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Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Ken Balcomb calls for further review of orca’s death

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

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 mysterious causes.

Ken Balcomb

Ken Balcomb

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.

A 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.”

See Water Ways, Feb. 25, for a discussion of the final report and links to other stories.

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.

Ken’s 12 pages of comments (PDF 1.1 mb) address numerous statements in the report, and here are a few:

On the brain:

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
entirely discounted.”

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 report).”

On possible attack by another marine animal:

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.”

On currents:

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 Peninsula.”

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 current measurements.”

On the possibility of transport by another orca

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 place.’”

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.”


Amusing Monday: Students create environmental art

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

This week, I’d like to share some student artwork from two contests.

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 Administration.

Li-Nelshin Co, a fifth grader at Esquire Hills Elementary School, created one of the winning posters for Kitsap Recycles Day.

Li-Nelshin Co, a fifth grader at Esquire Hills Elementary School, created one of the winning posters for Kitsap Recycles Day.

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.”

Other winning posters can be viewed on Kitsap Recycles Day webpage.

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 book, “Close the Loop” (PDF 16.7 mb), is part of Kitsap’s expanded program.

“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.

Jessica commented:

“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.


NOAA opens its catalog of nautical charts

Friday, February 28th, 2014

Chart

More than 1,000 U.S. Coast Guard nautical charts have been released for public use at no charge.

What started out as a three-month pilot program by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has become a permanent service. The free charts, which are offered in PDF format, are especially valued by recreational boaters.

During the trial period, nearly 2.3 million charts were downloaded, according to Rear Admiral Gerd Giang, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

“To us, that represents more than two million opportunities to avoid an accident at sea,” Giang said. “Up-to-date charts help boaters avoid groundings and other dangers to navigation, so our aim is to get charts into the hands of as many boaters as we can.”

If you know the name of the waterway you wish to explore, the fastest way to get a chart is to search the list of available PDFs.

To help users zero in on the charts they need, NOAA has created a website called the Interactive Chart Locator. From there, one can view an image of the chart; download a PDF version of the entire map; or choose a blown-up version with numerous maps of the same area, known as a “booklet.”

NOAA also has begun offering its Raster Navigational Charts, a composite of all the charts formatted for zooming in on a specific location. That is especially useful for viewing on a computer screen or mobile device. Free software and viewers from third-party sources also are listed on the RNC webpage.

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey is the nation’s nautical chartmaker, according to information provided by the agency. Created by President Thomas Jefferson in 1807, the office updates charts, surveys the coastal seafloor, responds to maritime emergencies and searches for underwater obstructions that pose a danger to navigation.

The Coast Survey’s Twitter handle is @NOAAcharts. A blog — noaacoastsurvey.wordpress.com — provides information about the agency’s ongoing activities.


Mystery of L-112′s death may never be solved

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It appears we’ll never know what killed L-112, known as Victoria or Sooke, found dead at 3 years old, after she washed up on an ocean beach in Southwest Washington.

L-112 in happier times. The 3-year-old orca died in February 2012, and the cause of her death remains a mystery.
Photo by Jeanne Hyde, Whale of a Porpoise
(Click on image to see Jeanne's tribute page)

If you recall from two years ago, much speculation swirled around the notion that the female orca was killed by military operations, such as sonar or an explosion. The Royal Canadian Navy confirmed the use of sonar and small underwater detonations west of Vancouver Island. But that was far from Long Beach, where the orca washed up, and ocean currents suggest she was killed even farther south. For a quick history, see Water Ways from Feb. 18, 2012, followed by an entry on May 16, 2012.

The latest report concludes, as early ones did, that L-112 died from “blunt force trauma.” But the cause of the trauma could not be determined. No sonar activity or explosions were identified in the area where her death probably occurred, although a physical examination was not able to totally rule out those causes.

A new bit of information emerges from the long-term acoustic recorders that listen for sounds off the coast. Calls identified as coming from L pod were reported near Point Reyes in California on Jan. 30, off Westport in Washington on Feb. 5, and near Newport in Oregon on Feb. 20. L-112 was found dead on Feb. 11 after floating for several days. It appears likely that the young whale was with her pod at the time of her death.

As the report states:

“This multi-disciplinary investigation could not determine the source of the blunt trauma despite gathering and evaluating all available information on the whales, the environment, and human activities. We evaluated the sighting history of the whales to provide insight into the circumstances of the stranding.

“Autonomous passive acoustic recorders off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, and California indicated that the main group of L Pod, possibly including L-112, was off California in late January, heading north, and possibly off Westport, Washington in the first week of February and detected near Newport, Oregon after the stranding…

“A major source of trauma from sonar, explosives, or a seismic event would likely have affected multiple individuals traveling together as killer whales are known to do. All other members of L-112’s family group were sighted following L-112’s stranding. No other members of the L4 sub-group were reported missing, injured, or stranded between the time of the L-112 stranding and the summer of 2012.

“This observation leads us to believe that the trauma suffered by L-112 was likely borne individually and was not an event that covered a large area or that directly impacted the young whale’s most likely traveling companions in the L4 sub-group. For these reasons, we do not believe that L-112 succumbed to blast injuries or exposure to other high intensity sound.”

So was L-112 struck by a ship? Did she encounter another aggressive whale or large shark? Or was she hit by another unknown force or object? We’ll probably never know, as the mystery goes on and on and people continue to ask, “Who killed L-112?”

To review a copy of the report, go to the website “Wild Animal Mortality Investigation: Southern Resident Killer Whale L112 Final Report.”

Reporter Phuong Le covered the story today for The Associated Press.


Any ideas for a no-discharge zone in Puget Sound?

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Washington Department of Ecology is pushing ahead with its plan to create a “no-discharge zone” for Puget Sound, which would prohibit the discharge of sewage from boats, even those with a Type II marine sanitation device. Check out my story last week in the Kitsap Sun, Feb. 19 (subscription).

Proposed no-discharge zone for Puget Sound // Washington Department of Ecology

Proposed no-discharge zone for Puget Sound
Washington Department of Ecology

For many people, it is disconcerting to think about mobile toilets traveling everywhere in Puget Sound and discharging their waste anywhere and at any time.

Kitsap Public Health District has gained a reputation for tracking down sources of pollution and getting them cleaned up. If you have a failing septic system, for example, you are expected to get it fixed. Many of the Dyes Inlet beaches between Bremerton and Silverdale were reopened to commercial shellfish harvesting, thanks in no small part to these persistent efforts to clean up bacterial pollution.

Sewage-treatment plants still discharge some bacteria, despite advanced treatment processes. Consequently, shellfish beds are permanently closed around treatment plant outfalls, with the closure zone dependent on the level of sewage treatment. And when there are sewage spills, long stretches of beach may be closed to shellfish harvesting for 10 days or longer.

When they are working properly, Type II marine sanitation devices aboard boats are fairly good at killing bacteria, although levels are still above state water-quality standards. Less certain is what happens to human viruses, including hepatitis, that may not be killed. In addition, marine toilets release chemicals — such as chlorine, quaternary ammonia and formaldehyde — into the water.

To delve further, check out:

It’s not hard to see why the goal would be to eliminate discharges of boater waste into Puget Sound, assuming that sufficient pumpout stations exist for people to offload their waste. Pumpout stations are connected to sewage-treatment systems, which do a better job of disinfection and remove most solids that can contribute to algae blooms and low-oxygen conditions.

Creating a no-discharge zone is one goal of the Puget Sound Action Agenda (PDF 16.4 mb) developed by the Puget Sound Partnership.

Ecology Director Maia Bellon seemed to strike the right tone when she announced the petition for a no-discharge zone (PDF 8.1 mb) in Puget Sound:

“We want to reach out and invite comments, questions and suggestions over this draft proposal. We’re working with boating, shipping and fishing leaders, and now is the time for broader perspective and feedback. Everyone who lives here has a vested interest in a healthy Puget Sound.”

Her approach leaves the door open to some creative solutions for getting everyone in compliance with the no-discharge zone. As I showed in last week’s story, the no-discharge zone could be a hardship for some tugboat and fishing boat operators. One estimate for converting a tugboat is $125,000.

Ecology’s solution so far has been simple: Give those without holding tanks three years to install the tanks and plug up theirs discharge pipes.

Other solutions may be possible, although they could create administrative burdens for Ecology. What about the idea of creating an exemption for boats that have no holding tanks? Boat owners could pay an annual fee for the exemption, and the money could go into a fund to assist owners with the cost of conversion. Maybe a conversion should be required, if necessary, at the time a boat is sold. It’s just an idea.

When applying for an exemption from the no-discharge zone, boat owners should agree to discharge treated wastes at a safe distance from the beach. Maybe they should be required to know where certified shellfish beds are located and stay even farther away.

I realize these ideas would complicate a simple plan, and maybe there are better ideas. In general, I believe that a reasonable solution should be proportional to the problem. We should not kill a rat with heavy explosives, while ignoring the cost of repairs.

To see how more than 20 other states are addressing no-discharge zones, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s website on vessel sewage discharges and a state-by-state breakdown of no-discharge zones.

When I broke this story in September, I interviewed others who had thoughts on the issue. See Kitsap Sun, Sept. 25 (subscription).

For recreational boaters, check out “Beating the Pumpout Station Blues” by Capt. Mike Brough of the Coast Guard.


Geoduck market expands to Chinese neighbors

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The market for geoducks harvested in Washington state has shifted from China to other Asian countries, primarily Hong Kong and Vietnam, according to certificates issued by the Washington State Department of Health.

Kitsap Sun photo

Kitsap Sun photo

We learned a week ago that the Chinese ban on imports from the U.S. West Coast will continue until Chinese health authorities better understand the U.S. system of protecting public health. See Water Ways, Feb. 4, with links to other sources of information.

The ban caused exporters to find new markets. I reported these numbers in a story published in yesterday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription):

“Health certificates issued by the Washington State Department of Health totaled 757 in January — more than double the 373 certificates issued in January 2013, when shipments were still going into China. These certificates are required to identify the shellfish-growing area and ensure that a given shipment of seafood is safe to eat.

“Of the 757 certificates issued in January, 409 designated shipments into Hong Kong, while 243 designated shipments into Vietnam. Other shipments were to Malaysia, 38; Thailand, 24; Indonesia, 8; and a number of countries with smaller shipments. Because shipments were closed off to China in January, no certificates were issued for that country.”

Wild geoduck harvesting is a multi-million industry, bringing significant revenues to businesses, tribes and state government.

Yesterday’s story, which was picked up by the Associated Press, describes how state and tribal geoduck divers appear to be on track to take their allocations of deep-water geoducks.

How many of these giant clams are getting into China illicitly and by what routes has been hard to track down. I have collected many rumors and comments on background, but I’ve been unable to verify the most provocative stories.

A new harvest year begins in April with new allocations of geoducks for the state and tribes. Meanwhile, the Department of Natural Resources has scheduled a bid opening for state geoduck tracts later this month.

It will be interesting to see how the Chinese ban on imports from the U.S. West Coast affects the price of geoducks over the coming year. So far, after a short closure when the ban was imposed, prices for wild geoducks have been holding fairly stable, according to officials involved in the market.


China maintains ban on shellfish imports

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Business and government officials involved in the lucrative geoduck export market got some bad news on Friday, when federal authorities released a letter they had received from the Chinese government.

Kitsap Sun photo

Kitsap Sun photo

The letter raises many questions — at least from a Chinese perspective — about how the U.S. regulatory system protects public health. The message from Chinese health authorities dashes the hopes of industry officials for a quick lifting of the Chinese ban on shellfish imports from the U.S. West Coast.

I wrote about this issue for Saturday’s Kitsap Sun (subscription). My story was picked up by the Associated Press and distributed widely. (If you don’t subscribe to the Sun, see The Columbian, Vancouver, for the AP version.)

Washington state has a proud reputation for protecting public health when it comes to shellfish, and the letter from China does little to dispel suspicions among those who think that China may have ulterior motives. After all, Chinese authorities have done nothing to limit the geographic scope of the import ban or even limit the ban to geoducks only.

A statement (PDF 114 kb) from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concludes that the letter contains about 20 separate requests for information about testing and safety.

You may wish to read the the letter from China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (PDF 150 kb). As translated, the letter includes this statement:

“We don’t not have a full understanding of the US regulatory system including the definition of sea region and management, the official monitoring on PSP and heavy metals and the responsibility among the relevant government agencies, and we have not conducted an on-site evaluation neither.”

The letter says the suspension of imports may be reduced to a specific area after certain questions are answered. It calls on the U.S. to develop an action plan for evaluation and outlines a review process, including a visit by an “expert team” from China to evaluate the geoduck inspection programs.

Officials at all levels in the U.S. say they are evaluating the questions posed in the letter and preparing a coordinated response.

Previous entries in Water Ways:

Jan. 9, 2014: Geoducks test OK, but what’s behind Chinese ban?

Dec. 24, 2013: Health officials to quickly test geoducks for arsenic


Chinese TV discusses shellfish import ban

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

U.S. officials say they have not heard a word from Chinese health authorities since the Washington State Department of Health sent test results showing that geoducks from Puget Sound are safe to eat.

A ban on shellfish imports from the Northwest continues. By all accounts, it appears that U.S. shellfish exporters will miss a chance to provide geoducks, oysters and other shellfish to China during lucrative Chinese New Year celebrations next week.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has sent the health department’s test results to China, NOAA spokeswoman Connie Barclay told me yesterday. “We will continue to work with folks to see if we can resolve this issue,” she said.

Meanwhile, Chinese Central Television (CCTV), a government-sponsored TV network in China, has produced a video describing the issue, including the economic effects on shellfish growers. It’s a pretty straightforward piece, but offers no hint about what further steps may be taken by the Chinese government.

For background, see my last entry in Water Ways on Jan. 9. which includes links to other sources. The same goes for an entry on Dec. 24 and the first one on Dec. 17.

The bottom line is that nothing has happened for weeks. Shellfish growers are waiting patiently, hoping this does issue does not grow into an extended trade dispute.


‘Whale Wars’ to return as two-hour special

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

“Whale Wars,” which chronicles dramatic high-seas clashes between Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Japanese whalers, will be reduced to a two-hour television special this year. The program will run on Dec. 13 on the Animal Planet network.

whale wars

For five years, the program was produced as a weekly series. But we knew things were changing a year ago when Sea Shepherd decided to hire its own videographers instead of using an independent film crew associated with Animal Planet. Check out Water Ways, June 11, 2013.

Normally, the anti-whaling campaign ran through the summer whaling season in the Antarctic, generally from December into February or March. The series then followed each year in June. But this year the production was delayed, and it was hard to find out when the program would air or in what format.

Brian Eley, vice president of communications for Animal Planet, sent out a news release this morning explaining the new format with these highlights:

Capt. Paul Watson, the leader of Sea Shepherd, is no longer in charge of the anti-whaling campaign at sea. He was ordered by federal courts in the U.S. to keep his vessels back from the Japanese whaling ships. As I’ve reported, the campaign was turned over to Sea Shepherd Australia, which the organization contends is outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts.

“Leaderless and without Watson’s vast experience in aggressively engaging the whalers at sea, the Sea Shepherds are at a crossroads. Which one of the Sea Shepherds will take the mantle of leader and guide the group as they embark on their dangerous mission ‘to die for the whales?’”

Four captains are assigned to Sea Shepherd’s fleet, consisting of the Steve Irwin with Siddarth “Sid” Chakravarty at the helm; Bob Barker with Peter Hammarstedt; the trimaran Brigitte Bardot with Jean Yves Terlan; and the newest ship Sam Simon with Luis Manuel Pinho.

The actions of one of the rookie captains lead to tensions among the crew and the early retreat of one of the vessels, while another captain “makes a major decision that nearly causes a mutiny.”

Update, 5:30 p.m.: Brian Eley told me in an email that this year’s production was especially challenging. Animal Planet remained committed to following that actions of Sea Shepherd in the Southern Ocean, he said, but with all the “legal complexities” surrounding the organization, Animal Planet looked for an alternative to the formula used over the previous five years.

“We’re actually using the Sea Shepherds’ legal issues as a storytelling device in the special,” Brian said. “And because the Sea Shepherds’ shot the footage themselves, there was a delay in getting and then evaluating the thousands of hours of footage, so the series was delayed to this fall. What happened during their campaign was a story that made sense to produce as a two-hour special, not a multi-episode series.”

In another change this year, Animal Planet will offer a “ground-breaking, immersive online experience,” according to the news release. Included will be photos, video, interactive graphics and sound to produce a “powerful narrative that tells the tale of Watson and the Sea Shepherds, while also offering the perspective of the Japanese whalers whom they confront.” The new website will launch shortly before the television special.

Coincidentally, Watson and other members of Sea Shepherd are making an appearance this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Seattle, where they have argued that their actions did not violate the injunction issued last year. Reporter Gene Johnson wrote the story for The Associated Press.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse, Watson said one of the reasons he took the risk of being arrested this week was because he has not seen his granddaughter in 15 months. “So that was the most important thing about coming back.”

The next campaign in the Southern Ocean, still under the direction of Sea Shepherd Australia, is scheduled to begin on Dec. 1, according to Watson.

There’s still no word if Animal Planet will be involved in another “Whale Wars” television series or special.


Year-old orca baby alive and doing quite well

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

In May of last year, when all three Southern Resident killer whales returned to Puget Sound, they brought along a new baby, designated L-119. See Kitsap Sun, May 30, 2012.

L-119 breaches off San Juan Island on Sunday. Photo courtesy of naturalist Kaegan Shepherd, Five Star Whale Watching, Victoria.

L-119 breaches off San Juan Island on Sunday.
Photo courtesy of naturalist Kaegan Shepherd, Five Star Whale Watching, Victoria.

Apparently, since last fall, more than a few naturalists and researchers have been worried that this young calf may not have survived. Personally, I was not aware that this calf was “missing” until yesterday, when I received a news release from Pacific Whale Watch Association saying L-119 was alive and doing well.

The concern may have been justified, because L-119′s mother, a 25-year-old, had given birth to another calf that did not live long. L-119 was the second known offspring of L-77, or Matia. It’s nice to know that both are doing well.

L-119 was never officially taken off the list of living orcas, probably because sightings were too few. The official census is compiled by July 1, and Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research told me that his team has now seen and photographed all the orcas believed to be alive in the three Southern Resident pods. Their population now totals 82.

I’ll share with you the full news release from PWWA Executive Director Michael Harris:

L119 – SOUTHERN RESIDENT ‘COMEBACK KID’

Pacific Whale Watch Association Crews Spot Baby Orca — Once Thought Dead — Back With Family in Sound and Straits

About this time every year, researchers begin getting a good read on the current State of the Pods – how the Southern Resident Community of orcas is faring after much of the winter and fall out to sea. As resident pods make their way into the Sound and Straits in the summer months, on-the-water reports and photos from whale watch captains and crews begin making their way to The Center for Whale Research.

The return of the most wayfaring of our resident whales, L-Pod, to the area brought mixed news this year. Sadly, two female orcas are reported missing — 53-year-old L2, and 57-year-old L26.

But much to the surprise and delight of captains, naturalists and researchers, a baby orca once thought to be dead has now resurfaced, seemingly healthy, strong and as cantankerous as ever.

L119 is back! The calf hadn’t been seen by The Center for Whale Research since early last fall, even though sightings of other L-Pod whales trickled in over that time. Furthering concerns was that L119’s mother, 26-year-old L77, lost her first baby in 2010 just a few months after it was born.

Infant mortality is extremely high among the Southern Resident Community. Up to 40% of calves born into the population don’t make it through their first year. But once past that hurdle, Southern Residents – especially females – can live as long as humans, some reaching 100 years old.

“This is really wonderful news,” said Michael Harris, Executive Director of the Pacific Whale Watch Association and a longtime orca conservationist and wildlife filmmaker. “We always hold our breath in June, waiting for those photos to start coming in off the water, waiting for The Center for Whale Research to go through them all and tell us how the whales are doing. And this time many of us have been especially anxious, awaiting word on our little girl, L119. Something really got us hooked to this particular one. She’s really a special baby orca up against some pretty big odds, but now we can say for sure that she’s made it through that first, tough year. Happy Birthday, L119!”

PWWA boats have a unique connection to L119. The rambunctious baby was believed to be first spotted by Capt. Jim Maya of Maya’s Westside Whale Watch Charters on May 29, 2012, and then photo-documented by The Center for Whale Research the next day. She was seen and photographed again in September by Michael Colahan, Captain and Naturalist for Anacortes-based Island Adventures. And then for almost 10 months, nothing — until last Monday, June 17, when PWWA boats reported L119 off Cattle Point, southwest San Juan Island.

Whale watchers on both sides of the border are thrilled by her re-appearance.

“Our passengers were already having an amazing experience out there, seeing L-Pod come back in,” said Marine Naturalist/Manager Andrew Lees of Five Star Whale Watching in Victoria, BC. “And once we told them L119’s story, how we all thought she was gone, it just made it that much more special for everyone.”

HOW TO HELP: For all those who want to help L119 and her family, become a member of The Center for Whale Research! The Pacific Whale Watch Association is proud to be a longtime supporter of Ken Balcomb and his team. Help them help the whales. www.whaleresearch.com


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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