Will Sonobuoys In The Pacific Help The Navy But Harm Whales?



By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

The Navy conducts training and testing in a stretch of the Pacific  roughly the size of Montana.

It wants to continue and expand its activities in these waters off the West Coast from Washington to Northern California. But first, the Navy must renew its permit under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The plan calls for detonating explosives, moving vessels, and deploying 700 more sonobuoys per year. And that’s drawing criticism from environmentalists who say the increased use of sonar poses increased risk for whales and other marine mammals.

Sonobouys are three-feet-long cylindrical floats are dropped from aircraft into the water. They use active sonar for the audible clues that can help them locate enemy submarines.

“It’s a critical mission for the Navy to be able to identify and locate submarines and utilizing these types of equipment is how we do that job,” said John Mosher, the environment program manager for the Navy in the Northwest.

The Navy says it keeps a lookout for marine life before conducting tests. It estimates that the added buoys will lead to more than 100,000 potential sonar exposures for marine life.

Mosher acknowledge that “exposure numbers” for marine mammals will increase if the Navy gets its way.

“But I’d like to stress that those exposures are at the low level of behavioral disturbance,” he added. “The animals may hear the device but it’s that simple. No injury, no long-lasting impact whatsoever.”

EarthJustice lawyer Steve Mashuda said increased use of active sonar will disrupt marine mammals’ feeding, breeding and calving.

“It’s behavioral disruption, which doesn’t sound bad until you realize this is happening over and over and over again,” he said.

Mashuda said the Navy is increasing the potential risk to marine mammals without increasing the precautions it’s taking to avoid harming them during testing.

Environmentalists takes particular issue with the Navy’s proposal to conduct tests within the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. It’s an area known to be frequented by blue whales, humpback whales, gray whales and endangered orcas.

“We have been saying for a long time that we’re not attempting to stop the Navy from training,” Mashuda said. “But what we are saying is there are areas on the coast, particularly the Washington coast, where we know that there are higher concentrations of marine mammals.

The Navy did not respond to requests to comment about its need to conduct testing exercises in the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

The Navy recently has been criticized by residents of the Olympic Peninsula for proposing to conduct electromagnetic warfare testing in the Olympic National Forest.

Residents of the island communities in Puget Sound report recent increases in loud fighter jets, or “growlers” overhead.

The Navy is expected to release a final environmental review of its proposed marine training and testing activities this summer. The public will have a final chance to comment then.

In preparing that final review, the Navy is holding open house meetingsand taking submitted comments until Feb. 2.

Upcoming public meetings:


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Warming Ocean May Be Triggering Mega Methane Leaks Off Northwest Coast

Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is one-third of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) deep. | credit: Brendan Philip / UW
Sonar image of bubbles rising from the seafloor off the Washington coast. The base of the column is one-third of a mile (515 meters) deep and the top of the plume is at 1/10 of a mile (180 meters) deep. | credit: Brendan Philip / UW


By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — As the waters of the Pacific warm, methane that was trapped in crystalline form beneath the seabed is being released. And fast.

New modeling suggests that 4 million tons of this potent greenhouse gas have escaped since 1970 from the ocean depths off Washington’s coast.

“We calculate that methane equivalent in volume to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is released every year off the Washington coast,” said Evan Solomon, a University of Washington assistant professor of oceanography and co-author of the new paper, which was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. The modeling does not indicate whether the rate of release has changed as temperatures warm, but it does strengthen the connection between ocean temperature and methane behavior.

Solomon and his colleagues first learned about the methane leaks when fishermen started sending them photographs of bubbles coming up out of the deep.

“They’re really low quality phone shots of their fish finders, but every single location they gave us was 100 percent accurate,” Solomon said.

On a cruise this past summer, Solomon and his colleagues gathered core samples from the ocean floor, about one-third of a mile deep, at the spots where the fishermen reported seeing bubbles.

And sure enough, mixed in among the sediment, were crystalized methane deposits.

“It looks like slushy ice,” Solomon said. But it certainly behaves differently. “If you took it from the sediment and lit a match or put a lighter on it, it will go into flames because of all the gas.”

Methane can exist in a gas, liquid and crystalline form. The crystalline version, or methane hydrate, occurs at cold temperatures and under pressure – conditions that can be found at certain depths of the ocean. But as deep sea waters warm, scientists believe those crystals will dissolve, releasing the methane in bubbles that can change ocean chemistry and contribute to atmospheric change once they escape at the sea’s surface.

“It’s a way to contribute to ocean acidification if you have a lot of this gas coming out and being oxidized in the water column,” Solomon said.

The methane release isn’t just happening in Washington waters, Solomon says. More sampling needs to be done but the same conditions for methane hydrate release exist from Northern California to Alaska. “So it’s not a Washington central thing,” says Solomon, who is looking forward to further study of this issue. “It should be happening off of Oregon, off of British Columbia as well.”

Other research has found similar patterns of methane release in the Atlantic and off the coast of Alaska.

“It’s a hot topic,” Solomon said.

Traces Of Fukushima Radioactivity Detected In West Coast Waters

By Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

An oceanography institute announced today (Monday) that trace amounts of radioactivity from Fukushima have been detected off the West Coast. This stems from the 2011 nuclear plant accident in Japan.

Radiation experts say the very low levels of radioactivity measured do not pose a health threat here.

The post-earthquake and tsunami nuke plant accident spilled a large amount of radioactive contamination into the Pacific three years ago. Oceanographers projected that it would take until this year for highly diluted traces to reach the West Coast of North America. And a recent research cruise from Dutch Harbor, Alaska to Eureka, California detected the front edge of the plume multiple times between 100 and 1,000 miles offshore. Ken Buesseler is a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“The levels offshore still are quite low. So by that I mean they are a couple units of these Becquerels per cubic meter, something that is about a thousand times less than a drinking water standard,” he said.

Buesseler said he is reluctant to “trivialize” any amount of radiation, but says he personally has no concerns about swimming, boating or eating fish from local waters.

Since the start of this year, Buesseler’s lab has also tested about 50 seawater samples collected at the shore by concerned coastal residents from California to Alaska. All of those results have come up negative. This sampling was paid for through crowdfunding as part of an ongoing “citizen science” monitoring project initiated by Buesseler.

A parallel but independent monitoring effort run through the radiation health lab at Oregon State University found no detectable traces of Fukushima radiation in seawater samples collected earlier this year in near shore waters along the Pacific Northwest coast.

Scientists tracking the plume from Japan look for a short-lived cesium isotope, cesium-134, that serves as the “fingerprint” of Fukushima contamination.

For context, radioecologist Delvan Neville at OSU said it helps to know that the cesium-134 levels reported by the Woods Hole researcher are “much less than the natural background radiation in seawater.” In an interview, Neville was certain the low levels of Fukushima-derived isotopes detected in the northeastern Pacific do not pose an environmental or human health radiological threat.

Buesseler is scheduled to present his findings Thursday during the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Vancouver, Canada.

He is also responding to questions from the public on the “Ask Me Anything” forum on Reddit at 10 a.m. PST Monday.

The results Buesseler reported corroborate detections of cesium-134 in seawater far offshore from Vancouver Island starting last year. Scientists from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Health Canada and the University of Victoria are collaborating on a monitoring effort that also includes fish sampling.

None of the salmon, halibut, sablefish and spiny dogfish they have analyzed have contained detectable levels of radiation traceable to Fukushima.

This was first reported for the Northwest News Network.


Why Some In The Northwest Want More Of These Jawless, Eel-Like Creatures

A Pacific Lamprey affixed to an aquarium, before being released at Ahtanum Creek last May 24.Tim Hill Washington Department of Ecology
A Pacific Lamprey affixed to an aquarium, before being released at Ahtanum Creek last May 24.
Tim Hill Washington Department of Ecology

By Rae Ellen Bichell, KPLU

Jawless and eel-like with concentric rings of teeth, the Pacific lamprey’s unsavory looks may be one reason why populations have declined. Now, some people are taking charge of restoring the fish.

While it’s an important source of food for juvenile salmon and contribute to rivers the way earthworms do to soil, the Pacific lamprey is not exactly a charismatic animal.

“When I first saw these fish, I thought, ‘My gosh, it looks like that Sarlacc mouth in Return of the Jedi.’ It just looks like something that’s going to swallow you up,” said Sean Connolly, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Portland, and collaborator on a 1o-year project to restore the fish. (In case you were wondering, a Sarlacc mouth is a gaping abyss of tentacles and teeth.)

“On the flip side of it, it has these incredible blue eyes. It has this look of something remarkable you’ve never see. And when you study these organisms and see them, they actually look quite vulnerable,” Connolly said.

They are vulnerable. In the past few decades, regional populations plummeted, hitting an all-time low in 2010. In the ’60s, people decided the lamprey was an eel-like river vermin worthy of extermination.

“Back in the ’60s and ’70s, people dropped rotenone in the rivers and streams to try to kill all the trash fish. Because that’s what they’re considered: trash fish,” said Patrick Luke, a biologist with the Yakama Nation Fisheries. “But at the same time, they tried to increase the production of trout, salmon, sturgeon, those types of species.”

As big hydropower project began to come online in the northwest, dams were problematic, too.

“When folks were building those facilities and thinking about passage for salmon and steelhead, they weren’t really thinking about a fish like a lamprey, which can’t jump,” Connolly said. “And so what we’ve seen is some pretty substantial declines, over time and definitely historically.”

Those declines were sharp enough to earn the lamprey the nickname “the lost fish.” Emily Washines, who works with the Yakama Nation Fisheries, says she remembers when they they started disappearing from the dinner table.

“It would be the equivalent, I guess, of going to a Mariners game and not having hot dogs anymore,” Washines said of the lamprey’s absence. “It was so much a part of our ceremonies, so much intertwined in our lives that to have the numbers sharply decrease, just within my generation, is so noticeable.”

The Pacific lamprey’s invasive cousin, the Sea lamprey, hasn’t helped. It has marauded Great Lakes waters for a while now. But here in the Pacific Northwest, where the fish is native, the larvae feed juvenile salmon and steelhead, rather than feeding on them. That’s one reason why tribes and government agencies have funded the Pacific Lamprey Restoration Plan, which involved releasing buckets of them into Yakama streams. It’s funded by government grants and through the 2008 Columbia Basin Fish Accords with Bonneville Power Administration.

“Just think what the earthworms do on land,” said Patrick Luke. “These lamprey larvae do the same thing in the substrates of rivers and streams: they aerate, they fix nutrients for microbes and organisms that feed salmon and other aquatic organisms.”

His goal is to get the fish populations back up, though maybe not to the level that earned them the nickname “Columbia River hot dog.”

Rape Pandemic: Assaults in Asia, Pacific Close to Rate in Indian Country

Source: Indian Country Today Media Network

The United Nations conducted a study on men and violence in Asia and the Pacific, surveying more than 10,000 men at nine sites in six countries: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka.

About 23 percent of men at the survey site in China said they had committed at least one rape. At the Papua New Guinea site, 61 percent of men admitted to rape.

National crime statistics already indicate that 1 in 3 American Indian women will be raped in their lifetimes, and new clarification of the definition of rape by the Obama administration—to include women, men, and children—reveal the incidence of rape in Native communities may be much higher.

RELATED: Rape Data for Indian Country Has Failed to Capture Complete Picture

Rachel Jewkes, the lead technical adviser for the UN study, explained to National Geographic the probable reasons for the high occurrence of rape in Asia and the Pacific. The areas where the study was conducted mirror some of the conditions in Indian country affected by rape, namely persistent poverty and high alcohol and drug use.

Speaking in regards to Asia and the Pacific, Jewkes said, “Sexual entitlement is the most common motivation across all of these countries. I think that very, very strongly points to the root of rape in gender relations, and the fact that rape is really legitimized in so many of these countries.”

Jewkes elaborated on sexual entitlement:

“Sexual entitlement means feeling that you ought to be able to have sex with a woman—essentially, if you want it, you can have it. The flip side of that is [the idea] that it’s a woman’s responsibility to make sure that she doesn’t have sex when she doesn’t want it. If a woman is raped, she would be blamed for putting herself at risk for being raped.”

Jewkes attributes the high incidence of rape in Papua New Guinea to an “extremely patriarchal” culture and one that “is extremely accepting of the use of violence in a whole range of different circumstances. It’s not just gender-based violence, but also very severe and frequent use of violence in childrearing, and a lot of fighting in the community between men.”

Jewkes ultimately determined that rape is comparatively less common in more peaceable countries.

“The two countries that really spring to mind are Bangladesh and most of Indonesia. Alcohol use is much lower in Bangladesh and in Indonesia, too. They are both Muslim countries, they both have relatively strict social mores around sex, and one way or another child abuse is less common in those countries. Child abuse really is strongly associated with rape and violence later on.”


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com//2013/09/21/un-study-rape-asia-pacific-close-rates-indian-country-151366