Tag Archives: Dabob Bay

Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

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Humpback is back, swimming in Dabob Bay

A humpback whale, first seen in Hood Canal three weeks ago, was spotted again today.
Photo by Connie Gallant, Greenfleet Monitoring Expeditions

History repeated itself today on Dabob Bay, where Connie and JD Gallant were conducting research when a humpback whale surfaced nearby — just as events unfolded three weeks ago when the couple first reported the animal. See Water Ways, Jan. 31, for the initial report and some background on humpbacks.

Connie called me early this afternoon from her boat on Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay, then she sent a photo and e-mail with this description:

“We spotted it close to 12:20 p.m., and it put on a nice little show for about 10 minutes, then disappeared — same pattern as on 1/27. It was playing in same area, between Taylor Shellfish Labs and Broadspit.

“I was again on the computer inputting data as we headed north on Dabob Bay when JD yelled the same, ‘Whale off the port bow!’ This time, I did not hesitate flying out of the cockpit, grabbing camera on the way.”

Connie has a hunch that the whale likes her boat, the Sea Turtle:

“If you take a peek at the contour of the bottom of the Sea Turtle (see Greenfleet website), you will see that it has 2 keels and a skag on the stern. We think that this shape must be of interest to the whale, and it is saying ‘hello’ to the Turtle!

“And, just as the last time, it was totally awesome to watch it frolic. I absolutely cannot believe our fortune.”

Humpback shows up in Hood Canal, then disappears

UPDATE, Feb. 18

The humpback whale in Hood Canal may still be around. I received an e-mail from Barbara Clark, who spotted the whale yesterday (Friday) about 1:50 p.m. Both she and her husband Jim saw it this time, in the very same spot that Jim noticed it on Jan. 30 — specifically, just north of the Great Bend of Hood Canal toward the eastern shore.

Susan Berta of Orca Network told me that someone else saw the whale in southern Hood Canal about the same time.

These latest sightings only reinforce the mystery of the humpback whale that must still be swimming around Hood Canal but not making itself very obvious.
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A humpback whale made a rare appearance in Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay at the end of last week, then mysteriously disappeared from sight.

A humpback whale was sighted Friday in Dabob Bay by researchers Connie and JD Gallant.
Photo by Connie Gallant

As far as I can tell, Connie and JD Gallant, who were doing research on the bay Friday afternoon, were among the very few to see the humpback, or possibly two of them.

It makes you wonder how often large whales, such as humpbacks, come into Hood Canal without anyone seeing them, or at least reporting them.

“I was so thrilled,” Connie told me this morning as she described the encounter.

JD was motoring their 40-foot research vessel, the Sea Turtle, near Broadspit in the northern part of the estuary when he spotted one or more whales surfacing. JD stopped the boat, pulled up the water-testing meter, and yelled, “Whales off the port bow!”

Connie, who was below deck inputting data into a computer, ran up and began shooting photos. JD told Connie he believed there were two whales, but Connie only saw one.

Personally, I can’t remember anyone reporting humpbacks in Hood Canal. I phoned several folks I know who live on the canal, and nobody seems to recall ever seeing humpbacks. It is quite a different situation when one talks about visits to Hood Canal by gray whales or killer whales, which I’ve reported through the years.

My most memorable experience was in 2005, when a group of six transient killer whales spent more than five months swimming up and down the shorelines of Hood Canal, feasting on seals and sea lions whenever they got a chance. Those orcas stayed so long I thought they might make the canal their permanent home.

John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research told me that he has a general recollection of a humpback showing up in Hood Canal years ago, but he could not locate any written reports of the sightings. If someone was able to snap a picture of the underside of the fluke (tail) of a humpback, John said he might be able to identify the whale from a photographic catalog of humpbacks on the West Coast.

John tells me that a January sighting of a humpback whale is unusual, because most of the population is now on the breeding grounds near the Hawaiian Islands or else off the coast of Mexico. A few humpbacks are always around, he said, but it is worrisome when any animal shows up in a place where it is not expected.

Historically, one population of humpbacks spent the winters in the inland waters of northern Washington and southern British Columbia, but they were largely wiped out by commercial whalers, he said.

The West Coast population of humpbacks has been growing at about 7.5 percent a year since the early 1990s, according to Calambokidis. The general population now stands at about 2,000 animals, compared to about 500 more than 20 years ago.

As for the recent humpback sighting, I would like to get a report from anyone who may have seen this whale (or two) in Hood Canal or from anyone who may have seen one in the past.

Connie said the whale or whales that she observed Friday appeared to be “frolicking” — that is leaping out of the water, twisting and turning. She said they seemed to be about the size or her boat, about 40 feet long. That would make it a fairly young humpback.

The encounter lasted about 15 minutes, then the whales seemed to disappear, she said.

“We hung around for about an hour,” she said, “but they didn’t surface again.”

Connie and JD, who operate Greenfleet Monitoring Expeditions, have been collecting water-quality data — including information on dissolved oxygen — from Quilcene and Dabob bays.

The humpback whale spotted in Dabob Bay disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived.
Photo by Connie Gallant

Salmon must survive to swim up little streams, too

For years, I’ve heard complaints about tribal fishing. Frankly, many people who complain about tribal fishing, or commercial fishing in general, have no understanding of treaty rights or how individual salmon stocks are managed.

Tarboo Bay
Washington Department of Ecology photo

Most don’t care about the work that goes into long-range management plans, preseason forecasts or computer models of harvest options, which make it possible to manage fisheries with concurrence of state, tribal and federal entities. Most folks with concerns wouldn’t think of accepting the public invitation to join the annual discussions about harvest.

Occasionally, however, someone raises a concern that resonates with managers and biologists who understand the issues. Such is the case with fishing in Tarboo Bay, a story I told in Friday’s Kitsap Sun.

It all comes down to a simple proposition: If salmon management plans are working, then why aren’t we getting more chum and coho into Tarboo Creek? Should we be content with ongoing productivity well below what the stream appears capable of supporting?

Putting politics aside, should the overall management plan for Hood Canal strive for some minimum escapement or maximum exploitation rate on individual streams? Oh, what a complex plan that would be! But if low escapement creates sustainability problems on any stream, then someone needs to take a serious look and not be hampered by plans that consider Hood Canal coho and chum as aggregate stocks for all Hood Canal.

Maybe we should elevate Tarboo Bay to a test case, first with some monitoring to determine the stock composition of the tribal beach seine in question. If it turns out that this is an all-or-nothing fishery, then one answer would be to move the closure line farther out into Dabob Bay, as managers for the state and two tribes agreed to do.

Beyond that, however, perhaps more attention should be given to individual streams, their carrying capacity and trade-offs between harvest and escapement. Interesting studies have been conducted for listed species and a few other stocks in Hood Canal. See “Mid-Hood Canal Juvenile Salmonid Evaluation…” But the need to improve escapements of all species remains a concern.

I’m tempted to say that this is an emperor-has-no-clothes moment when it comes to fisheries in Hood Canal, but I don’t believe that’s accurate. It may seem that everybody understands the problem and nobody wants to speak out. In reality, the problems are many; they vary from place to place; and lots of people are speaking out.

Maybe it is more like a house of cards that continues to grow. Many weaknesses are found in the structure, but only so many can be fixed at one time. So people just keep going, hoping for the best.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has developed a management framework to address these kinds of issues. See “21st Century Salmon and Steelhead Initiative.” It seems like a good start, but the agency must not forget that restoration comes together stream-by-stream for harvest as well as for habitat.

Consider these goals, among others, spelled out in the initiative:

— Expand selective fisheries to increase opportunities for recreational and commercial fishing on hatchery fish and reduce the harvest of wild salmon.
— Implement in-season DNA stock identification to direct fishing to areas with low impacts on wild salmon.
— Improve fishery monitoring to assure that impacts to wild fish are accurately assessed.
— Ensure compliance with fishing regulations.
— Monitor numbers of juvenile fish that migrate to marine areas and adult fish that return to fresh water to spawn to determine effectiveness of conservation and recovery actions.
— Work with our tribal co-managers in each watershed to develop joint state/tribal hatchery and harvest management objectives and plans.
— Coordinate law enforcement with our tribal partners.

As local groups — including the tribes — work hard to remove barriers to salmon passage and improve habitat in specific streams, there is a growing recognition that individual streams can support more salmon than has been possible in the past. Maybe it is time to test the limits of the habitat for selected streams, understanding that decreased harvest in the short term could well translate to greater terminal fisheries in the future.

The Kitsap Sun published an editorial today about the Tarboo Bay fishery.

Speaking to the Navy about Hood Canal oyster deaths

I guess we can finally put to rest the question of how thousands of oysters got washed up high on the beaches of Hood Canal on Aug. 11, causing many to die in the summer sun.

Darrell Hogue of Seabeck wades into Hood Canal at Scenic Beach State Park to rescue oysters lodged high on the beach, where an estimated 178,000 were stranded.
Kitsap Sun photo by Larry Steagall

Without explicitly blaming the USS Port Royal for the problem, Navy officials said they would take steps to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. Check out my story from Wednesday’s Kitsap Sun.

A lot of Hood Canal residents believed the Port Royal was to blame, because they saw this massive 567-foot guided-missile cruiser operating at high speeds off their shores. They naturally connected the ship to the big waves hitting their beaches at the same time. I tended to believe the local people, but I wasn’t sure how anyone could actually prove that the Navy was to blame.

Perhaps the best evidence came in a video I first revealed to you in Watching Our Water Ways on Aug. 27, thanks to the taping by Gary Jackson in Dabob Bay.

After this, I tried to get some simple questions answered by the Navy, but I was frustrated by the fact that three different Navy groups were playing a role. Each one kept referring me to another, and it appeared that nobody really wanted to talk about it.

For example, the ship itself belonged to the Third Fleet, so my questions were directed to a spokesman in San Diego. Because damage claims were involved, I was directed to a spokesman for the Admiralty and Maritime Law Division of the Judge Advocate General. And because the Dabob testing range on Hood Canal is operated by the Naval Undersea Warfare Center – Keyport, I was directed to a spokesman for Navy Region Northwest.

After getting the runaround again and again, I asked in late September if they could talk to each other and tell me where I should address my questions. They did that and told me that I would have my questions answered by Third Fleet, where the ship is based. I went so far as to put my questions in writing so there would be no confusion. Two weeks later, my questions still were not answered, so I sent out another e-mail.

This is where I need to give credit to Sean Hughes and the other public affairs officers for Navy Region Northwest. They have always been helpful to me, and I think that leaving these questions unresolved were beginning to trouble them as well. Sean told me that he was able to take over the questions from Third Fleet and quickly get answers from local folks running the Dabob range.

I’m guessing that the issue of financial liability for loss of the oysters was creating a reluctance by Navy officials to discuss the situation. I can understand that. At the same time, I’m glad that Sean Hughes and other officials at Navy Region Northwest appreciate the need to be responsive to the local community where they operate.

Oyster rescue planned at Scenic Beach State Park

State shellfish biologists are organizing a volunteer work party to rescue oysters that apparently were washed up high on the beach at Scenic Beach State Park by a Navy ship.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal operates off the coast of Hawaii during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) in 2008.
U.S. Navy photo

The USS Port Royal, a 567-foot guided-missile cruiser, was operating in the Navy’s Dabob Bay testing range on Thursday, and the oysters were found high up on the private beaches across Hood Canal the next morning.

Camille Speck, a shellfish biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, inspected the waterfront at Scenic Beach State Park on Tuesday. She told me that she was surprised at how far some of the oysters had been moved:

“I have never seen a scour line that high on the beach. The oysters are alive, but I can tell they have been thrown around a little bit.”

Frankly, I have never heard of this kind of damage from any ship, and I don’t blame readers for being skeptical. But there seems to be no question that the oysters were washed up on the beach, that the Navy ship was in the vicinity about that time, and that a ship of this size is capable of producing a huge wake. It’s called circumstantial evidence, at least until I find someone who actually saw something happening.

Here are the stories I’ve written on the subject so far:

Ship’s Wake Prompts Oysters to Wash Up on Shore Near Seabeck (Aug. 13)

Residents Assessing Oyster Damage From Ship’s Wake (Aug. 16)

Volunteers Sought for Oyster Rescue Effort in Seabeck (Aug. 18)

Several years ago, residents living along Rich Passage between South Kitsap and Bainbridge Island complained that the wake of high-speed passenger-only ferries were washing away the gravel and undercutting their concrete and rock bulkheads. Washington State Ferries was ultimately forced to pull the ferries out of service. Local officials are still hoping they can find a ferry that can make it from Bremerton to Seattle in about half an hour without creating wake damage.

I’ve also heard complaints from shoreline property owners about wakes from huge freighters. Such comments have come up during discussions about revised shoreline regulations that could become part of Kitsap County’s Shorelines Master Program. Some folks who live on the east side of the Kitsap Peninsula say wakes from these massive cargo ships cause more damage to habitat than anything a shoreline owner might do.

If true, it may be time to address the wake issue, beginning with studies of actual damage caused when the ships come through. Do we need government intervention? I can’t say, but rules to control wakes could be problematic, because the movement of ships is mostly controlled by the federal government.