Leave It All for Generation Y Me?

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Yesterday afternoon my wife and I were out on our covered porch watching the thermometer climb toward 90*, taking advantage of the oppressive heat to hang laundry out to dry, when we realized a loaf of fresh bread was about ready to enjoy.

We had been talking about the life-crushing impacts of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) and she said, “Ahh, fresh bread, one of life’s little pleasures left for us.” I said, “I think there will still be a few pleasures left for us in this world in the near future, although it sounds like all the shit’s really going to come down for the next generation—whatever they’re going to be called. Let’s see, we had the Baby Boomers, the Now Generation, the Me Generation, Generation X, and I vaguely remember hearing something about follow-up generations Y and Z.

She offered, “How about ‘Generation Y me?’”? I laughed and said, “Well, that one sure fits better that anything I’ve heard yet. After all, they’re the ones who are really going to have to deal with the changes wrought by ACD.”

In case those who vote on such things haven’t come up with a new nick name so far, I hereby petition that the next group of humans born should be labeled, “Generation Y me?”

A child born today may live to see humanity’s end

http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2015/06/18/a-child-born-today-may-live-to-see-humanitys-end-unless/

Humans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, said the late Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, one of the leaders in the effort to eradicate smallpox during the 1970s. He blamed overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change.

Fenner’s prediction, made in 2010, is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway. When the G7 called on Monday for all countries to reduce carbon emissions to zero in the next 85 years, the scientific reaction was unanimous: That’s far too late.

And no possible treaty that emerges from the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, in preparation for November’s United Nations climate conference in Paris, will be sufficient. At this point, lowering emissions is just half the story — the easy half. The harder half will be an aggressive effort to find the technologies needed to reverse the climate apocalypse that has already begun.

For years now, we have heard that we are at a tipping point. Al Gore warned us in An Inconvenient Truth that immediate action was required if we were to prevent global warming. In 2007, Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, declared, “Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?” In the years since, emissions have risen, as have global temperatures. Only two conclusions can be drawn: Either these old warnings were alarmist, or we are already in far bigger trouble than the U.N. claims. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case.

Lowering emissions and moving to cleaner energy sources is a necessary step to prevent catastrophic temperature rises. The general target is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Higher increases — like the 5C increase currently projected by 2100 — run the risk of widespread flooding, famine, drought, sea-level rise, mass extinction and, worse, the potential of passing a tipping point (frequently set at 6C) that could render much of the planet uninhabitable and wipe out most species. Even the 2C figure predicts more than a meter’s rise in sea levels by 2100, enough to displace millions. It is no wonder that the Pentagon calls climate change a serious “threat multiplier” and is considering its potential disruptive impact across all its planning.

This is where the U.N. talks fall short — by a mile. The targets proffered by the United States (a 26 percent to 28 percent decrease from 2005 levels by 2025), the European Union (a 40 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2030) and China (an unspecified emissions peak by 2030) are nowhere near enough to keep us under the 2C target. In 2012, journalist Bill McKibben, in a feature for Rolling Stone, explained much of the math behind the current thinking on global warming. He concluded that the United Nations’ figures were definitely on the rosy side. In particular, McKibben noted that the temperature has already increased 0.8C, and even if we were to stop all carbon-dioxide emissions today, it would increase another 0.8C simply due to the existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That leaves only a 0.4C buffer before hitting 2C. Even assuming the Paris conference implements everything that’s promised, we will be on track to use up the remaining “carbon budget” — the amount of carbon we can emit without blowing past the 2C threshold — within two to three decades, not even at mid-century.

These emissions-reduction frameworks, it is safe to say, are simply insufficient. By themselves, they only offer a small chance of preventing the earth from becoming mostly uninhabitable – for humans at least — over the next few centuries. For the talks to be more than just a placebo, they need to encompass aggressive plans for climate mitigation, with the assumption that current wishful targets won’t be met.

Apart from coordination to cope with climate-driven crises and associated instability, climate-change leadership needs to encourage and fund the development of technologies to reverse what we are unable to stop doing to our planet. Many of these technologies fall under the rubric of “carbon sequestration” — safely storing carbon rather than emitting it. Riskier strategies, like injecting sulfates into the air to reflect more of the sun’s heat into space and ocean iron fertilization to grow algae to suck in carbon, run a high risk of unintended consequences. Better and safer solutions to reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere don’t yet exist; we need to discover them and regulate them, to avoid the chaos of what economists Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman term “rogue geoengineering” in their book Climate Shock.

None of these approaches are substitutes for emissions reductions. Achieving a carbon-neutral society is a necessary long-term goal regardless of other technological fixes. Technology could buy us the time to get there without our planet burning up. Ultimately, we need a Cold War-level of investment in research into new technologies to mitigate the coming effects of global warming. Without it, the United Nations’ work is a nice gesture, but hardly a meaningful one.

Food for Thought

CFI: Pope’s Climate Encyclical Hampered by “Irrational Opposition” to Family Planning

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
Contact: Paul Fidalgo
Phone: (207) 358-9785
E-mail: press@centerforinquiry.net

June 18, 2015

The Center for Inquiry has reviewed the encyclical, Laudato Si, issued today by the head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis.

The Center for Inquiry shares Pope Francis’s concern about the environment and welcomes his recognition of the scientific consensus regarding the cause of climate change, namely greenhouse gases generated by human activity. We also applaud his recognition that our environmental crisis extends beyond climate change, as we are depleting our water supplies and decreasing biodiversity. However, we regret that the Pope does not acknowledge that the Catholic Church has contributed to these problems by its irrational and adamant opposition to responsible family planning.

Indeed, not only does Pope Francis fail to acknowledge the harm caused by the Church’s opposition to birth control, but, astonishingly, he uses this encyclical to inveigh once again against family planning, claiming that legitimate concern about population growth is “one way of refusing to face the issues.”

It is the Catholic Church that is “refusing to face the issues.” Overpopulation is certainly not the sole cause of our environmental crisis, but there’s no question it is a significant contributing cause, and a rapidly expanding population will only exacerbate our environmental problems.

The pope’s continued unjustified opposition to birth control ultimately will detract from the weight given his other observations, some of which have merit. No one who thinks using a condom constitutes a grave moral evil can be taken seriously as an expert on the world’s problems. Pope Francis expends much energy decrying the misuse of technology. In the final analysis, his encyclical demonstrates that the world suffers as much from dogmatic thinking as it does from abuses of technology.

* * *

The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is http://www.centerforinquiry.net.

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“Twenty More Years of Roaring Growth” for China?

The following is an excerpt from http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31478-china-s-communist-capitalist-ecological-apocalypse :

In The Wall Street Journal of August 20, 2014, Justin Yifu Lin, an economist and close adviser to senior leaders in Beijing, stated that he’s confident China can sustain its recent 8 percent per year growth rate for the foreseeable future. He predicts “20 years of roaring growth” for China. Really? Where does Yifu think the resources are going to come from for this scale of consumption? As it happens, in 2011, the Earth Policy Institute at Columbia University calculated that if China keeps growing by around 8 percent per year, Chinese average per capita consumption will reach the current US level by around 2035. But to provide the natural resources for China’s 1.3 billion to consume on a per capita basis like the United States’ 330 million consume today, the Chinese – roughly 20 percent of the world’s population – will consume as much oil as the entire world consumes today. It would also consume more than 60 percent of other critical resources.

Production Consumption* Commodity Unit Consumption Latest Year Projected Consumption 2035
U.S. China China World
Grain Million Tons 338 424 1,505 2,191
Meat Million Tons 37 73 166 270
Oil Million Barrels per Day 19 9 85 86
Coal Million Tons of Oil Equivalent 525 1,714 2,335 3,731
Steel Million Tons 102 453 456 1,329
Fertilizer Million Tons 20 49 91 214
Paper Million Tons 74 97 331 394

*Projected Chinese consumption in 2035 is calculated assuming per-capita consumption will be equal to the current US level, based on projected GDP growth of 8 percent annually. Latest year figures for grain, oil, coal, fertilizer and paper are from 2008. Latest year figures for meat and steel are from 2010. Source: Earth Policy Institute, 2011

How can this happen? What would the rest of the world live on? Already, as resource analyst Michael Klare reviews in his latest book, The Race for What’s Left (2012), around the world existing reserves of oil, minerals and other resources “are being depleted at a terrifying pace and will be largely exhausted in the not-too-distant future.”

B. Airpocalypse Now

Decades of coal-powered industrialization combined with the government-promoted car craze since the 1990s have brought China the worst air pollution in the world. Scientists have compared north China’s toxic smog to a “nuclear winter” and the smog is also sharply reducing crop yields. Lung cancer is now the leading cause of death in Beijing and nationally pollution-induced lung disease is taking the lives of more than 1.2 million people a year. With 20 percent of the world’s population, China now burns as much coal as the rest of the world put together. Twenty of the world’s 30 smoggiest cities are in China.

As domestic food grows increasingly unsafe, alarmed middle-class Chinese strip supermarkets of imported food.

Ironically, China is also a “green technology” leader, the world’s largest producer of both windmills and solar panels. Yet in China these account for barely 1 percent of electricity generation. Coal presently supplies 69 percent of China’s total energy consumption; oil accounts for 18 percent; hydroelectric, 6 percent; natural gas, 4 percent; nuclear, less than 1 percent; and other renewables including solar and wind, 1 percent. (27) China currently burns 4 billion tons of coal a year; the US burns less than 1 billion; the European Union, about 0.6 billion. China has marginally reduced the carbon intensity of production in recent years by installing newer, more efficient power plants but these gains have been outstripped by relentless building of more power plants. To make matters worse, even when power plants are fitted with scrubbers to reduce pollution, operators often don’t turn on the scrubbers because these cut into their profits.

While government plans call for reducing coal’s share of the energy mix from 69 percent to 55 percent by 2040, it projects that China’s absolute coal consumption will still rise by more than 50 percent in the same period in line with China’s projected economic growth of around 7.7 percent per year. The World Health Organization considers air pollution above 25 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter (PM2.5) to be unsafe. China’s current national average is 75 micrograms but particulate levels in many cities average in the hundreds.

In the winter of 2013, China suffered from the worst air pollution in its history as half of the country, nearly the whole of northern and eastern China, was smothered in dense smog for weeks at a time. Smog alerts were called in 104 cities in 20 of China’s 30 provinces as schools and airports closed in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities. In January, PM2.5 levels in Beijing reached 900 micrograms per cubic meter. As Beijing was choking in smog in the winter of 2013, Deutsche Bank analysts gloomily concluded that even if China’s economy slowed to 5 percent growth per year from it’s current 7.6 percent rate, coal consumption would still nearly double and China’s smog could increase by as much as 70 percent by 2030. (28)

China’s leaders thus face an intractable dilemma. They can’t keep growing the economy without consuming ever more coal, oil and gas. Yet the more fossil fuels they burn, the more uninhabitable China’s cities become, the more Chinese people flee the country, and the faster China’s emissions are driving global warming.

More: http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/31478-china-s-communist-capitalist-ecological-apocalypse

People are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.”

Sixth mass extinction is here, researcher declares

Jun 19, 2015

There is no longer any doubt: We are entering a mass extinction that threatens humanity’s existence.

That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened , populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

“[The study] shows without any significant doubt that we are now entering the sixth great ,” Ehrlich said.

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and .

There is general agreement among scientists that rates have reached levels unparalleled since the dinosaurs died out 66 million years ago. However, some have challenged the theory, believing earlier estimates rested on assumptions that overestimated the crisis.

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México.

Conservative approach

Using fossil records and extinction counts from a range of records, the researchers compared a highly conservative estimate of current extinctions with a background rate estimate twice as high as those widely used in previous analyses. This way, they brought the two estimates – current extinction rate and average background or going-on-all-the-time extinction rate – as close to each other as possible.

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita 1451324_650954518277931_1616731734_nconsumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

  • Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement
  • Introduction of invasive species
  • Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification
  • Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

As species disappear, so do crucial ecosystem services such as honeybees’ crop pollination and wetlands’ water purification. At the current rate of species loss, people will lose many biodiversity benefits within three generations, the study’s authors write. “We are sawing off the limb that we are sitting on,” Ehrlich said.

Hope for the future

Despite the gloomy outlook, there is a meaningful way forward, according to Ehrlich and his colleagues. “Avoiding a true sixth will require rapid, greatly intensified efforts to conserve already , and to alleviate pressures on their populations – notably habitat loss, over-exploitation for economic gain and climate change,” the study’s authors write.

In the meantime, the researchers hope their work will inform conservation efforts, the maintenance of ecosystem services and public policy.

Explore further: Research group suggests modern extinction rate may be higher than thought

More information: Accelerated modern human–induced species losses: Entering the sixth mass extinction, Science Advances, advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253

24 activists detained as Arctic oil rig heads out of Seattle

http://www.komonews.com/news/local/Activists-form-human-chain-as-Arctic-oil-rig-heads-out-of-port-307363311.html

by KOMO Staff Published: Jun 15, 2015

SEATTLE – A massive oil-drilling rig pulled out of Seattle on Monday and headed for the environmentally sensitive Arctic Ocean despite a last-ditch effort by protesters to block it from leaving by forming a waterborne blockade of the harbor.

The Coast Guard says 24 people were detained while taking part in the blockade of the Polar Pioneer.

Many of those detained were in kayaks – including Seattle City Councilman Mike O’Brien, said a Greenpeace spokesman. Around 50 other protesters on the water were not arrested, Greenpeace said.

The Polar Pioneer’s owner, Royal Dutch Shell, plans to tow the rig to the Arctic Ocean off Alaska to drill for undersea oil deposits during relatively calm summer weather conditions.

The first wave of “kayaktivists” headed out in the predawn darkness, as soon as they got word the Polar Pioneer would be on the move. Protesters accused Shell of trying to sneak the rig out of town during the darkness of night.

“Shell was trying to get the Polar Pioneer out of Seattle under cover of darkness, but the kayaktivists prevented them from leaving for several hours and exposed what they were doing to the world,” said Greenpeace’s Arctic Communications Manager Travis Nichols.

Several tugs guided the Shell-owned oil rig out of Elliott Bay as the sun rose over the city.

The petroleum giant’s plans to drill in the waters off Alaska drew a similar kayak protest in May. Activists also have chained themselves twice to a support ship in Bellingham, north of Seattle.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith says the company remains “committed to operating in a safe, environmentally responsible manner.”

The Coast Guard didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

—–

This is a developing news story. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

Deepwater-Horizon-CDVIDS

(Can you say Deepwater Horizon?)

Apocalyptic scenes in Georgia as Lions, bears, wolves and a HIPPO are among dozens of animals to escape from zoo

More media “hype” about climate change or against zoos? NOT !

bears, lions, tigers, jaguars and wolves were among the animals that escaped.

“I can’t imagine this tragedy,” she said. “Almost the whole zoo is underwater.”

Torrential rains late Saturday and early Sunday poured down on Tbilisi, a hilly city that is along a river valley. The Tbilisi Zoo lies along the banks of the Vere River, which overflowed and caught the animals in their pens and cages.

Photos here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3123378/A-city-lockdown-Tigers-lions-bears-wolves-hippo-loose-Georgia-s-capital-Tbilisi-freak-flood-killed-eight-leaves-dozens-dangerous-zoo-animals-roaming-city-s-streets.html

And here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/zoo-animals-loose-after-floods-hit-georgian-capital/2015/06/14/178721a0-1279-11e5-9518-f9e0a8959f32_story.html

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The Late John Livingston on the Arctic Oil Debate

I was surprised to learn that the late Canadian naturalist, author and part-time misanthropist, John Livingston, wrote a book on Arctic Oil back in 1981, long before hardly anyone knew for sure if or when the ice sheet was going to melt off and how dire the consequences of that would actually be.

On page one of chapter one of Introduction to the Arctic Debate:

“Each of the ‘constituents’—if only because of (even unilateral) individual involvement has a very real vested interest in what is going to happen in the north. But they all have one thing in common. They consist of both northerners and southerners, but they are all people.

“There are still others, however, with legitimate vested interest who neither voice their views nor hear ours. On the admittedly preposterous assumption that a walrus were to achieve standing before some tribunal, no doubt he would have many things to say on behalf of the inarticulate classless clams and mussels of the ocean bed. A shrimp like crustacean called an amphipod might rise on the part of the minute squid like copepods he depends upon, and the sea birds of Lancaster Sound would have a compelling case for the helpless amphipod. Ivory gulls would plead for their benefactors the polar bears, bears for seals, seals for arctic cod. Foxes would argue for lemmings, and lemmings for grasses. Caribou would be represented by wolves, and wolves by ravens, eagles, gulls and jaegers. Grizzly would fight for ground squirrels; snow geese would speak for sedge meadows, which in turn explicate their vested interest in the sun and the rivers and the permafrost itself.

“Arctic beings and processes are not of course voiceless; we simply choose not to hear them. We elect not to recognize them. Complicated as discussion over northern policy has become, it has not yet entertained the addition complication that would arise were it to become anything more than a unidimensional proceeding, with any more than one interest represented. There is after all only one protagonist, and he is talking to himself. The arctic ‘debate’ is not a debate at all; it is a monologue. The singe participant is ourselves. Were the implications and possible outcomes not so tragic, the whole charade could be dismissed as mere absurdity. But of course absurdity is never ‘mere’; it can be dangerous.”

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Scientists Warn of Mass Ocean Die-Offs

TV: Scientists warning of mass die-off along California coast — Official: Seafloor littered with dead fish, washing up “as far as I could see” — Toxin has spread all up and down West Coast — Experts: “Very, very unusual… Really extraordinary” (VIDEO)

Published: June 2nd, 2015 at 11:59 pm ET
By

KSBW, May 29, 2015 (emphasis added): Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Mass die-off could happen – “We are beginning with continuing coverage of that algae bloom in the Monterey Bay. Scientists say they’re seeing the highest levels of red tide in more than a decade, and they’re worried it will have grave impacts on marine life… [It] spreads all up and down the West Coast. Researchers in Santa Cruz have already recorded a mass die-off of anchovies and they expected more species could follow.”

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Scientists with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary are predicting a mass die-off on the Central Coast… Up and down the West Coast, a large algal bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia is growing rapidly.

Chris Scholin, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI), May 28, 2015: Very Toxic Algal Bloom in Monterey Bay — I wanted to let you know we have been following a very big bloom of Pseudo-nitzschia over the past couple of weeks here in the bay, and the amount of associated domoic acid is really extraordinary… Yesterday I noticed anchovies washing up on the beach in front of MBARI as far as I could see. There’s also lines of fish scales (anchovy?) marking the high tide line… One of the staff went snorkeling off the beach here, and saw the seafloor littered with anchovies… keep an eye out for seizuring sealions, sick birds, maybe sick otters… We think this is a very large event… Don’t eat shellfish or forage fish from MB — very nasty right now!!!

KSBW, May 29, 2015: “New tonight… researchers say a large algae bloom has taken over the Monterey Bay“… Jim Birch, MBARI: “We’re seeing these really high domoic acid levels in both locations, which is very, very unusual“… “Scientists with MBARI say the toxins from the algae bloom are going to have a chain reaction on marine animals, and they’ve already seen more dead seabirds on Central Coast beaches… It has started to really grow in the last few days.

KSBW, May 29, 2015: Raphael Kudela, a researcher at [UCSC] said the bloom… is being found from Washington to Santa Barbara… reports of dead seabirds are already coming in.

Monterey Herald, May 28, 2015: A mysterious neurotoxin… returned with a vengeance… “This is an unusual one,” said Raphael Kudela… “We haven’t seen a bloom this big in 15 years.”… why the toxin periodically blooms in Monterey Bay is still a marine mystery… scientists are getting closer to pinning down the reason for the blooms, with human impacts among the range of possibilities… Domoic acid is also suspected in a recent spate of bird deaths.

UC Santa Cruz, June 2, 2015: The toxin was first detected in early May, and by the end of the month researchers had detected some of the highest concentrations of domoic acid ever observed in Monterey Bay. “It’s a pretty massive bloom. The domoic acid levels are extremely high right now… the event is occurring as far north as Washington state. So it appears this will be one of the most toxic and spatially largest events we’ve had in at least a decade,” said Raphael Kudela, [UCSC] professor of ocean sciences.

MBARI, Jun 1, 2015: Researchers measured some of the highest concentrations of harmful algae and their toxin ever observed in Monterey Bay… During a normal [bloom] 1,000 nanograms per liter would be considered high… [It’s] reached 10 to 30 times this level. On May 27, 2015, very high levels… were found in dead anchovies… The researchers do not know if the anchovies died because of domoic acid poisoning.

Watch: KSBW’s broadcast | San Diego 6 News broadcast

After Rampant Overhunting, Sea Otters Still Dying

Death of two endangered sea otters at Long Beach sparks inquiry

By Matt WintersThe Daily Astorian

June 4, 2015 7:35AM

NATALIE ST. JOHN — EO Media Group
A deceased sea otter washed ashore near Cranberry beach approach May 27. The marine mammals remain very rare in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia River after rampant overhunting between the late 1700s and early 1900s. This otter and another found earlier in May could have been delivered here by ocean currents, a federal biologist believes.

Buy this photo

A deceased sea otter washed ashore near Cranberry beach approach May 27. The marine mammals remain very rare in the vicinity of the mouth of the Columbia River after rampant overhunting between the late 1700s and early 1900s. This otter and another found earlier in May could have been delivered here by ocean currents, a federal biologist believes.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — Two dead northern sea otters have washed up on Long Beach in recent weeks, a surprise since the marine mammals — which are classified as endangered in Washington state — are not known to live here.

Biologists with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the lead agency looking into the deaths, believe the otters likely picked up a deadly protozoa and may not have died here at all.

A mature female sea otter found on May 27 by a home-school group just north of Cranberry beach approach is frozen and now on its way to Madison, Wis., where it will be examined at the National Wildlife Health Center lab run by U.S. Geological Survey. They will test the organs and look for lesions on the brain.

It could be months before people here know exactly how or why the otter died.

Another otter washed ashore about a week or 10 days earlier closer to downtown Long Beach and was too decayed for scientific analysis.

“They very well could have floated from anywhere up north,” said Fish and Wildlife Services Biologist Deanna Lynch.

Though some people suspected recent high levels of a marine toxin called domoic acid off the Long Beach Peninsula could have contributed to the otters’ deaths, Lynch says it is far more likely to be protozoal encephalitis, a disease otters can pick up through their food.

Historical context

Most of the world’s sea otters live in coastal Alaska, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They have only recently started making a comeback in Washington state.

Here they eat sea urchins, clams, crabs and mussels. They must consume 25 percent of their body weight in food each day to maintain their high metabolism.

Sea otter pelts were once considered a pillar of the Lower Columbia River economy. Between 1700 and 1911, an estimated 1 million sea otters were trapped and killed for their fur along North America’s Pacific coast.

After being absent from the state for decades, 59 sea otters from Alaska were introduced to the Washington coast in 1969 and 1970. The sea otter was listed as a state endangered species in 1981, and has grown at an annual average rate of 8.2 percent from 1989 to 2004, according to WDFW surveys.

By 2010, they were believed to number about 1,000.

A survey from 2012 found the state’s largest concentration of otters was 562 around Destruction Island off the northern Olympia Peninsula. WDFW recovery plans predict that sea otters could be found once again in their historical southern habitat such as Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.

The first modern Columbia sighting was on March 12, 2009, at North Head. Later in the same week, a sea otter was spotted at Cape Disappointment State Park. No official sightings were reported between then and the recent discoveries of deceased otters, though occasional appearances have been rumored.

The animals are protected by the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, with steep fines and imprisonment for anyone convicted of harming or harassing them.

Because sea otters are so rare, confirmed sightings and strandings are important to report. If you see a sea otter, gather as much detail about the sighting as possible — its color, what it was doing, and where it was — then call 1-87-SEAOTTER to report your sighting.

If you encounter a stranded sea otter, do not approach it. It is illegal to handle sea otters and other marine mammals.

“The best advice we can give is stay clear and observe, don’t get near it no matter what,” Lynch said. “They can move faster than you think they can.”

‘Sea’ versus ‘river’

Many “sea otter” sightings in modern times are really just river otters taking dips in the ocean. Both species are members of the weasel family, a group that includes everything from minks to wolverines. But they are very different from each other. Several characteristics can help you identify which type of otter you are seeing:

• Adult sea otters are much bigger, reaching close to 5 or 6 feet long.

• They are stout animals with a thick multi-layered coat of fur.

• The fur on their bodies is usually dark brown while the fur on their heads can sometimes be lighter tan color.

• Both river and sea otters have webbed feet, but while river otters have distinct paws with claws and webbing, sea otters possess two flipper-like back feet in addition to their clawed and webbed forepaws.

• Sea otters rarely come to shore. They eat, sleep, mate and give birth in the ocean. They may drape themselves in kelp to keep from drifting while they sleep or gang up with other sea otters to float in large “rafts” on the ocean.

• They rarely come to land unless they are sick or the waves are simply too rough for them.