Boaters, kayakers, etc.: Please take heed and be safe out on the water

With the weather warming up and opening day of boating season just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to mourn for those who have lost their lives in boating accidents.

A kayak adrift near Vashon Island raised alarms for the Coast Guard on March 31.
Photo: Coast Guard, 13th District

More importantly, I would like to share some information about boating safety, because I keep thinking about Turner Jenkins, the 31-year-old visitor from Bathesda, Md., who lost his life in January when his kayak tipped over at the south end of Bainbridge Island. (See Kitsap Sun and Bathesda Magazine.)

Every year, it seems, one or more people lose their lives in the frigid waters of Puget Sound — often because they failed to account for the temperature of the water; the winds, waves and currents; or their own skills under such conditions. An Internet search reveals a long list of tragedies in our region and throughout the country.

This warning is not to scare people away from the water. I will even tell you how to enjoy Opening Day events at the end of this blog post. I can assure you that my own life would be much poorer if I chose to never be on, near or under the water. But for those who venture forth in boats, you must do so with your eyes wide open to the dangers — especially if your craft is a paddleboard, kayak, canoe or raft.

So let’s go over the “Five Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety,” according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Click on each one for details:

  1. Always wear your PFD
  2. Always dress for the water temperature
  3. Field test your gear
  4. Swim test your gear
  5. Imagine the worst that can happen

While gathering information for this blog post, I spoke to Susan Tarbert, who manages West Marine in Bremerton. She told me that it is impossible to predict your body’s reaction to cold water until you are plunged into that bone-chilling situation.

Kayakers near Port Gamble
Photo: Kitsap Sun

“There are all kinds of things that you think you will do, but you just don’t know,” Susan told me.

She said she was out on Puget Sound in a boat with her husband when she leaned up against a gate on the boat’s rail. It was a gate that was always locked — until this time, she said. She splashed down into the water, wearing a heavy coat and boots.

“As my husband pulled me up, he said, ‘Don’t you know the first thing you do is take off your boots?’ Yes, I know,” Susan responded. “But when it happens, you are so cold that you just want out. Falling in the water is not what you think it will be.”

Since then, Susan has been spreading the word about being aware of the risks while having fun on the water.

Because everyone reacts to cold water differently, one of the suggestions mentioned in the “rules” above is to swim-test your gear before going out in a small watercraft. That means putting on whatever clothing you plan to wear on the water and jump right into the shallows, or tip over your boat under controlled conditions. The more you can do to prepare, the better off you will be if something goes wrong. For additional info, read Ocean Kayak’s “Basic Safety Tips.”

Because of the dangers of cold water, the Coast Guard automatically launches a search for a missing person whenever someone reports an unoccupied boat of any size floating on the water. That includes surfboards and paddleboards. KIRO-TV reporter Deedee Sun describes the problem in the video below, which can be viewed full-screen.

Coast Guard alarms went off on Sunday, March 31, when a Washington State Ferries captain reported a kayak adrift between Vashon Island and West Seattle. A Coast Guard crew began a search, which could have gone on for awhile except that a group of campers called in a report. It turned out that the kayak was one of five that had drifted away from the shore of Blake Island, where six kayakers had been camping. Check out the news release from the Coast Guard’s 13th District.

Even in Hawaii, drifting surfboards and kayaks frequently lead to the dispatching of boats, helicopters and shoreline search teams, based on the outside chance that someone may be in danger — even when there are no reports of missing persons. See the Honolulu Star Advertiser from April 2 and The Maui News from March 27.

Every year before boating season, the Coast Guard sends out news releases to encourage people to label their watercraft with names and phone numbers at a minimum.

“Every unmanned-adrift vessel is treated as a potential distress situation, which takes up valuable time, resources and manpower,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brook Serbu, command center chief for the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle. “When the craft is properly labeled, the situation can often be quickly resolved with a phone call to the vessel owner, which minimizes personnel fatigue and negative impacts on crew readiness.”

The Coast Guard usually takes possession of drifting vessels. If the owner can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time, a vessel may be destroyed or turned over to the state for disposal, according to the latest news release.

The Coast Guard promotes the use of special identification stickers made available through the Coast Guard Auxiliary. I have had trouble the past few years getting hold of anyone in the Auxiliary who can provide the stickers, and my pleas for the Coast Guard to provide a simple email address or phone number have gone unheeded.

Auxiliary officials generally provide the Coast Guard’s orange “If found … “ stickers to outdoor recreation stores, but there seems to be a backlog of requests to get them at the moment, according to Susan Tarbert of West Marine. She still has a supply, however, of the Coast Guard’s silver “Paddle Responsibly” checklist, which has a place for a name and phone number. Both stickers contain adhesive on the back to attach to the inside of a kayak.

Susan also recommends sticking reflective circles on your paddles to help power boaters spot paddlers in low-light conditions. The movement of the paddles sends out a noticeable signal, she said. All the stickers, as well as informative brochures, are provided free, and officials with the local Coast Guard Auxiliary visit the stores to restock the materials.

Doug Luthi, manager of West Marine in Gig Harbor, says he has both stickers on hand. Drew Pennington, who manages the Olympic Outdoor Center store in Poulsbo, said he expects his supply to be restocked soon.

As for the fun part of boating, anyone can enjoy Opening Day, whether or not you have a boat or even know someone with a boat. Seattle Yacht Club leads the tradition that dates back to the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 2013. Besides the boats that pass through the Ballard Locks and join the Parade of Boats in the ship canal, visitors can watch crew races, a sailboat race and other festivities.

Visit the Seattle Yacht Club’s “Opening Day” website for a complete schedule of events, which officially begin Wednesday, April 1.

Amusing Monday: “Just for Laughs: Gags” seen in more than 100 countries

Whether you think “Just for Laughs: Gags” is hilarious or inane, the hidden-camera pranks have been viewed in more than 100 countries around the world. They are even shown on airline flights between countries.

Since nobody talks in the videos, no translation is needed. At the beginning of each video segment, actors show the viewers what they plan to do to their unsuspecting victims. At the end, the pranksters introduce themselves, and the cameras are revealed.

The “Just for Laughs: Gags” webpage on YouTube contains an estimated 2,000 videos showing practical jokes of all kinds, mostly performed on city streets. (I gave up counting the number of videos about halfway through, and it would be near-impossible to figure out the number of page views.) For this blog post, I’ve chosen four water-related bits.

The original “Just for Laughs” is the name given to a comedy festival held each year in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Founded in 1983 by Canadian Gilbert Rozon, it is the largest and most important comedy show in the world, according to a 2007 story in The Guardian. (For more history, see Wikipedia.)

“Just for Laughs: Gags” borrowed the familiar name in 2000, when producers launched a new television prank show based on “Candid Camera.” It was shown first on the French Canadian television network Channel D and was later picked up by networks based in the United Kingdom, France, the U.S. and about 30 other countries. (Wikipedia)

For my taste, a few of these videos at a time is enough, but they are so ubiquitous on YouTube that you are likely to run into them at any time. Be careful or you will find yourself going down a rabbit hole and coming back with a few hours missing from your life.

Some people are perplexed that anyone would enjoy these videos. Keyan Gray Tomaselli, a South African communication professor, author and media critic, called the series “inane” in his book about cultural tourism after he watched some segments on a commercial flight. He also noted in his book that his comment elicited an apology from a Canadian friend of his.

But other people have praised the universal appeal of this type of humor, which harkens back to the days of silent films and slapstick comedy.

Major Ray Wiss, a Canadian soldier who wrote about his two tours in Afghanistan, said building a relationship with Afghan soldiers took more than just eating and playing cards with them. Television really broke the ice, he said, noting that “for pure social connection” there was nothing like “JFL: Gags.”

“The Afghans got the jokes and laughed as hard as I did,” Wiss wrote. “Yes, these people are different from us. But they are far less different than many would believe.” See the excerpt from “A Line in the Sand: Canadians at War in Kandahar.”

Female orca in declining health shows amazing signs of recovery

The killer whale J-17, known as Princess Angeline, seems to have made a remarkable recovery since December, when the 42-year-old female was diagnosed with “peanut head” — an indicator of malnutrition that almost always leads to death.

Princess Angeline, J-17, in Admiralty Inlet Sunday
Photo: Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research
Federal permits: NMFS 21238 / DFO SARA 388

Now Princess Angeline looks much better and shows few signs of that dire condition, said Ken Balcomb, director of the Center for Whale Research who got a good look at her Sunday when J pod came into Puget Sound.

“Since New Year’s Eve, J-17 has fared much better than we expected,” Ken told me. “They must have found some winter food up in Georgia Strait.”

At one point, Ken had said it would be a “miracle” if she were ever seen again.

Her current condition does not mean that she is no longer at risk. In March, her terribly bad breath suggested an underlying medical problem, perhaps beyond the lack of food.

J pod, one of the three southern resident killer whale pods, typically spends most of the winter in the northern part of the Salish Sea in British Columbia. The whales sometimes cross the Canadian border to check out food availability in Puget Sound.

The orcas prefer to eat chinook salmon, although they occasionally eat other fish. Younger chinook, known as blackmouth, can be found in inland waters during the winter, but they are smaller and provide less energy for the amount of effort it takes to catch them.

Ken observed that J pod seemed to be catching blackmouth in Admiralty Inlet when he watched them on Sunday. Read his full report at the Center for Whale Research website.

Anglers were reportedly catching fair numbers of blackmouth in the Kingston-Edmonds region, where the orcas were seen Sunday, according to Puget Sound creel reports. Foraging by the orcas was noticed by many whale observers, according to the latest whale-sightings report from Orca Network.

“Sunday turned out to be more wonderful than we could have hoped when Js/L87 made their way north and foraged all day in glassy calm seas in the great wide open between Edmonds, South Whidbey, and the Kitsap Peninsula,” wrote Alisa Lemire Brooks, who compiled an extensive report of minute-by-minute sightings. “Perhaps there wasn’t enough salmon to entice a longer stay, since they showed up off the west side of San Juan Island the following morning.”

If Princess Angeline has overcome her malnourished condition, it would be truly welcome news. The critically endangered southern residents, with 75 animals, are close to the lowest population observed since many were captured for the aquarium trade during the 1960s and ‘70s. “Peanut head” describes the shape of an orca’s head when a severe loss of blubber creates an indention behind the blowhole.

Princess Angeline, named after the daughter of Chief Seattle, is the mother of Tahlequah, or J-35, a 21-year-old orca mom who became heartbreakingly famous for carrying her dead calf on her head for 17 days. Tahlequah herself has remained relatively healthy.

Another whale showing peanut head last year was K-25, a 28-year-old male named Scoter. He lost his mother, K13 or Skagit, in 2017. Males who lose their mothers often struggle to survive. K pod has not been observed lately, so Scoter’s status is unknown.

L pod visits Monterey Bay on March 31.
Video: Monterey Bay Whale Watch

The importance of the orcas’ social networks, including the sharing of salmon, is described nicely in an article written by Sarah DeWeerdt and published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the Kitsap Sun.

Meanwhile, L pod traveled down the coast to Monterey Bay, Calif., where the whales seemed to be catching chinook from the Sacramento River, according to reports from March 31. Alisa Schulman-Janiger, co-founder of the California Killer Whale Project, was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News:

“They go wherever they can find Chinook salmon…,” she said. “We know they aren’t getting enough food; we know that they’re struggling; and we’re seeing some whales that are skinnier …. This year is a good year for salmon in Monterey Bay…. It’s just great to know that this is a habitat that can still provide them with food.”

Fishing guides, including Monterey Bay Charters, were reporting good fishing when targeting salmon.

The newest calf in the southern resident population, designated L-124, was seen alive and apparently healthy among the whales in Monterey Bay. The calf, who was born in January and called “Lucky” by Ken Balcomb, is the third calf for L-77, a 32-year-old female named Matia. Her first calf survived only a short time, but her second calf, L-119 named Joy, seems to be doing well.

It will be interesting to see when the whales all show up together in Puget Sound this year. J pod tends to pop in and out of Puget Sound all winter, while K and L pods often travel up and down the Washington Coast, sometimes as far as northern California, as L pod did this year. Years ago, the whales all got together in late May or June, staying around the San Juan Islands most of the summer.

In recent years, their movements have become less predictable. Last year, none of the pods showed up during the entire month of May — something that has never happened before, at least not since the first observations were recorded in the early 1970s. See Water Ways, June 29, 2018.

In contrast to the fish-eating southern resident orcas, the transient orcas, which eat marine mammals, have been seen more and more in Puget Sound. An apparent abundance of harbor seals and California sea lions seem to be feeding them well, both in North and South Puget Sound.

As I’ve often reported, transients are the unknowing allies of the endangered southern residents, since they reduce the population of seals and sea lions, which prey upon the salmon that are so important to the residents.

In Canada, Gary Sutton, a captain with the whale-watching company Ocean Ecoventures, counted eight groups of transients in the same area of Georgia Strait on Sunday. If all the individuals in the groups can be confirmed with IDs, it would be a total 41 transients, a possible record aggregation, he says.

“A LOT of socializing ensued with tons of spyhops and vocals,” Gary said in a report to Orca Network. “I managed to capture the majority of them on camera and a few visual IDs.”

As for the southern residents, reporter Simone Del Rosario of Q13 Fox News comes to a provocative and unwelcome conclusion, based on her extensive research for a five-part television series.

“I’ve spent the past year analyzing this question: Is this the last generation of southern resident orcas?

“I’ve looked at the threats to their survival: the lack of prey; contaminants; and vessel disturbance. I’ve interviewed the foremost experts in this field and pressed the politicians who have the power to make a change. I’ve traveled across the state and even to Canada learning about solutions and meeting the people who are pushing them forward.

“A year later, I’ve come to a conclusion, and it’s one I don’t make lightly. There is no question: This is the last generation. Humans — who are responsible for putting these mammals in such a critical state — need to act now if there’s any chance at turning around the killer whales’ decline.”

And so, in effect, she actually leaves the door open for humans to make the changes needed to save the whales. I recommend the series, which can be viewed from five video players on the webpage “The last generation: southern resident orcas in danger of extinction.”

I first confronted the possibility of extinction two years ago in a Water Ways blog post that includes an interview with Ken Balcomb. That was before the death of Scarlet, or J-50, and before a newborn orca calf died to be carried around by its mom. It was before the formation of the governor’s Killer Whale Task Force and the resulting legislation being debated in Olympia.

My question: How long can the orcas remain on the edge of extinction? Or, if I’m feeling optimistic: How long MUST the orcas remain on the edge of extinction?

Amusing Monday: Eco-comedy videos have gotten edgier than ever

Amateur video producers seem to have grown darker and more intense in dealing with the topic of climate change — even when their task is to create a humorous video. At least that seems to be a trend in this year’s Eco-Comedy Video Competition, a trend I mentioned last week in Water Ways with respect to stand-up comedy.

Winners were recently announced in the annual Eco-Comedy competition, a contest that challenged people to create a two-or three-minute video about climate change while using humor to engage their audience. Sponsors were the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University in Washington, D.C., and The Nature Conservancy.

The competition was open to anyone, with four categories available for entries: kindergarten-eighth grade, high school, college, and nonstudent. More than 250 entries were submitted for this year’s contest.

Judges included Bethany Hall, comedian-in-residence at AU’s Center for Media and Social Impact, and Keith Haskal, producer for Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”.

“Office Fish,” shown in the first video, is a provocative piece about the migration of species brought about by shifting ecosystems as a result of climate change. The short film, which was the winner in the college category, was directed by Benjamin Vornehm of the University of Television and Film in Munich, Germany, with photography under the direction of Alexander Dirninger.

“Climate Change is Real” shows a rapper getting in the faces of young students. The film, second on this page, was produced and directed by Jake Rasmussen and was written and performed by Tom McGovern. Rasmussen is an independent filmmaker who has worked for VICE Media.

Links to all of this year’s winners, along with grand prize winners from previous years, can be found on the Eco-Comedy website.

Kitsap weather shifts to unusual patterns over past three months

“Average, very average.” That’s how things were going for the first quarter of Water Year 2019, which began in October and ran through the end of last year (Water Ways, Jan. 4). But the second quarter, which began in January, presented an uncharacteristic upheaval, as various portions of the Kitsap Peninsula went their own way.

We’ve talked before about how Southwest Kitsap typically has twice the rainfall as North Kitsap. But even the patterns of rainfall have been different the past three months, and you can’t compare these areas to anywhere else. Let’s take them one at a time:

Hansville: Representing the north end of the peninsula, Hansville received 2.5 inches of precipitation in January, well below the 4.4-inch average for the month. February followed with a little below average, 2.8 compared to 3.2 inches. Like January, March was quite low, with 1.1 inches compared to a 3.5-inch average. In the first chart (click to enlarge), you can see this water year’s rainfall total (blue line) slipping below average (pink line).

Silverdale: Representing Central Kitsap, Silverdale received 5.9 inches of rain in January, somewhat below the 7.2-inch average. The gap widened in February, when 3.4 inches of rain fell — below the average 4.9 inches. In March, the 0.8 inches of precipitation was even below dry Hansville’s 1.1 inches and way below 5.6 inches — the March average for Silverdale. In the second chart (click to enlarge), this water year’s rainfall has fallen below the average (pink line) and even below last year’s below-average precipitation (orange line).

Holly: Representing Southwest Kitsap, Holly was about average for January, with 11.6 inches of rain compared to an average of 12.8. But if the gap was wide between February’s rainfall and the monthly average in Silverdale, it was wider in Holly, where the 4.2 inches of rainfall was just half of the 8.3-inch monthly average. And rainy Holly just about dried up in March, when the area seemed more like the north end during a drought. The 1.2 inches of precipitation that fell on Holly in March was just 13 percent of the average 9.1-inches. The chart (click to enlarge) shows the drop from about average to well below average in just two months.

I can’t easily describe the mixed pattern across the Kitsap Peninsula, but the lack of rainfall is part of an overall picture for Western Washington, which has been officially declared “abnormally dry” on the Drought Monitor managed by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. As you can see on the map, the entire region was below 50 percent of average rainfall for March.

The drought picture could change quickly with anticipated April showers — actually RAIN — that should arrive late tonight or tomorrow morning throughout the region, according to the latest forecast by the National Weather Service. Rain is expected through Saturday, when the weather changes to mostly cloudy with a continuing chance of showers through next Tuesday.

Weak El Nino conditions are expected to continue in our area throughout the spring and into summer, bringing warmer- and drier-than-average conditions to the Northwest, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s ENSO Adviser and the State Climatologist’s Office.

Amusing Monday: Climate-change comedy grows more intense

The growing urgency of climate change is altering the nature of comedy among those who tell jokes for a living. I’ve noticed a greater intensity in the satire, as warnings from scientists become more specific about the imposing reality of climate change.

Rachel Parris of the BBC’s “Mash Report” discusses this dire topic in a most cheerful way, as you can see in the first video.

“Some of you have been asking, ‘Rachel, all this feels kind of inevitable,’” Rachel says in the video. “’Would it be better if we just give up and let the world burn? Who really needs birds and trees? I’d rather just be taking pictures of my own face.’”

Maybe the damage would be less, Rachel continues, if we all went limp and “floppy” like a drunk person falling out of a window.

Climate-change comedy used to be mostly jabs about higher temperatures and rising oceans. When he hosted “The Tonight Show,” Jay Leno would toss out one-liners about what would happen if the Earth continued to warm beyond 2015: “Hillary Clinton might actually thaw out.”

Reader’s Digest once suggested new names for cities when the polar ice caps melt, names such as “Atlantis City, New Jersey.”

Mary Pols, a reporter for the Press Herald in Portland, Maine, uncovered the Leno and Reader’s Digest jokes and others while touching on the history of climate-change comedy. Her story focused mostly on a local man, Jason Wentworth, who gave up his green laundry business to launch a career in comedy, focusing on climate change. He has even set up a Go-Fund-Me account to get started, as seen in the last video on this page.

Jason’s routine often targets his own audience with jokes about the failure of people to address climate change on an individual level. I would think this would leave audience members feeling at least a bit uncomfortable. Here’s one of Jason’s jokes cited by Mary Pols:

“So many people say, ‘I would ride public transit more, but it is so inconvenient.’ My response is, ‘Have you tried it?’ I want to talk about how inconvenient it is to row Grandma in a canoe to a Red Cross center after a hurricane and then return to your house to rip out wet sheetrock. Or if you live in Paradise, California, it is super inconvenient.”

“Weekend Update” on “Saturday Night Live” sharpened its approach after dire warnings came out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as you can see in the second video.

“We don’t really worry about climate change, because it is too overwhelming, and we’re already in too deep,” says co-host Colin Jost. “It’s like if you owe your bookie a thousand dollars, you’re like, “Oh yeah, I gotta pay this dude back.’ But if you owe your bookie a million dollars, you’re like, ‘I guess I’m just gonna die!’”

It seems some of the late-night hosts are becoming less humorous about climate change and more direct in their sarcasm. I featured video clips from Stephen Colbert’s show in Water Ways in February. The third video on this page is a clip from “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” who has always found the right sarcastic voice for his news-based commentaries.

Climate Sense: I have a question about this blog, plus Senate debate video

I would like to ask a question about this blog before pivoting to the debate over the Green New Deal.

Item 1: The future of this “Climate Sense” feature

It’s the end of March and the end of the first quarter of 2019. I thought this would be a good time to assess the success or failure of my weekly list of stories related to climate change.

The intent of “Climate Sense,” as I mentioned at the start of the year, is simply to share some of the important research, political developments, fascinating viewpoints or inspiring opinions that I come across during my reading.

So is anybody reading these blog posts? And, more to the point, is anybody getting any value from them?

These are questions that I would like every reader to answer, especially if you believe these weekly blog posts are worthwhile. You can comment in the comment section below or send me a private email at ChrisBDunagan@gmail.com. I’m always open to suggestions — even more in this moment, as I ponder the future of this series.

Your comments will determine whether I keep this going as is, change it in some way or drop it entirely. So please take a moment, if only to say “Keep it” or “Drop it.” Thank you.

Here are the “Climate Sense” blog entries to date:

Item 2: Green New Deal on the Senate floor

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, apparently thought he would embarrass Democrats by forcing a vote on the Green New Deal, which calls for massive changes to reduce greenhouse gases. Most Democrats voted “present,” but the floor debate became a rare chance to discuss climate change in the Senate — and now many Republicans are acknowledging that something needs to be done. Will this make a difference?

Reporter Marianne Lavelle offers a pretty good summary of what happened for Inside Climate News
https://insideclimatenews.org/news/25032019/green-new-deal-senate-vote-mcconnell-climate-change-policy

Here is what our two Democratic senators and Alaskan Republican Lisa Murkowski had to say on the Senate floor:

Celebrate Earth Hour tonight by taking time to discuss the future

Earth Hour, which celebrates the connections among people throughout the world, happens tonight between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time, when participants turn off their lights for an hour.

What each of us does with that hour is a personal decision, but it is a great time for families to get together and have some fun, with at least a passing discussion of the environmental issues that concern us.

People in more than 180 countries are participating this year in Earth Hour, according to the website of the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund), which started the event in 2007.

“Earth Hour 2019 is a powerful opportunity to start an unstoppable movement … to help secure an international commitment to stop and reverse the loss of nature,” Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said in a news release.

For many, turning off the lights is a symbolic commitment, a first step on the road to mass change. People in some countries have gotten together to set specific goals. People in Ecuador, for example, are pushing for a legal ban on certain plastics; Finland is encouraging a move toward healthier, sustainable foods; Morocco is educating people about saving water; and Indonesia is encouraging its youth to adopt greener lifestyles, according to organizers.

As I post this, Earth Hour is underway in India and already over in Australia and most of Asia.

Getting kids involved is part of the fun and education of the event. I thought the magazine “Chicago Parent” had some good ideas for involving young children with answers to a series of questions they might ask. Here’s a couple of them:

Why are the lights out?
“There are millions of people around the city and the world who want to make sure that we take care of planet Earth because it’s our home. Turning off the lights for an hour is called Earth Hour. It’s a celebration of our planet and a time for us to think about what we can all do to help protect it. Turning off the lights saves electricity and water, and saving resources like that is good for the planet.”

Should we turn off the lights every night then?
“Nope, not necessarily. This is what’s called “symbolic gesture.” We need to use electricity to get things done at night, and during the day, too. But if we are mindful about using electricity, water and other resources only when we need to and not using them or turning them off when we do not need them, that helps. We can be better about turning out the lights for a few minutes at a time, and eventually, that will add up.”

The Space Needle is one of Seattle’s landmarks scheduled to go dark tonight.
Photo: Doug Irvine, ©WWF Aus

Since the beginning, Earth Hour has been celebrated by those who control some of the world’s most-famous landmarks, from the Space Needle in Seattle to the Empire State Building in New York, Tower Bridge in London and Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Other landmarks in Seattle that have gone dark in the past (I’m not sure about this year) include Key Arena, the Museum of Pop Culture (formerly Experience Music Project), Pacific Science Center, Showbox at the Market (downtown Seattle), Showbox SoDo. 1201 Third Avenue (formerly Washington Mutual tower) and University of Washington Tower, according to a story by KIRO-TV news.

Earth Hour is a partnership between WWF and the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. Check out the Connect2Earth platform.

Sponsor of state oil-spill-prevention bill recalls Exxon Valdez disaster

State Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow, grew up in the small town of Yakutat, Alaska, where her entire family and most of her friends hunted and fished, following Native American traditions passed down from their ancestors.

Rep. Lekanoff carries with her that indelible perspective, as she goes about the business of law-making. Like all of us, her personal history has shaped the forces that drive her today. Now, as sponsor of House Bill 1578, she is pushing hard for a law to help protect Puget Sound from a catastrophic oil spill.

KTVA, the CBS affiliate in Anchorage, presented a program Sunday on the 30th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. // Video: KTVA-TV

In 1989, Debra, a member of the Tlinget Tribe, was about to graduate from high school when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, some 220 miles northwest of her hometown. The spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil ultimately killed an estimated 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and up to 22 killer whales, along with untold numbers of fish and crabs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (PDF 11.5 mb). That was 30 years ago this past Sunday.

After graduation, many of Debra’s classmates went to the disaster area and took jobs picking up dead and dying animals covered in oil. While Debra did not visit the devastation, she listened to the terrible stories and read letters written by her friends.

“These were boys who grew up hunting and fishing,” she said. “They knew the importance of natural resources. I can only imagine how they felt picking up the dead animals. We lost a whole pod of orcas from that spill, and today you can still turn over the rocks and find oil underneath.”

The Exxon Valdez oil spill “woke up the state of Alaska” to the devastating threats posed by oil transport, she said, and it triggered an ongoing investment in oil-spill prevention.

Lekanoff moved to Washington state, where she graduated from Central Washington University and eventually went to work for the Swinomish Tribe in North Puget Sound, where she works as government affairs director.

Last year, she was selected by Gov. Jay Inslee to serve on the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, trying to find ways to save the critically endangered orcas from extinction. One measure promoted by the task force — and supported by outside studies — was to take additional steps to reduce the risks of an accident involving a tanker or barge.

Debra tells me she has one word that guides her views on the subject of oil transportation: “prevention-prevention-prevention,” which reinforces the idea of redundancy. Tug escorts and “rescue tugs” for oil tankers and barges are part of the redundancy called for in HB 1578. Other recommendations from the Department of Ecology include extra personnel aboard the vessels to watch out for developing conditions.

Computer models can be used to calculate the risks of a catastrophic oil spill in Puget Sound, something I recently wrote about for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound. But the real world does not run on computer models. So it becomes difficult to decide how much risk is acceptable when considering the potential loss of incalculable values, such as fish, wildlife and the Northwest lifestyle.

Rep. Lekanoff, 48, who was first elected to the Legislature last year, said Washington state needs to move away from a pollution-based economy, which has already decimated a vast abundance of salmon while pushing our cherished orcas to the brink of extinction.

The Skagit River in North Puget Sound is the only river left in the Lower 48 states able to sustain all five species of salmon, she said, and now even that river is threatened by proposed mining operations and changing streamflows caused by climate change.

Lekanoff said she sees her role as a person who can build strong relationships between the state, federal and tribal governments to protect and restore natural resources in our region.

“We need to build a better future for the generations to come,” she told me, and that requires looking past short-term gains to consider the long-term results of legislative actions.

As sponsor of HB 1578, a bill drafted and heavily promoted by the Governor’s Office, Lekanoff said the challenge has been to engage with various interest groups, share scientific information and seek out common interests.

“This bill,” she said, “is a clear example of what we can do together. We needed everyone at the table.”

For tanker traffic traveling through Rosario Strait near the San Juan Islands, Lekanoff’s bill would require tug escorts for vessels over 5,000 deadweight tons along with studies to determine what other measures are needed. Currently, tug escorts come into play only for tanker ships over 40,000 deadweight tons, and there are no escort requirements for barges of any size.

The next step will be to get everyone at the table again to discuss the risks of tanker traffic traveling through Haro Straight, a prime feeding ground for orcas in the San Juan Islands, Lekanoff said. Prevention-prevention-prevention — including the potential of tug escorts — will again be a primary topic of discussion.

Lekanoff’s bill passed the House March 7 on a 70-28 vote and moved out of the Senate Committee on Environment, Energy and Technology on Tuesday. The bill will make a stop at the Senate Ways and Means Committee before going to the floor for a vote by all senators.

Amusing Monday: Citizen scientists lend their eyes and ears

Just about anyone interested in becoming a citizen scientist can participate in real-life research projects by connecting with Zooniverse, a website that has been expanding and refining its projects since I first wrote about it in Water Ways in 2017.

Zooniverse enlists the power of many people to analyze raw data of various kinds. As a participant, you sit down at your computer and follow instructions to make observations about nature, history, art, language or other fields of your choosing.

“The major challenge of 21st century research is dealing with the flood of information we can now collect about the world around us,” says the description on the Zooniverse webpage. “Computers can help, but in many fields the human ability for pattern recognition — and our ability to be surprised — makes us superior.”

The accumulation of human observations from a Zooniverse project can be used to actually train computers to make the observations, which ultimately speeds up the process of data analysis even more.

“With our wide-ranging and ever-expanding suite of projects, covering many disciplines and topics across the sciences and humanities, there’s a place for anyone and everyone to explore, learn and have fun in the Zooniverse,” states the description. “To volunteer with us, just go to the Projects page, choose one you like the look of, and get started.”

“These projects produce science,” declares Chris Lintott, professor of astrophysics and the citizen science lead at Oxford University, (at 7:14 into the first video on this page.) “But that’s not the interesting thing about it…. What’s interesting are the people who are participating — a half-million people or so who are registered with the Zooniverse…

“These aren’t people who are already science fans…, nor are they science-phobic. They’re the kind of people who, if they are reading the Metro and there’s a science story, would read it. But they wouldn’t buy “New Scientist.”

While the people participating in Zooniverse contribute to real science projects, they are also learning about cutting-edge science, Lintott says, going on to describe what he knows about the participants.

Here are a few projects that caught my attention:

Floating forests

Giant kelp, a fast-growing seaweed considered critical habitat for many marine species, changes its growth patterns from year to year. Citizen scientists are needed to interpret satellite images, because so far computers are unable to determine the edges of kelp beds from Landsat photos.

“These satellites photograph the entire surface of the earth every 16 days and have been doing so since 1984,” states the description of the project. “When one of our project scientists first began working with these images, he had hoped he could just throw the hundreds of thousands of images into some image classification software, and have the software tell him where kelp was located.

“There’s just one problem: Landsat was not designed to be able to see kelp. Kelp’s reflectance signature (the color of light that it reflects) is just at the edge of the camera’s detection abilities. Because of this, kelp and something as simple as the glint of sun off of a wave look the same to a computer.

“But to a person, the shapes and patterns of kelp forests are fairly obvious. That’s where you come in. By tracing patches of kelp, you can do a far more accurate job than a computer, helping to process this mountain of data!”

Penguin Watch

As described by Chris Lintott in the first video, Penguin Watch asks observers to identify adult and baby penguins from images taken with remote, unmanned cameras that automatically take pictures of penguin colonies over time.

“Currently, there are numerous serious threats to marine predators in the Southern Ocean: namely climate change, fisheries and direct human disturbance,” states a description of the project. “However, despite over a hundred years of study in the region, we have little baseline information against which to measure change…

“Camera technology affords us the ability to deploy terminator-style biologists (they don’t sleep, they don’t eat) in hard-to-reach areas, or in places where human presence might disturb wildlife and therefore disrupt their behavior. By establishing a camera network in the Southern Ocean … we hope to capture novel behaviors and study penguin populations that have never before been observed owing to their remote locations.”

Other projects you might find interesting:

Seabird Watch, a project that classifies seabirds in remote locations

Cedar Creek Eyes on the Wild, a project that identifies animals and their interactions at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve north of Minneapolis, Minn.

Manatee Chat, a project that classifies the sounds that manatees make in an effort to identify calls related to communications.