Category Archives: Uncategorized

CA chinook on upward trend

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 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.


The yearly forecasts are based mostly on the percentage of 2-year-old salmon that return early to the river system. About 9,000 of these so-called jacks were counted in 2009 compared with about 4,000 in 2008.

Some 30,000 jacks were counted during the latest run, an indication that more fish than last year will return next fall.

Read more:

Cousteau talks of killer whales on KUOW

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.

Fishing closures on Elwha?

Yesterday’s news release from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has at least four items of interest to SRKW conservation scheduled for discussion in their Feb 4-5 meeting.  A moratorium on fishing in the Elwha River system to facilitate recovery of its salmon populations, especially the historically large chinook, could mean more food faster for SRKWs.  Better management of summer chinook on the Columbia could affect the food sources SRKWs encounter, though those populations may be less important than fall-spring runs.  Any alteration of the North of Falcon process could influence salmon abundance in WA marine waters, as could changes to how bottomfish are caught by recreational and commercial fishers.

It might be worth a trek south to sit in on this one…

Here is an excerpt of the relevant sections:

Meanwhile, with two major dams on the Elwha River scheduled for removal starting later this year, the commission will consider adopting a moratorium on fishing designed to support restoration of native salmon and trout populations in that watershed. One proposal calls for closing all waters to fishing in the Elwha River Basin, while another alternative would maintain some fishing opportunity in Lake Sutherland.

State, federal and tribal fishery managers have proposed fishing closures in the watershed to protect fish during the dam-removal process and encourage their expansion into 70 miles of new spawning and rearing habitat.

In other action, the commission is scheduled to consider management alternatives for bottomfish in Catch Area 4B (western Strait of Juan de Fuca), which are available on the department’s website at .

The commission also is scheduled to consider updating its management policy for Columbia River summer chinook salmon to reflect new broodstock needs for the Chief Joseph Hatchery and conservation standards for naturally spawning fish, while providing guidance in allocating the catch between recreational and commercial fisheries.

The commission also is scheduled to consider:

* Changes in state fishing rules on a variety of issues, including closing fishing for Columbia River smelt (eulachon) statewide. The proposals are available on WDFW’s website at .
* Amendments to commercial bottomfish, forage fish and shellfish fisheries in Puget Sound designed to protect rockfish populations.
* Updates to the North of Falcon policy, which provides direction to fishery managers in defining annual salmon fishing seasons in Washington’s waters.

First spring chinook caught on Columbia

Mark Yuasa’s NW Fishing blog in the Seattle Times is a great way to keep tabs on where salmon are being caught in Washington.  Yesterday he pointed out that 2011 returns are expected to be moderate and that the spring chinook runs peak in March/April for the Lower Columbia.  Is L pod working these schools on the continental shelf?


The Upper Columbia spring chinook return forecast of 198,400 fish is the sixth largest since 1979. It is well under last year’s forecast of 470,000 (315,345 was actual return). The largest return was 437,900 in 2001, and the 10-year average is 219,000.

The good news for the 2011 return is quite a few larger-sized 5-year-old fish, about 40,000 of them, are expected. The bulk of the annual returns are comprised of 4-year-old fish.

Another popular spring chinook fishery on the Oregon side of the Columbia is the Willamette River, where a forecast of about 104,000 (62,400 are expected to be brawny five-year-olds) is expected, compared to a forecast last year of 63,000 (110,000 was the actual return).


The height of the spring chinook return is March and April. Sport angler trips in the Lower Columbia have averaged 129,000 since 2002.

Obama on salmon management

What great news for southern residents that President Obama clarifies in his 2011 State of the Union Address (at 43:59) that he understands that there is a deep flaw in how salmon are managed in the United States:

The Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in salt water… I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked!

Can we do big things for Pacific salmon? Let’s hope Obama’s realization manifests as a concerted effort in the next two years by his administration to manage salmon of the Columbia, Snake, Sacramento, and other western rivers in an innovative manner that benefits both fish and killer whales. If we can’t do it with Jane Lubchenko (a marine biologist) heading NOAA and Gary Locke as Secretary of Commerce, then it’s unlikely we’ll pull it off in the first quarter of the 21st century. How can we work together to get more Chinook to the southern residents?

New whale watching rules due this spring

This Jan 16 story from Q13 Fox News has some valuable quotes, including this one from Brian Gorman of NOAA/NMFS:

“I expect it’s something that will have to go through a lot of hoops.  It could take as long as 90 days but by this spring we should have regulations in place,” says Gorman.
Gorman says the Department of Commerce is now reviewing the plan.  Then it goes to the Office of Management and Budget for approval before local fisheries officials get final word.
We’ve requested an interview with Senator Maria Cantwell, chair of the committee which oversees this issue, to discuss her commitment to protecting the orcas.  We hope to have that for you when she returns to Washington later this month.

Orcas, Elliott Bay, and the Duwamish

A January 3 Seattle Times story entitled “EPA unveils options for Duwamish cleanup” makes me wonder whether southern residents would enter Elliott Bay more often if the salmon runs were restored to the Duwamish and Green Rivers.  In a few years of listening, we’ve not yet detected Southern Residents Killer Whales entering Elliott Bay enough to be heard at the Seattle Aquarium hydrophone.  They always seem to stay outside the Bay, beyond a line connecting West and Alki Points…

Is anyone aware of past times when orcas have spent time in Elliott Bay?

Flushed chemicals reach orca habitat in less than 4 days

Live-blogged notes from a UW Water Seminar talk by Rick Keil’s student Brittany Kimball

Spicing Up the Sound: Cooking Spices and Aberrant Chemicals in Puget Sound and How They Get There
Sound Citizen collects water samples from around the region to understand the transport of common household chemicals from human sources into the marine environment.  An added benefit is that the educational message is positive (e.g. associated with holiday cooking), in contrast to typical discouraging environmental news.  With funding primarily from Washington Sea Grant, the undergraduate-driven project provides citizen scientists with kits for collecting water samples (about 40-75 kits returned per month since December 2008).

Analysis measures concentrations of: spices (27), solvents, perfumes, endocrine disruptors, and (soon) soaps and more.

Oregano — spikes in early May due to spring growth

Linalool — a scent from flowers (also common in household products) peaks naturally in June/July

Cinammon — can differentiate between cooked and metabolized (trans-cinnamic acid); based on 2007 data from treated sewage effluent peaks ~4 days after Thanksgiving (thyme also peaks 4 days after)

Vanillin — both natural and synthetic (ethyl vanillin, 4x more flavorful, so common in candy); peaks on memorial day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Valentines day, 4th of July, Labor day; natural vanillin peaks during winter holidays (when real vanilla extract is used) while synthtic peaks during summer (possibly due to mass consumption of ice cream).

Chemicals in personal care products (e.g. musks, other fragrances…) and industrial products (e.g. insecticides, fertilizers) are detected about as commonly as spices in the samples.  Lawn care chemicals peak in summer, while ibuprofen and estrogens peak in winter (a function of runoff and overflow from sewage treatment plants?).

With the new mass spectrometer, we can measure oleic acids (olive oil soaps), steric acids, and more…

Don’t miss our high school action projects on Feb 3-4.  Student posters will be presented then at Mary Gates Hall.

VENUS hydrophones going deeper, reporting more

Thanks to Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, some news caught my ear in this article from the Times Colonist on the hydrophones deployed off the Fraser River delta.  There’s also a good bit of supposition without much science to back it up…

The key news I gleaned is that the hydrophones will be moved in a couple weeks from 170m depth to 300m.  I also was happy to learn that someone at VENUS (Richard Dewey) appears to be paying attention to the issue of noise pollution from the perspective of the southern resident killer whales.  Indeed, it seems he’s got a bit of a publicity campaign started.  He’s been on Canadian radio (CBC’s BC Almanac) talking about the hydrophones and has posted a nice YouTube video about underwater ship noise and potential impacts on orcas.

Listen to:  an excerpt with only the hydrophone portion of the broadcast; the full BC Almanac podcast (45 min including other news).

It will be great if they publish some of their work soon, or put a few more recordings in their research highlight section of their web site.  In the video they suggest they may be observing amplitude compensation at increased levels of ship noise, which they could accomplish by localizing calls with their calibrated array.  For now, you can at least listen in (nearly live) and browse the many hours of ship noise.  Checking again on their website, I’m also pleased to see they are now reporting occasionally on interesting acoustic events:

Chum salmon: orca prey around Puget Sound

As the southern residents are visiting Puget Sound today, I’m inspired to learn a bit more about chum and where to view the fall runs.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has some good background information in their section on Chum Salmon Stories.  Of particular import to the southern residents is the fact that Chum salmon are the most abundant salmon species in Washington State.  In “Respect” Jim Aimes writes points out that recent chum runs are about has good as they have ever been, in contrast to the declines experienced many Puget Sound chinook and coho populations:

If we consider only naturally produced fish, the most abundant salmon in Washington State are chum salmon. In case you missed that – chum salmon are the most abundant wild salmon in our state! This is probably the best kept “secret” in the salmon business. In the five-year period 1994-1998, over 6.5 million wild chum salmon returned to Washington waters. Of that total, approximately 6.2 million wild chum returned to Puget Sound and over 300,000 were destined for coastal streams. Given the very real problems faced by wild fish and the recent tales about the supposed imminent demise of all wild salmon, these chum returns are pretty remarkable.

Chum salmon are also very successful at a number of hatcheries, although they seldom receive the emphasis provided to chinook and coho salmon. The majority of hatchery chum programs are located in the Puget Sound region; producing fish from WDFW, tribal, and federal facilities. The return of hatchery-origin chum for the above 5 years (1994-1998) was nearly 2.6 million fish. Combine the wild and hatchery returns for those 5 years and the total is over 9 million fish, or an average annual return of more than 1.8 million chum.

For guidance on how to view these fantastic fish, here is a blurb from WDFW with a link to the Piper’s Creek (Carkeek Park) population:

Various chum salmon stocks spawn in Washington streams from August through March. The duration of spawning for individual streams, however, is typically much shorter; usually one to two months. The best time to view chum salmon in local streams is November and December, when the large runs of fall chum are spawning.

There are a number of visitor-friendly locations where chum salmon spawning (both wild and hatchery fish) can be observed. This page will identify a number of these locations, and will provide travel information and the best season for chum salmon viewing. The initial location will be the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail in the Olympia area, with more locations to be added in the near future.

And here is a nice piece on the fall chum runs of the Kitsap Peninsula and Chico Creek in particular by Chris Dunagan.