I was eager to find out if a 32-foot fiberglass replica of a
killer whale could scare off a huge number of sea lions crowded
together on the docks in Astoria, Ore.
I kept telling my wife Sue, “It’s not going to work” — and I had
not the slightest idea that the motorized orca might capsize during
its attempt to frighten the persistent sea lions.
About 1,000 people were on hand last night when a human operator
drove the orca toward the sea lions, according to Associated Press
reporter Terrence Petty. A passing cargo ship created a wake that
rushed toward the shore and capsized the fake killer whale. And
that was that for now. You can read the story in the
I understand that the fake killer whale might be deployed again
against the sea lions in August, when their numbers are expected to
be high again. I still doubt that it will work — unless the
operators can find a way to aggressively approach the sea lions and
stay with the effort for an extended time. It might help to play
recordings of transient killer whales — the kind that eat marine
mammals. But my understanding is that transients don’t make many
sounds when they are in their hunting mode.
I readily admit that I’m not a killer whale expert, but let me
tell you why I believe that any sort of limited effort with fake
orcas will fail. It’s not that sea lions don’t fear transients. In
fact, if sea lions can be convinced that they are being approached
by a real killer whale, their fear level could be quite high.
I’ve heard from homeowners who live on Hood Canal, Dyes Inlet
and other shorelines that when transient killer whales are around,
seals and sea lions head for shore, climb up on docks and even
attempt to board boats to get away from them.
So I don’t know if the fiberglass orca will fool the sea lions
in Astoria, but does anyone think that these marine mammals are
crazy enough to jump into the water if they believe a killer is
there waiting for them?
Offshores are a mysterious, little-understood group of orcas
that roam the West Coast. They are related to the more familiar
resident and transient killer whales, but they are genetically,
physically and socially distinct. The name “offshore” sort of tells
the story; they often remain miles off the coast, out of sight and
out of mind for most researchers as well as the public.
Scientists cannot tell us if their population is increasing or
decreasing, though it appears to be generally stable. It is not
clear whether human activities are disrupting their behaviors. And
without good data, these animals remain in a kind of limbo status,
while the highly studied Southern Residents of Puget Sound remain
solidly on the Endangered Species List with widespread concerns
about their welfare.
While it is true that regulations protecting Southern Residents
also protect offshores to a degree, more studies are needed to
ensure the future of these unique orcas. As the new recovery
strategy points out:
“Offshore killer whales face both anthropogenic and natural
threats, limitations or vulnerabilities, including reductions in
prey availability; contaminant exposure from prey; spills of
substances harmful to the marine environment; acute and chronic
acoustic disturbance; physical disturbance; interactions with
commercial fisheries and aquaculture; direct killing; climate
change; disease agents; fixed dietary preferences and natural
decreases in prey supply; inbreeding depression; tooth wear; and
mass stranding or natural entrapment.
“The small population size and typically large groupings of
offshores makes the population particularly vulnerable to
Offshores were first identified in Canadian waters in 1988.
Since then, they have been confirmed in about 240 sightings in the
U.S. and Canada, and their population has been estimated at roughly
300 animals. Although the full extent of their range remains a
mystery, they seem to have moved to inland waters more frequently
in recent years. The report notes:
“Although it is thought that their seemingly recent presence in
inshore waters may reflect a shift associated with oceanographic
conditions and/or distribution of prey, the data are also
confounded by gradually increasing survey effort and public
Like the resident killer whales (Southern and Northern
Residents), the offshores appear to be primarily fish eaters, with
a specialization in eating sharks. They are known to prey on
Pacific sleeper sharks, blue sharks, North Pacific spiny dogfish,
chinook salmon and Pacific halibut — with sharks making up a
significant portion of their diet.
Sharks are a good source of the fats needed for the high
metabolism of orcas, but sharks live longer and tend to contain
more contaminants. Consequently, offshores tend to have higher
levels of PCBs and other contaminants than salmon-eating residents.
Studies have revealed that PCB levels appear to be closer to those
of transient orcas, which eat marine mammals. Offshores have
significantly higher concentrations of DDT and PBDEs (toxic flame
retardants) than either residents or transients. From the
“A high DDT to PCB ratio is found in offshores, characteristic
of waters and sediments off the California Coast, where DDT
comprises a more significant portion of contaminants and where prey
may be exposed to elevated concentrations of contaminants relative
to higher latitude waters; this shared characteristic ratio is
thought to be an indication of offshore killer whales’ frequent
occurrence off California.
“There are many sources of these persistent substances, often
from urban and agriculture runoff, along the West Coast of North
from urban areas is especially troubling in California, where
offshores are regularly sighted in the winter, often near large
“Of particular concern is offshore killer whales’ apparent
targeting of the liver of at least one of their preferred prey, the
Pacific sleeper shark. The liver is a lipid-rich meal, but is also
a reservoir of heavy metals. All three shark species known to be
consumed by offshores have a high mercury content, likely
increasing the severity of heavy metal consumption and accumulation
in offshore killer whales.
“Killer whales are thought to have evolved the ability to
detoxify heavy metals such as mercury; however, it is unknown
whether detoxification in offshore killer whales functions
effectively enough to deal with their apparent diet preference for
livers from intermediate-to-high trophic level prey, and exposure
to an elevated contaminant environment.”
While shark populations along the West Coast appear to be stable
at the moment, the number of sharks may have been greater
historically, according to the report. In addition, basking sharks
may have been an important prey source historically, and a steep
decline in basking sharks may have affected the offshore orca
One of the greatest risks to the offshores is a spill of oil or
other harmful substances. Killer whales have no sense of smell and
make no apparent effort to avoid spills. The report notes:
“As described previously, the threat of oil spills and
discharges holds risk for offshore killer whales, due to their
grouping behavior. With multiple current proposals involving
increased marine transport of petroleum products and other
hazardous substances to and from British Columbia, an increase in
large vessel traffic (e.g. tankers) in these waters heightens the
risk of potential spills of substances harmful to the marine
environment, and to offshores and their prey.”
Another significant risk is disease among offshore killer
whales. Their high toxic loads can reduce their immune response,
and their highly social nature increases the risk of disease
exposure. According to the report:
“This highly social nature heightens the risk of rapid,
pervasive infection and pathogen dispersal throughout the entire
population… With an extensive geographic range adjacent to many
large urban centers and intensive agricultural activity, offshore
killer whales are exposed to numerous sources of emerging pathogens
particularly near river and runoff outlets, where concentrations of
infectious agents may be introduced into the marine
Offshore killer whales also are known to have extreme tooth
wear, probably caused by their preference for eating sharks with
their sandpaper-like skins. In some cases, teeth are worn to the
gum line, which could open a route of exposure for infection.
Other risks include noise generated from human operations,
including military sonar and seismic surveys, as well as chronic
noise from shipping operations. Because of the close grouping among
offshores, noise is likely to disrupt their feeding and social
The Canadian report articulates recovery strategies, primarily
focused on learning more about the needs and threats to offshores —
including studies on their population and cultural attributes, prey
availability and toxic exposure, and response to various types of
In the U.S., offshore killer whales are protected under the
Marine Mammal Protection Act, but they have not been provided any
status (PDF 493 kb) for additional protection or focused
Researchers have listed more than 100 “biologically important
areas” for whales and dolphins living in U.S. waters, all reported
in a special issue of the journal
Aquatic Mammals (PDF 22.9 mb).
The BIAs may provide useful information, but they are not marine
protected areas, and they have no direct regulatory effect, said
Sofie Van Parijs, a researcher at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries
Science Center and guest editor of the special report.
“They represent the best available information about the times
and areas in which species are likely to be engaged in biologically
important activities,” Van Parijs said in a news
release. “We encourage anyone planning an activity in the ocean
to look at this information and take it into consideration to
understand and reduce adverse impacts on marine species.”
Project managers can use information in the report for offshore
energy development, military testing and training, shipping,
fishing, tourism, and coastal construction. Underwater noise,
generated by most human activities in or on the water, can affect
large areas of whale territory.
Separate articles were written about seven regions of the
country, with three of them in Alaskan waters. The lead author for
West Coast regional report (PDF 4.5 mb) is John Calambokidis of
Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia.
The West Coast report identified 29 BIAs covering areas
important for blue whales, gray whales, humpback whales and harbor
porpoises in Washington, Oregon and California. BIAs for blue
whales and humpback whales are “based on high concentration areas
of feeding animals observed from small boat surveys, ship surveys
and opportunistic sources,” the report says.
BIAs for gray whales focus on their migratory corridor from
Mexico to Alaska, along with primary feeding areas for a small
resident population known as the Pacific Coast Feeding Group, or
PCFG. This group, believed to be genetically distinct from the
migratory whales, spend most of their time between Northern
California and Canada’s Vancouver Island.
The BIAs for gray whales in Washington are around the northwest
tip of Washington, including Neah Bay; in Saratoga Passage east of
Whidbey Island; and around Grays Harbor on the coast.
The PCFG could be a key factor in determining whether the Makah
Tribe of Neah Bay is granted a permit to hunt for gray whales in
Washington state waters and limiting potential limits on any hunts
approved. It was interesting that the BIA report came out at almost
the same time as an environmental impact statement on the Makah
The impact statement evaluates alternatives for whaling,
including a tribal proposal to hunt up to five whales a year but no
more than 24 whales in six years. Various alternatives include
plans to limit hunting seasons to reduce the risk of killing a
whale from the Pacific Coast Feeding Group and to cease hunting if
a quota of these whales is reached.
“This is the first step in a public process of considering this
request that could eventually lead to authorization for the tribe
to hunt gray whales,” said Donna Darm, NOAA’s associate deputy
regional administrator, in a
press release. “This is the public’s opportunity to look at the
alternatives we’ve developed, and let us know if we have fully and
completely analyzed the impacts.”
For details on this issue, including the EIS and instructions
for commenting on the document, check out NOAA’s website on the
Makah Whale Hunt.
Returning to the study of biologically important areas, no BIAs
were established for endangered fin whales, because of
discrepancies between sightings and expected feeding areas and
uncertainty about their population structure.
The BIA assessment did not cover minke whales, killer whales,
beaked whales and sperm whales but the authors recommend that
future work cover those animals as well as looking into special
breeding areas for all the whales.
A future BIA for killer whales could have some connection to an
ongoing analysis by NOAA, which recently announced that it needs
more information about Southern Resident killer whales before
expanding their critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.
Water Ways from Feb. 24.
In the overall report, BIAs can be established if they have any
of the following characteristics:
Reproductive areas – Areas and times within
which a particular species selectively mates, gives birth or is
found with neonates or calves,
Feeding areas – Areas and times within which
aggregations of a particular species preferentially feed. These
either may be persistent in space and time or associated with
ephemeral features that are less predictable but are located within
a larger area that can be delineated,
Migratory corridors – Areas and times within
which a substantial portion of a species is known to migrate; the
corridor is spatially restricted.
Small and resident population – Areas and
times within which small and resident populations occupy a limited
But I noticed another minor trend among the commercials: the use
of historical voice-overs connected to meaningful images. It began
with the first commercial after the game started. That ad, for
Carnival Corporation’s cruise lines, seems especially appropriate
for this blog, because it deals with the human connection to the
We hear President John F. Kennedy’s voice as he talks about our
connection to the sea:
“We have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are
tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea — whether it is
to sail or to watch —we are going back from whence we came.”
The commercial contains wonderful images, as you can see in the
first video on this page. The second video shows Kennedy giving
that speech at a 1962 dinner in Newport, R.I, where the president
spoke about the America’s Cup Challenge. It was the year Sir Frank
Packer became the first Australian challenger for the cup, with his
crew aboard the 12-meter yacht Gretel. The dinner was given by the
Australian ambassador. A transcript of the speech is available from
the website of the
Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
The commercial for Carnival apparently was selected from among
five contenders in an online contest to determine which video would
be played during the Super Bowl. The runners-up were also pretty
“Get Away” was the
humorous video that did not make it to the TV screen.
The voice-over approach was continued in the first quarter in a
Toyota commercial featuring Amy Purdy, the celebrity who lost her
legs to meningitis when she was 19. Amy’s father donated a kidney
so she could survive. She then went on to compete in snowboarding
in the Paralympics, perform in movies and on television, and take
second place in Season 18 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
The commercial shows Amy running, snowboarding and dancing, but
especially driving a Toyota. The company claims on its website that
“our story is about much more than our vehicles.”
The voice you hear on the video is Muhammad Ali, talking about
his upcoming boxing match with George Foreman in 1974. You can see
him talking in the fourth video on this page, which offers a dark
shot of the speech that some call his greatest ever.
There was another voice-over in a commercial for NO MORE, a
campaign against domestic violence by the Joyful Heart
Foundation. The audio comes from an actual 911 call, which
speaks for itself. The version played during the Super Bowl was 30
seconds long, but I’ve posted the longer 60-second version, because
it contains a more accurate editing of the call.
If you’d like to view any or all the Super Bowl commercials,
arranged in order, go to iSpot’s “Super
Bowl Ad Center.”
A two-day survey of Kitsap County’s shoreline identified 90
boats moored on buoys, at anchor or aground — and 18 of them were
found to have some kind of problem, according to Richard Bazzell of
the Kitsap Public Health District.
The survey, conducted Monday and Tuesday, is considered a key
step in Kitsap County’s new Derelict Vessel Prevention Program,
which I described in a
Kitsap Sun story (subscription) last May. The idea is to
identify neglected vessels that could pose a risk of sinking if not
given some attention.
Of the 18 vessels with problems, three were declared “derelict”
boats with a high risk of sinking or polluting the water, based on
criteria developed by the state’s
Derelict Vessel Removal Program. Owners of those boats will get
an official warning, and the state could take control of the boats
if the owners fail to make them seaworthy.
Richard told me that he has the greatest concern for a 30-foot
power boat moored in Port Gamble Bay. The other two boats are
sailboats. Because of their condition, they could be considered
illegal dumping and managed under the county’s solid-waste
regulations, as well as under the state’s derelict vessels laws, he
For the other boats needing attention, the approach will be a
friendly reminder, Richard told me. Ten of the 18 boats were
unregistered, which is an early sign of neglect for boats in the
water. Other problems range from deteriorating hulls to weak lines
to excessive algae growth. The greatest concerns are that the boats
will spill toxic chemicals, such as fuel, or create a navigational
hazard for other boats.
It was encouraging to find a relatively small number of boats
with problems, Richard said.
“We were expecting to run into a lot more problems,” he noted.
“Surprisingly, we didn’t, and that is a good thing.”
The county will offer technical assistance to help boat owners
figure out what to do, and educational workshops could provide
general maintenance information.
Boats with the most significant problems were found in these
Kitsap County embayments: Yukon Harbor in South Kitsap; Dyes and
Sinclair inlets in Central Kitsap; and Liberty Bay, Appletree Cove
and Port Gamble Bay in North Kitsap.
This week’s survey covered about 250 miles of county shoreline,
where the health district’s efforts are funded with a state grant.
Excluded are military bases, where private mooring is not allowed,
and Bainbridge Island, where the city’s harbormaster is conducting
similar work under the state grant.
The overall $250,000 grant for the prevention program is being
coordinated by Marc Forlenza, who developed a procedure proven to
be successful in San Juan County. Marc credits Joanruth Bauman, who
operated the derelict vessel program in San Juan County, as being
the brainchild of the prevention program.
Money for the
prevention program came from the Environmental Protection Agency’s
Puget Sound Restoration Fund. The grant is managed by the Puget
Seven counties, including San Juan and Kitsap, are involved in
the regional effort. The other counties are King, Pierce,
Snohomish, Mason and Jefferson. Thurston County is covered by the
Pierce County grant.
Some counties have been up and running for months. Others,
including Kitsap, are a little slow because of contract
complications. San Juan County contracted with Kitsap County, which
then contracted with the health district and Bainbridge Island.
Those last contracts were approved earlier this month.
The whole idea, Marc said, is to work with boat owners to keep
the vessels from becoming derelict in the first place. If boat
owners can take care of the problems, it costs the county and state
almost nothing. Once declared derelict, government officials are
forced to spend money in an effort to keep boats from sinking.
When a boat sinks, Marc said, the cost of dealing with the
problem rises 10-fold, and the resulting pollution can destroy
In San Juan County, early action on problem boats has reduced
the cost of dealing with derelict vessels from $76,000 in 2012 to
$23,000 in 2013 to zero in 2014, he said. That doesn’t include
vessels taken by the Washington Department of Natural Resources
under the new Voluntary Turn-In Program, which I’ll discuss in a
Marc has a good way of dealing with people. He seems to
understand the needs and challenges of boat ownership, and he tries
to nudge people in the right direction.
“You have to take time to talk to boat owners,” he explained. “I
call it ‘boat psychology.’ Some of these people have held onto
their boats for 20, 30 or 40 years. They have loved their boat.
When I talk to them, some will say, ‘I guess it’s time to let ol’
Betsy go,’ while others will say, ‘Over my dead body.’”
For the latter group, Marc drives home the fact that a boat
owner may be held criminally liable for maintaining a derelict boat
— and the Attorney General’s Office is now prosecuting such cases.
Beyond that, an owner may be held financially responsible if a boat
sinks — including the cost of raising the boat along with any
natural resource damages caused by pollution.
“That can cost tens of thousands of dollars, or even hundreds of
thousands of dollars in some cases,” he said. “You try to appeal to
people’s better sense.”
In Kitsap County, people who see a boat listing or potentially
sinking should call 911. For nonemergency conditions, one can call
Kitsap One, 360-337-5777, except for Bainbridge Island where people
should call Harbormaster Tami Allen at 206-786-7627. Additional information and phone
numbers for other counties can be found on a Puget Sound Partnership
The DNR’s Vessel Turn-In Program gives some people a way to take
action with little cost. To qualify, boats must be less than 45
feet long and have practically no value. The owner must lack the
means to repair or dispose of the boat. If approved by DNR, the
owner must drive or tow the vessel to a disposal location and turn
over ownership to the state. For details, check out the DNR’s
website on the
Vessel Turn-In Program.
Since the turn-in program started last May, DNR has disposed 19
boats, with another five lined up for disposal, according to Joe
Smillie of the agency. The Legislature provided $400,000 for the
new turn-in program, which is separate from the larger Derelict
Vessel Removal Program.
The removal program targets vessels at risk of sinking. In
emergencies, DNR or local agencies can take immediate action, but
normally the owner is given at least 30 days to move or repair the
Since 2002, DNR has removed about 550 abandoned vessels
throughout the state. About 150 others have been tagged as “vessels
In 2014 alone, 40 vessels were removed, including the sunken
Helena Star. The Helena Star was raised from Tacoma’s Hylebos
Waterway and salvaged at a cost of $1.16 million, requiring special
funding from the Legislature. The owner of the vessel was later
charged with a crime.
This week’s report about Puget Sound’s endangered killer whales
contained little new information, but the intent was not to
surprise people with important new findings.
The report (PDF 14.3 mb), published by the Northwest Fisheries
Science Center, was a nice summary of 10 years of research and
ongoing efforts to unlock the secrets of the mysterious Southern
NOAA also released the video, at right, which sums up the report
with great visuals. Make sure you go full-screen.
On Wednesday, I participated in a telephone conference call to
link reporters with killer whale experts in our region. On the line
were Lynne Barre, Mike Ford and Brad Hanson, all with NOAA
Fisheries out of Seattle. I’ve been wrapped up with other reporting
assignments, so the Kitsap Sun’s editors chose to run a solid story
by Associated Press reporter Phuong Le. See
Kitsap Sun, June 25.
Let me make a few quick observations:
Lynne Barre said one of the greatest mysteries,
to her, is why killer whales suddenly go missing. It’s a vexing
problem, and I always get a little nervous when the whales return
in the spring. One year, six of the Southern Residents failed to
show up. It was a real blow to the close-knit orca community and to
the struggling population, and I’ve never forgotten the dismay of
everyone who cared about these animals.
Healthy killer whales seem to go missing as often as elderly or
sick ones. Only a few bodies ever wash up on the beach. Even when
one is found, the cause of death often remains uncertain, as in the
case of L-112, found to have died of “blunt-force trauma” from some
Much more needs to be learned about disease in the animals,
Lynne said. Future research could involve more tissue biopsies and
breath samples in an effort to identify early signs of disease.
For Brad Hanson, another mystery is the whales’
seemingly unpredictable behavior and their “fundamental
relationship with prey.” We all assume that their primary goal in
life is to find fish to eat, but how good are they at this
essential task? Pretty good, I would guess. Often before we learn
that chinook are abundant off the Washington Coast, we find out
that the killer whales are already there.
Maybe the reason the whales have been spending so much time away
from Puget Sound the last couple years lies in the lower returns of
Fraser River chinook, which pass through the San Juan Islands in
the summer. Scale and fecal samples have shown that Fraser River
chinook are the most consistent prey of the resident orcas.
In previous conversations, Brad has told me that he would love
to communicate with the whales, to find out who is in charge and
why a group of animals may suddenly turn around and go in the
opposite direction. Howard Garrett of Orca Network recalls a time
when all three Southern Resident pods were in the Strait of Juan de
Fuca heading into Puget Sound. Suddenly K and L pod turned back,
while J pod continued on. Howie says it was as if they knew there
were not enough fish for the entire population, so J pod went on
alone, saying, “See ya later.”
Mike Ford wants to know why the population has
not increased more than it has. Could it be some limitation in the
ecosystem, such as the fact that other marine mammals — such as
seals and sea lions — have been increasing and taking a sizable
bite out of the available salmon population? We know that Northern
Residents, who also eat fish, don’t overlap territories much with
the Southern Residents. Living up north, the Northern Residents
have better access to some salmon stocks — including those that
originate in Puget Sound. If the Northern Residents get to them
first, the fish are not available for the Southern Residents — or
so goes one hypotheses. The Northern Resident population has
tripled in size, while the Southern Residents have stayed about the
Oddly enough, this potential competition for chinook salmon
reminds me of exactly what is taking place with regard to
commercial fishing enterprises. Washington fishermen complain that
the Canadians are taking salmon that should get back to Washington.
Canadian fishermen complain that Alaskans are taking salmon bound
for Canada. Only Alaskan fishermen — and those who go to Alaska to
fish — can catch a portion of the salmon going into Alaskan rivers
as well as some destined to travel south.
One of the new things that did come up in
Wednesday’s conference call was a renewed effort for U.S. killer
whale biologists and managers to work with their counterparts in
Canada. “We will be partnering with them on issues of salmon
fisheries and how that may affect the whales,” Lynn said, adding
that other cross-border efforts could involve vessel regulations
and targeted research efforts.
During Wednesday’s conference call, nobody talked about the
potential effects of military activities and the possible injury
from Navy sonar until a reporter brought up the issue. The question
was referred to NOAA Fisheries headquarters in Silver Spring, Md.,
where officials review the Navy’s operations and issue incidental
take permits. That was the end of that discussion.
I know the Navy is conducting research in an effort to reduce
harm to killer whales and other marine mammals. I get the sense,
however, that more could be done immediately if connections were
made between knowledgeable killer whale researchers in our region
and those making decisions on the opposite side of the country.
The Coast Guard is asking for help in tracking down one or more
people who placed three emergency radio calls about two weeks ago.
The calls turned out to be a hoax, but they resulted in emergency
responses that cost more than $200,000.
The first call was placed on VHF-FM radio channel 14 about 11
p.m. on May 31, according to Coast Guard reports. The caller told
the Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service that five people were
donning life jackets and abandoning the fishing vessel Bristol
Maid, said to be on fire in Lilliwaup Bay in Hood Canal. You can
hear a portion of the call:
1. First radio call
The Coast Guard deployed two MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crews from
Port Angeles and sent a 45-foot response boat from Seattle. A boat
crew from the Mason County Sheriff’s Office also searched the area.
The search, suspended after five hours, cost an estimated at
A similar call came in the following day about 9 p.m., reporting
that two adults and a child were donning life jackets and
abandoning a vessel between Hoodsport and Lilliwaup. The caller
first said the vessel was Bristol Maid but later changed the name
to Aleutian Beauty.
2. Second radio call
Again, a Coast Guard helicopter, rescue boat and a sheriff’s
office boat responded, along with a tribal fisheries boat. The
search was called off after more than three hours, costing about
Coast Guard officials believe the same caller placed a third
false call a day later around 10 p.m., saying a body had been
3. Third radio call
These kinds of calls must be extremely frustrating for emergency
crews, who are on call around the clock to help people in distress.
Personally, I would like to see this caller or callers caught and
forced to explain themselves in court.
Coast Guard Capt. Michael W. Raymond, commander of Sector Puget
Sound, said hoaxes are a major problem.
“The Coast Guard takes every distress call seriously,” he said.
“False distress calls tie up valuable search assets and put our
crews at risk. They impede our ability to respond to real cases of
distress where lives may be in genuine peril.”
The Coast Guard would like to locate those responsible for the
hoax, which is considered a federal criminal offense with penalties
up to 10 years in jail and fines up to $250,000, along with
possible reimbursement for the cost of the response. Boaters are
reminded that they are responsible for radio use by their
Anyone with information about the caller or callers heard on the
radio recording is asked to call the Coast Guard 13th District
Command Center, (206) 220-7003. Here’s the original Coast Guard news
In talking to Jon Stern of the Northeast Pacific Minke
Whale project, I learned that the pictured minke calf does not
appear to be a newborn after all. The young animal probably was
born in January, the normal birthing time for minkes, and it is
likely to be weened and learning from its mother how to hunt for
As far as I can tell, the other information below is
“The larger whale is a whale we’ve seen since 2005,” Jon told
me. “We named the whale ‘Joan’ for Joni Mitchell.”
The first time the research team spotted this whale, it was
swimming in circles, Jon explained. Jon started singing Mitchell’s
“The Circle Game” (“And the seasons they go round and round …”).
And the name “Joan” stuck.
The female has been seen with other calves, which are normally
about 9 feet long when born and about 14 feet when weened at four
or five months.
Seeing the whale with another young calf is a good sign that new
individuals are being added to the Puget Sound population, which
may now total more than 20 animals, Jon said.
Minke whales are faster than other whales and still the most
mysterious whales seen in Puget Sound, he confirmed, adding, “The
coolest whales are the minke whales.”
A once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a newborn minke whale,
accompanied by its mother, was reported last weekend near San Juan
Shane Aggergaard of Island Adventures Whale Watching had this to
say about it:
“I’ve been working these waters for over three decades now, and
I talked to Ron Bates of Five Star Whale Watching and other
researchers and skippers who have been here just as long or longer,
and we’ve never seen anything like this. We do see minkes a lot,
especially this time of year, and we’ve seen juveniles traveling
with their mothers, but never a newborn.”
Shane made his comments in a news release issued by Michael
Harris of Pacific Whale Watch
Association, who noted that minkes are common residents of
Puget Sound — but the sighting a newborn in local waters may be
“We’ve been keeping tabs on whales for almost 40 years and we’ve
never seen a minke this young out there,” Ken Balcomb of the Center
for Whale Research was quoted as saying. “It’s an extremely
interesting sighting. Let’s hope it means that the population is
Island Adventures Captain and Naturalist Brooke McKinley
captured the photos on this page and others from the boat Island
Adventurer 4. She has shared the pictures with whale researchers in
our region. The mom and calf were spotted Saturday afternoon near
Hein Bank, about five miles southwest of San Juan Island.
Michael added his own perspective:
“Thanks to people like Ken Balcomb we know more about our
resident killer whales here than any marine mammal population in
the world. And yet we know very little about a species that also
makes its home out here, the minke.
“It’s probably our most mysterious whale, and now we’ve just
been given a rare glimpse of a newborn. The scientists we gave
these photos to are kids in a candy store. This is a very special
occurrence, and having these amazing images to review may provide a
lot of clues to researchers.
“The more we learn about these minke whales, the better equipped
we are to protect every creature out there.”
Here’s a description of the minke provided by Harris:
“The minke is a member of the rorqual family of whales (whales
with baleen, a dorsal fin, and throat pleats) and spends very
little time at the surface. It’s one of the fastest whales in the
ocean, capable of speeds up to about 25 miles per hour. its blows
are rarely visible and it disappears quickly after exhaling, making
it difficult to spot – and to study.
“The minke is one of the smallest of baleen whales, with adults
reaching a maximum of just about 33 feet and 10 tons. However, a
good look at the minke underwater shows it to be one of the most
beautiful of all cetacea, with a slender and streamlined body, dark
on top and light-colored at the bottom, with two areas of lighter
gray on each side, some with a light-colored chevron mark on their
back and a white band on each flipper.
“They are often solitary animals, particularly in the Salish
Sea, feeding primarily on krill and small schooling fish like
Minke whales are among the marine mammals I featured in the
ongoing series “Taking
the pulse of Puget Sound,” where I reported that at least a
half-dozen minkes are believed to inhabit Puget Sound. The number is now believed to be more
than 20. For management purposes the local minkes are
grouped with a California/Oregon/Washington stock numbering between
500 and 1,000 animals. Nobody knows if the population is growing or
Ken Balcomb, the dean of killer whale research in Puget Sound,
is asking federal authorities to reopen the investigation into the
death of L-112, a young female orca who died two years ago of
Ken maintains that an underwater “blast” remains the mostly
likely cause of death for the whale, who was known as Sooke — or
Victoria, as Ken originally named her.
draft final report (PDF 2.3 mb) by the National Marine
Fisheries Service, dated Feb. 24, states that “blunt trauma to the
head and neck is the prime consideration for the cause of
mortality. Despite extensive diagnostic evaluation, the cause of
the head and neck injuries could not be determined.”
The official investigation could find no military operations in
the area off the Washington/Oregon coast, where the young whale was
found dead on Feb. 11, 2012. In looking for a cause of the trauma,
the report essentially rules out several underwater explosions set
off by the Canadian Navy a week before, on Feb. 4, 5 and 6 off
Vancouver Island. These activities occurred too far north — and
prevailing winds and currents were in the opposite direction,
according to the report.
But Ken Balcomb argues that the report fails to fully consider
how L-112 could have ended up south of these military exercises.
Currents are not certain, he said. They can change, and eddies can
even flow in the opposite direction from prevailing currents. Ken
also raises the prospect that a dead or dying orca calf could be
carried a great distance by other members of the pod.
“I consider the evidence presented in the NMFS report to be
selected and filtered to depict a preferred hypothetical scenario,
rather than one that may be more realistic,” he wrote to NMFS, the
federal agency in charge of protecting marine mammals.
Report:“The absence of right cerebral
hemisphere and right cerebellum of the brain was secondary to loss
of tissue during disarticulation of the head. Significance is
uncertain based on imaging alone, but unilateral loss of brain
tissue is unusual.”
Ken’s comment:“UNUSUAL! The right cerebral
hemisphere and cerebellum were completely mushed and there was
evidence of hemorrhage in the calvarium, both significant findings
of brain damage from a blast impact. The observation is consistent
with blast trauma.”
On the ear bones:
Report:“The CT results showed no evidence
of bone fractures or damage to the middle or inner ear bones. These
results do not conflict with gross observations and the proposed
cause of acute or peracute death by blunt force trauma; however,
blast- or seismic-related injuries cannot be
Ken’s comment:”Upon gross dissection both
tympanic bullae were found to be dislocated from their fragile bony
pedestals anchoring them to the cranium. While it may be accurate
to say that no evidence of fractures or damage to the middle or
inner ear bones on the CT scans, it is misleading to infer that no
damage was evident to the ears (see page 11 of Necropsy
On possible attack by another marine
Report:“The primary signs of injury reported
from aggressive attacks are rake marks, musculoskeletal and/or
intra tissue trauma (bruising, tearing) attributed to ramming and
sometimes death. Contrary to the cases reported in the literature,
L-112 was a juvenile animal (older and larger than a calf or
neonate), and the examiners did not document tooth rake marks
associated with the signs of hemorrhage they observed during the
gross examination. Nevertheless, we cannot rule out the possibility
that L-112 suffered injuries from an aggressive attack, such as
ramming, by a larger animal.”
Ken’s comment:“The presumed hypothesis
suggested by the last sentence is absolutely preposterous, given
the evidence of a massive single traumatic event causing the mortal
injury. To not rule out the attack hypothesis while ruling out
blast trauma is ludicrous.”
Report:“Because of prevailing currents and
eddies it is unlikely that L-112 died in Canadian waters or the
Strait of Juan de Fuca and drifted south, but instead likely died
in the Columbia River plume or farther to the south along the coast
of Oregon. Given the state of decomposition at the time of
stranding the body was either carried by eddies for several days or
may have drifted a substantial distance from the south before being
trapped by the eddies and cast ashore on the Long Beach
Ken’s comment:“The drift patterns can be quite
different from year to year, as well as from season to season, or
even week to week. It is regrettable that drifters were not
deployed near the west entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca in
February 2012. There was a NOAA cruise in these waters at that
time, and I asked the chief scientist to deploy drifters or some
identifiable devices to ascertain the real time drift pattern at
that time. One can surmise from the temperature regimes that were
documented real-time that there was an anomalous cold water regime
moving in a southerly direction in February 2012, but there were no
On the possibility of transport by another
Ken’s comment:“I further request that the
investigation team thoughtfully consider the relevant cetacean
epimeletic behavior … (He mentions two studies.) Hoyt (1981) in
‘Orca, the Whale Called killer” on page 92 states: ‘Among
cetaceans, and especially the dolphin family (including orca),
care-giving behavior to sick or wounded family members seems
exemplary. Moby Doll was supported by members of his family after
he was harpooned in 1964. On another occasion off the B.C. coast, a
young killer whale was hit by a government ferry boat, the
propeller accidentally slashing its back. The ferry captain stopped
the boat and watched a male and a female supporting the bleeding
calf. Fifteen days later, two whales supporting a third –
presumably the same group — were observed at the same
Ken concludes his remarks with this: “These comments are
dedicated to L86 and L112, the most overtly affectionate
mother/offspring pair of whales I have ever seen. Rest in peace,
L112. We miss you.”
This week, I’d like to share some student artwork from two
One is a local event in which 10 Kitsap County students are
honored in the Kitsap Recycles Day contest, sponsored by Kitsap
County Public Works. The other contest is for students anywhere in
the country. Called the Keep the Sea Free of Debris contest, it is
sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
The first poster featured on this page is by Li-Nelshin Co, a
fifth grader at Esquire Hills Elementary School, located in East
Bremerton and part of the Central Kitsap School District.
Li-Neishin wrote this about the poster:
“Recycling is important because we are saving the world for
future generations. My favorite thing to recycle is PAPER because
this way we are not only recycling, we are also saving the trees
that gives us fresh air, shade, preventing soil erosion.”
A couple years ago, the Kitsap Recycles Day poster contest was
moved from November to February and expanded into a broader
educational program. The delayed contest allowed teachers and/or
parents to provide more information than could have been completed
by America Recycles Day, celebrated in November. A new activity
“Close the Loop” (PDF 16.7 mb), is part of Kitsap’s expanded
“It’s incredibly encouraging to see the influx of posters we see
on Kitsap Recycles Day,” said Kitsap County Recycling Coordinator
Christopher Piercy in a news release.
“You can tell each student has a passion for recycling, reducing
waste, and the environment. It is especially fascinating to see the
grasp they all have on the value of ‘closing the loop’ — not just
recycling, but buying recycled content products.”
The other winners are Libby Parker,
kindergartener at Gateway Christian Schools, Poulsbo;
Natalie Oathout, first grader at Emerald Heights
Elementary School; Jeddison Miller, second grader
at Crosspoint Academy; Kelsey Derr, third grader
at Hilder Pearson Elementary School; Saige Herwig,
third grader at South Colby Elementary School; Charlotte
Halbert, fourth grader at Gateway Christian Schools,
Poulsbo; Blake Warner, fifth grader at Crosspoint
Academy; Drew Moar, sixth grader at Manchester
Elementary School; and Gia Acosta, eighth grader
at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic School.
The second poster on this page, a winner in the 2014 Keep the
Sea Free of Debris contest, was drawn by Jessica D., a fourth
grader in New York.
“Keep the sea free of debris. Debris is garbage, marine debris
is garbage in the sea. Marine debris is very bad. Marine debris is
mostly plastics, fishing gear and litter. Marine debris is very
harmful and dangerous to undersea creatures. This pollution can
ruin habitats. Marine wildlife can get hurt by marine debris. It
also can cost a lot of money to fix. But you can help fix it by
just cleaning beaches and not littering.”
The contest is sponsored by NOAA’s Marine Debris Program, which
asked contest entrants to create their “vision” of marine debris.
All 13 winners and their comments can be seen on a Gallery
Page on the Marine Debris Blog.