Tag Archives: endangered species

“He had a good life” – the story of a magnificent orca, by Ken Balcomb

L41.    Photo credit: Center for Whale Research – WhaleResearch.com

By Ken Balcomb, Founder and Senior Scientist, Center for Whale Research

“My first acquaintance with the Southern Resident killer whale (SRKW) we designated L41 was in 1977, the year after we began the annual Orca Survey of this population that continues to this day. His mother was L11, who was one of nine females to produce new babies that year following the cessation of captures in 1976. We watched the energetic young male baby as he grew up, and we had great hopes that he and his companions would fill in the youthful cohorts of the population that had been decimated by captures between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s.

L41 last seen by the Center for Whale Research on August 11, 2019 (Encounter #51). Photo by Mark Malleson, Center for Whale Research

L41, with an adoption name Mega, traveled with his mom and sisters in a subgroup of L pod that became known as the L12s, named after his presumed grandmother, who was the likely mother of L11. It should be noted that the alpha-numeric designations are not in the birth order sequence in the early years of the Orca Survey – because nobody knew the population composition prior to our study. The whales were numbered in those early years in the order that they were first seen, and it was only after we had all of them identified in 1976 that subsequent new babies received the next sequential alpha-numeric designation for identification. L41 was among the first to receive a designation that identified him as a member of the new known-age youth cohort of the SRKW population.

L41 with L124 on January 11, 2019 (Encounter #2). Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

When he reached social maturity in his early twenties around 1997, L41 began to father babies. And, he became the champion male breeder in the SRKW population with fourteen known offspring that survive to this day in all three pods. Only J1, with the fathering of eleven living offspring in the SRKW community, has done as much to increase the population. A very few other males have contributed one or two offspring in this population.

L41 with L25. Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

We will greatly miss L41 as an important breeder and as a prominent indicator of the L12 subgroup that now rarely ventures into the Salish Sea. In 2019, we only saw the L12s twice – once on January 11 in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, and once on August 11 off Carmanah Point Lighthouse on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. It will be extremely difficult to monitor the demographic vigor of the L12s if they do not come into the study area, and if this indicator male is not present. We are hopeful that L41 is alive somewhere and returns to the subgroup, but he did live to a ripe old age and fathered more baby whales than any other whale in the community.

He had a good life.

Unidentified orca.                                                                                                 Photo credit – Dale Mitchell, Eagle Wind Tours


Endangered local orca, Nigel, was killed by a satellite tag

Nigel (L 95). Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.
Nigel (L 95). Photo by Dave Ellifrit, Center for Whale Research.

Read it an weep – a male orca in his prime was killed by an infection from an embedded tag in his dorsal fin. From this document (please see the end for more information on the tagging program):

National Marine Fisheries Service, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada and the Animal Health Center, British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, Canada investigated the recent stranding of a resident killer whale.
This adult male killer whale was identified as L95, a 20 year old whale. The animal had been tagged by National Marine Fisheries Service using a satellite-linked limpet-style tag approximately 5 weeks prior to death.
After a thorough necropsy and investigation including an expert review of findings there was sufficient evidence to implicate the tag attachment site as a source of fungal infection to the whale.
This fungal infection contributed to illness in the whale and played a contributory role in its death. Seven other killer whales have been tagged previously with similar tags which have not resulted in death in those whales.
There were several factors in this case that predisposed this whale to a fungal infection* at the tagging site and NMFS is reviewing the findings from this case and developing mitigation factors to limit the impacts of future tags and tagging on southern resident killer whales.
*There were several factors in this case that may have predisposed this whale to a fungal infection at the tagging site including incomplete disinfection of the tag after seawater contamination,retention of the tag petals which may have allowed for formation of a biofilm or direct pathogen implantation, placement of the tag lower on the body and near large bore vessels which increased the chance of fungal dissemination through the blood system, poor body condition, and possible immunosuppression. 

This controversial tagging program has been opposed by biologists, naturalists, and animal advocates:
The Reality of Dart Tagging the Southern Resident Killer Whales – it is Invasive and Disruptive”
Southern Resident Orca “Scoter” Hit by Invasive Satellite Tag by NOAA – To What End?

And baby makes eight! The killer whale baby boom continues among the endangered Southern Resident orcas.

The eighth orca calf in a year, J54
The eighth orca calf in a year, J54. Photo by Dave Ellifrit.
Press Release from The Center for Whale Research

16 December 2015

Mother is J28, a twenty-two year old female Southern Resident Killer Whale in the Pacific Northwest.

The mother had a previous baby designated J46, a female, born in 2009 and still surviving. This brings the known births of Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) to EIGHT since last December, and the total population of SRKW’s as of now to 84 known individuals. 1977 is the only previous year in the past forty years in which as many baby killer whales were born into this community of whales, and there were nine in that year. From calculations accounting for all reproductive age females, we estimate that typically up to nine babies could be produced each year, but there is usually a high rate of neonatal and perinatal mortality, and we have seen only three babies annually on average. In the years immediately following poor salmon years, we see fewer babies and higher mortality of all age cohorts.

J54 and mother, J 28. Photo by Dave Ellifrit.
J54 and mother, J 28. Photo by Dave Ellifrit.

The new baby, J54, was first seen on 1 December 2015 by several whale-watchers near San Juan Island, and photographed with J28 by Ivan Reiff, a Pacific Whale Watch Association member.  However, the 1 December photographs were not conclusive in that they did not reveal distinct features of eyepatch and “saddle” pigment shape that could unequivocally rule out that it was not another baby being “baby sat” by J28. Today’s photographs in Haro Strait between San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island confirm the distinct features required for alpha-numeric designation. The new baby is estimated to be two and a half to three weeks old as of now. The family, including mother and sister, grandmother, aunt, uncles, and cousin, and other J pod members continued North in Haro Strait and Swanson Channel by sunset. Presumably, they are destined for the Strait of Georgia where J pod spent an extended amount of time last December.

It is clear that the SRKW population (in particular J pod) is investing in the future, and that survival of all of the new calves and their mothers and relatives depends upon a future with plentiful salmon, especially Chinook salmon, in the eastern North Pacific Ocean ecosystem.  This may be problematic with pending and unfolding Climate Change that is anticipated to be detrimental to salmon survival, in the ocean and in the rivers. Warmer ocean waters are less productive, and rivers without continual water (no snow melt – rains runoff too quickly) and with warmer water are lethal to salmon. The Pacific Salmon Foundation and Long Live the Kings are non-profit organizations concerned with the declining survival of juvenile salmon in the Salish Sea, and the Center for Whale Research is a non-profit organization concerned with the survival and demographic vigor of the Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Salish Sea and coastally from Vancouver Island to California. Please get involved and support these important environmental organizations.

Photo by the Center for Whale Research.
Photo by the Center for Whale Research.

With the Inclusion of Lolita, the Endangered Wild Orca Population is Now 79…But This Video May Surprise You

“The 2005 endangered listing for Southern Resident Killer Whales, a distinct population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest, excluded captive animals. In 2013, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups petitioned NOAA Fisheries to drop the exclusion so the listing would also include Lolita. In early 2014 NOAA Fisheries proposed to drop the exclusion. Since then the agency has further reviewed scientific evidence and more than 17,000 public comments to arrive at a final decision.”  (NOAA).

While Lolita is now aboard NOAA’s ark, she is no closer to swimming with her wild family members  – which is ironic considering her inclusion just increased the population by one percent, about the same factor as the birth of their latest calf. But then again, had Lolita not been taken in the first place or even returned at a younger age most likely she would have had several calves.

Instead, she fell down a bureaucratic rabbit hole into a tiny tank, where the only people who are concerned for her right to adequate space and companionship seem powerless to help her.

NOAA also seems fairly powerless to help Lolita, according to their recent press conference, but they did an excellent job of presenting the facts and explaining what the endangered species classification can, and cannot, do for Lolita. Their audio news conference was edited for this video, but all the pertinent information is present.

I just wish I could have detected a tone of sympathy for Lolita or regret by NOAA at their powerlessness but to be fair these are very competent individuals reporting in their official capacity.


U.S. Certifies to Obama That Icelandic Whaling Undermines CITES and Whale Population Recovery

There are several petitions circulating on this cause.
Press Release
Interior Certifies that Iceland’s Commercial Whaling Undermines International Wildlife Conservation Treaty
February 6, 2014
Claire Cassel
Minke-Whale-With-Calf-SlaughteredWASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior has certified to President Obama under the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967 that Iceland’s international trade in whale meat and products diminishes the effectiveness of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006 and since then has exported whale meat and products despite a ban on international commercial trade. As provided under the Pelly Amendment, within 60 days following certification by the Secretary the President will determine what actions are appropriate in response to the certification.
“Just 25 years ago, commercial whaling had nearly driven whales to extinction, but thanks to a global effort to conserve whale stocks and end over-harvesting, several whale species have begun to recover,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Iceland’s whaling activities undermine these worldwide efforts to conserve whales.”

The Havlur whaling company also created whale beer.
The Hvalur whaling company also created controversial whale beer.

Hvalur, the sole Icelandic company engaged in harvesting fin whales, resumed fin whale hunting in 2013, following a two-year hiatus due to market decline in Japan following the 2011 earthquake. The 2013 whaling season ran from mid-June until the end of September with a total of 134 fin whales killed. Iceland sets its own catch quotas for commercial whaling and has significantly increased those quotas over the last several years. For example, in 2006, the annual quota was set at just nine fin whales, while the 2013 annual quota authorized the hunting of up to 184 fin whales.
Iceland has recently announced a new five-year quota for fin whales, to begin with the 2014 whaling season, which will allow a total of up to 770 fin whales to be hunted in the next five years. Fin whales are hunted solely for export to the Japanese market.
From 2008 to 2012, trade reports show that more than 1.6 million kilograms of fin whale meat and products were exported from Iceland to Japan. Fin whales are listed in Appendix I of CITES, which prohibits trade for primarily commercial purposes.
Iceland also does not follow the procedure laid out by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to assess sustainable catch levels. The IWC was established to manage whaling activities for the conservation of whale populations and is viewed as the global body with expertise for the management of whale stocks.
In July 2011, then-Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke certified under Pelly that the commercial whaling activities by Icelandic nationals are undermining the effectiveness of the IWC conservation program. In response to that certification, the President directed federal agencies to undertake a number of diplomatic actions to encourage Iceland to change its whaling policy.
Photo by e-activist.com
Photo by e-activist.com

CITES is an international agreement signed by 179 nations that is designed to control and regulate international trade in certain listed animal and plant species. Approximately 35,000 species currently benefit from CITES protection. For additional information on CITES, please refer tohttp://www.fws.gov/international/cites/how-cites-works.html.
For additional information on the Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen’s Protective Act of 1967, please refer to http://www.fws.gov/international/laws-treaties-agreements/us-conservation-laws/pelly-amendment.htm

Will Development Wreck Oahu? It Is Not Too Late To Save The North Shore

Soon to be torn down.

Soon to be torn down.

On New Year’s Eve, all the funky little shops and  vendors will be gone in Waikiki’s International Marketplace, along with the maze through to Kuhio St. in back. In its place yet another high-end shopping center will be built, with only the giant banyan tree left to remind us of an older, more laid back Hawaii.
Other areas are sure to follow, and developers have their eyes on Oahu’s north shore.

Waikiki’s iconic International Market Place to close forever Dec. 31
After 56 years on Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki’s iconic International Market Place will shut down forever at the close of business, Dec. 31.
Landowner Queen Emma Land Co. plans to demolish the maze of open-air souvenir kiosks known for its kitschy, old Waikiki charm into a modern, high-end, three-story retail complex that will include a Saks Fifth Avenue anchor store. The new project, which will house 360,000-square-feet of retail, dining and entertainment, is scheduled to open in Spring 2016. It will boast 60 stores—many of which will be unique to Waikiki—and a 750-stall parking garage spread over six acres of prime real estate on Kalakaua Avenue.
The sole survivor of the International Market Place’s demise will be its massive Indian banyan tree, which will be preserved as part of the new development. In a news release, project developer Taubman Centers—a Bloomfield, Mich.-based operator, developer and owner of high-end retail centers nationwide—has said it has engaged a registered arborist to preserve and enhance the health of the tree. The arborist, according to Taubman Centers, has been monitoring and attending to the trees in the International Market Place for more than 40 years.

The replacement.
The replacement.

While many people are resigned to development in Waikiki, there is a quiet struggle going on to protect the remaining areas of the island from rampant development – but even that is slowly losing ground. The once sleepy town of Kailua is getting a Target, and condos are popping up in the area.
The most worrisome issue, however, is the Turtle Bay Expansion plan on the North Shore:

The undeveloped land at Turtle Bay is home to Hawaiian monk seals, green sea turtles, hawksbill turtles, Hawaiian gallinules, stilts, coots, ducks, bats, ohai (sesbania-tomentosa) and others listed threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Two rare species of endemic bee that are on the candidate list for protection under ESA were found here recently.
Turtle Bay is the home of many migratory birds, bristle thighed curlews, dowitchers, golden plovers, sanderlings, ducks and geese and others- all protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA)
Any further expansion would destroy fragile ecosystems that are home for these protected animals and plants. The number of “units” was set to triple, retail outlets, roads, condos and hotels would combine to destroy even the degraded “buffer” zones presently supporting these protected species.
Even though degraded by the presence of a hotel, condos and golf courses there are enough fragile ecosystems to warrant restoration and preservation. Other laws protecting species and habitats at Turtle Bay are the Marine Mammal Protection Act and The Clean Water Act.
It is part of the Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary and a special agricultural and fish area.
There is Supporting Habitat for four species of endangered waterbirds in Punaho’olapa Marsh and the adjacent James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is Core Habitat for them. 120 species of birds have been documented there.

Turtle Bay at the present.
Turtle Bay at the present.
For more information on what you can do or to voice your opinion, please check the site  www.facebook.com/TurtleBayEndangeredSpecies:

The Governor of Hawaii has allocated $40 million to create a conservation easement (kind of rezoning “conservation” FOREVER) for the undeveloped land at Turtle Bay. Please support this effort by signing and sharing the petitionhttp://www.change.org/petitions/no-turtle-bay-resort-expansion-beyond-the-current-footprint or just sharing if you have signed.

Photo courtesy
Photo courtesy of ‘No Turtle Bay Expansion’


Tweetstorm is Brewing – Save These Dolphins From Going Extinct

(Apologies to readers, the Facebook button will allow you to share but will not record that you did, just a technical glitch!)

Why Maui’s dophins are special

Maui's dolphin.
Maui’s dolphin
Maui’s dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) are a sub-species of Hector’s dolphin (Cephalorhynchus hectori sp.), the world’s smallest dolphin. It is one of the world’s rarest dolphins and is found only on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand.
The dolphin is listed internationally as ‘critically endangered’ (IUCN Red List) and as ‘Nationally Critical’ under the New Zealand Threat Classification System.
In 2012, a DOC-commissioned study estimated the Maui’s dolphin population to consist of 55 individuals aged more than 1 year (i.e. excluding calves under a year old). This estimate has a 95% confidence interval of between 48 to 69, meaning the researchers are 95% confident that the population lies within this range. See Maui’s dolphin abundance estimate.
This small population of dolphins is thought to have been isolated from their more-numerous relatives, South Island Hector’s dolphin, for thousands of years.
1148889_10201915503906912_1017773690_n for dolphin tweet storm

 WHAT THEY NEED:  Full protection against gillnets and trawling across the dolphins’ habitat to a water depth of 100 m.
INFO:  Fishing with gillnets and trawlnets is the primary cause of death among the last surviving Maui’s dolphins. Between them they KILL ABOUT NINE PERCENT of the tiny population that’s left every year – that’s over 75 times more than the sustainable limit. This is because only a small fraction of the dolphins’ range is protected.
The New Zealand Seafood Industry: Seafood New Zealand –www.seafoodnewzealand.org.nz – is the industry body that has obstructed the dolphins’ protection for decades and continues to fight every conservation effort. Please take part in our tweetstorm to tell NZ’s fishing industry that enough is enough. It’s time you became a sustainable and responsible business.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW ON TWITTER:  Please go to #911MauisDolphins or click here www.twitter.com/search/realtime?q=%23911MauisDolphins and copy & paste or retweet. Let’s get the word out now for these little Maui’s Dolphins in advance of our tweetstorm on August 8th.

1146628_10201912055740710_1594700415_n tweetstorm2

Deadline Looms for Captive Orca Whale; You Can Help Lolita, the Fisheries Service is Listening Until 6/28/13

“We just had the most amazing trip … L25, Ocean Sun, scared a fish out from under the boat and teamed up with L41, Mega, to take it down”.  SpringTide Whale Tours
On June 18th, the Victoria, B.C. SpringTide Whale Tours reported watching Ocean Sun (L 25) the mother of the captive orca Lolita, catch fish with her companion, Mega (L 41).  It must have been thrilling, yet whenever Ocean Sun is seen, thoughts inevitably turn to the circumstances of her daughter’s capture and subsequent confinement at Miami Seaquarium.
You can help in the effort to improve her life by making a comment as to why this whale should have the same endangered species status as the rest of her family.  Please comment to the National Marine Fisheries Service site by June 28th (information is below). It has taken a long time to get this far (I wrote about it back in February of 2010 Captive L Pod Orca is Caught in a Legal Quagmire), please don’t let the opportunity pass!

(Courtesy Orca Network)
(Courtesy of Orca Network)

(More background information from the National Fisheries Service on Lolita can be found HERE.)

Submit all electronic public comments via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal. Click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.

Lolita's mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open 'saddle' behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research
Lolita’s mother, Ocean Sun, has the distinctive open patch behind her dorsal fin. Photo by Dave Ellifrit,courtesy the Center for Whale Research

The petition addressed by this notice describes Lolita, a female killer whale captured from the Southern Resident population in 1970, who currently resides at the Miami Seaquarium in Miami, Florida, as the only remaining member of the Southern Residents alive in captivity. The petitioners present biological information about Lolita’s genetic heritage and contend that Lolita is a member of the endangered Southern Resident DPS and should be included under the ESA listing. In addition, they provide a legal argument regarding the applicability of the ESA to captive members of endangered species. The petition also includes information about how each of the five section 4(a)(1) factors applies with respect to Lolita. Lastly, the petitioners contend that including Lolita in the ESA listing will contribute to conservation of the wild Southern Resident killer whale population.
Please make comments by June 28th at the Federal site!

World Turtle Day – Watch a Video That Inspires Hope

The American Tortoise Rescue started the World Turtle Day in 2000 “as an annual observance to help people celebrate and protect turtles and tortoises and their disappearing habitats around the world…they are rapidly disappearing as a result of the exotic food industry, habitat destruction, global warming and the cruel pet trade,” says founder Susan Telem. The Official Turtle Day occurs on May 23rd every year.
Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient creatures. The seven species that can be found today (six are found in U.S. waters) have been around for 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs, and have figured prominently into human cultures through time.  Now they are at risk of extinction due to human activities.  From NOAA’s Office of Protected Resources:

Major threats to sea turtles in the U.S. include, but are not limited to: destruction and alteration of nesting and foraging habitats; incidental capture in commercial and recreational fisheries; entanglement in marine debris; and vessel strikes. To reduce the incidental capture of sea turtles in commercial fisheries, NOAA Fisheries has enacted regulations to restrict certain U.S. commercial fishing gears (gillnets, longlines, pound nets, and trawls) that have known, significant bycatch of sea turtles. To effectively address all threats to sea turtles, NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS have developed recovery plans to direct research and management efforts for each sea turtle species. More information on threats to sea turtles is available.

Please visit The Sea Turtle Conservancy to learn more about these ancient and endangered animals.

Information on tortoises and pond turtles can be found here.

A bas-relief from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, shows Samudra manthan-Vishnu in the center and his turtle Avatar Kurma below  (Wikipedia Commons)
A bas-relief from Angkor Wat, Cambodia, shows Samudra manthan-Vishnu in the center and his turtle Avatar Kurma below (Wikipedia Commons)

Lolita, the Wild Southern Resident Killer Whale Living in Captivity May Receive Protected Status, Government Announces Today (4/24/13)

(Orca Network)
(Orca Network)

Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced that it will consider whether or not the captive orca Lolita (Tokitae) should be allowed the same protection as her wild family. Originally she was purposefully excluded from the protection of the endangered status that the rest of her family enjoys ( Captive L-pod Orca Is Caught In A Legal Quagmire). This decision is good news, and now once again it is time to correspond and sign petitions. The release from NMFS:

Petition To Include The Killer Whale Known As Lolita In The Endangered Species Act Listing Of Southern Resident Killer Whales

Apr. 24, 2013: We accepted a petition to include the captive killer whale known as Lolita in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing of Southern Resident killer whales. We are soliciting scientific and commercial information about Lolita’s status to ensure that our ongoing status review is comprehensive. Acceptance of this petition doesn’t presuppose any particular outcome. The comment period closes Jun. 28, 2013. See the Federal Register notice and other materials below for more information; or contact Lynne Barre, 206-526-4745.
The Federal Register notice will publish on Monday, April 29, 2013 and at that time people can submit comments via Regulations.gov.   In the “Search” box, enter the docket number, “NOAA-NMFS-2013-0056” and click on the “Search” button.