Category Archives: Cetacean Issues

Is the captive Southern Resident orca Lolita dying?

Miami 6 February 2022 – PETA has just learned from confidential sources of egregious developments and animal failings at the Miami Seaquarium. Beloved Lolita the orca—whose small, shallow, barren concrete tank has been closed to the public for months—is reportedly suffering from pneumonia and is in danger of not receiving adequate care. The current attending veterinarian, Shelby Loos, reportedly possessed no orca experience when she was hired in 2019. She left in 2020 but was rehired last year after the Seaquarium fired its longtime head veterinarian after she expressed concern about the extent of animal suffering at the park.

“Lolita has suffered for five decades in this despicable animal prison, and if she has pneumonia, that greatly increases the risk of dying she faces in this inadequate facility,” says PETA Foundation Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “PETA is calling on the Seaquarium to shut down before any more sentient beings suffer and die in its tiny tanks.”

The whistleblowers also shared with PETA horrific photographs of Abaco, a 19-year-old dolphin who drowned after his rostrum became entangled in a net separating two pools and, as his necropsy revealed, had also incurred injuries from being attacked by incompatible dolphins. Abaco was one of six animals who died at the Seaquarium in 2019 and 2020, all from trauma-related causes—including to the head and neck with hemorrhaging.

In September, PETA obtained a damning 17-page federal inspection report revealing a slew of animal welfare violations at the Seaquarium, including that it had failed to provide Lolita and several other animals with sufficient shade, leaving them in direct sunlight, which can cause painful damage to their eyes. This is the first time the USDA cited the facility for insufficient shade, even though PETA has been raising the issue for years. Lolita has been held alone there for more than 40 years. She displays repetitive and abnormal behavior, which, according to marine mammal experts, indicates severe psychological trauma. The Seaquarium is currently under further investigation by the USDA.

From Peta’s media release

The Navy and the Blob 2.0 will impact the lives of whales, dolphins, and seals. Here’s what you can do about it.

We need the military to keep us safe,  most of us get that. We also understand that the Navy has vitally important activities that – however unfortunately – can lead to injury and death of marine mammals. The government goes to some length to insure that those Navy activities have a minimum impact by requiring them to submit fairly complex documents every five years, based in part on what impact they had in the previous five-year period.
At issue here is that although the Navy and NOAA Fisheries have already established allowable “takes” (marine mammals that can be killed or displaced) for 2019 through 2023, they now want to extend the period an additional two years without having to reassess the effect they are having on marine mammal populations. 
In other words, the Navy won’t have to take into account how much changing ocean conditions will alter the statistics – we have already seen that population distributions are changing for many whale and dolphin species as they follow their prey. For instance, gray whales appear to be starving in some cases, humpback entanglements have risen as they come in closer to shore and encounter crab pots, and diseases such as the morbillivirus decimate cetaceans in parts of their range. Young California sea lions are stranding in unprecedented numbers.
Complicating everything is that Blob 2.0 is forming off the West Coast which is expected to further alter marine mammal health and distribution (graphic and original NOAA data are below).

Comments to NOAA can be made here by October 15th:
Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area
Please take a few minutes to submit your comment to NOAA, the process is simple but be aware that NOAA will only consider well-grounded comments in their decision making. There’s no harm in venting your feelings though, and NOAA needs to know how the public feels so any comment you care to make will be read.
 

Data from NOAA documents

“NMFS has reviewed the Navy’s data and analysis and determined that it is complete and accurate, and NMFS agrees that the following stressors have the potential to result in takes of marine mammals from the Navy’s planned activities:

Acoustics (sonar and other transducers; air guns; pile driving/extraction);

Explosives (explosive shock wave and sound, assumed to encompass the risk due to fragmentation); and

Physical Disturbance and Strike (vessel strike).”

Photo Credit: Alaska Magazine

(Level A takes are possibly lethal, Level B takes disturb or disrupt):

3,162 potentially lethal  10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during TESTING

1,598 potentially lethal   7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during TRAINING

The following is a list of species that can possibly be killed in BOTH Navy training and Navy testing activities; alarming because some species (such as dwarf sperm whales) are impacted out of scale to what is known about them:

Comments to NOAA can be made here by October 15th:
Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area

The following shows the both Level A and Level B “takes” for each species in Navy testing, followed by the list of “takes” in  Navy training activities:

Expected takes during Testing Exercises:

Level A  Level B  Species  Stock

0             205        Blue whale *      Central North Pacific
6             7,116     Blue whale *      Eastern North Pacific
0             167        Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0             631        Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
0             7,731     Fin whale *         California, Oregon, & Washington
0             197        Fin whale *         Hawaiian
7             7,962     Humpback whale †          California, Oregon, & Washington †
12           34,437   Humpback whale †          Central North Pacific
7             4,119     Minke whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
6             20,237   Minke whale      Hawaiian
0             333        Sei whale *         Eastern North Pacific
0             677        Sei whale *         Hawaiian
27           16,703   Gray whale †      Eastern North Pacific
0             19           Gray whale †      Western North Pacific †
0             8,834     Sperm whale *  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             10,341   Sperm whale *  Hawaiian
215        84,232   Dwarf sperm whale         Hawaiian
94           33,431   Pygmy sperm whale        Hawaiian
149        38,609   Kogia whales      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             8,524     Baird’s beaked whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             23,491   Blainville’s beaked whale              Hawaiian
0             47,178   Cuvier’s beaked whale    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             7,898     Cuvier’s beaked whale    Hawaiian
0             82,293   Longman’s beaked whale             Hawaiian
0             25,404   Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild)    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             1,295     Bottlenose dolphin          California Coastal
13           201,619               Bottlenose dolphin          California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0             13,080   Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaiian Pelagic
0             500        Bottlenose dolphin          Kauai & Niihau
10           57,288   Bottlenose dolphin          Oahu
0             1,052     Bottlenose dolphin          4-Island
0             291        Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaii
0             4,353     False killer whale †          Hawaii Pelagic
0             2,710     False killer whale †          Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0             1,585     False killer whale †          Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
4             177,198               Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0             460        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0             855        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0             513        Killer whale         Hawaiian
99           784,965               Long-beaked common dolphin    California
0             14,137   Melon-headed whale      Hawaiian Islands
0             1,278     Melon-headed whale      Kohala Resident
57           357,001               Northern right whale dolphin      California, Oregon, & Washington
19           274,892               Pacific white-sided dolphin           California, Oregon, & Washington
0             17,739   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Island
0             42,318   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Pelagic
0             28,860   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Oahu
0             1,816     Pantropical spotted dolphin         4-Island
0             35,531   Pygmy killer whale          Hawaiian
0             2,977     Pygmy killer whale          Tropical
45           477,389               Risso’s dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             40,800   Risso’s dolphin   Hawaiian
0             26,769   Rough-toothed dolphin  Hawaiian
0             0             Rough-toothed dolphin  NSD
307        5,875,431            Short-beaked common dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
6             6,341     Short-finned pilot whale               California, Oregon, & Washington
0             53,627   Short-finned pilot whale               Hawaiian
0             609        Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0             18,870   Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,961     Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
8             10,424   Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
5             777,001               Striped dolphin  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             32,806   Striped dolphin  Hawaiian
894        171,250               Dall’s porpoise   California, Oregon, & Washington
629        460,145               California sea lion            U.S
0             3,342     Guadalupe fur seal *       Mexico
0             62,138   Northern fur seal             California
48           19,214   Harbor seal         California
5             938        Hawaiian monk seal *     Hawaiian
490        241,277               Northern elephant seal  California
Totals: 3,162 potentially lethal   10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during Testing Exercises
* ESA-listed species (all stocks) within the             HSTT Study Area.
† Only designated stocks are ESA-listed.
 

Expected takes during Training Exercises: 

Level A  Level B  Species  Stock

0             93           Blue whale *      Central North Pacific
0             5,679     Blue whale *      Eastern North Pacific
0             97           Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0             278        Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
7             6,662     Fin whale *         California, Oregon, & Washington
0             108        Fin whale *         Hawaiian
0             4,961     Humpback whale †          California, Oregon, & Washington †
19           23,750   Humpback whale †          Central North Pacific
0             1,855     Minke whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             9,822     Minke whale      Hawaiian
0             178        Sei whale *         Eastern North Pacific
0             329        Sei whale *         Hawaiian
0             13,077   Gray whale †      Eastern North Pacific
0             15           Gray whale †      Western North Pacific †
0             7,409     Sperm whale *  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             5,269     Sperm whale *  Hawaiian
197        43,374   Dwarf sperm whale         Hawaiian
83           17,396   Pygmy sperm whale        Hawaiian
94           20,766   Kogia whales      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             4,841     Baird’s beaked whale      California, Oregon, & Washington
0             11,455   Blainville’s beaked whale              Hawaiian
28           30,180   Cuvier’s beaked whale    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             3,784     Cuvier’s beaked whale    Hawaiian
0             41,965   Longman’s beaked whale             Hawaiian
15           16,383   Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild)    California, Oregon, & Washington
0             11,158   Bottlenose dolphin          California Coastal
8             158,700               Bottlenose dolphin          California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0             8,469     Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaiian Pelagic
0             3,091     Bottlenose dolphin          Kauai & Niihau
0             3,230     Bottlenose dolphin          Oahu
0             1,129     Bottlenose dolphin          4-Island
0             260        Bottlenose dolphin          Hawaii
0             2,287     False killer whale †          Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,256     False killer whale †          Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0             837        False killer whale †          Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
9             85,193   Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0             236        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0             438        Killer whale         Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0             279        Killer whale         Hawaiian
34           805,063               Long-beaked common dolphin    California
0             7,678     Melon-headed whale      Hawaiian Islands
0             1,119     Melon-headed whale      Kohala Resident
22           280,066               Northern right whale dolphin      California, Oregon, & Washington
14           213,380               Pacific white-sided dolphin           California, Oregon, & Washington
0             9,568     Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Island
0             24,805   Pantropical spotted dolphin         Hawaii Pelagic
0             1,349     Pantropical spotted dolphin         Oahu
0             2,513     Pantropical spotted dolphin         4-Island
0             18,347   Pygmy killer whale          Hawaiian
0             1,928     Pygmy killer whale          Tropical
24           339,334               Risso’s dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             19,027   Risso’s dolphin   Hawaiian
0             14,851   Rough-toothed dolphin  Hawaiian
0             0             Rough-toothed dolphin  NSD
304        3,795,732            Short-beaked common dolphin   California, Oregon, & Washington
0             6,253     Short-finned pilot whale               California, Oregon, & Washington
0             29,269   Short-finned pilot whale               Hawaiian
0             1,394     Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0             9,534     Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0             9,277     Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
0             1,987     Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
20           371,328               Striped dolphin  California, Oregon, & Washington
0             16,270   Striped dolphin  Hawaiian
478        115,353               Dall’s porpoise   California, Oregon, & Washington
36           334,332               California sea lion            U.S
0             6,167     Guadalupe fur seal          Mexico
7             36,921   Northern fur seal             California
12           15,898   Harbor seal         California
0             372        Hawaiian monk seal        Hawaiian
187        151,754               Northern elephant seal  California
Totals:  
1,598 potentially lethal   7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during Training Exercises                       
 

Changing ocean conditions are impacting everything in the Navy permit area (and beyond)

from plankton to blue whales (the graphic is from NOAA).

The Blob 2.0


 

Update on the Russian orcas via Greenpeace – tomorrow the whales will be free

Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia
  • Rain brought relief from the heat as the three orcas were prepared for the last leg of their trip to freedom.
  • Once again, the water was changed in each container, and the whales were massaged where it was needed to counter the effects of the cramped space in their containers. In the wild, orcas rarely rest motionless and travel as much as a hundred miles in a day, and this is the fifth day that they have been in those small tanks.
  • When needed, they have had their skin covered with protective ointments and have been provided with shade during the hot portions of the trip.
  • Two tons of ice were used in cooling their water.
  • The final part of the trip will be by trucks again.
  • Tomorrow (6 Aug 19) they will be released into the Sea of Okhostk.
  • Once these three are released, plans are in place to locate and visually assess all 8 of the freed killer whales.

 

The 3 killer whales are stressed by shipping but are monitored by Greenpeace

Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia

“The cold reception [received] by Greenpeace in the Khabarovsk heat is nothing compared to the stress experienced by killer whales. As one of our team members said later in the evening: “In the creak of doors…I now hear screams of killer whales.” Greenpeace Russia
It was a long, hot, loud trip, in which the orcas vocalized “almost constantly” – and it’s not over yet.
As they were driven from Stredanaya Bay on their journey to freedom in the Sea of Okhotsk, the sweltering heat raised the water temperature inside their containers to 68 degrees (20 C) before the three young orcas finally got some relief; fresh salt water and ice brought the water temperatures down to 54 degrees (12 C) to prepare for the next leg of their trip from captivity.
From the afernoon to midnight they waited, until finally they were loaded on a barge for what will be a two day trip down the Amur River to Innokentyevka. From there they will again be loaded onto trucks.
Photo Credit: Greenpeace Russia
These details have been made available by Greenpeace volunteers who are monitoring the care and health of the whales, even though their presence is only grudgingly tolerated and their access is strictly limited by the companies that hunted the killer whales originally.
“It turns out that secrecy around the operation and the prevention of independent observers are needed so that no one can steal and repeat the technology of loading and transporting killer whales,” wrote one observer. “Traders are sure that current events are temporary difficulties, and after them they will continue their business. They are convinced that the catch ban will not be accepted.”
In other words, the hunters plan to continue the nefarious captures of orca calves to sell to amusement parks in China.
We’ll see about that…

Please send donations to Greenpeace, they are the people who actually have boots on the ground and who are working hard to help these whales survive their arduous journey. Here is the USA Greenpeace donation page, from there you can navigate to their organizations around the world.

Tribe wants to hunt whales that have learned to trust us

Photo Credit: Ranger Rick

If the Makah tribe is allowed to resume hunting gray whales we stand to lose much more than the animals that they kill, for surely this will further divide our country along racial and cultural lines. It may lift the lid on a simmering pot of conflicting world views – do we cling to the past and the old way of relating to nature, or do we move forward and learn to respect the lives of other sentient beings? History tells us that this would be a big mistake.
In 1999, The LA Times reported on the only legal gray whale hunt in 70 years;

“Death threats, obscene telephone calls and racist venom in response to the Makah Indian Tribe’s first whale hunt in decades have shocked religious leaders here, who called for tolerance and respect…Makah officials say the tribe at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has received hundreds of threatening calls. On the Internet, a Web site made to look like the official Makah site was posted, but with anti-whaling and anti-Makah words and pictures.”

In 2007 the Seattle Times reported on an illegal, rogue, and ultimately cruel hunt by five tribal members who apparently had grown weary over court battles to kill more whales.

Five Makah Nation members harpooned and shot a gray whale east of Neah Bay on Saturday morning, shocking environmentalists and tribal leaders alike. The whale died less than 12 hours later, sinking while heading out to sea.
The move short-circuited years of wrangling in the courts over whaling by the tribe, which hunted its first whale in 70 years in 1999.
A marine biologist who works for the Makah pronounced the whale dead at 7:15 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said. The whale went under about a mile from Cape Flattery, and did not resurface. The Coast Guard, following the whale at a distance of 500 yards, saw that buoys attached to the harpoon stopped moving.
The Coast Guard took the five rogue whalers into custody and turned them over to Makah tribal police for further questioning around 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Their fate will ultimately be decided by the tribe,” Eggert said.
The hunt wasn’t authorized by the tribal council or by the federal government.
“I don’t know why they did this. It’s terrible,” said John McCarty who, as a former member of the tribe’s whaling commission, has been an advocate of the Makah Nation’s right to resume whaling under an 1855 treaty.

Ultimately we will all have to abide by governmental decisions and honor the whales that are lost, but it will be easier to do if the tribe shows that this is truly a religious rite.
(NOAA media release below).

Photo Credit: KUOW

NOAA Release:
The Makah Tribe of Washington could hunt and land up to two gray whales on average per year over a 10-year period for ceremonial and subsistence purposes under a proposal that NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region announced today.
The proposal does not yet allow the Makah Tribe to begin hunting whales but moves the Tribe closer to that longstanding goal. An administrative law judge must first conduct a hearing, currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 12, 2019, to review the NOAA Fisheries proposal and make a recommendation to Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. Interested parties may request to participate in that hearing. Oliver would then make a final decision on whether to authorize the Makah Tribe to hunt gray whales.
If the Tribe is authorized to hunt gray whales, the Tribe would then need to apply for a permit, which would be subject to public notice and comment.
“We are moving forward carefully, and deliberately, to support the Tribe’s treaty rights while we also fully consider the potential impacts on the whales and protect their populations,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
Through the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the Makah Tribe and the U.S. government, the Tribe reserved “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” The Tribe has sought since the 1990s to exercise that right, long a centerpiece of tribal culture. A federal court determined in 2002 that the Tribe must first apply for a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) take moratorium, which prohibits killing whales and other marine mammals.
In 2005 the Tribe sought a waiver of the MMPA, as the courts required. NOAA Fisheries has since evaluated the request through a 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which attracted hundreds of public comments on all sides.
NOAA Fisheries’ action today proposes to waive the MMPA take moratorium to allow the Makah to hunt gray whales from the healthy and fully recovered Eastern North Pacific (ENP) population of gray whales, which today numbers about 27,000. The most recent stock assessment for ENP gray whales found in 2014 that up to 624 gray whales could be removed from the population each year without affecting its long-term sustainability.
The proposal would allow the Tribe to land up to three ENP gray whales in even-numbered years and one whale in odd-numbered years – less than the four whales per year on average that the Makah Tribe sought. The limits and other restrictions reduce the already remote possibility of Makah hunters encountering gray whales from the endangered Western North Pacific population that feed near Russia and occasionally migrate to the ENP. The limits also help protect a group of ENP gray whales that feed in and around the Makah Tribe’s hunting and fishing grounds in summer and return to the area on a regular basis.
“We have examined this proposal from every angle and have developed hunting regulations that provide for public safety, protect the gray whale populations, and respect the Makah Tribe’s treaty rights and culture,” Yates said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Background
Proposed waiver and hunt regulations
Chronology of Makah hunting proposal
Frequently asked questions
 

Mass Dolphin Deaths in Peru Caused by Acoustic Trauma

Mass dolphin deaths in Peru caused by acoustic trauma
BY CANDACE CALLOWAY WHITING     MAY 17, 2012 IN ENVIRONMENT

 [Photo-Image: Dead dolphins discovered on Chiclayo shore of Peru, Photo source: ITN News]
[Photo-Image: Dead dolphins discovered on Chiclayo shore of Peru, Photo source: ITN News]
Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA in Peru informed Hardy Jones of Blue Voice that acoustical trauma is the cause of the Mass Mortality Event (MME) that killed an estimated one thousand dolphins along the coast of northern Peru in March 2012.
In her article, Hundreds of dead dolphins wash up along the coastline in Peru, Elizabeth Batt describes the devastating loss of the dolphins and porpoises, and the swift action by filmmaker and author Hardy Jones to document the event.
Now the necropsy results are in, and there is unequivocal evidence that the dolphins were killed by an acoustic trauma, such as loud sonar or explosive blasts (more information on potential sources of the loud sound in that region can be found here). Dr. Llanos doesn’t identify the source of the trauma, but all other tests (virus, contaminants, parasites etc) are not considered factors.
The following tissue samples, provided to Blue voice by Dr. Llanos show evidence of rapid ascent, (though the scientists are not willing to speculate on what caused the dolphins to race to the surface, their bodies are adapted to adjust to depth, and normally do not aggregate bubbles in their tissues).
bubbles
Bubbles replaced normal tissue in the dolphin’s liver.
Blue Voice

Likes1

 bubbles 2
A large bubble is compressing a vein and artery in this dolphin’s bladder.
Blue Voice
bubbles 3
The jaw blubber of this baby porpoise is spread by bubbles. The blood vessels show congestion and hemorrhage.
Blue Voice
Necropsies were performed on site. Macroscopic findings include: hemorrhagic lesions in the middle including the acoustic chamber, fractures in the periotic bones, bubbles in blood filling liver and kidneys (animals were diving, so the main organs were congested), lesion in the lungs compatible with pulmonary emphysema, sponge-like liver. So far we have 12 periotic samples from different animals, all with different degree of fractures and 80% of them with fracture in the right periotic bones, compatible with acoustic impact and decompression syndrome.
In a February stranding in the same region of Peru, Dr. Llanos found that:
10 of the 17 animals found dead had broken periotic bones, that is, due to acoustic impact. The source of the impact was from the right side of the pod, since hemorragic internal ear was found in the right side of the stranded animals.
We know that the use of dynamite is common among fishermen, and that fishermen are taking the meat of the stranded dolphins. This could be the cause of death of the animals…however, the signs do not correspond to that of explosive impact in their bodies. We talked today with people from the oil company and they say they haven’t performed any seismic exploration in the area this month. However, here in Peru these companies don’t need to do the seismic assessment themselves.
Update 5/18/12 : Dynamite has been ruled out as a possible cause (via Hardy Jones),
To compare with some of the stranded dolphins Dr. Llanos examined the remains of healthy dolphins that had been stabbed at sea and eaten by the local fishermen and found “intact periotic (ear) bones, (with no fractures), so it was a good “control” sample to compare with previously collected (and fractured) ones.”
Hardy Jones explained to Digital Journal that “traveling to and within Peru is expensive and testing samples from the dead dolphins is very costly, yet highly important.” Blue Voice and Dr. Llanos (ORCA) will continue to investigate the mortality event, and will post updates.

The role sea otters play in saving salmon – a benefit for the Southern Resident orcas

Photo Credit: Alaska Magazine

In a marine protected area off of Vancouver Island, Canada, a rich ecosystem supports breeding and migrating seals and sea lions – and at least one adorable sea otter, Ollie. Southern resident killer whales pursue the adult salmon that hide among the kelp fronds, and the mammal eating transient orcas hunt the seals and sea lions.
Luckily, nothing seems interested in eating Ollie, to the relief of his fans who follow his Facebook page.
Admittedly, not everyone loves these furry machines that need a quarter of their body per day to keep warm, even with their luxurious coats. They consume over a hundred different species of primarily bottom dwelling invertebrates, but come into conflict with fishermen over the sea cucumbers, urchins, clams, abalone etc that have a fairly high market value.
When the otters move into a region they do have an impact on those fisheries, but what they give back to the environment makes them worth their weight in gold – their foraging habits quickly restore kelp beds where juvenile salmon hide on the journey to the open ocean. Each female Chinook salmon that successfully returns to spawn carries as many as 17,000 eggs, so each fish saved by adequate kelp beds can have a significant impact.
Via Sea Otter Conservation

Juvenile salmon prefer to use kelp bed prefer to use kelp bed habitat over bare areas, where they swim in the middle of the canopy as they migrate. The kelp forests also provide cover for the forage fish that fuel the salmon’s journey.
In the Puget Sound and greater Salish Sea there are few otters, and the kelp forests are in trouble:

 Dr. Tom Mumford, Washington Department of Natural Resources, reports that floating kelp beds have all but disappeared from southern Puget Sound. Declines are also reported generally from the Salish Sea, including British Columbia, Canada.
Because of the ecosystem functions provided by kelps, the consequences of declines to kelp beds in Puget Sound are not limited to the direct effects on kelp populations, but influence indirectly the many species that depend on the presence of these forests. (Puget Sound Restoration Fund).

Bull Kelp from Betsy Peabody on Vimeo.

Wouldn’t it be great to have the fluffy otters helping in the effort to restore kelp forests?

Where you may be able to see otters in Puget Sound:

In 2006, the distribution of the majority of the Washington sea otter stock ranged from
Pillar Point in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, west to Cape Flattery and as far south as Cape Elizabeth
on the outer Olympic Peninsula coast. However, scattered individuals (usually one or
two individuals at a time) have been seen outside of this range.
… Sightings around the San Juan Islands, near Deception Pass, off Dumas Bay, off the Nisqually River, and in southern Puget Sound near Squaxin and Hartstene Islands have also been reported.

Photo Credit: popsugar.com.au

 
 
 

Seaworld, salmon, senators and saving orcas – NOAA’s role has limits

Playful whales in happier times.

“There are no silver bullets”

The patience and equanimity of the NOAA officials was impressive at the recent public meetings that were held to discuss the status of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. After sharing details, the staff opened the mic to the public – NOAA was there to listen, and listen they did as the public poured out concerns, demands, and judgments primarily on the lack of sufficient salmon and on the presence of SeaWorld in the medical treatment given to the now deceased orca calf, Scarlet (J50).
Wild salmon and captive cetaceans are only partly under NOAA’s authority so a few details may have escaped mention during the meetings.

SeaWorld’s role

SeaWorld has more than earned their place as the captivity whipping boy, and they deserve the huge pit of costly reparations that need to be made to save the endangered Southern Resident orcas.
But the Salish Sea is an unofficial sanctuary where captures and harming of almost everything that swims there is either regulated or protected. As the result of a lawsuit, SeaWorld is specifically forbidden from participating in captures or keeping a whale taken from Washington State waters. They were run out of Alaska when they tried there, and British Columbia, Canada also gave them the boot.

This file photo shows orca whales from the J and K pods swim past a small research boat on Puget Sound in view of downtown Seattle. (AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons, file).

Does the fact that SeaWorld contributed to the whale population loss mean that SeaWorld shouldn’t help fix the situation? Of course not – that would be like preferring to die over being saved by a doctor because of ethnicity, religion, or gender bias. Whether we like it or not, SeaWorld has expertise in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation and regularly saves the lives of the whales and dolphins that turn up on our shores.

The salmon question

NOAA’s jurisdiction over salmon is complicated, in part thanks to President Nixon’s feud decades ago with his Secretary of the Interior. Nixon put the newly created National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the purview of the Department of Commerce instead of the Interior:
From Science Magazine:

President Barack Obama today confirmed the rumored political shenanigans surrounding the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 4 decades ago.
Give you a few examples. There are five different entities dealing with housing. There are more than a dozen agencies dealing with food safety. My favorite example—which I mentioned in last year’s State of the Union address—as it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. (Laughter.) If you’re wondering what the genesis of this was, apparently, it had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing him about the Vietnam War. And so he decided not to put NOAA in what would have been a more sensible place.

 
NOAA has done the best conceivable job in the effort to save Scarlet, and while they work with SeaWorld the language NOAA uses in the discussions is straightforward and to the point.
It may be belated, but NOAA has stepped up to the plate.

Congress is paying attention

Great news – on September 10th Senator Murray and other senators quietly announced that the ongoing legislative effort to protect salmon-killing and unneeded dams that passed in the House basically died an ignoble death in the Senate.
From Save Our Wild Salmon:

As a result of our/your collective work, politics and policy in the Northwest is shifting. Kudos are especially due to Senator Patty Murray who led this regional fight to stop the Salmon Extinction Act (HR 3144) and Rider (Section 506). Senator Murray recognized these bills for what they were: harmful to salmon and harmful to regional processes and discussions occurring today to address the problems that face salmon, orca and Northwest communities. HR 3144 and Section 506 are both highly divisive to the Northwest communities that must work together on shared solutions to common problems. Thanks and praise are also due to other key elected officials who worked vigilantly to prevent these bills from becoming law, including Reps. Adam Smith, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Derek Kilmer, Denny Heck, and others.
Importantly, when HR 3144 came to the House floor for a vote, all the Democratic lawmakers in Oregon and Washington voted the right way – against it – with one exception – Rep. Kurt Schrader from Oregon.

 
From Senator Murray’s website:

The future of the Columbia River is critically important to the Pacific Northwest economy and to our way of life, which is why I have long insisted that we keep politics and partisanship out of this and allow the ongoing legal process to play out. I am glad this deal does exactly that. Nothing in this report, and nothing in the bill itself, would insert Congress or partisan politics into the process or would interfere with the court-mandated comprehensive review that everyone can participate in and accounts for all uses of our river system.
“Throughout this process, it has been and will continue to be important that we make sure scientific questions remain in the hands of scientists and not politicians. I continue to stand ready to work with any Republicans who are willing to work with me to forge consensus around these important Pacific Northwest issues and not just politicize the process, facts, and science.

 
Saving these whales is going to take all of us working together but Congress can do the most when it comes to turning things around quickly. Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research thinks we have only 5 more years to turn the salmon famine around before the whale population won’t be able to rebound.
He also thinks that a few of the orcas are pregnant…and they need food now.

 
References:
https://www.facebook.com/NOAAFisheriesWestCoast/?tn-str=k*F
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/whales/keiko/world.html
http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2012/01/why-noaa-commerce-department
https://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/9/senator-murray-deal-keeps-politics-out-of-columbia-river-system-operations
https://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2018/9/senator-murray-deal-keeps-politics-out-of-columbia-river-system-operations
https://www.whaleresearch.com

Urgent search for the orca J 50 has begun, now missing for several days (13 Sept 2018)

 

NOAA biologists on a previous encounter with the Southern Resident orcas.

From NOAA:

Unfortunately J50 has not been seen in several days of favorable conditions and sightings of her pod and family group, including J16, her mother.
Teams were on the water searching yesterday and are increasing a broad transboundary search today with our on-water partners and counterparts in Canada.
We have alerted the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, which is a tremendous resource in such situations.
Airlines flying in and out of the San Juan Islands are also on the lookout.
We greatly appreciate all the help and concern. The hotline for stranding reports is 1-866-767-6114.
Further updates at bit.ly/NOAAJ50J35.

The Wild Orca seaplane. – Photo: Lee Zerrilla | AirlineReporter

Saving J 50 (Scarlet); public meetings will be held by NOAA September 15th and 16th

J 50 (Scarlet) loves to breach and when she was healthy breached once 50 times in a row. Photo credit: Clint Rivers

This announcement by NOAA, DFO Canada, and their team gives us hope that not only are they doing everything possible to save J 50 (Scarlet), but whatever actions they take will be in the best interest of  both her health and her family ties.
The scientists don’t have much time to act, yet they want the public to understand what it will take to help this naturally lively whale who is so imbued with character and once had energy to spare, and whose survival may be key in the restoration of the Southern Resident killer whale population.
NOAA has arranged two public meetings in Washington State for next weekend (September 15th and 16th), but if you can’t attend, any live streams, audios, or reports will be updated here.
J 50 (Scarlet) has lost significant body condition since May. Photo credit:  SR3/NOAA

UPDATE from NOAA:  September 11, 2018

J50’s condition in recent weeks has underscored the urgency of recovering the endangered Southern Resident killer whale population.  NOAA Fisheries and our partners have been exploring and taking action to save J50 because of her importance as a contributing member of this population, and particularly to J Pod.

The public has a stake in the J50 response and the recovery of Southern Resident killer whales and we understand many people are concerned.  We want to know what people in the region think about this effort and potential steps so we are holding two public meetings in Washington State to hear the public’s views:

  • Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7 p.m. in Friday Harbor at Friday Harbor High School
  • Sunday, Sept. 16, at 1 p.m. in Seattle at University of Washington, Haggett Hall Cascade Room

J50’s condition has declined over recent months to the point where she is emaciated and often lagging behind her family. Field treatment has not improved her condition, and veterinarians believe they have exhausted all reasonable remote treatment options and her survival is unlikely.

 

The next steps could include further intervention, such as a rescue operation and conducting a hands-on physical examination. That could lead to more in-depth diagnoses, rapid treatment, and return to the water or short-term rehabilitation and care to improve her chances of survival, with the ultimate goal of reuniting her with her family.

Two objectives will determine any further intervention to help J50:

  • providing appropriate conservation medical actions for J50 to  protect her potential contribution to the recovery of the population, and
  • avoiding harm to the rest of J Pod and the Southern Resident population of 75 whales.

No rescue would proceed while J50 remains with J Pod and her family group. Response teams would act to rescue J50 only if she becomes stranded or separated from the rest of J Pod such that any risks of the intervention to the rest of J Pod are minimized.

The overriding priority of any rescue intervention would be to evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate J50 in a manner that would support the greatest chance of her survival while ensuring her return and reunification with her family as soon as possible so she can contribute to long-term recovery of the population.

If veterinarians and other experts who assess J50 in the field determine that she cannot be treated or rehabilitated, teams would promptly return her to J Pod to spend the rest of her life with her family.

Photo: J50/Scarlet swims near Point Roberts, Wash., on Aug. 10. (Photo by Katy Foster/NOAA Fisheries, under permit 18786.)