2 more Puget Sound orcas predicted to die in critically endangered population

January 2, 2019

Two more orcas are ailing and probably will be dead by summer, according to the region’s expert on the demographics of the critically endangered southern residents.

Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, said photos taken of J17 on New Year’s Eve showed the 42-year-old female has so-called peanut head, a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation. In addition K25, a 27-year-old male, is failing, also from lack of sufficient food. He lost his mother, K13, in 2017 and is not successfully foraging on his own.

“I am confident we are going to lose them sometime before summer,” Balcomb said.

Drone photography this past summer showed K25 to be noticeably thinner, and photos taken of him again in this winter show no improvement, Balcomb said.

Several whales were documented to be pregnant back in September, but so far there has been no sign of any babies. The southern residents have not had a successful pregnancy in three years.

The troubling news comes on top of a grim year in 2018 for the southern residents, the J, K, and L pods of fish-eating orcas that frequent the Salish Sea, which includes Puget Sound and the transboundary waters of the United States and Canada, as well as the West Coast of the United States.

The southern resident population is at a 35-year low after three deaths this past year in four months. There are only 74 left. “I am going to stop counting at 70,” Balcomb said. “What is the point?”

Losing J17 would be a blow to the southern residents because she is a female still of reproducing age, said Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for nonprofit Wild Orca. 

Giles said she was not surprised to hear about K25. The social dynamics of the southern residents, in which older females help their pod, and especially their sons by sharing food, is both a blessing and a curse if that female dies, Giles said.

“These large, adult, hungry males benefit by the females in their family,” Giles said. “There probably is still family foraging going on, but not like he had when his mom was alive.”

As for J17, “that is the worst of those two, the thought of losing her, she is such an important member for the southern resident community,” Giles said.

J17 is the mother of J35, or Tahlequah, who moved people around the world when in 2018 she carried her dead calf that lived for only one half-hour on her head for more than 1,000 miles over the course of 17 days.

The family already has been through a lot.

“We have no idea what that grandmother went through, watching her daughter carry around that baby as long as she did,” Giles said. “What would that have been like. To watch your daughter go through that grief and not have much you can do about it.”

The same family in 2016 also lost J54, a 1-year-old whale the whole family tried to support, especially his sister, J46, feeding him, and lifting the baby whale up with their teeth every time he started to sink. “The other whales were trying to support him,” Balcomb said. “He had tooth rakes all over his body, but it wasn’t malicious, he was sinking.”

It is hard to confront a new year with two whales already failing, Giles said. “It is this anticipatory grief. I am worried. And I am afraid.”

Drone photography taken this past September showed the southern residents went into the winter thinner than they were when the whales arrived in the San Juan Islands last summer. They also are thinner than the northern residents, which have been steadily growing in population for the past 40 years in their home waters primarily in northern B.C. and southeast Alaska, where they have access to more fish, and cleaner and quieter water. The northern residents gave birth to 10 new calves last year.

The southern residents look particularly thin next to the seal-eating transient, or Bigg’s, killer whales.

“They are like marshmallows,” Balcomb said.

The coming year is not looking any easier for the southern residents in terms of their food supply. The whales mostly eat chinook salmon.

Ocean conditions and poor river migration, with warm water and low flows, have hurt chinook salmon returns in the past several years. Even Columbia River fall chinook, a bright spot by comparison in the region, came back to the river in such low numbers last summer that a rare emergency fishing closure was enacted on the river from the mouth all the way to Pasco.

Only 186,862 fall chinook made it back below Bonneville dam in 2018, 65 percent below the 10-year average. Returns over Bonneville of jacks, or immature chinook, which can be a reliable predictor of this year’s return, were down to 61 percent below the 10-year average.

Columbia River chinook are important to the whales because they are among the biggest, fattiest fish of all. The whales also target chinook returning to rivers in Puget Sound, and in the summer, to the Fraser River. Those runs have been declining as well.

The whales’ behavior is changing as their food sources dwindle. They are arriving later and later in the San Juan Islands, because the Fraser River chinook runs they seek in those waters have so declined. The southern residents also are no longer often seen in large groups, in a pattern of feeding, then socializing, then resting before going on to a new spot.

“They do not have enough fish to feed them, they are spread out all over, we never seem them like it was 30, 40 years ago, when they would travel and find fish, then be playful, then rest, then travel again, that was the pattern,” Balcomb said.

“You don’t see them resting any more, they have to work all the time, every day.”

He said proposals put forward for the whales in the governor’s $1.1 billion budget for orca recovery, including a temporary ban on whale watching of the southern residents don’t go far enough.

“We need bold action,” Balcomb said. “Natural rivers and more chinook salmon.”

Source: Seattle Times

Advertisements

The idea of Japan resuming commercial whaling is horrifying

December 21, 2018

Whales are among the most intelligent beings on Earth. They have what experts define as “culture”; they learn knowledge as individuals and share it with others; sperm whales talk with local dialects; orcas appear to grieve for their dead offspring – a few months ago, one grieving killer whale carried her dead calf on her back for more than two weeks. They are thinking, caring, complex animals. That Japan is reportedly planning to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and resume commercial whaling should, then, horrify us all.

The IWC banned commercial whaling three decades ago, but Japan has exploited an exemption to hunt whales for “research” purposes, including killing 122 pregnant whaleslast winter. The proof for this supposed “research” is desperately lacking. Since the ban, more than 30,000 whales have been killed; and before the ban on commercial whaling, Japan and other whaling nations helped drive some species of whales to the brink of extinction. Indeed, in the eight decades before the IWC ban, an estimated 1.3 million whales in the Antarctic alone were killed by commercial whaling. Hunting for blue whales in the Antarctic was banned more than half a century ago, yet the population has never recovered: their numbers worldwide have collapsed from 220,000 to perhaps just 3,000.

Humans should be the Earth’s custodians, not its butchers. Much attention – though not enough – focuses on the existential threat posed by climate change. But humanity’s mass destruction of the Earth’s wildlife is all too little discussed. We are witnessing the sixth great mass extinction event, not because of an asteroid colliding with the planet or catastrophic volcanic eruptions, but because of humanity. The passenger pigeon, the golden toad, the Caspian tiger: they are all gone, and other species hang by a thread. Our actions are not merely driving other species to extinction: we threaten our own survival, too, by destabilising ecosystems and destroying biodiversity.

Japan’s actions should meet universal condemnation. But a renewed assault on whales should be a broader reminder that humanity is at war with its own planet. It may well prove to be a war of annihilation that, without a drastic shift in course, destroys us all.

Source: The Guardian.com

6.2 million Chinook Salmon fry die after power outage at hatchery

December 17, 2018

Last week’s windstorm cut the power to the Minter Creek Hatchery in Pierce County, in turn causing 6.2 million Chinook Salmon fry to die. The back up generator failed which caused the pumps that brought water into the tanks to fail.

The fish were kept in incubators at the hatchery. According to a press release from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the inventory of fish lost are 4.2 million Deshutes fall Chinook fry, 1.5 million Minter Creek fall Chinook fry and 507,000 White River spring Chinook fry.

“It’s a severe loss. It’s a challenge to try to recover from something like this. This particular species is not as age-class sensitive as other salmon species. But this is going to have a significant impact on adult returns,” said Jim Jenkins, WDFW South Puget Sound Hatchery Operations Manager.

The department was raising the White River spring Chinook as part of the state’s early efforts to provide more food for Southern Resident orcas. The Deschutes and Minter Creek fall Chinook were part of WDFW’s ongoing hatchery operations that support state fisheries.

“The department is conducting an analysis to determine the root cause of what went wrong so that we can improve procedures at Minter Creek and our other hatcheries to help ensure this doesn’t happen again,” said Eric Kinne, WDFW hatchery division manager.

Source: Koman News.com

Spectacular moment orca pod cruise up, shove fishing boat caught on video

December 16, 2018

The fish may not have been biting, but a pod of curious orcas have turned one Upper Hutt man’s fishing trip into one he’ll never forget.

Gareth Pritchard was with friends Garry and Glen Toms near Mana Island, south of Kapiti Island, when they had the incredibly close encounter on Saturday – and they caught it all on video.

Only moments after Mr Pritchard whipped out his phone to film, one orca gets a little too close for comfort, swimming underneath his boat and shoving it.

The rest of the pod continue to cruise around the fishers, completely unaware of their starstruck audience.

“Look at the size of that monster!” Mr Pritchard can be heard saying in the video.

He told Newshub he was stunned by the once-in-a-lifetime encounter.

“We were all bloody excited when it happened, but we didn’t expect it to come up and push the boat – twice!” Mr Pritchard said.

“I was a bit shocked, I fell over. I was stunned… He gave it quite a shove. It was an experience that doesn’t happen to people very often.”

The group’s excitement is obvious in the video, as they all laugh and try to process what just happened.

“The fish are gone now, I’ll tell you that much,” one friend can be heard pointing out as the orcas meander away again.

“We [also] laughed at the point my friend’s boat is named ‘Finn Fish’ and didn’t want to rename it ‘Flipped Fish’!” Mr Pritchard said.

The new friends were only passing through, hanging around for about a minute-and-a-half before moving on.

But it’s turned a lacklustre fishing trip into a memory of a lifetime.

To watch the VIDEO and read the Source visit News Hub.co.nz

Gov. Inslee proposes $1.1 billion budget to aid Puget Sound orcas

December 13, 2018

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his proposals for the state’s 2019-21 budget Thursday, and among the list of priorities is a $1.1 billion investment in the region’s orca population.

“We share so much with the orcas, we share about the same body temperature, we share about the same heart rate, we share close familial bonds and we share the need to defeat environmental degradation,” Inslee said. “When we save the orcas from toxins, when we save them from climate change, when we save them from pollution — we save ourselves.”

The governor’s proposal targets the lack of prey — Chinook salmon — that orcas rely on. It also addresses pollutants, vessel traffic, and the potential of breaching the lower four dams on the Snake River. The proposal follows up on task force recommendations released earlier this year which Inslee says he is embracing. It also follows the effort to save one ailing orca and the deaths of newborn calves over the past year that garnered many headlines.

The governor’s budget proposal states:

Besides helping orcas, these investments will have significant benefits for the region’s entire ecosystem and complement efforts to recover salmon, tackle climate change, improve water quality and more. These investments are based on actions most likely to yield strong benefits for Southern Residents orcas over the short term while setting up a sustainable, data-driven path for longer-term efforts.

Proposed funding includes:

-$363 million for salmon recovery.

-$296 million for the Washington State Department of Transportation to correct fish passage barriers.

-$6.2 million for greater enforcement with habitat protection laws.

-$75.7 million for the state’s hatchery system.

-$4.7 million to collect pinniped (sea lion) population information and to develop management actions.

-$524,000 to examine issues related to increasing Chinook population by reestablishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.

-$117 million to covert two of the state’s ferries (Jumbo Mark II models) to hybrid-electric ferries (Inslee expects this to save the state $7 million in annual fuel costs).

Breaching the lower four Snake River dams is also mentioned in the proposal, which is part of a current federal process. Inslee wants to put $750,000 toward a task force to study the impacts and mitigation costs of such an action.

-Also included in the budget are proposed actions:

-A temporary three-year ban on all whale watching of Southern Resident orca, to be reviewed afterward to assess its effectiveness.

-$1.1 million for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enforce the whale watching suspension.

-Increasing the distance between marine vessels and orcas to 400 yards, also a “go slow” zone within half a mile of orcas.

-Increased funding for toxic cleanups, including $3 million for local control programs; $4.2 million to speed up cleanups; $3.5 million to remove creosote structures; $57.8 million to clean up toxic sites; $51 million to reduce stormwater, $32 million to address contaminants from wastewater systems.

-Millions in funding for scientific support of the orca recovery effort.

Click here to read the story on mynorthwest.com.

Source: kiro7.com

Washington governor proposes major steps to prevent killer whales going extinct

December 13, 2018

With scientists warning that the Northwest’s beloved killer whales are on the brink of extinction, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced dramatic plans Thursday to help the population recover — including $1.1 billion in spending and a partial whale-watching ban.

“We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state.”

Starved by a dearth of salmon, poisoned by contaminants, and buffeted by vessel noise that hinders their hunting and communication, the orcas that live in the waters between Washington state and Canada’s Vancouver Island have failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. One grieving whale carried her dead calf on her head for 17 days last summer in an apparent effort to revive it.

There are 74 left in the population, the lowest number since the 1970s, when hundreds of orcas were captured in the region and more than 50 were kept for aquarium display.

Inslee, who is mulling a Democratic presidential run in 2020, detailed the plans as part of his announcement of his priorities for the 2019-2021 state budget. The money would go toward protecting and restoring habitat for salmon, especially chinook, the orcas’ favored prey; boosting production from salmon hatcheries; storm-water cleanup; and quieting vessel traffic.

Nearly $300 million would go toward complying with a court order that requires the state to replace culverts that block the path of migrating salmon.

Money would also support developing plans to move or kill seals and sea lions that feast on Columbia River salmon where they get blocked by dams or other structures, and changing state water quality standards to allow more water to be spilled over dams, helping young salmon reach the ocean.

Inslee called for a new capital gains tax and an increase in business taxes to help cover the tab.

The governor also said he intends to ban commercial whale-watching of the local endangered orcas — known as the southern residents — for three years. He stressed that whale-watching will be allowed for other whales in Washington waters, including nonresident orcas that pass through, and that the state would undertake efforts to promote the industry to offset any lost business.

Inslee said he intended to permanently double the size of the “no-go zone” for vessels around orcas to 400 yards (365 meters) and create a “go slow zone” with reduced speed limits within a half-mile (926 meters). The Department of Fish and Wildlife would get $1.1 million for public education and enforcement.

His plans call for converting two state ferries to quieter electric hybrids and building two others as hybrids.

In a written statement, the Pacific Whale Watch Association did not directly address the proposed ban on whale watching. It said it is committed to protecting the whales and that it supports “science-based actions that will best support the future of these whales, including go-slow zones aimed at quieting the waters.”

“Responsible ecotourism is a healthy and critical piece of conservation and education,” the association said.

The Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity has sued the federal government for not doing more to protect the full range of the orcas along the West Coast. Catherine Kilduff, the group’s attorney, called Inslee’s plans to reduce vessel noise a good first step.

But, as other environmentalists have done, Kilduff stressed that removing four major dams along the Snake River is essential for the recovery of salmon — and thus for the whales.

A federal court has already ordered the government to consider breaching the dams. Inslee’s proposal includes having a task force examine the implications of that — including whether irrigation, transportation and electricity provided by the dams could be offset, such as by shipping goods by truck or by rail or by boosting wind or solar power generation.

Republican U.S. Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, who represent Eastern Washington, said in a written statement Thursday that breaching the Snake River dams is out of the question.

“The people of Eastern Washington whose livelihoods depend on these dams should not be collateral damage for anyone’s presidential ambitions,” they said.

Source: NY Daily News.com

Climate Change Has Wiped Out Most of the World’s Oldest Sea Ice

December 11, 2018

There is no clearer sign of Arctic transformation than the age of its sea ice. Findings released on Tuesday show that ice has never been younger, and while humans may envy its youth, it’s an incredibly bad sign for the region.

Rising air and ocean temperatures have sent old sea ice into a death spiral. It now stands as a shadow of its former self, its area diminished by 95 percent from where it stood just a little more than three decades ago.

Federal scientists led by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) chronicled the changes afoot in the annual Arctic Report Card at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting. The signs the Arctic is a metamorphosing in the face of climate change are everywhere. Last year was the second-warmest on record for the region. Ice coverage is shrinking. The Atlantic is invading the Arctic Ocean. Permafrost is melting. But it’s the state of old sea ice that best tells the story of how human activities have driven the Arctic to a new state.

Old ice tends to be thick and hold fast, acting as an anchor for icepack during the summer melt season. But solid ice has proven to be no match for climate change, which has warmed the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world. Heat waves coupled with powerful storms have broken up old ice’s grip on the Arctic.

The Arctic Report Card shows that in March 1985, ice four years or older covered 980,700 square miles. This past March, it covered a measly 130,000 square miles. That’s the loss of a little more than three Texases-worth of old ice, and old Arctic ice now covers less than 1 percent of the Arctic Ocean.

In its place, young ice has taken over, leading to “a decreasing trend in the minimum ice extent” each summer according to the report card. Scientists estimate that the Arctic could see ice-free summers by 2030 if carbon emissions continue their rise. The impact of the ice loss doesn’t just spell bad news for polar bears, which are leaving ice floes for land in search of food.

The decline of ice opens up a new front in the race to exploit the Earth’s resources as oil, gas, and mineral reserves become more accessible, and in turn, increases the chance of conflict over these resources. This is a huge concern for the U.S. as well as other Arctic nations. But at the press briefing announcing the updated report card, Rear Admiral Timothy Gaulladet, the acting head of the NOAA, reportedly said that the agency hasn’t briefed President Trump on climate change or its impacts on the Arctic.

The president, of course, has some thoughts on climate change that could politely be called backasswards, and it’s pretty clear a single briefing isn’t going to change them. But the fact that nobody from the agency in charge of putting out the premiere report about the challenges the U.S. faces is still hugely worrisome.

Source: Gizmodo.com

Extraordinary drone footage shows woman surrounded by orca whales while out for Coromandel swim

Extraordinary drone footage has emerged of the moment a Coromandel swimmer found herself encircled by a pod of orca whales.

Judie Johnson, in her 60s, was swimming alone at Hahei Beach last week when three orca sidled up to her in the water.

The orca are seen playfully swimming around her, with the largest nearly nipping at her toes.

“There was a shape that went under me, like a huge shape and I thought [it was] dolphins and I was quite excited, and then I saw the great white colour on the back.

“I was also thinking they eat seals and I’m in a black wetsuit,” Ms Johnson told 1 NEWS.

The Hahei resident initially got out of the water but, to the surprise of onlookers, returned to complete her training swim.

She was again surrounded by the three orca, believed to be an adult, juvenile and calf.

Ms Johnson says she remembers gazing directly into the adult orca’s huge eyes, her fear quickly turning to joy.

“It was so different to anything that’s happened to me before, and I thought, no, this is a life-changing experience.

“They were as interested and curious about me as I was about them.”

The drone footage was captured by visiting Australian tourist, Dylan Brayshaw, who witnessed the encounter from the beach.

“I would have thought she would have just stayed out of the water.

“I’ve seen trainers get harmed in captivity but in the wild I didn’t know what to expect,” Mr Brayshaw said.

Orca expert Dr Regina Eisert says the swimmer wasn’t in danger.

“Killer whales are the largest of the dolphin family so they are just big dolphins with a fancy paint job and we all know dolphins are very, very smart and very playful,” she said.

But conservationists do warn swimmers should not approach marine mammals.

Drone users require permit from the Department of Conservation if filming within 150m of a marine mammal.

To read the FULL article and watch VIDEO visit the source at tvnz.co.nz

Family of orcas circle diver off the coast of New Zealand

December 9, 2018

This diver experienced an epic encounter with a family of orcas while collecting sea urchin off the coast of New Zealand.

Footage shows a group of ‘curious’ orcas closely circling Rowan Virbickas.

A playful juvenile can be seen pulling Rowan’s fin before swimming away with the rest of the pod.

“I was working away catching sea urchin when this friendly baby orca came flying at me followed by its family,” Rowan said.

”They played all around me for over a minute, then disappeared for a minute while I fumbled for my GoPro, then raced back and kept playing for another minute and a half. It was Amazing.”

Source: uk.news.yahoo.com