Amusing Monday: Artistic students inspired by endangered species

In celebration of Endangered Species Day on May 19, more than 1,400 students from across the country submitted their artwork showing threatened and endangered plants and animals. The contest is under the direction of the Endangered Species Coalition.

“Protecting nature is critical to keeping our planet thriving for future generations,” states an introduction to the art contest. “What better way to do that than by engaging youth to put their imaginative skills to work for wildlife in the 2017 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest.”

Art by Rajvi Bhavin Shah, 7, of Roseville, Calif.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

The annual contest is open to any student from kindergarten to 12th grade. I have to say that I’m always surprised at how environmentally oriented competitions attract young artists able to express themselves in interesting ways.

One of my favorite pieces in the endangered species contest is a drawing of a mother polar bear and her cub on patches of ice — the first picture on this page. The artist is 7-year-old Rajvi Bhavin Shah of Roseville, Calif., who was able to bring a unique artistic style to a scene used before.

Polar bears, by the way, are the first vertebrate species to be formally declared at risk of extinction because of climate change. One of the primary concerns for their survival is a loss of sea ice, essential for their hunting of seals.

Art by Ryan Ng, 13, of Belmont, Calif.
Image: Endangered Species Coalition

The second picture, by 13-year-old Ryan Ng of Belmond, Calif., shows a group of Alabama red-belly turtles, which were listed as endangered in 1987 when it became clear that significant predation of both adult turtles and their eggs is driving the species toward extinction.

The grand-prize winner is another 7-year-old. The judges really liked the portrayal of the rusty-patched bumble bees by Sanah Nuha Hutchins of Washington, D.C. Rusty-patched bumble bees were historically found in the grasslands and tallgrass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast, but the bees declined as their habitats were converted to farms and housing developments.

Art by Sanah Nuha Hutchins, 7, of Washington, D.C. // Image: Endangered Species Coalition

Judges for this year’s competition included marine life artist Wyland; Jack Hanna, host of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild; David Littschwager, freelance photographer and contributor to National Geographic magazine; Susan Middletown, a photographer who has collaborated with Littschwager and whose own work has been published in four books; and Alice Tangerini, botanical illustrator for the Smithsonian Institution.

The contest is organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Coalition, Association of Zoos and Aquariums and International Child Art Foundation.

One can see the winning artworks on the webpage of the Endangered Species Coalition. To see all 40 semi-finalists, you can scan through the coalition’s Flickr page. A higher level page shows the semi-finalists organized by grade level along with previous years’ semifinalists.

Hood Canal property will compensate for Navy construction at Bangor

Hood Canal Coordinating Council has finally found some shoreline property to compensate for environmental damage from the Navy’s $448-million Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor.

The shoreline of a 6.7-acre property to be used for mitigation of the Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf at Bangor. // Photo: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

The 6.7 acres of waterfront property — located near Kitsap County’s Anderson Landing Preserve on Hood Canal — becomes the first saltwater mitigation site in Washington state under an in-lieu-fee mitigation program. The $275,000 purchase was approved Wednesday by the coordinating council, which manages the in-lieu-fee program.

The Navy itself is not a party to the transaction, having paid the coordinating council $6.9 million to handle all the freshwater and saltwater mitigation required for the wharf project — including managing the mitigation properties in perpetuity.

The coordinating council’s in-lieu-fee program, which is overseen by state and federal agencies, allows developers to pay a flat fee for their environmental damage instead of undertaking mitigation work themselves.

The five-year-old mitigation program has been working well so far, said Scott Brewer, executive director of the Hood Canal Coordinating Council, noting that the Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf is the first — and by far the largest — of four developments involved in the Hood Canal program.

“When the Navy first proposed this, the potential benefits really struck me,” Scott said. “At the time I didn’t know of all the complexity.”

Of course, it would be better for the environment if development never took place, Scott told me, but environmental damage cannot be avoided for some construction projects. The in-lieu-fee program ensures that any restoration work is done correctly with the property permanently protected. When developers are in charge of mitigation, nobody may be motivated enough to protect the site into the future.

“The difficulty we have experienced,” Scott said, “is that we have to play the property market game. That is not a straightforward thing, but we are learning as we go and breaking new ground.”

The Hood Canal program is the first in-lieu-fee program to cover saltwater shorelines as well as freshwater habitats. Programs run by King County, Pierce County and the Tulalip Tribe are focused on freshwater, such as wetlands and streams. It has taken the Hood Canal Coordinating Council five years to find a suitable saltwater site for mitigation.

Part of the problem is finding unoccupied land or else houses that can be demolished or else removed at a reasonable price to allow for a large-scale mitigation.

The original concept was to restore public land for mitigation, said Patty Michak, mitigation program manager for the Hood Canal Coordinating Council. But mitigation programs generally require limited public access and other restrictions that are often at odds with the goals of public use.

A view of Hood Canal from the mitigation property near Anderson Landing Preserve.
Photo: Hood Canal Coordinating Council

Patty said she is still looking for sites with several acres of undeveloped waterfront that can be purchased or placed into a conservation easement. Because the coordinating council is not chartered to own land, some properties — including the latest purchase — are placed under the ownership of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, a regional land trust.

Hood Canal Coordinating Council is recognized by the state as a key environmental manager of the Hood Canal ecosystem. The council is made up of the county commissioners in Kitsap, Mason and Jefferson counties as well as leaders of the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Skokomish tribes.

The new waterfront mitigation site is just southwest of Anderson Landing Preserve northeast of Seabeck. The property, which includes 3.1 acres of tidelands and 391 feet of shoreline, has been named Little Anderson Bluff after Little Anderson Creek, which flows nearby.

The property is being purchased from the University of Washington. It includes a so-called “feeder bluff” rated “exceptional” for its ability to produce high-quality sands and gravels. Sand lance, a forage fish that help to feed salmon, are known to spawn on the property’s beach. The property is in good condition and will need little or no restoration.

Impacts of the Explosives Handling Wharf include 0.25 acres of subtidal vegetated habitat, 0.45 acres of intertidal non-vegetated habitat and 0.65 acres of shoreline vegetation.

When it comes to mitigation under the in-lieu-fee program, the acreage is only one factor. In addition, the quality of habitat and the extent of damage go into creating a numerical score, which is listed as a deficit on a mitigation ledger. When a property is purchased and any restoration work is done, the ledger shows a credit of mitigation points.

It’s a little complicated, but after one or more mitigation projects is completed, the deficit created by the original development is canceled out by the mitigation credits. In the end, the ecosystem gets some permanent protection. In a Kitsap Sun story back in 2012, I outlined the deficits for the Navy project.

Because restoration is not a major aspect of the Little Anderson Bluff project, the credits are somewhat limited. The project will generate about 75 percent of the credits needed to mitigate for intertidal impacts from the Navy project. It will also cover about 82 percent of credits needed for impacts to the shoreline.

Another major project using the in-lieu-fee program is the Highway 3 widening project and stormwater controls in Belfair. The project damaged 0.08 acres of wetlands, for which credits were purchased by the Washington Department of Transportation.

The first wetlands-mitigation site purchased under the Hood Canal in-lieu-fee program was a 17-acre property with a pond located near Belfair. The property, known as Irene Pond, includes wetlands rated the highest value under state wetlands standards. Unfortunately, the wetlands were degraded by human alterations, including an abandoned house, garbage and debris. When completed, the mitigation project is expected to generate more than three times the number of credits needed to compensate for the Belfair highway project.

Another wetlands-mitigation site is 22.4 acres near Poulsbo where a branch of Gamble Creek flows through. Mapped as a high-quality aquifer-recharge area, the property had been used to graze cattle. A mitigation plan is under development, and the project is expected to fully compensate for wetlands damage from Navy’s Explosives Handling Wharf — with credits to spare.

The in-lieu-fee program is available to anyone in the Hood Canal region. Two different waterfront property owners purchased credits for mitigation required for their bulkhead projects — beyond any on-site mitigation that could be done. The coordinating council has not yet identified waterfront property to offset those deficits on the mitigation ledger.

The Navy may return to the Hood Canal Coordinating Council to offset environmental impacts from a proposed 540-foot extension to the Service Pier at Naval Base Kitsap — Bangor. Another likely project is an upgrade to the “land-water interface” at Bangor — a fancy name for a high-tech security fence that connects the land to the water, including special observation platforms.

Orca celebrations and environmental learning are filling our calendar

From killer whales to native plants, it’s a potpourri of activities and events I would like to share with you. June is Orca Month. But first, on Saturday, we can celebrate the 15th anniversary of the remarkable rescue of a young killer whale named Springer.

Also coming in June are gatherings small and large, including a water-based festival in Silverdale later in the month.

Celebrate Springer!

This Saturday, May 20, folks will come together to celebrate Springer — the lost baby orca who was rescued and returned to her home in British Columbia. The 15th anniversary of the rescue will be commemorated on Vashon Island, at the Vashon Theatre, 17723 Vashon Highway SW.

Springer and her calf, named Spirit, who was born in 2013. // Photo: Christie MacMillan

The celebration will include stories recounting the event, starting when Springer was found alone near the Seattle-Vashon Island ferry lanes and continuing through her return to the north end of Vancouver Island after being restored to good health. The celebration will include dancing by the Le-La-La Dance Group. These are the First Nations dancers who welcomed Springer back to her home waters 15 years ago.

For details, check out the web site of The Whale Trail, which is sponsoring the celebration, which I wrote about in Water Ways on the 10th anniversary of the rescue.

Orca Month

The kickoff of Orca Month will include a tribute to Granny, the elderly matriarch who led J pod for decades until her death this past year. The opening event, sponsored by Orca Salmon Alliance, will be Sunday, June 4, at Golden Gardens Bathhouse in Seattle. RSVP on the Orca Month Facebook page.

If you would like to immerse yourself in information about the Southern Resident killer whales, you may enjoy the annual “Orcas in Our Midst” workshop on Whidbey Island on Saturday, June 10. Speakers will include Howard Garrett of Orca Network discussing the status of the Southern Residents, Mike Ford of NOAA talking about killer whale genetics, and Jacques White of Long Live the Kings addressing the critical Salish Sea Salmon. For details and reservations, visit the Orca Network website.

Other events during Orca Month include a screening of the film “The Unknown Sea” in Burien on June 1, naturalists in the parks on June 3, “Day of the Orca” in Port Townsend on June 3, beach cleanups on June 13, Orca Sing on San Juan Island on June 24, and Orca Awareness Weekend at Seattle Aquarium on June 24 and 25. All events, including those in Oregon and British Columbia are featured on the Orca Awareness Month webpage.

Native Plants in Your Garden

This Sunday, Sami Gray, a botanist and landscaper, and Sally Manifold, a retired specialist in native plant restoration, will hold a workshop on how to bring color, beauty and habitat to your own property with the appropriate use of native plants. An illustrated talk will begin indoors, followed by a tour of Sally’s landscape.

The workshop will be from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Poulsbo-Suquamish area. For details and reservations, email Sami at A $10 donation is suggested.

Beach walks

Kitsap Beach Naturalists, a group of trained volunteers, have scheduled a series of low-tide explorations at Kitsap Memorial State Park in North Kitsap. These are special opportunities for children and adults to learn about local sea life, the dynamic shoreline and food web connections.

The events will be Saturday, May 27, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, June 24, from noon to 1:30 p.m.; Monday, July 10, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.; Sunday, July 23, from noon to 1:30 p.m.; and Monday, Aug. 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Kitsap Beach Naturalists is a program of the Washington State University Extension in Kitsap County.

Kitsap Peninsula Water Trail Festival

A two-day festival, including food, music, games, sports and environmental activities, is scheduled for June 24 and 25 at Silverdale Waterfront Park. The festival, which includes numerous paddle events, celebrates the Kitsap Peninsula’s diverse ecosystem and water trails that have been officially designated by the National Water Trails System.

For a list of events, including explanatory videos, check out the Kitsap Peninsula Water Trails Festival website.

ABC Environmental Conference

A few tickets remain for Sunday’s Environmental Conference, sponsored by the Association of Bainbridge Communities. The conference, titled “Changing the Nature of Puget Sound,” is focused on various aspects of industrial aquaculture. The event is at IslandWood Environmental Learning Center. Because of limited space, reservations are required. Visit the conference website for details.

Folk and Traditional Arts in the Parks

A Salish Sea Native American Cultural Celebration on June 3 at Bowman Bay State Park will feature free canoe rides sponsored by the Samish and Swinomish tribes at Deception Pass State Park. The event is part of an ongoing program by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

The celebration also will include native singers, drummers and storytellers. Artists from the two tribes will demonstrate traditional cedar weaving and woodcarving. A salmon and fry bread lunch will be available for a fee.

For information about this and similar programs through September, visit the Folk and Traditional Arts in the Park website.

Dosewallips State Park programs

A variety of environmental topics for children and adults are discussed during evening events at Dosewallips State Park on Hood Canal. Most begin at 8 p.m.

The lineup: Saturday, May 20, “Identifying the Trees of Dosewallips”; Sunday, May 28, “Hidden in Hood Canal”; Saturday, June 3, “Things that Sting”; Saturday, June 10, “Berries and Edible Plants”; Saturday, June 17, “Recycle in the Park”; Saturday, June 24, “Wildlife Visit from West Sound Wildlife Shelter” with Ranger, a Peregrine falcon; Sunday, July 2, “July 4 Special” about Independence Day, including historical reenactments; Saturday, July 8, “Roosevelt Elk”; Saturday, July 15, “How to Make Rescue Bracelets,” Saturday, July 22, “Wildlife Visit from West Sound Wildlife Shelter” with Cedar, a red-tailed hawk; and Saturday July 29, “The Story of Smokey Bear.”

Check out the news release about Dosewallips State Park or go to the interactive Calendar of Events and Meetings through September.

National Parks Guides

The National Parks Foundation offers free travel guides, tips and reviews in a series of impressive publications available on the Explore Parks webpage. They include “National Parks Owner’s Guide,” including maps, travel tips and inside information, “I Heart Parks” about ways to create romantic and lasting memories in the parks, “Recharge in the Parks” with ways of gaining health benefits from being outdoors, “National Parks by Rail” containing passenger train routes in and among the parks, “Urban Playgrounds” with a list of parks close to 24 major cities, “Happy Trails” with 25 “unforgettable national park hikes,” and “The Places Nobody Knows” with tips and descriptions of “hidden gems” in the parks that few people know about.

Amusing Monday: Ontario employs humor in climate discussion

Climate change is a serious issue for the government of Ontario, Canada, yet provincial officials have decided that there is some room for humor. Today, I’m sharing four videos designed to help average Canadians understand the profound effects of a warming world.

“We have so little time,” said Glen Murray, Ontario’s minister on the Environment and Climate Change, speaking with Anthony Leiserowitz of
Yale Climate Connections. “You’ve really got to throw everything at it — your wit, your humor and your sober, serious, heavy-duty conversations about the reality of what we’re facing.”

“Climate change affects everything,” comes the overall message for these four videos. “Climate change affects you and the world around you. This fight is personal.”

For example, rather than profile the economic upheaval expected in commercial agriculture, the first video on this page talks about the effects on the pizza delivered to your door.

Ontario, like the state of Washington, has a Climate Change Action Plan. For Washington’s integrated climate strategy, visit the Department of Ecology’s website. In Ontario’s plan, Murray issues a message to his fellow citizens.

“Climate change is a fact in our daily lives — raising the cost of our food, causing extreme weather that damages property and infrastructure, threatening outdoor activities we love, and melting winter roads that provide critical seasonal access to remote northern Indigenous communities,” Murray writes. “It affects every aspect of our lives, so it is our collective responsibility to fight climate change together to ensure our children benefit from a cleaner planet.”

He describes how some actions can reduce the ultimate effects of climate change and how others can maintain existing jobs and create new ones.

In a 3-minute interview with Climate TV, Murray quickly spells out what he thinks should be done to move Canada and the world to a low-carbon future. His comments were made in the final days of COP21 — the Conference of the Parties 21 — in which representative s from countries throughout the world went to Paris in 2015 to agree to actions that can begin to address climate change.

Transient killer whales make themselves at home in Puget Sound

Transient killer whales are gallivanting around Puget Sound like they own the place — and maybe they do.

For decades, transients were not well known to most observers in the Salish Sea. But now these marine-mammal-eating orcas are even more common than our familiar Southern Residents, the J, K and L pods. In fact, transients are becoming so prevalent that it is hard to keep track of them all. Some observers say up to 10 different groups of transients could be swimming around somewhere in Puget Sound at any given time.

“This is nuts!” exclaimed Susan Berta of Orca Network, a nonprofit organization that keeps track of whale sightings. “This is more than we have ever seen!

“Alisa Lemire Brooks coordinates our sighting networks,” Susan told me. “She is going nuts trying to keep track of them. It has been so confusing. They mix and merge and split up again.” (See also Orca Network’s Facebook page.)

This video by Alisa Lemire Brooks shows a group of transients taking a California sea lion at Richmond Beach in Shoreline, King County, on Monday. Much of the close-up action begins at 6:30.

If you’ve followed the news of the J, K and L pods and you think you know something about killer whales, you may need to refine your thinking when talking about transients. In fact, some researchers contend that the physical, behavioral and genetic differences between transients and residents are so great that the two kinds of orcas should be considered separate species.

In terms of family structure, both residents and transients live in matriarchal societies, with individual groups led by elder females. For the most part, resident orcas will stay with their moms for life. Young whales will often be found with their extended families, including aunts, uncles and cousins and quite often their grandmothers and even great-grandmothers if they are still living.

Traditionally, multiple matriarchal groups — known as matrilines — come together to form larger pods. Together, the residents hunt for schools of salmon by working together in these extended groups.

Transients often travel in much smaller groups, perhaps because they hunt individual seals and sea lions, making the smaller groups more efficient. Younger females generally stay with their mothers until they have calves of their own. The confusion comes in because an adult female with multiple calves may be seen swimming with her mother at times, but leading her own little group at other times. With various families doing different things and going different ways, transient groups are hard to define.

During the month of April, about 20 different transient groups were positively identified in the Salish Sea, according to Orca Network. That does not count any groups seen by ordinary observers unable to identify the individual whales.

For the month, 442 killer whale sightings were recorded — mostly of transients, although J pod was around for part of the month, according to data from Orca Network. And, going into May, the rate of sightings does not seem to be slowing down. In comparison, sightings totaled 275 during April of last year.

The number of transient orcas spending time in Puget Sound is definitely growing, said Deborah Giles of the Center for Whale Research, while acknowledging that some of this year’s increase may be the result of more people out watching for whales from shore. Sighting locations are provided by both Orca Network and a separate group, The Whale Trail.

Another unusual observation, Giles said, is the congregation of small groups of transients into 20 or more whales, something seen last year for the first time in Puget Sound and experienced again this year.

Six killer whales hunt for seals on an extended stay in Hood Canal in 2005. // Photo: Josh London

Many of the whales we see range widely from Northern California to Southeast Alaska. In 2005, I was thrilled to talk to Dena Matkin, a whale researcher in Glacier Bay, Alaska, who was familiar with six orcas that had been hanging around in Hood Canal. Puget Sound experts had identified the two older females as T-71 and T-124A, as I reported in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 5, 2005.

“These are my friends, and I am so happy to hear that they are doing well down there,” Dena told me by phone.”T-71 I call Bonkers, because the first time I got to know it, it was bonking a harbor seal on the head with its tail. T-71A I call Hopkins, because I saw the new calf in John Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay, where harbor seals breed.”

It is interesting to note that the T-71 group was seen in January of this year at the southern tip of Vancouver Island in Canada. The T-124A group was seen within the Salish Sea in January, March and four times in April. T-124A was among a group of 28 transients gathered in the Strait of Georgia on April 14.

In the 1970s, during the early days of killer whale research, Michael Bigg of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans figured out that individual whales could be identified by the shape and size of their dorsal fin along with pigmentation at the base of the fin, called the saddle patch. Eventually, the researchers in Puget Sound and British Columbia realized that two large groups of orcas were seen again and again. They eventually became known as Northern Residents and Southern Residents.

In those days, researchers documented other whales coming into the inland waterways, but few would be seen a second or third time. Bigg called these whales transients — although some people now refer to them as Bigg’s killer whales in his honor. For a nice account of this history and other information about transients, check out a piece by Jared Towers in Orcazine, an online magazine about killer whales.

It is now understood why transient killer whales were rarely seen in the Salish Sea before passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the U.S. and similar laws in Canada. Seals and sea lions had been hunted to extremely low levels before 1972 in an effort to increase the commercial harvest of salmon. What isn’t clear is why it took the transients so long to figure out that marine mammals were back on their exclusive Puget Sound menu.

A study by Juliana Houghton of the University of Washington and other researchers describes an increase in transients in the Salish Sea from 1987 to 2010, but it appears that the whales’ presence has grown much more since that time.

Total populations of West Coast transients are hard to calculate, but the rate of growth has slowed since an initial surge from 1975 to 1990. The best estimate for today’s population is more than 500 animals. Gary Wiles of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife produced a Periodic Status Review (PDF 3.1 mb) last summer.

Transient killer whales are quite different from residents, and the two ecotypes are not known to interact except for rare accidental encounters. When they meet, the transients normally skedaddle, apparently out of respect for the residents. Dave Bain, a University of Washington instructor, once told me of an encounter in which J pod seemed to give chase to a group of transients. I related Dave’s account in a story I wrote for the Kitsap Sun, a piece that addressed critical interactions among Puget Sound’s marine mammals. Check out “Scientists weighing what mammals’ health says about Puget Sound.”

I should mention that through the years many observers have secretly or even openly hoped for a resurgence of transients in the Salish Sea to benefit the Southern Residents. Seals and sea lions are often direct competitors for the salmon needed to keep the endangered Southern Residents alive. Seals and sea lions eat lots of other fish as well, complicating the relationship. Check out a story I wrote in January for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Because the resident and transient populations remain isolated, they have developed their own hunting styles, with the transients being generally quieter to sneak up on seals and sea lions. Meanwhile, the residents not only make more noise as they go after chinook salmon, their repertoire of calls is more complex and extensive.

Physically, transients are larger, presumably because their prey — marine mammals as opposed to fish — are larger and stronger. This is likely evolution at work. The dorsal fin of a female transient is sharper and looks a little like a shark fin, whereas a female resident’s dorsal fin is generally more curvy. The saddle patch of the two types is also different, with residents having more variation in shape and shading.

If you would like to identify individual transient killer whales, Orca Network has posted a catalog of photos (PDF 116.3 mb) produced in 2012 by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans. A newer catalog, in color, was compiled for members of the Center for Whale Research.

Amusing Monday: Underwater photos show mysteries of the deep

Underwater photographers are a unique breed of picture-takers. They venture into the mysterious depths of the ocean to discover interesting and unusual things and then capture an image for the rest of us to see.

Each year, thanks to the international Underwater Photographer of the Year contest, we can all share in many adventures by viewing more than 100 artful images of watery environments. All of the amazing winners and acclaimed finalists, along with comments from the photographers and judges, can be seen in the annual yearbook (PDF 27 mb). In this blog post, I’ll show you four of my favorite pictures. (You can click to enlarge.)

“Your Home and My Home” // Photo: ©Qing Lin/UPY 2017

This stunning photo of clownfish, taken by Canadian Qing Lin while diving in Indonesia, is titled “Your Home and My Home.” It shows three clownfish, each with a parasitic isopod in its mouth. Meanwhile, as many people know, clownfish themselves live in a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone. The fish protect the anemone from small fish that would eat them, while the anemone’s stinging tentacles protect the clownfish from larger predators.

“One of my favorite fish to photograph is the clown,” wrote Martin Edge, one of the judges in the competition. “Now, I’ve seen many individual clowns with this parasite, but never have I seen a parasite in each of three. Add to this behavior a colorful anemone lined up across the image. Six eyes all in pin-sharp focus, looking into the lens of the author. Talk about ‘Peak of the Action’ This was one of my favorite shots from the entire competition.”

The photographer said it took him six dives and a lot of patience and luck to capture the exact moment when all three fish opened their mouths to reveal their “guests.”

“Out of the Blue” // Photo: ©Nick Blake/UPY 2017

Nick Blake of Great Britain was named the British Underwater Photographer of the Year for this picture taken at Mexico’s Kukulkan Cenote, a natural sinkhole on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

“I left my strobes behind for the natural light shot I wanted and positioned myself in the shadows of the cavern,” Nick writes. “Moving my eye around the viewfinder, I could see that the rock outline of the cavern around me made for a pleasing symmetry and I adjusted my position to balance the frame.

“The light show flickered on and off as the sun was periodically covered by cloud and as it reappeared, I beckoned to my buddy and dive guide, Andrea Costanza of ProDive, to edge into the illumination of some of the stronger beams, completing the composition.”

“Competition” // Photo: ©Richard Shucksmith/UPY 2017

Wild gannets fighting for fish became the second-place photo in the wide-angle category for British photographers. Dive photographer Richard Shucksmith, who was working on a shooting project off the coast of Scotland, attracted hundreds of these large seabirds with a handout of fish. One diving bird often triggered dozens of others to follow, he said.

“I could hear the birds as they hit the water right above my head just before they appeared in front of the camera,” Richard wrote. “A great experience.”

“Superb capture by the author,” said judge Martin Edge. “The power of the gannets is so very well emphasized in this particular frame. In the post process it must have been a challenge which specific image to enter into this competition. The author chose well. We all loved this shot!”

“Prey” // Photo: ©So Yat Wai /UPY 2017

In its larval stage, the tiny mantis shrimp, left, has already become a fierce predator. So Yat Wai of Hong Kong won first place in the macro division with this photo, which seems to show a mantis shrimp about to attack another planktonic species. The photo was taken near Anilao, The Philippines, during a blackwater dive, in which specially rigged lines keep the diver from getting lost during a night dive well offshore.

“This shot works on so many levels,” writes judge Peter Rowlands. “Like a Sci Fi encounter in outer space, the fortuitous (for once) backscatter creates a perfect starry background which makes the main subject seem huge and menacing. Perfect composition leaves you in no doubt and you can only fear for the ‘little fella’ on the right.”


In all, about 4,500 images from 67 different countries were submitted to the Underwater Photographer of the Year contest. If you are interested in underwater creatures, you will want to scan through the yearbook (PDF 27 mb) to see winning photos of everything from killer whales to jellyfish. The overall winning picture, by French diver Gabriel Barathieu, shows a hunting octopus near the tiny island of Mayotte in the Indian Ocean.

You can also see the photos and hear from the photographers themselves in a video presentation of the winners — an online awards ceremony. (See video below.)

The annual competition started in 1965 and today includes 10 categories, including macro and wide-angle photography as well as themes such as behavior and wrecks. The latter category includes photos of sunken ships and planes composed in artful ways that stir the emotions.

Social advice for the environmentally conscious among us

Grist, the sassy Seattle-based webzine focused on environmental news and commentary, has been running a series of advice columns called “The 21-day apathy detox.”

The title says much about the series, which is written for environmentally minded folks who have given up late-night Facebook fights and fancy salads and now find themselves parked in front of the television doing nothing but wondering if there is a future for our species.

Umbra Fisk // Image: Grist

“Can I learn to hope again?” comes the question from such a person begging for help from Umbra Fisk, Grist’s advice columnist who writes on the environmental and climate-change front.

“Well, you’ve found the right advice columnist,” Umbra replies. “I’m here to quietly change your Facebook password and not-so-quietly offer the best tools, tricks, and advice to help you fight for a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck. You’ll build civic muscles, find support buddies, and better your community!”

Umbra’s 21 tips, coming to a conclusion tomorrow, focus on personal, social and political habits. The ideas are crafted so thoughtfully that one might be tempted to try them all — from “meet your neighbors” to “green your power sources” to “fight city hall.” But even if you do none of the specific actions, the series may convince you that personal actions really do count.

I especially liked the advice given on Day 4 of the 21-day regimen. It’s about subscribing to a local newspaper. The goal is not just to keep yourself informed about your community, it is also about maintaining the proper function of government.

“We need boots on the ground, reporting day-in and day-out from city councils, zoning meetings, school boards and regional planning authorities, to catch the seeds of something huge,” Umbra writes. “There are way too many towns for even the best national newspaper to keep an eye on.

“In Flint, Michigan, local journalists broke the story of the town’s poisoned water supply a year before the big outlets picked it up and almost two years before the governor declared a state of emergency.

“A reporter at a 10-person Iowa newspaper just won a Pulitzer for editorials calling out the likes of Monsanto and the Koch brothers over a local water pollution case….

“Watchdogs are awesome, but you’ve got to feed them. As important as the hometown shoe-leather might be, the little guys are hurting. Hundreds of newspapers have closed in the last 10 years. Why? Because papers make their money from print sales, and now we have a little thing called the internet. Nobody wants to pay for their news anymore…. But damn, we should pay for news.”

Forgive me, Umbra, for truncating your argument, which is more detailed and includes links to authoritative sources.

Umbra Fisk, who has been writing the column “Ask Umbra” for 15 years, is actually a fictional character. Nevertheless, the writers of the column are very real. Reporter Felicity Barringer wrote about the adventures of Umbra for the New York Times in 2008. She credited Becka Warren, a Vermont writer for Grist, with some of the initial concepts. Now, after a hiatus following the November elections, Umbra is back on the job.

Here are the advice articles posted in “The 21-day Apathy Diet”:

Protecting the Puget Sound ecosystem involves urban planning

I often write about Puget Sound restoration, sometimes forgetting to include the word “protection.” It really should be “Puget Sound protection and restoration” — with protection getting the first billing and the highest priority in our thinking.

Puget Sound from space // Image: NASA

Protection isn’t very exciting — not like restoring hundreds of acres of degraded estuaries, floodplains and wetlands. Of course, restoration is absolutely necessary to gain back lost habitat, but the immediate result is never as good as habitat that avoided damage in the first place. Even restored habitat generally needs to be protected for a long time before it functions as well as an undisturbed site.

These are issues I have been pondering as I wrote the latest story in a series about Implementation Strategies — a focused effort to make a measurable improvement in the Puget Sound ecosystem. For details, check out the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

If we could freeze everything in place, then habitat restoration would help rebuild the fish and wildlife populations that require special conditions. But we cannot stop time, and we are told that 1.5 million more people will soon be living in the Puget Sound region.

Where can all these future people find homes without further degrading the environment? Will they choose to live in places that minimize the ecological damage or will it even matter to them? Needless to say, this remains an open-ended question — a question that is both public and very personal, touching on issues of freedom and property rights.

I hope that we, as Puget Sound residents, can work together on this problem with open eyes and clear thinking. The state’s Growth Management Act has helped protect natural habitat by encouraging higher housing densities in urban areas. But the GMA has not been able to cope with economic and lifestyle pressures that cause people to live in remote areas where their mere presence disturbs the functioning food web.

It’s not an easy problem to solve, but researchers and policy experts familiar with the issue have put their thoughts together to formulate a draft “Land Development and Land Cover Implementation Strategy.” I outlined the draft in a story titled “Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem,” published this week in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. More work is planned before the strategy is finalized.

Ecologically important lands identified in the Puget Sound region. (Click to enlarge) // Map: WDFW

“I think the central battle will be in the urban areas,” Doug Peters told me, reflecting his understanding that higher-density communities are needed to protect intact habitat elsewhere. Doug, a watershed planner with the Washington State Department of Commerce, said development innovations and economic incentives could be needed to address the problem.

As I said at the outset, Puget Sound restoration seems to get the most attention. Meanwhile, the notion of protection may call to mind buying up ecologically sensitive lands or else purchasing conservation easements or development rights. But it is equally important to make plans for where we want people to live and to make sure these places are inviting enough to attract future residents.

In a region with wide-open spaces, this kind of planning does not have much appeal, and it is not the way we normally do things in this country. But, as Benjamin Franklin might say, “By failing to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Amusing Monday: Human super powers and other oddball things

Humans have at least five super powers that few people know about, according to Mind Warehouse, a video producer with nearly 2 million subscribers on YouTube.

The one so-called “superpower” that intrigued me the most was the ability to distinguish warm water from cold water by sound alone. The super-powers video, found first on this page, challenges viewers to close their eyes and listen as someone pours two glasses of water — one hot and one cold.

According to the video segment, which begins at 2:34, between 80 and 90 percent of people who listen to the video can tell whether it is hot or cold water being poured into the glasses. It has something to do with bubbles, according to the video.

The other super powers mentioned in the video are super vision, the power of healing, a double identity based on DNA, and a force field surrounding every body. You can listen to the description of all these super powers, but to me the only surprising power is the one about the temperature of water.

Mind Warehouse specializes in videos about odd and unexpected things — including a video called “Five gadgets that will give you real super powers.” They include a wrist-worn device that shoots fireballs, an exoskeleton that allows super-human strength and a vacuum device that lets people climb up walls. For details, watch the second video player on this page.

If you aren’t familiar with Mind Warehouse, you can check out more than 100 videos on the Mind Warehouse website on YouTube. Here are a few videos that caught my eye:

New game lets you travel with wacky steelhead as they try to survive

In a new game open to everyone, 48 colorful cartoon fish will soon follow the wandering paths of real-life steelhead that have been tracked during their migration through Puget Sound.

Just like their counterparts in the real world, some of the young steelhead in the game will survive the trip from South Puget Sound or southern Hood Canal — but many will not. The game’s basic tenet is to choose a fish that you feel will be lucky or cunning enough to make it through a gauntlet of hazards from predators to disease. You then watch and learn about the needs and threats to salmon and steelhead as the game progresses over 12 days, beginning May 8.

The educational game, called Survive the Sound, was developed by Long Live the Kings. Each fish you enter will cost $25, with proceeds going to the organization. Long Live the Kings has long been known for its work in rebuilding wild salmon and steelhead populations and researching the needs and threats to these amazing migratory fish.

“I’ve seen some of these migration paths of steelhead,” said Lucas Hall of Long Live the Kings. “Some take some wacky paths, and some even turn around and go the wrong direction for a while.”

As I said, the cartoon fish are based on a select group of real-life fish. Each fish has a home base, either the Nisqually or the Skokomish river, and the size of the real fish is listed. Where the game departs from real life is that the fish are given funny names, and each fish is quoted with a phrase that it might say.

A fish called Itchy Roe is dressed as a baseball player and says, “Swimming this gauntlet is still better than playing in Cleveland.”

Another fish is named Call Me Fishtail, and he says, “Uncharted truth: it is not down in any map; true places never are” — a line from the novel Moby Dick.

The there is Sci-Fi: “This migration is one small step for fish, one giant leap for fish-kind.”

The original tracking effort is conducted by implanting tiny acoustic transmitters into young fish. Receivers placed along the migratory route pick up transmissions that identify the specific fish. If a little steelhead gets eaten by a seal or a bird, researchers may find themselves tracking the predator until the transmitter is excreted.

The idea for the game came up during a board meeting of Long Live the Kings, Lucas told me. Someone mentioned that it would be intriguing to have a Fantasy Football game for fish with winners and losers, as in the real world of salmon and steelhead. The game is now six months into development.

“We’re trying to tell a story in a way that people can understand,” Lucas said.

People may purchase any number of fish for themselves or gift them to others. Prizes will be awarded in several categories. For details, go to the FAQ page on the game’s website. If your fish dies, you will still get updates on the migration along with other ongoing information.

The game is linked to the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, an international effort involving more than 60 groups in the U.S. and Canada that are attempting to explain why so few salmon and steelhead grow up to spawn as adults. Among the project’s supporters is the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. Vulcan Inc., founded by Allen, helped with the design and user interface for the game.

KUOW reporter Ellis O’Neill visited Big Beef Creek on the Kitsap Peninsula to see how the steelhead are implanted with acoustic tags. She also spoke with Seattle attorney Ryan McFarland and his 8-year-old son Dylan, who will be playing the game. Hear her report below, followed by a video story told by reporter Allison Morrow of KING-5 television.

Listen to “2017-04-26-steelhead” on Spreaker.