With half of our “water year” in the record books, 2016 is
already being marked down as one of the wettest years in recent
The water year, as measured by hydrologists, runs from Oct. 1 to
Sept. 30 each year, so we will be in WY 2016 for nearly six more
months. If things keep going as they are, we will see some new
lines plotted on the rainfall charts.
Joel LeCuyer, who keeps track of water data for the Kitsap
Public Utility District, points out that the district’s two
longest-running weather stations are on their way to record-high
Bremerton National Airport, with records going back to 1983,
accumulated 66.7 inches of rain at the midway point, compared to an
average of 56 inches for the full year.
Hansville, with records going back to 1982, has accumulated
36.6 inches, compared to a yearly average of 32 inches.
Looking at the charts, you’ll see that both the airport and
Hansville stations are slightly ahead of their maximum water year.
It will be interesting to watch this chart as we get closer to
June, when rainfall traditionally falls off dramatically. Whatever
happens over the next two months will likely foretell whether
annual precipitation records will be broken.
To access the charts, go to the KPUD website. Under the tab “Water”
click “Water Resources Data.” At the bottom of the map, click on
the tiny bubble “Rain gauges.” The red ones track precipitation
almost in real time.
Looking back, some rather dramatic downpours are already written
into the record books this year. For example, when considering the
top 10 rainfalls in a 24-hour period, nearly every station has at
least one rain event from WY 2016 among the top 10.
At Holly, four of the top 10 rain events recorded over the past
25 years occurred during the past six months. That’s interesting,
since Holly is one place where the total accumulation of rainfall
is still falling short of the record. Holly has already surpassed
the average annual rainfall of nearly 70 inches, according to the
chart, but it is unlikely to reach the nearly 130 inches of
rainfall recorded in 1999.
Above average precipitation was seen across Western Washington
for the first half of the water year, according to the National
Weather Service. The range was from 26 percent above average in the
Olympic Mountains to 40 percent above average in the Puget Sound
lowlands. Snowpack in the Olympic and Cascade mountains is about 10
percent above average.
Ted Buehner of the National Weather Service in Seattle reports
that the current warm El Niño is expected to weaken through the
spring. And there is a 50 percent chance that La Niña will return
next winter. That would typically bring cooler and wetter weather,
but rains over the coming winter will have a long way to go to
match what we’ve seen during this water year.
As for what we might expect from now through the end of summer,
the latest forecast from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says
temperatures are likely to be warmer than average in the Northwest
with slightly higher than even odds that the summer will be drier
Stephen Colbert: “Environmental scientists —
this is true — have tested salmon in the Puget Sound out around
Seattle. And they found that, because those salmon are near all
these wastewater-treatment plants, the salmon are full of drugs,
including Prozac. I don’t blame them, because if I spent all my
life living in wastewater, I would definitely need a mood
Stephen Colbert dedicated a portion of his “Late Show” with a
humorous take on a recent scientific report about how drugs are
passing through people’s bodies and ending up in Puget Sound, where
they can affect fish, including salmon. This video has been viewed
about 216,000 times since it was posted last Tuesday.
In the four-minute video, Colbert goes on to have a conversation
with Sammy the Salmon, who seems clearly affected by the drugs he
has been consuming.
On the serious side, you can read about the study from the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in a
Kitsap Sun story by reporter Tristan Baurick. Tristan’s story
inspired me to write a
“Water Ways” post about one possible solution being studied:
building enhanced treatment processes into existing wastewater
In other humorous news, perhaps you’ve seen the new SeaWorld
commercial called “The
new future of SeaWorld.” The ad promotes SeaWorld’s decision to
quit breeding killer whales and to halt its theatrical shows with
orcas but not to move them out of their tanks. Recall
Water Ways, March 17.
PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, quickly
posted a parody that you can watch in the second video player on
One other bit of humor came out in print last week as an April
Fool’s joke from the Center for Biological Diversity. Here’s a
quick sample from
“Endangered Earth online.”
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week confirmed rumors
that the comb-over wilderness atop the pate of presidential
contender Donald J. Trump is indeed “critical habitat” for more
than 300 endangered species.”
“The Center’s innovative ‘Take Extinction Off Your Plate’
campaign — aimed at reducing meat consumption for the sake of
people’s and the planet’s health — announced today it would be
baking 10,000 kale-lentil muffins and delivering them to needy gray
wolves across the West.”
“The Center went to federal court this week to challenge the
Environmental Protection Agency’s recent finding that smooth jazz
is ‘perfectly safe’ for people and wildlife.”
Capt. Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society,
has condemned the Humane Society of the U.S. for forming an
alliance with SeaWorld, saying SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby “has found
his Judas,” and HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle “single-handedly put the
brakes on the movement inspired by Blackfish.” Read the full
Sea Shepherd’s website.
SeaWorld and the Humane Society of the U.S. are urging President
Obama to take a stronger stand against whaling by the Japanese
harpoon fleet, which recently returned to Japan with 333 dead minke
whales, all killed in the Antarctic.
“The United States is well-positioned to lead a comprehensive
effort to persuade Japan to abandon commercial whaling as an
anachronism that is imprudent, unnecessary for food security, cruel
and economically unsound,” states the
letter to Obama (PDF 464 kb), signed by Joel Manby, president
and CEO of SeaWorld, and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of
Combining forces to oppose commercial hunting of marine mammals
throughout the world is one element of a negotiated agreement
between SeaWorld and HSUS. Of course, the most notable parts of
that agreement specified that SeaWorld would discontinue its
breeding program for killer whales and halt all theatrical
Water Ways, March 17.
This year’s whale hunt in the Antarctic was endorsed by the
Japanese government, which considers dead whales to be lethal
samples of tissue collected during an annual “research” trip, which
ultimately puts whale meat on the commercial market.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that the whale
hunt, as carried out at that time, failed to meet scientific
standards. As a result, the Japanese government took a year off
from whaling, altered its plan and continued the whale hunt at the
end of last year going into this year. This time, Japanese
officials declared that they would no longer be subject to
international law on this issue, so a new lawsuit would be
Meanwhile, an expert panel of the International Whaling
Commission took a look at the new “research” plan and concluded
that Japan still had not shown how killing whales conforms to the
requirements of research, given options for nonlethal research. See
of the Expert Panel …”
Last week’s report by the Japanese Institute of Cetacean
Research said the whalers were able to obtain all 333 minke whales
proposed in the plan. It was the first time in seven years that the
full sampling was completed, because Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society was not there to interfere, according to the report on the New
Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean.
Of the 333 whales, males numbered 103 and females 230. Of the
females, 76 percent were sexually mature, and 90 percent of the
mature females were pregnant, suggesting a healthy population of
minke whales, according to the report.
The letter from Manby and Pacelle acknowledged that the U.S.
government had joined with 30 nations in December to write a letter
voicing concerns about Japan’s decision to resume whaling. But the
Manby-Pacelle letter also complains that the U.S. has given up its
leadership role on the issue, ceding to New Zealand and Australia
for the legal battles.
“In the United Kingdom, in Latin America, and elsewhere, whale
welfare is high on the diplomatic agenda with Japan and other
whaling nations,” the letter states. “We believe that it is time
for the United States to re-assert itself as a champion for whales,
and to take a stronger hand in pressing Japan to relinquish
Among the steps that should be considered, according to the
The U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission
should be empowered to threaten Japan with sanctions, though
details were not specified in the letter.
The U.S. government should include provisions against whaling
in international trade agreements.
Japan’s potential assets should be surveyed as a prelude to
invoking the Pelly Amendment to the Fisherman’s Protective Act of
1967. The amendment allows a ban on imports of fishing products
from a country that violates international fishery conservation
rules — including those of the IWC.
Meanwhile, the successful Japanese whale hunt has motivated
environmental groups throughout the world to call on their national
governments to confront Japan directly, at least in diplomatic
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has confronted the
Japanese whaling ships on the high seas in years past, is
rethinking its plans for the future, according to Capt. Peter
Hammarstedt, chairman of Sea Shepherd Australia’s Board of
“Sea Shepherd was handicapped by the new ICR strategy of
expanding their area of operations and reducing their quota,
meaning that the time to locate them within the expanded zone made
intervention extremely difficult with the ships that Sea Shepherd
is able to deploy,” Hammarstedt said in a
This past season was an opportunity for world governments to
find the resolve to uphold international conservation law, he said.
The Australian and New Zealand governments could have sent patrols
to protect declared sanctuaries, but they failed to do so, “and
this has served to illustrate that the only thing that has proven
effective against the illegal Japanese whaling fleet has been the
interventions by Sea Shepherd,” he added.
Jeff Hansen, Sea Shepherd Australia’s managing director, said
the Australian and New Zealand governments have offered false
“The majority of Australians wanted the Australian government to
send a vessel to oppose the slaughter,” Hansen said. “They did not.
Sea Shepherd requested that the Australian government release the
location of the whalers. They refused. Instead, the governments
responsible for protecting these magnificent creatures stood by, in
the complete knowledge that both federal and international crimes
were taking place. This empty response from authorities in the wake
of the ICJ ruling is a disgrace.”
Hammarstedt hinted that Sea Shepherd might be back later this
year when the Japanese ships take off for another season of
“Sea Shepherd will soon have a fast long-range ship,” he said.
“More importantly, Sea Shepherd has something that the Australian
and New Zealand governments lack — and that is the courage, the
passion and the resolve to uphold the law.”
Waterfront property owners are a special class of people, and I
mean that in a good way.
When it comes to sensitive shoreline habitat, they are the front
lines of protection. When storms cause property damage, they see
more than their share — and they pay handsomely for the privilege
in both the cost of property and taxes.
As I interviewed people and conducted research for a series of
stories on shoreline armoring, I came into contact with dozens of
shoreline property owners who were learning about the latest
science on the nearshore environment. They wanted to know how to
better manage their property. Some were contemplating removing
bulkheads where the wave energy allowed, knowing that many
bulkheads built years ago are not really needed.
The latest stories in our series, published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, are:
Although I believe that most shoreline property owners are
environmentally responsible, I do wonder about people who have
damaged shoreline habitats to improve their view or water access
without obtaining the required permits. It seems at every hearing
regarding shoreline regulations, somebody will speak up and say,
“It’s my property, and I can do what I want!”
One of the interviews that did not make it into the series was a
discussion I had with Jay Manning, a South Kitsap native who went
on to serve as an assistant attorney general, director of the
Washington Department of Ecology and the governor’s chief of staff
when Chris Gregoire was in office. Jay now serves as a member of
the Puget Sound Leadership Council, the governing body for the
Puget Sound Partnership.
Jay and I got to talking about how waterfront property owners
occupy a special place — literally and legally — when it comes to
protecting the public’s interest in shoreline ecosystems. A balance
of public and private rights is embodied in the state’s Shoreline
Management Act, which demands the highest level of protection for
water bodies and adjacent lands.
The public’s ability to enjoy natural resources along the
waterfront “shall be preserved to the greatest extent feasible,”
the act states. “To this end, uses shall be preferred which are
consistent with control of pollution and prevention of damage to
the natural environment, or are unique to or dependent upon use of
the state’s shoreline.”
As an assistant attorney general representing Ecology, Jay
learned that shoreline ownership embodies a special public-private
“It’s much more significant, I think, than what you find with
upland properties,” he said. “The full array of (private property)
rights that you find in upland areas does not apply to shoreline
State law builds upon the Public Trust Doctrine, an ancient and
enduring principle that retains certain rights to the public for
all time, regardless of ownership.
Jay, a shoreline property owner himself, says the Puget Sound
Partnership has identified the protection and restoration of
shorelines as a key element in the recovery of Puget Sound.
A few years ago, many cities and counties routinely approved
bulkheads without giving it a second thought. But that has been
changing as local jurisdictions adopt new shoreline master
programs. Now, one cannot get approval to build a bulkhead unless a
house is imminently threatened by waves or erosion.
So far, about half of the 12 counties in the Puget Sound region
are operating under the revised requirements, along with nearly 90
percent of the 101 cities.
Unfortunately, Jay noted, rules related to shorelines have never
been as rigorously enforced as those related to water quality, for
which the threats to human health are more obvious. Counties and
cities vary greatly in the amount of effort they put into land-use
For some people, it just seems easier to move ahead and get the
work done, thus avoiding delays and costs of permitting, consulting
work and mitigation. Some people don’t believe that shoreline
regulations make much sense.
But, as many local officials told me, they would like the chance
to talk with property owners about the value of shorelines, explain
the regulations and discuss various alternatives that might even
save money. Most regulations, after all, have a basis in science,
and we can all learn from what the latest studies are telling
When a person becomes severely ill, the doctor will usually
check the person’s medical file before offering a diagnosis. In the
same way, researchers are now setting up medical records for each
of the 84 endangered killer whales that frequent Puget Sound.
Orca researchers and other wildlife experts spent the past two
days discussing how to create a medical database for all the
Southern Resident orcas, often described as the most studied marine
mammal population in the world.
Eventually, the information could be used to put an individual
orca under medical observation or even administer medications, such
as antibiotics — but that is likely to be a few years off.
“As a research community, we realize that we are at critical
mass and have enough data to start asking these questions to get
meaningful answers,” said Brad Hanson, research biologist with
NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
Lynne Barre, NOAA’s recovery coordinator for the Southern
Resident killer whales, said researchers in both Canada and the
U.S. have collected data on these animals, which travel into both
countries and down the West Coast.
“Some of these data sets are really large,” she said, “and it
takes technology to bring the data together. There are a lot of
players with different types of data.”
Fortunately, the research community is cooperative on both sides
of the border, Barre said.
Still, it will take formal cooperative agreements to share
available information that will eventually be used in research
reports, said Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with SeaDoc Society, a
nonprofit research organization. The person who collects the
information should have the right to publish his or her findings,
he said, but it would be nice if researchers could post their
observations immediately for the benefit of the whales.
Over the coming year, general observations could be put into the
database, but eventually individual health records for the orcas
Fecal samples, including levels of various hormones;
Breath samples, including the types of bacteria harbored by
individual killer whales;
Observations of skin conditions;
Photos taken from boats and from the air to show body
conditions, including evidence of malnutrition or possible
Blubber samples for some whales, including DNA fingerprints and
other health conditions.
The number of Southern Resident killer whales was on the decline
in recent years until nine new babies were born over the past year
and a half. Individual killer whales can be identified by the shape
and size of their dorsal finds as well as the “saddle patch” behind
the dorsal fin. In addition, the family structures of the Southern
Residents are well known.
Last month, I wrote about how a group of researchers, including
Joe Gaydos, opened my eyes to how disease can be a powerful
ecological force. While researching stories about disease, I
learned about various ideas to monitor Puget Sound for disease
organisms. The idea of creating a health assessment for each killer
whale had been kicked around for awhile. Read about my newfound
understanding of disease in
Water Ways, and find my stories at the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound.
Kirsten Gilardi, co-director of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife
Health Center at the University of California-Davis, has worked
with mountain gorillas in Uganda and Rowanda, where the animals are
under close human observation and each has its own medical record.
Each gorilla can be identified by a wrinkle pattern on its nose,
besides physical size and other obvious characteristics.
The animals are checked to make sure they are eating, moving
normally and show no signs of coughing or sneezing, she said. “When
they do show signs of illness, the veterinary teams can go in.”
Sometimes antibiotics are delivered to the animal in the field.
If necessary, such as when a gorilla is injured in a snare, the
animal may be anesthetized and treated on the spot or even brought
to a hospital for care.
People also collect fecal samples left by the gorillas and
leaves from plants that they chewed to gain information about
hormones and various bacteria and viruses they may carry.
When the Gorilla Doctors program was started in the 1980s, it
was the first time that veterinarians went in to treat the animals
in their habitat, Gilardi said. Since then, the population has
grown nearly four-fold, and they are the only great apes whose
numbers are increasing in the wild.
Information collected for individual killer whales would not be
so different than what has been collected for gorillas, she
Cynthia Smith, a veterinarian at the National Marine Mammal
Foundation, has assessed wild dolphins affected by the Deepwater
Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In that case, individual
health assessments were used to complete an assessment of the
overall population. From there, management decisions were made to
protect the overall health of the population.
The same kinds of results could come from pulling together
information on the killer whales, she said.
“By setting up a database and using it, you can have a finger on
the pulse of the health of these animals,” Smith said. “Then you
can develop strategies to manage the problems.”
The health-assessment project is supported by a grant from the
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, funding from NOAA Fisheries
and private support from SeaDoc Society donors.
Our old friend the northern clingfish, whose belly can clamp
onto things and hold tighter than a suction cup, is the star in an
award-winning movie put together by researchers and students at the
University of Washington.
It’s only a three-minute movie, but the story of this intriguing
little fish captured the attention of 37,000 middle school students
from 17 different countries in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge. This
is a competition that encourages ocean scientists to share their
discoveries through short videos. Students selected the clingfish
video as the best in the amateur category after an initial
screening by a panel of scientists and communication experts.
The UW team included Adam Summers, professor of biology and of
aquatic and fishery sciences at Friday Harbor Laboratories, along
with Ian Stevens, a 2015 English graduate, and Zack Bivins, a
current English major. I featured Adam Summers and his studies of
the clingfish in an “Amusing Monday” post last May. See
Water Ways, May 11, 2015, and Michelle Ma’s original story for
The UW undergraduates met in 2014 while reading “Moby Dick” in
professor Richard Kenney’s English class at Friday Harbor
Laboratories, where science is mixed with the humanities. Stevens
and Bivens produced a 10-minute video about a sperm whale, called
“The Sperm Whale and You,” and Summers encouraged them to enter
the video contest. They clamped onto Summers’ research paper on the
clingfish and decided that would be their topic.
The project was entirely optional, driven only by the students’
passion for art and science.
“This is the intellectual life at its magnesium heat,” Kenney
told Michelle Ma in her latest
news release. “They were doing it for fun. That’s how you win;
it starts with excitement and passion.”
“It is pretty cool for a couple of UW English majors to waltz
into a national science outreach film competition and take top
honors,” Summers said. “I think it points to the excellent training
these students received on campus and also their ability to exploit
the intellectual hothouse of Friday Harbor Labs.”
The student winners are forming a video production company that
might make more films to explain science in a visually interesting
way. Next time, they could enter the Ocean 180 contest as
The competition, sponsored by the Florida Center for Ocean
Sciences Education Excellence, challenges scientists to bring their
research papers to life in ways that can help people find meaning
to their work. Entries must be tied to a specific research paper
published in the past five years.
First-place winners, amateur and professional, each received
$3,000. Second- and third- place winners received $2,000 and $1,000
Students judging the finalists in the competition came from
classes in which teachers signed up specific classrooms to watch
the videos. Assuming the competition continues, classroom
registration will begin in the fall.
A new controversy is beginning to rumble over the potential
injury to marine mammals from sounds transmitted in the water.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, also called NOAA
Fisheries, is moving closer to finalizing new “technical guidance”
for assessing temporary and permanent hearing loss in whales and
dolphins caused by human activities — including Navy sonar, seismic
explorations and underwater explosions. The guidance will be used
for approving “take” permits under the Marine Mammal Protection Act
and Endangered Species Act.
Meanwhile, in another development, Navy officials have
acknowledged that Navy personnel made a mistake by using sonar in
Puget Sound without getting approval through the chain of command.
I’ll describe the circumstances of that event in a moment.
The new guidance is focused on hearing loss rather than how the
behavior of marine mammals might change in the presence of loud
noise. Since foraging and social activity are essential among
whales and dolphins, further guidance is expected to assess how
animals may be affected in other ways by noise.
The new guidance does not include mitigation measures for
minimizing the effects of sound. In some cases, the new information
may lead to additional protections for the animals, but in other
cases protections may be reduced, according to information from
Currently, regulators use a single noise threshold for cetaceans
(whales and dolphins) and a single threshold for pinnipeds (seals
and sea lions). They do not account for the different hearing
abilities within the two groups or how different types of sound may
The new acoustic threshold levels divide sounds into two groups:
1) impulsive sounds lasting less than a second, such as from
airguns and impact pile drivers, and 2) non-impulsive sounds, in
which the sound pressure rises and declines more gradually, such as
from sonar and vibratory pile drivers. Measures account for both
peak sound pressure and cumulative sound exposure.
Marine mammals also are divided into groups based on their
general range of hearing. There are the low-frequency cetaceans,
including the large baleen whales; the mid-frequency cetaceans,
including the dolphins; and the high-frequency cetaceans, including
The pinnipeds are divided into two groups. The eared seals,
including sea lions, have a somewhat wider hearing range than true
seals, including harbor seals.
After years of covering the effects of sonar and other noise,
I’m just beginning to understand the complexity of how sound is
measured and the mathematics used to calculate levels at various
locations. At the same time, the guidelines are growing more
complex — as they should to model the real world. New thresholds
account for the duration of sound exposure as well as the
intensity, and they somewhat customize the thresholds to the
animals affected. For additional information, see NOAA’
Fisheries webpage on the guidance.
Despite incorporating new studies into the guidelines, some
acoustics experts are finding serious problems with the methods
used to arrive at the new thresholds, according to Michael Jasny of
the Natural Resources Defense Council. The NRDC, an environmental
group, has a long history of battling NOAA Fisheries and the Navy
over sound exposures for marine mammals.
“This is an extremely technical subject,” Michael said, noting
that he relies on experts who have provided comments on the
methodology. “By and large, NMFS has drunk the Navy’s Kool-Aid with
the exception of low-frequency effects, even though the Navy’s
science has been sharply criticized.”
The statistical analyses leading to the guidelines are so flawed
that they call into question how they could be used to protect
marine mammals, Michael said, pointing to a paper by
Andrew J. Wright of George Mason University.
“These are high stakes we are talking about,” Michael said. “We
are talking about damaging the hearing of endangered species that
depend on their hearing to survive.”
The effects of sound on behavior, which are not described in the
new guidelines, may be just as important, he said, since too much
noise can impede an animal’s ability to catch prey or undertake
social behavior that contribute to the perpetuation of the species.
NOAA Fisheries needs to move forward to raise the level of
protection, not just for injury related to hearing but for other
effects, he said. One can review a series of related studies on
“If these guidelines are not improved, at least to address
fundamental statistical errors, then it is easy to imagine that
they might be legally challenged — and they would deserve to be,”
Michael told me.
Sonar in Puget Sound
As for the Navy’s mistake with sonar, the story goes back to
Jan. 13 of this year, when acoustics expert Scott Veirs of Beam
Reach Marine Science picked up the sound of sonar on hydrophones in
the San Juan Islands. About the same time, Ken Balcomb of the
Center for Whale Research was observing transient killer whales to
the south in Haro Strait.
At first, Scott believed the sonar may have been coming from the
Canadian Navy ship HMCS Ottawa, but Canadian officials were quick
to deny it. His suspicions shifted to the U.S. Navy. He was
disturbed by that prospect since the Navy stopped using sonar
during training exercises in Puget Sound shortly after the USS
Shoup incident in 2003. For a reminder of that incident, check my
story in the
Kitsap Sun, March 17, 2005.
Later, the requirement for approval from the Pacific Fleet
command became an enforceable regulation when it was added to the
letter of authorization (PDF 3.4 mb) issued by NOAA Fisheries.
The letter allows the Navy a specific “take” of marine mammals
during testing and training operations.
Within days of this year’s sonar incident, Scott learned from
observers that two Navy ships had traveled through Haro Strait
about the time that sonar was heard on a nearby hydrophone. Navy
Region Northwest confirmed the presence of Navy vessels.
Later, Scott received an email from Lt. Julianne Holland, deputy
public affairs officer for the Navy’s Third Fleet. She confirmed
that a Navy ship used sonar for about 10 minutes at the time of
Scott’s recording. The ship was identified as a guided missile
destroyer — the same type as the Shoup — but its name has never
“The Navy vessel followed the process to check on the
requirements for this type of use in this location, but a technical
error occurred which resulted in the unit not being made aware of
the requirement to request permission,” according to Lt. Holland’s
email to Scott. “The exercise was very brief in duration, lasting
less than 10 minutes, and the Navy has taken steps to correct the
procedures to ensure this doesn’t occur again at this, or any
Because no marine mammals appeared to be injured, the story kind
of faded away until I recently contacted Lt. Holland to tie up some
loose ends. She ignored my questions about whether disciplinary
actions had been taken against any Navy personnel. “The Navy has
taken appropriate action to address the issue, including reissuance
of specific guidance on the use of sonar in the Pacific Northwest.”
The memo was sent to “all units in the Northwest.”
After I reopened the discussion, Scott did some acoustic
calculations based on figures and graphs he found in a Navy report
on the Shoup incident. He located published estimates of the source
levels and concluded, based on NOAA’s old thresholds, that marine
mammals within 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) would experience noise
levels likely to change their behavior (level B harassment).
Based on the data available, Scott could not conclude whether
the transient killer whales in Haro Strait were within that range,
but he said it was encouraging that Ken Balcomb did not notice any
changes in their behavior. It was also helpful that the sonar was
used for a relatively short time.
“It was a little nerve racking to hear the Navy was making
mistakes,” Scott said, “but we can give them a pat on the back for
doing the exercise during the day” when lookouts on the ship at
least have a chance to spot the animals.
It goes without saying that wood, rock or concrete bulkheads
built along the shoreline are not natural. They certainly don’t
look like any structure formed by nature. And when the water is
pushing up against them, waves bounce around and splash back
instead of rolling up on shore.
I have never had any trouble understanding some of the problems
caused by bulkheads. I imagine little juvenile salmon swimming
along the shoreline, working their way toward the ocean. In shallow
water, these little fish can stay away from the bigger fish that
want to eat them. But bulkheads create a stretch of deeper water,
where predatory fish can swim in close and devour the little
I’ve been told that bulkheads cause other problems as well, such
as blocking shoreline erosion. But isn’t that what they are
designed to do? What’s the problem? As I’ve learned — especially
over the past few months — natural erosion provides the sands and
gravels needed for healthy beaches. Natural beaches also collect
driftwood, which provides additional habitat for a variety of
As many readers know, I now work half-time for the Puget Sound
Institute, a University of Washington affiliate that publishes the
Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. We’ve been working on a series of
articles about bulkheads — formally known as shoreline armoring —
and I’m more convinced than ever that bulkheads really do cause
The first story in the series, released this week, describes the
effects of bulkheads on spawning habitat for surf smelt and sand
lance, two kinds of small fish that are an important food source
for salmon, birds and marine mammals. Check out my story, “Spawning
habitat for forage fish being lost to rising tides.”
As sea levels continue to rise, the high-tide and low-tide lines
move to higher elevations on the beach — until the high-tide line
reaches the bulkhead. For many bulkheads, the high-tide line is
already there. At that point, the rising sea level continues to
push the low-tide line to higher and higher elevations, reducing
the spawning habitat for fish that lay their eggs in the intertidal
This shrinking habitat is known as “coastal squeeze” or “beach
squeeze.” Recent studies suggest that where bulkheads are located,
Puget Sound could lose 80 percent of this spawning habitat by the
turn of the century, based on average predictions of sea-level
On beaches without bulkheads, the high-tide line would move
steadily inland, helping to maintain the critical habitat for
forage fish, according to Timothy Quinn, chief scientist for the
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Everywhere in Puget Sound, there will be beach squeeze when you
don’t allow things to equilibrate on the land side,” he told me.
“What used to be exposed beach (during the tidal cycle) will no
longer be exposed.”
It turns out that many bulkheads constructed through the years
were never needed to prevent erosion, because they were built to
protect homes in areas where erosion is minimal. Future stories in
our series will cover this issue, including the prospect of
removing existing bulkheads to improve shoreline habitats.
Unfortunately, sea level rise adds a new twist to the discussion.
Still, the best advice when building a new house is to keep the
structure back from the water’s edge.
Meanwhile, this initial installment of the Shoreline Armoring
Series includes a nice piece by science writer Eric Scigliano
armoring’s effect on the food web.” In this story, Eric looks
at a broad spectrum of effects caused by bulkheads. He reports on
an involved study that focused on a series of paired beaches — one
with a bulkhead and one without — located in various parts of Puget
Most of the studies that we will report on during this series
were funded by the Environmental Protection Agency through grants
coordinated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The
plan is to release about two additional stories each week over the
next two weeks.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.”
“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
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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
“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
“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
“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.”
“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.”