Friday, August 3, 2012

Dolphins May Form Elite Socities Just Like Humans

A twenty-two year study suggests that dolphins may form elite societies based on a learned cultural behavior that is shared with some but not all the dolphins in the pod.  They exhibited a tendency to associate with those most like themselves, which is, scientists believe, a “critical role in human (sub)cultures,” and “may be true for dolphin society as well.”

To read the full story:

Native Plant Walk at American Camp on Aug. 12

Join the San Juan Islands Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society and park staff in an exploration of the prairie landscape at American Camp on Sunday, August 12 from 1 to 3 p.m. Meet at the American Camp visitors’ center. Chief of Interpretation/Historian Mike Vouri and Chief of Resource Management Jerald Weaver will join the plant walk to discuss plans for restoring and managing the prairies at American Camp and Young Hill. The National Park Service is currently accepting public comments for their prairie stewardship plan. For more information on the San Juan Islands Chapter of the WNPS, or to coordinate carpooling, contact chapter secretary Madrona Murphy (360-468-2808, 

Are Dolphins the 2nd Smartest Animal?

Scientists doing research on dolphin brains have discovered similarities with human brains.  The new study, published in the latest Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that certain genetic features have led to the convergent evolution of large brains and complex cognition in a handful of species, including dolphins and humans.

To read the complete article:

Visit San Juans Website

In case some of you don't know about this site, it is a great resource for you and your visitors.  It now has the "Scenic Byways" map, which can be downloaded or you can order a copy.

Protection of Southern Resident Orcas Challenged

The  Pacific Legal Foundation has challenged the endangered listing and protection of the Southern Resident pods saying that they are not genetically any different than any of the other thousands of orcas in the oceans and therefore do not deserve protection.  They believe the Southern Residents are an "unjustified subspecies" of orcas and believe that NOAA invented a subspecies for the Pacific Northwest.

Read the full story:

Death at Sea World

This article focuses on the author's view of what happened at Sea World in 2006 and 2010 when two orcas attacked their trainers killing one.  There is a 15 minute video of the 2006 event.  The orca had just been taken from her young calf and the calf was calling apparently greatly distressing the mother.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Crabbing Season Opens Today

Beachwatchers from the San Juan's were recently given an inservice by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.  Topics covered included recreational dungeness crab rules, ways to prevent crabs from being wasted and overfished and statistics on the rate of lost crab pots.  Beachwatchers were asked to educate the public about the use of  "rot cord" (which breaks down in the water and releases crabs when pots are lost), identification of male and female crabs (only males can be taken) and the legal keep size of 6 1/4 inches. The group was provided educational packages containing a pamplet, "Crabbing in Puget Sound" which  covers this information in more detail, a caliper to measure crabs and a sample of rot cord to distribute to the public.  The project is being well received by recreational crabbers.

Monday, May 21, 2012

‘The Ocean of Life’—And the Sorrow Beneath the Sea

This is an excellent article in the current Newsweek about the condition of our oceans and the species being lost.  The author Callam Roberts is a marine conservation biologist, oceanographer, author and research scholar at the University of York, England.  His work examines the impact of human activity on marine ecosystems.

 Here is the article:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Update on the Cause of Death of L112

Today NOAA released more information on the ongoing investigation of the cause of death of L112.  The most recent results can be found at:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pelicans, Boobies & Dolphins Die in Peru

Since January about 900 dolphins have died on Peru's beaches as well as 4,000 Pelicans and boobies.  Biologists believe the Pelicans starved to death, but as yet have not found a cause for the dolphin deaths.  To read more:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Herring Return to Eastsound

For the second year in a row herring have spawned on the Eastsound waterfront. Volunteers from the Indian Island Marine Health Observatory collected eggs over the Easter weekend. The herring are mainly spawnng on seaweed (sargassum) and dwarf eel grass both non-native species. Though not native to Fishing Bay these species are gradually creating dense thickets that herring find attractive. It is not known whether there is any adverse impact to native species. Russel Barsh, Kwiaht ecogolgist, told volunteers "that as the Eastsound herring appear to be recovering this is the time to go gentle with Fishing Bay and Indian Island in order to give the herring and vegetation that supports them the best chance possible".

Monday, April 30, 2012

NOAA Update on L112 and Other Projects

Below is some recent information on killer whales from NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region thought you might be interested in.     

Did you know?
A recent review of photos by DFO scientists have confirmed that Southern Resident killer whales were sighted in Chatham Strait, Southeast Alaska, back in June 2007. Southern Residents were previously thought to range as far north as the Queen Charlotte Islands, B. C. This sighting extends their known range about 200 miles to the north.

L112 stranding investigation progress report
The investigation into the death of Southern Resident killer whale L112 continues. We posted a progress report on our website at We’ll continue to provide updates as we get the results from outstanding analyses and generate a final report.

Update on satellite tagging projectThe Northwest Fisheries Science Center has updated website information on the three-day deployment of a tag on J26:

Canadian marine mammal regulations
As the federal department responsible for the protection of marine mammals, their habitats, and their migration routes in Canadian waters, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has finalized a set of proposed amendments to the Marine Mammal Regulations (MMR) of the Fisheries Act. The amendments are designed to provide enhanced protection for marine mammals against human disturbances.

The proposed regulatory amendments were published on March 24, 2012, in the Canada Gazette, Part I. The Canada Gazette is the official newspaper of the Government of Canada. See it online at: The public has 60 days from the publication date to provide comments on the proposed amendments.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Procession of the Species Photos

A large group of spectacularly-garbed islanders paraded through Lopez Village last Saturday afternoon to celebrate the Island's second annual "Procession of the Species."  From toddlers in strollers to septuagenarians, participants were clad in a wide range of imaginative costumes. The event, very ably-organized by Beach Watcher Charlie Behnke and Amanda Wedow, and sponsored by the Lopez Is. Conservation Corps and Lopez Is. Prevention Coalition, perpetuates a tradition begun over a decade ago in Olympia to honor our planet and all it's diverse species.   A young turtle, who scooted the entire route on his tummy on a skateboard, some very busy bumblebees from Orcas, three different owls, a dragon, and many other feathered and furred creatures walked the parade route, accompanied by an assorted dozen percussionists, and it was fun for everyone.  Pictured here are the huge owl (created and held up by Charlie and two helpers,) two very impressive Tufted Puffins, and a GMO ear of corn.  The best moment of the afternoon happened before the parade when an invasive black slug (a.k.a. Nick Teague,) was lounging on the lawn, and a three-year-old boy sat down in front of him and began to feed him grass!

Friday Harbor Labs Open House - May 19

The public is enthusiastically invited to participate in the 2012 FHL Open House on May 19. This event offers a splendid opportunity to meet scientists and students at the Labs and check out the research and teaching facilities. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Labs will be open for self-guided tours. Scientists and students will showcase their marine science research, answer questions and provide demonstrations. There will be posters, marine plants and animals, microscopes, plankton sampling and observations, and activities for visitors of all ages. Kids are particularly encouraged to attend.

For more information, see:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Rare White Orca Seen Off Russia

Researchers just released photos of an all white male orca seen in Russian waters two years ago.  This is an excellent article from the Seattle Times.  Researchers will try to locate the pod and this whale again this year.

In addition, for more information on the Russian orcas, see

Monday, April 23, 2012

What Lives on Our Docks, SJNI Workshop for Adults

Sponsored by the San Juan Nature Institute - This workshop is for adults.
Date:  Sunday, May 6, 2012, 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

Join Megan Dethier (FHL) in Lab 3 at Friday Harbor Labs at 10 a.m. for an introduction to the invertebrate world that lives beneath our docks. Bring a sack lunch to enjoy on the beach and then join a dive team on the lab dock at 1 p.m. to view the animals in their habitat. Divers will have cameras and audio links for an interactive exploration of life on the pilings and in the water under the dock.  Minimum attendance of 8 participants required.

For more information and to sign up:

Bloom Week Volunteers at American Camp

Raena Parsons, head Ranger for San Juan Island National Historical Park, is looking for volunteers for the annual Wildflower Festival, Bloom Week to help restore the prairie. This year the Park is working with EarthCorps volunteers, who will be offering local school children educational programs on the prairie.  The park has planned volunteer work parties for May 2, 3, and 4 any time between 9 a.m.-3 p.m.   If you have interest, meet outside the American Camp Visitor Center at 9 a.m.  Wear sturdy boots and bring work gloves, water and a lunch.

If you have an interest in working with the children or volunteering for the work parties and need more information, contact Raena Parsons at 360-378-2240 x2222 or

Island Photo Contest

To all you talented photographers here is your opportunity to shine.  The San Juan Islands Museum of Art is sponsoring The "Above and Beneath the Sea" photography contest for San Juan County residents. Photos can be from anywhere in the world, in one of six categories either above or beneath the sea.
The deadline is May 7, 2012. Photos will be judged by world-renowned pioneer underwater photographer, Ernest H. Brooks II. Winning photos will be displayed along side Ernie's photos at the San Juan Islands Museum of Art in Friday Harbor.

For an application, submission requirements and forms, visit SJMOA's website:

Stewardship Lecture Series Begin This Week

The Stewardship Network of the San Juans and Still Hope Productions Inc. are presenting a series of eight lectures regarding our shared shorelines. 

Part 1: At the Water’s Edge Lecture Series
The Invisible Shoreline: A Video Tour of the Nearshore Ecosystem
Join filmmaker John F. Williams on an exploration of the shoreline from a diver’s perspective. Let the magic of video show you some of the invisible parts of the shoreline...things that are too small or too slow to see, things that are hidden in the water, or things that are hidden in plain sight. Catch glimpses of processes that go unseen from the shoreline and gain an understanding of the services that nature provides at the water’s edge.
Lopez Island, Tuesday, April 24, 7-8:30 p.m. --  The Center for Community and the Arts, 204 Village Rd., Lopez Village
Orcas Island, Wednesday, April 25, 7-8:30 p.m. --  Senior Center, 62 Henry Rd., Eastsound
San Juan Island, Thursday, April 26, 7-8:30 p.m.  -- Mullis Center, 589 Nash St., Friday Harbor

For additional information:   and

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Proposed Ban on Flame Retardants Resurfaces in Legislature

A proposed ban on chemicals known as TRIS that are used as flame retardant used in children’s products resurfaced last week when the House General Government Appropriations and Oversight committee voted 7-6 in favor of House Bill 2821. The bill, prime-sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, follows up on similar legislation that failed to pass during the regular session. Dickerson said she believes it has a chance of passing the Legislature now. However, the Association of Washington Business and other business groups continue to oppose it, arguing that a ban is premature, noting in part that one of the chemicals it seeks to ban has not been listed by officials as a chemical of “high concern to children.”

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Indian Island Field Study

A presentation, titled "The Tides of March" was held on March 15th at the Orcas Fire Station to educate the public about the work being conducted on Indian Island. The presentation included original music and songs, demonstrations, displays, a slide show including a narration introducing the differenct species living in and around Indian Island. Refreshments were also provided. Questions were taken from the audience. One of the goals of the presentation was to increase the number of volunteers involved in the Indian Island field study. Additional volunteers are needed to continue this research. The 2012 Indian Island Field Schedule is below. Double click on the table to expand. We are looking forward to seeing you there.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Following Varvara the Gray Whale

While "Flex's" transmitter fell off while he was along the Oregon coastline, Varvara's continues to transmit her travels. Flex managed to get as far as the Oregon coast before contact was lost in 2011. Varvara has traveled from Russia to the Baja and is now headed back to Sakhalin Is., Russia--her feeding grounds. She has not eaten in 5 months.

View Varvara's travels at

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What Would You Do?

On a recent trip to the San Diego area, I enjoyed watching the sea lions who regularly haul out on along the waterfront in La Jolla. All day long people watch from the boardwalk above them as they warm up in the sun, compete for the more comfortable spots on the rocks, and swim and dive off the beach. I took a few pictures, including trying out the zoom on my new camera, but didn't look at them till I got back home and downloaded. To my dismay, I realized that the guy in the middle of this picture has a bunch of netting of some kind around his head. (It's more evident if the photo is enlarged, but it's definitely there.) I couldn't tell exactly what it is, or how badly entangled he is, but he seems to be stuck with it. What do you do? I passed the picture along to the Whale Museum, hoping they might have some contacts in the La Jolla area, but is there even any way he could be helped? It's very hard to see things like this and feel like there is not much that can be done. Certainly a sad reminder to all of us that everything we put into our waters has an impact. I hope this guy has been able to extricate himself and that he'll be able to avoid similar encounters in the future! Susan

SAVE THE DATE! May 5th, Fisherman Bay MHO "Day for the Bay" Celebration

The Fisherman Bay Marine Health Observatory will celebrate the beginning of its 2012 research and monitoring season with the Second Annual "Day for the Bay" event on Saturday, May 5 from 9:30 AM till around 3 pm, at the Lopez Community Center. Everyone is invited to participate. The day will include hands-on displays and introductory remarks at the Center in the morning, followed by field trips to several locations around Fisherman Bay for talks and demonstrations on shore and seabirds, impact of climate change on the Bay, plants and animals, and invertebrates. There will be activities for adults and children, and everyone will be able to visit several of these during the morning. Everyone will regroup at the Community Center around noon for a light lunch, discussion of current research projects, and a concert by Dana Lyons. Details will follow as the day gets closer, but we hope you'll save the date and plan to attend.

Friday, March 9, 2012

People Save Beached Dolphins in Brazil

On March 6, about 30 dolphins raced into shore and beached themselves. Luckily the beach was crowded with people who pitched in and pulled the dolphins all back into deeper waters and saved them all. This video is a pleasure to view.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Are Whales People, too?

At the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS ) held in Vancouver, BC, one topic discussed by scientists was whether whales and dolphins should have rights that are currently only given to humans. Kari Koski, The Whale Museum, spoke about the Southern Residents as being given some "rights" because they have been declared endangered. Because whale and dolphin brains are on a proportionate scale with the size of their bodies (as are humans), they have developed hunting strategies, and have unique communications among pod members as well as a complex cultural structure, some scientists argued these were reasons to give them some moral rights. Read the entire article:

To learn more about the AAAS, click here:

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Meet the New Soundwatch Director

The Whale Museum will be introducing Eric Eisenhardt, new coordinator of Soundwatch, on Wednesday, February 29, at 4:30 p.m, at the museum. Eric joined The Whale Museum team in January and is working on plans for the 2012 season. Eric will share his ideas for Soundwatch as well as discuss the important role of volunteers and supporters for this unique community-based program. The evening will begin with a light reception, providing an opportunity for more informal conversation.

Eric holds an M.S. from the University of Washington and a B.S. from Stanford. He brings a variety of experience and skills to the program plus he is a long-time islander. With over 15 years of experience, he has held positions with SeaDoc, Beam Reach, Washington Dept. of Fish & Wildlife – and even The Whale Museum, where he worked on marine bird surveys, the bottomfish recovery program, necropsies, and SeaSound.

The February 29 event is free and open to the public, although donations are encouraged.

Herring Importance Noted at Annual "SALMONATION" Celebration on Lopez

Lopez residents gathered once again at the Community Center on Jan 21 for an evening of food and fun that accompanied Kwaiht's annual report on the previous summer's salmon seining at Watmough Bight. Volunteers gather salmon and other fish in a net every other week, and then quickly measure, count and examine them, mostly the chinook, before releasing them back into the water. A small DNA sample is taken, and seasoned volunteers also collect the stomach contents of the fish, which are later analyzed at a lab. During the several summers this research has been going on, (both at Watmough and at Cowlitz Bay on Waldron,) the data accumulated has indicated interesting trends in the diet of the salmon.
Chinook seem to prefer smaller fish as their primary source of food, as these provide the largest "bang for the buck" from a nutritional standpoint. If not enough fish are available, crab larvae are their next choice, with insects filling the gaps. In previous summers, sandlance have been the most common fish eaten, but in 2011, the chinook consumed large quantities of herring. According to Kwiaht's Russel Barsh who presented this annual report, the chinook arrived earlier in the season while the herring - thicker in girth than the sandlance - were still small enough for the herring to consume. When the salmon arrive later, or the herring are bigger, they have to be content with sandlance.
Russel pointed out that most forage fish restoration in the islands is currently focused on smelt and sandlance, with virtually no emphasis on herring. Based on the most recent survey results, he feels that it is important to give much more thought to how herring spawning could be increased in the Islands. The largest herring-spawning grounds in the Salish Sea are off Cherry Point (another reason to be actively involved in the coal terminal plans!) But by the time those herring find their way to the Islands in the summer, they may be too big for the chinook.

Death of Sooke (L112) Confirmed

On Feb. 11, 2012, a stranded killer whale washed up just north of Long Beach, Wash. Photographs of the dorsal fin and saddle patch were matched to catalogs of known killer whales by biologists from NOAA Fisheries and the Center for Whale Research. The whale has been identified as a member of the Southern Resident L Pod known as L112, a female calf of L86. A full necropsy was conducted on Feb. 12.

Samples were taken for a variety of analyses. Processing of samples could take several weeks or months, and will hopefully provide insight into the origin of the traumatic injuries or other factors that may have contributed to the death of this whale. More information is available on the Cascadia Research website at:

In November a killer whale calf stranded on the Washington coast on Nov. 14, 2011. A genetics sample was taken and the female calf has been confirmed as an eastern North Pacific offshore. A congenital defect was determined to be the cause of death in this case.

Ways of the Whales Workshop Recap

Over 200 people attended the Ways of the Whales Workshop in Coupeville in January -- the largest attendance ever. This particular workshop focused on the research being done on behalf of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKWs) and was a wonderful opportunity to hear the results. I have included links so that you can read further.

Howard Garrett, Orca Network, began the morning with a history of orca captures and current captivity. On average, the orcas in captivity live about 8.3 years. More aggressive behavior is being seen in captive orcas. The Orca Project raises awareness of captive orcas.

Candice Emmons, NOAA Fisheries NW Fisheries Science Center, Seattle, WA discussed the research resulting from the DTAGs used on the SRKWs. The tags consist of acoustic and depth sensors. The data will be used to discover what physiological effects result from sound exposure primarily from large ships. The sound level is recorded, as well as the whales’ reactions to the sounds – whether they dive deeper or stop or change their behavior. These tags are a suction type that stay on for approximately 3 to 7 hours. No location data is received from these tags. To date 14 SRKWs have been tagged. This research is part of the SRKWs recovery plan developed by NOAA.

Matt Krogh and Lindsay Taylor, North Sound Baykeeper Team, spoke of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal. Since you have received a separate email on this, I will not elaborate further.

Jessica Lundin, Center for Conservation Biology, Univ. of Washington, discussed her research on the SRKWs using fecal sampling. Specially trained scat detection dogs, in this case “Tucker,” are used to find whale scat. Tucker was on the Westside of San Juan all summer – sniffing away! From the feces, data is collected on DNA, hormones, diet, immunoglobulin, pathogens and the SRKWs’ exposure to toxins, metals and pesticides. In addition, the feces can also show pregnancy. DNA samples have been collected on 60% of the SRKWs.

It was interesting to note that the hormone testing revealed that when the SRKWs arrive in the early spring they are at their highest nutritional level and consequently the stress hormone level is the lowest. As the summer progresses the stress hormone level goes up or down depending on prey abundance. However, by the fall they are experiencing more stress. Her findings revealed that prey availability has more effect than boat traffic. Stress levels around boats were short term vs. long term if a lack of prey. She believes the threats to the SRKWs are 1) decreased prey, 2) excessive exposure to contaminants, 3) increased boat traffic, and 4) oil spills. In addition, she believes the availability of spring prey is very important.

Toxin levels in J and L pods were sampled. DDT was twice as evident in L pod whales vs. J pod. PCB levels were high in both pods. PBDE levels (flame retardants) were high in L, less in J. Chlorinated pesticides (lawn products) were high in both pods.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Indian Island Low Tide Evening Walk on January 23, 2012.

A scheduled January 22nd low tide walk did not take place due winds pushing the tide onto the tombolo. Those who showed up were not able to get out to Indian Island. The next evening Beach Watcher Nancy Alboucq and her husband, Steve were able to wade out to the island. They spent an hour exploring and taking photographs including the one below. They reported that on the far rocks the frosted dirona's were putting on a beautiful show and saw about a dozen of them. They also saw many porcelain crabs, gunnels (and what they believed were gunnel egg clusters), kelp crabs, barnacle nudibranch with egg ribbons, and hundreds of tiny shrimp with their eyes glowing in the tide pools and shallow water around the island.

The next time the island will be accessible is on April 8th. This is also the date of a scheduled invertebrate survey. Hope to see you out there.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stormwater Monitoring

The first volunteer stormwater monitoring training was held on December 19th, 2011. Since that time the training team has been getting equipment assembled and working on site logistics. Stormwater monitoring will be taking place on San Juan, Lopez and Orcas Islands.

A follow up to the December 19th meeting will take place on February 13th and 15th. The training team will meet with volunteers on their respective islands at the monitoring sites. The purpose of this training will be to familiarize volunteers with logistic and access information. Monitoring leads will also be provided with the instrumentation and equipment needed to get started on sampling. A more detailed schedule will be sent to volunteers prior to this training.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Feeding Birds and Animals in the Winter

Dennis Linden passed along this link from the Washington State Dept. of Fish and Wildlife regarding the feeding of wildlife during the winter months. There are some good tips to follow.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

COASST Bird Training

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) will be conducting training on Lopez, Orcas and San Juan Islands next month. As a COASST volunteer you select a beach to monitor monthly for dead birds. You learn how to identify the birds and report any findings to the Univ. of Washington School of Aquatic and Fisheries Services. If you are interested please RSVP by email or phone. Current volunteers are also welcome to refresh their bird identification skills. The schedule is as follows:

Friday Harbor Labs, Commons Building
620 University Rd, Friday Harbor
Saturday, February 11, 2012, 10am-4pm

Lopez Island Library
2225 Fisherman Bay Rd, Lopez Island
Sunday, February 12, 2012, 10am-4pm

Orcas Island Public Library
500 Rose St, Eastsound
Sunday, February 12, 2012, 12:30-6pm
Coffee, tea, and snacks will be provided for all events, but please bring a lunch as there will be a break mid-training. COASST volunteers and the general public are welcome to attend any of these events. All are free; participants that choose to become a new COASST volunteer and adopt a survey beach pay a $20 deposit on supplies and materials.

RSVP to: Annie Woods at or phone her.
Volunteer Coordinator - COASST
School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences
University of Washington
Seattle, WA 98195-5020
ph (206) 221-6893