How the US Navy Plans to War Game the Arctic

Destroying What Remains: An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM

Dahr Jamail, Truthout.org / TomDispatch.com
June 2015

[NOTE from All-Creatures.org: PLEASE visit WAR OF THE WHALES for detailed, sad, horrifying information about the effects of sonar on sea animals!]

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions.

I lived in Anchorage for 10 years and spent much of that time climbing in and on the spine of the state, the Alaska Range. Three times I stood atop the mountain the Athabaskans call Denali, “the great one.” During that decade, I mountaineered for more than half a year on that magnificent state’s highest peaks. It was there that I took in my own insignificance while living amid rock and ice, sleeping atop glaciers that creaked and moaned as they slowly ground their way toward lower elevations.

Alaska contains the largest coastal mountain range in the world and the highest peak in North America. It has more coastline than the entire contiguous 48 states combined and is big enough to hold the state of Texas two and a half times over. It has the largest population of bald eagles in the country. It has 430 kinds of birds along with the brown bear, the largest carnivorous land mammal in the world, and other species ranging from the pygmy shrew that weighs less than a penny to gray whales that come in at 45 tons. Species that are classified as “endangered” in other places are often found in abundance in Alaska.

Now, a dozen years after I left my home state and landed in Baghdad to begin life as a journalist and nine years after definitively abandoning Alaska, I find myself back. I wish it was to climb another mountain, but this time, unfortunately, it’s because I seem increasingly incapable of escaping the long and destructive reach of the US military.

That summer in 2003 when my life in Alaska ended was an unnerving one for me. It followed a winter and spring in which I found myself protesting the coming invasion of Iraq in the streets of Anchorage, then impotently watching the televised spectacle of the Bush administration’s “shock and awe” assault on that country as Baghdad burned and Iraqis were slaughtered. While on Denali that summer I listened to news of the beginnings of what would be an occupation from hell and, in my tent on a glacier at 17 thousand feet, wondered what in the world I could do.

In this way, in a cloud of angst, I traveled to Iraq as an independent news team of one and found myself reporting on atrocities that were evident to anyone not embedded with the US military, which was then laying waste to the country. My early reporting, some of it for TomDispatch, warned of body counts on a trajectory toward one million, rampant torture in the military’s detention facilities, and the toxic legacy it had left in the city of Fallujah thanks to the use of depleted uranium munitions and white phosphorous.

As I learned, the US military is an industrial-scale killing machine and also the single largest consumer of fossil fuels on the planet, which makes it a major source of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. As it happens, distant lands like Iraq sitting atop vast reservoirs of oil and natural gas are by no means its only playing fields.

Take the place where I now live, the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The US Navy already has plans to conduct electromagnetic warfare training in an area close to where I moved to once again seek solace in the mountains: Olympic National Forest and nearby Olympic National Park. And this June, it’s scheduling massive war games in the Gulf of Alaska, including live bombing runs that will mean the detonation of tens of thousands of pounds of toxic munitions, as well as the use of active sonar in the most pristine, economically valuable, and sustainable salmon fishery in the country (arguably in the world). And all of this is to happen right in the middle of fishing season.

This time, in other words, the bombs will be falling far closer to home. Whether it’s war-torn Iraq or “peaceful” Alaska, Sunnis and Shi’ites or salmon and whales, to me the omnipresent “footprint” of the US military feels inescapable.

sonar war arctic
All of Southeast Alaska’s pristine coastline would be impacted by the Navy’s upcoming planned war games in the Gulf of Alaska. (Photo: Dahr Jamail/Truthout)

The War Comes Home

In 2013, US Navy researchers predicted ice-free summer Arctic waters by 2016 and it looks as if that prediction might come true. Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that there was less ice in the Arctic this winter than in any other winter of the satellite era. Given that the Navy has been making plans for “ice-free” operations in the Arctic since at least 2001, their June “Northern Edge” exercises may well prove to be just the opening salvo in the future northern climate wars, with whales, seals, and salmon being the first in the line of fire.

In April 2001, a Navy symposium entitled “Naval Operations in an Ice-Free Arctic” was mounted to begin to prepare the service for a climate-change-induced future. Fast forward to June 2015. In what the military refers to as Alaska’s “premier” joint training exercise, Alaskan Command aims to conduct “Northern Edge” over 8,429 nautical miles, which include critical habitat for all five wild Alaskan salmon species and 377 other species of marine life. The upcoming war games in the Gulf of Alaska will not be the first such exercises in the region — they have been conducted, on and off, for the last 30 years — but they will be the largest by far. In fact, a 360 percent rise in munitions use is expected, according to Emily Stolarcyk, the program manager for the Eyak Preservation Council (EPC).

The waters in the Gulf of Alaska are some of the most pristine in the world, rivaled only by those in the Antarctic, and among the purest and most nutrient-rich waters anywhere. Northern Edge will take place in an Alaskan “marine protected area,” as well as in a NOAA-designated “fisheries protected area.” These war games will also coincide with the key breeding and migratory periods of the marine life in the region as they make their way toward Prince William Sound, as well as further north into the Arctic.

Species affected will include blue, fin, gray, humpback, minke, sei, sperm, and killer whales, the highly endangered North Pacific right whale (of which there are only approximately 30 left), as well as dolphins and sea lions. No fewer than a dozen native tribes including the Eskimo, Eyak, Athabascan, Tlingit, Sun’aq, and Aleut rely on the area for subsistence living, not to speak of their cultural and spiritual identities.

The Navy is already permitted to use live ordnance including bombs, missiles, and torpedoes, along with active and passive sonar in “realistic” war gaming that is expected to involve the release of as much as 352,000 pounds of “expended materials” every year. (The Navy’s EIS lists numerous things as “expended materials,” including missiles, bombs, torpedoes.) At present, the Navy is well into the process of securing the necessary permits for the next five years and has even mentioned making plans for the next 20. Large numbers of warships and submarines are slated to move into the area and the potential pollution from this has worried Alaskans who live nearby.

“We are concerned about expended materials in addition to the bombs, jet noise, and sonar,” the Eyak Preservation Council’s Emily Stolarcyk tells me as we sit in her office in Cordova, Alaska. EPC is an environmental and social-justice-oriented nonprofit whose primary mission is to protect wild salmon habitat. “Chromium, lead, tungsten, nickel, cadmium, cyanide, ammonium perchlorate, the Navy’s own environmental impact statement says there is a high risk of chemical exposure to fish.”

Tiny Cordova, population 2,300, is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the state and consistently ranks among the top 10 busiest US fishing ports. Since September, when Stolarcyk first became aware of the Navy’s plans, she has been working tirelessly, calling local, state and federal officials and alerting virtually every fisherman she runs into about what she calls “the storm” looming on the horizon. “The propellants from the Navy’s missiles and some of their other weapons will release benzene, toluene, xylene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and naphthalene into the waters of twenty percent of the training area, according to their own EIS [environmental impact statement],” she explains as we look down on Cordova’s harbor with salmon fishing season rapidly approaching. As it happens, most of the chemicals she mentioned were part of BP’s disastrous 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which I covered for years, so as I listened to her I had an eerie sense of futuristic déjà vu.

Here’s just one example of the kinds of damage that will occur: the cyanide discharge from a Navy torpedo is in the range of 140-150 parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency’s “allowable” limit on cyanide: one part per billion.

The Navy’s EIS estimates that, in the five-year period in which these war games are to be conducted, there will be more than 182,000 “takes” — direct deaths of a marine mammal, or the disruption of essential behaviors like breeding, nursing, or surfacing. On the deaths of fish, it offers no estimates at all. Nevertheless, the Navy will be permitted to use at least 352,000 pounds of expended materials in these games annually. The potential negative effects could be far-reaching, given species migration and the global current system in northern waters. p>

In the meantime, the Navy is giving Stolarcyk’s efforts the cold shoulder, showing what she calls “total disregard toward the people making their living from these waters.” She adds, “They say this is for national security. They are theoretically defending us, but if they destroy our food source and how we make our living, while polluting our air and water, what’s left to defend?”

Stolarcyk has been labeled an “activist” and “environmentalist,” perhaps because the main organizations she’s managed to sign on to her efforts are indeed environmental groups like the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, and the Alaskans First Coalition.

“Why does wanting to protect wild salmon habitat make me an activist?” she asks. “How has that caused me to be branded as an environmentalist?” Given that the Alaska commercial fishing industry could be decimated if its iconic “wild-caught” salmon turn up with traces of cyanide or any of the myriad chemicals the Navy will be using, Stolarcyk could as easily be seen as fighting for the well-being, if not the survival, of the fishing industry in her state.

War Gaming the Community

The clock is ticking in Cordova and others in Stolarcyk’s community are beginning to share her concerns. A few like Alexis Cooper, the executive director of Cordova District Fishermen United (CDFU), a non-profit organization that represents the commercial fishermen in the area, have begun to speak out. “We’re already seeing reduced numbers of halibut without the Navy having expanded their operations in the GOA [Gulf of Alaska],” she says, “and we’re already seeing other decreases in harvestable species.”

CDFU represents more than 800 commercial salmon fishermen, an industry that accounts for an estimated 90 percent of Cordova’s economy. Without salmon, like many other towns along coastal southeastern Alaska, it would effectively cease to exist.

Teal Webber, a lifelong commercial fisherwoman and member of the Native Village of Eyak, gets visibly upset when the Navy’s plans come up. “You wouldn’t bomb a bunch of farmland,” she says, “and the salmon run comes right through this area, so why are they doing this now?” She adds, “When all of the fishing community in Cordova gets the news about how much impact the Navy’s war games could have, you’ll see them oppose it en masse.”

While I’m in town, Stolarcyk offers a public presentation of the case against Northern Edge in the elementary school auditorium. As she shows a slide from the Navy’s environmental impact statement indicating that the areas affected will take decades to recover, several fishermen quietly shake their heads.

One of them, James Weiss, who also works for Alaska’s Fish and Game Department, pulls me aside and quietly says, “My son is growing up here, eating everything that comes out of the sea. I know fish travel through that area they plan to bomb and pollute, so of course I’m concerned. This is too important of a fishing area to put at risk.” p>

In the question-and-answer session that follows, Jim Kasch, the town’s mayor, assures Stolarcyk that he’ll ask the city council to become involved. “What’s disturbing is that there is no thought about the fish and marine life,” he tells me later. “It’s a sensitive area and we live off the ocean. This is just scary.” A Marine veteran, Kasch acknowledges the Navy’s need to train, then pauses and adds, “But dropping live ordnance in a sensitive fishery just isn’t a good idea. The entire coast of Alaska lives and breathes from our resources from the ocean.”

That evening, with the sun still high in the spring sky, I walk along the boat docks in the harbor and can’t help but wonder whether this small, scruffy town has a hope in hell of stopping or altering Northern Edge. There have been examples of such unlikely victories in the past. A dozen years ago, the Navy was, for example, finally forced to stop using the Puerto Rican island of Vieques as its own private bombing and test range, but only after having done so since the 1940s. In the wake of those six decades of target practice, the island’s population has the highest cancer and asthma rates in the Caribbean, a phenomenon locals attribute to the Navy’s activities.

Similarly, earlier this year a federal court ruled that Navy war games off the coast of California violated the law. It deemed an estimated 9.6 million “harms” to whales and dolphins via high-intensity sonar and underwater detonations improperly assessed as “negligible” in that service’s EIS.

As a result of Stolarcyk’s work, on May 6th Cordova’s city council passed a resolution formally opposing the upcoming war games. Unfortunately, the largest seafood processor in Cordova (and Alaska), Trident Seafoods, has yet to offer a comment on Northern Edge. Its representatives wouldn’t even return my phone call on the subject. Nor, for instance, has Cordova’s Prince William Sound Science Center, whose president, Katrina Hoffman, wrote me that “as an organization, we have no position statement on the matter at this time.” This, despite their stated aim of supporting “the ability of communities in this region to maintain socioeconomic resilience among healthy, functioning ecosystems.” (Of course, it should be noted that at least some of their funds come from the Navy.)

Government-to-Government Consultation

At Kodiak Island, my next stop, I find a stronger sense of the threat on the horizon in both the fishing and tribal communities and palpable anger about the Navy’s plans. Take J.J. Marsh, the CEO of the Sun’aq Tribe, the largest on the island. “I think it’s horrible,” she says the minute I sit down in her office. “I grew up here. I was raised on subsistence living. I grew up caring about the environment and the animals and fishing in a native household living off the land and seeing my grandpa being a fisherman. So obviously, the need to protect this is clear.”

What, I ask, is her tribe going to do?

She responds instantly. “We are going to file for a government-to-government consultation and so are other Kodiak tribes so that hopefully we can get this stopped.”

The US government has a unique relationship with Alaska’s Native tribes, like all other American Indian tribes. It treats each as if it were an autonomous government. If a tribe requests a “consultation,” Washington must respond and Marsh hopes that such an intervention might help block Northern Edge. “It’s about the generations to come. We have an opportunity as a sovereign tribe to go to battle on this with the feds. If we aren’t going to do it, who is?”

Melissa Borton, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak, feels similarly. Like Marsh’s tribe, hers was, until recently, remarkably unaware of the Navy’s plans. That’s hardly surprising since that service has essentially made no effort to publicize what it is going to do. “We are absolutely going to be part of this [attempt to stop the Navy],” she tells me. “I’m appalled.”

One reason she’s appalled: she lived through Alaska’s monster Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. “We are still feeling its effects,” she says. “Every time they make these environmental decisions they affect us… We are already plagued with cancer and it comes from the military waste already in our ground or that our fish and deer eat and we eat those… I’ve lost family to cancer, as most around here have and at some point in time this has to stop.”

When I meet with Natasha Hayden, an Afognak tribal council member whose husband is a commercial fisherman, she puts the matter simply and bluntly. “This is a frontal attack by the Navy on our cultural identity.”

Gary Knagin, lifelong fisherman and member of the Sun’aq tribe, is busily preparing his boat and crew for the salmon season when we talk. “We aren’t going to be able to eat if they do this. It’s bullshit. It’ll be detrimental to us and it’s obvious why. In June, when we are out there, salmon are jumping [in the waters] where they want to bomb as far as you can see in any direction. That’s the salmon run. So why do they have to do it in June? If our fish are contaminated, the whole state’s economy is hit. The fishing industry here supports everyone and every other business here is reliant upon the fishing industry. So if you take out the fishing, you take out the town.”

The Navy’s Free Ride

I requested comment from the US military’s Alaskan Command office, and Captain Anastasia Wasem responded after I returned home from my trip north. In our email exchange, I asked her why the Navy had chosen the Gulf of Alaska, given that it was a critical habitat for all five of the state’s wild salmon. She replied that the waters where the war games will occur, which the Navy refers to as the Temporary Maritime Activities Area, are “strategically significant” and claimed that a recent “Pacific command study” found that naval training opportunities are declining everywhere in the Pacific “except Alaska,” which she referred to as “a true national asset.”

“The Navy’s training activities,” she added, “are conducted with an extensive set of mitigation measures designed to minimize the potential risk to marine life.”

In its assessment of the Navy’s plans, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), one of the premier federal agencies tasked with protecting national fisheries, disagreed. “Potential stressors to managed species and EFH [essential fish habitat],” its report said, “include vessel movements (disturbance and collisions), aircraft overflights (disturbance), fuel spills, ship discharge, explosive ordnance, sonar training (disturbance), weapons firing/nonexplosive ordnance use (disturbance and strikes), and expended materials (ordnance-related materials, targets, sonobuoys, and marine markers). Navy activities could have direct and indirect impacts on individual species, modify their habitat, or alter water quality.” According to the NMFS, effects on habitats and communities from Northern Edge “may result in damage that could take years to decades from which to recover.”

Captain Wasem assured me that the Navy made its plans in consultation with the NMFS, but she failed to add that those consultations were found to be inadequate by the agency or to acknowledge that it expressed serious concerns about the coming war games. In fact, in 2011 it made four conservation recommendations to avoid, mitigate, or otherwise offset possible adverse effects to essential fish habitat. Although such recommendations were non-binding, the Navy was supposed to consider the public interest in its planning.

One of the recommendations, for instance, was that it develop a plan to report on fish mortality during the exercises. The Navy rejected this, claiming that such reporting would “not provide much, if any, valuable data.” As Stolarcyk told me, “The Navy declined to do three of their four recommendations, and NMFS just rolled over.”

I asked Captain Wasem why the Navy choose to hold the exercise in the middle of salmon fishing season.

“The Northern Edge exercise is scheduled when weather is most conducive for training,” she explained vaguely, pointing out that “the Northern Edge exercise is a big investment for DoD [the Department of Defense] in terms of funding, use of equipment/fuels, strategic transportation, and personnel.”

Arctic Nightmares

The bottom line on all this is simple, if brutal. The Navy is increasingly focused on possible future climate-change conflicts in the melting waters of the north and, in that context, has little or no intention of caretaking the environment when it comes to military exercises. In addition, the federal agencies tasked with overseeing any war-gaming plans have neither the legal ability nor the will to enforce environmental regulations when what’s at stake, at least according to the Pentagon, is “national security.”

Needless to say, when it comes to the safety of locals in the Navy’s expanding area of operation, there is no obvious recourse. Alaskans can’t turn to NMFS or the Environmental Protection Agency or NOAA. If you want to stop the US military from dropping live munitions, or blasting electromagnetic radiation into national forests and marine sanctuaries, or poisoning your environment, you’d better figure out how to file a major lawsuit or, if you belong to a Native tribe, demand a government-to-government consultation and hope it works. And both of those are long shots, at best.

Meanwhile, as the race heats up for reserves of oil and gas in the melting Arctic that shouldn’t be extracted and burned in the first place, so do the Navy’s war games. From southern California to Alaska, if you live in a coastal town or city, odds are that the Navy is coming your way, if it’s not already there.

Nevertheless, Emily Stolarcyk shows no signs of throwing in the towel, despite the way the deck is stacked against her efforts. “It’s supposedly our constitutional right that control of the military is in the hands of the citizens,” she told me in our last session together. At one point, she paused and asked, “Haven’t we learned from our past mistakes around not protecting salmon? Look at California, Oregon, and Washington’s salmon. They’ve been decimated. We have the best and most pristine salmon left on the planet, and the Navy wants to do these exercises. You can’t have both.”

Stolarcyk and I share a bond common among people who have lived in our northernmost state, a place whose wilderness is so vast and beautiful as to make your head spin. Those of us who have experienced its rivers and mountains, have been awed by the northern lights, and are regularly reminded of our own insignificance (even as we gained a new appreciation for how precious life really is) tend to want to protect the place as well as share it with others.

“Everyone has been telling me from the start that I’m fighting a lost cause and I will not win,” Stolarcyk said as our time together wound down. “No other non-profit in Alaska will touch this. But I actually believe we can fight this and we can stop them. I believe in the power of one. If I can convince someone to join me, it spreads from there. It takes a spark to start a fire, and I refuse to believe that nothing can be done.”

Three decades ago, in his book Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez suggested that, when it came to exploiting the Arctic versus living sustainably in it, the ecosystems of the region were too vulnerable to absorb attempts to “accommodate both sides.” In the years since, whether it’s been the Navy, Big Energy, or the increasingly catastrophic impacts of human-caused climate disruption, only one side has been accommodated and the results have been dismal.

In Iraq in wartime, I saw what the US military was capable of in a distant ravaged land. In June, I’ll see what that military is capable of in what still passes for peacetime and close to home indeed. As I sit at my desk writing this story on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the roar of Navy jets periodically rumbles in from across Puget Sound, where a massive naval air station is located. I can’t help but wonder whether, years from now, I’ll still be writing pieces with titles like “Destroying What Remains,” as the Navy continues its war-gaming in an ice-free summer Arctic amid a sea of offshore oil drilling platforms.

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Orca Expert says: Breach the Snake River Dams

Breach the Snake River Dams

Posted here:http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2015/06/15/breach-the-snake-river-dams/ by Carl Safina of The Safina Center on June 15, 2015

By Kenneth Balcomb, guest essayist

Note: In this guest essay, long-time killer whale researcher Ken Balcomb shows how obsolete but still salmon-killing dams are helping cause the decline of killer whales due to food shortage in the Northwest. The dams do feed us one thing: propaganda. As Ken wrote to me, “I was flabbergasted that the dams are closed to photography, and that their wasteful secret is downplayed in the mainstream propaganda fed to the public.” For more on the dams, see my book Song for the Blue Ocean. For more on Ken and the whales he has spent his life loving and studying, see my soon-to-be-released book Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel, which will hit bookstores on July 14. — Carl Safina

I have studied the majestic southern resident killer whales of the Pacific Northwest for forty years (approximately one productive lifespan – whale or human), during which time much has been learned and shared with the world about this iconic endangered population. They are now arguably the best known whales in the world! But, that was not always the case. The common response in the 1960‘s and 1970‘s to my announcement that I was studying whales was, “Why?” “What good are they?”

My best response was to point out that as top marine predators whales are indicators of the health of that environment in which they live – the ocean – and that is also an environment upon which humans depend. Now, with growing numbers of people appreciating the whales’ natural role in the marine environment, and better understanding their ecological requirement for specific food—Chinook salmon in this case—to survive, the conversation has moved toward a strategy of how best to provide that food. There is currently an active discussion about removal of the Snake River dams to save fish, or whales. The issue of whether dams should be breached to provide this food for the whales has now arrived. Would that be reasonable? Are we sure that will work?

I don’t consider this lightly. I tend to consider the status quo of institutions and structures to be enduring and worthy of protection, even if only as displays of the truly amazing feats our species has achieved in the course of human evolution and ingenuity. Not all of our feats have been without unforeseen consequence, however; and, most tend to crumble over time anyway. Dams require maintenance, and they eventually fill with sediment.

Until recently, dam removal was against my conservative nature. And it still seems to be counter to our government’s intent. This is in spite of clear evidence that the salmon-eating population of “killer” whales that I am studying is on a path to extinction along with significant populations of their main food resource—Chinook salmon—huge numbers of which formerly spawned and returned to the Snake River, and fed whales in the Pacific Ocean and humans, before the dams were built.

I had to see for myself what was going on in the Snake River watershed currently. So last week my brother and I drove up the highway to visit the dams on the Columbia River and upstream, sightseeing and taking photos and videos along the way and learning about the current passage of remnant populations of salmon.

But when we got to the McNary and Ice Harbor dams just below the Snake River and on it, it seemed as if an iron curtain had come down and we were prevented from taking any photographs, or even carrying cameras and cell phones behind the fences surrounding the dam structures. It was as if something was being hidden from view. And, it was. There was no point in our continuing upstream to Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams to take photographs and videos of fish passage, because that was not allowed.

Lower Monumental Dam, Snake River
Lower Monumental Dam, Snake River, Photo: USACE

In truth, already well known to others but not to me, these four Snake River dams are obsolete for their intended purposes and are being maintained at huge taxpayer expense for the benefit of a very few users. Plus, they are salmon-killers in a former river (now a series of lakes) that historically provided spawning and rearing habitat for millions of Chinook salmon. And, they now doom all technological attempts to bolster these salmon populations to expensive failure.

Even many of the Army Corps of Engineers’ internal documents recommend that returning the river to natural or normative conditions may be the only recovery scenario for Snake River fall Chinook salmon, and it will also benefit other salmon populations.

You and I are paying for this economic and ecological blemish with our tax dollars spent to maintain structures and negative return on investment in power generation, “barge” transportation, and recreation. The question I would now ask is “Why?” and “What good are they?”

Killer Whales off San Juan Island
Killer whales off San Juan Island, Photo by Carl Safina

Removal can be done inexpensively and doing so makes perfect ecological sense. The technological fixes for the dams have not improved wild salmon runs, and there is nothing left to try. There are no fixes for the deadly lakes behind the dams. As a nation, we are dangerously close to managing the beloved southern resident killer whale population to quasi-extinction (less than 30 breeding animals) as a result of diminishing populations of Chinook salmon upon which they depend. There are only about eighty of these whales now remaining (including juveniles and post-reproductive animals), down from nearly 100 two decades ago and down from 87 when they were listed as “Endangered” in 2005.

If you really want to have healthy ecosystems with salmon and whales in the Pacific Northwest future, and save tax/rate payer money at the same time, please contact or mail your thoughts to your elected representatives in support of a Presidential mandate to begin the return of the Snake River ecosystem to natural or normative conditions by the end of the current presidential administration. The time is now!

When they are gone it will be forever. Returning the Snake River to natural condition will help salmon and whales, and save money. Please do not wait until all are gone. Call or write your representatives today!

 

Ken Balcomb, 11 June 2015

Senior Scientist, Center for Whale Research

Dolphins drowning in oil‏

image

From Avaaz:

Dear friends,

I live on the California coast, and I’m crying as I write this. Last week a massive oil pipeline burst off of Santa Barbara, and now thousands of dolphins, sea lions, and pelicans are drowning in slick rivers of oil. But my rage and sadness is also hope, because I know together we can make sure this never happens again.

While our rocky shores are awash in oil and dead fish, Plains All American CEO Greg Armstrong raked in over $5 million in compensation last year, and is guaranteed $29 – $87 million in golden parachute cash! These guys broke the law to make a quick buck. But if we hold them accountable, we can prevent another catastrophe by putting oil company executives everywhere on notice that they can’t get away with these kinds of shady games on our watch.

Let’s tell California Attorney General Kamala Harris and local District Attorney Joyce Dudly to file civil and criminal charges against Plains All American and its shady CEOs! Sign now, and spread the word:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/santa_barbara_oil_spill_loc/?bVYyJab&v=59386

The pipeline that burst lacked basic safety features, like an automatic shut-off valve. And Plains All American is one of the most reckless companies in the US, with over 175 documented violations in the past decade.  They’ve been warned time and again, but did nothing.

I live in San Diego, just 200 miles south of this devastating oil spill. My best days are the days I surf with seals and dolphins. Floating in the waves as they frolic with joy and abandon makes the whole world make sense.

These precious creatures are now drowning in oil because of the profiteering short cuts of the Plains All American, but we can hold the culprits accountable. Click now to tell the DA and AG to bring the maximum possible charges:

https://secure.avaaz.org/en/santa_barbara_oil_spill_loc/?bVYyJab&v=59386

50 years ago a similar oil spill devastated Santa Barbara’s coastal sanctuary, sparking the modern environmental movement around the world.  Together people everywhere rose-up then in fury and hope, writing new laws to protect our planet and our children’s future.  Let us allow this tragedy to renew our determination, so together we can rise again.

With love and hope,

Terra, Joseph, Rosa and the rest of the Avaaz team

More information:

Santa Barbara oil spill: Authorities, environmentalists step up response (CNN)
http://www.cnn.com/2015/05/22/us/california-oil-spill

Santa Barbara oil pipeline leak rekindles memories of 1969 disaster (LA Times)
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-santa-barbara-spill-20150521-story.html#page=1

Huge Oversight Gap on Refugio Pipeline (Santa Barbara Independent)
http://www.independent.com/news/2015/may/21/whos-watching-man-whos-watching-pipeline

SEC Form 10-K Annual Report (SEC)
http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/1070423/000110465915013616/a14-25277_110k.htm#Item11_Executiv…

Executive Profile (Boardroom Insiders)
http://people.equilar.com/bio/greg-armstrong-plains-all/salary/25718#.VWYDse0azCQ


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Spike In Dolphin Deaths Directly Tied To Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Researchers Say

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/20/deepwater-horizon-dolphin-deaths_n_7346250.html

Posted: 05/20/2015 7:12 pm EDT Updated: 05/20/2015 7:59 pm EDT


GULF DOLPHIN

Dolphins swim near a boat carrying the Florida governor on a tour of oil skimming efforts in Pensacola Bay in Pensacola, Fla., Saturday, June 26, 2010. (AP Photo/Dave Martin) | ASSOCIATED PRESS
A dramatic increase in dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico is directly linked to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientists concluded in a report published Wednesday.

Following the 2010 explosion on the drilling rig owned by British Petroleum (BP) and the subsequent spill of 4.9 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) of oil into the ocean, scientists have documented 1,281 dead and stranded cetaceans, primarily bottlenose dolphins, along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

gulf dolphin

In this photo taken May 10, 2015, a dead dolphin washes ashore in the Gulf of Mexico on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

In 2011, Louisiana saw 163 dolphins stranded, while Mississippi had 111. By comparison, each of those states saw an average of 20 such incidents per year from 2002 through 2009, reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One in three of the dolphins recovered from the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama suffered from otherwise rarely-seen adrenal lesions consistent with petroleum product exposure, according to a report from NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. In Barataria Bay, Louisiana, one of the areas hit hardest by the oil spill, half of the dolphins showed similar lesions. In contrast, only 7 percent of stranded dolphins found outside of the Deepwater Horizon spill zone have had similar adrenal gland damage.

The adrenal gland produces and regulates a wide range of hormones, which, in turn, help manage basic bodily functions including metabolism and blood pressure.

gulf dolphin

A dolphin lies on dead on a beach on Horn Island, in the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, May 11, 2010.

“Animals with adrenal insufficiency are less able to cope with additional stressors in their everyday lives,” Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead author and a veterinary epidemiologist at the National Marine Mammal Foundation, explained, “and when those stressors occur, they are more likely to die.”

In addition to adrenal gland damage, researchers found 22 percent of dolphins suffered from serious bacterial pneumonia. In 70 percent of those animals, the lung disease was severe enough to have “either caused or contributed significantly to death,” the researchers noted.

Outside of the spill area, only 2 percent of dolphins had similar lung disease.

“The evidence to date indicates that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused the adrenal and lung lesions that contributed to the deaths of this unusual mortality event,” Venn-Watson told the New York Times. “We reached that conclusion based on the accumulation of our studies including this paper.”

BP responded to the report by questioning the link between dolphin deaths and the oil spill.

“This new paper fails to show that the illnesses observed in some dolphins were caused by exposure to Macondo oil,” Geoff Morell, BP’s senior vice president for U.S. communications and external affairs, told AFP.

“According to NOAA, the Gulf ‘unusual mortality event’ (UME) began in February 2010, months before the spill. … Even though the UME may have overlapped in some areas with the oil spill, correlation is not evidence of causation,” Morell added.

Jane Goodall: SeaWorld ‘should be closed down’

 

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http://www.wfla.com/story/28921634/jane-goodall-seaworld-should-be-closed-down#WNPoll146628

Apr 28, 2015 <em class=”wnDate”>Tuesday, April 28, 2015 3:59 PM EDT</em>

Jane Goodall is best known for her work with primates, but she is making waves for saying SeaWorld should be shut down.

In an interview with the Huffington Post, Goodall said whales and dolphins should never be held in captivity and that the theme park famous for its orcas should be put out of business.

“They definitely should be closed down,” Goodall told HuffPo in an interview published Monday.

SeaWorld (SEAS)has come under fire for its treatment of killer whales, or orcas, after the sharply critical documentary “Blackfish” aired in theaters in the summer of 2013 and on CNN in the fall of that year.

Goodall points out that whales and dolphins communicate with sonar-like sound waves. Keeping them confined in tanks means those sound waves bounce off of the walls and echo back, creating what she called an “acoustical hell” for the animals.

SeaWorld said in a statement that it works with experts in “bioacoustics” to measure the noise level in its enclosures, which it says are quieter than the “ambient ocean.”

The company suggested that Goodall may not be familiar with recent research on whales and dolphins kept in zoos.

“Jane Goodall is a respected scientist and advocate for the world’s primates, but we couldn’t disagree more with her on this,” SeaWorld said in a statement. “Zoos and marine mammal parks like SeaWorld allow people to experience animals in a way that is inspiring and educational.”

More broadly, Goodall said she is hopeful that humans are becoming less interested in watching orcas perform and more sympathetic to their plight in captivity.

“It’s not only that they’re really big, highly intelligent and social animals so that the capture and confinement in itself is cruel,” she said, but also that “they have emotions like ours.”

Goodall’s comments come amid an ongoing backlash against SeaWorld.

Attendance at SeaWorld parks, which are located in Orlando, San Diego and San Antonio, has declined since “Blackfish” premiered.

“Blackfish” recounts the 2010 death of veteran SeaWorld trainer who was killed by a whale named Tilikum. It challenges the concept of keeping killer whales for entertainment and suggests that Tilikum had been driven to madness by captivity.

The company has also lost some of its long-standing corporate sponsors, including Southwest Airlines (LUV), which dissolved its 26-year-long partnership with the company. Mattel (MAT), which made a SeaWorld-themed Barbie, confirmed last week that it would not renew its licensing agreement with the company.

Meanwhile, SeaWorld’s stock price has gone into a tailspin, falling roughly 48% since the documentary debuted.

The Jane Goodall Institution did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Also See, L.A. Times Editorial SUNY chimp case questions animals’ right to freedom: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-chimps-20150504-story.html

 

Federal judge rules U.S. Navy Pacific training harms too many marine mammals

http://mauitime.com/news/science-and-environment/federal-judge-rules-u-s-navy-pacific-training-harms-too-many-marine-mammals/

U.S. Navy–RIMPAC 2012

In a 66-page ruling handed down today, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Oki Mollway in Honolulu ruled that the National Marine Fisheries Services should not have approved the U.S. Navy’s training activities in the Pacific Ocean a couple years ago because they harm too many marine mammals.

“The Navy and Fisheries Service had concluded that, over the plan’s five-year period, the Navy’s use of explosives and sonar, along with vessel strikes, could result in thousands of animals suffering death, permanent hearing loss or lung injuries,” stated an April 1 news release on the ruling from Earthjustice, which legally challenged the Fisheries Service approval in December 2013 on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, Animal Welfare Institute, Center for Biological Diversity and Ocean Mammal Institute. “Millions of others could be left with temporary injuries and significant disruptions to feeding, breeding, communicating, resting and other essential behaviors. In all, the Navy’s plan would cause an estimated 9.6 million instances of harm to marine mammals.”

That’s a huge number. Nearly three years ago, when I wrote this story on the Navy’s proposed Pacific testing and training activities, the estimate of instances of harm was just around 2 million. Of that, the Navy estimated, the exercises would kill 200 mammals and inflict another 1,600 injuries each year.

For its part, the Navy says it must conduct training exercises in the Pacific, especially using active sonar, to keep the nation safe. This, Earthjustice attorney David Henkin says, doesn’t give the service the right to inflict biological damage wherever they see fit.

“The court’s ruling recognizes that, to defend our country, the Navy doesn’t need to train in every square inch of a swath of ocean larger than all 50 United States combined,” said Henkin in the Earthjustice news release. “The Navy can fulfill its mission and, at the same time, avoid the most severe harm to dolphins, whales and countless other marine animals by simply limiting training and testing in a small number of biologically sensitive areas.”

Mollway’s ruling wasn’t subtle, either, and stated that the Navy exercises violate the Marine Mammals Protection Act (MMPA), Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. Here’s her ruling on the MMPA:

“No one is disputing the importance of military readiness, but recognition of that importance does not permit the parties or this court to ignore the MMPA. Although MMPA provisions have been adjusted with respect to military activities, those adjustments do not permit the Navy to skirt the MMPA purely to avoid having its training and testing activities interrupted.”

Mollway was also downright sarcastic and even a little mean:

The government actions that are challenged in this case permit the Navy to conduct training and testing exercises even if they end up harming a stunning number of marine mammals, some of which are endangered or threatened. Searching the administrative record’s reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy’s activities were authorized by the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”), this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, “Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”

According to this Los Angeles Times story from earlier today, the Navy is still “studying the ruling and could not comment on its details.”

Photo of 2012 RIMPAC exercises: Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Ryan J. Mayes/U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons

Immediate Help Needed: Keep Whales and Dolphins Out of Captivity

ALERT

March 5, 2015

PLEASE BROADCAST NOW

NOTE: I think it important that form letters and emails be avoided and that the calls not be identified with an organization to help prevent reactions from legislators who will vote against anything “animal”.

Immediate Help Needed: Keep Whales and Dolphins Out of Captivity

Who: All Washington State residents, any age. Young people who do not want to see whales and dolphins in captivity are encouraged to call when their parents do.

What: Contact your legislators. Washington State Legislature House Bill 2115 would prohibit captivity of whales, dolphins and porpoise for entertainment and exploitation. It is under attack and being blocked from leaving the Rules Committee which decides if a bill will proceed to debate and vote by the full Washington State House of Representatives.

When: Now. All bills must be voted out of the House by Wednesday or they die.

How:

a)      If your Representative is on the Rules Committee, call their office or email them.

b)      Call your Representatives who are not on the Rules Committee. If many people call their Representatives, your voice will flow to the Rules Committee.

c)      If you need to find who your Representatives are in Washington State, go here.

Please act now!

Should dolphin hunting be completely banned?

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Vote in Poll Here: https://netivist.org/debate/should-dolphin-hunting-be-banned

Dolphin meat is part of the cuisine of some countries, however this is not the only driver for dolphin hunts. Dolphins are often hunted to be sold to aquatic parks and dolphinariums for shows and swimming courses. Dolphin hunting has become highly controversial and has raised international criticism, not only due to the cruelty toward dolphins but also to the possible health risk that the often polluted meat causes. Despite criticisms, thousands of dolphins are caught in drive hunts each year. Many of them are killed for their meat but many others end up in dolphinariums and aquatic parks. The Taiji dolphin drive hunt is probably the most famous of those traditional hunts and provide income for hundred of local residents. The residents of Taiji and the surrounding area have been refining whaling techniques since the 17th century and now run annually a large scale dolphin drive hunt.

Is dolphin hunting following traditional methods justifiable? What if dolphins are not slaughtered but sold to aquatic parks? Do dolphins deserve a special treatment compared to other animals? Should dolphin hunting be completely banned?

Animal rights protestors send ‘deafening’ message to Japan to stop Taiji dolphin slaughter

 


Animal rights protesters demand end to the killing 

Published: Mon, November 10, 2014

Up to 1,000 furious protesters demanded an end to the dolphin ‘slaughter’


Up to a thousand furious demonstrators gathered outside the Japanese embassy in London to protest the “atrocious” killing of up to 20,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises in the country every year.

The majority of the creatures – including several thousand at the notorious Taiji Cove – are killed for meat but some are captured for zoos and aquariums.

Hunts are conducted between September and March. This year the Japanese government authorised 16,000 deaths.

The crowd, many with their hands covered in fake dolphin blood, chanted “Taiji: Set them free” and “Stop the dolphin slaughter” at the building, which was surrounded by police.

Lead activist Richard O’Barry who starred in the award winning documentary The Cove said: “It was the largest demonstration we’ve seen.

“We wanted to get the attention of the government in Tokyo and let them know that this is not acceptable. They are not their dolphins to kill.

“This is all about putting external pressure on Japan.”

http://www.express.co.uk/news/nature/533880/Animal-rights-protestors-London-tell-Japan-stop-Taiji-dolphin-slaughter

Dolphin Speak: Did a Dolphin Really Say “Seaweed”?

dolphin_228398

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201404/dolphin-speak-did-dolphin-really-say-seaweed

”I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Dr. Terrence Deacon
Dolphin tool use influences a population’s genetic structure and they may talk.
 
Dolphins are unquestionably highly charismatic animals. They have unique and sophisticated communication skills and also are known to use tools, including sponges to protect their sensitive beaks, when foraging for food.

During the past two weeks I came across two extremely interesting articles about these crafty cetaceans. The first, titled “Dolphin whistle instantly translated by computer” by Hal Hodson, considers the possibility that dolphins are able to whistle the same words we use to denote an object. The print version of the latter essay is called “Decoding dolphin.” The second, called “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specializations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” by Anna Kopps of the University of New South Wales and her colleagues, focuses on their use of protective sponges during foraging and its effect on the genetic structure of dolphin populations.

Say what? Did you really whistle seaweed?

Denise Herzing is well known for her and her team’s long-term field research on Atlantic spotted dolphins. Among many aspects of the amazing lives of dolphins, she has long been interested in dolphin communication and whether or not they and other animals use language to communicate with one another or can use language to communicate with us.

While it’s too early to know for sure, there is compelling evidence that some animals are language users (see, for example, a brief review of the research by Dr. Con Slobochikoff on prairie dogs). I found Hal Hodson’s essay called “Decoding dolphin” to be an extremely interesting, stimulating, and easy read. To wit, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, Mr. Hodson begins: “IT was late August 2013 and Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean. The dolphin pod she had been tracking for the past 25 years was playing around her boat. Suddenly, she heard one of them say, ‘Sargassum'”. And, what did Dr. Herzing exclaim? “‘I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned.'” Dr. Herzing “was wearing a prototype dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) and it had just translated a live dolphin whistle for the first time.” So, “When the computer picked up the sargassum whistle, Herzing heard her own recorded voice saying the word into her ear.” I, too, would have been stunned and I can’t wait for more research in this fascinating area of study.

Perhaps we are not the only animals who use language. Dr. Terrence Deacon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who also is an expert in animal communication, notes, “I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Only time and research will tell if we’re alone in the language arena. For now it’s a good idea to keep the door wide open.

Cultural hitchhiking: Was there a “sponging Eve”?

An informative summary of the research on the genetics of tool use in dolphins living in Shark Bay in Western Australia can be found in an article called “Cultural hitchhiking: How social behavior can affect genetic makeup in dolphins.” It turns out that the culturally transmitted use of sponges—called vertical social transmission—can actually “shape the genetic makeup” of wild dolphins. Dolphins, who live deep in the bay, show mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types called Haplotype E or Haplotype F that are inherited solely from the mother, whereas non-sponging dolphins who live in shallower water mainly show Haplotype H. All of the 22 sponging dolphins who were observed turned out to be members of one matriline and were Haplotype E.

This novel and significant discovery demonstrates a strong correlation between haplotype and habitat. According to Dr. Kopps, “Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population.” She also notes, “For humans we have known for a long time that culture is an important factor in shaping our genetics. Now we have shown for the first time that a socially transmitted behaviour like tool use can also lead to different genetic characteristics within a single animal population, depending on which habitat they live in.” This is one of the first demonstrations of what is called “cultural hitchhiking” in nonhuman animals.

What an exciting time it is to study the behavior of nonhuman animals. Stay tuned for more on their fascinating lives.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014.