Tag Archives: dams

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

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

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 Whales Who Were Trapped by Ice – Power Companies May Be to Blame

THE ARCTIC EIDER SOCIETY
WINTER 2013 RESEARCH UPDATE
March 25, 2013
“Wildlife entrapments and extensive freshwater in Hudson Bay correspond with cold winter conditions and record hydroelectricity demands in the south.”

“There’s a connection between the freshwater plumes sent into Hudson Bay from the Quebec power corporation’s huge dams and the quick freezing of water in the bay which led to entrapments of eiders, beluga and killer whales this past winter, suggests Joel Heath, a biologist whose film People of the Feather about Sanikiluaq hunters and eider ducks, received acclaim.
The connection is worth studying, he said, because although entrapments occur naturally, this past winter there were at least three occurrences in southern Hudson Bay.”.  (More).

orca2_copy trapped in ice

In January 2013, a family of orcas were discovered struggling to keep a breathing hole open, and although no one can say for sure it looks like the sea conditions changed overnight and the whales escaped.

“The mammals’ plight captivated the world after video taken by Inuit residents of the the Inukjuak community circulated on television and social media, showing the killer whales taking turns bobbing above the Bay’s icy waters.

“It’s amazing to see how they managed to find a strategy to share that little space and organize who’s going to breathe and when, because they all needed to breathe every five minutes and they found the strategy for the survival of the group and not the survival of the strongest.”
Thousands of supporters offered money and equipment to free the whales, and news of their escape Thursday – two days after they were spotted – spurred celebrations online.” (More).

Although there is no doubt that the fast pace of global warming in the Arctic is responsible for changing migratory patterns of both prey and predator, that is not the full story. As fast as the climate is changing, humans continue to alter the environment in a reckless thirst for energy in a time frame that makes adaptation impossible.  Overnight, an unseasonable flush of fresh water dilutes the surface water and allows salt intrusion up rivers – this is devastating to the environment on many levels, but for the large marine predators it is both bewildering and unpredictable.

“Within the past thirty-five years, Inuit hunters in Sanikiluaq have observed major changes in the regional sea ice environment. The Belcher Islands are located in southern Hudson Bay, near the mouth of James Bay. In the 1970s, the government of Québec began installing a series of hydroelectric dams on rivers in the James Bay watershed. Subsequent changes in water flow affected aquatic ecology, currents, and sea ice not only in James Bay, but also further north in Hudson Bay.

In the past, the ice conditions and the floe directions were more predictable, and traditional knowledge helped hunters navigate the sea ice to find food. Over the past few decades, however, the sea ice has become less stable and increasingly unpredictable, limiting where Sanikiluaq’s hunters can go and when they can travel. Changes in sea ice conditions has also made hunting more dangerous, and made it difficult for hunters and elders to discern which traditional knowledge is still safe and reliable to pass on to young hunters and community members.

beluga ice“Environmental changes are also affecting the quality of the animals hunters do find. In a 2006 interview, hunter Peter Kattuk said, “Beluga whales in springtime usually float when you kill them, not drown. Last year, there were more belugas that drowned.” Belugas usually have a thick layer of fat that makes them buoyant, making it easier for hunters to retrieve them from the water. The belugas Kattuk hunted that year were often lacking enough fat to float, meaning that they sunk and were lost to the hunters. He said, “They should have more fat because the ice is more open now for the last five years. But last spring they were more drowned. Maybe it is less food or something.”  (More).

beluga ice 2
 “One of the main problems with freshwater plumes occurring in mid-winter instead of spring is that freshwater freezes much quicker and at warmer temperatures than salt water, and so extensive areas can freeze up rapidly, entrapping wildlife. Freshwater ice has a different consistency and is less flexible than salt water ice, which can change the structure of sea ice habitats.”  (More)

orca ice 3
Bloody from battering to keep the breathing hole open.

orca ice 2
“The lessons you’ve learned, whether you’re wildlife or human, don’t apply. You’ve got a radically different, changing system. Those tools and experiences are actually not relevant anymore.”   Joel Heath

waters-edge_1786282i polar bear

The animals have it tough enough surviving in the face of climate change, but when the power companies hide behind the curtain of global warming while they destroy what little chance these iconic species have to survive it is disgraceful.