I can always count on the annual National Wildlife Photo Contest
to provide some amazing water-related photos — and the 2014 contest
was no exception.
This is the 44th year for the contest, sponsored by National
Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation. This year’s
contest attracted more than 29,000 entries, according to a
statement accompanying the winning photographs.
The winner of the Grand Prize, Hungarian photographer Bence
Mate, spent 74 nights in a blind over a period of several years to
figure out how to capture this remarkable image of gray herons in
Hungary’s Kiskunsag National Park.
By experimenting with his camera gear, he was able to capture a
clear image of the birds and water in dim light, while also showing
us the stars, which were not in the same depth of field. His
home-made equipment was able to achieve good exposure throughout
“I made the photo with a fish-eye lens that was less than a
meter away from the closest bird and had to be careful not to scare
the herons with noise or light,” he was quoted as saying.
The birds kept moving during the 32 seconds that the shutter was
open, “and they created interesting forms in front of the starry
sky,” he noted.
I like the whimsical appearance of this bullfrog, captured by
Cheryl Rose of Hopkinton, Mass., as she explored Waseeka Wildlife
Sanctuary in Central Massachusetts. The water seems to wrap around
the log, becoming part of the sky with clouds in the distance.
“There were so many frogs in this pond,” she said, “but this one
gave me the perfect pose.”
The photo won second place in the Other Wildlife category — a
category for something other than birds, mammals, baby animals and
First place in the Baby Animals category went to Nathan
Goshgarian of Woburn, Mass., who watching as this mallard duckling
leaped at flies swarming over Horn Pond in his city.
“It had the incredible ability to select a single fly from the
seemingly random movements of the swarm and launch itself out of
the water,” he said.
In the book “War of the Whales,” author Joshua Horwitz reveals,
in exquisite detail, how Ken Balcomb played a central role in
showing how Navy sonar was killing and injuring whales around the
Ken, who we know as the dean of orca research in Puget Sound,
has not been alone, of course, in the quest to get the Navy to
better protect marine mammals. Horwitz introduces us to a variety
of people, each with his or her own interest in saving the
Frankly, I was surprised at how much I learned from the book,
given that I have been covering these same issues as a reporter for
many years. What really gained my admiration for Horwitz was how he
was able to weave scientific and historical aspects of the story
into a gripping tale that reads like a detective thriller.
I consider this book to be several stories woven into one.
First, there are the personal biographies of two key players in
this conflict with the Navy. The lives of Ken Balcomb, of the
Center for Whale Research, and Joel Reynolds, of the Natural
Resources Defense Council, became intertwined with each other after
the NRDC sued the Navy over its use of sonar around whales.
Next, we are given the history of the Navy’s sonar technology,
developed to track stealthy submarines. We meet many of the Navy
officials involved, including some who became emotionally involved
with marine mammals, flipping to the other side, as Horwitz
The Navy has long controlled much of the research involving
marine mammals — the original models for sonar. At times, whales
and dolphins were even trained as military combatants, with mixed
Last, but not least, we are shown the legal arguments related to
environmental law versus the need for national security. As a
result, we see how the Navy has become more open today about the
risks to whales from its testing and training procedures.
Horwitz paints intimate portraits of many of the characters,
especially Balcomb, the biologist, and Reynolds, the lawyer. He
sees the pair coming together from different backgrounds and
uniting in their effort to protect the whales against the Navy’s
single-minded approach to national security.
“Ken was such an extraordinary character,” Horwitz told me in a
telephone interview. “He was a reluctant activist. Activism wasn’t
The story begins in the Bahamas, where Balcomb was doing
research when a mass stranding of beaked whales took place,
practically at his doorstep. Navy sonar had been suspected of
killing whales in other areas of the world, but Balcomb was able to
secure fresh tissues — essential evidence to understand how their
injuries were caused by sound waves. Balcomb also observed that the
Navy was conducting exercises in the Bahamas at the same time, and
he made the connection to the dead whales.
From there, other researchers and policy officials became
involved, but Balcomb kept pushing to keep the incident from being
swept under the rug.
“Ken’s investment was immediate,” Horwitz explained. “One night
the Navy just plowed through and decimated this population of
We learn from the book about Ken’s serendipitous life. As a
young biologist, he collected whale lungs for research by going to
a commercial whaling station still operating in California. He
later signed onto a research crew as a dishwasher, but his skills
with a shotgun earned him the lead job of tagging whales.
Balcomb joined the Navy during the Vietnam War and became a
pilot. A series of circumstances led him into Fleet Sonar School
and the Navy’s highly secretive Sound Surveillance System, or
SOSUS. At the same time, his compatriots in graduate school became
some of the top marine mammal experts for the Navy and the National
Marine Fisheries Service. His later interactions with these folks
revealed something about their past and present positions in
Horwitz ties all these pieces of the story together in a
compelling narrative that kept offering me new and surprising
tidbits of information. It took the author seven years to complete
“He kept asking over and over the same questions,” said Ken,
somewhat amused when I asked him about it. “I didn’t know if he had
confused notes or what.”
Horwitz was seeking an extraordinary level of precision and
accuracy, so that his telling of this true and controversial story
could not be assailed.
Balcomb said he could find no errors, except for the conscious
decision by Horowitz and his editors to describe two overflights by
Balcomb in the Bahamas as a single event.
Most surprising of all was the account from Navy officials,
whose story about underwater warfare has rarely been told, except
perhaps in novels by Tom Clancy and others. Horwitz said
active-duty military officials were no help to him, but he got to
know retired Admiral Dick Pittenger, who opened doors to other
“He (Pittenger) was a total career Navy guy, but he was
skeptical about the way the Navy was handling some of these
matters,” Horwitz said, noting that the admiral spent days helping
him understand anti-submarine warfare.
Pittenger wanted the story told right, and he must have been
satisfied with the result, since he offered this comment in
promotional materials for the book:
“‘War of the Whales’ is an important book about a major
post-Cold War problem: the often conflicting goals of national
security and environmental protection. The author presents this
very complex and multidimensional story with great clarity.
“I’m certain that no one who has been involved with this issue
will agree with everything in this book (I don’t). But the topic
is, by its nature, so emotionally charged and controversial that I
doubt anyone can read it without a strong personal response. The
importance of this book is that it tells the ‘inside’ story to the
wide reading public in a compelling way.”
In my mind, Horwitz did a remarkable job of capturing the
relevant facts for this complicated story. He then seamlessly
joined the pieces together into a coherent and dramatic story — one
especially important to those of us living in an area where the
Navy maintains a strong presence among an abundance of marine
Check back to “Watching Our Water Ways” tomorrow, when I will
describe more of Josh Horowitz’s personal views about his book and
what he learned along the way.
While putting the final touches on a two-year, 10-part series
about the Puget Sound ecosystem, I couldn’t help but wonder about
the true character of Washington state and its citizens.
How much do people really care about salmon and rockfish, eagles
and herons, killer whales, cougars, and many lesser-known species
in and around Puget Sound? Do we have a political system capable of
supporting the needed efforts — financially and legally — to
correct the problems?
After interviewing hundreds of people over the past few years, I
have a pretty good feeling about this state, especially when
considering other parts of the country. There is hope that we can
save some of the remaining gems of the Puget Sound ecosystem while
restoring functioning conditions in other places.
Puget Sound Partnership, which is overseeing the restoration
efforts, still has the support of many people and organizations —
including many conservatives and business-oriented folks. That
support comes despite ongoing struggles by the partnership to find
a proper place within the state’s political system. Review my
latest story in the
Kitsap Sun (subscription).
“Let science lead the way” remains the refrain of both critics
and supporters of the partnership. But that is easier said than
done — even if you could take politics out of the equation.
Scientists in almost any field of research don’t always agree on
the fundamental problems, and there is a competition among
scientific disciplines for limited research dollars. Are endangered
fish more important than endangered birds or endangered whales, or
should we be studying the plankton, sediments and eelgrass that
form the base of the food web?
Really, where should we focus our attention and tax dollars?
That’s a key question. The correct answer is, and always has been,
“All of the above.”
When it comes to funding, the decision-making becomes widely
disbursed, and I’m not sure whether that is good or bad. At the
local level, we have Lead Entities and Local Integrating
Organizations. At the state level, we have the Salmon Recovery
Funding Board, the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board and
Then there is the Puget Sound Partnership, with its seven-member
Leadership Council and 28-member Ecosystem Coordination Board,
along with its science advisory panel. The partnership establishes
an Action Agenda to guide funding decisions by the others.
One would never want an individual man or woman deciding where
the money should go. But do the various groups help identify
important problems, or do they diffuse attention from what could be
a focused strategy? I believe this will always be somewhat a
One thing I confirmed in the final installment of the 10-part
series “Taking the Pulse of
Puget Sound” is that nobody was ever serious about a deadline
established in the law creating the Puget Sound Partnership.
Restoring Puget Sound by the year 2020 remains on the books as a
goal that needs to be changed.
If officials acknowledge that the goal cannot be met, will the
Legislature and the public continue their support for the current
level of funding or perhaps increase support?
That gets back to my wondering about the true character of
Washington state and its citizens. Based on past legislation, this
state is clearly a leader in ecosystem protection. We have the
Shoreline Management Act, the Growth Management Act (with its
urban-concentration and critical-areas protections), Municipal
Stormwater Permits, Forest Practices Act and more.
Are we ready to go all the way, by setting interim goals for
2020 and looking to the long term? We will need to better track
progress, which means gathering more data in the field —
monitoring, if you will.
Monitoring is not as inspiring as restoring an important
estuary. But think of all the time and money spent on forecasting
the weather, which relies entirely on monitoring with costly
investments in satellites and equipment, all needing continual
Envision a significant role for experts who can describe changes
in the ecosystem and help us decide if our money is being well
spent. If weather reporters can hold a central role on the evening
news, why shouldn’t we have ecosystem reporters discussing
I wouldn’t mind hearing a report on the news something like
this: “We are seeing improved conditions in southern Hood Canal,
with scattered salmon spawning at upper elevations, and a 90
percent chance that oyster beds will be opened in Belfair.” (Just
kidding, of course.)
Puget Sound Partnership’s proposed budget, as submitted by the
governor, contains more than $1 million for assessing Puget Sound
recovery. That could be an important step to providing information
about how the ecosystem is responding to the hundreds of millions
of dollars spent on protection and restoration so far.
In writing about the future for the final part of the “Pulse”
series, I described a 2008 report from the University of
Urban Ecology Research Lab. The report identified the primary
“drivers” of change that would determine the future of the Puget
It was interesting to learn that if we are lucky about climate
change — or even if we’re not so lucky — the future is largely in
our hands. How will we react to economic ups and downs? How will we
address land use with millions of new people coming in? Will we
embrace technology as the final solution or look to nature for
The report describes six remarkably different scenarios, though
others could be constructed. Perhaps the worst one is called
“Collapse,” in which warning signs of ecological problems are
ignored and economic challenges are met by relaxing environmental
regulations and allowing residential sprawl. In the end, the
ecosystem cannot withstand the assault. Shellfish beds are forced
to close, and hundreds of species — including salmon and orcas —
Two scenarios hold more hopeful outcomes. One, called “Forward,”
includes public investments to purchase sensitive areas, including
shorelines. Growth becomes concentrated in cities, and people learn
to fit into the ecosystem. The other, called “Adaptation,” includes
grassroots efforts to save water and resources and improve people’s
ecological behavior. Protecting shorelines, floodplains and
wildlife corridors help reduce flooding and protect species that
could have been wiped out. Check out
“Scenarios offer glimpses of a possible future for Puget
Sound,” Kitsap Sun (subscription).
Joel Baker, director of Puget Sound Institute, capped off my
“futures” story with a sense of optimism, which I find contagious.
I don’t know if Joel was thinking of the Frank Sinatra song, “New
York, New York” which contains the line, “If I can make it there,
I’ll make it anywhere.” But Joel told me something like, “If we
can’t make it here, we can’t make it anywhere.”
Here are his exact words:
“As an environmental scientist, I find it interesting that
things are starting to come together. We continue to grow
economically, so we have the money.
“Energy is lining up with the environment, and we’re forcing the
restoration program to think holistically. It’s as much about
transportation as it is about sewage-treatment plants.
“The Pacific Northwest is technologically savvy; we have smart
people here; and we have the collective will to get things done. So
I’m optimistic about cleaning up Puget Sound. If we can’t do it
here, God help the rest of the country.”
Some of the best photographers in the world contribute to
National Geographic magazine. So it’s no wonder that a photo
contest sponsored each year by the publication draws in some
Last year, more than 7,000 entries were submitted by amateur and
professional photographers from 150 countries, and I would expect
an equal number this year. The deadline has passed for submissions
in 2014, and the winner of the $10,000 grand prize plus several
runners-up will be announced later this month.
Prompted by stream biologist Jon Oleyar. my grandson, Kevin
Jeffries, and I visited Gorst Creek today during a break in the
As I reported in
Water Ways yesterday, Jon, who counts salmon for the Suquamish
Tribe, had observed an unusual number of coho salmon swimming
upstream in Gorst Creek.
Because of heavy rains, the creek was running high and very fast
this afternoon, and the waters were a muddy brown. In fact, the
sediment load was so heavy that we spotted only a few fish swimming
upstream. We suspected that a lot of them were hunkered down in
deep pools, waiting for the flows to decline and the stream to
become more passable.
Although we did not see a lot of fish, it was exciting to watch
coho salmon trying to jump up into an outlet pipe that discharges
water from the salmon-rearing raceways in the park. Coho, wearing
their spawning colors of red, are known as jumping fish, but these
guys were going nowhere fast. Check out the video on this page.
I’m looking forward to returning to the stream after the rains
decline and the waters clear up a little bit. The coho may or may
not be gone by then, but Jon expects that we should be able to see
chum salmon in Gorst Creek at least until Christmas.
Gorst Creek is the place to go right now when looking for
migrating salmon — not only chum but also coho, all decked out in
their bright-red spawning colors, according to Jon Oleyar, who
surveys East Kitsap streams for the Suquamish Tribe.
Jon called me last night with the news the coho, which adds some
excitement to the salmon-watching experience.
Coho often hide along the stream edges, making them hard to
spot. That’s why I generally focus the attention of salmon watchers
on the more abundant chum, which race right up the middle of the
streams. But it’s great when coho add themselves to the mix.
Jon reported that the coho can be seen easily in Gorst Creek at
Otto Jarstad Park off Belfair Valley Road.
“There are a ton of fish in there,” he said, “and there are a
lot of coho, bright red.”
He said there were also plenty of chum, some that have been in
the stream awhile and others that have just arrived.
Bremerton Public Works officials, who manage the park, have not
objected to people parking outside the park gate and walking into
the park, where salmon-viewing platforms were built along the
stream by the Kitsap Poggie Club.
One good spot, Jon said, is near a pipe where water from the
nearby salmon-rearing operation pours out into the stream. Salmon
seem to get confused and try to jump up into the pipe before
heading on upstream.
Gorst Creek contains one of the latest chum runs on the Kitsap
Peninsula, and people may be able to see salmon there until the end
of the year. I often tell local residents that Jarstad Park is a
good place to take out-of-town visitors during the holidays.
That’s especially the case this year, when the chum run in the
Chico Creek system has basically run its course. The peak of the
run typically comes at Thanksgiving, but this year it was about two
weeks early, Jon tells me. While this year’s run was a decent size,
he said, the stream right now is mostly a “smelly graveyard.”
“It is one of the earliest runs I’ve seen here,” he said of the
Chico chum. “To have everything dead by Thanksgiving is very
Another possibility for seeing salmon is Dogfish Creek, which
runs through Poulsbo. “There might be a few stragglers in Dogfish
Creek,” Jon said.
It’s not too late to take a look at any of the viewing spots
listed on my salmon
viewing map of the Kitsap Peninsula, but don’t go in with high
hopes of seeing a lot of salmon at this time of year. Gorst, it
appears, is the one sure bet at the moment. (The map also contains
tips for observing salmon, which can be easily spooked.)
It’s worth noting that the rains this fall continue to be nearly
ideal for the salmon, coming in with just enough intensity and
frequency to keep the streams flowing at a good level without
flooding. I covered this issue in
Water Ways on Oct. 31.
“It has been perfect for salmon,” Jon told me yesterday. “Those
early storms brought up the streams, and the fish that were coming
in early had plenty of water.”
When the rains eventually dropped off, springs created by those
rains kept the streams flowing until the next rains arrived. As a
result, salmon were able to distribute themselves as far upstream
as they could go. That does not happen every year.
A torrential downpour could still cause flooding and disrupt
salmon eggs incubating in the gravel, but for now things look good
on the Kitsap Peninsula.
As for total rainfall, we were on a record pace for the month of
October across most of the Kitsap Peninsula, as I reported in
Water Ways at the end of last month. But, as you can see from
the charts below, we dropped off the record pace in early November
but remain above average for the water year, which begins Oct.
The environmental group Conservation International has a message
to share: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need Nature.”
Celebrity voices — including those of Julia Roberts, Harrison
Ford and Robert Redford — have been delivering this message by
playing the roles of “Mother Nature,” “The Ocean” and “The
Redwoods.” In their roles, they talk about their relationships with
humans, while the videos display beautiful images appropriate to
the subject. (When viewing, be sure to go full-screen.)
The three mentioned above are joined by other actors in this
project, known as “Nature is Speaking.” The latest video features
Penelope Cruz, who plays the role of “Water” in a film released two
weeks ago. Her character asks:
“Where will humans find me when there are billions more of them
around? Where will they find themselves? Will they wage wars over
me, like they do over everything else.”
The message from “Water” comes across in softer tones than the
one from “The Ocean” (Harrison Ford), in which we hear a more
ominous message about humans:
“I don’t owe them a thing. I give; they take. But I can always
To understand this view of Nature, Conservation International
has posted a written statement called “Our Humanifesto.” The
organization also has invited some folks with special knowledge
about the various subjects to post blog entries. Read their essays
In addition to the videos shown above, check out the full list
of films completed so far in the “Nature is
Speaking” project, or choose from the list below:
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Interior requested
photographs of veterans enjoying America’s public lands. Many
responded, and the result is the following video, which covers the
entire nation. In Washington state, veterans are featured at three
Margaux Mange, Army veteran, Mount Rainier National Park
Mike Polk, Air Force veteran, Grand Coulee Dam, and
Maxine Gresset, Army Nurse Corps veteran, Olympic National
As one YouTube commenter said, “A perfect combination — all
those spectacular places and the brave people who defended
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, entrance fees are being waived
at most national parks, national forests, national monuments,
national wildlife refuges and other
federal lands in Washington state. For details, visit the
website of the agency in charge.
It’s one of the many sardonic lines in a new BuzzFeed video
called “If we cared about the environment the way we care about
sports,” which you can view below.
BuzzFeed is an
off-the-wall website that has somehow morphed into serious journalism while holding
onto its humorous and satiric side.
On YouTube, BuzzFeed Central is
where you will find at least four channels of odd and humorous
videos. I’m not sure how to sort through all these weird videos,
but I found several amusing clips that are related to our water
Poulsbo’s Fish Park will have a variety of experts on hand
Saturday to talk about the salmon run in Dogfish Creek and other
North Kitsap streams, as well as restoration efforts taking place
throughout the region.
Fun and educational activities for kids are part of the event,
which will go from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. My description of
salmon-viewing events on Saturday had the wrong date for the event.
Check out the flyer posted by
Poulsbo Parks and Recreation.
Paul Dorn, a biologist with the Suquamish Tribe, said the best
bet to see salmon in the creek will be earlier in the day, as the
tide will be incoming. Natural organic compounds called tannins
tend to color the water brown, so it is not always easy to spot
migrating salmon in the lower part of Dogfish Creek. If you miss
them at Fish Park, it may be worth a trip to Valley Nursery off
Bond Road, where I’ve often had luck seeing salmon.
“We just finished a wonderful restoration project,” Paul told
me, describing the installation of woody debris and gravel on a
tributary of Dogfish Creek at Fish Park. It’s a small stream, he
said, but it’s good rearing habitat for juvenile coho salmon and
cutthroat trout, and adult salmon can go up the stream when the
flows are high.
Salmon events are scheduled the following Saturday, Nov. 8:
Cowling Creek Center, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 20345 Miller Bay
Chico Salmon Viewing Park, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., adjacent to
Kitsap Golf and Country Club, www.ext100.wsu.edu/kitsap.
Mountaineers Rhododendron Preserve, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., with
walking tours at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.,
For a map of accessible salmon-viewing locations with videos
that describe each spot, go to Kitsap Peninsula Salmon
Watching. While there, check out the tips for successful