Killer whales are diving to record depths to pinch expensive catch from commercial fishing lines, expanding their role as an apex predator to the very depths of the ocean, Deakin researchers have found.

December 3, 2018

Dr Paul Tixier, a research fellow at Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecologywithin the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is part of the research team that made the discovery while monitoring the dive behaviour of a killer whale (Orcinus orca) in subantarctic waters in South Georgia.

Researchers used satellite-linked location and dive-profile tags on the killer whale, which was taking Patagonian toothfish from commercial longlines – a fishing technique using a long line with baited hooks to capture target fish.

Patagonian toothfish are a deep-water fish and are considered a delicacy, with the majority of the fish caught legally by Australian boats sold overseas to Japanese, Chinese and US markets.

Dr Tixier said the results were striking, with the killer whale diving to 1087 metres – the greatest depth ever recorded for that species and around 300 metres deeper than previously recorded.

“The diving ability of the species has been underestimated, but we found the whales were diving significantly deeper and faster when taking from fishing lines compared to when foraging naturally,” he said . . . 

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Experts Call for the Speedy Release of Killer Whales and Beluga Whales from the “Whale Prison” in Primorye

November 29, 2018

Experts believe that the killer whales and beluga whales kept in the bay of Central Primorsky Territory for sale in foreign aquariums should be released as soon as possible, otherwise they will die.

“Delay in releasing killer whales into the wild and in transferring the beluga whales to the rehabilitation regime, and the lack of public and expert control can lead to grave consequences for cetaceans. This is the general opinion of the experts, ”Dmitry Lisitsyn, head of the regional public organization (RPO) Sakhalin Environmental Watch, told Interfax-Far East.

According to him, the longer they sit in crowded conditions and in tight containers, the greater the likelihood of deterioration of their health from stagnant water, poor diet and stress.

  1. Lisitsyn stressed that according to the unanimous opinion of experts, killer whales should be released from the bay as soon as possible.

“They will still be able to find their families who have already left the area of ​​the Shantar Islands and are now migrating to the Kuril Islands and then to the more southern areas of the ocean,” he said.

He added that for belugas it is necessary to create an expert commission of scientists specializing in cetaceans, veterinarians of the aquarium, microbiologists, as well as divers and underwater operators.

“It is necessary to conduct a comprehensive survey of the white whales and clearly separate – who can be released now (who can survive in the wild conditions – IF) and those who need to be grown and adapted. The information gathered by the expert group should be provided to an even wider expert community “in order to make a common and most correct decision,” said D. Lisitsyn.

According to him, Medium Bay is quite suitable for adapting babies to belingas, since these conditions, in contrast to the aquarium, are more close to their natural habitat. As the kids grow, they could gradually expand open-air cages, launch wild fish, imitating hunting conditions, in order to release animals into the sea in the spring adapted to independent living. But according to scientists, other people should take care of belugas, but not trappers.

As reported, at the end of October, Greenpeace Russia and the Sakhalin Environmental Watch public organization stated that 11 killer whales and 90 belugas were illegally kept in the enclosures of Srednyaya Bay in the south of Primorsky Krai. According to zoodefenders, belugas and killer whales were brought to Primorye before being sold to foreign aquariums and zoos. SC initiated a criminal case under Part 3 of Art. 256 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (illegal extraction of aquatic biological resources). On instructions from the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation, specialists from the Pacific Oceanological Institute are examining animals to determine if they can be released into the wild.

Source: Maritime News of Russia

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Why did SeaWorld killer whales die? Animal activists sue for release of necropsy reports

November 29, 2018

By: Lori Weisberg

Multiple animal rights advocates sued the federal government this week in a move to force the release of necropsy reports related to the deaths of three SeaWorld killer whales, including one from the San Diego marine park.

The lawsuit, which targets the National Marine Fisheries Service, is the culmination of a so far unsuccessful quest by marine mammal researchers and advocates to gain access to necropsies they say will help them and others understand how to better care for cetaceans both in captivity and the wild.

Animal welfare groups, including the Animal Welfare Institute, the Earth Island Institute and the PETA Foundation, have been trying since last year to persuade SeaWorld and the National Marine Fisheries Service to release necropsy reports on the 2017 deaths of three killer whales — Tilikum, the SeaWorld Orlando whale featured in the 2013 “Blackfish” documentary; Kasatka, regarded as SeaWorld San Diego’s orca matriarch; and Kyara, a 3-month-old killer whale born at SeaWorld San Antonio.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., argues that regulations under the Marine Mammal Protection Act require that SeaWorld turn over clinical history and necropsy reports to National Marine Fisheries when certain captive whales, porpoises or dolphins die . . . (to read the rest of the article visit the source)

Source: San Diego Tribune

Mother orca who carried her dead calf at center of hearings over Trans Mountain pipeline

November 29, 2018

Orca mother Tahlequah carried her dead calf for 17 days in July,but her loss is living on among First Nations and Washington tribes that havepresented her as a living witness.

The whale and the loss of her calf were at the center of prayers, songs and testimony before Canada’s National Energy Board in Victoria, B.C., on Wednesday, as it continued hearings underway for three weeks as part of its reconsideration of a massive expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.

Suquamish, Swinomish, Lummi and Tulalip Nations traveled to Victoria to offer testimony to the board against the pipeline, and share cultural teachings about the importance of the orca, salmon and the tribes’ treaty-reserved fishing rights.

The small, but influential board approved the project in 2016. Construction was launched, only to be stopped in August when Canada’s Court of Appeals found the board had not adequately consulted with First Nations, or considered the effect of the project’s sevenfold increase in tanker traffic on orcas and the marine environment.

The board in September was given 155 days by the Canadian government to reconsider its recommendations. 

‘I am superbly worried’: West Coast fishermen await decision on restrictions meant to protect orcas

November 25, 2018

A year after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed off several West Coast sports fishing area to protect orcas, fishermen say they’re worried more closures are on the way along southern Vancouver Island. 

In 2017, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed several areas in the Juan de Fuca Strait to commercial and sport fishing between June and October.

The closure was part of the DFO’s efforts to protect a dwindling population of about 74 southern resident killer whales that feed on chinook salmon, which inhabit those waters in that time period.

Ryan Chamberland, president of the Sooke Region Tourism Association and owner of the Vancouver Island Lodge, says more closures would devastate the small fishing villages along the coast.

“Closing us down — ruining towns, everyone losing equity in their assets and properties, is not going to solve an issue, it’s going to create a crisis,” Chamberland said.

“No one wants to lose their houses and jobs and and their way of lifestyle and opportunities to be on the water.”

The concerns of sports fishermen come at a time when some marine mammal experts say the closures might not even help the endangered southern resident killer whale.

In November, Ottawa announced it wants to establish new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for southern resident killer whales— the Swiftsure Bank in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and La Perouse Bank off Tofino, B.C. 

The DFO says it has consulted on the the critical habitat areas and it’s still planning what fishing restrictions, if any, may be applied next year. Ottawa says designating the area as a critical habitat would also enable it to restrict other activities like whale watching and marine traffic, which some argue disturbs the orcas.

Chamberland was at the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia’s annual conference in Vancouver on Thursday, where he says more potential closures were a hot topic.

According to the institute, sport fishing contributes more than $1 billion to the provincial economy each year. 

“I am superbly worried,” he said. “West Coast communities fully depend on the sport fishing industry.”

Effectiveness in question

Andrew Trites, director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, was also at the conference.

Trites says there isn’t enough evidence to support the view that banning sport fishing has any impact on the southern resident killer whales. 

“I think the intended goal is is all well and good. But I am a bit concerned that management actions are be being put into place without any attempts to determine whether or not they’re effective,” he said. 

Trites doesn’t deny that the southern resident orcas have a food problem — evidence shows that they are thinner than their cousins, the northern resident killer whales.

But he says the more than 600,000 large chinook salmon estimated in the areas where the southern resident orcas roam should be more than enough to feed them.

“The thing is that we tend to look at the food problem as being in our backyard,” he said. 

When they’re not swimming along southern Vancouver Island, Trite says, southern resident killer whales spend the rest of the year along the coast of Oregon and California, where salmon-bearing rivers have been destroyed, dammed or drained.

He says those rivers no longer have enough salmon to feed the killer whales.

There is still some debate about whether marine traffic is blocking the orcas’ access to salmon, Trite says. But the DFO’s restrictions last year didn’t restrict marine traffic — just fishing. 

Worldwide attention

The plight of the whales attracted worldwide attention last summer, after the female orca known as J35 spent 17 days carrying her dead calf as she travelled through West Coast waters.

Only 74 of them remain, and there have not been any documented successful births since 2015. The southern residents are genetically and behaviourally distinct from other killer whales in B.C., and feed primarily on salmon.

Several factors have been attributed to the orcas’ slow demise, including lack of salmon, marine noise and inbreeding.



November 24, 2018

The court seized on the orcas and belugas caught for sale in China The court in Vladivostok seized 11 orcas and belugas ‘ 90, discovered the animal in Nakhodka. Animal rights activists suggest that animals were caught for sale in China. The investigative Committee opened a criminal case on illegal fishing. About the arrest of the animals informed the city the site of Vladivostok and non-profit organization “marine mammal Council”. Judgement was delivered on 21 November, but became aware of it today from the letter to the Investigative Committee to Rosprirodnadzor. At the end of October it became known that in the Middle Bay in a remote area Finds contains 11 orcas and 90 Beluga whales caught in Russian waters. According to Russian Greenpeace, pet owners planned to sell them in Chinese aquariums. Commercial exploitation of dolphins is prohibited in Russia by law, but the animals were caught in the cultural and educational quota. The price of one orca in dolphinariums and aquariums China reaches from one to 15 million dollars. Catch animals has caused an outcry among environmentalists. November 16, the Investigative Committee opened a criminal case on illegal catch of whales and belugas. According to authorities, the mammals are young, and their prey is prohibited. On Thursday, the press service of the Agency, the Agency issuing quotas for the catch of marine animals, said that the Ministry warned the General Prosecutor’s office about the inadmissibility of violation of the law when granting rights to catch cultural and educational purposes. The Agency said in response that all quotas are issued legally.

Сообщение The court seized on the orcas and belugas caught for sale in China появились сначала на Latin script’s.


Endangered B.C. orcas contend with machine-gun fire and smoke bombs

November 23, 2018

The 74 critically endangered southern resident killer whales frequenting British Columbian waters are slowly starving to death. The last thing they need is to inadvertently swim into the line of fire of a naval machine-gun exercise, say whale researchers.

But that’s exactly what happens from time to time in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to longtime whale researcher Ken Balcomb.

An endangered southern resident killer whale breaches in the Haro Straight. Conservationists say southern resident orcas can’t lose many more whales before there are not enough of them to stop their slide toward extinction.

To read the rest of the story visit The

Washington lands chief asks lawmakers for $90 million to improve habitat for orcas, salmon

November 21, 2018

If approved, a $90 million budget request to the Washington state legislature could aggressively tackle what’s needed to help Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas survive.

A request on Monday by Hilary Franz, the state’s Commissioner of Public Lands, would increase the money already being spent on restoring habitats for salmon, removing barriers that inhibit the fish from reaching their spawning ground; researching ocean acidification; and removing rundown vessels on waterways, according to an emailed statement from the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The department’s previous two-year budget for similar programs and efforts cost the agency $55.5 million, according to Franz’s staff. The overall budget for the department last year was $351 million.

“The items that we’re calling for are not new,” Franz said in an interview. “We’ve been doing this work for our Puget Sound and rivers and lakes and ocean shorelines for quite some time. The difference is that we are asking for an increase in funding so we can rapidly accelerate this work because we don’t believe we have time to waste.”

The request directly addresses suggestions from Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca-recovery task force. The group issued a list of recommendations last week to save the animals, including breaching two dams to increase salmon returns and partly suspending southern resident whale-watching tours for up to five years. It includes $22 million in operating budget requests and $68 million for one-time capital budget projects.

The $90 million request comes amid heightened concerns for the critically endangered local orcas, which suffered three deaths over the summer and haven’t had any of their calves survive in three years due to the lack of chinook salmon and the effects of pollution and vessel traffic in Puget Sound.Advertisement (1 of 1): 0:12

“This is a key moment for us,” Franz said, “to stand up and say ‘Are we going to take action and prevent the demise and lose of our critical orca and salmon species?’ “

Franz is faced with the challenge of getting state legislators to approve her request, but she is confident now is the time to address the issue.


Russia to ban capture of killer whales and belugas in 2019

November 20, 2018

The catching of killer whales and belugas will be prohibited in Russia in 2019, a report prepared by the state ecological expertise of the Far Eastern department of the Russian Federal Agency for Supervision of the Use of Natural Resource (Rosprirodnadzor) said.

The news about 90 belugas and 13 orcas being kept in a “whale prison” in Srednaya Bay near Nakhodka, in the Far East of Russia, generated an international scandal. It was reported that the animals had been caught to be subsequently sold to sea aquariums in China. A criminal case was initiated, while many people arrange protest actions throughout the country, including in Vladivostok, demanding the capture of marine mammals should be banned.

In Vladivostok, as many as 30 people gathered for a meeting to protest against the capture of killer whales and belugas. The activists believe that holding marine mammals in captivity in sea aquariums should be banned throughout the world. This problem is not limited to the situation with the “whale prison” in Russia’s Far East, because many people buy tickets to go to oceanariums and turn a blind eye to the problem, the activists say.

According to the investigators, the inspection of the so-called “whale prison” in Srednaya Bay revealed that fishing companies had no relevant documents for catching belugas and killer whales.   Specialists also found that eleven killer whales and 90 belugas did not reach sexual maturity, while 13 of them were younger than 12 months. Their capture is a serious violation of the Russian law, therefore a criminal case has already been initiated.


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The Orca Task Force finally has a plan. Will it work?

November 19, 2018

With time running out, the group presents a 30-page document meant to bring Washington’s endangered orcas back from the brink.

Over the past six months, representatives from Washington’s science, wildlife management, conservation, tribal, government, and business communities have convened to discuss how the state might attempt to reverse the rapid decline of resident killer whales living in Puget Sound. Now at a 30-year-low, just 74 members remain, with three dying this summer alone.

After Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order to create the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force in March, the group met for seven full-day negotiation sessions across the state, with nearly 150 people attempting to reconcile the needs of Pacific Northwest communities with its directive to produce both immediate and long-term plans for saving the Southern Residents. More than 18,000 citizens sent in public comments, and more than 250 people showed up in person to deliver those comments. The 49-member voting committee presented its final list of recommendations to Inslee this past Friday, releasing and discussing the 30-page document publicly at a press conference at the Seattle Aquarium.

The recommendations

The task force decided on 36 recommendations meant to address three main threats, which all have roots in human activity: lack of food, boat traffic, and chemical exposure. The majority of ideas addressed the orcas’ food shortage, which is the most imminent threat.

  • Increasing the number of Chinook salmon in Puget Sound The Southern Residents eat chinook salmon almost exclusively, and stocks have shrunk 60 percent since the Pacific Salmon Commission began tracking it 1984 — largely because of overfishing, dams, hatcheries management, habitat loss, and climate change. Proposals addressing this goal include expanding salmon habitat, increasing dam spill levels (the amount of water let out of reservoirs into salmon habitat), expanding hatchery salmon production, and limiting fishing. The most controversial recommendation here involves starting discussions for breaching or removing the Lower Snake River dams.
  • Reducing boat traffic Orcas share their home waters with barges, ferries, and whale-watching boats. Orcas waste time and energy avoiding boats rather than hunting, and boat noise interferes with their ability to hunt salmon. The task force recommends options like a limited-entry permit system on all whale-watching, go-slow areas for boats, limitations on shipping and drilling for oil, making ferries quieter and more fuel-efficient, and increasing the minimum distance required for boaters who encounter orcas. Most notably and contentiously, the task force has recommended a five-year moratorium on Southern Resident whale-watching.  
  • Mitigating chemical exposure Stormwater runoff carries toxic chemicals and other forms of pollution from roadways far into Puget Sound and the Salish Sea where it winds up in the tissue of Chinook salmon and ultimately in whale fat stores. Whale starvation exacerbates the danger: Without enough food, whales resort to burning fat for energy, which releases more toxins into their bloodstreams.

Mindy Roberts, Puget Sound program director for the Washington Environmental Council and a member of the task force’s contamination working group, acknowledges that the report’s recommendations might seem overwhelming — but there’s a lot that needs fixing.

“There was a pressure, I would say, to only limit this report to a few recommendations and I actually pressed back on that because I felt like our responsibility in the task force is to be honest about what the orcas need,” says Roberts. “What I’m seeing is a list of very ambitious actions and we are looking forward to turning those recommendations into actions through the legislature next year.”

Wins and losses

Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher who served on the prey and vessel working groups, says she’s satisfied with the task force’s first-year recommendations.

“I think that on some [recommendations] we could have gone farther, and on others we may have jumped the gun a little fast… [and it] has been cumbersome to some degree, but ultimately it was an overall positive experience to move us in directions that have jump-started work and action certainly by years, if not by decades,” Giles says. “I might have jockeyed the recommendations around in a different order, but given how complicated these issues are, i’m actually pretty happy. Things could be better, but things could be a whole lot worse.”

Giles says the task force’s biggest wins had to do with “huge” habitat protections for salmon and limitations on incidental bycatch (the salmon fishermen are allowed to keep without targeting it). The task force is recommending that orca be taken into further account in the next negotiation of the international Pacific Salmon Treaty, a process which requires federal input.

Beyond individual solutions, task force co-chair Les Purce praised the process as a whole.

“Equally gratifying is the way that these people with such disparate backgrounds came together to accomplish that and to agree on a document of this magnitude and heft,” Purce says. “The vast majority of people came to an overall consensus, [and] when you weigh that against the fact that we had 36 recommendations, it’s really quite extraordinary.”

But not all task force members came away satisfied, and some abstained from the final vote in protest. This included Center for Whale Research founder Dr. Kenneth Balcomb, who has publicly disagreed with the task force’s approach over the last few months.

“I have to really decide whether or not this task force is for me or not — it doesn’t seem to be for the whales so, therefore, I think it’s not for me,” Balcomb told Q13 Fox News in September.

Balcomb reportedly hoped the task force would push for faster action on the Lower Snake River dams, and he disagreed with the recommended moratorium on whale-watching. He expressed further disapproval with the task force in early November in a Facebook post.

“Frankly, I am embarrassed for the conveners and participants of the Orca Task Force who had to endure blatant and ill-informed political manipulation of a process launched with the good intention of doing something bold to help recover the Southern Resident Killer Whales,” he wrote.

Public Response

On the day the task force presented its work, a group of activists calling themselves The Remaining 74 Assembly took to the Washington State Capitol’s Temple of Justice holding 74 paper orcas. They demonstrated in support of breaching the four dams along the Lower Snake River before the next legislative session.

“Today, let’s wake up our sleepy policy makers, and rebuke the sleepy Orca Task Force. Let’s tear down some dams,” said Michelle Seidelman, co-creator of the rally, to an assembled crowd.

“The monster dams are killing fish and orcas, and worst of all, there is no real need for the four deadly dams on the Lower Snake,” argued Howard Garrett, cofounder of Orca Network, at the event. “You’ve gotta undo all this misinformation, and there’s reams of it.”

Scientists we spoke with acknowledged that the task force initially considered recommending Inslee work with the Army Corps of Engineers on dismantling the dams. But with so many stakeholders affected by dam removal, Giles cautioned against forcing the action without buy-in from Eastern Washington communities.

“If they had tried to push this any faster than they did, trying to cram it into Year One, we would have been facing years of litigation, whereas if we have a calm arena in which to bring the science and the science can be hashed out in a safe, non-biased, communal place. I think that’s what it’s going to take,” Giles says. “You have biologists on both sides of the fence. We have to have an unbiased arbiter come and analyze the data and tell us once and for all, what is the economic and ecological impact to all of these different arenas? I’m confident that the science is going to back the removal.”

Roberts points to increased spill from dams as the best immediate course of action.

“To me, that’s the fastest way to get more smolt salmon out to the ocean from the whole Columbia River system, so we are looking forward to that moving forward quickly,” Roberts says.

Others joined Balcomb in criticizing the five-year moratorium on Southern Resident whale-watching. Citing the blow to tourism, the task force representing the Pacific Whale Watching Association voted against the final recommendation.

“I think a lot of folks are questioning if there’s science that says this is an absolute problem now,” Roberts says. “At this point, I feel like we should be taking the precautionary approach. And noise is something that we can turn off now that will have immediate impact.”

What’s next

Now that Inslee has recommendations in hand, some task force members hope the public will continue to pressure state government to act on them quickly enough to make an impact.

“Nobody should take their foot off the gas right now,” Giles says.  

But Purce notes that much of the hard work ahead resides with legislators and government officials. Every one of the recommendations requires government input, Purce says — from enacting changes in regulation to increasing enforcement of existing laws and policies.

“We’re very hopeful that the governor will embrace these recommendations, in terms of taking the first steps in providing the resources for what we’ve outlined,” Purce says. “It’s tough work for him and his staff. There are sizable budgetary items that will make the most effect, in regard to the orcas themselves, so, the next steps for us are going to be some really in-depth conversations with the legislature after the governor comes out with the budget and his priorities.”

Whether the orcas can last through typically slow-moving legislation is an open question, but Roberts thinks an engaged public is the orcas’ best shot.

“I do feel like the public has such unprecedented support for these actions — that’s what the legislators need to know in order for them to move quickly on this, so we’re optimistic,” she says. “We’ve had conversations with several legislators already and they were waiting for these recommendations and now there will be a ton of work over the next two months to turn those recommendations into legislation. The orcas really can’t stand in line any longer. That’s why it’s so important to take care of their needs in this next bi-annual budget which will kind of set the stage for 2019 through 2021. We can’t defer any of the big needs until the following bi-annual budget in 2021 to 2023. We just don’t have that time.”

As a researcher, Giles says being able to share and discuss her work directly on even footing with a vast assortment of interest groups felt significant. Being on the working groups allowed Giles to infuse policy discussions with the lived realities of Orcas like J-35, who carried the body of her dead calf for 17 days over the summer; and J-50, a malnourished young female, who succumbed to poor health in September.

“This process has afforded an opportunity for these diverse stakeholders to be in dialogue together in a way that has never happened before,” Giles says. “We’d been going around living our lives while this poor mom is still carrying around her baby, so I let the working group know.  When she ended up dying, I had somebody from Bonneville Power Administration email me a condolence email.”

“I would never have come into contact with this person before the task force,” she says. “If we ever talked, it would have just been my science saying, ‘your organization is running dams that are impacting the food source of the whales that I study that are starving.’”