Endangered newborn baby orca is a girl, experts say

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)

In this Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research, a new baby orca whale swims near its mother near Vancouver Island in the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia. (AP Photo/Center for Whale Research, Ken Balcomb)

 

By Associated Press and KOMO News Staff

 

The Center for Whale Research in Washington state says the baby, part of the J pod of the southern resident orca population, has stayed healthy since it was first spotted Dec. 30 off the Canadian Gulf Islands of British Columbia.

The newborn whale is being called J-50. Researchers say they are now working with Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans to gather more information about the baby’s mother.

Experts originally identified a whale in her early 40s known as J-16 seen swimming alongside the calf as its mother, but now say she might have actually been looking after the newborn for her daughter – a 16-year-old orca called J-36.

If J-16 is the mother, she will be the oldest southern resident orca to give birth in more than four decades of field studies.

Southern resident killer whales are considered an endangered species, with just 78 in the waters of British Columbia and Washington state, including the new arrival. But the arrival of the newborn orca is considered an encouraging sign following the death earlier this month of a pregnant killer whale from the same group.

Now, everyone is hoping J-50 survives. An estimated 35 percent to 45 percent of orcas die in their first year, said Howard Garrett of the Whidbey Island-based Orca Network.

Oregon Divers Find Hope In Thousands Of Baby Sea Stars

Divers measured as many as 200 juvenile sea stars in a square meter at a site on the North Jetty in Florence. | credit: Courtesy of Oregon Coast Aquarium

Divers measured as many as 200 juvenile sea stars in a square meter at a site on the North Jetty in Florence. | credit: Courtesy of Oregon Coast Aquarium

 

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

Divers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium say they have new hope that sea stars will recover from the widespread wasting syndrome that’s wiping them out all along the Pacific coast.

This month they found thousands of thumbnail-sized juvenile sea stars, commonly called starfish, on the North Jetty in Florence.

Diver Jenna Walker said her team didn’t recognize them as sea stars at first because there were so many, and they were so small.

“It was overwhelming,” she said. “When we first got down there it looked like the rocks were covered with barnacles. We soon realized those white spots were thousands and thousands of stars. I have never seen them in numbers like that. It was pretty incredible.”

The divers counted as many as 200 juvenile sea stars in a square meter. They were too small for the divers to identify their species. Adult sea stars were completely absent from the site.

It’s difficult to determine where the new sea stars originated, according to Stuart Clausen, assistant curator of fishes and invertebrates for the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

“Sea stars start out as plankton and drift wherever currents will carry them,” he said.

Clausen said the juveniles in Florence may be the first sign of sea star recovery in Oregon.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but it is encouraging,” he said. “It means some adults survived or at least put viable gametes in the water before being affected.”

Divers with the aquarium plan to monitor the juvenile sea stars in Florence with regular trips to the site in the coming months.

Canada OKs Oil Pipeline to the Pacific Coast

By ROB GILLIES Associated Press

Canada’s government on Tuesday approved a proposed pipeline to the Pacific Coast that would allow oil to be shipped to Asia, a major step in the country’s efforts to diversify its oil industry.

The approval Tuesday was expected. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been a staunch supporter of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline after the U.S. delayed a decision on TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline that would take oil from Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Enbridge’s pipeline would transport 525,000 barrels of oil a day from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific to deliver oil to Asia, mainly energy-hungry China.

There is fierce environmental and aboriginal opposition to the project and legal challenges are expected. About 220 large oil tankers a year would visit the Pacific coast town of Kitamat and opponents fear pipeline leaks and a potential disaster on the pristine Pacific coast.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said in a statement that Enbridge must meet the 209 conditions Canada’s regulator imposed on the pipeline. The company has previously said it would.

“The proponent clearly has more work to do in order to fulfill the public commitment it has made to engage with Aboriginal groups and local communities along the route,” he said in a statement.

The Keystone XL pipeline and the Northern Gateway project are critical to Canada, which needs infrastructure in place to export its growing oil sands production. The northern Alberta region has the world’s third largest oil reserves, with 170 billion barrels of proven reserves.

Harper has said Canada’s national interest makes the pipelines essential. He was “profoundly disappointed” that U.S. President Barack Obama delayed a decision on the Texas Keystone XL option, and spoke of the need to diversify Canada’s oil industry. Ninety-seven percent of Canadian oil exports now go to the U.S.

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome Perplexes Scientists

George Stearns, shellfish biologist for the Puyallup Tribe, inspects a sick sea star caught during the tribe’s crab monitoring study.

George Stearns, shellfish biologist for the Puyallup Tribe, inspects a sick sea star caught during the tribe’s crab monitoring study.

 

Puyallup Tribe Observes Disease Affecting Sea Stars

E. O’Connell, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

As part of its regular crab population monitoring, the Puyallup Tribe of Indians is tracking the impact of a myste-rious ailment that is killing sea stars.

An outbreak of sea star wasting syndrome was first noticed last fall in British Columbia. The syndrome starts as small lesions and eventually the infected sea stars disintegrate. Since symptoms were first noticed, the syndrome has quickly spread throughout the Salish Sea and along the Pacific coast.

While there have been previously documented outbreaks, nothing on this scale has ever been recorded. There is no known cause.

“After we started conducting crab surveys in April last year, we started seeing a lot of sea star by catch,” said George Stearns, the tribe’s shellfish bi-ologist. “One pot near the north

point of Vashon Island was full of sea stars.”

The tribe regularly monitors eight stations between the north end of Vashon Island and the Tacoma Narrows. Each station includes nine crab pots.

During the tribe’s early surveys, the sea star population seemed healthy. But Puyallup tribal scientists recorded a sharp die-off in October.

“We saw one monitoring site go from four sea stars per pot in April to 12 in September to zero in October,” Stearns said.

When a diseased sea star catches a ride on a tribal crab pot, it deflates quickly. Within a few minutes, a normally rigid sea star will be hanging on the pot like a wet rag.

“Some of the sea stars we are finding are literally melting in front of us,” Stearns said.

 

Tribe Narrowing Locations Where Crabs Molt

The Puyallup Tribe monitors crab to pinpoint exactly when the shellfish in the tribe’s harvest area molt, or shed their shells.

“Crabbing during the middle of molting, which makes them soft and vulnerable, can increase the handling mortality,” said George Stearns, the tribe’s shellfish biologist. “It’s a common practice to shut down harvest during the molt. But we’ve

only had a general idea of when that occurs down here.” The data collected will also

help the fisheries managers put together a more complete picture of crab populations in South Sound.

“We GPS the locations so we’re at the same spots and put the pots in for the same length of time,” Stearns said. “So we know we’re comparing apples to apples each month.”

 

 

New Marine Advisory Council Important Step for Coastal Counties

Governor Jay Inslee signs legislation to establish the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council under the executive office of the governor

Source: The Nature Conservancy

Olympia – Washington State advances a more collaborative approach to deal with pressing issues facing the Pacific coast. On May 21, 2013, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation to create the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council (WCMAC) under the executive office of the governor. This council convenes stakeholders and managers to advise the State on issues facing the state?s marine waters and shorelines along the Pacific coast.

“This is a big step toward stronger recognition of coastal community interests,” said Dale Beasley, President of the Columbia River Crab Fishermen’s Association. “Many of us on the coast have been pushing the State to take a stronger role in collaboratively managing our valuable coastal resources. In Pacific and Grays Harbor counties, over 30 percent of all the jobs are dependent on marine resources.”

A broad coalition of coastal stakeholders, co-managers and scientists worked to design the new council and then coastal commercial and recreational fisherman led the charge to formalize the body under the executive office of the governor with support from the Surfrider Foundation, the Nature Conservancy and business interests.

“Washington’s Pacific Coast lags far behind other coastal states and Puget Sound when it comes to collaborative management and conservation of ocean and coastal resources,” said Surfrider Foundation Policy Manager, Jody Kennedy. “When you consider how remarkable and valuable our Pacific coastline is for state residents and coastal communities, protecting coastal marine resources should be a priority for the State,” Kennedy added.

Members on the Council represent ocean and coastal interests for the Pacific coast, including commercial fishing, shellfish growers, conservation, science, ports, recreation and economic development. Each coastal marine resources committee has a seat. Under the new legislation, State agencies also have seats and federal, tribal and local governments are invited to participate.

One of the first issues the WCMAC will tackle is assisting state agencies with Marine Spatial Planning in order to protect existing jobs and healthy coastal ecosystems from new competing demands on ocean resources.

“The signing of Senate Bill 5603 to establish the Washington Coastal Marine Advisory Council, represents a significant advancement for the representation of coastal communities in the Marine Spatial Planning process and in the planning and regulation of coastal affairs. It provides us a greater degree of access and influence that many people have been striving to achieve for a long time”, said Doug Kess, the Chair of the Washington Marine Advisory Council.

“Right now, funding to support Marine Spatial Planning on Washington’s coast is uncertain as the State Legislature continues to grapple with budget negotiations,” said Paul Dye, the Washington Marine Director for The Nature Conservancy.  “A diverse coalition of coastal stakeholders, including conservationists, shellfish growers and fishermen are advocating hard for Marine Spatial Planning funding and we hope that legislators are listening,” added Paul.