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Amusing Monday: Artists tell their stories with sand

This year’s Windemere Sand Sculpture Contest, held a couple weeks ago in Port Angeles, featured the theme “Wonderful World of Sports.”

"Evolution of Sport" by Sue McGrew of Tacoma took second place in this year’s Windemere Sand Sculpture Contest in Port Angeles. (Click to enlarge)
Photo courtesy of Kristy Martin

I especially liked a piece called “Evolution of Sport” (right), which features a man throwing a discus while a boy maneuvers a game controller. The sculpture, by Sue McGrew of Tacoma, took second place in the contest and tied for the “Sculptor’s Choice” award.

By the way, I just noticed that today’s News Tribune in Tacoma included a story about McGrew and her travels around the country pursuing this unique art form.

First place in the Port Angeles contest went to Sandis Kondrats of Latvia, who shaped a sand sculpture he called “Ice Hockey: Energy on Ice” (bottom of page).

The list of winners is available from a story July 24 in the Peninsula Daily News, which also produced a nice video showing the artists at work and featuring brief interviews with some of them.

I want to thank Kristy Martin for providing these photos, some of which are posted on her thoughtful and amusing blog, “Port Angeles Daily Photo.”

The ninth annual sand sculpture contest in Port Angeles has become part of a new qualifying process for the World Championship of Sand Sculpting to be held in Federal Way Aug. 18 to Sept. 5. Five contests in North America and four in Europe have been chosen as qualifying contests for the World Championship. Organizers hope to eventually have about 15 qualifying contests around the world.

"Ice Hockey: Energy on Ice" by Sandis Kondrats of Latvia took first place in the Port Angeles sand sculpture contest.
Photo courtesy of Kristy Martin

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A few ramblings about killer whale activities

I have a few random observations and tidbits of news to share since I last wrote about the Southern Resident killer whales, who recently arrived in the San Juan Islands — a little behind schedule but showing off a newborn calf. See the July 7 story in the Kitsap Sun and related entry in Water Ways.

Orca travels

The Southern Residents have settled down somewhat in their summer waters in and around the San Juans. One can follow their travels by joining Orca Network’s Sightings List or by checking the website for reports by observers.

K-27, who is the mom of the new calf, and K-13, his grandmother.
Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

I was interested in a comment made a week ago by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research following his observations of the new calf and his mother, along with the mom’s brother, who were all joined later by the calf’s grandmother. Here’s Ken’s comment:

“It would be fascinating to eavesdrop on the whale communications at this time, especially those of matriarchs J2 and K13. There is a mixing of incomplete subgroups and matrilines this year, and much less of a pattern to their distributional movements. But they all appear to be in good body condition. We are getting good documentation of the condition of the new calf frequently for assessment.”

“Orcas in Our Midst”

Howard Garrett of Orca Network has updated his 33-page book “Orcas in Our Midst.” Volume 3 is dedicated to J-1, known as Ruffles, by far the oldest male among the Salish Sea killer whales when he went missing last fall.

Howie explains the natural history of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest and their evolution from land-dwelling creatures, as he delves into the cultural aspects of killer whale society. A special focus in this edition are the differences between resident and transient killer whales.

Howie and I recently discussed our mutual curiosity about killer whale culture and what researchers are discovering. As he noted:

“We’re seeing a new global awareness, an understanding that there is not just one orca. There are many, many forms around the world. How did that come about? How do they get their own identity, and how do they maintain that?”

At just 33 pages, one might consider this a basic book about killer whales — and it is — but Garrett has a knack for taking side trips that give you a sense of the complexity of this topic while hinting at the questions yet to be answered. To order the book, go to Orca Network’s Web Shop.

Who’s the daddy?

You may have read one of the recent news stories about how Southern Resident killer whales occasionally mate within their own pods, unlike Northern Residents of Upper British Columbia, which almost always breed outside their own pods.

We’ve always known the moms, because their offspring stay with them for life. But the dads are another matter.

J-47, the newest calf in J pod, was born last year.
Photo by Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research

It was previously believed, for example, that males in J pod would mate with females in K and L pods, but not those in J pod. The latest findings conflict with that view and bring up many questions.

Because of the small population size of the Southern Residents, the new study raises concerns about inbreeding and the extent of the genetic bottleneck. At least, the researchers found, Southern Residents do not mate with close relatives, as might be the case with a few bottlenose dolphin groups.

Michael Ford, who led the study for the National Marine Fisheries Service, told reporter Craig Welch of the Seattle Times that since the whales occasionally breed outside their pods, the population does take advantage of the larger gene pool:

“In terms of how bad it is … that depends on how long the population size stays small. Brief bottlenecks don’t necessarily have to have a long-term impact. But as a general rule, we should be concerned about small population sizes because genetic diversity is the raw material for adaptation and evolution.”

Of the 12 identified paternities, five involve mating between J-1 and a female in J pod. J-1, who disappeared last fall, was the oldest male around. The evidence suggests that older males are more successful reproductively, and J-1 may have been the most successful of all. The researchers could not conclude whether the apparent success of older males is the result of dominance over younger males, a selection by their female partners or a combination of factors.

With J-1 out of the picture, it will be interesting to see whether the frequency of intrapod mating declines.

Other info: News release (PDF 72 kb) from National Marine Fisheries Service.

Amusing Monday: Riding the waves again

I’m on vacation this week, so I thought I might re-run an “Amusing Monday” entry you may have seen before. I couldn’t remember the first entries I submitted for Amusing Monday, so I went back and looked.

I actually offered what I hoped were several funny entries before July 14, 2008, but this was the date I officially launched the weekly feature. The item below was the first “Amusing Monday” entry ever posted.

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Oxygen in Hood Canal bounces back overnight

UPDATE: Sept. 24, 2010

Conditions have remained pretty much the same the last couple of days, although the intrusion of dense higher-oxygen water from the ocean is beginning to create a thicker layer at the bottom of Hood Canal. The middle layer of low-oxygen water remains fairly thick, but the upper layer with higher oxygen concentrations is still providing fish some relief. South winds remain a threat, as I’ve explained for the last few weeks.

One can observe the three layers in the upper graph. The lower graph shows changes over the past week or so. Notice how oxygen concentrations are rising in the deep layer.
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Interview with David Dicks, Puget Sound Partnership

The Kitsap Sun Editorial Board, which includes community members as well as Sun employees, sat down yesterday with David Dicks, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership.
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Political battles are swirling over Clean Water Act

Changes are in the wind for the powerful Clean Water Act, as officials with the Environmental Protection Agency prepare to step up enforcement to protect the nation’s water supplies.

Regulatory and even legislative changes are in the works, and the law could become a tool in dealing with greenhouse gases related to climate change.

Coming Together

The latest signal that something is afoot is the launch of a new blog this week by the EPA. It is called “Coming Together for Clean Water.”

The EPA is “seeking public input on how the agency can better protect and improve the health of our waters…” according to a news release. “The feedback received on the online forum will help shape the discussion at EPA’s upcoming conference in April, ‘Coming Together for Clean Water,’ where we will engage approximately 100 executive and local level water leads on the agency’s clean water agenda.”

Three topics are mentioned: “The Watershed Approach,” “Managing Pollutants from Nutrients,” and “Stormwater Pollution.”

It is interesting to see how people in various parts of the country are responding to these topics and how local issues play into the national overview. Some folks seem fairly alarmed and are demanding that the EPA take firm actions. Others have responded by spelling out technical solutions or offering case studies about how the EPA has failed in the past.

Enforcement plan

In October, the EPA released what is now called the Clean Water Act Action Plan. It calls for greater and more consistent enforcement nationwide of the clean water law under three strategies:
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Lofall pollution tests persistence of water detectives

Water-quality inspectors for the Kitsap County Health District have gained a statewide reputation for the methodical way they track down bacterial pollution in Kitsap County.

<em>Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District is tracking pollution getting into Lofall Creek. On Thursday, he removed a charcoal pack from the stream. The charcoal will be tested in a lab to see if it has absorbed a tracer dye flushed down the drains of nearby homes.</em><br><small>Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid</small>
Newton Morgan of the Kitsap County Health District is tracking pollution getting into Lofall Creek. Yesterday, he removed a charcoal pack from the stream. The charcoal will be tested in a lab to see if it has absorbed a tracer dye flushed down the drains of nearby homes.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan Reid

Monthly testing of nearly 60 local streams gives them an early warning about pollution problems as they begin to develop.

Working with property owners who care about the environment and voluntarily open their homes for dye testing is a major part of the success. These friendly water-quality detectives avoid using the heavy hand of government unless there is an obvious problem that a property owner refuses to correct.

Yesterday, the health district released its annual Water Quality Monitoring Report, which includes a description of every watershed and major stream in the county. The report also compiles the data to show us which streams are the cleanest and dirtiest.

As you can see from a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun, these health inspectors have encountered a water-quality situation in the Lofall area of North Kitsap that has puzzled them for more than a year. It will take their ingenuity and persistence to figure it out.

I spent a little time yesterday with Newton Morgan of the health district to try to gain an understanding of the problem. He showed me where Lofall Creek comes down through a pipe and spills into Hood Canal adjacent to the old ferry dock.

This is where more bacteria are concentrated than in any natural waterway in the county. It is somewhat of an anomaly, because Hood Canal streams are generally far cleaner than those draining to the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula.

It doesn’t take long for me to understand why Lofall remains a pollution mystery. The pipe that drains to Hood Canal is at least 100 feet long and is buried under people’s yards where the steep hillside is somewhat terraced.

Farther uphill, a drainage system takes stormwater off paved streets and dumps it into a series of catch basins that drain to other buried pipes.

Standing on one street, Newton points downhill while explaining that one pipe apparently goes directly under someone’s house before tying into another pipe that cannot be seen.

Leslie Banigan, another water quality expert with the health district, describes the maze of underground pipes as buried “spaghetti.”
Complicating the situation even more are the high groundwater levels in some areas of Lofall.

When a septic system fails — which generally means the bacteria are not being trapped in the soil — the polluted water can find its way into this underground drainage system rather than rising to the surface where the odor of sewage reveals the problem.

Health inspectors have located some failing septic systems and even a couple of direct discharges of sewage to the beach. But they are still looking for one or more septic systems that must be getting worse, because the stream is getting dirtier, despite the repairs.

Because of their experience over the past 15 years, these inspectors exhibit a confidence about their ability to find the sources of pollution. They know they must remain persistent and continue to work on the problem. If dye testing doesn’t work, they have other ideas up their sleeves.

After watching this program all these years, I can’t help but wonder why every stream in the state isn’t being monitored monthly to establish cleanup priorities. And, while health officials are focused on bacterial pollution, similar testing could be extended to other pollutants that can harm salmon and other sealife.

Cost? Yes, there’s a cost. Residents of unincorporated Kitsap County pay about $67 a year on their property tax statements for the Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program, which is managed by Kitsap Public Works. That fee covers not only water-quality testing but also maintenance of public storm drains, upgrade of regional stormwater infrastructure, regulatory oversight of stormwater permits, education of livestock owners and commercial business operators, and more.

One of the best overviews of the program was put together in 2005 by the Puget Sound Action Team, now absorbed into the Puget Sound Partnership. Download “Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program: A Case Study” (PDF 1.3 mb).

Puget Sound residents experience Pearl Harbor


On the wall of her home, Diane Fox of Bremerton displays this photo of the Bremerton waterfront in 1942, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the previous Dec. 7. Family friend George Wraith took the shot, which shows searchlights from the Navy shipyard scanning Bremerton’s skies for signs of enemy aircraft.

In memory of Pearl Harbor, Kitsap Sun reporters Ed Friedrich and Derek Sheppard, intern Tara Garcia-Mathewson and other staffers produced an impressive package of stories, pictures and videos — including interviews with 12 local survivors of the attack and an interactive map showing where their ships were located.

Brouhaha develops over climate change; so what’s new?


Sir Muir Russell, principal and vice-chancellor of the University of Glasgow from 2003 to 2009, was appointed by the University of East Anglia to head up a review of allegations against the Climate Research Unit.

The review will look at the stolen e-mails for evidence of data manipulation or suppression, review CRU’s overall data-handling policies, and investigate compliance with disclosure laws. Review is designed to determine whether activities were at odds with acceptable scientific practices.

The university has asked that the review be completed by spring, 2010.


Phil Jones has stepped aside as director of the Climatic Research Unit pending completion of an independent review of allegations involving e-mail hacked from the server of the University of East Anglia in England. Details of the investigation will be announced within days. See news release from East Anglia.

Prospects appear to be fading for any meaningful international agreements for addressing climate change, as originally planned for a conference in Copenhagen next month.

Meanwhile, climatologists and those familiar with recent studies continue to warn us that, if anything, early climate models were too conservative in their predictions of climate change. The longer we wait to take action, the harder it will be to slow the rate of warming. Plants and animals (including humans) will have a harder time adapting to new conditions. Some populations, possibly entire species, may have no place to go as they attempt to adapt or face extinction.

I tend to take such warnings seriously, although I am not oblivious to the many skeptics on this topic. In fact, in my search for understanding, I’ve read more than my share of blogs written by folks who either don’t believe the planet is warming or else don’t believe man has anything to do with it.

This morning, I participated in a national telephone conference with three climate experts: Richard Somerville, coordinating lead author of the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Eric Steig, professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington; and Michael Mann, professor of meteorology at Penn State University.

They answered a variety of questions — ranging from new climate data to the implications of more than 1,500 “stolen” e-mails that have revealed the hidden, personal side of a few climatologists.
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Water color wins top honors in Puget Sound art contest

Mount Vernon artist Sukey Jacobsen has been named the first-place winter in the “Puget Sound — I Love You” contest.

<i>Planting in the Riparian Zone by Sukey Jacobsen won first place in the Puget Sound — I Love You art contest.</i><br><small>Photo courtesy of People for Puget Sound</small>
"Planting in the Riparian Zone" by Sukey Jacobsen won first place in the "Puget Sound — I Love You" art contest.
Photo courtesy of People for Puget Sound

The winning watercolor, which depicts “Planting in the Riparian Zone,” is now on exhibit at Sea Side Gallery in La Conner.

The contest, sponsored by People for Puget Sound, recognizes artwork that focuses on a Puget Sound theme, especially stewardship to save the sound. Jacobsen was among 26 artists submitting their work.

Second place was awarded to La Conner artist Ken Hansen for his sculpture, “Returning Sockeye.” Third place went to Peter Naylor of Sedro Woolley for his photograph “Candystriped Shrimp on Crimson Anemone.” An outstanding mention certificate was awarded to Coupeville artist Shirley Ashenbrenner for her mixed media piece “Party Night.”

Sea Side Gallery is at 112 Morris St., Suite A, in La Conner. The work will be on exhibit through June 15. Phone: (360) 466-5141. A portion of sale proceeds will benefit People For Puget Sound.