Monthly Archives: November 2012

Washington leading on ocean acidification

Ocean acidification is hitting Washington’s shellfish industry even before we begin to experience the full effects of climate change, and Gov. Chris Gregoire placed this state in the forefront of action Tuesday when she signed an executive order on the issue.

The order supports the findings of the governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Check out the story I wrote for yesterday’s Kitsap Sun.

The panel released the report during an hour-long presentation of the findings. If you have time, I recommend watching the informative presentation, provided by TVW in the player at right.

The executive summary of the report, as well as the full report, its appendices and the governor’s order, can be downloaded from panel’s webpage on the Washington Department of Ecology website.

Gregoire’s order is considered the first state-level action on ocean acidification — and that has attracted attention from across the country. For example, stories were written by environmental reporter Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and by Virginia Gewin of Nature magazine.

Ocean acidification has been called the “evil twin” of global warming, because the effects can be more swift and more severe than gradual warming of the Earth. That’s not to discount other serious effects of climate change, including increased frequency of severe storms, sea level rise with increasing flooding, and heat waves with crippling effects on agriculture. But acidification affects organisms at the base of the entire food web.

The effects of ocean acidification will not be reversed for a long, long time, even if greenhouse gas emissions are brought under control. The upwelling of old water along the coast brings this problem right to our doorstep now and for the foreseeable future.

The shift from coal to natural gas, along with the downturn in the economy, has significantly reduced emissions of carbon dioxide in this country the past couple years, but the levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases continue to go up.

“Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary-general for the World Meteorological Association, in a press release issued yesterday.

The WMA reported that the years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and it appears that 2012 will continue the trend, despite a cooling influence from La Niña early this year.

“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale,” Jarraud said. “But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities.

“The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere,” he added.

Environmental correspondent Alister Doyle reported today for Reuters that the United Nations Panel on Climate Change now believes that it is more certain than ever that humans are the primary cause of global warming.

In its 2007 report, the panel pegged the certainty at more than 90 percent. Now, it appears likely that the scientists will increase that certainty in the next report in 2013, said Rajendra Pachauri, head of the panel who spoke with Doyle at a climate conference in Qatar.

“We certainly have a substantial amount of information available by which I hope we can narrow the gaps, increase the level of certainty of our findings,” he said, adding that analyses also will increase the predicted rate of sea-level rise.

Meanwhile, the “Draft National Ocean Policy and Implementation Plan” is still undergoing review by the National Ocean Council. The report contains a chapter called “Resiliency and Adaptation to Climate Change and Ocean Acidification” (PDF 732 kb). That chapter contains some of the same recommendations offered by Washington state’s Blue Ribbon Panel, but the state plan is more specific and comes with a recommended $3.3 million budget to begin work on the problem.

U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, is attempting to derail the plan, saying it creates an unnecessary bureaucracy and asserts federal controls not approved by Congress. Read the news release about House action against the plan.

I have not talked to anyone on the council lately, but it appears that President Obama’s election campaign over the past year effectively derailed any movement on this issue. In his first press conference after the election, he pledged to jump-start the climate-change effort, but no mention was made of the ocean policy. Review the video below at 42:20.

Endangered orca listing comes under formal review

NOAA has agreed to conduct a status review to determine if Puget Sound’s killer whales should remain on the Endangered Species List.

The agency received a petition from the Pacific Legal Foundation, which claims that the three Southern Resident pods should be considered just a part of a larger population of orcas. According to the PLF, the Southern Residents do not meet the legal definition of “species” that qualifies them for listing:

“The term ‘species’ includes any subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds when mature.”

The 62-page PLF petition (PDF 384 kb) — filed on behalf of three parties, including California farmers — argues from a carefully constructed legal analysis that says NOAA should never have listed the Southern Residents in the first place.

When I first read the petition in August, I believed it was just an effort to rehash the legal arguments that NOAA went through during the listing process, following a federal court order in 2003. But NOAA apparently sees things differently, according to a news release issued yesterday:

“NOAA said the petition presents new information from scientific journal articles about killer whale genetics, addressing issues such as how closely related this small population is to other populations, and meets the agency’s standard for accepting a petition to review.”

NOAA apparently is taking a close look at a 2010 study led by Malgorzata Pilot, which was used by the petitioners to argue that the Southern Residents are not genetically isolated. From the petition:

“The significance of the findings of Pilot et al. (2010) is threefold.

“First, they demonstrate with data that social interactions among killer whale pods do occur in the wild and they occur more frequently than has been reported (i.e., many interactions are simply ‘missed’ by human observers who cannot watch a vast area of ocean to take note of killer whale pod interactions, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, year round)….

“Second, Pilot et al. (2010) explain why inbreeding is not a problem even though killer whales rarely disperse outside of natal pods….

“Third, Pilot et al. (2010) explain why mtDNA haplotypes (groups of genes that are inherited together by an organism from a single parent) can be highly divergent among ecotypes but not nuclear DNA markers….Therefore, if only mtDNA is considered in an analysis, the loss of mtDNA variation in populations (also referred to as lineage sorting) can give an erroneous appearance of populations (and putative species) being genetically isolated because they are trying to maintain taxonomic differences while at the same time ecotypes and populations are not isolated for nuclear genetic variation.”

Sorry if that’s a little technical, but it shows why NOAA decided to take up to an additional nine months to decide if the petitioners have a case based on arguments about genetic isolation. Are the Southern Residents a distinct population segment of the overall species?

The petitioners argue that NOAA improperly declared the Northern Pacific killer whales (Northern and Southern Residents) as a subspecies, making the Southern Residents a DPS of a subspecies — which, they argue, is illegal under the Endangered Species Act.

In response to NOAA’s status review, the Center for Biological Diversity, which fought the first legal battle over the listing, issued a news release saying that nothing has changed in the realm of science. The population qualifies as a DPS, because it is one of only a few to feed extensively on salmon; it has a unique dialect; and it is genetically unique.

Stated Sarah Uhlemann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity:

“It would be a tragedy to strip Washington’s most iconic species of protections. Only around 85 southern resident killer whales are left, and their Endangered Species Act listing is critical to the population’s recovery in Puget Sound.

“Nothing has changed in the science to show that orcas are faring any better or are somehow suddenly undeserving of endangered species protections. Although the agency’s decision to consider the delisting petition is unfortunate, the species’ status is unlikely to change as a result of the agency’s review, and these irreplaceable killer whales will almost certainly keep their protections.”

Other news stories on NOAA decision to review the listing:

Bill Sheets, The Herald, Everett: “Calif. farms challenge state orcas’ endangered status”

Linda Mapes, Seattle Times, “California farmers want orcas taken off endangered-species list”

Meanwhile, in terms of classifying orcas, there is an ongoing effort to include captive killer whales among the population listed as endangered. See Water Ways, Oct. 24, 2010.

And there’s a new story by Associated Press reporter Dan Joling, who writes about an effort to declare transient killer whales a new species and name them for the late Michael Bigg, a killer whale researcher who developed today’s common method for identifying individual orcas.

Amusing Monday: winning wildlife photos

I’m always pleased to present the winners of “National Wildlife” magazine’s annual photo contest. This year’s winning photos seem better than ever.

The magazine’s editors say they continue to be surprised by the quality of the entries — which reached 28,000 in the 2012 contest. And they were pleased to see expected and unexpected animal behaviors shown in the images.

To view the top winners and the stories behind the photos, go to the page “2012 Photo Contest Winners” on the National Wildlife Federation’s website.

The photo of the leopard seal and the baby penguin captures a moment after the seal ambushes the bird and starts playing with his food. The photographer, Amos Nachoum of San Francisco, had to hang out patiently under water to catch this and similar images.

The photo of sockeye salmon was captured when photographer David Hall of Woodstock, N.Y., tried to escape the swift current by taking refuge near a tree trunk. The stream is the Adams River of British Columbia.

Incoming and outgoing governors view Puget Sound

Gov. Chris Gregoire and her replacement, Jay Inslee, still have great hopes for the future health of Puget Sound, as I learned when I interviewed them separately in recent days.

I reserved some of the governor’s comments for a story that appeared in today’s Kitsap Sun titled “Human values count in Puget Sound recovery.”

Jim Barnes of Olympia partakes of an abundance of oysters at Twanoh State Park, which meets outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire’s call for beaches that are “swimmable, diggable and fishable.” / Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid

This is the first of an undetermined number of stories I’ll be writing over the next year or so dealing with ecosystem indicators. Indicators are selected measures to help us understand the pace of progress in restoring Puget Sound. I hope the upcoming stories will reveal something about the functioning of the ecosystem and how the various pieces fit together.

The first story today addresses human health and quality of life, which have always been a central focus of Chris Gregoire’s effort to make sure Puget Sound is “swimmable, diggable and fishable” for future generations.

“Things have not moved as quickly as I had hoped,” the governor told me, referring to efforts by the Puget Sound Partnership. “I thought we got off with a bang, including public engagement. Now, we are into the tough stuff.”

She recalled how, years ago, cleanup efforts focused on reducing industrial discharges. That includes the period from 1988 to 1992, when she served as director of the Washington Department of Ecology. Now most of the serious pollutants reach Puget Sound through stormwater runoff. The current effort is to reduce the volume of water flowing across the ground while eliminating a huge variety of pollutants at their source.

If you read the comments at the end of news stories regarding the Puget Sound Partnership, you could come to believe that the agency has a long way to go in convincing the average person that he or she is part of the problem. But many of the comments are made by cranky people who seem unlikely to be convinced of anything.

In general, most people really care about Puget Sound and simply need help in taking the right steps, according to surveys. In my story today, the partnership’s Dave Ward talks about an indicator that could help measure changes in human behavior.

As for Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, it is hard to tell how things will change under his leadership. He reminded me in our interview that he faces severe budget difficulties — and money certainly is a major factor in Puget Sound recovery. See my story in the Nov. 15 Kitsap Sun.

To the dismay of some opponents, Inslee has always been a strong advocate for the environment. That is not likely to change. He has been a leader on climate change and clean energy, and he has a deep-rooted passion for Puget Sound and the surrounding forests. I learned a good deal about his views a decade ago during an extended interview, which involved a hike through a roadless area in Olympic National Forest. See the Kitsap Sun story from May 19, 2002.

Gov. Chris Gregoire tours an oyster nursery near Shelton in October 2010.
Kitsap Sun file photo by Larry Steagall

While the governor-elect has no immediate plans to change the structure of the Puget Sound Partnership, he stressed that he wants to ensure that restoration projects are guided by science.

Gregoire said during our recent discussion that she would advise the incoming governor to keep up the pressure on the partnership, and she hoped that more funding will become available as the economy recovers.

In October 2010, if you recall, Gregoire emphasized the importance of maintaining Puget Sound programs, despite the financial crisis.

“We are in the hardest economic problem since the deep depression, but we cannot take a recess; we cannot take time out,” she said at that time during a tour of Belfair’s new sewage-treatment plant. See Kitsap Sun, Oct. 15.

In our recent discussion, the governor said she was not able to find as much money for Puget Sound as she had hoped. Here’s how she put it:

“We kept putting money in. We couldn’t let up. I kept pushing for ongoing funding, and we will have to continue to do that for awhile.

“I think we have held our own and made some improvement, but not the improvement we should have. The population continues to grow. We’re going to have to kick it up or we are going to lose ground. I’m not proud of the fact that we are kind of treading water right now.”

She said things are unlikely to get easier right away, because the state is still struggling with its budget. Furthermore, U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, a successful advocate for federal funding, is leaving office. Dicks was instrumental in putting Puget Sound on a national stage, on par with Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, Gregoire said. She expressed hope that the increased profile for Puget Sound will endure with the help of others in the state’s congressional delegation.

As Washington’s economy recovers, Chris Gregoire would like to see talks turn to a stable funding source, such as a “flush tax” on residents in the Puget Sound region. Another idea debated in the Legislature was a tax on oil and chemical products that could be used for stormwater improvements. Gregoire continues:

“There’s been a lot of talk about a flush tax. We have never really done the research on that. The last couple of years was no time to be thinking about that. We have demands on education and transportation. But we need a sustained reliable source of funding.

“And we need public support. Unless and until we get everyone engaged, we are not going to make it…. I think we are well on our way. Local communities are doing a lot of volunteer work. School groups are monitoring the environment….

“When the recession hit, I have to say, everybody’s attention got drawn away by other concerns: ‘Can I put food on the table? Am I going to lose my job?’

“Now we’ve got to find a better way. We have to have a bottoms-up approach. People must consider themselves part of the solution.”

Amusing Monday: 25 bits of word play

Puns have been called the lowest form of humor, I think, because there are so many bad puns hanging around.

Some puns, however, are at least as good as the most clever jokes. I talked about this last year in “Water Ways” during the annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championship.

Now, I’d like to share some water-related puns from the website “Pun of the Day.” I seem to hear a few groans already, but I’m hoping most people will like these.

1. If we don’t conserve water, we could go from one ex-stream to another.

2. All the waterfowl kept their eyes closed except for one. He was a Peking Duck.

3. A friend told me he dug a hole in my backyard and filled it with water. I thought he meant well.

4. For plumbers, a flush beats a full house.

5. The building inspector said whoever installed the water pipes was plumb loco.

6. The well-driller had a boring job.

7. An ex-sailor prefers to forget the days he spent playing cards in submarines, dismissing them as ‘so much bridge under the water’.

8. You would think that being a submarine captain would pay well, but I hear they can’t keep their heads above water.

9. I used to be a tap dancer until I fell into the sink.

10. There was a big paddle sale at the boat store. It was quite an oar deal. (Ron – Eldora, IA)

11. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft it sank. This proves once and for all that you can’t have your kayak and heat it, too.

12. The soundtrack for the killer whale movie was orcastrated.

13. The water department made a gallon-t effort to provide litre-ship during the drought.

14. A waterbed may just be the vinyl resting place.

15. Anyone hear about the dictionary that fell into the river? It was un-a-bridged.

16. The river crested when a factory spilled toothpaste into it.

17. To spot a glacier you have to have good ice sight.

18. When carrying your musical instrument over ice if you don’t C sharp you will B flat.

19. Swimming can be easy or hard. It deep-ends.

20. Those who jump off a Paris bridge are in Seine.

21. It’s raining cats and dogs. Well, as long as it doesn’t reindeer. (Juls – Sweden)

22. What keeps a dock floating above water? Pier pressure.

A few non-water puns:

23. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was ticketed for littering.

24. The little old woman who lived in a shoe wasn’t the sole owner. There were strings attached.

25. Police were called to a daycare where a three-year-old was resisting a rest.

First Olympic class ferry shares name with an orca

A female killer whale named Tokitae remains in an aquarium in Miami, but a future Washington state ferry will carry her name for years to come.

The Washington State Transportation Commission named two new ferries today, choosing Northwest Indian names. And both names — Tokitae and Samish — are associated with killer whales, said Howard Garrett of Orca Network, who attended the commission meeting. See the WDOT’s news release (PDF 29 kb).

Tokitae will be the name of the first Olympic Class ferry.
Rendering courtesy of Washington DOT

“I was reserving excitement until it happened,” Howie told me. “Then it was, ‘Wow, they really did this!’ I am reinvigorated with all the feeling of support.”

Garrett is leading an effort to return Tokitae — known in Miami as “Lolita” — to the waters of Puget Sound, where her extended family still lives. See “Proposal to retire the orca known as Lolita.”

He says naming the ferry could indirectly help the cause of relocating Lolita/Tokitae, although the action carries no endorsement of any kind.

“It demonstrates an understanding and awareness of her predicament, and it honors her and her family,” he said. “I think that goes a long way.”

The second ferry was named for “Samish,” which means “giving people.” It is the name of a tribe that once ranged from Northern Puget Sound into the Cascade Mountains. It’s also the name for J-14, a 38-year-old female orca who became a grandmother in August.

So, if the ferry Tokitae is named for an orca, where did the orca get her name?

The answer to that question goes back to 1970, when a veterinarian from Miami’s Seaquarium, Jesse White, came to Seattle to select an orca to be trained for public viewing.

“He had a couple to choose from, and he chose this young female,” explained his daughter, Lisa White Baler. “They really bonded right away.”

As Lisa tells it, her dad saw something special in the young whale and wanted a name that would fit the orca’s beauty, courage and gentleness.

“He was in a gift store, probably buying gifts for myself and my brother when he saw something with ‘Tokitae’ on it … and he decided that had to be her name.”

The Coast Salish greeting means, “nice day, pretty colors,” according to the ferry-naming proposal (PDF 68 kb) submitted by Orca Network.

When the young whale arrived in Miami, the owners of the aquarium decided to change her name to Lolita.

Howard Garrett says it was one way to divest the animal of her history, allowing people to believe that she was just taken off a shelf, not captured from the open waters of Puget Sound. As the story goes, the name Lolita was chosen because she would become the young bride of an older male killer whale named Hugo, also from Puget Sound. (Check out the Wikipedia summary of the Vladimir Nabokov novel.) The two orcas performed in shows together until Hugo died in 1980.

Lisa says her father, while serving as staff veterinarian, argued that the marine mammals at the aquarium needed bigger quarters. Later in life, her father got to know researcher Ken Balcomb, a San Juan Island resident who was studying the orca families. Dr. White came to support Lolita’s return to Puget Sound, according to Lisa.

Lisa, who was born in 1966, says she recently realized that she is the same age as Tokitae/Lolita, and she is especially thrilled for the ferry to be named after the whale.

“I grew up with her,” she said. “My father died in 1996, and so much of his legacy is left for me to deal with. I am thrilled and excited for all the people who have become Toki’s champions.”

In Miami, Lisa said, trainers still use the name “Tokitae” or “Toki” when working behind the scenes; she’s only “Lolita” for an audience. Some of the trainers signed the petition to name the ferry after her.

Lisa said she would like to visit Puget Sound when the new ferry is launched or at the time of an official naming ceremony. She says she feels a special pull to this area.

Howard Garrett says he reluctantly uses the name “Lolita” in his campaign to bring her back, because that is the name the public knows.

“Tokitae is her Northwest name,” he said, “and this (new ferry name) helps connect her to her family. The minute she touches her home waters, she loses ‘Lolita.’”

Amusing Monday: Unusual animal friendships

I’m intrigued by the unusual friendships that somehow develop between very different animals, such as the story of Owen, a baby hippo, and Mzee, a 130-year-old tortoise.

The baby hippo was found on a beach near Malindi, Kenya, following the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean. He was brought to Kenya’s Haller Park, where he was cared for and soon formed a bond with a giant tortoise. The story, which drew much attention at the time, is best told in the National Geographic video on this page.

You may recall that in February I featured a couple videos about an apparent friendship between a dog and a deer. See Amusing Monday for Feb. 13.

Other unusual pairings that I think you’ll find amusing:

Cat and crow: National Geographic

Orangutan and hound: National Geographic,
with musical version by bouju1

Deer and mother goose: WGRZ, Buffalo, N.Y.

Lioness and oryx: National Geographic

Cat and dolphin: n24our

Elephant and dog: National Geographic,
with CBS News — Assignment America

Gorilla and kitten: Kokoflix,
with Koko befriends a new kitten

Students ride the wind during salmon kayak tour

When 60 students from Central Kitsap High School took off in double kayaks to look for jumping salmon, they had no idea how the changing weather would make the trip more exciting.

Bill Wilson, who teaches environmental science, organized Tuesday’s trip on Dyes Inlet near Silverdale. Lead guide Spring Courtright of Olympic Outdoor Center shares the story in her words.

Reminder: Free stream tours from land are scheduled for Saturday. See the story I wrote for Tuesday’s Kitsap Sun.

Wind pushes the kayaks along, as 60 Central Kitsap High School students return to Silverdale Tuesday after watching jumping salmon. / Photos by Spring Courtright

By Spring Courtright
Program Director, Olympic Outdoor Center

At 9 a.m. on election day, anyone peering through the fog at Silverdale Waterfront Park would have seen 35 bright kayaks lined up on the beach and 60 high school students preparing to paddle.

Central Kitsap High School environmental science students study salmon in class, then are given the option to paddle with jumping salmon on an annual Salmon Kayak Tour with the Olympic Outdoor Center (OOC). For the last two years, 60 students have jumped on the opportunity.

This trip started about 10 years ago with about half that number of students. I have been one of the lead guides for nearly all of these tours. It’s always an adventure, but this year was one of the more memorable trips because of the beautiful clouds and quick change in weather.
Continue reading

If only whales could vote …

UPDATE, Nov. 13, 2012
We still don’t know much about the methods that campaigns use to persuade voters, including the mining of Facebook data. But ProPublica brings us some information in an article titled “Everything We Know (So Far) About Obama’s Big Data Tactics.” While this doesn’t have much to do with water issues, it certainly ties into the email that Susan Berta received on election day.
—–

Earlier today, Susan Berta of Orca Network received what appears to be a computer-generated email from President Obama’s campaign headquarters. The email, probably part of a final push for votes, has generated some election-day levity.

Here’s the message:

“Hey Susan — don’t wait a moment.
“Share this on Facebook with Lolita and xxxx — and tell them to vote today. They live in battleground states where, even at this time on Election Day, this is still anybody’s race. They’re more likely to vote if you remind them — and when the polls close, you’ll know you gave President Obama a nice last-minute lift.”

Lolita, of course, is the killer whale from Puget Sound who has spent most of her life in a tank in Miami’s Seaquarium. (See Water Ways, Oct. 24.) Florida is indeed a battleground state where both President Obama and Mitt Romney are looking for every vote they can get.

Susan probably received the message based on her personal Facebook page, where she is signed up as friends with numerous advocates who would like to bring Lolita back home to Puget Sound. Some people use the word “Lolita” in the name of their Facebook page dedicated to the whale. No doubt some computer made the connection between Susan and her “friend” Lolita, who is old enough to vote … if only she were human.

Susan told me she didn’t want to post anything political on Orca Network’s Facebook page, but she couldn’t resist sharing this email with a wider audience. I told her this isn’t political; it’s just funny.

Now, if whales were given the power of the ballot, what kind of voting block would they become? And how would candidates appeal to this minority group?

Killer Whale Tales helps kids connect to nature

I’ve been wanting to write about Jeff Hogan’s Killer Whale Tales for years now, but we’ve never managed to mesh schedules during one of his classroom visits to Kitsap County.

Olalla Elementary students examine a cast of a killer whale skull following a presentation by Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales.
Kitsap Sun photo by Meegan M. Reid.

“Go for it,” I told Kitsap Sun reporter Chris Henry when she learned that Jeff would be at Olalla Elementary School in South Kitsap. That’s where Chris serves as our “regional reporter” and recently added education to the list of issues she covers.

Chris did a nice job explaining Jeff Hogan’s educational program, his background and his hope to use students as “citizen scientists.” Check out the story she wrote for Sunday’s Kitsap Sun.

Jeff has been encouraging students to monitor hydrophones in our local waters and report observations of orca calls through the Salish Sea Hydrophone Network and Orcasound, which has its own wonderful educational program. Young and old alike can have fun trying to identify specific calls that killer whales make. To play the game, access the practice page on the Orcasound website.

To his credit, Jeff is generous with his classroom materials, including eight work sheets teachers and parents can download from his website. Using these worksheets, kids can outline a family tree as it relates to an orca pod, puzzle over a “word search” related to killer whales, create a “blubber glove” to see how whales stay warm, track the movements of killer whales in Puget Sound and more.

The sounds of one of Hogan’s classroom visits was captured by Irene Noguchi when she worked at KUOW public radio in 2009. Check out the video posted on YouTube.