Category Archives: Fisheries

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
 

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

Killing seals to save orcas is dangerously short-sighted and won’t work

 
Not that long ago, fishermen killed Southern Resident killer whales because the whales were eating Chinook salmon…let that sink in while we explore whether killing marine mammals has ever worked in the long haul to save salmon populations.
In a few days the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, will begin its six-month bloodbath. Among the reasons that fishermen hunt down and kill dolphins is the industry’s deeply held belief that marine mammals compete for fish.
Can that happen in the Salish Sea? As disturbing as it is to think about, the answer is yes – dolphins and porpoises have no substantial protections and their “takes” are managed by NOAA.

Japan’s example

After countless decades of the slaughter and subsequent reduced dolphin populations, Japan’s fisheries catch has spiraled down to an all-time low. Japan’s solution? They’ve added even more dolphin species to the kill list this year.
By the 1970s Japan had already driven the indigenous Japanese sea lion to extinction and to this day they continue to cull Steller sea lions annually.

Western Steller Sea Lions are listed as vulnerable in the Threatened Wildlife of Japan Red Data Book. Hattori and Yamamura (2014) reported that over 200 Steller Sea Lions were culled annually between 1960-1993 to reduce predation on commercial fish stocks.
Recent work indicates that the annual culling was then reduced to a limit of 116/year until 2010 at which time a new 5 year quota of 1,030 culled Sea Lions was imposed. This resulted in an increased annual average take (Matsuda et al. 2015).

 
Despite the culling, the Japanese fishing industry is on a steep decline – their catch of 12.8 million tons of fish in 1984 was down to 4.3 million tons in 2017, an all time low.

Killing seals to save a few fish

If the concept of killing off marine mammals to leave more salmon for fisheries has failed in Japan (where salmon catch declined by 27% last year), why would we assume that culling marine mammals would succeed in restoring Chinook salmon for the endangered Southern Resident orcas?
With proposals on the table to extend the killing to all pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) in Puget Sound and other areas of the Salish Sea, how long will it be until demands are made to cull dolphins and porpoises as well?
Does the idea of killing one kind of marine mammal to save another make any sense whatsoever when there is no evidence that it will succeed longterm?
It may seem unthinkable, but if we allow the government to permit the killing of one marine mammal species to save another by attempting to control fish predation, it is a slippery slope to go from seals and sea lions to dolphins.

Harbor seal  Photo Credit: Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge
Yet that is a solution being bandied about by special interest groups concerned with the Chinook salmon population – they want to take out sea lions and harbor seals as a quick solution to what is really a complex problem.
There may be some logic to culling if the seals and sea lions were directly eating the orcas, though even if that were the case and we decided to cull orca predators we would have to start with the most effective and damaging predator.
And that would be us.

Southern Resident orcas were once killed by fishery interests

There are living members of the Southern Resident orcas who were once shot at, harpooned, and subjected to the noise of seal bombs by fishers who resented the competition for salmon. The US Navy gunned down an entire population of fish-eating orcas in Iceland to “help” the fishing industry there.
As the Southern Resident orca population decreased in the Salish Sea due to culling (either by being killed or captured for display, similar to what goes on in Taiji), Chinook salmon still continued to dwindle. Killing the orcas didn’t bring back salmon. Nor will killing pinnipeds.

Dams

But fishing is not the only way that humans are driving the abundance and evolutionary biology of salmon – we have added evolutionary pressures by altering the environment as well.
Dams not only impede the salmon’s journey, but dramatically alter stream and river ecology. Salmon must navigate challenging hatching conditions, endure siltification of their natal streams and rivers, and withstand marginal water temperatures – then survive being flung through the dam turbines on their seaward journey.
They must escape predators that gather at the dams, and the young salmon must cope with the lake conditions present in the manmade reservoirs created by the dams (which gives a huge advantage to some of the predatory fish species and is not natural to the salmon). Finally, the young fish encounter estuaries that are often inadequate in both food and places to hide.
Research shows that the battering the young salmon take on their way to sea increases their mortality while at sea – this means that the debate over how accurate the statistics are on how many smolts initially survive the dams is a small part of the equation since they are more likely to die at sea.

Abstract.—The numbers of Snake River salmon and steelhead Oncorhynchus spp. have substantially declined since the completion of the Columbia River hydrosystem. We used analytical approaches to identify management options for halting the decline of these stocks, such as removal of Snake River dams and improvements to the existing hydrosystem. The benefits these actions are predicted to have in terms of salmon recovery hinge on whether the mortality that takes place in the estuary and early in their ocean residence is related to earlier hydrosystem experience during downstream migration. Evidence from the literature demonstrates numerous mechanisms that would  explain this delayed mortality in relation to a fish’s experience passing through the hydrosystem. Spatial and temporal comparisons of stock performance provide indirect evidence of delayed mortality and evidence that delayed mortality is linked to hydrosystem experience. Recent mark— recapture data also provide evidence of differences in delayed mortality by route of passage through the hydrosystem. The different types of evidence discussed here suggest that the delayed mortality of Snake River fish is related to the hydrosystem.

 
On their return trip, the salmon must battle the same conditions, and again must make it past those dams, increasing the time they must spend in getting to their natal streams.
And then there are the bears…do we kill them too?

Photo Credit: Tahitia Hicks / AP

The Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force

Government tends to balk when the cost of acting is high – whether that cost is in dollars, jobs, energy, or security – because it is also our government’s job to protect us and to oversee the growth of our nation in the long term. Our government tends to favor a cost/benefit analysis, and this can be detrimental when swift action is called for with respect to environmental issues, such as in taking decisive action to restore our salmon fishery.
For years Washington State has performed controlled culling of the sea lions that congregate at certain dams but only after other methods were exhausted. Now Congress has bills in the works which will allow loose control over whether the killing is humane and reduces oversight as it increases the number of animals that can be culled.
Governor Jay Inslee’s establishment of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force is an inspiring and bold move to come to terms with conflicting beliefs, and it’s possibly our last opportunity to step back, look at the big picture, and think about future generations.
The process has underscored to me how open and willing those of us who live in this region are to pitch in and look for resolution when it comes to salmon and orcas, a subject where the potential for conflict is high. Our personal lifestyles and regional self-interests are deeply challenged as we weigh the needs of the whales against our own – yet what has become clear is that we are unified in a desire to “get ‘er done”.
We seem to be on the road to solutions, the quickest of which would be to increase salmon passage on the lower Snake River dams.
But let’s leave the seals and sea lions alone.

Reference links:
http://factsanddetails.com/japan/cat24/sub159/item937.htmlhttp:/
/www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201804270053.htmlhttp:/
/www.iucnredlist.org/details/8239/0

War of the Whales: A True Story

Watch the live stream of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force meeting (8/7/18)


Thanks to Haze Sommer for forwarding the links to today’s live stream of this event.
9 am https://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2018081016
2:40 https://t.co/L936wm5HYz

Saving orcas with a salmon cannon – can it even be done? (video)

Human ingenuity brought us the ‘salmon cannon’, designed to propel salmon over dams – but is it efficient enough to bring Chinook populations back to the levels needed for the Southern Resident orcas?


Over-fishing and management mistakes have caused biological mayhem for salmon, and if we want robust wild fish in the future we need to restore the environmental blocks to their survival. These include habitat restoration, contaminant abatement, and dams.
Salmon cannons may be a genius – if hilarious – solution for moving salmon and a good tool to help the remaining wild salmon navigate the dams, but one of the most urgent things the wild Chinook salmon – and the Southern Resident orcas that rely upon them – need is unfettered access to the native spawning grounds.
For more information please go to Damsense.org.

 

Congress plans to kill male California sea lions and undermine NOAA Fisheries management

Killing the animals that co-evolved with salmon won’t help restore fish populations – we need to remove just a few of the 15 dams on one of the rivers that flow into the Columbia River.

Female California sea lions remain in southern California and points south, all year. Photo credit: NOAA

Male California sea lions migrate south in the breeding season, and some stop in the Columbia River to eat salmon on the way down to California.     Photo credit: Bridget Samuels via Flickr

A branded male sea lion. Photo credit: Pillip Colla

Following the breeding season, male California sea lions leave the Channel Islands and other rookeries and migrate north, eventually seeking out protected inland waterways in the winter. The females remain in the general region of the rookeries, and so aren’t among the sea lions that Congress aims to wipe out.
The crime? Eating salmon that congregate at dams – specifically those on the Columbia and Willamette river systems. Two bills – one that passed in the House of Representatives, and another working its way through the Senate – remove any semblance of management and open the door to wholesale slaughter of pinnepeds.
Presently the fisheries services must prove that a sea lion is actually eating salmon before he is euthanized. This involves branding the animal if he lacks identifying marks, then keeping track of him.
To get around that, the new bills define ‘identifying marks’ as being in the river past more than 112 miles from the ocean. In other words, he just has to be a sea lion. For the Senate bill, it just has to be a pinneped, meaning harbor seals. Neither bill specifically excludes the endangered Steller sea lions.
The bills increase the number of animals that can be killed, who can kill them, and where.
The senate bill expands the prey issue from salmon to any species of fish.
The sea lions will still catch salmon entering the rivers, though they may need to work a little harder. It is pointless to try and wipe them all out, even if it made any kind of logical sense. From TDN.com:

[Dr. Naomi Rose], a biologist with the Animal Welfare Institute said Tuesday that killing more sea lions will not reverse the decline of wild salmon runs.

“The main problem is that this is not going to solve the problem,” Naomi Rose, the institute’s marine mammal biologist, said in an interview. “This is an example of lawmakers scapegoating these natural predators to satisfy the anger that constituent groups feel toward salmon decline.”
Rose said wild salmon numbers have fallen mostly due to a loss of habitat and the construction of dams on the Columbia River.

Killing more sea lions could even make the problem worse, she said, because sea lions consume other species of fish that eat young salmon.
The decline of salmon, one of the region’s iconic species, has been attributed to a host of factors: overfishing, habitat destruction, construction of the hydroelectric dams and predation by Caspian terns and cormorants.
Sea lions historically have shared the salmon’s ecosystem, but their numbers have rebounded while the fish runs are still far below their historic, pre-dam levels.
So the mammals’ impact on salmon runs is more pronounced, especially because manmade structures like fish ladders have made it easier for the sea lions to catch them. TDN.com

 
The Senate bill:   https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/1702/text
The House bill:   https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2083
Information on California sea lion migration:  Migration Patterns of Adult Male
California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus)
Removing the four lower dams on the Snake River:  DamSense.org

Grieving mother whale is now on her third day of carrying her dead calf – the face of extinction

Now on her third day of carrying her dead calf, the mourning of the Southern Resident killer whale, Tahlequah (J35) has reached hearts the world over. Her palpable grief over the loss of her newborn baby is something we all relate to, even though humanity is just beginning to acknowledge that animals suffer and grieve as we do.
This orca family is showing us what it really means for a species to go extinct – we tend to think of the path to extinction in clinical terms that we show graphs…but the real process is painful, and for these whales it is the mothers that die giving birth and the babies that fail to thrive that are racking up the biggest losses.
Photo credit:  Center for Whale Research
They have been hit hard over the last few years.

In the fall of 2016, Tahlequah’s sister (Polaris J28) succumbed to complications thought to be related to the birth of her last calf, Dipper (J54). Her death left her calves, six year old Star (J46) and ten month old Dipper, orphaned but not alone. Tahlequah helped them find food – she had brought salmon to Polaris, and now she helped Star care for Dipper. 

Dipper was still milk-dependent and continued to lose weight even though they brought him pieces of salmon. As he neared death, Tahlequah and other family members helped Star keep Dipper afloat until inevitably he took a final breath, lost consciousness, and disappeared below the surface, joining Polaris in an untimely death.

Photo credit: Mark Malleson               Star cradled her dying brother, helped in these photos by her cousin Notch (J 47) on the other side.

                           As Dipper’s energy faded, Star and their cousin Notch had held him afloat on the surface, easing his struggle to breathe.
The tragic losses that have devastated this orca family parallel what scientists have discovered about the severe consequences of food shortage, consequences that interact with contaminants and anthropogenic noise to blossom in a deadly suite that even survivors like Tahlequah and Star may not be able to withstand.

The family bonds are strong – Star is now reported to be helping the grieving Tahlequah keep the dead neonate at the surface – and the Southern Resident orcas may still recover if Chinook salmon populations are allowed to rebound.

But the incomprehensible lack of action by our government is confining them to a long, drawn out, painful path to extinction. Without more salmon they will suffer hunger, but that pain is eclipsed by the suffering when family members die.
a

Regrettably, approximately 75% of newborns in the recent two decades following designation of the Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population as “Endangered” have not survived, and 100% of the pregnancies in the past three years have failed to produce viable offspring.

We are saddened to report that a baby Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) died a short time after it was born near Victoria, British Columbia on July 24, 2018. The newborn whale was reported alive and swimming with its mother, J35, and other members of J pod near Clover Point on the Victoria shoreline in mid-morning.

A Center for Whale Research team was on the water in Haro Strait at the time and immediately responded to photo-document the newborn calf for the long-term census study we maintain for the US and Canadian governments. Unfortunately, by the time the CWR crew arrived on scene, the newborn calf was deceased, and the pod had traveled several miles eastward of the reported sighting location.

The baby’s carcass was sinking and being repeatedly retrieved by the mother who was supporting it on her forehead and pushing it in choppy seas toward San Juan Island, USA. The mother continued supporting and pushing the dead baby whale throughout the day until at least sunset.

A resident of San Juan Island near Eagle Cove reported: “At sunset, a group of 5-6 females gathered at the mouth of the cove in a close, tight-knit circle, staying at the surface in a harmonious circular motion for nearly 2 hours. As the light dimmed, I was able to watch them continue what seemed to be a ritual or ceremony. They stayed directly centered in the moonbeam, even as it moved. The lighting was too dim to see if the baby was still being kept afloat. It was both sad and special to witness this behavior. My heart goes out to J35 and her beautiful baby; bless it’s soul.”

Killer whales and dolphins have been known to support and transport their dead calves for as long as a week – a testament to the amazingly strong mother/offspring bond and caring.

 

Breach the dams or we’ll lose these whales, say the experts

The critically endangered population of Southern Resident orcas lost eight members this year.

“The Columbia River Basin once produced more salmon than any other river system in the world. It remains the gateway to millions of acres of pristine, high-elevation spawning habitat. But today, wild Columbia Basin spring chinook are returning to their natal streams at roughly 1 percent of their historic numbers.
There are those who say it’s too late to turn this march toward extinction around. If you know these fish and these whales, like we do, then you understand that they are two of nature’s savviest and most resourceful species. We must not give up on them now.”  

The Center for Whale Research and DamSense have created an advertising campaign to urge action before it is too late to save both the salmon and the whales that depend upon them. The ads are scheduled to begin on Sunday, January 7th, and they want you to spread the word:

Port Angeles, Wa. —
We, the undersigned, have prepared an ad campaign due to begin running in the
Jan. 7, 2018 Seattle Times Sunday edition. We are informing our elected officials of the crisis situation surrounding the critically endangered Southern Resident orcas. More than 50% of this species’ diet comes from salmon produced in the Columbia Basin, half of which are produced in the Snake River system. These beloved orcas are starving and malnourished because their primary prey, Chinook, areendangered. The solution is in plain sight. The facts are not being discussed.
For more than forty years, the dams in the Snake River have been destroying salmon runs that are a critical food source for the Southern Resident orcas. We are concerned that said elected officials do not possess the vital information they need in order to take immediate action to recover endangered species in our home State of Washington.
More than 50% of this whale species’ diet comes from salmon produced in the Columbia Basin, half of which are produced in the Snake River system. These beloved orcas are starving and malnourished because their primary prey, Chinook, are endangered.
Breaching the four lower Snake River dams can move forward immediately utilizing the 2002 Lower Snake River EIS [Environmental Impact Statement]. This can be accomplished without the need for Congressional authority or new appropriations.
We, the 23,000+ signees of the petition found here hope that our advertising campaign will generate more urgency and honesty among our elected officials.
We hope that more of the public will join in with tens of thousands of others whom have contacted offices of Washington State’s Governor Jay Inslee and Senator Patty Murray.
The character of the Pacific Northwest is at stake in this issue.
http://blog.seattlepi.com/candacewhiting
 
 

 

Killer whale recovery projects to get $2.18 million from partners including SeaWorld, Shell Oil, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

Media release:  SEATTLE, WA (November 16, 2017) –The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced the awarding of $888,265 in grants to increase the recovery potential of the endangered Southern Resident killer whale. The grants will generate $1.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of more than $2 million. [Please note, NFWF is not a government agency].

The Center for Whale Research has studied the Southern Resident orcas for almost forty years.

The grants were awarded through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program (KWRCP), a partnership that began in 2015 with support from SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This year, Shell added its support to the effort. The company has been a part of the Anacortes community since 1955, and has identified the KWRCP as a key local conservation effort for the region.

The projects supported by the nine grants announced today will help to restore and enhance populations of Chinook salmon, a key prey item for the whales. These projects will focus on scientific research, habitat restoration and bolstering of forage fish levels. Specifically, grantees will work with recreational fishermen to understand the potential significance of the resident Chinook population to killer whales. Additionally, grantees will work with the seven Northwest Straits Marine Resource Committees to protect and restore important forage fish habitat, and support the restoration of 8 acres of juvenile salmon habitat in the Skagit River.

“We are excited to welcome Shell, a long-standing partner of NFWF in several regions of the country, to the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “Saving this apex species is an ‘all hands on deck’ situation. It is only through partnerships supporting a comprehensive approach to conservation that we will be able to reverse the decline of this iconic species of the Pacific Northwest.”

A wild, vibrant, male orca. Photo by Simon Piddock

The program also supports cutting-edge science, including genetic research, acoustic monitoring and aerial surveys using helicopter drones. This research will provide managers with the tools they need to help killer whales overcome the threats they face from poor water quality, noise pollution, vessel traffic, malnutrition and disease.

“Protecting this species has been at the core of SeaWorld’s purpose and mission for decades,” said Dr. Chris Dold, chief zoological officer for SeaWorld. “It’s more important now than ever to support efforts like the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program, and SeaWorld remains committed to giving these animals a chance at survival.”

Less than 90 Southern Resident killer whales remain. While the species has been protected since the 1970s, its numbers have failed to rebuild the way neighboring populations to the north have. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program works to understand why the population has failed to recover and takes steps identified in the recovery plan to bring this population back from the brink.

“Working with this diverse group of partners to aid in the recovery of this incredible species is an honor, and we are proud to have this opportunity to help affect change,” said Shirley Yap, Shell Puget Sound Refinery General Manager. “Our refinery has a long history of collaborating with numerous environmental organizations to protect and preserve the communities we live in. By investing in projects that address salmon research and the monitoring of killer whale health and habitat restoration, we hope to help increase the killer whale population off the coast of  Washington state.”

A complete list of the 2017 grants made through the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program is available here.

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 4,500 organizations and committed more than $3.8 billion to conservation projects. Learn more at www.nfwf.org.

About SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. 
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., supports two initiatives at the Foundation that focus on coastal and marine resources, the Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program and the Ocean Health Initiative. The Killer Whale Research and Conservation Program funds efforts to advance the knowledge and conservation of killer whales with a primary focus on activities that aid in the recovery of the Southern Resident killer whale Distinct Population Segment (DPS) and the Northern Pacific Resident population. The Ocean Health Initiative works through other Foundation programs to support a portfolio of projects that bolster the health of threatened marine and coastal species and habitats while engaging communities in these conservation efforts. For more information, visit SeaWorldCares.com

About Shell Oil Company
Shell Oil Company is an affiliate of the Royal Dutch Shell plc, a global group of energy and petrochemical companies with operations in more than 70 countries. In the U.S., Shell operates in 50 states and employs more than 20,000 people working to help tackle the challenges of the new energy future. 

Environmental stewardship is one-way Shell has continued to share benefits with communities over the past 100 years. Since 1999, Shell has focused our partnerships with many organizations in the U.S. to protect more than 13 million acres of wetlands, clean and remove 600,000 pounds of debris from shoreline, and conserve more than 1.8 million acres of critical habitat.