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.