satellite images. Used in conjunction with the real-time sounds from Salish Sea hydrophone network, I hope these tools will help us keep track of where the whales are relative to risks (like passing oil tankers), how they’re doing, and what’s going on in their habitat (whether they’re around or not).

J8 Subpod – Day 2

43 28.2N 123 04.9W Travelling down-island, close to shore. 28 vessels within a 2-mile radius, the top count this season. I promise there are vocals in there…. somewhere… Actually, toward the end of this sample I have J8 pinging the hydrophone from negligible range (Kerri, it was an accident, I promise).

Listen here (2.5MB)

J8 Subpod

48 29.11N 122 43.64W Travelling up-island slowly, occassional milling. Eerie vocals.

Listen here (1.1MB)

J & L

48 25.22N 122 43.64W Travel, medium distribution. W-bound. Interesting vocal change toward the end, as the fleet goes from mostly set to mostly paralleling. Coincidence?

Listen here (5.4MB)