14 Nov 2019. A federal judge is currently considering the case of whether indigenous rights to kill whales should take precedence over the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and whether it is even wise to do so, given the fact that the specified population of gray whales appears to be experiencing a die off.
Since January 1, 2019, elevated gray whale strandings have occurred along the west coast of North America from Mexico through Alaska. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME). (NOAA).
The case is currently before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) in Seattle, Washington, and the process is open to the public. There will be other opportunities to influence the decision (see details below) but if you are in the region you can attend the proceedings over the next two weeks.
“The hearing involves a proposed waiver under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and proposed regulations governing the hunting of eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whales by the Makah Indian Tribe in northwest Washington State.
During the prehearing conference, the following new issue of fact was identified: “Is the ENP stock currently undergoing an Unusual Mortality Event (UME)? If so, does this merit further consideration before a waiver may be granted?”
(For more background on issue, please see “Tribe wants to hunt whales that have learned to trust us“).
How does this behavior:
Photo Credit: KUOW
…resemble the hunting methods when the treaties were made?
A. The hearing is open to the public and anyone may attend and observe, although only parties who formally intervened in the proceeding in May 2019 may participate. Given the number of parties to the case, space for spectators will be limited. Seating will be provided on a first come, first served basis. Overflow seating will be available in an adjacent room but will not have a direct view into the courtroom. We anticipate seating will be most in demand the first week of the hearing (Nov. 14-15). More seating may be available during the second week (starting Nov. 18).
A. The hearing will take place at the Fourth Floor Auditorium in the Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle. The building is located at 915 Second Avenue between Marion and Madison Streets, with entrances on both First and Second Avenues. The building is easily accessible from many Metro and Sound Transit routes but does not have on-site parking. Several paid parking garages are nearby. To enter the building, you must go through security screening. More information about entry requirements and prohibited items may be found at https://www.dhs.gov/faq-regarding-items-prohibited-federal-property.
A. The schedule for the hearing is subject to change by the Administrative Law Judge. The current schedule calls for the hearing to begin at 1:00 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, and end no later than 5:00 p.m. that day. For hearing dates Friday, Nov. 15, and Monday through Thursday, Nov. 18-21, the hearing is anticipated to run 9:00 a.m. through no later than 5:00 p.m. with morning and afternoon breaks and a break for lunch. If necessary, the hearing may also take place on Friday, Nov. 22, from 9:00 a.m. until approximately noon.
A. If you have additional questions about attending the hearing, you may direct them to the Administrative Law Judge’s office at 206-220-7105. News media interested in covering the hearing should contact Michael Milstein of NOAA Fisheries at 503-231-6268 or email@example.com
The next opportunity will be announced at the hearing in November. The Administrative Law Judge will set a deadline for interested persons to submit written comments on the proposed waiver and regulations, including proposed findings and conclusions and written arguments or briefs. You do not have to participate as a party in order to submit comments at this stage. Written submissions must be based on the record and should cite relevant pages of the hearing transcript.
Finally, the Administrative Law Judge will issue a recommended decision following the hearing. NOAA Fisheries will publish a notice in the Federal Register announcing the recommended decision, beginning a 20-day public comment period where anyone may submit written comments on the recommended decision.
We need the military to keep us safe, most of us get that. We also understand that the Navy has vitally important activities that – however unfortunately – can lead to injury and death of marine mammals. The government goes to some length to insure that those Navy activities have a minimum impact by requiring them to submit fairly complex documents every five years, based in part on what impact they had in the previous five-year period.
At issue here is that although the Navy and NOAA Fisheries have already established allowable “takes” (marine mammals that can be killed or displaced) for 2019 through 2023, they now want to extend the period an additional two years without having to reassess the effect they are having on marine mammal populations.
In other words, the Navy won’t have to take into account how much changing ocean conditions will alter the statistics – we have already seen that population distributions are changing for many whale and dolphin species as they follow their prey. For instance, gray whales appear to be starving in some cases, humpback entanglements have risen as they come in closer to shore and encounter crab pots, and diseases such as the morbillivirus decimate cetaceans in parts of their range. Young California sea lions are stranding in unprecedented numbers.
Complicating everything is that Blob 2.0 is forming off the West Coast which is expected to further alter marine mammal health and distribution (graphic and original NOAA data are below).
Comments to NOAA can be made here by October 15th:
Taking and Importing Marine Mammals; Taking Marine Mammals Incidental to the U.S. Navy Training and Testing Activities in the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area
Please take a few minutes to submit your comment to NOAA, the process is simple but be aware that NOAA will only consider well-grounded comments in their decision making. There’s no harm in venting your feelings though, and NOAA needs to know how the public feels so any comment you care to make will be read.
“NMFS has reviewed the Navy’s data and analysis and determined that it is complete and accurate, and NMFS agrees that the following stressors have the potential to result in takes of marine mammals from the Navy’s planned activities:
Acoustics (sonar and other transducers; air guns; pile driving/extraction);
Explosives (explosive shock wave and sound, assumed to encompass the risk due to fragmentation); and
Physical Disturbance and Strike (vessel strike).”
3,162 potentially lethal 10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during TESTING
1,598 potentially lethal 7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during TRAINING
The following is a list of species that can possibly be killed in BOTH Navy training and Navy testing activities; alarming because some species (such as dwarf sperm whales) are impacted out of scale to what is known about them:
The following shows the both Level A and Level B “takes” for each species in Navy testing, followed by the list of “takes” in Navy training activities:
0 205 Blue whale * Central North Pacific
6 7,116 Blue whale * Eastern North Pacific
0 167 Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0 631 Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
0 7,731 Fin whale * California, Oregon, & Washington
0 197 Fin whale * Hawaiian
7 7,962 Humpback whale † California, Oregon, & Washington †
12 34,437 Humpback whale † Central North Pacific
7 4,119 Minke whale California, Oregon, & Washington
6 20,237 Minke whale Hawaiian
0 333 Sei whale * Eastern North Pacific
0 677 Sei whale * Hawaiian
27 16,703 Gray whale † Eastern North Pacific
0 19 Gray whale † Western North Pacific †
0 8,834 Sperm whale * California, Oregon, & Washington
0 10,341 Sperm whale * Hawaiian
215 84,232 Dwarf sperm whale Hawaiian
94 33,431 Pygmy sperm whale Hawaiian
149 38,609 Kogia whales California, Oregon, & Washington
0 8,524 Baird’s beaked whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 23,491 Blainville’s beaked whale Hawaiian
0 47,178 Cuvier’s beaked whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 7,898 Cuvier’s beaked whale Hawaiian
0 82,293 Longman’s beaked whale Hawaiian
0 25,404 Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild) California, Oregon, & Washington
0 1,295 Bottlenose dolphin California Coastal
13 201,619 Bottlenose dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0 13,080 Bottlenose dolphin Hawaiian Pelagic
0 500 Bottlenose dolphin Kauai & Niihau
10 57,288 Bottlenose dolphin Oahu
0 1,052 Bottlenose dolphin 4-Island
0 291 Bottlenose dolphin Hawaii
0 4,353 False killer whale † Hawaii Pelagic
0 2,710 False killer whale † Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0 1,585 False killer whale † Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
4 177,198 Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0 460 Killer whale Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0 855 Killer whale Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0 513 Killer whale Hawaiian
99 784,965 Long-beaked common dolphin California
0 14,137 Melon-headed whale Hawaiian Islands
0 1,278 Melon-headed whale Kohala Resident
57 357,001 Northern right whale dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
19 274,892 Pacific white-sided dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 17,739 Pantropical spotted dolphin Hawaii Island
0 42,318 Pantropical spotted dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0 28,860 Pantropical spotted dolphin Oahu
0 1,816 Pantropical spotted dolphin 4-Island
0 35,531 Pygmy killer whale Hawaiian
0 2,977 Pygmy killer whale Tropical
45 477,389 Risso’s dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 40,800 Risso’s dolphin Hawaiian
0 26,769 Rough-toothed dolphin Hawaiian
0 0 Rough-toothed dolphin NSD
307 5,875,431 Short-beaked common dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
6 6,341 Short-finned pilot whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 53,627 Short-finned pilot whale Hawaiian
0 609 Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0 18,870 Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0 1,961 Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
8 10,424 Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
5 777,001 Striped dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 32,806 Striped dolphin Hawaiian
894 171,250 Dall’s porpoise California, Oregon, & Washington
629 460,145 California sea lion U.S
0 3,342 Guadalupe fur seal * Mexico
0 62,138 Northern fur seal California
48 19,214 Harbor seal California
5 938 Hawaiian monk seal * Hawaiian
490 241,277 Northern elephant seal California
Totals: 3,162 potentially lethal 10,775,414 disturbed/displaced during Testing Exercises
* ESA-listed species (all stocks) within the HSTT Study Area.
† Only designated stocks are ESA-listed.
0 93 Blue whale * Central North Pacific
0 5,679 Blue whale * Eastern North Pacific
0 97 Bryde’s whale † Eastern Tropical Pacific
0 278 Bryde’s whale † Hawaiian †
7 6,662 Fin whale * California, Oregon, & Washington
0 108 Fin whale * Hawaiian
0 4,961 Humpback whale † California, Oregon, & Washington †
19 23,750 Humpback whale † Central North Pacific
0 1,855 Minke whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 9,822 Minke whale Hawaiian
0 178 Sei whale * Eastern North Pacific
0 329 Sei whale * Hawaiian
0 13,077 Gray whale † Eastern North Pacific
0 15 Gray whale † Western North Pacific †
0 7,409 Sperm whale * California, Oregon, & Washington
0 5,269 Sperm whale * Hawaiian
197 43,374 Dwarf sperm whale Hawaiian
83 17,396 Pygmy sperm whale Hawaiian
94 20,766 Kogia whales California, Oregon, & Washington
0 4,841 Baird’s beaked whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 11,455 Blainville’s beaked whale Hawaiian
28 30,180 Cuvier’s beaked whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 3,784 Cuvier’s beaked whale Hawaiian
0 41,965 Longman’s beaked whale Hawaiian
15 16,383 Mesoplodon spp (beaked whale guild) California, Oregon, & Washington
0 11,158 Bottlenose dolphin California Coastal
8 158,700 Bottlenose dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington Offshore
0 8,469 Bottlenose dolphin Hawaiian Pelagic
0 3,091 Bottlenose dolphin Kauai & Niihau
0 3,230 Bottlenose dolphin Oahu
0 1,129 Bottlenose dolphin 4-Island
0 260 Bottlenose dolphin Hawaii
0 2,287 False killer whale † Hawaii Pelagic
0 1,256 False killer whale † Main Hawaiian Islands Insular †
0 837 False killer whale † Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
9 85,193 Fraser’s dolphin Hawaiian
0 236 Killer whale Eastern North Pacific Offshore
0 438 Killer whale Eastern North Pacific Transient/West Coast Transient
0 279 Killer whale Hawaiian
34 805,063 Long-beaked common dolphin California
0 7,678 Melon-headed whale Hawaiian Islands
0 1,119 Melon-headed whale Kohala Resident
22 280,066 Northern right whale dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
14 213,380 Pacific white-sided dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 9,568 Pantropical spotted dolphin Hawaii Island
0 24,805 Pantropical spotted dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0 1,349 Pantropical spotted dolphin Oahu
0 2,513 Pantropical spotted dolphin 4-Island
0 18,347 Pygmy killer whale Hawaiian
0 1,928 Pygmy killer whale Tropical
24 339,334 Risso’s dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 19,027 Risso’s dolphin Hawaiian
0 14,851 Rough-toothed dolphin Hawaiian
0 0 Rough-toothed dolphin NSD
304 3,795,732 Short-beaked common dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 6,253 Short-finned pilot whale California, Oregon, & Washington
0 29,269 Short-finned pilot whale Hawaiian
0 1,394 Spinner dolphin Hawaii Island
0 9,534 Spinner dolphin Hawaii Pelagic
0 9,277 Spinner dolphin Kauai & Niihau
0 1,987 Spinner dolphin Oahu & 4-Island
20 371,328 Striped dolphin California, Oregon, & Washington
0 16,270 Striped dolphin Hawaiian
478 115,353 Dall’s porpoise California, Oregon, & Washington
36 334,332 California sea lion U.S
0 6,167 Guadalupe fur seal Mexico
7 36,921 Northern fur seal California
12 15,898 Harbor seal California
0 372 Hawaiian monk seal Hawaiian
187 151,754 Northern elephant seal California
1,598 potentially lethal 7,187,158 disturbed/displaced during Training Exercises
Changing ocean conditions are impacting everything in the Navy permit area (and beyond)
from plankton to blue whales (the graphic is from NOAA).
If the Makah tribe is allowed to resume hunting gray whales we stand to lose much more than the animals that they kill, for surely this will further divide our country along racial and cultural lines. It may lift the lid on a simmering pot of conflicting world views – do we cling to the past and the old way of relating to nature, or do we move forward and learn to respect the lives of other sentient beings? History tells us that this would be a big mistake.
In 1999, The LA Times reported on the only legal gray whale hunt in 70 years;
“Death threats, obscene telephone calls and racist venom in response to the Makah Indian Tribe’s first whale hunt in decades have shocked religious leaders here, who called for tolerance and respect…Makah officials say the tribe at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula has received hundreds of threatening calls. On the Internet, a Web site made to look like the official Makah site was posted, but with anti-whaling and anti-Makah words and pictures.”
In 2007 the Seattle Times reported on an illegal, rogue, and ultimately cruel hunt by five tribal members who apparently had grown weary over court battles to kill more whales.
Five Makah Nation members harpooned and shot a gray whale east of Neah Bay on Saturday morning, shocking environmentalists and tribal leaders alike. The whale died less than 12 hours later, sinking while heading out to sea.
The move short-circuited years of wrangling in the courts over whaling by the tribe, which hunted its first whale in 70 years in 1999.
A marine biologist who works for the Makah pronounced the whale dead at 7:15 p.m., U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Shawn Eggert said. The whale went under about a mile from Cape Flattery, and did not resurface. The Coast Guard, following the whale at a distance of 500 yards, saw that buoys attached to the harpoon stopped moving.
The Coast Guard took the five rogue whalers into custody and turned them over to Makah tribal police for further questioning around 6 p.m. Saturday.
“Their fate will ultimately be decided by the tribe,” Eggert said.
The hunt wasn’t authorized by the tribal council or by the federal government.
“I don’t know why they did this. It’s terrible,” said John McCarty who, as a former member of the tribe’s whaling commission, has been an advocate of the Makah Nation’s right to resume whaling under an 1855 treaty.
Ultimately we will all have to abide by governmental decisions and honor the whales that are lost, but it will be easier to do if the tribe shows that this is truly a religious rite.
(NOAA media release below).
The Makah Tribe of Washington could hunt and land up to two gray whales on average per year over a 10-year period for ceremonial and subsistence purposes under a proposal that NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region announced today.
The proposal does not yet allow the Makah Tribe to begin hunting whales but moves the Tribe closer to that longstanding goal. An administrative law judge must first conduct a hearing, currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 12, 2019, to review the NOAA Fisheries proposal and make a recommendation to Chris Oliver, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. Interested parties may request to participate in that hearing. Oliver would then make a final decision on whether to authorize the Makah Tribe to hunt gray whales.
If the Tribe is authorized to hunt gray whales, the Tribe would then need to apply for a permit, which would be subject to public notice and comment.
“We are moving forward carefully, and deliberately, to support the Tribe’s treaty rights while we also fully consider the potential impacts on the whales and protect their populations,” said Chris Yates, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.
Through the 1855 Treaty of Neah Bay between the Makah Tribe and the U.S. government, the Tribe reserved “the right of taking fish and of whaling or sealing at usual and accustomed grounds and stations.” The Tribe has sought since the 1990s to exercise that right, long a centerpiece of tribal culture. A federal court determined in 2002 that the Tribe must first apply for a waiver of the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s (MMPA) take moratorium, which prohibits killing whales and other marine mammals.
In 2005 the Tribe sought a waiver of the MMPA, as the courts required. NOAA Fisheries has since evaluated the request through a 2015 Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which attracted hundreds of public comments on all sides.
NOAA Fisheries’ action today proposes to waive the MMPA take moratorium to allow the Makah to hunt gray whales from the healthy and fully recovered Eastern North Pacific (ENP) population of gray whales, which today numbers about 27,000. The most recent stock assessment for ENP gray whales found in 2014 that up to 624 gray whales could be removed from the population each year without affecting its long-term sustainability.
The proposal would allow the Tribe to land up to three ENP gray whales in even-numbered years and one whale in odd-numbered years – less than the four whales per year on average that the Makah Tribe sought. The limits and other restrictions reduce the already remote possibility of Makah hunters encountering gray whales from the endangered Western North Pacific population that feed near Russia and occasionally migrate to the ENP. The limits also help protect a group of ENP gray whales that feed in and around the Makah Tribe’s hunting and fishing grounds in summer and return to the area on a regular basis.
“We have examined this proposal from every angle and have developed hunting regulations that provide for public safety, protect the gray whale populations, and respect the Makah Tribe’s treaty rights and culture,” Yates said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Proposed waiver and hunt regulations
Chronology of Makah hunting proposal
Frequently asked questions
It should be noted that an earlier assessment of this “adaptation center” was conducted exactly a month prior (on December 19, 2018), with the help of other specialized experts. It had been organized by the Primorsky Office of the Investigative Committee of Russia, which then reported that all animals were in good condition—although the number of beluga whales was three less than earlier reported. The December assessment claimed that nothing was threatening the life or health of the remaining whales. The same representatives of this Investigative Committee also noted that the bay, in which the animal enclosures are located, does not freeze over in winter.
PRELIMINARY RESULTS OF AN EXPERT EXAMINATION OF ORCAS AND BELUGAS HELD IN THE “ADAPTATION CENTER” AT SREDNYAYA BAY
January 24, 2019. At the end of last week a team led by the local Border (Coast) Guard Service of the Federal Security Bureau (FSB) of Russia went out to assess the “center for the adaptation of marine mammals” in Srednyaya Bay, near Nakhodka (in Primorsky Krai)—a site that is better known as the “whale jail”. Leading Russian experts in the fields of biology, ecology, veterinary medicine, and cetacean behavior in captivity were also involved in this team.
In their rush to judgement and to take bold actions to save the endangered Southern Resident orcas, Governor Inslee’s Task Force voted to approve a flawed document that calls for killing sea lions and ending whale watching from boats. Long term measures to recover salmon and improve water quality were well thought out but there are no measures in place to get more fish to the whales in the short term.
The organizers who ran the task force did an amazing job and were cognizant of their responsibility to the public. But if they saw what those of us in the public chairs or watching the live stream saw yesterday, they might have put more constraints on some of the other task force members who wandered around and talked among themselves at times instead of dialing into the work at hand. The morning session can be found below, the beginning of the vessel discussion starts at the 2:23:00 mark and finishes in the afternoon session which is not available at this time. [Update: both sessions are now available].
The end result was an 11th hour push to severely curtail and finally to eliminate the presence of watching boats around the Resident orcas for 3 – 5 years.
There are two main problems with this. First, they bent their own rules of order by introducing major changes at this stage and second, they failed to provide conclusive science on how removing the boats entirely is more effective than limiting the speed, distance, or time the boats are with the whales. The only reference I heard quoted combined the whale watching vessels with all commercial vessels – it’s not just unfair to address only the whale watch boats, it’s bad science.
If these measures are allowed to work their way through the legislative process unchallenged, the number of people who have an opportunity to see the orcas will be curtailed and many will seek out shore-based opportunities when visiting the San Juans – but those places have limited parking and can’t accommodate many people.
And anyway, what they’ll see is still-hungry whales going extinct – albeit in quieter water. There were no bold actions to honor treaty rights and take down the obsolete Snake River dams, which would have been the quickest way to build salmon populations.
Orcas Island resident and State Senator Kevin Ranker, who lobbied for (and helped write) the proposed vessel regulations issued this statement:
“I am proud of the hard work, discussion and analysis we have put into these bold recommendations working toward recovery of the orca. The Task Force has worked very hard over the last six months developing major recommendations for the state to implement.
“We are recommending critical actions to protect and recover these magnificent creatures by reducing the risk of oil spills through banning offshore oil drilling, mandating tug escorts for all vessels transporting oil, and stationing an emergency rescue tug in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca that can respond when a vessel is in distress.
“Additionally, the task force boldly recommended we protect the whales from vessel impacts through a suspension of whale watching of the southern residents, a new limited entry permit system for all commercial whale watching.
“Also, we are dramatically increasing protections for critical near shore habitat for forage fish, salmon, and whales.
“This report is just the first step. Our work is not finished, it has just begun. Implementation is critical as these recommendations go before the governor and Legislature. I pledge to work hard with my colleagues in the Legislature to enact bold policy to permanently protect our resident orcas.
“Now we must all unite to ensure these recommendations become law, so our children and grandchildren can experience that total sense of awe as they see a healthy and thriving southern resident orca population in our Salish Sea.”
The patience and equanimity of the NOAA officials was impressive at the recent public meetings that were held to discuss the status of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales. After sharing details, the staff opened the mic to the public – NOAA was there to listen, and listen they did as the public poured out concerns, demands, and judgments primarily on the lack of sufficient salmon and on the presence of SeaWorld in the medical treatment given to the now deceased orca calf, Scarlet (J50).
Wild salmon and captive cetaceans are only partly under NOAA’s authority so a few details may have escaped mention during the meetings.
SeaWorld has more than earned their place as the captivity whipping boy, and they deserve the huge pit of costly reparations that need to be made to save the endangered Southern Resident orcas.
But the Salish Sea is an unofficial sanctuary where captures and harming of almost everything that swims there is either regulated or protected. As the result of a lawsuit, SeaWorld is specifically forbidden from participating in captures or keeping a whale taken from Washington State waters. They were run out of Alaska when they tried there, and British Columbia, Canada also gave them the boot.
Does the fact that SeaWorld contributed to the whale population loss mean that SeaWorld shouldn’t help fix the situation? Of course not – that would be like preferring to die over being saved by a doctor because of ethnicity, religion, or gender bias. Whether we like it or not, SeaWorld has expertise in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation and regularly saves the lives of the whales and dolphins that turn up on our shores.
NOAA’s jurisdiction over salmon is complicated, in part thanks to President Nixon’s feud decades ago with his Secretary of the Interior. Nixon put the newly created National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) under the purview of the Department of Commerce instead of the Interior:
From Science Magazine:
President Barack Obama today confirmed the rumored political shenanigans surrounding the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) 4 decades ago.
Give you a few examples. There are five different entities dealing with housing. There are more than a dozen agencies dealing with food safety. My favorite example—which I mentioned in last year’s State of the Union address—as it turns out, the Interior Department is in charge of salmon in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in saltwater. (Laughter.) If you’re wondering what the genesis of this was, apparently, it had something to do with President Nixon being unhappy with his Interior Secretary for criticizing him about the Vietnam War. And so he decided not to put NOAA in what would have been a more sensible place.
NOAA has done the best conceivable job in the effort to save Scarlet, and while they work with SeaWorld the language NOAA uses in the discussions is straightforward and to the point.
It may be belated, but NOAA has stepped up to the plate.
Great news – on September 10th Senator Murray and other senators quietly announced that the ongoing legislative effort to protect salmon-killing and unneeded dams that passed in the House basically died an ignoble death in the Senate.
From Save Our Wild Salmon:
As a result of our/your collective work, politics and policy in the Northwest is shifting. Kudos are especially due to Senator Patty Murray who led this regional fight to stop the Salmon Extinction Act (HR 3144) and Rider (Section 506). Senator Murray recognized these bills for what they were: harmful to salmon and harmful to regional processes and discussions occurring today to address the problems that face salmon, orca and Northwest communities. HR 3144 and Section 506 are both highly divisive to the Northwest communities that must work together on shared solutions to common problems. Thanks and praise are also due to other key elected officials who worked vigilantly to prevent these bills from becoming law, including Reps. Adam Smith, Pramila Jayapal, Earl Blumenauer, Derek Kilmer, Denny Heck, and others.
Importantly, when HR 3144 came to the House floor for a vote, all the Democratic lawmakers in Oregon and Washington voted the right way – against it – with one exception – Rep. Kurt Schrader from Oregon.
From Senator Murray’s website:
“The future of the Columbia River is critically important to the Pacific Northwest economy and to our way of life, which is why I have long insisted that we keep politics and partisanship out of this and allow the ongoing legal process to play out. I am glad this deal does exactly that. Nothing in this report, and nothing in the bill itself, would insert Congress or partisan politics into the process or would interfere with the court-mandated comprehensive review that everyone can participate in and accounts for all uses of our river system.
“Throughout this process, it has been and will continue to be important that we make sure scientific questions remain in the hands of scientists and not politicians. I continue to stand ready to work with any Republicans who are willing to work with me to forge consensus around these important Pacific Northwest issues and not just politicize the process, facts, and science.
Saving these whales is going to take all of us working together but Congress can do the most when it comes to turning things around quickly. Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research thinks we have only 5 more years to turn the salmon famine around before the whale population won’t be able to rebound.
He also thinks that a few of the orcas are pregnant…and they need food now.
A recent Navy-funded research paper on Cuvier’s beaked whales and military sonar reveals that in one location these whales have learned coping strategies to avoid ship-mounted sonar – but those strategies can only go so far to protect them.
The whales’ behavior is nuanced and more complex than previously known, which demonstrates their remarkable intelligence and adaptability.
The longest deep dive in this study, lasting 163 min, occurred while the whale was intermittently exposed to mid-power MFAS at distances of 8–12 km.
While it may be possible for a whale to avoid conducting a deep dive while a surface ship is nearby, the same is not true for helicopters, which acoustically may appear without warning. Surface ships typically broadcast MFAS for extended periods while moving; thus whales probably know roughly where the ship is when exposure begins and how the ship’s position is changing through time, and can use this knowledge to mediate their response.
Helicopters deploy MFAS from a hover in bouts generally lasting under 20 min, moving rapidly between sequential deployments in an unpredictable pattern, and thus whales may react more strongly to these sudden, close-range exposures even though their duration of use and source level (217 dB) are generally well below those of a ship’s MFAS (235 dB) . The difference in these responses underscores the importance of how the source is used, in addition to sound levels (source or received) and distance, in predicting whale behaviour, particularly for whales that are probably familiar with both MFAS types.
This study suggests that while these whales recognize Navy vessels and have adopted a suite of behaviors to avoid the sonar, they may be impacted by the unpredictable nature of aerial sonar. Long term, the avoidance behaviors may accumulate into loss of sustainability.
The paper is publicly available online, below is the abstract. Diving behaviour of Cuvier’s beaked whales exposed to two types of military sonar:
Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) have stranded in association with mid-frequency active sonar (MFAS) use, and though the causative mechanism linking these events remains unclear, it is believed to be behaviourally mediated. To determine whether MFAS use was associated with behavioural changes in this species, satellite tags were used to record the diving and movements of 16 Cuvier’s beaked whales for up to 88 days in a region of frequent MFAS training off the coast of Southern California.
Tag data were combined with summarized records of concurrent bouts of high-power, surface-ship and mid-power, helicopter-deployed MFAS use, along with other potential covariates, in generalized additive mixed-effects models. Deep dives, shallow dives and surface intervals tended to become longer during MFAS use, with some variation associated with the total amount of overlapping MFAS during the behaviour.
These changes in dives and surface intervals contributed to a longer interval between deep dives, a proxy for foraging disruption in this species.
Most responses intensified with proximity and were more pronounced during mid-power than high-power MFAS use at comparable distances within approximately 50 km, despite the significantly lower source level of mid-power MFAS.
However, distance-mediated responses to high-power MFAS, and increased deep dive intervals during mid-power MFAS, were evident up to approximately 100 km away.
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Whaleopedia)
As a result of similar research, the Navy is asking for your opinion on changes that are planned in the training areas off the Pacific Coast states. They are proposing changes to the environmental impact statements that are required for them to detonate explosives during practice sessions, and will consider new data (such as more accurate measures of marine mammal hearing levels) – there is even the option to scrap the practices altogether, although the latter is unlikely given the saber-rattling going on in the world at this time.
In California and Oregon the changes will only apply outside of state waters, but in Washington they will include inland waterways such as Puget Sound.
The question is, are these proposed changes good or bad for the whales and dolphins that live in these waters? At this point the Navy continues to practice maneuvers in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and Navy sonar is so loud around the San Juan Islands that it can drown out the calls of the orcas on the hydrophones put in place to monitor whales.
The Navy is dedicated to keeping us safe from enemies at our shores, and they are also answerable for needless destruction caused by the need to practice – a tricky balancing act…but they are trying.
Below is the basic information on the Navy’s planned changes.
In the supplement to the 2015 Final EIS/OEIS, the Navy will analyze training and testing activities within the Study Area. The Study Area remains unchanged since the 2015 Final EIS/OEIS and includes:
KEY UPDATES TO THE 2015 FINAL Training and Testing Final Environmental Impact Statement/Overseas Environmental Impact Statement (EIS/OEIS ) and why it needs your input on proposed supplemental information. (Comments can be submitted here).
Training and testing activities proposed in the Supplemental Statements are generally consistent with those activities analyzed in the 2015 Final Statement and earlier environmental planning documents.
Below are some key updates to be made. In the Supplemental Statement, the Navy will:
• Include a No Action Alternative in which proposed training and testing activities would not be conducted and Marine Mammal Protection Act authorization would not be issued by National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)
• Include analyses of increases in testing of some new vessels and weapons systems, and decreases in other testing activities
• Include analyses of both increases and decreases in the annual occurrence of certain activities
• Recategorize or rename some testing activities to be consistent with Navy testing activity categories
• Include improved acoustic models, updated marine mammal and sea turtle densities, and updated marine species criteria and thresholds based on NMFS’s 2016 guidance
• Use the most current and best available science and analytical methods
• Review procedural mitigations, where appropriate, and consider geographic mitigation, where applicable
The Supplemental Statement will include an analysis of training and testing activities using new information available after the release of the 2015 Final Statement. New information includes an updated acoustic effects model, updated marine mammal density data, and evolving and emergent best available science. As part of this process, the Navy will seek the issuance of federal regulatory permits and authorizations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act to support ongoing and future at-sea military readiness activities within the Study Area beyond 2020.
The 30-day scoping comment period begins Aug. 22, 2017 through Sept. 21, 2017. Comments must be postmarked or received online by Sept. 21, 2017 for consideration in the development of the Draft Supplemental EIS/OEIS. Comments may be submitted online at www.NWTTEIS.com, or by mail to:
Naval Facilities Engineering Command Northwest
Attention: NWTT Supplemental EIS/OEIS Project Manager
3730 North Charles Porter Ave., Building 385
Oak Harbor, WA 98278-3500
It’s game-on for offshore drilling in the Atlantic, and it will wreak havoc
Once big oil gets its hooks into the Atlantic seabed there will be no turning back, no way to unwind that clock. Even if they never cause a spill or erect a rig, untold damage will happen to marine life, from the tiniest organisms (see Seismic surveys now proven to kill zooplankton…there goes your crab dinner) to the great whales. And they can’t wait to get started.
The following stranding event caused by ExxonMobil in 2008 is a prime example of the deadly impact of oil exploration.
The story started on a typically breezy and hot day near the mouth of a lagoon on the island nation of Madagascar. Two small whales had beached and died, their gleaming bodies still fresh enough to be eaten by the astonished villagers who carried them off.
But that was just the beginning – the brackish and turbid water of the the Loza Lagoon began to fill with panicked whales swimming desperately away from the ocean world they knew. By the afternoon the deep ocean dwelling melon-headed whales had traveled 65 kilometers (40 miles) inland.
Slowly the lost and confused whales began to die. Amid the tangled mangroves, mudflats and on narrow beaches their skin blistered and their body temperature rose until death came as a reprieve. Impoverished villagers caught and ate an unknown number. Of the estimated 100 -200 melon-headed whales that entered the lagoon only a handful were known to survive, despite a dedicated rescue attempt.
Finally, after nearly a month, four whales were seen leaving the lagoon and heading out to sea.
What had caused the mayhem? After years of meticulous study scientists concluded that the culprit could be summed up in one word: Sonar.
Earsplitting, terrifyingly loud and relentless, the sound had bounced off the underwater cliffs and canyons in the deep ocean. It drove the whales out of their familiar habitat with nowhere to escape until they sought refuge in the lagoon death trap.
It turned out that ExxonMobil and partners were mapping the ocean floor along the coast prior to doing seismic surveys for oil when the stranding occurred, using the type of sonar employed by the navy that had caused the deaths of whales in the Bahamas in 2000. In War of the Whales, author Joshua Horwitz carefully documents the Bahamas strandings but until the sad event in Madagascar no one had be able to document that the private sector – big oil – similarly destroyed marine life.
There is no way to know how many other species were affected and/or died in the ocean or at other remote locations during this one sonar mapping fiasco. And it was expensive – the investments by the scientific community, local officials, and rescue organizations were deep, and because the local population of Madagascar feasted on the toxic meat of the freakishly out of place whales they may experience health consequences.
In the end the whale deaths were for nothing: ExxonMobil and its partners just didn’t find a significant enough puddle of oil hidden under the seafloor to be worthwhile.
And now big oil is poised to repeat their activities off the Atlantic coast of the US. Marine life will have to endure various seismic challenges, from the sonar that drove the melon-headed whales to seek safety where the noise couldn’t penetrate (but for which they were not adapted to survive), to the repeated nearly year long pounding of seismic noise.
These steps will guide you through the commenting process
NOAA Fisheries wants the public to weigh in on this – the oil companies can’t operate seismic surveys unless they get permits from the energy bureau, and the energy bureau won’t issue permits unless NOAA is satisfied that existing restrictions are met.
But remember, NOAA will NOT consider comments other than as specified. “We will only consider comments that are relevant to marine mammal species that occur in U.S. waters of the Mid- and South Atlantic and the potential effects of geophysical survey activities on those species and their habitat.”
Natural and anthropogenic ocean noise recorded at long-term and temporary observatories
High suckling rates and acoustic crypsis of humpback whale neonates maximise potential for mother–calf energy transfer
Cetacean sightings and acoustic detections during a seismic survey off Nicaragua and Costa Rica, November-December 2004
Nowhere to go: noise impact assessments for marine mammal populations with high site fidelity
Having removed the protections against drilling along the Atlantic Coast put in place by then President Obama, the Trump administration is trying to push NOAA Fisheries to use the old, lower standards for sound levels rather than the new standards that were set to start this year. And they want the permits to be expedited so that the oil companies can start the seismic surveys as soon as possible.
From Trump’s executive order “Implementing an America-First Offshore Energy Strategy”
“Sec. 9. Expedited Consideration of Incidental Harassment Authorizations, Incidental-Take, and Seismic Survey Permits. The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Commerce shall, to the maximum extent permitted by law, expedite all stages of consideration of Incidental Take Authorization requests, including Incidental Harassment Authorizations and Letters of Authorization, and Seismic Survey permit applications under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, 43 U.S.C. 1331 et seq., and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.
Sec. 10. Review of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55. The Secretary of Commerce shall review NOAA’s Technical Memorandum NMFS-OPR-55 of July 2016 (Technical Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic Sound on Marine Mammal Hearing)… take all steps permitted by law to rescind or revise that guidance, if appropriate.