Scarlett, the young orca, has gone missing and is presumed to be dead

A tenacious young orca named Scarlet, gravely emaciated for several weeks, has gone missing and is presumed dead.

Scarlet and her mother Slick head toward San Juan Island on Aug. 18. Scarlet is now missing.
Photo: Katy Foster, NOAA Fisheries, under federal permit

Scarlet, designated J-50, was last seen on Friday with her mother and other family members. Since then, observers have encountered her close relatives several times. Yet Scarlet, who was nearly 4 years old, has been nowhere to be found.

Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, who maintains the official census of the Southern Resident killer whales, announced her death late yesterday.

“J-50 is missing and now presumed dead,” Ken wrote in a press release. “Her last known sighting was Friday, September 7, by our colleagues at NOAA, SeaDoc, and others. The Center for Whale Research has had a vessel on the water looking for J-50 for the past three days. We have seen all the other members of her family (i.e., J-16s) during these outings.”

The search for Scarlet continues on both sides of the Canadian border under the guidance of NOAA Fisheries. It includes a Coast Guard helicopter, NOAA researchers in various vessels, numerous whale-watching boats, the Soundwatch boater-education program and participants in the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, according to Michael Milstein, public affairs officer for NOAA. Similar operations also are taking place on the Canadian side of the border.

“The Coast Guard dedicated a helicopter again today,” Michael told me this morning, adding that modeling of the tides and currents have focused the search along the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the Olympic Peninsula.

Even if Scarlet is dead, much could be learned if her body were recovered. The history of Southern Resident orca deaths, however, suggests that it is not likely that she will be found, dead or alive.

“Watching J-50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like,” Ken said in the press release, “when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction. Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast.”

He goes on to lament the lack of action to increase the number of Chinook salmon — the whales’ primary food — in the Salish Sea and coastal waters.

Meetings planned for Saturday and Sunday will go on as planned, Michael Milstein said. People should be given a chance to say whether they think the rescue operation, as carried out and as planned, was too much or not enough. Scarlet was treated with medication delivered by dart, and officials were planning to capture her and treat her medically if and when she became isolated from her pod. (Review yesterday’s post in Water Ways.)

Even expert opinions are all over the board when it comes to what actions should have been taken — from those who believe Scarlet should have been captured and treated much earlier to those who contend that nature should be allowed to run its course with no human intervention.

People are also welcome to talk about what actions should be taken to save the entire Southern Resident populations, Michael said.

The meetings will be at 7 p.m. Saturday at Friday Harbor High School on San Juan Island and at 1 p.m. Sunday at Haggett Hall Cascade Room at the University of Washington in Seattle .

Scarlet was born into a bit of controversy in December 2014, as researchers were not certain at first who her mother might be. Her sister — old enough to give birth — was nearby when she was first spotted, and observers debated who the mom might be, as I reported in Water Ways in January 2015, when Scarlet was three weeks old.

There was also an issue of the clear “rake marks” on Scarlet’s back, most likely caused when an adult whale used its teeth to pull the baby from the birth canal. The name “Scarlet” refers to the scars from the rake marks, as I described in Water Ways Sept. 20, 2015.

Scarlet was the first calf born into what became known as the “baby boom” from December 2014 to January 2016. Of nine calves born during that period, only four are still alive. (See Orca Network, births and deaths.)

Scarlet’s death reduces the number of Southern Resident killer whales to 74, with 22 in J pod, 18 in K pod and 34 in L pod, the latter having dropped from nearly 60 whales in the early 1990s.

While the search for Scarlet continued yesterday, naturalist Bart Rulon of Puget Sound Express was observing a rare “superpod,” in which all three pods intermingle amidst high-energy activities — including breaching, cartwheels, splashing, spy hops (in which a whale sticks its head out of water) and tail-lobbing (in which a whale slaps the water with its fluke).

The event occurred near Race Rocks, south of Vancouver Island, where Bart was aboard the whale-watching boat MV Saratoga. Scarlet’s mother, Slick or J-16, was among the group, Bart said.

“August and September used to be the best time of the year to see J, K and L pods all traveling together in superpods,” he wrote on the Puget Sound Express website. “It was a common occurrence when I first started watching orcas 18 years ago.

“Now that the Chinook salmon numbers are down, our resident orcas tend to separate into their individual pods more than they used to in order to spread out the resources so that each animal can catch enough salmon. Some pods are even splitting up into subpods much more than they used to.”

The video on this page shows the superpod, as filmed by Ben Tomson from the Saratoga. Whether yesterday’s superpod has anything to do with Scarlet’s death, we may never know. But Bart says the “celebration” reminds him of the way things used to be for the Southern Resident orcas.

Capture and treatment being considered for young emaciated orca

A young orca, said to be on the threshold of death, could be captured for examination and possible medical treatment under a plan devised by federal biologists and other experts.

Scarlet, or J-50, follows close behind her mother Slick, or J-16, in this photo taken Aug. 18.
Photo: Katy Foster, NOAA Fisheries, under federal permit

The capture would be carried out when the 3-year-old female whale, known as J-50 or Scarlet, is found alone at some distance from her pod, according to officials with NOAA Fisheries. One option would be a quick examination and immediate treatment, but preparations also are being made for a possible relocation to an open-water netpen near Manchester in South Kitsap, where she would receive more extensive rehabilitation.

The idea of removing Scarlet from her close-knit family and orca community has received mixed reactions from a team of marine mammal experts, who were called together Monday to advise the federal agency. Meanwhile, some whale-advocacy groups have expressed strong opposition to the plan.

Researcher Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research, who has studied the Southern Resident killer whales for more than 40 years, said he is advising against a capture.

“A capture is not only going to be stressful for the little whale, but if she starts doing some distress calling, will that distress her mom and her sister and others?” Ken asked. “And what if they come to help her?”

Conditions that would trigger a rescue operation are still under development, but one idea is to wait until Scarlet is isolated in a cove or miles away from her mother and the other whales in J pod, so the likelihood of her rejoining the group would be small. If she strands herself alive on land, rescuers are prepared to move in quickly.

A condition known as “peanut head,” caused by a loss of blubber behind the blowhole, can be seen in this photo of J-50 taken Friday.
Photo: Katy Foster, NOAA Fisheries, under federal permit

Scarlet’s emaciated condition has declined so severely that nobody can be sure that she won’t die from the stress of a capture operation, according to Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with the SeaDoc Society and an adviser to NOAA. But if she dies during the rescue, she would not have survived anyway.

Joe, who observed Scarlett from a boat on Friday, reported that she was even thinner than two weeks earlier when experts were surprised that she was still alive. Her loss of body fat means that she is less insulated against the cold water and also less buoyant, so she must work harder than ever to keep up with her pod, he said.

Lynn Barre, NOAA’s recovery coordinator for the Southern Resident killer whales, says there is little more that the medical team can do from a boat, and hands-on intervention may be Scarlett’s only hope for survival. So far, the young whale has received antibiotics delivered with a dart gun, which has resulted in no apparent improvement in her condition. She may still receive a dose of deworming medication if that can be safely delivered through a dart.

Public meetings are planned for Saturday in the San Juan Islands and Sunday in Seattle for officials to listen to the concerns and ideas of anyone who wishes to issue an opinion on the matter.

In a press briefing this morning, officials spelled out the goals of a potential rescue operation, including saving Scarlet’s life so she can contribute to the recovery of the endangered Southern Resident orcas. She is, after all, a young female who potentially could have several babies in the future. But just as important in the overall strategy is avoiding harm to the other orcas, officials stressed.

“Response teams would act to rescue J-50 only if she becomes stranded or separated from the rest of J Pod such that any risks of the intervention to the rest of J Pod are minimized,” states a news release issued yesterday by NOAA Fisheries.

“The overriding priority of any rescue intervention would be to evaluate, treat, and rehabilitate J-50 in a manner that would support the greatest chance of her survival while ensuring her return and reunification with her family as soon as possible so she can contribute to long-term recovery of the population,” according to the news release.

The conditions under which such a rescue operation might proceed would be up to NOAA officials in consultation with experts in the U.S. and Canada, according to Chris Yates, who oversees protected resources for NOAA on the West Coast.

Scarlet and her mother Slick, Aug. 18.
Photo: Katy Foster, NOAA Fisheries, under federal permit

Scarlett has been separated from her pod for quite a distance at times, but she has always caught up in the past, he acknowledged during this morning’s press briefing. She would need to exhibit a more extreme separation than she has before to allow the capture to proceed, he added.

“It is impossible to state with absolute certainty every scenario that could come up in the future,” he said, “but I want to be clear that for J-50, if she were to be rescued, remaining in captivity permanently does not meet our objective.”

Joe Gaydos told me that his recommendation would be for the expert team to determine before moving in that Scarlet has become separated from her pod without hope of being reunited. To be much more explicit about the necessary conditions could hinder the group from taking the right action, he said.

Orca Network, an organization that keeps track of whale sightings throughout Puget Sound, issued a statement opposing further intervention involving Scarlet. The statement recalled the recent death of a newborn orca calf, whose mother (J-35 or Tahlequah) carried her dead baby around for 17 days (AP story by Phuong Le).

“NOAA did the right thing with J-35, and did not take her newborn calf from her after it died, and J-35 did not let go,” according to the statement. “What would J-16/Slick do, if her live, nearly 4-year-old calf were taken from her? How would the rest of J-50’s pod and extended family react?

“NOAA has stated they would only capture J-50 if she live-stranded or was separated from her pod. J-50 has been seen often traveling with her family, but at times falling behind, sometimes by a mile. However, if Scarlet is captured and her family is within about ten miles, they will hear her distressed calls and respond.

“We ask that you think about what is best for J-50 and her family,” the statement continues. “We all need to ask questions to make sure that whatever the plan is for J-50, that it considers the ongoing trauma and stress on her and her family and the odds of whether or not treatment will actually help her survive.”

If Scarlet were captured for more extensive treatment, the process could proceed in a similar fashion to what happened in 2002 with Springer, a Northern Resident killer whale who ended up in Puget Sound far from her family that normally ranges off the northern end of Vancouver Island in Canada. One big difference is that Springer was alone and considered an orphan at the time.

Still, the treatment could be similar to that of Springer, who was fed live fish during her rehabilitation at NOAA’s lab near Manchester. (See Kitsap Sun, June 20, 2002.) Springer was eventually taken by boat back to her home waters up north, where she rejoined her family. Since the reunion, she has given birth to two calves so far.

Many of the experts involved in Springer’s rescue are still around to help in some way, according to Lynn Barre.

While Springer was a little thin before capture, Scarlet’s condition appears to be much more dire. For weeks, she has been observed with a severe condition known as “peanut head,” in which her body has lost so much blubber that the area behind her head has become indented.

Of 13 killer whales known to develop peanut head, 11 have died, according to Joe Gaydos. “She has had this for over a month now and continues to get thinner,” he said.

Updates on NOAA’s actions regarding J-50 — including the time and location of this weekend’s meetings — can be found on the website of the West Coast Region of NOAA Fisheries.

Amusing Monday: Stories of surf dogs and their human companions

Some dogs take to the water more than others, but it’s always great to see the stories behind dogs who excel at surfing — or other feats of athletic skill, agility or mental competence.

One such story involves a surfer dog named Sugar and her human companion Ryan Rustan, who says his dog changed his life in many positive ways. In the first video on this page, Ryan talks about being a surfer who was always quick to anger, an attitude that held him back in school and other endeavors. Things changed for Ryan when he found a hungry dog on the street in need of help. Ryan rescued Sugar, who in turn rescued him.

Sugar is this year’s winner in the Large Surfing Dog Division at the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge National Championship in Ryan’s hometown of Huntington Beach (second video).

The Incredible Dog Challenge, which has been around 20 years, also features a small dog surfing event along with other challenges — both on and off the water. On YouTube, Purina features both a brief overview of the competition as well as a more complete version of the events, lasting an hour and a half.

The full list of videos for this year’s Incredible Dog Challenge can be found on Purina’s YouTube page, but I would like to call your attention to the water-related events. By the way, the winning team in the Fetch It Competition is from Olympia.

Another influential dog-surfing competition is the World Dog Surfing Championships in Pacifica near San Francisco. The third video on this page offers a quick review of the competition. Winners, photos and a video from the Bay Area’s KPIX-5 TV can be found on the Surfer Today website.

Gidget, a 5-year-old pug, has her own story to tell after overcoming an inherited disease and being named the overall winner in the Aug. 5 surf competition in Pacifica as well as an Imperial Beach competition on July 28.

According to a story by Rachel Baerchen, Gidget’s owner Alecia Nelson became worried following the young dog’s first year of surfing competition three years ago. Gidget had won third-place for small dogs in the Surf-A-Thon competition at Del Mar Dog Beach in San Diego, but something was wrong.

Gidget was looking skinny, and everything she ate went through her. Several veterinarians were stumped as to a cause, despite extensive blood tests. The young dog grew emaciated and was headed for a certain death.

“It was devastating,” Alecia told the reporter. “I love Gidget, yet I felt helpless. I knew I couldn’t give up and had to keep trying to find a solution.”

Eventually, Alecia found a vet who recalled a rare case he had treated previously. He wasn’t sure it would work, but he prescribed an expensive enzyme powder that Gidget would need to take twice a day for the rest of her life.

The treatment worked, and in time Gidget was given the go-ahead for further surfing ventures. Her disease was diagnosed as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, a progressive disease that results in a shortage of enzymes essential for digestion.

Rachel goes on to report in her story about Gidget’s many successes since her diagnosis and treatment, and she quotes Alecia as saying:

“It’s amazing, considering what we went through, that Gidget is healthy again, competing against amazing surf dogs, raising money for charity, and sweeping the 2018 Events thus far. I feel blessed and honored each day I have with Gidget.”

Puget Sound Action Agenda makes a shift in restoration strategy

Puget Sound Partnership has honed its high-level game plan for restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem, including a sharp focus on 10 “vital signs” of ecological health.

The newly released draft of the Puget Sound Action Agenda has endorsed more than 600 specific “near-term actions” designed to benefit the ecosystem in various ways. Comments on the plan will be accepted until Oct. 15. Visit the Partnership’s webpage to view the Draft Action Agenda and access the comments page.

The latest Action Agenda for 2018-2022 includes a revised format with a “comprehensive plan” separate from an “implementation plan.” The comprehensive plan outlines the ecological problems, overall goals and administrative framework. The implementation plan describes how priorities are established and spells out what could be accomplished through each proposed action.

Nearly 300 near-term actions are listed at Tier 4, the highest level of priority, giving them a leg up when it comes to state and federal support, according to Heather Saunders Benson, Action Agenda manager. Funding organizations use the Action Agenda to help them determine where to spend their money.

The greatest change in the latest Action Agenda may be its focus on projects that specifically carry out “Implementation Strategies,” which I’ve been writing about on and off for nearly two years. Check out “Implementation Strategies will target Puget Sound ‘Vital Signs’” in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

Jeff Rice, managing editor at Puget Sound Institute, suggested that we compare Puget Sound to a sick patient. It is not enough for a physician to diagnose a patient’s illness; the doctor must prescribe a treatment and make sure that the patient gets better. Like a prescription, Implementation Strategies are designed to improve Puget Sound’s Vital Signs through coordinated actions directed at what is causing the problems.

Regional and local actions include restoration, protection, research, education and community engagement. Vital signs that will get the most attention over the next four years are:

  • Estuaries
  • Shorelines with armoring
  • Floodplains
  • Land development and cover
  • Freshwater quality
  • Marine water quality
  • Toxics in fish
  • Chinook salmon
  • Shellfish beds
  • Summer streamflows

Many of the proposed actions benefit multiple vital signs. For example, improving floodplains, estuaries and freshwater quality can all benefit Chinook salmon populations in a given location.

Puget Sound’s killer whales have has been receiving a lot of attention lately, since a newborn calf died and was carried by its mother for 17 days. Meanwhile, another young whale struggles with malnutrition as experts intervene with antibiotics. Today, people seem more aware than ever that these Southern Resident orcas are at a high risk of extinction. Two Implementation Strategies — increasing the Chinook salmon population and reducing toxic chemicals in fish (under development) — are expected to benefit the orcas and many other creatures.

Southern Resident orcas // Photo: Jim Maya

Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, writes about the orcas in her introduction to the draft Action Agenda.

“This document explains the plight of our orca in greater detail,” Sheida says. “It is important to remember that even the great orca is but one indicator of the broader health of Puget Sound. The orcas are a top predator and, like humans, their survival depends on our ability to maintain a functioning ecosystem.

“Those graced with the experience of seeing a breaching orca know that it is a glimpse into eternity, producing a sense of awe and wonder that at times is in short supply in our modern lives,” she continues. “Whether you are 6, 16, or 60, if you share a moment with an orca, you will be reminded in the depths of your soul that we are all playing but a small role in a much larger picture.”

Everyone should insist on a future with clean water, fishing, recreation, edible shellfish and sustainable commerce on the water, Sheida says. But it will take a major investment to heal the ecosystem and make sure that population growth does not overwhelm the natural systems.

“Will we realize — before it is too late — that in saving the orca and the salmon and Puget Sound, we are really saving ourselves?” she asks.

When the Legislature created the Puget Sound Partnership, it set a goal of restoring Puget Sound to a healthy condition by the year 2020. It was an aspirational goal but not very realistic. Some people have regretted setting a time frame for success. Still, the date cannot be easily erased.

Key steps in adaptive management to advance Puget Sound recovery actions
Graphic: Puget Sound Partnership

As 2020 approaches, the Leadership Council, which oversees the partnership, has approved a vision statement for moving beyond 2020, including a call to act with urgency.

Over the next four years, a Vital Signs Revision Team will review the existing Vital Signs indicators to see if there are better ways to measure ecological conditions, said Scott Redman, director of science and evaluation for the partnership. New targets and dates for reaching the targets may be proposed, he said, and 2020 will come and go before the next Action Agenda comes up for review.

Recommendations for revised indicators have been made by:

Finding ways to improve long-term “resilience” of critical habitats could help more species survive through adverse conditions brought about by climate change and other human influences, Scott said. It could be a challenge to come up with general prescriptions for resiliency, because conditions vary from place to place. Still much has been learned about habitat restoration through the years, with successes from completed projects incorporated into the designs for upcoming projects.

Meanwhile, the Leadership Council’s “Vision and Commitment for a Resilient Puget Sound” renews a commitment to unite people in a singular cause:

“For decades, many partners have worked to rescue this estuary of national significance. We have made progress, but our efforts have not been at a scale or pace sufficient to restore Puget Sound to health by 2020. We face a pivotal point in time. We know that saving Puget Sound will never be as achievable or affordable as it is today. With each passing day, the road to recovery becomes harder. We have the power to prevent Puget’s Sound decline. This is our moment to define what our future can look like, and to fight to make it a reality.”

Amusing Monday: This southern lady has a funny story for everyone

About a month ago, I wrote a blog post titled “Get out and enjoy the cool rivers in our region.” It was during the heat of the summer, and I was thinking back to some past rafting trips. I related what I called the “feelings of calm while traveling across flat water, followed by the invigoration of roiling rapids.”

Humorist Jeanne Robertson has her own memories of a rafting adventure but with an entirely different frame of mind. Jeanne’s way of telling stories — with colorful details and surprising twists — kept me laughing through her eight-minute video titled, “Don’t go rafting without a Baptist in the boat.” Check out the first video on this page.

The sequel to the story comes from the sleeping arrangements on her rafting trip, as you can see in the second video, called “Don’t get frisky in a tent.”

The third and fourth videos were posted earlier this year. One is about a misunderstanding about the rain. The other is about her visit to Spokane, where she learned about a critter native to the Northwest. If that’s not enough — and it probably won’t be — check out 53 more on Jeanne’s YouTube video page.

At 74, Jeanne has collected lots of stories about the oddities of family life, and she is attracting what appears to be millions of fans from from all age groups. I usually go with the flow of life, but after watching her videos, I find myself even less annoyed and more amused when things don’t go as planned.

The former Jeanne Swanner was born in Graham, N.C., and makes the most of her southern accent. She was 6-foot-2 by the age of 13, according to the bio on her website, and she played basketball up through college at Auburn University in Alabama. At age 19, she was selected as Miss North Carolina and went on to be named Miss Congeniality in the Miss America Pageant. Through the Miss America experience, she learned that she has an ability to speak on stage and make people laugh.

With a degree in physical education, Jeanne taught high school and college P.E. classes for eight years before becoming a successful humorist and motivational speaker. Her husband Jerry Robertson, an educator in North Carolina, was dubbed “Left Brain” in Jeanne’s stories. Through the years, she has received multiple speaking awards and has written three books about making humor a part of one’s life — including one book titled “Don’t Let the Funny Stuff Get Away” (1998).

Jeanne is active on Facebook, where she wrote just this morning: “Happy Labor Day. They got my attention! Several FB Buddies sent link. First glance, scared me. Bet it would have made y’all nervous if your name had been in headline as mine was. ‘Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Hilarious Jeanne Robertson.’

“My stomach took a leap,” Jeanne continued. “Uh oh. What did someone know? Gulp. Maybe that time at Graham H. S. when ten of us ‘snuck’ out of study hall, crept along hall & out back door of school to slip to n’hood grocery store for snacks. Seemed good idea at the time. Teacher Mrs. Walker standing in classroom doorway, arms crossed, when we tried to sneak back in, sacks in hand. Did someone find out about that?”

This was all in reference to a new blog post by Kingsley, a self-described “busy mom of two ballet-loving girls” on, where Kingsley revealed some important aspects of Jeanne’s life and humor — including this Robertson quote borrowed from a 2012 blog by Susan Tardanico:

“Humor is not about one-liners or being able to tell jokes. It’s about accepting things about yourself that can’t be changed and finding the humor in situations around you. Things happen on a daily basis that are really funny, but people often let the funny stuff get away, either because they don’t notice it as funny, or they don’t make it a priority to look for it.”

Less boater pollution allows more shellfish harvesting near marinas

State health officials have reduced shellfish-closure areas around 20 marinas in Puget Sound, allowing more commercial shellfish harvesting while inching toward a goal of upgrading 10,800 acres of shellfish beds by 2020.

In all, 661 acres of shellfish beds were removed from a long-standing “prohibited” classification that has been applied around marinas, based on assumptions about the dumping of sewage from boats confined to small areas.

Poulsbo Marina // Photo: Nick Hoke via Wikimedia

“We have seen pretty significant changes in boat-waste management,” said Scott Berbells, shellfish growing area manager for the Washington Department of Health, explaining how the upgrades came about.

New calculations of discharges from boats in marinas and the resulting risks of eating nearby shellfish have allowed health authorities to reduce, but not eliminate, the closure zones around the marinas.

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Focus on chinook salmon creates troubles for Southern Resident orcas

I’ve often wondered how well Puget Sound’s endangered orcas would be doing today if these whales had not grown up within a culture of eating chinook salmon.

Photo: NOAA Fisheries

In Iceland, some killer whales apparently feed on both fish and seals, depending on the time of year, according to researcher Sara Tavares of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The same animals have been seen among large groups of orcas as they pursue schools of herring in the North Atlantic, she writes in her blog, Icelandic Orcas.

The Icelandic whales have a different social structure than the fish-eating Southern Resident killer whales that frequent the Salish Sea. Both groups are also quite different from the marine-mammal-eating transient killer whales that have been visiting Puget Sound more frequently in recent years.

It is now widely accepted that groups of killer whales each have their own culture, passed down from mothers to offspring, with older relatives playing an integral role in the lessons. Culture is simply learned behavior, and the message delivered from the elders to the young is: “This is the way we do it.”

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Amusing Monday: Spell-checking offers new names for sea creatures

Harbor seals might be called “pooch vitamin” and gray whales “scratchiest robot” — or at least those are a couple of the wacky names I derived with the help of spell-checking software.

“Pooch vitamin” for harbor seal
Photo: Meegan Reid, Kitsap Sun

Scientific names don’t normally give me much of a problem — primarily because I don’t use them all that much. If I’m writing an article about an animal or plant, I sometimes include the scientific name for the sake of precision, since some species are called by different things in other parts of the world.

I don’t know how to pronounce most scientific names, and I almost always need to double-check the spellings. As Sloan Tomlinson of Entomology Uncensored points out, auto-correct is no friend of scientists stuck with using proper taxonomic names.

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Stories told of unusual marine mammal visitors to Puget Sound waters

People in the Puget Sound area have been reporting some rare visitors to our waterway in recent years — including bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, a sperm whale and even a ringed seal from the Arctic.

Bottlenose dolphins, such as these seen from a NOAA vessel on the East Coast, are being spotted more often in Puget Sound
Photo: Allison Henry, Northeast Fisheries Science Center

Sudden appearances of these marine mammals have come as a surprise, because the animals are outside their normal habitat. Puget Sound may be too cold or too warm or not deep enough for these animals to flourish, or so experts have thought.

I am always interested when I hear about strange visitors, and I was pleased to tell the stories of seven marine mammal species that are not supposed to be in Puget Sound. They include Miss and Stump, a pair of bottlenose dolphins that worked their way up the West Coast from Southern California and now seem to be making their home in the cooler clime of Puget Sound. Check out my story in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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Amusing Monday: Finding new ways to ride a bike across the water

When a man rides a bicycle across the River Thames in London, people stop and stare — and that’s exactly what 35-year-old Dhruv Boruah wants them to do, as he picks up trash floating on the river.

His message is about plastic pollution. He wants people to know that when plastic gets into the environment, it tends to stay there, breaking into tiny pieces that contaminate the food web.

“I like to be on the water for the adventure,” he said in an interview this month in the London Evening Standard, “and the bike is so unique that it’s a good conversation starter to talk to people and raise awareness about the dangers of plastics, micro-plastics and toxic chemicals to stop these ending up in the ocean.”

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