The guide is just one step in resolving conflicts between ships
and whales, but it seems like a worthwhile move. If people who
control the ships are willing to put scientific information into
action, they could avoid cumbersome regulations along with
unintended consequences that sometimes arise from political
“The purpose of this guide is to help mariners reduce their risk
of striking and killing, or seriously injuring a cetacean (whale,
dolphin or porpoise),” writes researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard in a
preface to the guide. “It includes descriptions of frequently
encountered whales and dolphins, locations along the coast where
cetacean densities are highest, and simple measures they can take
to greatly reduce their risk of striking a whale, dolphin or
“I have yet to meet a mariner who doesn’t feel terrible if his
or her ship hits a cetacean … so I know the motivation to reduce
strikes is there,” Lance continued. “The key is knowing how to do
it. To that end, I hope that bridge crews on vessels transiting
through B.C. coastal waters will use the information in this guide
to reduce the risk of hitting a whale on their watch.”
Erich Hoyt, who has spent most of his life studying whales,
returns to Puget Sound in October for talks in Olympia, Tacoma and
I enjoyed interviewing Erich last year before he visited this
Water Ways, May 3, 2014.) We talked about the ongoing capture
of killer whales in Russia, where government officials refuse to
learn a lesson from the Northwest about breaking up killer whale
families and disrupting their social order.
“Much of the rest of the world has moved on to think about a
world beyond keeping whales and dolphins captive,” Erich wrote in a
blog entry. “Not Russia. Not now. It’s all guns blazing to make
all the same mistakes made years before in other countries.
“Of course, it’s not just Russian aquarium owners and captors,”
he continued. “China, too, is about to open its first performing
killer whale show, and Japan aquariums continue to go their own
way. There are people opposed to captivity in Russia, China and
Japan, but they are not in the majority.”
Erich’s talk in Olympia on Oct. 10 is titled, “Adventures with
orcas in the North Pacific.” He will speak again on the topic the
next day in Tacoma. On Oct. 13, he goes to West Seattle to speak on
“Ants, orcas and creatures of the deep.” For details and tickets,
go to Brown Paper
The three talks are produced by The Whale Trail, an
environmental group, in partnership with local sponsoring
organizations. Donna Sandstrom, founder and director of The Whale
Trail, said Erich comes to Puget Sound after the births of five new
orcas in J, K and L pods. This provides five more reasons to
restore the Puget Sound killer whale population, she said.
“The collaborative nature of the Orca Tour demonstrates our shared
commitment to restore salmon, reduce toxins and create quieter
seas,” Sandstrom said.
Among other things, The
Whale Trail is known for promoting shoreside viewing of whales
to reduce interference with their activities. The group maintains a
map of the best places to watch whales from shore.
With the approval of Kitsap County, the organization has erected
a new sign at Point No Point Lighthouse Park near Hansville, a good
spot to watch all kinds of wildlife. The sign offers specific
information about Point No Point as a viewing site and provides
tips for identifying marine mammals.
UPDATE, Oct. 2, 2015
The Navy has released its
final environmental impact statement on Northwest testing and
training operations. The document does not consider an option for
avoiding “biologically significant areas” when using sonar or
explosives, as in the legal settlement for operations in California
and Hawaii. It is yet to be seen whether National Marine Fisheries
Service will add new restrictions when issuing permits for
incidental “take” under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. Here is
news release (PDF 548 kb).
A legal agreement approved this week to limit the Navy’s use of
sonar and explosives in “biologically important areas” of Southern
California and Hawaii represents a “sea change” in the Navy’s
protection of marine mammals, says Michael Jasny of the Natural
Resources Defense Council.
Encouraged by the cooperative effort to reach an out-of-court
settlement with the Navy, Michael said the deal could have
implications for future Navy activities in the Northwest and
throughout the country.
The NRDC and seven other environmental groups filed suit over
Navy plans to train with sonar and explosives in Southern
California and Hawaii with no specific geographic limitations. The
environmental groups argued that one good way to reduce injury and
death to marine mammals is to avoid areas where large numbers of
whales and dolphins congregate to feed, socialize and
A federal judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups,
saying “it makes no sense” for the Navy to insist that its training
exercises require the use every square mile of ocean. The ruling
drew the Navy into settlement negotiations.
“This settlement resulted from a constructive good-faith effort
on all sides,” Michael Jasny told me by phone. “That, in itself,
represents a real change in the way the Navy has interacted with
the conservation community. It took litigation to create this
window of opportunity to advance policy to be consistent with
Michael said research by the Navy and other groups has shown how
marine mammals are killed and injured by Navy sonar and explosives.
As the science has evolved, so have the tools to reduce impacts —
such as maps showing where marine mammals hang out, maps that can
help the Navy reduce its harm to many species.
Michael said it has been shameful to watch the National Marine
Fisheries Service — the agency charged with protecting marine
mammals — stand by and issue permits that allow the Navy to do
whatever it wants. Now, he added, the negotiations between the Navy
and environmental groups provide a blueprint for how NMFS can
better live up to its mission of protecting marine mammals.
“Frankly, after years of fighting about these issues, we are
seeing folks on both sides very willing to find solutions,” Michael
said. “Folks on the Navy side have generally been willing to come
to the table. The Navy would not have entered into this agreement
if it believed these measures prevented it from achieving their
military readiness objective.”
For its part, the Navy tends to downplay the significance of
this week’s settlement.
“After a federal court ruled in favor of plaintiffs’ claims, the
Navy faced the real possibility that the court would stop
critically important training and testing,” said Lt. Cmdr. Matt
Knight, spokesman for the Pacific Fleet. “Instead, NMFS and the
Navy negotiated in good faith with the plaintiffs over five months
to reach this agreement.”
In a written statement, Knight said the Navy’s existing
protective measures are “significant” and the agreement increases
restrictions in select areas. Those restrictions will remain in
place until the current permit expires on Dec. 24, 2018.
“It is essential that sailors have realistic training at sea
that fully prepares them to prevail when and where necessary with
equipment that has been thoroughly tested,” Knight said in the
statement. “This settlement agreement preserves critically
important testing and training.”
In an email, I asked the Navy spokesman how the agreement might
translate into special protections in other areas, particularly the
Northwest where we know that Navy ships cross paths with many
different kinds of whales and dolphins. His answer was somewhat
“The Navy continues to work with NMFS to develop necessary and
appropriate measures to protect marine mammals,” he wrote back.
“The Navy’s current protective measures afford significant
protections to marine mammals. That said, the Navy will not
prejudge what measures will be appropriate to address future
The Navy is about to complete an environmental impact statement
that outlines the effects of its testing and training operations in
Puget Sound and along the Washington Coast. In comments on the
draft EIS and proposed permit, environmental groups again called
attention to the need to restrict operations in places where large
numbers of marine mammals can be found. For example, one letter
signed by 18 conservation groups addresses the operational details
in the Northwest Training and Testing Range:
“Despite the vast geographic extent of the Northwest Training
and Testing Study Area, the Navy and NMFS have neither proposed nor
adequately considered mitigation to reduce activities in
biologically important marine mammal habitat. Virtually all of the
mitigation that the Navy and NMFS have proposed for acoustic
impacts boils down to a small safety zone around the sonar vessel
or impulsive source, maintained primarily with visual monitoring by
onboard lookouts, with aid from non-dedicated aircraft (when in the
vicinity) and passive monitoring (through vessels’ generic sonar
“The NMFS mitigation scheme disregards the best available
science on the ineffectiveness of visual monitoring to prevent
impacts on marine mammals. Indeed, the species perhaps most
vulnerable to sonar-related injuries, beaked whales, are among the
most difficult to detect because of their small size and diving
behavior. It has been estimated that in anything stronger than a
light breeze, only one in fifty beaked whales surfacing in the
direct track line of a ship would be sighted. As the distance
approaches 1 kilometer, that number drops to zero. The agency’s
reliance on visual observation as the mainstay of its mitigation
plan is therefore profoundly insufficient and misplaced.”
Even before this week’s out-of-court settlement, environmental
groups were urging the Navy and NMFS to delay completion of the EIS
until they fairly evaluate new studies about the effects of sonar,
explosives and sound on marine mammals. Measures to protect whales
and other animals should include restrictions within biologically
important areas, they say.
This week’s out-of-court settlement included limitations on the
use of sonar and explosives in the BIAs of Southern California and
Hawaii. For details, check out the
signed order itself (PDF 1.5 mb) with associated maps,
or read the summary in news releases by
Earthjustice. Not all BIAs that have been identified are
getting special protection under the agreement.
Biologically important areas for whales, dolphins and porpoises
include places used for reproduction, feeding and migration, along
with limited areas occupied by small populations of residents. For
a list of identified BIAs, go to NOAA’s Cetacean
and Sound Mapping website. For additional details, see NOAA’s
release on the subject.
Michael Jasny said he is encouraged with the Navy’s
acknowledgement that it can adequately conduct testing and training
exercises while abiding by restrictions in specified geographic
areas. He hopes the Navy uses the same logic to protect marine
mammals on the East Coast, including Virginia where seismic
exploration increases the risk; portions of the Gulf of Mexico; the
Gulf of Alaska; the Mariana Islands; and, of course, the Pacific
Zak Smith, an NRDC attorney involved with Northwest sonar
issues, said the settlement in California and Hawaii should
encourage the National Marine Fisheries Service to apply the same
mitigation to testing and training to waters in Washington, Oregon,
California and Alaska.
“I would hope when they come out with a final rule that the
Fisheries Service would have engaged with the kind of management
approach that we did in the settlement,” he said. “The Fisheries
Service and the Navy should sit down and review biologically
significant areas against the Navy’s training and testing
Clearly, if you read through the comments, environmental groups
are dismayed about the Navy’s potential harm to marine mammals and
its failure to address the problem:
“The sonar and munitions training contemplated in the Navy’s
NWTT Draft Environmental Impact Statement is extensive and details
extraordinary harm to the Pacific Northwest’s marine resources….
Even using the Navy and NMFS’s analysis, which substantially
understates the potential effects, the activities would cause
nearly 250,000 biologically significant impacts on marine mammals
along the Washington, Oregon, Northern California, and Southern
Alaska coasts each year – more than 1.2 million takes during the
5-year life of a Marine Mammal Protection Act incidental take
I’m not sure it is necessary for me to point out that without
significant changes to the Navy’s current plans, we are likely to
see another lawsuit over routine testing and training
Starfish that live symbiotically inside a tube sponge were long
believed to assist the sponge with its cleaning activities, while
the starfish received a protective home for being such a helpful
companion. This type of mutually beneficial symbiosis is called
But this long-held assumption — that both the brittlestar and
gray tube sponge were benefitting from the deal — turned out to be
wrong when researchers took a close look at the relationship.
The video describing this whole affair and the research behind
it became a finalist in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge, judged by
37,795 students in 1,600 classrooms in 21 countries. Ocean 180 is
all about connecting science to people, and the video challenge is
designed to help scientists turn their discoveries into
I really like the concept of this contest. Joseph Pawlik, one of
the researchers involved, did a good job telling the story of the
starfish and the sponge in the video production, assisted by Jack
Koch of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. They called
the video “The maid did it! The surprising case of the
I won’t give away who killed whom, but answers to the murder
mystery are revealed toward the end of the 3-minute video.
A much more extensive research project involves monitoring the
largest active volcano off the coast of Oregon, a location called
Axial Seamount. University of Washington researchers and students
conducted the research and produced the video about the equipment
used in an extreme environment and how the data are transmitted
back to land via a fiber optic cable.
While the videos of the starfish-and-sponge and offshore volcano
were among the top 10 finalists, neither were among the top award
First-place winner Kelly Jaakkola of the Dolphin Research Center
said Ocean 180 is a way to make a connection with the next
generation of ocean scientists:
“For a lot of students, science can have a negative, scary
image. They picture people in white lab coats talking about topics
that nobody understands in the most boring, unimaginative way
possible. If we want to get kids excited about science, we need to
change that image.”
Third-place winner Charles Waters said some of the most
inspiring science writing uses analogies, metaphors and similes to
describe the scientific process and research findings:
“Video helps lift images from print, and the message comes
closer to being an experience for the audience in contrast to a
mere information stream.”
The Ocean 180 Video Challenge is sponsored by Florida Center for
Ocean Sciences Education Excellence.
I have been intrigued by some unusual animal friendships, which
I’ve reported here in Water Ways: a baby hippo and a 130-year-old
tortoise, a cat and a crow, an orangutan and a hound, an elephant
and a dog. See Amusing Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.
But somehow I missed the tantalizing story of a dolphin named
Duggie and a dog named Ben on Tory Island, Ireland. The television
show “National Geographic Wild” is now telling the story of this
unusual friendship, which began in 2006.
That seems like a long time ago, and I’m trying to find out
whether the friendship might still endure or whether the National
Geographic people used old footage in their telling of the
I like the National Geographic clip (first video on this page),
because it includes a discussion by Cesar Millan, known as “the Dog
Whisperer.” But I have a greater appreciation for the inquisitive
approach taken in an earlier production for BBC’s “Countryfile,” a
program mostly about places in and around Ireland (second
Additional information was filled in by reporter Anita Guldera
in The Independent. She tells us that Tory
Islanders believe the female dolphin’s friendship with Ben came
about after she lost her mate. It all started about the time a male
dolphin washed up dead on the island.
I stumbled across the dolphin-and-dog story after someone
emailed me a lovely video about a dolphin saving a dog from a shark
attack. The video, called
“Dolphin and Dog,” was put together by a Dutch woman
named Ine Braat. I say the video was “lovely” because the music
creates a mood around this dolphin-and-dog friendship. But it’s
fiction, mostly based on clips from the movie
“Zeus and Roxanne.”
You may wish to check out some of Ine’s other lovely
compilations posted on her
Another story about a dog and a dolphin is a more gripping tale,
because it involves a human whose life was in real danger. Lynn
Gitsham of Carrickalinga, Australia, says she was rescued by a pod
of dolphins after falling into the ocean while trying to get to her
dog. Reporter Michelle Vella tells the story for Australia’s Seven
West Television (below).
Who doesn’t love dolphins? Something about their social, often
playful, nature seems to stir the heart and bring smiles all
Today, I’d like to share three very different videos of
dolphins. Click on full screen to get a good view. The first video
shows a woman riding a wake board when a large number of dolphins
swim up and surround her.
“We’re going to make a YouTube sensation with this, I’m sure,”
says the boat driver. The video has generated more than 5 million
views since it was posted a little more than a year ago.
The second includes footage of dolphins blowing bubble rings,
then slicing and dicing them in playful ways. Seeing them do this
causes me to reflect not only on their intelligence but also their
The third video is the story of a surfer who owes his life to
dolphins after he is attacked by a great white shark.
I’d also like to share the words of Daniel McCulloch, a leading
dolphin photographer who created a website called “Dolphin Synergy”:
“As we aspire to being the most `civilised’ or `evolved’ species
on this planet, it is quite humbling to realise that not only has
it been inhabited for 30-40 million years compared to our 1 million
or so, by another truly sentient species, but that that species is
extremely emotionally, mentally & socially developed.
“Rather than being plagued with wars, violent aggression,
homicides, rapes, boredom, lonliness, apathy, anger and perpetual
survival struggles and starvation of the majority of the species,
the dolphins are living a life and social structure of profound joy
and harmony, so much so that the ancient Greeks modeled their very
advanced democracy on the dolphins’ social structure.”
John Buchanan of Squamish, British Columbia, was in the right
place at the right time when a group of transient killer whales
mixed it up with hundreds of fleeing white-sided dolphins.
John said it appeared that the orcas had formed a line to herd
the dolphins into shallow water in Departure Bay near Nanaimo.
“The only way they could escape was going through the orcas,” he
told me. “I was wondering if they would swim right into the ferry.
The ferry may have made the escape a little narrower for them.”
John happened to be on the ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West
Vancouver to Departure Bay on Vancouver Island when the wild
encounter occurred on Monday.
“I was just traveling on the ferry to meet someone at Nanaimo,”
said Buchanan, who is active in the environmental groups, including
Squamish Stream Keepers. “I always have my camera close by.
“We were just coming into Departure Bay. Someone spotted the
orcas, then the water just exploded with all these dolphins in the
bay. The orcas had them pinned in.
“I bet there was all kinds of action going on under the water,”
he said. “It was spectacular, especially when one orca was breaking
in one direction and another was breaking in the other
John recorded that exciting shot of a double breach on his
camera, which you can see toward the end of the video.
Later, he was informed by a biologist at Vancouver Aquarium that
breaching is often how the whales celebrate a kill. Although he
noticed a lot of chasing at the time, he never spotted any dead or
dying dolphins nor was any blood in the water.
John posted the video on YouTube on Monday, the same day he
recorded the dramatic encounter. As of this morning, the number of
views was approaching 100,000.
CBC News posted the video on its
webpage, and John has been approached by people who would like
to purchase the footage, but he plans to keep it available for
“I’ll never see anything like that again,” he said.
At my suggestion, John sent photos to Ken Balcomb and Dave
Ellifrit of the Center for Whale Research. Ken reported that the
orcas included T-100s. According to the book “Transients” by John
Ford and Graeme Ellis, they are a group of killer whales seen
mainly in Southeast Alaska.
Izumi Stephens of Bainbridge Island, who appeared in the program
“Whale Wars” last year, has returned to her native Japan as a “Cove
Guardian” for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.
Izumi left yesterday, traveling with her daughter Fiona, who
will be 14 in April and who shares her mother’s passion to save
whales and dolphins.
Guardians are volunteers who document and photograph the
slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, a town made famous by the
award-winning documentary “The
I talked to Izumi Wednesday before she flew out. She was excited
and a little nervous. As a Japanese citizen who has lived in the
United States 19 years, she was not sure how she would be received
by Japanese residents when she stands alongside Sea Shepherd
A year ago at this time, Izumi was serving aboard the Sea
Shepherd vessel Steve Irwin as it followed Japanese whaling ships
and disrupted their activities in the Southern Ocean of Antarctica.
Izumi translated messages between the Japanese whalers and Sea
Shepherd and helped coordinate coverage by Japanese reporters.
Izumi was the first Japanese translator who did not conceal her
identity from the photographers filming “Whale Wars,” a weekly
reality program on Animal Planet. Izumi appeared in several scenes
but was not a major character. Check out my initial story for the
Kitsap Sun on Oct. 31, 2010, with follow-up reports on Water
Jan. 4, 2011 …
Feb. 22, 2011 … and
June 1, 2011.
Izumi says her language skills may come in handy in Taiji. Also,
her understanding of Japanese values may help her build a “bridge
of understanding” with the Japanese people. Many see no difference
between killing dolphins and killing fish to eat, she said, yet
dolphins are intelligent mammals, and the rate of hunting cannot be
“To them, killing dolphins is a tradition,” she said, “but every
country has its horrible traditions. Spain gave up the bull fight,
and Japan can give up this.”
Izumi said her daughter Fiona put together a school project
about the anti-whaling conflict last year, so she understands the
arguments on both sides.
Cove Guardians say they are careful to obey the local laws as
they document the daily killing of dolphins, which they claim is
about 20,000 per year. Besides documenting and filming the deaths
of dolphins and the movement of fishing boats, the general goal is
to create a sense of shame among the hunters and local residents,
Suzanne West of Seattle, whose husband Scott is coordinating
Cove Guardians in Japan, said Izumi may receive increasesd
attention from the Japanese media. Some people will be surprised at
her opposition to the hunt. By now, most Japanese are fairly used
to seeing Western visitors speaking in opposition to the events in
Taiji, said Suzanne, who coordinates efforts in the U.S.
“A big thing is making them aware that the world is watching,”
Suzanne said. “We got a lot of footage last year of them actually
killing the dolphins.”
Now, the hunters are conducting the slaughter behind tarps, she
noted, “but we can still count the actual bodies going in with none
Izumi will return to Bainbridge Island on Thursday, March 1. Two
days later, she will participate in a gathering of Sea Shepherd
supporters at Casa Rojas Mexican restaurant, 403 Madison Ave., on
Bainbridge Island. The event is free, with donations going to Sea
Shepherd. For reservations, e-mail Seattle Sea Shepherd.
Izumi’s arrival in Japan coincides with the release from jail of
Cove Guardian Erwin Vermeulen of the Netherlands, who was arrested
in December during a pushing incident while trying to photograph
dolphins in the cove.
A judge ruled that Vermeulen should pay a fine of 1,000 euros
($1,315 U.S.), but he cannot leave Japan pending an appeal by the
prosecutor. Officials with Sea Shepherd say they may file formal
proceedings to protest the two-month detention for a minor crime.
Update, Feb. 18: After I posted this blog
entry, I received an e-mail from Sea Shepherd’s media department
that provides additional details and clarifies the Expatica report.
Release (PDF 24 kb)