The Polar Bear Plunge in Olalla is an age-old tradition of
jumping into the cold waters of Puget Sound on New Year’s Day.
Olalla in South Kitsap is just one of many places throughout the
region and across the globe where swimmers dare to reinvigorate
themselves by washing away the year 2016 and welcoming a new
Swimmers — including Colin Eisenhut, who jumped from the Olalla
bridge wearing a polar bear mask — were cold enough and quite
amusing yesterday, but I was able to locate some videos that might
just make you shiver to watch them. For the Olalla event,
photographer Meegan Reid posted 35 very nice photos on the
Kitsap Sun website.
I wasn’t aware that snow swimming was such a sport until my wife
Sue pointed me toward an amusing video that showed up on her
Facebook page. After searching the term “snow swimming,” I sorted
through dozens of videos to come up with a few I hope you
UPDATE, Jan. 2
The Center for Whale Research has announced that J-2, known as
“Granny,” has apparently died. The oldest orca among the three
Southern Resident pods, Granny was one of the first Southern
Residents identified when Ken Balcomb began his Orca Survey in
1976. At the time, she was estimated to be at least 45 years old
and probably in her 70s, putting her likely age at more than 100.
Ken’s tribute to Granny can be read on the Center for Whale Research
website. More to come.
When it comes to the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound, a
year can make all the difference in the world. Last year at this
time, we were celebrating a remarkable baby boom — eight new orca
calves over the previous 12 months. See
Water Ways, Dec. 16, 2015.
Another new baby was added in January of this year, for a total
of nine. But if 2015 was the boom year, then 2016 turned out to be
a major bust, with six orca deaths recorded during the calendar
The latest death among the Southern Residents was J-34, an
18-year-old male named DoubleStuf. He was found dead floating near
Sechelt, B.C., northwest of Vancouver, on Dec. 20. Check out the
tribute and wonderful photos
on Orca Network’s webpage.
“Dream” is a clever animated video promoting the annual Wildlife
Conservation Film Festival in New York City. The festival is more
than films, with workshops on wildlife topics and a goal to connect
average people with filmmakers, conservationists, researchers and
One of my personal goals for the coming year is to see more of
the wonderful films being produced about conservation concerns,
environmental issues and wildlife preservation.
Among the films being released next year are “A Plastic Ocean,”
a feature-length documentary that explores the problem of plastic
pollution in 20 locations around the world, including the Great
Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre, 1,500 miles off
the West Coast. The film also discusses practical and technological
approaches to solving the plastic problem.
It has just turned winter in the Northern Hemisphere, which
means that it is now summer in the Southern Hemisphere. The
Japanese whaling fleet has entered the Southern Ocean to kill up to
a self-designated quota of 333 minke whales, and Sea Shepherd has
We have heard the story before, and many of us have watched the
drama play out during six seasons of the TV series “Whale Wars” on
Animal Planet. This year, Sea Shepherd hopes to have an advantage
with a ship declared to be faster than the Japanese whaling
vessels, as I explained in
Water Ways at the end of August.
On Dec. 3, the Sea Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin left Melbourne,
Australia, for the Southern Ocean for its 11th campaign against the
whalers. The Steve Irwin was followed a day later by the new ship,
Ocean Warrior. Yesterday, the Ocean Warrior located one of the
Japanese harpoon vessels, the Yushin Maru, inside the Southern
Ocean Whale Sanctuary, according to Capt. Adam Meyerson, the
skipper of the Ocean Warrior.
“The crews of the Ocean Warrior and the MV Steve Irwin have been
battling through thick fog and ice to protect the whales in the
Australian whale sanctuary,” Meyerson said in a
news release. “The Yushin Maru was hiding behind an iceberg and
came out on a collision course.
“Finding one of the hunter-killer ships hiding behind an iceberg
in a thick fog means that the rest of the fleet is nearby,” he
added. “We all hope to have whaling in the Southern Ocean shut down
A draft of a Federal Action Plan to protect and restore Puget
Sound is scheduled for completion before Donald Trump takes office
on Jan. 20, according to officials involved in developing the
The plan will help demonstrate that Washington state and nine
federal agencies are aligned in their efforts to recover one of the
most important waterways in the nation, according to leaders
involved in a new Federal Puget Sound Task Force.
The task force was created in October by President Obama, who
essentially elevated Puget Sound to a high-priority ecosystem, on
par with Chesapeake Bay, the Florida Everglades and the Great
Lakes, according to a
news release from the White House.
memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed among federal agencies
replaces a less structured MOU that was scheduled to expire next
year. The new agreement calls for a five-year action plan to be
completed by June 1, but a draft should be ready by Jan. 18,
according to Peter Murchie, who manages Puget Sound issues for the
Environmental Protection Agency and chairs the task force.
“Part of the goal is to have something in front of the
transition folks … that they can then shepherd through individual
budget and prioritization processes that they’ll be doing with new
leadership,” Murchie told the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership
Council two weeks ago.
In the video “Save Our Snowmen,” frozen creatures are migrating
to cooler regions of the Earth on a mission that could affect their
very survival. This amusing video instills an unusual sympathy for
snowmen while raising a legitimate concern about climate change in
a humorous way.
Various locations, such as Puget Sound, are likely to see some
species displaced while others find a new niche as the climate
undergoes a continuing change. Mass migration is less likely than
population shifts due to predator-prey and disease pressures. I’ve
covered some outstanding reports on this topic from the University
of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group. See
Water Ways, Dec. 1, 2015.
The video also draws attention to the producer of this video,
Cool Effect, which was founded by Dee and Richard
Lawrence on the idea that small actions can mushroom and result
in significant declines in greenhouse gases. The group’s motto:
“Changing the world, one small step at a time.”
Five major Puget Sound projects have been given the provisional
go-ahead by Congress in a massive public works bill signed
yesterday by President Obama.
It seems like the needed federal authorization for a $20-million
restoration effort in the Skokomish River watershed has been a long
time coming. This project follows an extensive, many-years study of
the watershed by the Army Corps of Engineers, which winnowed down a
long list of possible projects to five. See
Water Ways, April 28, 2016, for details.
In contrast, while the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem
Restoration Project (PSNRP) also involved an extensive and lengthy
study, the final selection and submission to Congress of three
nearshore projects came rather quickly. In fact, the Puget Sound
package was a last-minute addition to the Water Resources
Development Act, thanks to the efforts of U.S. Reps. Rick Larson,
D-Lake Stevens, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, along with Sens.
Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.
With invasive green crabs entering Puget Sound from the north
and invasive mussels discovered in Montana to the east, the
Legislature will be called on to make some critical funding
decisions to ward off potential invaders.
Green crabs and freshwater zebra and quagga mussels are not the
only aquatic invasive species of concern. As I described in a story
published in the Encyclopedia
of Puget Sound, state officials worry about the potential
import of all sorts of harmful species via ballast water and the
hulls of vessels.
To fully address the threats through prevention and enforcement,
the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife estimates that $5.2
million per year is needed. That would move Washington ahead of
Oregon and Idaho in addressing the problems. Each of those states
spent about $1.3 million in 2014, while California spent about
$10.7 million. Washington’s current budget for dealing with aquatic
invasive species is one of the lowest in the country at $900,000 a
Increases in the program would be phased in over six years,
increasing from $900,000 a year in the current budget to $2.3
million in the next biennium, according to a proposal to be
submitted to the Legislature. It would go to $4.7 million five
years from now.
Coconut crabs are giant land-based crustaceans that can grow to
3 feet wide, claw-to-claw. The crabs, frightening to some, inhabit
islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans.
These crabs, which grow larger than any other land-based
arthropod, are known for their uncanny strength. They get their
name from an ability to break through coconut husks with their
powerful claws. They can also break a lot of other things, as
revealed in a variety of amusing videos, some of which I’ve posted
on this page.
Coconut crabs became a topic of discussion among scientists last
month when a group of Japanese researchers reported that they had
measured the strength in the legs and claws of coconut crabs. They
found that these crabs could lift four times their weight, and
their pinching power was greater than that of any other kind of
crab, even greater than the jaw strength of terrestrial predators.
The report was published in the online journal
Martha Kongsgaard, chairwoman of the Puget Sound Leadership
Council, has always spoken with a voice of both reason and passion
while guiding the Puget Sound Partnership in its efforts to restore
Puget Sound to health.
Yesterday and today, Martha attended her final meeting as a
member of the Leadership Council, the governing body of the
Partnership charged with coordinating Puget Sound ecosystem
While listening to presentations on technical and financial
issues, Martha always seems to quickly focus discussions on the key
issues of recovery while asking how to help average people
understand the complex problems.
As a reporter, I’ve enjoyed speaking with Martha, who not only
answers my questions in a direct and revealing way but also
indulges my curiosity. Our discussions often take tangents onto
other interesting subjects, sometimes leading to new stories or old
stories told in a new way.
Nobody doubts Martha’s love of Puget Sound, expressed by her
willingness to spend countless unpaid hours working for a better