Southern Resident Orca “Scoter” Hit by Invasive Satellite Tag by NOAA – To What End?

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

Wounds left by a satellite tag on an orca in previous studies.

The NOAA announcement:
Southern Resident Killer Whale Satellite Tagging
December 31, 2012 Update – As a continuation of a project began last year to help us understand where Southern resident killer whales go in the winter, and thus their winter habitat use, NWFSC researchers tagged an adult male, K25, in Puget Sound on December 29, 2012 with a satellite-linked tag. The information gathered from this tag will address the data gap in winter distribution identified in the Recovery Plan as well as provide information for improving Critical Habitat designation. This technique was recently identified as an important approach for addressing this issue by the independent science panel that assessed the impact of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales (

For the most recently available track of K25 and more information on the satellite tagging project, please visit We appreciate the work of all our partners to protect and conserve killer whales and their habitats, and look forward to continued efforts in 2013. Thank you and happy New Year!

While NOAA is very careful to explain that the Southern Resident orca population is not recovering at a rate likely to sustain positive growth, they have also concluded that reducing the commercial catch of the orca’s primary food, Chinook salmon, may or may not help the whales and hence NOAA is not recommending changes to commercial catch.  Basically, the problem is too complex for the researchers to sort out, but because the orcas are classed as an endangered species the researchers justify a more invasive tagging program – inquiring minds want to know where these orcas go in the winter.
What difference will this knowledge make to the whale population? The researchers claim that the data will assist them in defining a ‘critical habitat’ – although they don’t say how this will do anything to help the whales if fisheries are allowed to continue taking Chinook salmon at present levels in that habitat, or if the military operations that are harmful are allowed to continue in those regions.
The scientists explain in detail why less invasive studies have failed or are too expensive, and show that these tags have been used on other species, but does that justify risking the well-being of this endangered population? NOAA’s last fail whale attempt stayed on the orca “Mike” (J 26) all of three days and revealed nothing new about the whale’s distribution. And do they really know the impact of these tags? This monk seal (another endangered species) definitely seems impacted by the tag:

Elephant seal with satellite tag.

Ribbon seal with satellite tag.

If the tag stays on it will be interesting to see how Scoter (K 25) uses the environment, but I’m not sure how much the researchers will be able to extrapolate to the entire population, nor is it at all evident that the information is going to be put to use to protect the whales and not commercial interests.

Did the Whale at Miami Seaquarium Threaten This Visitor? You Decide. (Video)

This video was recently posted with the alarming title ” Killer Whale Attack (“Lolita” at Miami Seaquarium) ” – but it is not an attack and we don’t know enough about the whale or the circumstances at this point to even determine if it is a threat or play. However the concerned voice in the background warning the public to get away from the pool is very telling…
Please be responsible when circulating this kind of video, and check back here for updates.

Non Profit Horse Rescue “People Helping Horses” Used Donations to Line Their Pockets

A reminder to please check out organizations before donating to them.
Attorney General’s Office forces changes at Snohomish County Horse Rescue Press Release
People Helping Horses bucks director and will audit finances
SEATTLE – An investigation by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office has led to significant changes to a Snohomish County horse rescue’s management and new controls on the organization’s fundraising and financial practices.
In a settlement sent for filing today, Arlington-based People Helping Horses agrees to use solicited funds for the specific animals or programs mentioned in appeals and to audit their finances. Its former executive director, Gretchen Salstrom, whom the Attorney General’s Office accuses of misusing charitable funds, is barred for ten years from leading a Washington state non-profit. Salstrom also settled with the Attorney General’s Office.

“Gretchen Salstrom was helping herself to money intended to help horses,” said Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “She used the group’s money to pay for her own horse and dog-breeding business, and used the non-profit’s credit and debit cards for questionable travel and entertainment expenses.”

A December, 2011 tip from a concerned citizen led the Attorney General’s Office to look into the organization, which had raised over $1 million the previous year, and its leader. It found multiple violations of the state’s Consumer Protection Act, which bars misleading and deceptive business practices. It also found violations of the Charitable Solicitations Act, which governs the fundraising practices of non-profits.
“In fundraising appeals, People Helping Horses said they offered a therapeutic riding program for kids with health challenges even though they had terminated the program,” said Assistant Attorney General Sarah Shifley, who handled the case. “They claimed they partnered with other horse education programs and schools. They said they checked up on horses after they were adopted from their shelter. None of that was true.”
Among other agreements in the settlement, a consent decree in Snohomish County Superior Court, People Helping Horses will:
Not make misrepresentations to donors or potential donors;
Hold donations in segregated accounts and apply such funds for purposes stated in fundraising appeals;
Create and maintain records documenting the amount of restricted donations that it receives and how donations are used;
Implement financial controls, including prohibiting staff members from using the organization’s financial resources for personal use;
Obtain a financial audit by a certified public accountant every three years and provide it, upon request, to the Attorney General’s Office;
Provide management training to its Executive Director and any other executive-level employees;
Comply with all registration requirements of the Secretary of State’s Charity Program before soliciting and accepting donations;
Not enter into any contract, lease, or other business agreement with Gretchen Salstrom; and,
Not retain Gretchen Salstrom in any capacity or place her on its Board of Directors.
People Helping Horses is liable for $50,000 in penalties, which are suspended as long as the organization follows the details of the settlement. Salstrom will pay $5,000 in attorney’s fees and faces penalties of $25,000 per violation if she fails to follow the injunctive portions of a separate settlement entered with her individually.
“We often use the old saying, ‘buyer beware’ when it comes to businesses,” said McKenna. “But this settlement shows that the giver ought to beware, too.” Before giving to a non-profit, McKenna recommends checking the Secretary of State’s Charities Program website in order to learn more about how specific charities spend their money.
Dan Sytman, AGO Deputy Communications Director, (360) 586-7842

The Mayans Got it Right – the World is Quickly Changing

Caption: On October 22, 1967, Bernie Boston photographed his iconic Flower Power photograph, which featured Vietnam War protester George Harris inserting flowers into a National Guardsmen’s rifle barrel.(From the Frankly Penn blog)

Comparing the 20th century to now there are many hopeful signs. Look at the way people view war. These days many people challenge the need for it, they question why we have to resort to it. In the early twentieth century there was no talk about protecting the environment, yet now everyone is aware of it. Our perceptions are coming closer to reality; humanity is becoming more mature and I am optimistic about the future. Dalai Lama

In terms of protecting the environment, humanity is beginning to understand that the problems of this fragile planet concern us all, whether the issues occur in the jungles of South America or in the remote polar regions – deadly chemicals eventually circulate the globe. The murder and mayhem of war destroys everything in its path, including the environment – and to what end?
There have always been individuals and groups who stood firmly for the values of peace and environmental awareness, but until the current generation came along they have often been relegated to the fringes of society. The difference now is the networking made possible by the internet, and the ease with which young people adapt it to communicate the realities of violence to the rest of the world.
The once lone voices in the wilderness now have the powerful, energetic, and determined force of global tides to support them, but although it can be hip and fun, make no mistake, it still takes courage and resources to protect what we have left.

What the Mayan prophecy and threat of Doomsday has done is that worldwide, people took time to think about what is important – the question of ‘what would you take if your house was burning’ was transmuted into ‘what would do if the world ended’, and if nothing else, it made us all realize that the possibility of Doomsday is in our hands.

Whale Lover on Your List? A Gift Guaranteed to Make Them Smile, and it Doesn’t Have to Cost You Anything

For the whale lover who has enough t-shirts, mugs, trinkets, and stuffed dolphins, a gift that shows you care about their passion may be one of the most memorable presents they will receive.  Why?  Because although you may not share the whale enthusiast’s interest, they will deeply appreciate knowing that you took the time to make a difference in a cause they care about.
In this case, you can sign a petition, and/or visit the websites dedicated to orca research in general, or help one young whale specifically – and see a myriad of ways to pledge your time, donate if you wish, or print out a pledge to give to your gift recipient.  (The petition  just  encourages a Dutch court to release a captive whale who has not adapted to captivity, and you can keep your support anonymous. The judges are due to announce their decision on December 13, 2012).  You can find out more about the whale, Morgan, here, and sign the petition here.

Morgan has been documented repeatedly bashing her head against the side of the gate opening mechanism…[which] results in self-inflicted damage to her rostrum (end of snout) & chin. From continually banging her head on the concrete, she has hypertrophic tissue (fibrous tissue that replaces normal tissue destroyed by injury).

Morgan has been documented repeatedly injuring herself. (

This whale can be successfully returned to the wild, there already exists a place to rehabilitate her near where her wild family lives:
Proposed site for Morgan's rehabilitation and release.

Her family has been located. “Heike Vester and Filipa Samarra identified Group P by comparing Morgan’s distinctive calls with the recent call type catalogue of wild Norwegian killer whales developed by Heike Vester, and came to the conclusion that Morgan is likely to have originated from either from group P or a group closely related to group P. You can download the full report.
Morgan's wild family (

Below are two sample pledges you can print out, there are other creative options to be found as well, at the Free Morgan Foundation website. More about Dr. Visser and her research can be found at the Orca Research Trust.


Southern Resident Orcas are Targeted by Those Who Want to Demolish the Endangered Species Act Entirely – Orca Network Weighs in on This Issue

The following was written as a guest article for this blog by Howard Garrett, Co-founder, Director and President of the Board of Orca Network – all rights are reserved, please contact Orca Network for use of the material. Orca Network is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization registered in Washington State, dedicated to raising awareness about the whales of the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of providing them healthy and safe habitats.
Howard received his degree in Sociology from Colorado College in 1980, and began working with the Center for Whale Research in 1981. In 1996 Garrett wrote Orcas In Our Midst, a booklet oriented toward middle-school students. Volume 2 of Orcas In Our Midst was published in 2005. Volume 3, Residents and Transients – How Did That Happen? was published in 2011. Garrett also wrote the entry under “Animal Culture” for the Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005); and a chapter about the rescue of the solitary orca A73 (Springer), in Between Species. He co-founded Orca Network in November 2001 with Susan Berta.

Since 1995 Howard and Susan have conducted a campaign to return Lolita, the last survivor of the orcas captured from the Southern Resident community, from Miami to her home waters in Puget Sound. Howard provides educational presentations for students and community organizations, naturalist talks on the ferries, develops educational materials, and designs and maintains the Orca Network website.
Please see the previous post,Orca Whales May Lose Endangered Species Status – NOAA Accepted Petition to De-list This Struggling Population, for background information and links to NOAA.

Southern Resident orcas are uniquely adapted to this environment.

Why would anyone want to remove ESA protections from Southern Resident orcas?
Last August the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), a property-rights group with a long record opposing Endangered Species listings, environmental regulations, and healthcare reform, filed a petition with the National Marine Fisheries Service to remove the Southern Resident orcas from their endangered status under the ESA. The PLF was acting nominally on behalf of farmers who wanted Sacramento River water needed by endangered Chinook salmon, which the Southern Residents depend on, along with other Pacific coast Chinook, for their survival. In 2009 the orcas were included in NMFS’s ruling on water management as further rationale for conserving water to restore salmon. On November 26, NMFS announced they will review PLF’s petition over the next year. The public comment period on the merits of the petition is now open and will continue until January 28, 2013.
The PLF made two core arguments: first was the legal case that NMFS had illegally designated a Distinct Population Segment of a sub-species rather than of a species, and second, the scientific claim that the Southern Residents aren’t really genetically distinct, based on a recent genetic study that found evidence that on rare occasions some transient orca males may have had “temporary interactions” with SR females and thus diluted their gene pool.
The attorneys at Earth Justice, which was a party to the original ESA listing in 2005, have sunk the PLF’s legal argument twice already in the Ninth Circuit in the context of other species, and expect to sink it again this time. The ESA’s language, and in particular its definition of “species,” as well as NMFS’s interpretation of this language, unambiguously refute PLF’s position. PLF challenged the orca listing back in 2006 raising this same “DPS of a subspecies” argument.  When Earthjustice intervened in that case,  the Judge tossed out PLF’s case because they didn’t bother to, or couldn’t, show they had standing (that anyone they represented was in any way harmed by the listing). The farmers are now playing that role. This word game about whether the SRs are a DPS of a species or a subspecies is irrelevant to the fact that the SRs are without a doubt distinct from all other orcas worldwide, and they need protection. They currently number only 84 members, a drop from about 88 when they were listed.
The scientific claim – that the SRs are not genetically distinct – comes from Social cohesion among kin, gene flow without dispersal and the evolution of population genetic structure in the killer whale (Orcinus orca), by Pilot, et al. As the title says and the paper reiterates: “Taken together, these data emphasize the importance of social cohesion in this species…” So that argument won’t sail either. Even if the paper is correct, the listing of the SRs under the ESA doesn’t rely simply on genetic purity. Rather, multiple lines of evidence (mainly their complete social cohesion and separation from any other orcas, and their specialized diet and unique vocalizations) establish that SRs are unlike any other orcas anywhere, even if rare temporary interactions may happen every few generations.
Photo courtesy of the Center for Whale Research

Why is the PLF arguing this lost cause to remove ESA protections from Southern Resident orcas? Even if the PLF should win this case and succeed in delisting the SR’s, the water is being withheld primarily to protect endangered salmon, so the farmers wouldn’t get any more water anyway.
So what’s really going on here? Who really ordered and funded this assault on protections for Southern Resident orcas? Here’s a clue: The PLF has a long history of challenging federal regulation of private property under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Anti-environmental from the start, PLF’s early actions supported the use of DDT, the use of herbicides in national forests, and the use of public range land without requiring an environmental impact review (
The initial PLF office in Sacramento was funded by billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, a major contributor to the Republican Party and right-wing strategy groups. Its expressed aim was to use its financial and litigation power to “impact the public policy agenda.” In 1989, Philip Morris began funding the organization to fight against tobacco laws, and it receives at least $10,000 from ExxonMobil annually(
It’s a well-known Republican talking point that the ESA places an undue burden on businesses. According to PLF Principal Attorney Damien Schiff: “We simply can’t permit unjustified ESA listings to cause economic dislocation for families, farms, businesses, and communities.” The PLF’s main funders, however, are the world’s richest individuals and corporations.
It seems that the PLF is not simply speaking up for a few farmers. It appears to be an advance unit in a sweeping, concerted assault on environmental protections intended to roll back the ability of federal, state and local governments to safeguard our air, water, and climate. The extinction of Southern Resident orcas would be mere collatoral damage for the instigators of this particular assault on the ESA. Not known for scientific literacy, they seem to be quite sure that the science that has repeatedly found that SRs are completely distinct from any other orcas must be fraudulent, politically correct dogma based on junk science. They seem to firmly believe they can easily demolish the listing in court, thereby besmirching the ESA itself and providing headlines that can be used to water down protective laws like the ESA and the Clean Water Act. The goal isn’t to get more water for the farmers, it’s to attack the ESA. And who cares about the orcas anyway?
Southern Resident orcas have been foraging and socializing throughout the Salish Sea and along the continental shelf as a cohesive clan for millenia, all the while maintaining their own rigorous traditions about diet, travel and every aspect of their lives, always in synchrony with their salmon-rich habitat. In the Pacific Northwest we are getting to know and appreciate these graceful, beautiful orcas more every day. As Fred Felleman of Friends of the Earth put it succinctly: “It’s not just their genetics, it’s culture. These clearly are the tribes of the sea, and if you extirpate that population not only do you lose the genetic code, you lose a unique brain trust.”
By Howard Garrett
Director and President of the Board of Orca Network