Tag Archives: L-pod

New Orca Whale Spotted Off The Coast of Washington – This is the Third Calf Born to These Endangered Orcas!

New L pod calf. (NOAA)
New L pod calf. (NOAA)

NOAA Fisheries West Coast – Science & Management
New L pod calf!!
Dr. Brad Hanson gives us this latest news from the orca research cruise as well as an update on location of L pod:
25 February update – We were about 15 miles west of Westport this morning when we resighted the whales and observed a new calf – L94 appears to be the mother. To recap since our previous posting, on 23 February we were off Cape Lookout, Oregon following the whales north. Yesterday, we continued following the whales north past the mouth to the Columbia River. Since L84 was tagged a week ago we have been with all of K pod but only part of L pod.
On 23 February Jon Scordino with Makah Fisheries sent us photos taken on 20 February of L25 off Cape Flattery, which indicated another part of L pod was in the general area.
This morning, shortly after we launched our Zodiac we observed L41, part of the group that includes L25, indicating that another group of L pod had joined up overnight – this is first time we have documented pods reuniting on the outer coast.
Fortunately the whales were very grouped up and within a few minutes we observed the new calf – with its unique orange-ish color on the white areas. The calf looked very energetic. We have five more days on the cruise and look forward to additional observations of the calf and collecting additional prey and fecal samples.

The Orcas Have a New Baby At Last – First One in Two Years for the Southern Resident Orcas!

The new calf, tucked in next to her mom, L 86, and and aunt, L 27. (Photo by Dave Ellifrit).
The new calf, tucked in next to her mom, L 86, and aunt, L 27. (Photo by Dave Ellifrit).

This is fantastic news, the population of Southern Resident orcas now stands at 79.

Great news! We finally have new calf in L pod. L86 was seen today by the Center for Whale Research (CWR) staff with a brand new calf who will be designated L120. This is the first new calf in the Southern Resident orca population since 2012.

The population has been in decline due to a suite of factors.  The scientists point out that salmon availability is probably the main cause, but also included are the effects of toxins in the environment, sound pollution, and boat traffic.
We will be rooting for this little one, and will post photos as soon as possible.

L pod in California, photo by Nancy Black, 2008.
L pod visting California, photo by Nancy Black, 2008.

L Pod Orcas Lost Two Members, End of a Matriline Looms

Yesterday the Center for Whale Research reported that two adult female orcas are now dead.  While both were senior members of the Southern Resident orcas and no longer able to bear calves, their roles in the orca culture nonetheless were important. The most disturbing fact about the death of one of the females is that she leaves behind just one son with no other offspring to continue the family line.
Long term research by the Center for Whale research has shown both that post-reproductive females have a significant role in the care of calves – just as human grandparents do – and that the sons often die once their mothers are gone. One of the deceased whales, L2 lost three of her offspring through the years, and only her youngest son, L88 is still alive.  In the Southern Resident orca culture, for reasons that are not fully understood, this means that L88 is functionally an orphan even though he is about 20 years old – he is unlikely to survive unless adopted by another female.  If he is unable to produce a viable offspring, the family line will peter out.  There are now 37 members in L pod, the largest of the three pods. (Originally reported as 38).

This is a unique population of friendly, urban whales. (Center for Whale Research photo).
This is a unique population of friendly, urban whales. (Center for Whale Research photo).

From the Orca Network:

L2 has been missing since late last year, and L26 was last seen looking emaciated in March by Northwest Fisheries Science Center. L26 was not seen June 5 and 6 when most of L pod, including her matriline, were surveyed by CWR. Both post-reproductrive females, L26 was born approximately 1956, and L2 was born about 1960.

Decades of research on this population by the Center for Whale Research has been fundamental in gaining insight into the orcas’ culture, and this year they have initiated a membership program to help keep their boats on the water and their eyes on the whales.
Some background information on why it is crucial to keep this independent and non-profit organization going:
“In 1976, “Orca Survey” was launched as a census to determine the status of the Southern Resident Killer Whales. Orca Survey is a long-term photo-identification study of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the San Juan Island area of the Pacific Northwest. It was initiated by Principal Investigator Ken Balcomb in 1976 (under contract to the National Marine Fisheries Service) to ascertain the size of the population of Killer whales in the Greater Puget Sound environs of Washington State.
For over three decades, the Center for Whale Research (CWR) has been conducting annual photo-identification studies of the Southern Resident Killer whale (SRKW) population that frequent the inland waters of Washington State and lower British Columbia .
This detailed understanding of population status and trends has supported management decisions in both Canada and the United States. Most recently, data derived from CWR’s long-term studies have been used to support listing decisions in the U.S. under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, and in Canada under the Species At Risk Act, with SRKWs now listed as Endangered in both countries.”

The Center for Whale Research, Friday Harbor, Wa
The Center for Whale Research, Friday Harbor, Wa

New calf for the beleaguered L-pod orcas! See our Facebook page for details

The Center for Whale Research, Friday Harbor, Wa

The Southern Resident orcas returned to the inland waters of Washington state’s Salish Sea en mass today, after what seems like a prolonged winter along the outer coast.  Their spring visits have been few and far between, with just one L-pod whale, L 87, who hangs out with J and K pods, seen in the area until today.
Best of all, 25 year old L 77 had a calf in tow, who was given the number L-119. Researchers and whale watchers have been particularly concerned about this orca pod, following the death of young L-112 this year to a still unknown cause (please see Dead Orca L-112 is Beginning to Reveal the Story of Her Death).
Please check out the Center’s Facebook page and website for updates on this population of endangered orcas. There you will learn more about the brand new calf L-119 and her family, and follow along as the whales face the summer challenges of finding enough salmon.
Welcome back, orcas, we are all rooting for you.

Navy Representatives Openly Discussed Bombing Activities in the Marine Sanctuary

Friday Harbor Councilman Howard Rosenfeld asked probing questions.

5/1/12 With a crowd at their backs and the concerned panel of the San Juan County Council facing them with some tough questions, the Navy representatives never wavered.  They were in Friday Harbor, Wa, to explain the legal process that constrains their activities in the  Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, a region home to many species of marine mammals and close to where an endangered Southern Resident orca, L-112, was found dead from explosive force in February ( see Marine Sanctuary and Whale Habitat is Being Used for Bombing Practice by the Military).
The navy representatives were civil and polite, they listened, and then they responded with the truth as they knew it, or at least as they were able to share.  If they could not answer questions, they referred the questioner to unclassified websites. They stayed after the presentation and answered questions for nearly two hours, working through lunch and only breaking off to race for the ferry.  In short, they were masterful and impressively well prepared.
Did they convince the crowd of orca researchers and enthusiasts that the Navy had nothing to do with the death of this orca?  Possibly, but no one seemed convinced that the Navy did not have a good idea of what happened.

Consider for a moment the fact that whole reason the Navy conducts these war games is to be prepared to protect our shores and harbors – in what universe does it make sense that they would not be thoroughly concerned at the evidence of a significant blast near the mouth of the Columbia River (Hanford Nuclear Reservation is upriver)?  Yet they only maintained their innocence and made reference to “ongoing investigation” (which is being done by the National Marine Fisheries Service in which the Navy is participating). 
Councilwoman Lovel Pratt read questions provided by constituents.

They did dodge some questions, particularly those that involved international cooperation (“Are they constrained by U.S. law when operating with Canadian military in Canadian waters?”  Unclear answer) or about past bombing in the Sanctuary (first claiming that the Navy had no records going back 15 years, then qualifying that to ‘not precise records’). But for the most part they were impressively sincere in their concern about the possible consequences of their activities.
Now if they would just find ways to prepare for combat without destroying the environment we would all rejoice, and in the halls of the San Juan County Council, they succeeded in convincing me that they are bright enough and dedicated enough to do just that.
Below is a partial recording of the Navy’s direct response to the San Juan Council’s inquiries: Answering the Council’s questions is John Moser, project manager for the environmental impact statement (eis) of the Northwest Training and Testing project.

Navy Will Be In Friday Harbor 5/1/12 to Talk About Bombing Range and Whales

Come to the meeting if you can!

11:00 AM – Tuesday, May 1,2012
Legislative Hearing Room, 55 Second Street, Friday Harbor, WA
Update 5/1/12 – it was earlier reported that the Navy has extended the comment period, but this is limited to those who attended today’s meeting.

Times and dates for agenda items are subject to change. Updates will be posted as available.

Victoria (L - 112) with her mom.

Victoria (L 112), the young whale who died as a result of explosive force, now has her own FaceBook page, where you can find information on her death as well as  on the investigation (also see Marine Sanctuary and Whale Habitat is Being Used for Bombing Practice by the Military) :

Well it seems like people are starting to take notice. The Navy is going to do a presentation on this issue to the San Juan County Council on Tuesday May 1st at 11:00am in Friday Harbor. Please show up if you can.  Great job everyone! Keep up the pressure. Make sure to send out your letters and comments. Spread the word!

Warmest Month on Record Everywhere (Else) – (Sunday Off Topic “Gotta Laugh or You’ll Cry” Category)

The lone blue state…

Only Washington State had below normal temperatures...

March’s 2012 weather for Seattle brought below normal temperatures, mostly cloudy skies, rain, wind, and snow after a cool, mostly cloudy, and rainy February. There were twenty-three days in March with cloudy sky conditions, seven days with partly cloudy sky conditions, and one day with sunny sky conditions.(BeautifulSeattle.com)

No wonder the whales go to California in the winter…

Southern Resident Orcas, L Pod. Photo by Howard Garrett

Marine Sanctuary and Whale Habitat is Being Used for Bombing Practice by the Military

Marine sanctuary along Washington's coast.

The Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS) is a spectacular, dynamic, and largely undeveloped region of coastal Washington State. The region supports large populations of orcas, sea otters, seabirds, salmon, and is an important part of the migration routes of humpback and grey whales.
And it is regularly bombed and mined with explosives by the U.S. military – for practice.

Bombing range overlaps the sanctuary.

The Navy‟s Underwater Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Keyport operates and maintains the [Quinault Underwater Tracking Range] (QUTR) located in Navy Operations Area W-237A.
The Navy has conducted underwater testing at the QUTR since 1981 and maintains a control center at the Kalaloch Ranger Station. This range is instrumented to track and test surface vessels, submarines and various undersea vehicles.
Research work involves testing of equipment and technologies, including mobile targets, torpedoes, underwater mine shapes, and autonomous vehicles.
The Navy has proposed expansion of this range‟s area more than 50-fold to support existing and future needs in manned and unmanned vehicle programs development (U.S. Navy 2010a). The preferred alternative in the final EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] expands this range‟s boundaries to coincide with the existing W-237A Military Warning Area boundary and adds a surf-zone access site at Pacific Beach.
Within this area, the Navy conducts a variety of training activities, including anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, electronic combat, mine warfare, strike warfare, and special forces training.
…To minimize cetacean disturbance, it is the policy of NUWC Division Keyport not to test when cetaceans are known to be present. The Navy was issued a Letter of Authorization under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) for use of sound sources for Keyport activities in May 2011. (Source:  Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary – Final Management Plan and Environmental Assessment )

The concept of designating a sanctuary that allows for some of the worst assaults to living things imaginable is beyond belief.
Habitats that take decades to centuries to become established can be destroyed in seconds. Salmon and rockfish become instant sushi. And the mammals? After struggling to recover following centuries of exploitation, they are devastated by impact explosions and sonic disruption of their hearing apparatus.

L112 with big brother L106 Photo by Ken Balcomb on September 11, 2011

Explosive force killed L-112, and likely her brother as well.

This needs to be stopped – for more information on the specifics of the navy arsenals and marine mammals, please go to the Center for Whale Research website.

Orca Whale Killed by Explosives – Will NOAA’s Scandal Beleaguered Office of Law Enforcement Do Anything?

An endangered Southern Resident Orca, L112 (“Victoria”), was found on the shores of Long Beach, Washington State on February 11 , 2012. (See Orca Killed by Blast for more background information).

L112 with big brother L106 (Photo by Ken Balcomb on September 11, 2011)

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center for Whale Research has been actively pressing to determine the source of the explosion that caused her death before the trail of accountability can be obliterated:
“The final results of analysis of her tissues and fluids found in her cranium may take some time”, he writes, “but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma, as already reported. Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans, and we have to look for the source of the blast.”
“I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering, or losing evidence in this case.”
And finally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement (NOAA OLE) has launched an investigation. Vicki Nomura is heading the effort.  “The toughest part of conducting an investigation like that is proving the actual violation. When you have a dead marine mammal there’s very little information.”
Of course it does not help that there was a two month delay, and that this response came only after considerable pressure by Balcomb, the media, and the public.
Congressman Sherrod Brown & NOAA party boat

Worse is the fact that NOAA’s law enforcement is under current investigation by the Senate for misappropriations of funds and of turning an ill begotten boat into a “party boat’.  There has been a lack of transparency and accountability in the investigation that has shaken up that office.

Feb 20th 2012, New York Daily News: [Congressman] Tierney also pressed Bryson with questions about the misuse of the fund by NOAA’s Seattle Office of Law Enforcement, which drew $300,787 from the fund in 2008 to acquire a 35-foot luxury cabin boat with flat screen TV and built-in bar for undercover operations — then used it mostly for pleasure cruising in Puget Sound by law enforcement officials, friends and family, the Inspector General found.
NOAA conceded that the purchase violated the “spirit” of federal procurement law; The Inspector General’s report described the events as involving “misconduct.”
Tierney and U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who separately obtained and released the IG’s report last week under the Freedom of Information Act, characterized the transaction as filled with improprieties, dishonesty and corruption.

March 8th:  At a budget hearing yesterday before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco was asked about the boat scandal in Seattle, but except for describing herself as “appalled” to learn about the episode, she provided no details.
Lubchenco reiterated information issued in a NOAA press release last month that the boat had been “surplussed,” and that the incident had sparked improved vessel acquisition policy and retraining. But, as she has done in multiple congressional hearings, Lubchenco cited “the Privacy Act” as a bar to informing Congress about any personnel punishment.
She described herself as frustrated by the impediment to providing a public report, while emphasizing a “top-to-bottom” overhaul of policy and personnel — though key figures have been given new jobs.

March 28–Questioning its “accountability and integrity,” U.S. Sen. Susan Collins has launched an effort to break through a wall of silence erected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration surrounding the abuses of its authority while overseeing the nation’s fishing industry.
Collins has requested a meeting at the staff level between the administration and Senate and House Appropriations and Oversight committees in an effort to crack the silence she said has been erected via the misuse of the Privacy Act.
Among the overriding questions posed by Collins, a Maine Republican, in her March 22 letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson was abuse of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, made up of fines paid by fishermen, and an apparent lack of consequences for abuses by NOAA law enforcers identified by the Commerce Department inspector general’s office in multiple reports beginning January 2010 through late last year.

…U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat, chaired the hearing that was organized by U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, the ranking Republican.
Collins said Carper and Brown, among “several of my colleagues, … have experienced considerable difficulties getting answers from NOAA regarding the management of the Asset Forfeiture Fund, the integrity and accountability of those managing the fund, the disposition of the $300,000 luxury boat and what, if any disciplinary actions have been taken against employees found culpable in the misuse of the fund.”
Collins made a point of questioning the chronic use of the Privacy Act by NOAA to insulate itself against congressional inquiries. “NOAA officials’ use of the Privacy Act as a sword to protect its reputation rather than as a shield, as Congress intended, to protect the privacy rights of private citizens, is unacceptable,” she wrote.

I have omitted the names of people who may have been involved, there is no point and this kind of boondoggle is rampant in government and in industry.  But NOAA’s law office has a prime opportunity to demonstrate that it can operate effectively, openly, and transparently by engaging in a thorough investigation that does not cover up, mislead, or otherwise try to protect those who were involved in the death of one, or maybe all, of a family of highly endangered whales.

This Dolphin Detonation Event Was Brought to You by the U.S. Navy

(Photo by Ralph Lee Hopkins)

The text below is taken from the published article, I made some changes to avoid acronyms and metrics.  Please consult the original document for details, as well as to learn about the birds and fish that were also affected.
Seabird and Dolphin Mortality Associated with Underwater Detonation Exercises

On 4 March 2011, ‘mine counter-measure training’ was conducted on the ocean [near San Diego] A single time-delayed C4 block demolition charge …was detonated on the sandy ocean floor at a depth of [48 feet], … approximately 0.5-0.75 nautical miles from shore. At 5 minutes prior to the detonation, a group of 100-150 long-beaked common dolphins was observed entering the 640-[yard] mitigation zone by safety observers.

Options to retrieve the charge via divers or from the surface to stop the detonation were considered. However, the short time interval to detonation made this too risky for personnel. An effort to discourage the dolphins from entering the area by placing a boat between the detonation site and the school of dolphins was unsuccessful.

One minute after the detonation, three dolphins were observed motionless at the surface. The rest of the school continued to travel in the same direction as it had been prior to the detonation. The Navy recovered the three animals and transferred them to the local stranding network for necropsy. An additional long-beaked common dolphin stranded dead approximately [42 miles] north of the detonation site, 3 days later.

All four dolphins sustained typical mammalian primary blast injuries.

The distances from various types of underwater detonations at which death, injury, and temporary hearing loss (called a temporary threshold shift, TTS) are expected to occur in marine mammals have been estimated by the Navy and are termed the Zone of Influence (ZOI). …Based on these estimates the dolphins killed would have been within [120 feet] of the blast.

The observed mortality does not exceed the current PBR of 164 for this population, indicating that the blast event alone will not adversely effect the long-beaked common dolphin population (Potential biological removal (PBR) is the maximum number of animals that can be removed from a population through non-natural means and still maintain an optimum sustainable population (Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1994, Amendments). A PBR is calculated for each recognized population of a specie of 164).

However, had four common bottlenose dolphins belonging to the coastal population been killed in the blast, a population effect would be expected, because the PBR for this population is 2.4 The coastal common bottlenose dolphin is common in the waters off San Diego and found within [500 yards] of the shoreline 99% of the time.  The small size of this population and its occurrence in the very near-shore waters of San Diego make this population of critical concern in relation to underwater detonation activities occurring in the region.

The Center for Whale Research has put together an informative page about a similar explosive event  that cost the life of at least one endangered Southern Resident orca, L – 112 (or Victoria, as she was affectionately known).  The following is from a letter written by Ken Balcomb, senior scientist at the Center, the entire text of which can be found on the Center’s website:

Ken Balcomb, Senior Scientist at The Center for Whale Research

I wish to thank Scott Rasmussen for his article (The Journal March 14, 2012) on the necropsy of the three year old baby orca designated L112 that I named “Victoria”, (not “Sooke”) when I first saw her. She was one of the most darling and affectionate little whales in this Endangered population, and she will be sorely missed by humans and by the whale population.
The final results of analysis of her tissues and fluids found in her cranium may take some time, but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma, as already reported.
Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans, and we have to look for the source of the blast. I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering, or losing evidence in this case.
…This is really a tragic bureaucratic jungle situation for the whales and other marine life in the Olympic Coast National Marine “Sanctuary”, and I fear it is even more tragic for our wonderful notion of honest and transparent governance. Yeah, this is a complicated issue; but, at this rate the easiest and most forthright way out is to rename the sanctuary: Olympic Coast National Marine Bombing Range (OCNMBR), and say “bye bye” to the whales.
Citizens have until April 27, 2012 to provide public comment on the expansion of, and the activities within, the NWTRC; and, I suppose it would be OK to suggest changing the name if that is our collective wish.
It is absurd to call it a sanctuary.