Category Archives: Recreation

Amusing Monday: Entering the world of
a top ocean predator

I was quite impressed when I watched this video of a diver cutting away a thick rope that had been slicing into the flesh of a massive whale shark. The animal, spotted 300 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, remained calm throughout the operation.

Daniel Zapata, dive team leader aboard the Solmar V cruise ship, said the divers knew it might be dangerous to cut the whale shark free, but it was heartbreaking for them to watch while the animal was suffering.

“We talked about it for some time between dives,” Zapata said in a question-and-answer interview with Joanna McNamara of Project Aware. “When we saw the whale shark again, I knew I had to help. It felt so good to cut this whale shark free. I found a thinner section of the rope and cut through it. I unwrapped the rope from each side of the whale shark and finally she was free.”

The action may have saved the life of the pregnant female and her unborn offspring, according to observers.

This video was featured on the Smithsonian Channel as part of the latest series “Secrets of Shark Island.” The “secret,” according to promotional material, is that the Revillagigedo Islands, some 200 miles from the Mexican coast, is home to one of the greatest concentrations of fish in the world.

“This is the only natural juncture for miles in an otherwise empty Pacific Ocean and a crucial area for migrating sharks and other apex predators,” states the Smithsonian Channel website. “Enter a world where whitetip sharks, giant lobsters and moray eels share living quarters, humpback whales breed, and mantas and tuna feast on bait in this land of plenty.”

The Smithsonian Channel has been going a little crazy over sharks the past few years. But it isn’t just about sharks. It’s about the people who love them. Two years ago, we were introduced to “Shark Girl” aka Madison Steward, who grew up around sharks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and is as fearless as they come around the sharp-toothed creatures. See second video on this page.

“Sharks are misunderstood like no other creature, to the point where it is actually contributing to their slaughter,” Madison told Gerri Miller of Mother Nature Network. “I think it has a lot to do with media, but also that people cannot go and see them for themselves and learn the truth.

“Sharks are NOT what you think,” she continued, “and myself and many other people spend hours in the water with large sharks and feed them at ease on regular occasions. They are the apex predators, and nature doesn’t make animals like this for no reason. They are essential in our oceans. In previous years, the decimation of the shark population has caused the surrounding ecosystem to collapse. They are truly the ‘boss’ of our oceans.”

The third video is something of a personal manifesto from Madison Stewart, spoken in a voice-over as she swims in an awe-inspiring underwater world with ethereal music playing in the background.

If you think you know sharks, take a quiz from MNN.

Want to see more amazing sharks and stories from people involved with them? Check out these videos from Smithsonian Channel:

“Secrets of Shark Island” series

“Shark Girl” series

“Death Beach” series

“Great White: Code Red” series

“Hunt for the Super Predator” series

Also, “Shark Girl” Madison Stewart has produced some fine videos since she was 14 years old. Watch them on the Madison Stewart website, “Good Youth in a Bad Sea.”

Amusing Monday: New stamps to mark national parks centennial

UPDATE: April 28, 2016

The U.S. Postal Service today released an image of the “pane” of National Park stamps that will become available for purchase on June 2. (Click image below to enlarge.) People may mistakenly call this group of stamps a “sheet,” but a sheet is actually much larger — usually nine panes as they come off a printing press.

Centennial sheet photo

Four of the images on the 16 National Park stamps were provided by the National Park Service. They are the oil-on-canvas painting “Scenery in the Grand Tetons” by Albert Bierstadt (first row, second from right); the chromolithograph-on-canvas “Grand Canyon of Arizona from Hermit Rim Road” by Thomas Moran (second row, far left); the three-masted, steel-hulled, square-rigged ship Balclutha, which can be seen at San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park (third row, far left); and the pastel-on-paper “Administration Building, Frijoles Canyon” by Helmuth Naumer Sr. (fourth row, far left).

Images on the other stamps are the work of independent photographers, and the center of the pane comes from a 1-cent stamp of Yosemite National Park issued in 1934.
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To celebrate the National Park Service’s 100th anniversary, the U.S. Postal Service has commissioned 16 new Forever stamps with scenes from 16 different national parks.

Rainier

The first-day issue ceremony will take place June 2 in New York City as part of the World Stamp Show NY-2016, an international event for stamp collectors held once every 10 years. Related events are planned in or near the national parks depicted on the stamps.

“These stamps celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks and depict the beauty and diversity of these national treasures,” Postmaster General Megan J. Brennan said in a news release. “They serve as an inspiration for Americans to visit, learn and to write cherished memories of their trips to these incredible wonders.”

Jonathan B. Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, added, “This set of stamps will take people on a journey to some of the most amazing places in the world. We are thrilled that the 16 national park stamps issued in ’16 for the centennial depict the variety of parks that collectively tell the story of our country.”

The star-trail photo of Mount Rainier, the first stamp on this page, was taken by Matt Dieterich of Pittsburgh, Penn., who worked as an intern in the National Park Service’s Geoscientist-in-the-Parks program.

“This night was one I will never forget,” said Dieterich, quoted in a news release. “After working with visitors at the Mount Rainier astronomy program on June 22, 2015, I noticed there was an aurora, so I drove down to Reflection Lake to capture it. The location was perfect as it contained a view of Mount Rainier and water for reflections.

“To create this star trails image, I took 200 photos in a two-hour window between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. with my Nikon D750 and 24mm lens set at F/1.4 and ISO 5000. Since the Earth is rotating, each 8-sec. exposure shows stars at slightly different locations. When the photos are combined into one image, the stars create a circular pattern around the North Star, which is just out of view at the top of the image.

“The pink aurora spread throughout the background sky. Mountaineers can be seen with their white headlamps climbing Mount Rainier on the right side of the volcano.”

Glacier

The photo of Glacier Bay was taken by Tom Bean of Flagstaff, Ariz. Glacier Bay National Park encompasses 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers and coastlines in Alaska.

To see the full set of stamps, go to the National Park Service page for Centennial Stamps. The following list will take you to a description of each stamp by the Postal Service. For a better image of the stamp, click on “PDF” in the upper right corner of the page below the headline.

Earth Day: a time to consider diverse accomplishments

On this Earth Day, I would like to share some “environmental victories” at the national level, take note of advancements in environmental education at the state and local levels, recognize a global climate accomplishment at the international level and celebrate the birthday of John Muir, a giant in the conservation movement.

Environmental victories

Sometimes, amid the environmental battles of today, it is good to step back and look at the changes that our country has gone through since the first Earth Day in 1970. Brian Clark Howard does just that for National Geographic by calling out 46 milestones in environmental history.

The events he describes include various environmental laws, starting off with the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970; international agreements, such at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1975; corporate responsibility, such as McDonald’s move to biodegradable packaging; community outrage, such as in Love Canal; and books and movies, including Al Gore’s call to climate action in “An Inconvenient Truth.”

This is not a comprehensive history of the environmental movement, but it is a strong reminder about how advancements come about in the efforts to improve our environment.

Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-grade students in the photo taken in April 2010. Kitsap Sun file photo by Larry Steagall
Poulsbo Elementary School teacher Lisa Hawkins leads a discussion among first-graders in this photo taken in April 2010. // Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Environmental education

Six years ago on Earth Day, I wrote a story titled The Evolution of Environmental Education (Kitsap Sun, April 17, 2010) about how environmental education became ingrained in learning through the primary grades — in contrast to the very limited discussions outside of college up until the 1980s.

In 1990, the Legislature mandated that environmental education be part of public instruction at all grade levels, then in 2009 new statewide standards brought a focus to not only ecology but also social and economic systems.

My story describes the struggle to integrate these additional studies into overall classroom learning, rather than teaching separate units on each topic. That effort at integration has continued, as teachers work together to share information about what works in the classroom. See Education for Environment and Sustainability at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Climate change agreement

More than 150 world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York City today to sign an agreement designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the globe. This is the formal signing of an accord reached in Paris by more than 170 countries four months ago.

“Today is a day to mark and celebrate the hard work done by so many to win the battle in securing the Paris agreement,” Secretary of State John Kerry said this morning, as quoted in a Newsweek article. “Knowing what we know, this is also a day to recommit ourselves to actually win this war… Nature is changing at an increasingly rapid pace due to our own choices.”

Hannah Hickey of University of Washington News and Information rounded up comments from UW experts on the topic. Some were hopeful that the international pact will mean substantial reductions in greenhouse gases before ever more drastic climate change comes about. Others seemed to be saying that the agreement is too little too late.

John Muir

John Muir, whose name is synonymous with the conservation movement in the U.S., had much to say about the need to protect special places. Muir’s birthday was yesterday, and I appreciated the 10 inspirational quotes about the outdoors that was pulled together by the Department of Interior.

One of my favorites: “Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”

John Muir has been called “the father of the national parks,” and I think it is fitting that we take time to recognize his contributions this year, on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. I’ve posted the first of two videos produced for the park service. Both can be found on YouTube:

Amusing Monday: Birds prepare nests, while Eastern eaglets go live

I usually wait until June to post some of the best views of wildlife you will ever see, because that is when the animal kingdom seems to really become active. But this year I thought we could show up a little sooner and see what happens on live wildlife cameras in early spring.

Especially amusing are a pair of bald eagle chicks hatched about three weeks ago in a poplar tree in the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Their parents, who began nesting in this location two years ago, were named “Mr. President” and “The First Lady.”

Go to WASHINGTON, D.C., LIVE EAGLE NEST CAM for the live video, since embedded videos are not allowed. The video on this page shows the hatching of the first chick at about 5 minutes in, when the adult eagle stands up and moves to the side.

Officials involved in the project are entertaining names for the two eaglets. Suggestions can be offered on the Facebook page of either the American Eagle Foundation or the U.S. Department of Energy and Environment, as described in a news release on the project.

The nesting site contains a pair of cameras that operate 24 hours a day. You can easily switch from one camera to the other for better viewing at different times.

American Eagle Foundation, which operates the camera with permission from the U.S. government, makes this statement on its Eagle Nest Cam web page:

“This is a wild eagle nest and anything can happen. While we hope that two healthy juvenile eagles will end up fledging from the nest this summer, things like sibling rivalry, predators, and natural disaster can affect this eagle family and may be difficult to watch.”

Two ospreys, known as Tom and Audrey, are back at their nesting site on Maryland’s eastern shore, where Chesapeake Conservancy does a great job with its osprey cam. I’m no expert, but it looks like a lot of nest-building activity at the moment. Make sure your sound is on, as there seems to be considerable vocalization.

We need to wait a little longer for the ospreys to arrive at two locations where the University of Montana operates live osprey cameras as part of its Montana Osprey Project. They are at the Hellgate Canyon nest site in Missoua and Dunrovin Ranch in Lolo. According to the project’s Facebook page, the ospreys are on their way and should arrive soon (based on satellite tracking).

I was disappointed to hear that an osprey cam operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Gig Harbor is offline this year. WDFW posted this note on the website: “This camera is out of alignment and now offline for 2016. Ospreys have nested and we cannot disturb them to repair or re-angle the camera.”

Alberta Conservation Association and its sponsors last year set up cameras to observe three prime nesting boxes for peregrine falcons in Edmonton, Alberta. Chicks hatched in each of the nests, where we could watch the mothers taking care of their little bundles of fluff, all in real time. The message on the website says, “It’s not long now.”

One of my favorite live cams is still Pete’s Pond (video player at right), a watering hole on Mashatu Game Reserve in Botswana, Africa. It began as a National Geographic project and is now operated by WildEarth, which features several other wildlife cams. Operators, working remotely, turn the camera to find the best action at any moment.

I’ve started watching a live camera in a cove at Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park in Southern California. Nearly 1,000 marine species live in the area, and often fish and tiny swimming creatures come into view of the camera.

The Vancouver Aquarium has live cams showing:

As spring moves into summer, other wildlife cams will be worth watching, including the brown bears in Katmai National Park in Alaska, where the action at Brooks River usually begins in July.

I’ve featured other wildlife cams in past years. Check out Water Ways for June 23, 2014 as well as June 17, 2013.

Amusing Monday: What kind of animal are you?

I am a great blue heron, according to the “Wildlife Personality Quiz” by the National Wildlife Foundation. I accept this identity, which resulted from answering eight questions about my personal choices and lifestyles.

Heron

About halfway through the quiz, I got the feeling that my habits might line up with those of the great blue heron. Don’t ask me why my brain went in that direction. To my surprise, when I finished the questions, a picture of a heron popped up.

It’s fun to take this quiz, but it isn’t as complex or comprehensive as I had hoped. I went back and changed a few of my answers and still came out as a great blue heron.

I then chose answers that were basically opposite of my original honest replies. This time, I came out as a mountain lion. Again, that is probably a pretty good approximation of the opposite of what I’m like. Although I admire the big cats, and I actually am a Cougar (having graduated from Washington State University), I would nearly always choose the water’s edge over the mountain tops.

The quiz was posted last week as part of National Wildlife Week, declared by NWF. If you have time, take the quiz. As always, I welcome any comments.

SeaWorld hopes to change its image by ending orca breeding

UPDATE, March 25, 2016

Statement from Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and David Phillips, International Marine Mammal Project: “Five reasons not to believe the Seaworld hype.”
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UPDATE, March 19, 2016

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist who worked for the Humane Society of the U.S. for more than 20 years, posted a blog saying that it is alright for animals rights activists to celebrate a victory, even though SeaWorld remains in operation. Naomi now serves as an advocate for the Animal Welfare Institute. Her blog and Facebook page is called From a Dolphin’s Point of View:

“To anyone in an activist community with a clear adversary — a corporation, a commercial industry, a societal norm… — sometimes the battles become more important than the reason for them. It becomes less about changing how things are and more about winning. But I have to wonder sometimes: What does winning look like to these activists? Is it only a victory when the adversary is utterly crushed, with no survivors left on the battlefield? Do they win only when the war is utterly over, with no more battles, even a small skirmish, left to fight?

“For myself, as a marine mammal protection advocate who has been actively working to end the captive display of cetaceans for over 20 years, I have never been interested in vanquishing my opponent (the captive cetacean industry, of which SeaWorld is one of the major corporations)….”
Read more…

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I was still half asleep this morning when a news report about SeaWorld broke through my slumber. The voice on the radio beside my bed was saying that SeaWorld would no longer breed killer whales and that the company would follow through on its commitment to end the arena shows that have attracted audiences for decades.

It was hard to believe this news after covering many years of battle between SeaWorld and marine mammal advocates.

As I soon learned, SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the U.S. had suddenly become unlikely partners in a planned campaign to:

  • End commercial whaling and the killing of seals, sharks and other marine animals;
  • Protect coral reefs and end commercial collection of ornamental fish; and
  • Promote sustainable seafood and naturally grown foods.

SeaWorld also plans to redouble its efforts to rescue and rehabilitate marine creatures in distress, spending $50 million over the next five years.

“Times have changed,” says a statement on SeaWorld’s website, “and we are changing with them. The killer whales currently in our care will be the last generation of killer whales at SeaWorld. The company will end all orca breeding as of today.”

It was such a major move by SeaWorld that nobody could ignore it, although many animal-rights advocates could not forget that SeaWorld is still holding captive animals and has made no promises about dolphins and other marine mammals.

The SeaWorld statement includes this quote from Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s new chief executive officer:

“SeaWorld has introduced more than 400 million guests to orcas, and we are proud of our part in contributing to the human understanding of these animals. We’ve helped make orcas among the most beloved marine mammals on the planet. As society’s understanding of orcas continues to change, SeaWorld is changing with it. By making this the last generation of orcas in our care and reimagining how guests will experience these beautiful animals, we are fulfilling our mission of providing visitors to our parks with experiences that matter.”

Officials with the Humane Society of the U.S. were in a mood to celebrate. In his blog, CEO Wayne Pacelle had this to say:

“The world is waking up to the needs of all animals, and the smartest CEOs don’t resist the change. They hitch a ride on it and harness the momentum.

“Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s CEO, is banking on the premise that the American public will come to SeaWorld’s parks in larger numbers if he joins our cause instead of resisting it, and if SeaWorld is a change agent for the good of animals. He’s exactly right, and I give him tremendous credit for his foresight….

“SeaWorld and The HSUS still have some disagreements. But we’ve found an important set of issues to agree upon. The sunsetting of orcas in captivity is a game changer for our movement, one that’s been a long time coming, and one that is only possible because of your advocacy and participation. I am immensely excited about this announcement and I hope you are too.”

It may be a good step, but many advocacy groups say it is not enough.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

“This win is big … really big. SeaWorld has announced that it will no longer breed orcas. This means that this generation of orcas will be the last to suffer in SeaWorld’s tanks.

“PETA and caring people around the world have campaigned hard to see this day. PETA’s celebrity supporters—including Kate del Castillo, Jason Biggs, Jessica Biel, Bob Barker, Marisa Miller, and Joanna Krupa—have all worked to expose the unnatural conditions and untimely deaths of animals at SeaWorld. And actor Edie Falco voiced our cutting-edge “I, Orca” project. People everywhere were outraged after watching Blackfish, which exposed the miserable living conditions for orcas at the theme park.

“Today comes the payoff. For decades, orcas, beluga whales, seals, and many other animals have suffered in confinement at SeaWorld. And while this decision is a step in the right direction, to do right by the orcas now, SeaWorld must move these long-suffering animals to ocean sanctuaries so that they may have some semblance of a natural life outside their prison tanks. And we must remember the other animals who will remain in captivity until SeaWorld does right by all of them.”

David Phillips, Earth Island Institute:

“There has been a dramatic change in public attitudes about capturing and holding whales and dolphins for captive entertainment. Movies like Free Willy, The Cove, and Blackfish have all had a tremendous impact. They have helped educate a generation of people about how scientifically and ethically wrong it is for whales and dolphin to be confined in captivity doing circus tricks. People around the world are rightfully demanding change.

“SeaWorld’s attendance has dropped precipitously and shareholders have pounded the stock price. Legislation and lawsuits call for SeaWorld to reform. CEO Manby failed to mention two lawsuits Earth Island has been supporting against SeaWorld’s captive program. These lawsuits include our intervention to support the California Coastal Commission ban on trade and breeding of captive orcas, and a lawsuit contending that SeaWorld uses false and deceptive advertising and unfair business practices by making untrue claims about orcas in captivity.

“The company’s decision to stop orca breeding isn’t enough. More change is needed. Their announcement does not end the threat that SeaWorld and other captive facilities pose to dolphins and whales. Dolphins, belugas, and orcas continue to be captured around the world and are suffering in captivity.”

Phil Kline, Greenpeace U.S.A., in story by Michael Walsh, Yahoo News:

“It’s a long time coming but a fabulous announcement. It’s a huge step in the right direction. It’s a responsible step into the 21st century; hopefully, it’s just the beginning of the pendulum swinging that way.

“Survive and adapt to what the public wants and demands in the 21st century, or this business model no longer works and you are out of business. They did not do this because it was the altruistic thing to do. This was forced upon them by dedicated activists raising the issue to where it became a global concern [that] affected their bottom line, and they have to react.”

Howard Garrett, Orca Network, in a story by Evan Bush, the Seattle Times:

“It’s very gratifying. It’s been 20 years we’ve been asking them to do this, to phase out their captive killer-whale circus-entertainment-business model. Finally they are. It makes me feel like we’re on the right track, even when it looked hopeless.

“We would like to see them actively investigate how to return their captives on a case-by-case basis to a sea-pen rehabilitation center where they can feel the ocean and regenerate their strength.”

Stephen Wells, Animal Legal Defense Fund:

“Though it is long overdue in the face of overwhelming evidence of harm to orcas in captivity and evolving public opinion, the Animal Legal Defense Fund applauds SeaWorld for its historic decision to phase out its inhumane captive orca program.

“Thanks to our hundreds of thousands of supporters, the Animal Legal Defense Fund has been able to maintain immense legal pressure on SeaWorld and other ‘entertainment’ providers, including circuses and roadside zoos, who inhumanely confine animals and deprive them of everything that is natural and important to them.

“SeaWorld’s historic announcement comes mere weeks before Ringling’s final use of elephants in its traveling circus, and mere weeks after Animal Legal Defense Fund intervened to ensure the California Coastal Commission’s permit conditions are upheld, that allow SeaWorld San Diego to expand only if it ends its captive breeding program.”

Ric O’Barry, Dolphin Project

“In my opinion, SeaWorld is not ending their breeding program; the impending death of Tilikum is forcing them ending it. Tilikum was their main supplier of sperm stock. We’re not taking SeaWorld at face value, as historically they have proven they cannot be trusted. Dolphin Project will continue to monitor and report on the captive dolphins at their parks as we have been doing ever since the day they opened.”

Lifeforce:

“This is a step forward but the present captive orcas will continue to suffer for decades and they will continue to exploit belugas and other dolphin species. They may well obtain other cetaceans from the wild under the guise of ‘rescue’ and then claim that they are unreleasable. That is how the aquarium and zoo industry have gotten captives over the decades.
Further, there is a lot more to this cruel breeding issue. Sea World must stop breeding belugas and other dolphin species.”

Experts agree: Coho fishing must be reduced this year to save species

Fishing seasons for coho salmon in Puget Sound are expected to be cut back severely this year, as the latest forecasts of salmon returns predict that coho runs will be less than a third of what was forecast for 2015.

Salmon managers faced some tough facts recently when they read over results from a computer model used to predict the effects of various fishing scenarios. After they plugged in last year’s fishing seasons and this year’s coho forecast, the computer told them that essentially no fish were left to spawn in Stillaguamish River in northern Puget Sound. Things were hardly better for the Skagit or Snohomish rivers or for streams in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Hood Canal.

Coho forecast

“With last year’s fisheries, you will catch every fish out there,” said Doug Milward, who manages salmon data for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “All the fisheries will have to change to protect the Stillaguamish (coho) — from the ocean fisheries to inside (Puget Sound).”

Last year’s fishing seasons are not even a good starting point, as negotiations begin between salmon managers for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Western Washington tribes. Under federal court rulings, the two sides must agree on fishing seasons, and the goal remains a 50-50 split of the various stocks that can be safely harvested. NOAA Fisheries plays a role in setting seasons for chinook, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Coho are not listed, although some people argue that they should be.

2015 coho returns

By April 14, if things go as planned, the two parties will reach agreement on when and where salmon fishing will take place — for tribal and nontribal, sport and commercial fishers.

“Unfavorable ocean conditions led to fewer coho salmon returning last year than we anticipated,” John Long, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW, said in a news release. “We expect to see another down year for coho in 2016 and will likely have to restrict fishing for salmon in a variety of locations to protect wild coho stocks.”

It seems the tribes have a slightly different take on the situation.

2016 coho forecasts

“There likely will be no coho fisheries in Western Washington this year, as returns are expected to plummet even further than last year because of poor ocean survival,” Lorraine Loomis, chairwoman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, stated in a column published online.

She said that when last year’s coho returns are finally tallied, they may be as much as 80 percent below preseason forecasts. The Nisqually Tribe last year canceled its coho fishery when less than 4,000 of the anticipated 23,000 fish returned to the area, she said.

Tribes fish at the end of the line, after all the other fisheries — from up the West Coast to the inside of Puget Sound. Because the treaties require tribes to fish within their “usual and accustomed areas,” agreements on fishing seasons must allow for salmon to return to their natal streams with numbers large enough for tribes to take their share, Lorraine said.

“Every year we must wait and hope that enough fish return to feed our families and culture,” she said. “Faced with low catch rates last year, however, most tribal coho fisheries were sharply reduced or closed early to protect the resource. The state, however, expanded sport harvest in mixed stock areas last year to attempt to catch fish that weren’t there. That’s not right. The last fisheries in line should not be forced to shoulder most of the responsibility for conserving the resource.”

Chinook forecast

The annual negotiations between the state and the tribes were kicked off Tuesday at a public meeting where the salmon forecasts were discussed with sport and commercial fishers.

In addition to a poor return of coho to Puget Sound, the forecast for Puget Sound chinook also shows somewhat lower numbers than last year.

One bright spot is for people who like to fish in the ocean. About 951,000 fall chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River. That’s higher than the 10-year average but lower than last year’s modern record of 1.3 million. About 223,000 hatchery chinook are expected to return to the lower Columbia River. These fish, known as “tules,” make up the bulk of the recreational harvest.

2015 chinook returns

Another bright spot is the prediction of a fair number of sockeye returning to Baker Lake on the Skagit River, possibly allowing a fishing season in the lake and river.

Norm Reinhardt, who heads up the Kitsap Poggie Club, has been involved in advisory groups on salmon fishing and participates in discussions about the seasons.

“This year, we have a significant challenge in the coho fishery, and we will have to base decisions on conservation needs,” Norm told me following Tuesday’s meeting.

Despite lower chinook numbers, there could be ways to work out some opportunities to fish for hatchery chinook, he said. Catch-and-release is one option on the table, but it is not popular among sport fishers.

2016 chinook forecast

Anglers are still smarting from last year’s sport-fishing closure in Area 10, a designated fishing area between Bremerton and Seattle. Fishing for chinook was prohibited in that area at the insistence of the Muckleshoot Tribe to protect hatchery chinook returning to the Issaquah Creek hatchery.

Fishing should have been allowed at some level — with the release of wild chinook — under an agreed management plan, Norm says, but state managers yielded to the tribe at the last minute in order to hasten a final agreement. On Tuesday, Norm told state salmon managers that he doesn’t want to see that happen again.

“In area 10, our argument is going to be that if we have adequate chinook, we should be allowed to fish on our fish — unlike last year,” he said.

sockeye forecasts

The reduced number of coho returning to Puget Sound has been blamed on ocean conditions, including higher water temperatures off the coast and a mass of warm water called “the blob,” which stayed around for two years. Studies have shown that warmer water alters the species of plankton available for fish to eat. The result is that the fish are consuming a plankton lower in fat content, causing coho to be thinner and fewer.

The 2016 forecast of about 256,000 Puget Sound coho is about 40 percent of the average return over the past 10 years and 29 percent of the number predicted for 2015 — a prediction that turned out to be too optimistic. Because of the failed coho forecast last year, everyone is expected to be more cautious about aspects of the computer modeling this year.

Charts on this page were presented during Tuesday’s meeting. The new charts make the presentation easier to understand, compared to the tables of data discussed at previous meetings. The data tables are still available when one needs to dig into the finer details. The new maps use colors to describe how streams are doing. Poor (red) is if the run or forecast for a stream is less than 75 percent of the 10-year average. Good (green) is if the run or forecast for a stream is more than 125 percent of the 10-year-average. Neutral (blue) is if the run or forecast falls between 75 percent and 125 percent.

Anyone may attend the meetings where the ongoing negotiations and possible tradeoffs are discussed. Allowing more fishing in one place often results in less fishing somewhere else, and there’s always the question about whether enough salmon are being left for spawning in the streams.

“We’re going to have to be creative in order to provide fisheries in some areas this year,” John Long said. “We would appreciate input from the public to help us establish priorities.”

Information about the salmon forecasts, the meeting schedule and methods of commenting are available on WDFW’s North of Falcon website.

On March 14, various parameters for ocean fishing will be set by the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a group empowered by the federal government to manage fish in the ocean. The PFMC will adopt ocean fishing schedules and harvest levels during its April 8-14 meeting, at which time state and tribal salmon managers are expected to approve fishing seasons for the inland waters.

A deeper look into the Ballard Locks, where antique equipment rules

The Ballard Locks is a great place to visit, especially in the late summer and fall when the salmon are migrating into Lake Washington. I’ve been taking out-of-town friends and family there for years to observe the multitude of boats using the locks and to peer at salmon through windows of the fish ladder.

I never thought much about all the mechanical equipment that keeps the locks functioning. But during a recent visit, I was taken to a darker and more dangerous side of the facility. I walked down a spiral iron staircase some 60 feet deep into an abandoned pumping plant. Rusty iron pipes and pumps were still in place, having been shut down three years ago out of concern that a pipe might burst while someone was down in the well.

Pumps are pipes at the Ballard Locks were shut down after they became too corroded to be safe. Photo: Christopher Dunagan
Pumps and pipes used to empty the Ballard Locks for maintenance were shut down after they became too corroded to be safe.
Photo: Christopher Dunagan

Growing concerns about the safety and maintenance problems inspired me to write a story about the locks for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, along with a sidebar about salmon in the Lake Washington watershed that migrate along a treacherous route through the locks.

The locks were completed in 1916, and much of the antique equipment is still in operation — including gears, pulleys and chains. The mechanical works and the big steel doors with their neatly aligned rivets remind me of the art and aesthetic design of steampunk (Wikipedia), a style with its own dedicated page on Pinterest.

A dam-safety study and growing awareness of the outmoded equipment could help bring money for a major renovation, which could cost $50 million or more. President Obama’s budget, recently submitted to Congress, includes funding for replacing the pumping plant I mentioned above but not much more. By the way, while I was at the locks in early January, contractors were beginning to remove the old pumping plant equipment — even though replacement is not yet authorized.

My trip to the locks and my follow-up reporting have given me a new perspective on a place I thought I knew fairly well. In reality, I knew very little about the inner workings of the Ballard Locks, officially known as the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks. I hope you can learn something about the facility by reading my story.

The SS Roosevelt, owned by the Bureau of Fisheries, was the first “official” ship to pass through the Ballard Locks on July 4, 1917, leading a parade of 80 boats. Photo: Army Corps of Engineers
The SS Roosevelt, owned by the Bureau of Fisheries, was the first “official” ship to pass through the Ballard Locks on July 4, 1917, leading a parade of 80 boats.
Photo: Army Corps of Engineers

Meanwhile, officials at the locks are planning a major centennial celebration. Although the first ship went through the “Government Locks” in August of 1916, the opening celebration was delayed until the Fourth of July in 1917. (Check out Friends of the Ballard Locks.) At the time, it was a major event, including fireworks and other festivities. More than 100,000 people attended, according to reports.

I’m told that supporters will roll out various activities throughout next year, in part because July 4 is now associated with many other events. For information, see ballardlocks.org.

I will try to keep up with the various centennial plans and report details of the events as information becomes available.

How to help crabs survive when you
lose a crab pot

A simple alteration to recreational crab pots could save thousands of crabs from going to waste each year, all because crabs are unable to escape from lost crab pots that keep on working, according to a new study.

Paul Rudell of Natural Resources Consultants, left, and Jason Morgan of Northwest Straits Foundation place crabs into a trap to test the escape system. Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation
Paul Rudell of Natural Resources Consultants, left, and Jason Morgan of Northwest Straits Foundation place crabs into a trap to test the escape system.
Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation

The Crab Pot Escapement Study, commissioned by the Northwest Straits Foundation, is the first to measure how well crabs use the escape routes provided in the design of every crab pot sold in Washington state.

The findings were somewhat of a surprise, according to Jason Morgan of the Northwest Straits Foundation. Jason told me that he is eager to get the information out to recreational crabbers, who could voluntarily take steps to reduce crab mortality. The findings might even lead to revised regulations for crab pots.

Of course, the best thing that crabbers can do is to avoid losing their pots in the first place. For tips, check out the brochure from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (PDF 2.9 mb) or the Northwest Straits website. About 12,000 crab pots are lost each year in Puget Sound, representing the wasteful deaths of nearly 200,000 crabs, according to a revised estimate derived from the new study.

The study, in partnership with Natural Resources Consultants, placed live Dungeness crabs into six common types of crab pots, using 13 various configurations. After the seventh day, the biodegradable escape cord (“rot cord”) was severed to provide an opening through which the crabs could escape — at least in theory. The researchers then measured the time it took for the crabs to get out, if they could.

An escape ring tied with escape cord allows crabs a way out. Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation
An escape ring tied with escape cord allows crabs a safe exit.
Photo: Northwest Straits Foundation

One thing the researchers learned was that crab pots with hinged doors tended to keep the crabs trapped, especially when the door was located away from the edge of the pot. The doors simply stayed closed after the escape cord broke free.

A modification of the doors with a bungee cord significantly increased the number of crabs that could escape. The doors were modified to spring open when the escape cord broke.

The best configuration of all involved the use of escape rings — a circular opening at least 4.25 inches across. These rings are required by law in all crab pots to allow females and under-sized males to get away before the pot is brought to the surface or in the event that it becomes derelict.

Many crab pots sold today tie the rings into the crab pot with escape cord. When the cord breaks, the ring falls away to provide a larger opening for the crabs to get out.

“It’s still a small opening for the crab to crawl out,” Jason said. “We did not expect it to be effective at all, but it works very well.”

In some crab pots, the required rings are welded into place on the iron cage. It would be easy enough for people to cut the rings out with a strong pair of wire cutters and then tie them back in with escape cord, Jason said.

Manufacturers of crab pots have become interested in the study, Jason told me, and he expects some will quickly convert to tying the rings in place rather than welding them. The difference in cost, if any, should be small, he said, and drawbacks seem minimal.

Requiring this method of escape for future crab pots sold in Washington could be another result of the study, but nothing is proposed at this time, Jason said. The next round of studies is likely to look at commercial crab pots, which are generally larger but still require an escape route in case they become lost.

A related issue that needs attention is the escape cord, which is made of cotton and designed to deteriorate in a reasonable period of time when left in saltwater. Cords that last longer are likely to cause more crabs to die. Studies have shown that approved escape cord takes between 30 and 148 days to disintegrate, with most people selecting larger cord that can last toward the longer end of that range.

“That is certainly something that we are not happy with,” Jason said. “We would like to see regulations that would require escape cord to be smaller.”

A smaller cord would break sooner and allow more crabs to survive when a crab pot is lost, though it would require crabbers to change the cord more often. That would seem to be a small inconvenience to avoid the kind of waste often seen in photos of derelict crab pots filled with dead and dying crabs. Even longtime experienced crabbers can lose a pot now and then, Jason said.

Northwest Straits Foundation is working on one or more videos to help people see the benefits of providing escape for crabs and to demonstrate how to modify their crab pots.

According to the study, the right modifications to crab pots could allow 99 percent of the crabs to get free when a crab pot is lost in the depths of Puget Sound.

Amusing Monday: Music in tune with salmon and orcas of the Salish Sea

Dana Lyons, known for his songs of humor and environmental inspiration, performed his tune “The Great Salish Sea” during Saturday’s Ways of Whales Workshop on Whidbey Island.

The lyrics are told from the perspective of “Granny,” an orca estimated to be 104 years old and the oldest whale among the Southern Residents. The song tells about how underwater sounds, as heard by the whales, have changed over time — from the Native American canoes and the sailing ships of yesteryear to the noisy tankers of today.

Dana performed the song solo, with only his guitar, on Saturday at the Ways of Whales Workshop, sponsored by Orca Network. The sound was wonderful, and Dana’s voice rang out clear, but the recorded version sounds richer with additional instrumentation, as you can hear in the first video on this page.

“The Great Salish Sea” is the title song is from Dana’s latest album, which includes the popular “Salmon Come Home.” I’ve posted the music video of the salmon song in the second video player on this page. Other songs on the album include “I Need the Water,” which speaks of the competition for this limited resource. To hear the songs on the album, go to “The Great Salish Sea” on Dana’s website., which also includes his full list of albums.

Dana has toured throughout North America and in many countries during his 30-year career. His current schedule includes upcoming appearances in Langley, Vancouver, B.C., and Port Townsend.

Dana was born in Kingston, New York, and graduated from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He now lives in Bellingham.

Humor has long been a key part of Dana’s music, so I think we should revisit one of his most popular songs, “Cows with Guns,” viewed in the third video player (below).