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

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

Canada proposes more habitat protection for southern-resident orcas – Seattle Times

Canada is taking steps to expand habitat protection for killer whales to boost survival of the critically endangered southern-resident population. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada is taking steps to expand habitat protection for killer whales to boost survival of the critically endangered southern-resident population. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced Wednesday the department is initiating a 60-day comment period on creating new areas of critical habitat for the whales.

One area is off the coast of southwestern Vancouver Island, including Swiftsure and La Pérouse banks (important for both northern and southern residents). The other is in Dixon Entrance, along the north coast of Graham Island from Langara to Rose Spit (important for northern residents). The move to expand habitat protection comes on top of a reduction by the department of chinook salmon harvest by up to 35 percent for the 2018 fishing season, with a full closure of commercial and recreational fish for chinook in three key foraging areas for the southern residents: the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Gulf Islands and the mouth of the Fraser River.

These measures, enacted June 1, will continue until Sept. 30, and include increased monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the closures. Lynda Mapes reports. (Seattle Times)

 

One Orca, two stories. A way forward?

Over the last few days, I saw two stories that really drove the message home to me that we are very likely to fail at saving the Southern Resident Killer Whales without new thinking, outside the box. And it’s really not a box, but about outside the silos. It’s not some dire story of good and bad guys. Just a reflection of what is our lack of being able to look at the big picture instead of silos of interests. One silo is the scientists along with the Tribes, the other is the sports fishing community and it’s state of Washington Fish and Wildlife people. My intent is not be critical of either side but to point out a gap that is likely going to doom efforts to support the Orca.

Over the last week, the Seattle Times and many other news outlets, covered the story of J50. J50 is the SRKW that is in poor health. Scientists and members of the Lummi Nation, are trailing around with the whales with live hatchery Chinook (King) salmon, the Orcas most favored food (though it prefers them wild from either the Frasier or Columbia river. This  is likely because, over thousands of years, these two river systems deposited the strongest and largest population of wild Chinook, every year like clockwork until white Europeans  arrived about 200 years ago, give or take 50 years. We all know what happened next. ) They are doing this because it is, to the best of our knowledge, that there is not enough Chinook salmon for the Orcas to survive. So they are bringing the salmon to the Orcas in order to see if they can nurse J50 back to health. A  noble and worthy effort.

So while the scientists and tribal members were doing their best to feed this wild animal,  another story caught my eye. The closing of salmon fishing for the summer by the State of Washington.

The Peninsula Daily News reported “Chinook Season Wraps Up”. The article stated:

SALTWATER CHINOOK FISHING has closed for the season for the bulk of the North Olympic Peninsula — while remaining open to hatchery Chinook retention off of La Push and south of Ayock Point in Hood Canal. The state estimated … chinook guideline estimates show that anglers caught 61.7 percent of the 4,900 kings allotted (3,023).

One thought is that if the Chinook fishing is still allowed out off LaPush, and the Orcas have gone there, it must be after the fish. So I’m left wondering, if we really wanted to save starving orcas, why on earth are we allowing recreational fishers to catch 3023 fish? As to the ocean limits, according to state F&W, the ocean recreational limits were:

 27,500 fish, which is 17,500 fewer fish than 2017’s quota of 45,000.

So this is approximately 30,000 chinook we are catching when the story of the day is that the Orcas can’t find these fish in the Salish Sea. And this is in addition to whatever the seals and sea lions  have been taking, The studies on seals and sea lions show that they eat primarily juvenile salmon, not as much the older ones! However the study concludes that the seals and sea lions are a problem.

See https://www.earthfix.info/news/article/puget-sound-orcas-salmon-sea-lions-seals-food-study/

and

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-14984-8

 

I have not seen the numbers of the commercial and tribal catch of chinook, but I’m sure it’s higher than 3023 fish.  The State F&W web site stated this spring:

In meeting conservation objectives for wild salmon, the co-managers are limiting fisheries in areas where southern resident killer whales are known to feed. The adjustments will aid in minimizing boat presence and noise, and decrease competition for chinook and other salmon in areas critical to the declining whales, said WDFW.

This seems to say that they state only wants to restrict fishing in the areas where we know the Orca feed. Well, according to what I’ve read, they travel all over the Sound to feed, which is why we see them off Seattle, Tacoma and many other locations. To restrict fishing to some area that they spend more time in seems to be an arbitrary idea of humans as so as to allow fishing to continue.

The facts on the ground (or sea) remain. Some orcas are starving. Many scientists believe we are on the edge of the end of these whales, because the breeding pairs are just too small a number to survive. Calves are dying at birth or shortly after. The Governor has stated that it is unacceptable to lose them and radical ideas need to be implemented. He has dozens of people working on a plan. In the meantime, thousands of chinook are being caught and eaten by us, who have other sources of protein! 

Do we really want to save the resident orcas? Then instead of chasing them with a boat with a few live fish on it, maybe we should consider not competing with them for their food source. Just for a few years, maybe a decade. we may also have to cull sea lions and seals for a few decades to see if it also helps put more fish in the sea, more to placate the fishing interests that routinely claim that they are one of the main competing mammals out there.  The sea lions and seals seem to have rebounded and if the scientists say that a cull of some size is warranted, then let’s do it. Then scientifically see  if things improve. We have alternatives for salmon from Alaska. We don’t need to stop eating the fish. Consider putting a moratorium on catching them in the inland waters and the coast  for five to ten years.This is not a new idea It’s been done all over the world to recover decimated fish stocks. They are called Marine Reserves . It’s a controversial topic to be sure, but it seems to map to our current needs to save the Orcas by giving them more food. And it’s been an idea that many old time fishermen I’ve personally talked to say is needed.

I say this as someone who has done salmon fishing in the Sound in the past, who ate salmon twice in the last three days (and likely will have leftovers of it tomorrow), and who’s son is an avid sports-fisherman with a small boat.

A moratorium is  the fastest way to give more fish to the whales. All other means, whether radical protection of the shorelines, tearing down dams or whatever, will take decades.   But it will take a lot willingness by various groups to put the long range health of salmon ahead of their own short term financial gain and personal pleasure fishing.  Anyone willing to give it a try? If not, why not?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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