I’d like to offer something quite different for this week’s
“Amusing Monday.” It’s a 19-minute video featuring Ingrid Visser,
one of the world’s leading experts on killer whales.
One of the highlights of the video is the rescue of an orca
imperiled with a rope and buoy caught around her tail. Without the
rescue, which begins at 10:25 into the video, the whale probably
would have died. If you continue watching, you’ll see shots taken
from a camera on the whale’s dorsal fin, giving you a glimpse into
the life of a killer whale.
Ingrid’s base of operations is New Zealand, but she has been to
Puget Sound numerous times, as well as many other places where
orcas reside. I’ve always admired her for her personal approach to
understanding orcas throughout the world.
The video provides an insight into Ingrid’s life, research and
interests. It’s appropriate that it begins with her discussing
orcas with a group of young students. For more information, check
out the Facebook
page for Orca Research Trust or the related webpage for
The video was produced by a team of photographers to introduce
the new high-speed, high-definition GoPro
camera called HERO4.The video was the sixth in a series called
“The Adventure of Life in 4K.”
The Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward on a $40-million
restoration program along the Skokomish River, as I mentioned in
Water Ways last week.
According to Rachel Mesko of the Army Corps of Engineers, two
major projects have been dropped from the “tentatively selected
plan” for the Skokomish, which flows into the south end of Hood
Canal. That leaves five major projects to advance forward for a
likely recommendation to Congress.
It’s hard to remember how long I’ve been writing about the Army
Corps of Engineers’ involvement in the Skokomish. So I looked it
up. The agency completed a flood analysis in 1988, considered
dredging options in 1995 and began work on the current “general
investigation” in 2000.
Before I talk about the projects being proposed, I’d like to
recall what is at stake in the Skokomish, often cited as the most
frequently flooded river in Washington state. Many people believe
that the restoration of Hood Canal, a gem of an ecosystem, cannot
be successful without first fixing the Skokomish, where individual
restoration projects have been underway for years.
“High sediment load, reduced flows and encroachment on the
floodplain by man-made structures are causing continued degradation
of natural ecosystem structures, functions, and processes necessary
to support critical fish and wildlife habitat throughout the
“The decline in populations has resulted in the listing of four
anadromous fish species under the Endangered Species Act — chinook
salmon, chum salmon, steelhead, and bull trout — that use the river
as their primary habitat.
“The impaired ecosystem has adversely affected riverine,
wetland, and estuarine habitats that are critical to these and
other important fish and wildlife species such as bears, bald
eagles and river otters to name a few.”
Let me list some of the specific problems:
Historical removal of large woody debris has simplified the
stream, wiping out pools, eliminating places for young fish to hide
and reducing nutrients, which feed aquatic insects and support an
entire food web.
Logging along the river has eliminated the supply of large
woody debris, the shade to cool the stream and the overhanging
vegetation, a key part of the food web. Logging also has increased
erosion which prevents new vegetation from taking hold, smothers
salmon eggs and fills in pools, where salmon can rest.
Levees built to protect farmland from flooding halted the
natural movement of the river, known as channel migration, and
prevented the formation of new habitats.
Logging upstream in the South Fork of the Skokomish River and
Vance Creek increased erosion and movement of sediment into the
lower river, cutting off fish access to side channels, wetlands and
other aquatic habitats.
The Cushman Dam Project blocked 25 percent of the mainstem
habitat and 18 percent of tributary habitat available for salmon in
the North Fork of the Skokomish River. Reduced flows below the dam
increased sedimentation in the lower Skokomish. As a result, about
a mile of the river dries up about two months each summer, blocking
Highways 101 and 106 disrupted natural floodplains that can be
used by fish to find food and to escape high flows and then find
their way back to the river.
Five projects designed to reduce these problems are being
proposed by the Army Corps of Engineers:
Car body levee removal: This levee was built
with old cars at the confluence where the North Fork flows into the
mainstem of the Skokomish. Some 5,000 feet of the levee would be
removed. A small channel would be created to allow water from the
mainstem to flow into the North Fork and return at the existing
confluence. Large woody debris would help direct water into the
channel. Estimated cost: $7.5 million.
Large woody debris: Upstream of the confluence
with the North Fork, large woody debris would be installed. Large
clusters of trees with root wads, as well as some single trees,
would be placed between river mile 9 and 11, as measured from the
estuary in Hood Canal. Estimated cost: $3.2 million.
Setback levee at river mile 9: The existing
levee would be breached in four locations, and a new levee would be
built some 200 to 300 feet farther away. The levee would allow for
minor over-topping but would not increase the flood risk. Estimated
cost: $2.4 million.
Grange levee: Larger breeches are planned for
the levee near the Grange hall at river mile 7.5 to 8, compared to
the levee at river mile 9. A new levee, up to 10 feet tall and
2,900 feet long, would be constructed 1,200 feet farther back with
no increase in flood risk. Locations are still under discussion.
Estimate cost $3.3 million.
Side channel connection near Highway 101: An
old remnant channel between river mile 4 and 5.6 would be restored
to take water from the mainstem at high flows. Woody debris would
help define the inlet and outlet to the channel, which would become
a ponded wetland at low flows. Estimated cost: $3.1 million.
The costs above were taken from the feasibility study and do not
include design, planning and related costs.
You might note that the River Mile 9 levee and the Grange levee
fit the concept of “Floodplains by Design,” an idea supported by
The Nature Conservancy and funded by the Washington Legislature
with $44 million. Check out the
Associated Press story.
After discussions with nearby property owners, two projects were
removed from the preliminary list. They involve excavation work on
both Hunter and Weaver creeks to restore the tributaries to more
Rich Geiger, engineer for Mason Conservation District, said the
Skokomish restoration program seems to have wide support among
landowners in the Skokomish Valley as well as among interest
groups, including the Skokomish Watershed Action Team. As a result,
he expects that the project will maintain momentum all the way to
“It is fairly rare to have a watershed working together,” Rich
said at the SWAT meeting. “The ones that are difficult are when you
have two parties, one saying ‘yes’ and other saying, ‘Don’t you
“There is support (for the Skok project) through the Corps chain
of command and all the way up to the national level,” he added.
If things go well, a final plan for the Skokomish could be ready
by late next summer, according to Rachel Mesko.
By the way, I would like to publicly thank the SWAT for the
“certificate of appreciation” I was given for my reporting on
Skokomish River through the years. It’s an honor to be associated
with this group of men and women who are fully committed to seeing
the Skokomish River restored to a healthy ecosystem.
Big money is beginning to come together for planning,
engineering and design of major restoration projects along the
Skokomish River. If approved by Congress, the cost of construction
could exceed $40 million — a lot of money to you and me, but maybe
not so much for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Last week, the state’s Salmon Recovery Funding Board approved
grants for more than 100 projects in 29 counties throughout the
state. The total, from state and federal sources, was about $18
million for this round of funding.
Mason County was one of the big winners this time, receiving
$1.25 million for seven projects, including a $360,000 contribution
to planning and engineering for transformative projects on the
Skokomish. The total cost for a “35-percent level of design” is
expected to be $2.45 million, mostly from the Corps of Engineers.
That level of design is needed to give top officials in the Corps
and members of Congress a good idea of cost before they commit to
the massive undertaking along the Skok.
I’ll address the specific Skokomish River projects, along with
new information from the Corps, in a separate blog post to come.
For now, I’d like to describe other projects approved in the latest
round of SRF Board funding.
In addition to the design work on the Skokomish, the Mason
Conservation District will move ahead with the construction of 21
man-made logjams in the Holman Flats area along the South Fork of
the Skokomish. That is an area that was logged and cleared in
preparation for a dam that was never built.
The clearing destabilized the river and degraded salmon habitat
for more than a mile downstream. The logjams will add structure to
the river and create places for fish to hide and rest, ultimately
improving the channel itself. The $362,000 from the SRF Board will
be supplemented with another $900,000 in grants.
Beards Cove, $297,000: This project, outside of
Belfair on Hood Canal, will remove fill, structures and invasive
plants and restore the grade to the way it was before development
in 1973. The project will restore about a quarter-mile of natural
shoreline and seven acres of tidal marsh. Along with a separate
seven-acre land-preservation agreement and other efforts, about 1.7
miles of Hood Canal shoreline will be preserved forever. Great
Peninsula Conservancy will use a separate $491,000 grant from the
state’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program.
Allyn Shoreline, $14,000: Mason Conservation
District will complete final designs to enhance 480 feet of
shoreline along Case Inlet in Allyn, including removal of about 120
feet of bulkhead.
Likes Creek, $85,000: South Puget Sound Salmon
Enhancement Group will remove a culvert under the Simpson railroad
that blocks salmon migration on Likes Creek, a major tributary of
Goldsborough Creek. Another grant will provide $43,000 for the
project, and Mason County will assist with removal of another
Goldsborough Creek, $111,000: Capitol Land
Trust will buy 420 acres on the North Fork of Goldsborough Creek
near Shelton. The property provides habitat for endangered salmon
and steelhead. The land trust will contribute $20,000 in donated
Oakland Bay, $24,000: Capitol Land Trust will
use the money to remove invasive and dead vegetation and maintain
12 acres of shoreline plantings on Deer, Cranberry and Malaney
creeks. About $5,000 in donations will be added.
Three projects were funded in Kitsap County:
Springbrook Creek, $62,000: Bainbridge Island
Land Trust will assess the creek’s watershed and design five
salmon-habitat projects for one of the island’s most productive
streams. The land trust will contribute $11,000 in donations of
Curley Creek, $33,000: Great Peninsula
Conservancy will assess how to protect salmon habitat in Curley
Creek in South Kitsap, one of the largest salmon and steelhead
streams in the area. The conservancy will contribute $6,000 in
donations of labor.
Steelhead assessment, $50,000: Kitsap County
will analyze existing information on steelhead habitat in the East
Kitsap region, south to the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, to help with a
recovery plan for the threatened fish. The county will contribute
Other notable projects include the following in King,
Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom counties:
Mill Creek, $327,000: The city of Kent will
built a floodplain wetland off Mill Creek near the confluence with
the Green River, an important stream for chinook salmon and
steelhead as well as coho, chum and pink salmon and cutthroat
trout. The project includes the construction of 1,000 feet of new
off-channel habitat, where salmon can find refuge and food during
floods, and 43 log structures. Work also will restore seven acres
of native vegetation. A local grant will provide $1.4 million.
Stillaguamish River floodplain, $402,000: The
Stillaguamish Tribe will purchase 200 acres on the North Fork and
main stem of the river, remove invasive plants and restore about 25
acres of riverbank with native vegetation.
Black River wetland, $90,000: Capitol Land
Trust Grant will buy 54 acres to conserve a rare wetland unique to
the Black River and protect 1.3 miles of side channel. The property
is adjacent to 75 acres already protected by the land trust in the
Black River Sub-basin, one of the largest remaining wetland systems
in Western Washington.
Nooksack River logjams: The Nooksack Tribe will
receive $320,000 for logjams in the South Fork Nooksack and
$283,000 for the North Fork Nooksack. Eight logjams in each stream
will slow the river and provide resting pools for salmon. Federal
grants will add $56,000 in the South Fork and $60,000 in the North
In announcing the $18 million in salmon-restoration grants
statewide, Gov. Jay Inslee commented:
“Salmon are important to Washington because they support
thousands of jobs in Washington — fishing, seafood-processing, boat
sales and repair, tourism, and more. When we restore land and water
for salmon, we also are helping our communities. We get less
flooding, cleaner water and better beaches. We also make sure that
our grandchildren will be able to catch a fish or enjoy watching
the return of wild salmon.”
Funding for the grants comes from the sale of state bonds
approved by the Legislature along with the Pacific Coastal Salmon
Recovery Fund, approved by Congress and administered by the
National Marine Fisheries Service.
David Trout, who chairs the SRF Board, said the restoration
projects are a lifeline for salmon:
“Without these grants that fund incredible projects, we wouldn’t
have any salmon. That’s unacceptable. We’ve seen these grants make
a difference. They create jobs, support local communities and their
involvement in salmon recovery, and most importantly the projects
are helping bring back the fish.
“After more than a decade of work, we’ve seen that in many areas
of the state, salmon populations are increasing or staying the
same. At the same time, we still have some important areas where
fish populations are continuing to decline. We can’t get
discouraged and must continue working at this. It’s too important
to stop now.”
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research has written an
excellent report about the recent death of J-32, the Southern
Resident orca that died with an unborn and decomposing offspring
Ken’s report talks not only about his observations of the
necropsy, which I reported in
Water Ways on Saturday, but it also includes his observations
as he watched the young whale grow up:
“The decade around the millennium was a difficult time for the
J10 matriline – J32’s mom (J20) died at the age of seventeen in
1998 when J32 was only two years old; her grandmother (J10), who
took over her care, died at the age of thirty-seven in 1999, when
J32 was only three years old; and her uncle (J18) died at the age
of 23 in 2000. All died young relative to the average lifespan of
50+ for females and 29 for males in this species.
“Fortunately, auntie J22 at age thirteen gave birth to a baby
(J34) in 1998, and provided orphaned J32 the required nurturing of
a ‘mom’. With that nurturing from grandmother and auntie, including
perhaps a little milk, J32 made it through her infancy and into her
teens to be a very vivacious young whale, full of energy.”
Ken writes eloquently about his concerns regarding the high
levels of toxic contaminants carried in the blubber of the Southern
Resident orcas. The contaminants are known to cause problems with
the immune and reproductive systems. They also can cause brain
deficits that can lead to behavior disorders. He writes:
“These pollutants are released to circulate in the bloodstream
when the whales’ blubber fats are metabolized for energy when fresh
food is scarce. It is like having a freezer full of tainted and
freezer-burned food that you never have to eat unless there is
nothing in the grocery store. When nothing else is available the
bad stuff is taken out of storage and circulated for body
Ken also repeats his plea for people to take action in the face
of ongoing disaster for the local killer whale population —
including this sudden death of a young mother known as Rhapsody and
her unborn offspring.
“This is a very ugly situation for the population of Southern
Resident killer whales – our beloved orca. I think we must restore
abundant healthy prey resources ASAP if these whales are to have
any chance of avoiding extinction. The critical point for their
recovery may already have passed. I hope not, but it will soon pass
if we do not take immediate action.”
Photos taken recently on Mars are exciting, to say the least, as
the Curiosity rover sends back pictures of layered canyon walls
like you might see near a river or lake on planet Earth.
A leading interpretation is that a 3-mile-high mountain known as
Mount Sharp was formed by sediments deposited in a massive lake
over millions of years.
Ashwin Vasavada, Curiosity’s deputy project scientist, suggested
press release that this is a new way of thinking about the
“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the
notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only
underground on Mars. A more radical explanation is that Mars’
ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing
globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did
The rock layers likely were the result of repeated filling and
evaporation of the lake in Gale Crater, nearly 100 miles across. As
some sediments hardened into rock, winds carved away material
between the edge of the crater and what is now the edge of the
mountain, project scientists speculate.
Curiosity is exploring the lower portion of Mount Sharp, a
500-foot section of rock known as the Murray Formation. As
Curiosity moves up the slope, it may seem as if the rover is
traveling through time, observing changes in sediment composition
Already, on the five-mile journey from its landing site in Gale
Crater, Curiosity has sent back data about how the crater floor was
changed during its lake period. Sanjeev Gupta of Imperial College
in London, a member of Curiosity’s science team, noted:
“We found sedimentary rocks suggestive of small, ancient deltas
stacked on top of one another. Curiosity crossed a boundary from an
environment dominated by rivers to an environment dominated by
Marc Kaufmann, author of the book “Mars Up Close,” pointed out
that NASA scientists studying the Red Planet have now identified
the key elements for life: standing water that persists; a
continuing source of energy; the elements carbon, oxygen, hydrogen,
phosphorus and nitrogen; and lots of time. See article in the
New York Times.
Orbiting satellites have found evidence of dried-up lakes, which
certainly does not prove that life existed, but it suggests that
the stage was set. Kaufmann quoted John Grotzinger of Caltech, the
project scientist for Curiosity:
“As a science team, Mars is looking very attractive to us as a
habitable planet. Not just sections of Gale Crater and not just a
handful of locations, but at different times around the globe.”
Curiosity is not equipped to discover life per se, but it was
able to find some simple organic chemicals. A news conference has
been scheduled for Sunday at the annual meeting of the American
Geophysical Union to present some new information. Kaufman quoted
Daniel P. Glavin of the Goddard Spaceflight Center, who has been
studying the data:
“Our original interpretation — that there was a good chance the
organics we were seeing are Martian — hasn’t changed. This
interpretation will be expanded on at A.G.U.”
Curiosity, which landed on Mars Aug. 6, 2012, has been
collecting data about climate and geology to better understand the
natural history of the planet and help prepare for a human space
mission to the planet.
Below is a video about these new findings by Newsy, a video news
Like many people, I was shocked and saddened by the death of
J-32, an 18-year-old female orca who had offered an avenue of hope
for the recovery of the endangered killer whale population in Puget
We now know from yesterday’s necropsy, that Rhapsody, as she is
called, was pregnant at the time of her death.
“Yes, she was pregnant, near-term, 80 percent or plus,” Ken
Balcomb told me last light after participating in the examination
of the body near Courtenay, B.C.
The actual cause of death is not yet certain, but it is likely
that the fetus died in the uterus, resulting in a necrotic
condition that eventually broke down the mother’s tissues,
according to Ken, founder of the Center for Whale Research. There
were no signs of trauma that would suggest injury of any kind, he
Dr. Stephen Raverty, a veterinary pathologist in charge of the
necropsy, removed J-32’s uterus with the intact fetus inside. Dr.
Rafferty told me that he plans to take images of the fetus in utero
tomorrow before continuing the examination. He said he would be
unable to provide any information until he receives approval from
his client, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
As in other post-mortem examinations of killer whales, experts
will examine tissues, blood and body fluids in multiple ways to
gauge the general health of the animal as well as the cause of
death. The Southern Resident pods — J, K and L — are known to carry
some of the highest loads of toxic chemicals of any marine mammals
in the world. The whales may also undergo nutritional stress
because of a shortage of their primary prey, chinook salmon.
The last sighting of the animal was Nov. 29. Her body was found
floating near Courtenay on Thursday, Dec. 4. She was a “remarkably
small” killer whale, about 15 feet long, Ken said. Females normally
grow to between 16 and 23 feet.
Rhapsody was born in 1996. Her mother, J-20 or Ewok, died when
she was 2 years old. The young whale was then raised by her Aunt,
J-22 or Oreo. Rhapsody is survived by her aunt and two cousins.
Orca Network’s news release about the death.)
At age 18, she was at the beginning of her reproductive life,
with a potential to add several babies to the dwindling population
of Southern Residents, now at 77 animals. J pod is down to 24
orcas, with only a few reproductive females at this time.
Ken Balcomb said he hopes Saturday’s necropsy will reveal
whether J-32 had ever been pregnant before, since killer whales
typically become fertile around age 12 and often give birth by age
15. Her mother was 13 when she was born, Ken noted.
When the ovaries expel an egg, it leaves a little white scar
tissue behind. If the egg is fertilized and grows, the scar tissue
is notably larger, Ken explained.
An average female gives birth every five years, Ken said. That
rate should be adding three or four calves to the Southern Resident
population each year.
“Three years ago, I predicted that they should be having 19
babies by now,” Ken said.
Instead, the population is declining, with no surviving calves
born last year or this year. A baby born to L-86 in September of
this year was reporting missing a little more than a month
Rhapsody was the third adult to die this year. Also missing and
presumed dead are L-53, a 37-year-old female known as Lulu, and
L-100, a 13-year-old male known as Indigo.
Howard Garrett and Susan Berta of
Orca Network may have spoken for many of us with this comment:
“We cannot express how tragic this loss is for this struggling,
precariously small, family of resident orcas of the Salish
Kitsap Rifle and Revolver Club has decided against undertaking a
formal environmental cleanup of its property on Seabeck Highway —
at least not any time soon, according to club officials.
The property is listed as a “hazardous site” by the Washington
Department of Ecology, mostly because of lead and metals associated
with shooting activities. The club had entered into the state’s
Voluntary Cleanup Program — which puts a property owner in charge
of the cleanup — but then withdrew from the program in late
Marcus Carter, executive officer for KRRC, told me that the club
had been assured by state officials that if it entered the
Volunteer Cleanup Program, it would not be placed on the state’s
Hazardous Sites List.
“But they went ahead and ranked us anyway,” he said.
I wrote about that ranking in the
Kitsap Sun in January of 2013. The gun range was rated a “2” on
a scale from 1 to 5, with “1” being the worst. I noted in the story
that many sites ranked a “2” go without action for years. KRRC
later disputed the ranking, saying available evidence should place
it no higher than a “3.”
A letter written in October by Bruce
Danielson (PDF 889 kb), attorney for the club, explained why
KRRC was withdrawing from the program. He also noted, “Our
voluntary participation has been an unacceptable drain on valuable
resources that KRRC can no long afford to expend for no
As an example of wasteful spending, Danielson cited a charge for
a “fraudulent” phone call from the state Attorney General’s Office
related to the site. The unwarranted billing was dropped, he noted,
but only after significant effort by club officials.
Marcus Carter said he realizes that the shooting range could get
stuck on the “Hazardous Sites List” for many years, similar to the
situation with the Navy’s Camp Wesley Harris. The abandoned
shooting range on Navy property also was ranked a “2.” Other than
an initial cleanup, the Navy has taken no steps to get the property
removed from the list. For a full list of hazardous sites, download
Hazardous Sites List (PDF 535 kb).
Marcus said the club initiated an extensive recycling program
years ago to regularly remove lead and other contaminants from
earthen berms that stop the bullets. The only contamination outside
the range itself are small amounts of materials where shooting took
place years ago, he said.
“Nothing is leaving our property,” Marcus insisted. “There have
been no suggestions from DOE to make our operations more efficient
or to do anything differently.”
As described in a
Kitsap Sun story in April of 2012, the gun club has been
following an approach generally accepted by the federal
Environmental Protection Agency:
“The club has relied on using EPA’s ‘best management practices’
to avoid being deemed a hazardous waste site subject to cleanup.
State law does not include such provisions, but Ecology endorses
EPA’s suggested practices, which are outlined in a 1997 letter
written by Jeff Hannapel in EPA’s Office of Solid Waste.”
I then quoted from the Hannapel’s letter:
“The agency has taken the position that the discharge of
ammunition or lead shot does not constitute hazardous waste
disposal, because the agency does not consider the rounds from the
weapons to be ‘discarded.’ Furthermore, the lead shot has not been
‘discarded’ by virtue of its discharge at the shooting range,
because the discharge is within the normal and expected use pattern
of the manufactured product. Accordingly, lead shot would be
considered scrap metal for regulatory purposes.”
Ecology officials admit that they don’t have enough money to
force property owners to clean up the most-contaminated sites, let
alone those lower on list.
For several years, the group CK Safe and Quiet, which includes
residents living near the shooting range, has been urging Ecology
to get the site cleaned up. The group has expressed concerns about
contamination leaving the site and getting into nearby
In 2011, the organization filed a notice saying it would sue for
cleanup under the federal Clean Water Act, which allows
citizen-initiated lawsuits. I mentioned the claims in a
Kitsap Sun article at the time.
The group never filed the federal case, pending legal action
against the club by Kitsap County, which focused on land-use and
noise issues. A ruling in the county’s case was recently handed
down by the Washington State Court of Appeals. See
Kitsap Sun story by reporter Josh Farley.
Some members of CK Safe and Quiet say they are now considering a
renewal of their Clean Water Act claims. Ryan Vancil, an attorney
who wrote the
2011 letter (PDF 134 kb), no longer represents the group, but
members are consulting with a new lawyer.
I’ll never forget my visit this past summer to the Lofall dock
and nearby beach on Hood Canal in North Kitsap. It was a scene of
devastation, in which starfish of all sizes were losing their limbs
and decomposing into gooey masses.
My guides on the excursion were three women who had been
watching for changes in sea stars as part of a volunteer monitoring
program being conducted up and down the West Coast. The three were
shocked at what they saw on the trip, as I described in a story for
Kitsap Sun as well as in a blog post in
Many questions remain about the mysterious affliction known as
“sea star wasting syndrome.” For one, why were the sea stars
affected over such a wide area, all at about the same time?
As described in the report, the researchers went to museums with
sea stars preserved in alcohol and found that the virus was present
in specimens collected as long ago as 1942 at various West Coast
sites. Minor outbreaks of the wasting syndrome have been reported
through the years, but obviously something much bigger is taking
A change in the environment, such as ocean acidification, has
been suggested as one possibility. A change in the virus, such as
we see for the flu virus in humans, is another idea. It could also
be related to an over-population among the sea stars
Jeff Adams of Washington Sea Grant, who is leading the local
monitoring program in Kitsap County, said it is good that
researchers have found something to go on, but other causative
factors are yet to be discovered.
“Why and where; those are two of the things still on the table,”
Jeff told me. “What are the environmental factors that drove this
much larger die-off? Was it something that made the virus more
prevalent or something that made the sea stars weaker?”
Jeff noted that the cause of death may not be the virus itself
but rather opportunistic pathogens that attack the sea stars after
their immune systems are weakened by the virus.
“Density may have played a factor,” he said. “Sea star
populations have been thick and strong over the past 12 years. When
you get a lot of individuals in close proximity, you can get sudden
changes. Marine populations fluctuate quite a bit naturally.”
Jeff hopes to maintain the volunteer monitoring program for
years to come, not just to track the disease but to understand more
about the cycles of marine life. Of course, he would like to be
able to report on an ongoing recovery of sea star populations from
their current state of devastation. Will the recovery occur in
patches or uniformly at all monitored sites?
“Ideally, this will run its course, and we will start seeing
juveniles showing up over the course of the summer,” he said. “How
many of them will disappear?
“Ideally, we will be able to maintain some sites for much
longer. For me, as a naturalist, there are lots of questions about
natural historical cycles that have not been addressed. A lot of
critters are facing challenges (to their survival).”
In Puget Sound, these challenges range from loss of habitat to
pollution to climate change, and the predator-prey balance will
determine whether any population —and ultimately entire species —
Linda Martin, one of the volunteers who gave me a tour of the
Lofall beach, said she was glad that researchers have identified a
viral cause of the sea-star devastation, but it remains unclear how
that is going to help the population recover.
Because of the timing of low tide, the three women have not been
to Lofall since early October, when the population was “completely
depleted,” according to Linda. But they are planning to go back
“We are anxious to go out and see if there is anything there,”
she said. “We have not seen any juveniles for a long time.
Originally, when we started out, we were seeing uncountable numbers
As for the new findings, I thought it was interesting how the
researchers removed tissues from diseased sea stars then filtered
out everything down to the size of viruses. After that, they
exposed one group of healthy sea stars to a raw sample of the fluid
and another group to a heat-treated sample. The raw sample caused
disease, but the heat-treated sample did not.
They then used DNA techniques to identify the virus, which was
found in larger and larger concentrations as the disease
progressed. Check out the research report in the
Proceedings of the NAS (PDF 1.1 mb).
Jeff Barnard of the
Associated Press interviewed researchers involved in the study
and others familiar with the problem.
An ultra-high-resolution computer model ties weather into
greenhouse gas emissions, and the resulting animation shows
whirling and shifting plumes of carbon dioxide and carbon
Ultimately, the greenhouse gases disperse into the atmosphere,
increasing concentrations across the globe and contributing to
global warming. It’s almost too complex to comprehend, but it is a
As you can see from the video, carbon dioxide levels are more
significant in the Northern Hemisphere, where the emissions are out
of phase with the Southern Hemisphere. That’s because the seasons
are opposite, with the maximum growth of vegetation taking place at
The reds and purples are the highest concentrations of carbon
dioxide. The dark grays denote the highest levels of carbon
monoxide, caused mainly by large forest fires.
Bill Putman, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt,
Maryland, said it a
“While the presence of carbon dioxide has dramatic global
consequences, it’s fascinating to see how local emission sources
and weather systems produce gradients of its concentration on a
very regional scale. Simulations like this, combined with data from
observations, will help improve our understanding of both human
emissions of carbon dioxide and natural fluxes across the
The animation was produced with data from measurements of
atmospheric conditions plus the emission of greenhouse gases, both
natural and man-made. The simulation, called “Nature Run,” covers a
period May 2005 to June 2007. Engineers can use the model, called
GEOS-5, to test satellite observations.
According to studies, last spring was the first time in modern
history that carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million
across most of the Northern Hemisphere. Concentrations are
continuing to rise, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels. Levels
were about 270 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.
The GEOS-5 computer model is being used in tests known as
Observing System Simulation Experiments (OSSE), which can help
satellite observations tie into weather and climate forecasts.
“While researchers working on OSSEs have had to rely on regional
models to provide such high-resolution Nature Run simulations in
the past, this global simulation now provides a new source of
experimentation in a comprehensive global context. This will
provide critical value for the design of Earth-orbiting satellite
The “salmon cannon,” a pneumatic-tube device destined to replace
some fish ladders, got plenty of serious attention this fall from
various news organizations.
You may have seen demonstrations by the inventor, Whoosh Innovations of Bellevue, that
showed adult salmon shooting unharmed through flexible tubes. For
dramatic effect, some videos showed the salmon flying out the end
of the tube and splashing into water. Among those who found the
device amusing were commentators for
“CBS This Morning” and “Red Eye” on
For a laugh, comedian John Oliver recently took the idea in a
different direction, aiming his personal salmon cannon at
celebrities including Jon Stuart, Jimmy Fallon and… Well, if you
haven’t seen the video (above), I won’t spoil it for you.
All this attention has been a surprise for Vince Bryan, CEO for
Whooshh, who told Vancouver
Columbian reporter Eric Florip that he has spoken with hundreds
of news organizations and potential customers from throughout the
“It was a nice boost because it says one thing, that people care
a lot about the fish, and two, that there really is a need,” Bryan
was quoted as saying.
A good description of the potential applications for the “salmon
cannon” was written by reporter Laura Geggel of
Live Science. Meanwhile,
Reuters produced a nice animation showing how the tube works.
And a video on the Whooshh
Innovations YouTube channel, shown below, provides a clear
demonstration how the transport system can work for both humans and