Researchers seek answers to gray whale deaths after 57 are stranded this year – Seattle Times

A huge number of grey whales have been washing up dead on west coast beaches this year. No one is sure why yet. Here’s a good wrap up of thinking about the situation from the Seattle Times.

Gray whales are dying at twice the usual rate as a brutal migration unfolds, with whales washing up on Washington state beaches, apparently starved to death.

https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/researchers-seek-answers-to-gray-whale-deaths-after-57-are-stranded-this-year/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=article_inset_1.1

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Bigg’s orcas in the Salish Sea point to shifting habitat of resident killer whales – Oak Bay News

Nature abhors a vacuum. And species go, if they are able, to where the food is.


To the untrained eye, the orcas socializing in the Salish Sea on Friday could have been the resident whales that many Islanders know and love. But those who know, like Stephen Pincock, owner of Ocean EcoVenture in the Cowichan Valley, recognize the significance of seeing Bigg’s orcas – slightly larger, mammal-eating killer whales – in the endangered Southern residents’ long-time habitat. “We’ve seen [resident orcas] shift to the outer coast more…because there’s more salmon out there for them than in the inner waterways,” Pincock said. “It’s kind of opened the door for the mammal-eaters to come in and take their place.” Nina Grossman reports. (Oak Bay News)

Bigg’s orcas in the Salish Sea point to shifting habitat of resident killer whales

Legislature won’t ban orca-watching boats in Puget Sound – Investigate West

The power of business over science. Not even a moratorium to see if it helps for a year or two. Will the last whale watch boat turn out the lights when you leave the San Juans when the resident orca pod are extinct? Thanks.

Washington legislators came into their 2019 session brimming with proposals to help rescue Puget Sound’s imperiled orcas. But now they have dropped one of the most important – and controversial – ideas: A three-year moratorium on commercial whale watching. Lawmakers denied Gov. Jay Inslee’s attempt to force commercial whale-watching boats to keep extra distance from three groups of orcas that summer in the waters of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea between Washington and Canada. In doing so, they turned down a key recommendation from an overwhelming majority of a group of nearly 50 researchers, state and tribal officials and others who served on the Southern Resident Orca Task Force. Rachel Nielsen reports. (InvestigateWest)

Legislature won’t ban orca-watching boats in Puget Sound

Groups sue to restrict salmon fishing, help Northwest orcas -AP

This is huge news. It has been questioned that while we are doing everything under the sun inside Puget Sound and the Straits to foster more fish, that huge numbers of chinook are harvested just off the coast. I understand that the Chinook are essentially by catch to these fishing fleets, but it seems that the numbers matter. This goes to the heart of the matter in the previous post, in that the four bills being sheparded through the State Legislature are all good works, they don’t get to the immediate need for more fish tomorrow for the Orca.

Federal officials said they may restrict salmon fishing off the West Coast to help the Pacific Northwest’s critically endangered orcas, but two environmental groups are suing anyway to ensure it happens. The Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a lawsuit nearly two decades ago to force the U.S. government to list the orcas as endangered, and the Wild Fish Conservancy asked the U.S. District Court in Seattle on Wednesday to order officials to reconsider a 2009 finding that commercial and recreational fisheries did not jeopardize the orcas’ survival. The National Marine Fisheries Service issued a letter early last month indicating that it intends to do so. Julie Teel Simmonds, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the point of the lawsuit is to ensure they finish the job with urgency, given the plight of the orcas, and to take short-term steps in the meantime to help provide more of the orcas’ favored prey, Chinook salmon. Gene Johnson reports. (Associated Press)

Groups sue to restrict salmon fishing, help Northwest orcas

Health assessments planned for two ailing orcas – PSI

Worrisome news from the Orca front.

Killer whale experts who are not employed by the federal government are preparing to assess the health conditions of two Southern Resident orcas that appear malnourished and may be dying. Any decisions regarding potential medical treatment would be made later. During a conference call on Tuesday, marine mammal biologists, veterinarians and other orca experts decided to take minimally invasive steps, such as collecting breath and fecal samples from the whales. “What came out was a unanimous decision that we should try to do something,” said Joe Gaydos, a veterinarian with SeaDoc Society who helped organize the meeting. “Everyone on the phone was saying, why should we say we can’t do anything without at least getting some health samples first.” Chris Dunagan reports. (Puget Sound Institute)

Health assessments planned for two ailing orcas

The orca recovery plans that could become state law – KCPQ

Three bills hit the floor for supporting Orca recovery. More on this soon.

After a year of task force meetings, it’s time to find out if the governor’s ambitious plans to save the endangered southern resident orcas will turn into state law. It’s in the hands of state lawmakers now as they introduced several bills in Olympia Wednesday. The legislation is based on several of the governor’s orca task force recommendations. Some will be a harder sell than others. [Read about House Bill 1580 and Senate Bill 5577 which deal with aspects of vessel noise; House Bill 1578 and Senate Bill 5578 which deal with improving oil transport safety; House Bill 1579 and Senate Bill 5580 which increase habitat for Chinook and forage fish.]  Simone Del Rosario reports. (KCPQ)

The orca recovery plans that could become state law

Whale researcher predicts two more orca deaths this year – Seattle Times

As I’ve stated before in this column, there is not much time left for the resident Orca pod. The Governor’s ideas from the task force are a nice batch of projects, but likely the only hope, and it’s slim at best, seems to be to do all he wants, but go beyond it and breach the Snake River dams this year. It’s possible to do, but would be politically very hard. But there is no other way to get enough smolts out to see quickly. The numbers are just not there. The discussion should be started at once to get the issue on the table in a serious way.  Even if it means Jay killing off his chance at President. Because that is what it would likely do.

Two more orcas are ailing and probably will be dead by summer, according to the region’s expert on the demographics of the critically endangered southern residents. Ken Balcomb, founding director of the Center for Whale Research, said photos taken of J17 on New Year’s Eve showed the 42-year-old female has so-called peanut head, a misshapen head and neck caused by starvation. In addition K25, a 27-year-old male, is failing, also from lack of sufficient food. He lost his mother, K13, in 2017 and is not successfully foraging on his own…. The southern resident population is at a 35-year low after three deaths this past year in four months. There are only 74 left. “I am going to stop counting at 70,” Balcomb said. “What is the point?” Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)

Two more Puget Sound orcas predicted to die in critically endangered population

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