I admit I’m little late to the party, since this video was
posted on NOAA’s
Facebook page three days ago., Still, I wanted to show it to
those of you who may not be closely following the killer whale
research. At the end of this video, researchers Brad Hanson and
Candice Emmons talk a little bit about their work.
For the past 22 years, students from across the country have
been painting and drawing some amazing pictures of ducks, swans,
geese and related water birds.
Each year, the best pictures are printed up as Federal Junior
Duck Stamps, which can be purchased from participating post offices
and sporting good stores. With the deadline for the 2015 art
contest approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share
some of these great artworks.
The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is
sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The $5 junior duck
stamps are modeled on the $15 Federal Duck Stamps, purchased by
hunters and used by others as a pass for national wildlife
Proceeds from the junior duck stamps are used for conservation
education, including a national curriculum for students from
kindergarten through 12th grade. The national program involves
elements of science, art, math and technology.
The deadline for the art competition is March 15. At the state
level, students are judged in four groups by grade: K-3, 4-6, 7-9
and 10-12. Numerous awards are given in each group, and one “best
of show” from each state are entered into the national competition
in April. Participants are encouraged to include a conservation
message with their entries.
With less than a week remaining on the 21-day research cruise,
Brad Hanson and company sighted a newborn orca in L pod swimming in
coastal waters off Westport on Wednesday. The mother appears to be
L-94, a 20-year-old female named Calypso.
The new calf is the third to be born to Southern Residents since
Christmas. That’s a nice turnaround, considering that no babies
were born in 2013 and 2014, except for the one born right at the
end of last year. Still, at least one more calf is needed to
surpass even the annual average over the past 10 years. To keep
this in perspective, six calves were born in 2010, though not all
“It is encouraging to see this (new calf), particularly in L
pod,” Brad told me in a phone call yesterday afternoon. Hanson is a
senior researcher for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science
The current research cruise also has been among the most
exciting and productive since the effort began in 2004, he said.
The research vessel Bell M. Shimada was able to follow J pod up
into Canada’s Strait of Georgia before switching attention to K and
a portion of L pod, which then traveled down the coast of
Washington past the Columbia River into Central Oregon. Satellite
tags attached to males in the two groups helped the research team
stay with the animals. In past years, the whales have not always
been easy to find for observation and tracking.
So far, more fecal and scale samples were collected in 2013 than
this year, but that could still be surpassed. This was the first
time that all three pods have been observed in one year, and it was
the first time that researchers saw two groups of L pod whales
coming together in the open ocean.
“Both 2013 and this cruise were extremely productive,” Brad told
me. “We have been able to observe variability between pods as well
as variability between years.”
As I mentioned in
Water Ways on Tuesday, learning where the whales travel in
winter and what they are eating are essential elements for
extending legal protections to the coast as part of a new critical
habitat designation for the Southern Residents.
With unusually good weather and sea conditions for February, the
researchers have learned a great deal about the whales as well as
the conditions in which they live — including the presence of sea
birds and other marine life, the abundance of plankton and the
general oceanographic conditions, Brad noted.
“I would rather be lucky than good any day,” he said of the
fortuitous conditions that have made the trip so successful. See
Facebook page for his latest written notes.
The two groups of L-pod whales apparently came together early
Wednesday about 15 miles off the coast near Westport. The whales
were tightly grouped together when Hanson and his crew approached
in a small Zodiac work boat.
“It looked like a bunch of females were all gathered up when we
saw this calf pop up,” Brad said. “It is really exciting. The calf
The young animal had the familiar orange tint of a newborn with
apparent fetal folds, which are folds of skin left from being in
the womb. It was probably no more than two days old and very
energetic, Brad said.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research said the baby in L
pod might not have been spotted so early in the year were it not of
the research cruise. L pod usually returns to Puget Sound in April
“Seeing these calves is great, but the question is: Will they
make it into summer,” Ken said in an interview with Tristan
Baurick, a reporter with the
Kitsap Sun (subscription).
Without winter observations, many orcas born during those months
— especially whales in K or L pods — might never be known, since
the mortality of young orcas is believed to be high.
As of this afternoon, the research vessel Shimada was off the
Long Beach Peninsula north of the Columbia River (presumably with
the whales). This is the general area where the orcas and their
observers have been moving about for the past day or so.
It’s all about the data when it comes to critical habitat for
the Southern Resident killer whales, or so they say.
Researchers with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center have
piled up a lot of data this year, which could be just what is
needed to expand the endangered orcas’ critical habitat from Puget
Sound and the inland waterways out to the open ocean along the West
NOAA announced in
today’s Federal Register that the agency would consider
expanding critical habitat, as allowed by the Endangered Species
Act, and possibly make other changes to the designation over the
next two years. What is needed, the agency said, are more data.
On Dec. 28, a satellite transmitter was attached to J-27, a
24-year-old male named Blackberry, who was tracked as J pod moved
about from the Strait of Juan de Fuca up into the Strait of Georgia
until the tag came off on Feb. 15. The following day, a new
satellite tag was attached to L-84, a 25-year-old male named Nysso.
K and L pods were tracked out to the ocean and down the coast to
A research team led by Brad Hanson aboard the vessel Bell M.
Shimada has kept track of J pod, then K and L pods since leaving
Newport, Ore., on Feb. 11. According to the latest report from the
researchers, K and L pods traveled south last week to the Umpqua
River in Central Oregon, where they abruptly turned north on
The whales continued north on Sunday, sometimes 10 miles
“We observed a lot of surface active behavior throughout the day
— lots of spy hops — and at one point we observed numerous whales
repeatedly breaching over a several-minute period,” according to
notes from the cruise.
The researchers observed no apparent foraging for several days
and the whales remained quiet, with the exception of a several-hour
period shortly after the breaching episode. As of yesterday
morning, they were still off the Oregon Coast and heading
The tracking data and up-close observations from this year’s
cruise appear to fill in some major data gaps — especially for J
pod, whose winter movements were not well known, according to NOAA
In 2012, the first tag deployed on the Southern Resident allowed
the researchers to track J pod, but only for three days before the
tag came off. In 2013, a tag on L-87, which frequently traveled
with J pod, provided 30 days of data about J pods movements in the
Salish Sea, particularly in the Strait of Georgia (where they spent
a lot of time this year).
Another tag in 2013 allowed K and L pods to be tracked along the
West Coast all the way to California.
Sightings from land and shore, along with acoustic recordings of
the whales also are included among recent findings.
We won’t know until 2017 if NOAA has amassed enough data to
expand the critical habitat to coastal regions, perhaps as far as
Northern California, as proposed in a petition filed in January of
last year by the Center for Biological Diversity. For the decision
announced today in the Federal Register, the data are not enough.
This is how it is stated in the notice:
“While data from new studies are available in our files and have
begun to address data gaps identified in the 2006 critical habitat
designation, considerable data collection and analysis needs to be
conducted to refine our understanding of the whales’ habitat use
and needs. Additional time will increase sample sizes and provide
the opportunity to conduct robust analyses.
“While we have been actively working on gathering and analyzing
data on coastal habitat use, these data and analyses are not yet
sufficiently developed to inform and propose revisions to critical
habitat as requested in the petition.”
In addition to the geographic areas covered by the killer
whales, the agency must identify the ‘‘physical or biological
features essential to the conservation of the species.’’ Such
features include food, water, air, light, minerals or other
nutritional requirements; cover or shelter; sites for breeding; and
habitats protected from disturbance.
Once specific areas are identified for protection, the agency
must make sure that the value of protection for the killer whales
outweighs the economic costs and effects on national security.
While J pod continues to hang out in the Salish Sea, NOAA’s
research cruise has shifted its focus to K and L pods, which have
worked their way south along the Washington Coast to beyond the
If you recall, a research team led by Brad Hanson of NOAA’s
Northwest Fisheries Science Center left Newport, Ore., on Feb. 11
aboard the vessel Bell M. Shimada. Homing in on a satellite tag
attached to J-27 (named Blackberry), the ship met up with J pod two
days later near Canada’s Texada Island in the Strait of
The researchers were able to collect scales from fish killed by
the whales to determine what kind of fish they were eating. It was
the first time that a sample of this kind has been collected
outside of Puget Sound during the month of February, Brad
The ship stayed with J pod and its two new babies as they moved
around in the general area of Texada Island. Then last Sunday the
satellite tag came off J-27, as it was designed to do after a
period of time. Hanson was pleased that the tag had stayed on so
long, allowing researchers to track six weeks of travels by J pod,
which had never been tracked that extensively before.
Together with tracking data from 2012 and 2014, this year’s work
helps to characterize the movements of J pod, according to
notes from the cruise:
“Collectively, these data indicate only limited use of the outer
coastal waters by J pod. In 2014 NMFS was petitioned to designate
Critical Habitat on the outer coastal waters of Washington, Oregon,
and California. The data used for this petition was derived from
only one sample — the range of K25 during the January to March 2013
satellite tag deployment. Consequently, potential variability
between pods and between years has led to making tagging a whale
from L pod a high priority.”
Prompted by a sighting of K and L pods off Sooke, B.C., at the
south end of Vancouver Island, the research ship headed into the
Strait of Juan de Fuca and intercepted the two pods Monday
afternoon near the entrance to the Strait. The ship tracked the
whales acoustically through the night with its hydrophone
The next day, the crew took to the water in its small boat and
attached a satellite tag to L-84, a 25-year-old male named Nyssa.
The researchers also were able to collect some scales from fish
that the whales had eaten. Leaving the Strait of Juan de Fuca, K
and L pods turned south after entering the Pacific Ocean. Again,
from the cruise notes:
“By being able to deploy a tag on L pod while on our cruise on
the Bell M. Shimada, we have the unique opportunity to now be able
to follow the whales each day (and potentially at night) and
collect prey and fecal samples as well as other data about their
environment this time of the year.
“While we know that K and L pods sometimes co-occur in the
winter, this will potentially be an opportunity to see the degree
to which they remain together. We are off to an exciting start —
four prey samples yesterday (Tuesday) and four fecal samples today
(Wednesday) while the whales transited from near Cape Ozette … to
near Willipa Bay.”
By tracking the Shimada on the Marine Traffic website,
I understand that the whales paused outside of Grays Harbor and
again near the mouth of the Columbia River. As if this afternoon,
they had moved south of Tillamook Bay and Cape Meares in Oregon and
were continuing on south.
Meanwhile, J pod apparently remains in the Salish Sea, which
includes inland waterways on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border.
As of yesterday, the pod was seen in Active Pass in the Gulf
Islands of British Columbia, north of Washington’s San Juan
Both of the new calves in J pod — J-50 and J-51 — seem to be
doing fine, according to naturalist Heather MacIntyre, quoted in
San Juan Islander. J-50, a female, was born just days before
the end of the year, while J-51, gender unknown, was born about two
BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma
— and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200
stations today, according to a
list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began
as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in
The searchable archive
covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of
birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related
sources — including photos or videos; a little history or
biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and
often more information about the featured birds.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is
a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past
two years or so that I think you will enjoy:
Another newborn orca in J pod was reported this evening by the
Center for Whale Research, adding a touch of optimism for the
endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
This morning, researcher Dave Ellifrit and volunteer Jeanne Hyde
heard calls from J pod picked up on a hydrophone on the west side
of San Juan Island. The went out in the center’s research vessel to
observe the whales at a “respectful distance,” according to a
That’s when they spotted the new orca calf, designated J-51,
which was being attended by the presumed mother, J-19, a
36-year-old female named Shachi. Also nearby was Shachi’s
10-year-old daughter, J-41, named Eclipse.
“The newest baby appears healthy,” according to the observers,
who said the whale appeared to be about a week old.
For the past two weeks, J pod has been in and out of the Strait
of Juan de Fuca, but ventured farther into the inland waters this
morning. The observers also spotted J-50, the young calf born the
last week of December, who was with her family.
Naturalist Traci Walter posted a new video
on YouTube showing both the new J pod calves.
“Today was pretty amazing to be out there with J pod,” Traci
commented on her YouTube page. “We knew of the new calf J50 that
was first sighted December 30, 2014. Today was the first day J51
was seen! Enjoy the footage! Please note, this footage was taken
with a 600 mm zoom lens while abiding by whale watch regulations.
The new calf brings the number of whales in J pod to 26, with 19
in K pod and 34 in L pod.
Meanwhile, the NOAA research vessel Bell M. Shimada continued on
its way into Puget Sound on its annual cruise to observe the
Southern Residents. The ship was passing Port Angeles about 11 p.m.
tonight. For background, see
Tuesday’s Water Ways blog.
A team of marine mammal biologists and other researchers will
set out tomorrow morning on a 21-day cruise to study Southern
Resident killer whales from aboard the 209-foot Bell M. Shimada
The researchers are fortunate that a satellite tag is still
attached to J-27 and remains operable, making it possible to locate
J pod without searching far and wide.
“We’re real excited and very interested to see what they’re
hitting out there,” Brad Hanson told me today as he prepared the
NOAA research vessel for its departure from Newport, Ore. Brad, a
researcher with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, is
leading the research team on its annual winter cruise along the
Learning what the orcas are eating in the winter remains a major
goal of the researchers. The ship also is equipped to study the
general oceanography and biological conditions where the whales are
choosing to spend their time.
Brad is also interested in checking on the newest member of J
pod, J-50, now 6 weeks old. The young calf appears to be the
daughter of J-16, a 43-year-old female named Slick, but there
remains some lingering doubt. (Review
Water Ways from Jan. 22.)
J pod, one of the three Southern Resident pods, has been
spending a lot of time lately in and around the entrance to the
Strait of Juan de Fuca. The pod made one excursion out beyond the
edge of the continental shelf on Friday, then followed the slope
for more than a full day before turning back toward Vancouver
Island and arriving back in the Strait on Sunday. Check out the map
at the bottom of this page for their path.
This was the longest time that J pod has been tracked so far out
in the ocean, Brad said. When K pod was being tracked by satellite,
the whales once traveled out to the edge of the continental shelf
but stayed only a day.
The Shimada will spend about a day and a half traveling from
Newport up to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Brad said he would not be
surprised to spot K pod or L pod on the way up the coast, although
their locations are currently unknown.
What will be learned on the 21-day cruise is unpredictable, Brad
said. The weather often determines the success of observations and
operations. The Shimada is well equipped for ocean conditions, but
seas are an important factor in getting good work done. One could
see a big difference in the Strait of Juan de Fuca versus the open
ocean, while the entrance to the Strait is often associated with a
“toilet bowl effect” — an unpredictable mixture of waves and
“What we are trying to do is characterize the habitat in which
the whales are living,” Brad explained. “We will look for what is
unique or unusual, whether there are areas of high productivity and
other top predators, such as seabirds.”
As he gets time, Brad plans to post observations on
NOAA’s blog related to the killer whale tagging project, and I
will try to report interesting developments as well.
Kingston’s sewage treatment plant could provide irrigation water
for the nearby White Horse Golf Course and possibly other uses
under a plan now in development.
Kitsap County commissioners recently signed a $325,000
“predesign” contract with Brown and Caldwell engineers. The firm
was hired to answer a host of questions about the feasibility of
producing high-quality effluent at the plant and then putting the
clean water to good use.
“We’re just starting to look at the whole project,” said Barbara
Zaroff of Kitsap County’s Wastewater Division. “We just had our
kickoff meeting two weeks ago, and now Brown and Caldwell will be
going out to collect data.”
I peppered Barbara with questions that she could not answer at
this point, because the detail work is yet to be done. But we know
from a previous study by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) that producing high-quality
effluent in Kingston is more than a random thought.
Golder found benefits from using the water for supplementing
flows in nearby Grover’s Creek while recharging much-needed
groundwater in that area of the county. The Suquamish Tribe, which
owns White Horse Golf Course, has expressed interest in acquiring
the water if various issues can be resolved.
The Kingston treatment plant, completed in 2005, produces an
average of 150,000 gallons of effluent per day, currently
discharged into Appletree Cove. As population grows, the plant can
be expanded to about 300,000 gallons per day.
It appears it would be cost-effective to treat the water to
tertiary standards with sand filters, although other technologies
will be explored. A pond could be built on or near the golf course,
which would store the water for irrigation and allow infiltration
into the ground. The available water should provide the needs of
the course with plenty of water left over.
Discharging into a wetland that feeds into Grover’s Creek is
another idea, along with providing irrigation at the county’s North
Kitsap Heritage Park. Unused water might still be discharged into
Puget Sound, particularly in winter months when irrigation water is
One question that always arises with reclaimed water is what
happens to trace amounts of chemicals that pass through the
treatment process, such as pharmaceutical drugs that mimic
hormones. We know from studies that some of these chemicals can
affect the growth, development and metabolism of fish in some
An analysis by
Golder Associates (PDF 18.2 mb) concluded that future treatment
processes in the Kingston plant would remove between 80 and 97
percent of endocrine disrupting compounds coming into the plant.
Environmental conditions where reclaimed water is discharged would
degrade the chemicals further, so the overall risk would be low for
salmon and other fish, according to the report.
The new study is expected to look further into the risks.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Ecology is continuing to work on
reclaimed-water rule that could improve permitting and
monitoring by producers of reclaimed water.
The Kingston project would be similar to what is happening at
the Central Kitsap Wastewater Treatment Plant near Brownsville,
where construction is adding sand filters as part of an overall
upgrade to the plant.
The nearby Silverdale Water District has installed about 15,000
feet of “purple pipe” for reclaimed water on the major arterials of
Silverdale, including Silverdale Way. The project is part of the
water district’s major pipe-replacement project. Another 2,000 feet
will be added as part of the Bucklin Hill Bridge project, General
Manager Morgan Johnson told me.
Much of the new commercial construction in Silverdale is being
designed to use reclaimed water for irrigation, and some buildings
are being plumbed to use reclaimed water for flushing toilets and
other secondary uses. Ballfields in the area could get some of the
A public-outreach program is being planned to educate the public
about reclaimed water and to answer questions that people may have.
Under the current schedule, the reclaimed-water valve would be
turned on in 2020, but that date may be pushed back, Morgan
In Kingston, it will take about a year to put the information
together and identify a preferred alternative, Barbara told me.
Final engineering and design will follow under a new contract if
things go as expected.
The current contract will examine pipeline routes to convey the
water to the potential users. Costs for building and operating the
system will be explored.
Yet to be determined is how costs and benefits of the reclaimed
water will be shared between the county, which owns the treatment
facilities, and those who will use the water. That goes for both
Kingston and Central Kitsap.
Many golf courses across the country — especially in the arid
Southwest — are using reclaimed water for irrigation. In a few
places where water is in extremely short supply, water systems have
begun adding the clean effluent straight into their drinking water.
Check out reporter Emily Schmall’s story for
the Associated Press.
While water is still somewhat plentiful in the Puget Sound area,
it only makes sense to find uses for freshwater that would
otherwise be dumped into salty Puget Sound.
Lolita, the Puget Sound orca kept for 44 years at Miami
Seaquarium, has been declared a member of the endangered population
of Southern Resident killer whales.
Advocates for Lolita’s “retirement” and possible release back to
her family say the action by NOAA Fisheries is a key step in the
effort to free the 48-year-old whale. The next step would be a
lawsuit filed under the Endangered Species Act, and advocates say
they are prepared for that eventuality.
A news release issued today by
NOAA Fisheries plays down the effect of listing Lolita among
the endangered orcas:
“While Lolita will now share the endangered listing status of
the population she came from, the decision does not impact her
residence at the Miami Seaquarium. Lolita is a killer whale that
has resided at the Miami Seaquarium since 1970.”
The original listing created an exemption for captive killer
whales, an exemption that was challenged in a petition filed in
2013 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
“NOAA Fisheries considered the petition and concluded that
captive animals such as Lolita cannot be assigned separate legal
status from their wild counterparts.”
NOAA received nearly
20,000 comments on the proposal to list Lolita as endangered,
and many expressed hope that Lolita would be returned to her home.
But that would go against the wishes of Miami Seaquarium, which
does not plan to give her up.
“Lolita has been part of the Miami Seaquarium family for 44
years. Just because she was listed as part of the Endangered
Species Act does not mean that she is going anywhere. Lolita is
healthy and thriving in her home where she shares her habitat with
Pacific white-sided dolphins. There is no scientific evidence that
the 49-year-old post-reproductive Lolita could survive in a sea pen
or the open waters of the Pacific Northwest and we are not willing
to treat her life as an experiment.”
As stated by NOAA Fisheries in the news release:
“While issues concerning release into the wild are not related
to this Endangered Species Act listing decision, any future plan to
move or release Lolita would require a permit from NOAA Fisheries
and would undergo rigorous scientific review.
“Releasing a whale which has spent most of its life in captivity
raises many concerns that would need to be carefully addressed.
These concerns include disease transmission, the ability of
released animals to adequately find food, difficulty in social
integration, and that behavioral patterns developed in captivity
could impact wild animals.
“Previous attempts to release captive killer whales and dolphins
have often been unsuccessful, and some have ended tragically with
the death of the released animal.”
Howard Garrett of Orca Network, a longtime advocate for
returning Lolita to Puget Sound, said he expects that concerns
raised by the agency can be overcome, as they were with Keiko
(“Free Willy”). Following Keiko’s movie career and a fund-raising
campaign, the killer whale was returned to his home in Iceland and
learned to feed himself. Still, it seemed he never fully integrated
with wild whales that he encountered, and nobody knows if he ever
found his family. Keiko died of apparent pneumonia about two years
after his release.
Howie insists that the situation with Lolita is entirely
different, since we can identify her family, including her mother,
L-25, named Ocean Sun. The mom is estimated to be 87 years old and
still doing fine.
Plans have been developed to bring Lolita to a sea pen in Puget
Sound, providing care and companionship, such as she gets now.
Then, if she could integrate with L pod, release would be a likely
option. In any case, Lolita would have much more room to move
about, Howie says.
Getting Lolita listed as endangered is important, he said,
because she will be covered by the Endangered Species Act, which
makes it illegal to harm or harass a listed species. A court would
need to decide whether confinement in a small tank constitutes harm
or harassment, he said, but some evidence is provided by the 40 or
so orcas taken from Puget Sound that died well before their
The decision is certain to spur on the debate about whether the
killer whale would be better off living out her life in
now-familiar surroundings or giving her a taste of freedom with the
risks that come with moving her to open waters.
Howie has been working with PETA attorney Jared Goodman on a
potential lawsuit against Miami Seaquarium to improve conditions
“We are prepared to do whatever is necessary to ensure that her
newly granted protections are enforced,” Jared told me. “I cannot
speak specifically about what PETA will do next.”
Jared said he needs to know whether NOAA Fisheries will take any
enforcement action before he proceeds with a “citizens lawsuit”
under the ESA.
Talk of Lolita’s release into the wild is premature, he said.
The goal is to transfer her back to her original home in the San
Juan Islands and place her in a large protected pen. Only after
determining that release is in her best interest would that idea be
furthered and developed into an action plan.
Meanwhile, PETA is preparing for oral arguments in March before
the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on another case involving Lolita.
The organization, along with the Animal Legal Defense Fund,
contends that conditions in the Miami Seaquarium constitute abuse
under the federal Animal Welfare Act. The specific conditions at
issue are the size of her tank, her ongoing exposure to sun and her
lack of animal companionship.
A lower court ruled that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has
discretion to determine what constitutes acceptable conditions,
despite written guidelines, when granting permits to zoos and
Howard Garrett addressed the issue of abuse in a news release
“Our society doesn’t like animal abuse, and the more we learn
about orcas the less we can tolerate seeing them locked up as
circus acts. The legal initiatives that led to this ruling have
been brilliant and effective, as the mood of the country shifts
from acceptance to rejection of captive orca entertainment
enterprises. Things that seemed impossible a year ago seem doable
Today’s determination was not a surprise, as I addressed the
logic of the federal listing when it was proposed a year ago. My
Water Ways on Jan. 28 includes links to previous discussions