Marine experts seek answers in death of humpback whale

A whale washed up Sunday evening on the beach in Seaside. — Kyle Spurr/The Daily Astorian


SEASIDE — The dead 24-foot humpback whale that washed ashore on the north end of Seaside’s beach Sunday caused quite a stir.

A couple of dozen onlookers stopped to watch Tuesday as a team of marine experts from Portland State University and Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteers performed a necropsy on the animal, which had been moved slightly inland and north on the beach. Some came to town specifically to see the whale.

The team collected biological samples that will be used to help determine a cause of death. If there are no “smoking guns,” such as bullet holes or something stuck in the mammal’s throat, then it can take days or weeks to determine a cause of death, said Keith Chandler, the general manager of Seaside Aquarium.

It was clear the animal did not die from old age, as it was only about a year old, Chandler said. He said it is not unusual to see a whale wash ashore on the North Coast, but they tend to be gray whales. Humpbacks are rare — Chandler said he has only see a few in his 20 years with the stranding network — but the species was spotted in nearby waters recently.

“There were a few humpbacks hanging out in the mouth of the Columbia River last year,” he said. “They are usually further offshore. It could have died offshore and with the storm, washed in.”

The whale was one of at least five cetaceans to wash up in the area in three days. A harbor porpoise and two striped dolphins were found Saturday. One dolphin was found in Cannon Beach and the other in Ocean Park, Washington. A third striped dolphin washed ashore in Seaside Monday. Chandler said it is “quite unusual to get them all together,” especially the striped dolphins.

The Ocean Park dolphin showed signs of being entangled in a net and had a hole in its tail that appeared to be from a gaff, Chandler said. The dolphin from Seaside had a similar hole in the same area, but it had not undergone a necropsy by Tuesday. Chandler said it could be a single event — getting caught in the net — that caused the unusual occurrence of killing multiple dolphins at once. If a single event is the cause of death, Chandler said, then “we know it’s just an accident,” as opposed to persistent conditions impacting a species, like disease.

City crews planned to bury the whale at the beach by Wednesday morning.

Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into the Pacific

Dahr Jamail | Radioactive Water From Fukushima Is Leaking Into the Pacific Wednesday, 27 January 2016 00:00
Written by 
Dahr Jamail By Dahr Jamail,

The Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, which was idled after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, in the Ehime prefecture of Japan, Jan. 23, 2014. (Ko Sasaki / The New York Times)The Ikata Nuclear Power Plant, which was idled after the 2011 disaster in Fukushima, in the Ehime prefecture of Japan, January 23, 2014. (Photo: Ko Sasaki / The New York Times)

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“Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of mankind,” Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry senior vice president, told Truthout shortly after a 9.0 earthquake in Japan caused a tsunami that destroyed the cooling system of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan.

While this statement might sound overdramatic, Gundersen may be right.

Several nuclear reactor meltdowns in the plant, which at the time forced the mandatory evacuations of thousands of people living within a 15-mile radius of the damaged power plant, persist, and experts like Gundersen continue to warn that this problem is not going to go away.


Make the Gillnet Ban Permanent to Save the Vaquita!

VIVA Vaquita Coalition


The critically endangered Vaquita porpoise is the rarest marine mammal species on the planet.

Between 50 and 100 remain, and all of them live in a tiny region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Their only threat is accidental entanglement in fishing nets called gillnets, which are illegally set for the also-endangered Totoaba fish. There is a lucrative black market trade in Asia for the swim bladders of the Totoaba, fueling this highly destructive fishery. The Vaquita is simply an accidental victim in this situation, but nevertheless, it is on the absolute brink of extinction.

2016 is a “make or break” year for the Vaquita.

In 2015 we convinced the Mexican government to ban all gillnet fishing in the Vaquita’s range, which is amazing news!

Now this year, we are going to have to make sure they flawlessly enforce the ban as well as make it permanent with the aid of Vaquita-safe fishing gear.

2016 has to be the Year of the Vaquita, or else it will be too late to save this magnificent animal.

Thank you for signing this petition and speaking on behalf of the voiceless!

Please visit the websites below to learn more about the Vaquita and how you can help!

Starving sea lion pups likely to begin washing up on beaches soon

There was a sick, starving or injured sea lion on the beach, right off the Ocean Park, WA approach. She was able to raise up whenever a driver would stop and hassle her, but she couldn’t get back to the surf and away from the hundreds of clam diggers who were driving right past her.

Hopefully someone won’t run her over, as happened (purposely, maliciously) to a seal and her newborn pup last year on that same stretch of beach. This sea lion was either wounded by having been shot (likely by one of the crabbers or fishermen in boats offshore), or she had a buildup of domoic acid from the red tide that’s still around and is directly linked to warmer ocean temperatures and a resultant massive toxic algae bloom off the Pacific Northwest coast.



December 30 2015

Malnourished and dying California sea lion pups are likely to be seen again in high numbers on California beaches this winter and spring.  Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been monitoring sea lion rookeries on the Channel Islands and have found the lowest weights in pups in 41 years of recorded history.

“We’re preparing for higher than normal numbers, because the information that’s coming from the islands, from the scientists, are saying that the pups are the smallest that they’ve really ever been,” said Justin Viezbicke, stranding coordinator for the National Marine Fisheries Service in California.

Since January 2013, starving California sea lion pups have been washing up on beaches at alarmingly high numbers. The cause is believed to be a wide swath of abnormally warm water that has depressed the number of sardines in typical hunting areas. Sardines are important food sources for nursing mothers.

A screenshot of a NOAA Fisheries website shows the number of stranded California sea lions has increased in recent years.
A screenshot of a NOAA Fisheries website shows the number of stranded California sea lions has increased in recent years. NOAA Fisheries


Viezbicke said strandings on the mainland could be high, because many pups are continuing to survive in the rookeries. When they leave, they’re not able to forage successfully and end up washing ashore on mainland beaches. Those strandings could begin occurring in late December and early January.

“If that’s similar to what we were having last year, where the pups are good enough to get off the island but not overall healthy enough to last within the system that they’ve got because of their situation, then we’re anticipating seeing higher than normal strandings again this year,” Viezbicke said.

The “blob” of warm water that has extended for thousands of miles into the Pacific Ocean from the West Coast has cooled in recent months. That would normally be a good sign for returning sardines. However, Nate Mantua, a research scientist with NOAA Fisheries, said the strong El Niño is likely to warm up the water near the coast again.

“It’s expected to have stronger and stronger influences on ocean currents and weather patterns off the West coast that are likely to keep it really warm for the next few months,” Mantua said. “That means that the marine food webs are still going to be disrupted near shore and really around those rookeries.”

Additional factors could complicate the care of sea lions. Another unusual mortality event has been declared for Guadalupe fur seals, a threatened species of seal that began stranding in abnormally higher numbers last January. Viezbicke said the protected status of the fur seal requires more space and isolation for animals receiving care. That could reduce the capacity facilities have to care for California sea lion pups.

“It’s a little bit more challenging space-wise, when you add other species,” Viezbicke said.

Adding to that challenge is the lingering domoic acid in ocean waters after a record toxic algal bloom that stretched from Southern California up into Alaska. The neurotoxins dumped into the water from the bloom can persist for months and concentrate in the flesh and viscera of shellfish.

Viezbicke said adult sea lions and fur seals needing treatment could further complicate care, since pups cannot be safely housed with adults.

Despite the multiple consecutive seasons of strain on young California sea lions and the subsequent low survivorship, scientists said the overall population remains healthy at around 300,000 individuals.

“At this time, the health of that population remains really good and really strong and much better than it was just a few decades ago,” Mantua said.

Viezbicke said scientists will continue monitoring the population in coming years.

“If it keeps happening, there will be concerns, but with a robust population of 300,000 animals, the reality is that it’s not a population concern at this point, but it’s something that we’re definitely keeping an eye on,” Viezbicke said.

Despite the overall wellbeing of California sea lions, the sight of starving sea lion pups will be difficult for many beachgoers. People who do encounter sea lions or fur seals they believe are suffering should not approach the animals but should contact the Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-767-6114.

Viezbicke said even so, the public should be aware that with the limited capacity to help the animals, many will not be able to receive care.

“You really want to temper the public’s expectations in those scenarios, because we understand that there’s concern, but the reality is we can only take so many animals in. And that’s really for the better of those animals that are currently in the facilities,” Viezbicke said. “It’s more of a quality thing.”

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Entangled Whale Partially Freed off California Coast

Rescuers who removed 150 feet of rope from a humpback whale entangled in fishing gear off the California coast said Saturday that they hoped to remove the rest of the netting but weren’t sure if the animal would resurface close enough to shore.

A rescue team with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was able to cut away some of the line late Friday after hours of trying, but about 100 feet of rope is still trailing from the whale. Rescuers are especially concerned because the rope appears to be stuck in the whale’s mouth, which will make it hard for it to eat, Jim Milbury, a NOAA spokesman, said Saturday.

The whale dove deep after the team did its work, and authorities aren’t sure where it will show up again — if at all.

A whale watching vessel reported the entangled whale Friday morning.

Rescuers are asking boaters to notify authorities if they spot the whale over the weekend.

Enforce Laws & Regulations to Protect Whales & Dolphins from Fishing Entanglements

Enforce Laws & Regulations to Protect Whales & Dolphins from Fishing Entanglements

  • BY: Sue Lee
  • TARGET: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS)

we’ve got 8,320 supporters, help us get to 9,000

So many whales and dolphins are continually caught in fishing gear and other methods of entanglement in the waters that they live in.  A major concern that affects these animals is entanglement among other concerns due to lacking of fishermen worldwide.

Many whales, dolphins and other marine mammals are unintentionally caught and killed in fishing gear worldwide each year.  Such entanglements often leads to the death of these animals.  A bill was passed back in 1972 that limited how many whales and dolphins would be caught by fishermen.  The laws continue to be ignored but the Center for Biological Diversity and the U. S. Government is stepping up the game to protect these mammals and other creatures of the sea through enforcement of the law.

Since the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, we are encouraging the National Marine Fisheries Service to finalize its rules and be more diligent in protecting marine mammals. Such an action would drastically reduce the number of whales and dolphins that die in nets each year while also preserving those on the brink of extinction.

Our efforts through this petition is to help the whales, dolphins and other marine mammals from perils of fishing and possible extinction.  You can help in this matter by signing and sharing this petition.  We need to encourage the NMFS to be more diligent in protecting these mammals.

Walrus Slaughter in Alaska Raises Ivory Poaching Concerns

Sep 23, 2015 02:11 PM EDT

Pacific Walrus

25 walrus were found dead in Alaska. This raises concerns of poaching. (Photo : Flickr: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters)

A total of 25 walrus along an Alaskan beach were found decapitated. This large-scale slaughter prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to investigate, and while the cause of death has not been determined, they believe it could be linked to the illegal ivory trade. Walrus tusks are made of ivory.

“We can’t say with any certainty what the cause of death here was. You know, these animals, from the photos, do appear to have their heads taken off, but we can’t make any assumptions that that’s why they were killed, if they were, in fact, killed,” Andrea Medeioros, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “You know, people can take the heads if they find a dead walrus on the beach.”

Under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is illegal to hunt walrus solely for their ivory and not their meat.

Why We Can’t Compromise With the Whale Killers

A whale's eye peeks out of the sea.

Commentary by Captain Paul Watson
Response to Arizona State University News Article

A Professor at the University of Arizona wants save the whales by advocating the killing of whales.

Just another one of these wishy-washy, self-proclaimed academic experts pandering to the whaling industry by posing as a conservationist. The same kind of mind-set as Texas big game hunter Corey Knowlton who justifies killing rhinos because he calls himself a conservationist.

Leah Gerber is a marine conservation biologist and professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences. She wants a compromise with the whale killers.

She is one of those academics who seem to know everything about whales except for what is really important. She has advocated “culling” (killing) whales to increase fisheries which in my opinion is a very ignorant approach to ocean ecology. She has also advocated placing a value on whales saying that conservationists should be willing to buy their lives. In addition she tends to use other utilitarian wordage like “take” and “harvest instead of kill and “stocks” instead of population. She most definitely lacks empathy for the whales themselves or an understanding of the true value of the whales to the oceanic eco-systems. Leah Gerber boasts of being a sushi lover and is an advisor to the seafood industry which explains her commercially oriented viewpoint on whales.

This is my point-by-point response to this “expert” on whales who lives in that “maritime” state of Arizona.

Arizona State University

ASU: Is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling?

Captain Paul Watson: Why is it time to cut a deal with Japan on whaling? Because a professor in Arizona says so.

ASU: The three-decade international moratorium on commercial whaling isn’t working. Animal-rights activists insist the ban remain absolute, while the three rogue nations still pursuing the world’s largest mammals refuse to quit hunting.

Captain Paul Watson: Yes they are rouge nations and they should be dealt with like rogue nations. Japanese whaling has already been condemned by the International Court of Justice. When nations violate international agreements the solution is not to simply legalize their activities because they refuse to stop. Gerber reveals her bias here by referring to whale conservation activists as animal tights activists. This is the mindset that sees only animal rights activists as opposing whaling. Gerber works with WWF, NOAH and other utilitarian groups that see whales as a commodity and thus they see conservation as management, that includes lethal exploitation.

ASU: Leah Gerber, a marine conservation biologist, professor at Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and founding director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, floated the idea of a compromise in the September issue of scientific journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Captain Paul Watson: She may have floated the idea but it’s an idea that needs sinking.

ASU: Rebounding whale populations, the predominance of other threats, and stubborn stakeholders make the moratorium a “failed management system,” Gerber said. The past 30 years of the International Whaling Commission’s conversation has been stalled by disagreement on the ethics of killing whales.

Captain Paul Watson: The laws to enforce the moratorium exist. There is simply a lack of political and economic will to do so. The moratorium needs strong leadership from the conservation oriented majority members of the International Whaling Commission. The USA should invoke economic sanctions as provided by the U.S. Department of Commerce specifically to uphold the moratorium. This is like saying it is illegal to rob a bank but the bank robbers continue to rob banks despite the law therefore we should allow them to rob some small banks to satisfy their greed.

ASU: “It really boils down to an ethical argument: that it’s not right to kill a whale,” Gerber said. “Personally I don’t like the idea of killing a whale, but that’s my value, and other people have other values. Insisting on our values in discussions about whaling has resulted in a global stalemate.”

Captain Paul Watson: It is both an ethical argument and an ecological argument. Plankton has been diminished by some 40% since 1950 and this has happened in part because of the removal of a very large part of whale biomass. When you consider that one Blue whale defecates 3 tons of iron rich, nitrogen rich feces every day and we removed some 300,000 Blue whales since 1946 alone and whale feces provides a nutrient base for plankton, what whaling has done is to diminish these farmers of the sea. Lower whale populations means lower plankton populations means lower oxygen production and diminished carbon sequestering by plankton. We need to revitalize bio-diversity in the sea and to do that we need to bring back whale populations to pre-exploitation levels.
And there is an ethical argument. Slavery was abolished and was no acceptable compromise that allowed some people to own slaves so that other slaves could be freed. Whales and dolphins are highly sophisticated, intelligent social, self aware, sentient beings. They communicate on a very high level and they have their own cultural units. There cannot be any justification for killing whales or dolphins by any group of humans for any reason, anywhere. The very idea of a compromise is unethical when you consider that to a great many people the idea of killing a whale is simply murder. There is no global stalemate. Commercial whaling is illegal. It just needs to be enforced.

ASU: Changing course and allowing Iceland, Japan and Norway to legally hunt under regulations and monitoring might break the current stalemate. Currently Japan whales under a loophole allowing for scientific research. The other two countries hunt whales commercially in protest of the ban

Captain Paul Watson: Since 1974 my course has been set on 100% abolishment of the slaughter of whales and dolphins. I have no intention of changing course because a professor in the desert somewhere has decided that Japan, Norway, Iceland and Denmark should be allowed to kill whales.

ASU: “If our common goal is a healthy and sustainable population of whales, let’s find a way to develop strategies that achieve that,” Gerber said. “That may involve agreeing to a small level of take. That would certainly be a reduced take to what’s happening now.”

Captain Paul Watson: I have a major problem with anyone who refers to killing as taking. You don’t take a whale’s life, you kill an intelligent sentient being. A so-called “small level of killing” simply keeps an industry alive that should be tossed onto the dustbin of history. Whaling needs to be abolished 100% by everyone, everywhere for any reason. Sea Shepherd has seen to it that the Japanese kill quota has been substantially reduced.

ASU: Since the moratorium was declared in 1982 and begun in 1985, whale populations have rebounded across the board, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: First Gerber says the moratorium in not working then in the same breath she says the moratorium has caused whale populations to rebound. Whale populations are indeed slowly recovering but there is still a long way to go before returning to pre-industrial whaling levels. We need more whales to address climate change and the health of the Ocean. We do not need whale meat on anyone’s plate. Economically whales are more important alive than dead both to what the contribute to the ecology of the Ocean and in terms of the revenue generated by the whale watching industry which is far more lucrative than commercial whaling.

ASU: “Overall the whaling that’s happening is not threatening any population,” she said.

Captain Paul Watson: I disagree. The loss of every whale is a loss to the planet in a world where whales and dolphins are dying from pollution, reduced fish populations and habitat destruction.

ASU: “With the exception of the J stock (a population that lives in the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea) of minke whales, current levels of take are fairly sustainable.”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber has not provided any evidence to back this ridiculous statement up. To say that Bowheads, Southern and Northern Right whales, Humpback whales, Fin whales, Blue whale populations can be sustainably slaughtered is absurd. The Icelanders want Fin whales. The Greenlanders want to kill Bowheads, Humpbacks, Fins and Minke’s.

ASU: The appetite for whale meat has been on the decline in Japan. An April 2014 poll by Asahi Shimbun,Japan’s newspaper of record, revealed that 14 percent of respondents occasionally or rarely ate whale meat. (Thirty-seven percent said they never ate it.) Consumption in Japan peaked in the 1960s and has steadily decreased; today, whale-meat consumption is about 1 percent of its peak, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Captain Paul Watson: Having stated this, it is a puzzle as to why Gerber feels there is a need to allow a legal return to whaling.

ASU: The Japanese have argued that it’s part of their cultural heritage. They also call American protests hypocritical because Alaskan Inuit tribe members hunt whales every year.

Captain Paul Watson: Whaling is not part of Japanese culture historically. It was an activity that took place in a few isolated communities. It was never a national traditional activity. 95% of Japanese people never ate whale meat until General Douglas MacArthur introduced the modern whaling fleet in 1946 to provide cheap protein for post war Japanese populations. Whaling was part of Ainu culture but Japan passed laws to ban whaling by the Ainu. It is hypocritical of Gerber to compare Inuit whaling allowed by the U.S. government to Japan where aboriginal Ainu whaling has been banned.

ASU: Norwegians have eaten whale meat since medieval times, but that habit has slowed in more recent times. Whale was served in school cafeterias and as military rations during the 1970s and 1980s, making it the mystery meat for a generation who won’t touch it anymore. It’s seen as something your grandparents ate. (Oddly, it’s enjoying a renaissance among young Norwegian foodies.)

Captain Paul Watson: Norwegian whaling is a blatant violation of IWC regulations and the global moratorium and economic sanctions should be invoked against Norway, Japan and Iceland by the signatory members of the IWC.

ASU: The 2015 catch netted about 700 tons of whale meat, while the Norwegian market won’t bear much more than 500 tons.

Captain Paul Watson: Norway’s whaling operations are illegal under international conservation law. The killing of these whales is not only illegal but ecologically senseless and economically unnecessary.

ASU: “Good catch is all very well, but we have challenges in the market,” Åge Eriksen, CEO of a seafood supply company, told Norwegian public broadcaster NRK last year. “We’ve got more meat on land than we can sell, and it is not a desirable situation.”

Captain Paul Watson: Unfortunately that is the situation with the commodity market over all – over production resulting in huge wastage.

ASU: Minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere have such a large population that taking a few wouldn’t be a big deal, Gerber said.

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber lacks the data to make such an assumption. In fact in a paper she wrote Minke whale populations are not as large as they need to be. We need a great increase in whale populations in order to repair the ecological instability in the Ocean, Also from an ethical point of view, killing (not taking) of a highly intelligent sentient being should not be allowed. In one of her papers she stated that the moratorium failed to increase whale populations and now she contradicts herself.

ASU: The media perception of whaling is often that it’s evil, but there are worse threats to the whales’ livelihoods, Gerber said. For instance, she said that whale mortality numbers are also driven by the mammals being hit by ships. For instance, blue whales off the coast of Long Beach, California, simply didn’t know to get out of the way of ships, according to a Stanford University study released in April. Because they are the biggest creatures in the sea, they’ve never had to avoid threats.

Bycatch entanglement, where whales are snagged in nets, and contaminants in seawater are two other serious threats.

Captain Paul Watson: To say that there are worse threats is like saying that murder is not the worst evil because more humans die in auto accidents so we should allow for a few murders. Stopping ship strikes is something that must be worked on and there is the technology to address this threat. There are many other threats to the whales like radiation, chemical and plastic pollution, climate change and diminishment of plankton and fish. These other threats to the survival of the whales cannot be used to justify the slaughter of whales.

ASU: “For most populations, whaling actually makes up a pretty small fraction (of whale deaths),” she said, pointing out that International Whaling Commission members know this. “We don’t have to agree on everything, but let’s take some baby steps.”

Violent action by animal-rights groups has not had an effect, either.

Captain Paul Watson: Baby steps may be fine for the whalers but the whales need abolition of whaling now. The prejudice of Gerber can be seen in her reference to “violent action.” There has been no violent action by anti-whalers. Not a single whaler has ever been injured by a whale defender. Japanese whalers have violently attacked whale defenders and have caused injury. Sea Shepherd may be aggressive but certainly not violent. You cannot describe the saving of the lives of whales from harpoons as violent. Whaling is violent, saving whales is not. Blocking a weapon of violence is a non-violent act.

ASU: “A lot of the (non-governmental organizations) like Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd raise a lot of money in advocating for saving whales by chasing whaling vessels in the open ocean,” Gerber said. “What success has that had?”

Captain Paul Watson: Gerber needs to do some research. Over 6,000 whales saved in the Southern Ocean is what I call success. The Japanese have failed to get their quotas every year since 2007 and in most years they took less then 30% and sometimes as low as 10% and in the last season (2014/2015) they took zero whales. The ICJ ruled against them. The IWC ruled against them. The campaign has been quite successful Leah Gerber, thank you very much. As for collecting money, Sea Shepherd has raised a fraction in donations to oppose whaling compared to the profits that whalers made before Sea Shepherd intervened.

ASU: Japanese whaling delegates have said they’re open to compromise arrangements, Gerber said.

“The animal-rights groups, on the other hand, are like, ‘Nope. My deal or nothing.’ To me, it’s not the best way to lead to change.”

Captain Paul Watson: You do not compromise with lives. We will not compromise on the lives of whales. One position is to kill whales. The other position is to not kill whales. The only possible compromise is to allow the killing of some whales which means killing whales, but if our position is against killing whales how can that be justified? To get what they want in a compromise the whalers can agree to accept lower profits. However we cannot morally agree to accept lower deaths. Whales are not a commodity to us. They are distinct individual living sentient beings. It would be extremely cold hearted for us to barter their lives in exchange for allowing whalers some profit.

My position is clear I cannot respect any scientist who advocates the killing of whales or dolphins. There is nothing scientific about killing whales. Advocating lethal exploitation benefits only those who profit economically. It does not benefit the species and it does not benefit science. All my life I have had to battle these scientists who act as apologists for the exploitation industries. Many years ago I coined a name for them. Biostitutes, the appeasers of those who profit from inflicting cruelty, death and diminishment.

Ocean warming puts fish, orcas in peril
It’s too early to say for certain, but this year’s warm weather could have a big impact on future salmon runs as well as the animals that rely on the fish for food.
LONG BEACH, Wash. — Oregon and Washington will experience two big El Niño-like events in combination this year, scientists and fishery managers say. This has never happened before and the events could have major impacts on commercial and recreational fisheries — and ocean species from salmon to orcas — for years to come.

One of these events is a true El Niño — a big one — and brings with it the likelihood of less precipitation and warmer temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.

The other event, the “Blob,” is a warm expanse of water that has persisted off the West Coast for more than a year and only resembles El Niño.

It is an anomaly, a mystery. Formed by a completely different set of circumstances, it has brought about similar results as an El Niño. Scientists believe it could be one reason why Washington has experienced such unusually mild weather since spring 2014. It has certainly warmed the water off the West Coast, driving various ocean species farther north in search of cold water and drawing tropical species to the area.

So there is what everyone knows: The ocean is unusually warm right now and has been for the last two years. When El Niño arrives in full force, the ocean will likely continue to be warm. And warm water is never good for salmon.

Then there are the questions no one can answer yet.

Oregon and Washington are already beginning to see the effects of this big El Niño cycle, though the event itself has yet to arrive in full here in the North Pacific. When the Blob and El Niño meet — as scientists believe they will — what will happen?

And, after this year’s drought, record-breaking heat, massive toxic algal blooms off the West Coast and no snowpack in the mountains, what will life in the ocean look like next year?

Bill Peterson, an oceanographer with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, has a guess: “It’s going to be a nightmare, is what I suspect we’re going to see. … It’s kind of beyond our experience and all we can say is it’s not going to be good.”

Delicate chains

Heat up the ocean and many West Coast species begin struggling almost immediately.

Coho salmon, for example, have been “acting strange” this year, said Doug Milward, ocean salmon fishery manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. He and others believe the fish are staying out in deeper water, waiting until the very last minute to enter Washington’s river systems where they will spawn. They are waiting for cooler water.

Sockeye, among the first salmon to run from the ocean to rivers and streams, were in trouble early on this season.

In July, more than a quarter million sockeye, approximately half of the 500,000 sockeye expected to return from the ocean, were dead or dying in the Columbia River and its tributaries due to warm water temperatures.

Meanwhile, salmon that were ocean-bound this spring and the ones that will head out next spring will face unknown conditions when they return several years later, but biologists say they are going into conditions that do not favor their survival; warm temperatures mean the salmon’s regular food sources may not be thriving either. The fish leaving next spring, reared in these conditions, may be even worse off. As for fish laid as tiny eggs in stream and river beds this year — no one knows.

Young salmon were certainly in trouble this summer, though. The warm temperatures led to outbreaks of bacterial diseases in hatcheries, killing off hundreds of thousands of young fish in Washington, Oregon and California.

Trouble for orcas?

Beyond salmon, biologists worry what this all could mean for the ocean species that rely on these fish for food.

Orcas often visit the communities near the Columbia River, but this year it seemed like people were spotting them constantly — NOAA wildlife biologist Brad Hanson says the number of sightings are probably not much higher than any other year; people are just paying more attention.

But, he added, salmon are an important part of an orca’s diet, likely one big reason why orcas flock to the region.

“With this year, with the drought occurring coastwide, it certainly is going to have an impact down the road. If not in the next couple of years, certainly in three or four years,” said Hanson, who was the chief scientist for a NOAA killer whale research cruise this spring. “… We are going to enter a period here in the not too distant future where we’re going to have reduced (salmon) run sizes. So the question is: How will the whales respond?”

Orcas must eat continuously. They can’t starve for extended periods of times the way other ocean mammals can, such as gray whales, living off fat reserves.

Orcas eat many kinds of fish, so Hanson and other biologists believe the large mammals could travel elsewhere for food. As the salmon change where and when they travel, the orcas might follow.

Still, Hanson added, if orcas are eating fish other than salmon, as the data suggests, how abundant is this other prey?

“It’s going to be critical for us to monitor that as best we can in the coming years,” he said.

Inland troubles

In the meantime, salmon fishing has been strong this summer. The Buoy 10 sport fishery near the mouth of the Columbia River ended with record catch rates, surpassing last year’s total catch within the opening weeks. Commercial fishing on the ocean has been brisk and conditions near shore have been normal, or as normal as the ocean, a shifting, swirling black box, ever is.

“When I look at this, I don’t see the warning signs I saw in the ’90s,” Milward said.

In the early ’90s, it was quickly becoming obvious that they were fishing on a very small pool of fish and that there were issues in the wide world beyond: climate shifts and damaged freshwater habitat.

“It’s been a wonderful fishing year in the ocean where I manage,” Milward said.

But it is in the areas beyond his management where he begins to worry.

From a human point of view, communities in Oregon and Washington had a beautiful spring and summer, the best longtime locals can remember.

For many, though, the summer’s beauty was marred by massive wildfires and drought. And with no snowpack to fuel streams and rivers in Washington and little rain, streams and rivers are running at an all time low. In June, the Washington Department of Ecology reported that the state’s snowpack was at zero percent of normal. Though there was still snow at higher elevations and in the glaciers, rivers and streams did not receive the boost they’d normally get from melting snow high in the mountains.

State and tribal fishery managers went into the summer worried about the effects of low-flow conditions on salmon-bearing streams and rivers in the Columbia Basin, conditions that can hamper fish passage and lead to high water temperatures (adding another stress on fish already stressed from their migration inland from the ocean). High temperatures and low flow can lead to less oxygen and put salmon more at risk of bacterial or fungal infection.

“I mean, those fish in the ocean now have no idea that we had no snowpack in the winter and no rain in the summer,” Milward said. The salmon are headed toward areas where “their native stream looks more like a creek than river.”

Red light, green light

Each year, Peterson and other NOAA scientists gather information that informs how fisheries will be run in the next season. They look at more than a dozen different indicators of ocean and fish health. They look at what is in the water, and they note what is missing. For each indicator, they put a red light or a green light next to it. Just like with traffic signals, green light means go. In the 1998 El Niño, all the indicators were red: Stop! In 2008, everything was green. In years where there’s a mix of red and green, it means, Peterson said, “basically we don’t know what’s going on (in the ocean).”

This year, he and state and federal fishery managers are ready for everything to come back red.

“I’m guessing redder than anything we’ve seen before,” Peterson said.

But the ocean is vast, he added, and scientists’ predications have been wrong before. “This could be an environmental disaster, or a blip on the screen that we forget in a couple of years.”

This year, sockeye — the salmon that had half of its total run wiped out by warm water when returning to the Columbia River and its tributaries — found other places to spawn. They ran up streams they’d never used before, streams where the water was still cold, where their young might survive.

To Peterson, salmon are a metaphor for resiliency.

“If you think about what they’ve put up with for the last 50 years and we still have them,” he said. “… They will find a way.”

700 Walrus Seen Near Shell Oil Rigs in Arctic as Obama Visits Alaska

 August 31, 2015 10:39 am 

James MacCracken, supervisory wildlife biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said in an Aug. 28 press conference call, “We are getting reports from Shell daily” of walrus near the ships and rigs and the talley so far is “700 walrus” seen by observers. When asked if all operations around the walrus by Shell are within the guidelines set by Interior Department regulation, MacCracken said, “Yes.” This is the first confirmation that protected sea mammals are swimming through the Burger oil leases which Shell just got permission to deep drill. Observers, paid by Shell, are required by Shell’s permit to perform drilling and other activities which might disturb or injure sea mammals. More information to come on this.

First aerial views of thousands of Pacific walrus hauling out Aug. 23 on Alaska Arctic shore.  Photo credit: Gary Braasch / World View of Global Warming
First aerial views of thousands of Pacific walrus hauling out Aug. 23 on Alaska Arctic shore. Small detail of telephoto image of 2015 haul out. Photo credit: Gary Braasch / World View of Global Warming

The press conference was also the first direct acknowledgement by the U.S. agencies in charge of studying and protecting the mammals that a new haul out had begun—nearly a week after the event actually started and only three days before President Obama begins his tour of Alaska focusing on rapid climate change. Gary Braasch made the first photos of the haul out at about 7 p.m. on Aug. 23, after seeing on USGS maps of locations of geotagged walrus that several were stationary in the Point Lay area.

Thousands of Pacific walrus coming ashore in northwest Alaska as sea ice melts recedes from habitat. Photo credit: Gary Braasch / World View of Global Warming
Thousands of Pacific walrus coming ashore in northwest Alaska as sea ice melts recedes from habitat. Photo credit: Gary Braasch / World View of Global Warming