Canadian court sides with orca protection and Indigenous sovereignty; major setback for Trans Canada pipeline

August 30, 2018

Today, August 30, 2018 Greenpeace USA responded to a Canadian court’s ruling that the Canadian government did not properly assess the impact that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project could have on the survival of the endangered Southern Resident Orca, including the threat posed by a seven-fold increase in oil tanker ship traffic through the orcas’ habitat. The court also ruled that Indigenous people in British Columbia were not properly consulted before the project was approved by Canada’s government. The decisions represent a major setback for the expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and its prospects of being completed.

In response, Greenpeace USA Tar Sands Campaigner Rachel Rye Butler said:

“Today’s decision is a major win for Indigenous Nations and for the environment. It has long been obvious that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project violates Indigenous sovereignty and would cause irreparable harm to our environment and the health of people; while threatening the extinction of the Southern Resident orca. It’s time to pull the plug on this project once and for all.

“Today’s ruling gives Canada a chance to walk away from this disastrous and costly project and we encourage Prime Minister Trudeau to do so. The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project is once again facing delay and uncertainty, making it all the more perplexing why the Canadian government would continue to push forward a pipeline that does not have consent from the Indigenous Nations whose land it crosses, and that threatens the climate and coastal economies.

“It’s not surprising that 99 percent of Kinder Morgan Canada’s shareholders voted today to officially sell the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project to the Canadian government. In what can only be viewed as a bailout to the company, the Canadian government bought the project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion earlier this year as the company was looking to unload the beleaguered pipeline.

“Today’s decision is a testament to the power of people and the strength of the Indigenous-led movement against the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project. People will continue to resist until this toxic pipeline is cancelled for good.”

Greenpeace USA recently released a report documenting the threat that the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project poses to local communities along the Pacific Coast, including the potential extinction of the Southern Resident orca. That is why the organization has called for Washington Governor Jay Inslee and his Orca Task Force to take bold action on the scale of implementing an emergency moratorium on all new fossil fuel tanker traffic through the orcas’ habitat until the Southern Resident population is stabilized.

Earlier this year, energy company Kinder Morgan decided to abandon the Trans Mountain pipeline and are planning to sell it to the Canadian government after it faced, among other obstacles, an overwhelming wave of protests and negative press across Canada and in the Pacific Northwest United States.

Source: San Juan

Beached killer whale rescued from Argentina beach

August 27, 2018

A killer whale that washed up on an Argentina beach was returned to the ocean at the end of a nearly 20-hour rescue effort.

Marine rescue charity Fundacion Mundo Marino dispatched a team of rescuers Friday night to work together with the Argentine Naval Prefecture and Civil Defense after the orca was found beached in Nueva Atlantis.

The rescuers said they worked to straighten the whale to prevent its blowhole from going below the water, which could have led to the animal drowning.

The groups worked for nearly 20 hours before successfully returning the killer whale to the ocean.

To watch VIDEO of the rescue visit the Source

Emaciated orca to be given de-wormer after lab test

August 20, 2018

An emaciated J-pod orca will be given de-wormer and an antibiotic to help with a possible parasite infestation.

NOAA released lab results Friday from fecal samples collected last weekend from the ailing J-50, also known as Scarlet, and two other orcas in her pod.

Results show moderate levels of a parasite that NOAA said usually isn’t a problem for healthy animals, but in emaciated animals, can penetrate the stomach lining and introduce a bacterial infection into the bloodstream or internal organs.

Although not sure that the sample came from J-50, the veterinary team has updated her treatment plan to include de-wormer and an antibiotic to help rid her of the parasites and possibly gain the weight she’s lost.

Researchers said the pod was still out in the ocean by Vancouver Island and they couldn’t reach it safely.

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other partners will continue to watch for the J-pod’s return to the Salish Sea, so researchers can carry out their plan, according to KOMO News.

Also on Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee’s task force on the plight of the southern resident orcas released new recommendations for boaters.

The guidelines say that depth finders, fish finders and other tools that emit frequencies that interfere with the orcas’ ability to find salmon should be turned to 200-kHz setting. If using a single-frequency, 50khz depth sounder, boaters are asked to turn it off except when it is needed for safe navigation because orcas are especially sensitive to that frequency,

Slower speeds

They also ask boaters to slow down and avoid creating a wake within sight of orcas.

The governor’s task force is expected to submit a more comprehensive list of recommendations by Oct. 1.

Source: Peninsula Daily News

Lab results prompt updated treatment plan for ailing orca J50

August 18, 2018

Whale researchers are updating J50’s treatment plan after the return of lab results confirming the possibility of a parasite.

The team of whale experts closely monitoring an ailing Southern Resident orca in northwest waters passed another hurdle in their efforts to save the sick whale.

J50, the 3 ½-year-old whale, has lost 20 percent of her body mass and developed a depression near the base of her skull, which indicates severe fat loss and malnutrition. Crews already injected J50 with antibiotics on August 9.

Last weekend, researchers collected fecal samples from J16, J42, and J50.

Lab results released by NOAA Friday determined at least one of the whales has a parasite which can harm a weakened or emaciated whale.

Out of caution, NOAA is updating J50’s treatment plan to include a de-wormer to fight parasites and help reduce bacterial infection.

“The worm is not usually a problem in healthy animals. But for animals that are emaciated or otherwise compromised, the parasite can penetrate the stomach lining, introducing bacterial infection to the bloodstream, or it can bore into internal organs,” NOAA tweeted Friday.

Scientists and the Lummi Nation deployed live salmon to J50 off the coast of San Juan Island on August 12.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said strong currents kept them from being able to tell if J50 ate any of the eight fish deployed, but logistically, the operation was a success.

“This has never been tried before, and there were a lot of potential things that could go awry, so we were very pleased,” said Brad Hanson, a NOAA Fisheries wildlife biologist.

The priority remains to help J50 regain lost weight. On Friday, the pod was still in open waters off Vancouver Island and beyond the reach of response teams.

NOAA will continue to publish updates on Southern Resident killer whales here.


Video: Team attempts to feed live salmon to ailing orca

August 14, 2018

Researchers attempted to release live salmon for orca J50, “Scarlet,” to eat Sunday. The fish were dosed with medication. It is unclear, however, if the orca took the fish.

According to NOAA Fisheries West Coast:

#J50/Scarlet Update: Favorable conditions on Sunday (8/12) allowed the teams to proceed with an experimental live fish release off the west side of San Juan Island to evaluate the process as a way to treat J50/Scarlet with medication and supplements. Under the direction of Jeff Foster with the The Whale Sanctuary Project, a Lummi Nation vessel released eight live hatchery salmon about 75 to 150 yards in front of J50/Scarlet, while teams observed from NOAA Fisheries and Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (WDFW) vessels. While she appeared to react to the released fish by quickly diving, biologists could not confirm from the vessels whether she took the fish, and they are now reviewing aerial footage for further clues. J50/Scarlet socialized with members of J Pod, at one point surrounded by a cluster of other whales, but did sometimes fall behind in the strong current. The whales appear headed back west toward the open ocean this morning (8/13), with teams standing by for further sightings. Researchers collected a fecal sample from the pod but could not confirm whether it was from J50 herself. Fecal samples can reveal whether the whales are eating, what they are eating, provide clues about their health, and gauge their stress levels by evaluating hormones such as cortisol.

NOAA says researchers spent several hours observing J50 on Saturday off San Juan Island.

The 3-year-old orca spent time swimming with her family — the J pod — while University of Washington researchers collected a fecal sample. The team reported the whale saw her fall about a half-mile behind in a strong tidal current. Biologists were concerned they didn’t see her eat, even in a prime foraging area.  However, a charter company reported seeing her catching a fish earlier in the day.

The Center for Whale Research reports J35 is no longer carrying her calf and appears to be in good condition.

“J35 frolicked past my window today with other J pod whales, and she looks vigorous and healthy,” Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, told The Seattle Times.

Balcomb also reported to KIRO Radio that J50 looked skinnier than ever, even being able to see the outline of her skull. That said, she appeared to be energetic and attempting to eat salmon.

On Friday, NOAA reported J50 appeared active and energetic in Canadian waters.

The orca repeatedly dove and surfaced where the J pod was feeding. However, they couldn’t tell whether J50 also fed, but they collected scale samples to help them determine which kind of salmon the whales had eaten.

On Thursday, J50 was given antibiotics via a dart as she and her pod entered U.S. waters near the San Juan Islands.

Researchers were also able to obtain a breath sample to further assess the orca’s health and determine if the calf has an infection. It is among a handful of tests they are running. It will take up to a week to get results. After ruling out respiratory diseases as causes of her condition, they are now focusing how well the orca is eating.

NOAA said Friday it expected to get a closer look again on Sunday when weather conditions allow.

Source: My

Grieving orca abandons body of her dead calf after a weeks-long journey

August 11, 2018

A grieving orca was spotted off the coast of Washington state Thursday, carrying her dead calf through the Pacific Ocean for the 17th day in a journey that has astonished and devastated much of the world.

Tahlequah, as the mother has come to be called, gave birth on July 25 in what should have been a happy milestone for her long-suffering clan.

As Allyson Chiu wrote for The Washington Post, the pod of killer whales that roams between Vancouver and San Juan Island has dwindled to 75 members over the decades. The cause is no mystery: Humans have netted up the whales’ salmon, driven ships through their hunting lanes and polluted their water, to the point that researchers fear Tahlequah’s generation may be the last of her family.

The 400-pound, orange-tinted baby that wriggled out of her that morning was the first live birth in the pod since 2015, Chiu wrote. It lived about half an hour.

People love to anthropomorphize animals, often fallaciously. But studies have found that orcas really do possess high levels of intelligence and empathy, and emotions that may not be totally alien to our own.

So, when Tahlequah did not let her emaciated calf sink to the bottom of the Pacific, but rather balanced it on her head and pushed it along as she followed her pod, researchers thought they understood what was happening.

“You cannot interpret it any other way,” Deborah Giles, a killer whale biologist with the University of Washington, told Chiu. “This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn’t want to let it go. She’s not ready.”

That was the beginning of a long funeral procession. “The hours turned into days,” Chiu wrote two days after the death. “And on Thursday she was still seen pushing her baby to the water’s surface.”

And still the next day, and through the weekend, and into the next week and next month.

The act itself was not unprecedented, but researchers said it was rare to see a mother carry her dead for so long. It couldn’t have been easy for her. Tahlequah’s pod travels dozens of miles in a day, Chiu wrote, and she pushed her baby’s hundreds of pounds every inch of the way. She was forever picking up the body as it sank, hoisting it out of the water to take a breath, and repeating.

Researchers with the Canadian and U.S. governments and other organizations tracked her all the while, the Seattle Times wrote. They hoped to capture the calf once Tahlequah finally let go, and discover why it had died — as nearly all the babies in this pod seemed to die.

But Tahlequah would not let go. Eventually, researchers stopped calling what they were witnessing “rare” and began using the word “unprecedented.”

And the phenomenon was no longer of purely scientific interest.

People wrote poems about Tahlequah, and drew pictures. People lost sleep thinking about the whale. A scientist cried thinking of her. Tahlequah inspired politicians and essayists – and a sense of interspecies kinship in some mothers who had also lost children.

And still, Tahlequah carried her child. The world’s interest in her feat finally grew to encompass her whole family.

This week, the Times wrote, biologists and government officials began working on a plan to save the youngest living member of Talhequah’s pod — a 3-year-old orca that appears to be on the brink of starvation. They’re now tracking the young whale — Scarlet — in an attempt to feed her antibiotic-laced salmon.

In that sense, maybe, Tahlequah’s doomed calf did bring new hope to the pod, which had previously swam and struggled in near anonymity.

At the same time, the mother’s obsession has become gravely concerning to researchers. The effort of pushing her calf — for about 1,000 miles by now — is probably making her weak and keeping her from finding enough food.

“Even if her family is foraging for and sharing fish with her,” Giles told the Times this week, the whale “cannot be getting the . . . nutrition she needs to regain any body-mass loss that would have naturally occurred during the gestation of her fetus.”

The scientists have ruled out attempting to force her to give up the calf, according to the Times. Her emotional bond is simply too strong.

All they can do is hope Tahlequah decides to do so herself before long. Whenever she’s ready.

Source: National

Teams trying to save ailing orca practice feeding live fish

August 11, 2018

eams taking drastic measures to save a young, ailing killer whale loaded up two boats with fat live salmon as the sun rose Friday and rushed to waters off Washington state’s San Juan Island, preparing if needed to test-feed the critically endangered orca a day after injecting it with medicine.

By early afternoon, it appeared the 3½-year-old female orca called J50 was too far north in Canadian waters and any trial feeding effort would not happen, Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is leading response efforts in the field, told reporters out on the water.

For now, the unprecedented attempt to feed live salmon to a free-swimming killer whale would have to wait.

The team led by the U.S. agency lacks a permit to feed the whale, which is emaciated and possibly suffering an infection, in Canadian waters, though it had one for medical treatment. NOAA would apply for the feeding permit if conditions are right, said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries’ recovery coordinator for the whales.

The agency wants to see whether it can deliver medication to the whale through live Chinook salmon but first needs to test whether the orca will take its preferred food source.

With the whale far away and a bin full of salmon pulled that morning from a state hatchery, crews did a practice run to work out the logistics of feeding live fish to a whale while staying ahead of it in a boat. One by one, crews aboard a boat belonging to the Lummi Nation, an American Indian tribe, sent the plump salmon into a turquoise tube and then into the water.

Researchers with the Whale Sanctuary Project practiced taking samples of fish scales so they can later genetically track whether the whale consumed that fish. A King County research vessel drove alongside, also carrying fish, to provide support.

The orca was given a dose of antibiotics from a dart Thursday, and Marty Haulena, head veterinarian at Vancouver Aquarium, who got a close look at J50. He said the whale is incredibly skinny but was swimming well and there were no obvious signs of abnormality with her skin. It wasn’t clear whether she had been eating.

“I do stress this is a very thin whale,” Haulena said, noting that others in the same condition have not survived.

J50 is breathing normally, taking deep dives and keeping up with her group, so respiratory disease is not as high of a concern, he said. He and others followed the whale on the water for about six hours Thursday and got a breath sample to analyze whether she might have bacteria or fungus in her airway.

Sheila Thornton, lead killer whale scientist with Fisheries Oceans Canada, said the whale looks more like a 2-year-old though it has always been small for her age. She is deteriorating, and scientists are not seeing improvements in a loss of tissue behind her head, Thornton said.

The young whale is one of just 75 of the fish-eating orcas that frequent the inland waters of Washington state. There hasn’t been a successful birth since 2015. Losing J50 also would mean losing her reproductive potential, Hanson said.

“That’s what this is really all about. The future of the population,” the NOAA biologist said.

The whales face nutritional stress over a lack of Chinook salmon as well as threats from toxic contamination and vessel noise and disturbances.

Another female orca in the same pod has triggered an international outpouring as she clings to the body of her calf that died more than two weeks ago. Scientists are worried about her and will watch her but don’t have plans to help her or remove the calf. She was last seen Thursday still carrying the body.

The last time scientists rescued a killer whale in the region was in 2002, when they rehabilitated an orca known as Springer who was found alone. She returned to her family of whales in Canada later that year and was seen with her calf in 2013.


Orca mother carries dead calf for 17th day as it’s ‘starting to come apart’

August 9, 2018

An orca mother continues to hold on to her dead calf, even as its carcass decomposes on top of her.

Ken Balcomb with the Center for Whale Research said the southern resident orca J35 was spotted Thursday in the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the south shore of Vancouver Island. She was still holding her dead calf, marking day 17 of her “tour of grief.

The baby is starting to fall apart, Balcomb said.

Balcomb speculates J35 will drop her baby soon, after carrying it for more than 1,000 miles. He called the latest updates “macabre.”

J35 was first spotted July 24 carrying the calf on her nose and in her mouth. The calf was only seen alive briefly. By the time biologists from the Center for Whale Research arrived at her side, the calf was dead.

The last time a southern resident birthed a calf that lived more than a few months was L123 in November, 2015.


Grieving Mother Orca Still Carrying Her Dead Calf as Researchers Begin to Fear for Her Health

August 9, 2018

It’s been more than two weeks since a mother orca was first spotted carrying her dead calf off the coast of Seattle, and she shows no signs of stopping in what scientists call an “unprecedented” period of mourning.

On Thursday, researchers with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service said the grieving mother, her calf and their pod were spotted in Canadian waters around 1:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday.

“We’re obviously concerned, and monitoring the situation,” Brad Hanson, a wildlife biologist at NOAA, said during a status call with the media. “We’ve seen this sort of situation before, unfortunately.”

According to Hanson and his fellow experts, the top concern right now is the mother’s desire to forage and feed. The longer she goes without doing either, the greater the chance she’ll lose her foraging abilities.

Dawn Noren, a research biologist at NOAA, said that it’s possible the orca — named J35 — has podmates who’ve been foraging for her and giving her food. The fact that her body was likely prepped for lactation, too, means she has extra lipids in her blubber that will sustain her for a while.

“A female killer whale … could probably fast for about four weeks before it gets into a detrimental state,” Noren said. However, the energy the mother is expending to push the calf is a concern as time goes on. “If this goes further, we might have an issue with her condition,” she added.

The calf died not long after its birth on July 24. As its body fell into the water, the mother hauled it to the surface and began carrying it in on her nose what some scientists call a mourning ritual. One week later, members of her pod were seen taking turns holding the calf.

Much of the observation of J35 is due to the fact that another of her podmates, J50, is ailing, and researchers are trying to intervene with that whale’s medical care. However, human intervention with J35 and her calf is off the table for now.

“Obviously the connection [the pod] has formed with this calf is substantial and is something that we do have to take into account — what or how that might impact the whale from her behavioral state,” Hanson said.

Killer whale research scientist Sheila Thornton said removing the calf would be a “very, very difficult decision” that it would come down to the health of the mother.

“The connections between these animals are very strong, and to remove one from her familial group would have serious repercussions,” she explained. “I think there are many species who do undertake this sort of behavior. They are very intelligent animals, and the loss of this animal is quite profound.”

For now, researchers and veterinarians working to treat J50 will continue to monitor J35, looking closely at her for skin lesions, any changes in the way she swims or surfaces or major changes in her breath, which could indicate that she is metabolizing lipids. Thornton added that the calf is still “surprisingly intact.”

The orca’s plight represents a larger problem: The Southern Resident killer whale population, to which J35 belongs, has not had a successful birth in years. In about 20 years, only 25 percent of the population’s newborns have survived.