Category Archives: Education

Amazing image of gray herons comes after
much experimentation

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.

herons

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 the scene.

“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.

frog

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 backyard wildlife.

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.

ducks

“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.

Check out 17 stunning photographs, with comments from the photographers, on the National Wildlife website.

‘War of the Whales’ :
My take on the book by Joshua Horwitz

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 world.

Book

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 whales.

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 describes it.

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 success.

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.

Joel Reynolds, left, and Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, September 2013. Photo by Joshua Horwitz
Joel Reynolds, left, and Ken Balcomb at the Center for Whale Research on San Juan Island, September 2013.
Photo by Joshua Horwitz

“Ken was such an extraordinary character,” Horwitz told me in a telephone interview. “He was a reluctant activist. Activism wasn’t Ken’s thing.”

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 whales.”

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 life.

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 the book.

“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 retired officers.

“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 life.

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.

The book can be ordered from the Center for Whale Research, which gets a share of the proceeds, or visit the book’s webpage, “War of the Whales.”

Puget Sound: Hopeful signs shine through complex cleanup effort

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.

Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

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 agencies themselves.

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 philosophical question.

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 improvements.

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 environmental conditions.

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 Washington’s Urban Ecology Research Lab. The report identified the primary “drivers” of change that would determine the future of the Puget Sound region.

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 answers?

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 — disappear.

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.”

Amusing Monday: Amazing nature photos from around the world

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 incredible photographs.

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.

For now, with permission from National Geographic, I’d like to share 10 water-related images from a gallery of the judges’ favorite photographs for 2014. To see more pictures, visit National Geographic’s Photo Contest 2014 Galleries.

When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.

Continue reading

Coho show off their jumping skills, but they can’t swim up a pipe

Prompted by stream biologist Jon Oleyar. my grandson, Kevin Jeffries, and I visited Gorst Creek today during a break in the heavy rains.

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.

Coho salmon add to viewing experience in Gorst Creek

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 unusual.”

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. 1.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hansville

Central Kitsap

Holly

Amusing Monday: Actors lend their voices to ‘Nature is Speaking’

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 take back.”

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 HumaNature.

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:

A tribute to veterans with visits to public lands from coast to coast

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 locations:

  • 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 Forest

As one YouTube commenter said, “A perfect combination — all those spectacular places and the brave people who defended them.”

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.

Amusing Monday: ‘If we cared about the environment …’

“I can’t believe we lost the glaciers!”

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 theme:

Experts to talk salmon and habitat at Poulsbo Fish Park on Saturday

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.

salmon viewing

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 Road.
  • 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., www.ext100.wsu.edu/kitsap.

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 salmon-viewing.