Island News, Summer 2012
Orca Awareness Month is June, 2012, as declared by Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire! Be sure to visit the Whale Museum while you’re here to learn more about these amazing giants.
Speaking of Orcas, we’ve got a new baby in the Southern Residents clan. L119 is the second born to her mother, Matia L-77. Her first offspring L-114, seen in February 2010 did not survive. We are all sending our love and hope to Matia and the L-pod family.
Navy Bombing is the suspected cause of death for a playful 3-year old L-Pod female, known to locals as Sooke and as Victoria to Ken Balcomb, of the Center for Whale Research. Whale watch operators, naturalist Jeanne Hyde, and Ken Balcomb all knew Sooke as one of the most playful, and vivacious of the pod, so it was particularly distressing to find her body washed ashore in February. Investigators note she suffered blunt trauma and bruising, but was healthy when she died. Balcomb says “She looked like she’d been in a war of some kind, or just severely beaten.” Whale watch tour operator Brian Goodremont reports that the autopsy is still inconclusive and tissue samples are still being analyzed, but it is clear that Sooke’s injuries were caused by sound wave or pressure wave (as would be created by a bomb.)
Currently the US Navy is U.S. Navy permitted to drop up to 10 bombs in its practice range each year, and to use sonar for over 100 hours. Of course, the Navy denies any responsibility for Victoria’s death, and records of bombing practice sessions are all marked “Classified.” In addition, the Royal Canadian Navy confirmed the use of sonar and two small underwater charges on Feb 6th as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, just before L-112 died.
Balcomb is asking the law-enforcement arm of the National Marine Fisheries Service to conduct an investigation into the deaths of the whales and to involve the Department of Justice, if necessary, so that no information can be withheld. NPR reports environmental groups have filed a lawsuit saying U.S. naval sonar and explosive exercises can harm marine mammals and should be limited.
To us, it just doesn’t make sense to conduct warfare training exercises in the critical habitat of an endangered species.
To date, there are still other members of L-pod who are unaccounted for. It is unlikely that Sooke was traveling alone, and the concern is that there are members of her family who were also affected. To learn more about this tragic incident, follow reports on
http://www.whaleresearch.blogspot.com/. For a touching tribute to this sweet girl, see Jeanne Hyde’s tribute page: http://whale-of-a-porpoise.blogspot.com/2012/02/2-16-12-sooke-l-112.html
Salmon Season opens again in full force on July 1. We’ve had great feedback from our guests whom we’ve set up fishing charters for – the fishing up here is LOTS of fun! The Orcas are here this time of year because our waters are teaming with salmon getting fattened up for their trip up the Frasier River, one of the largest salmon fishing areas in the world. There are also not many fishing boats up here, which makes it even more likely to snap a great “photo op.”
Captain Spencer Domico, of Legacy Charters, tells us that juvenile Chinook, called Black Mouth, are available now, and the tasty ling cod can be caught through June 15th; there’s not much open the last two weeks of June, but after that it’s wide open. Legacy Charters also offers a combination Fishing/Whale Watch charter: they do a little bottom fishing while looking for whales – a little something for everyone in the family! See more on fishing in our Coho Restaurant June 2012 newsletter.
Plastic Bag Bans are becoming more prevalent across the country. Seattle’s law takes effect July 1, prohibiting all retail stores from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags. (http://www.seattle.gov/util/Services/Recycling/ReduceReuseExchange/PlasticBagBan/index.htm) Both the Town of Friday Harbor and San Juan County Council have discussed options for adopting similar bans here in the islands. While the majority of the locals are in support of such action, lack of time and funding seems to be the major block at this time. None-the-less, we encourage all visitors to bring your reusable shopping bags. There are great nylon bags that pack up small and expand big – perfect for travel; check out reuseit.com for an outstanding selection (http://www.reuseit.com/store/chicobag-original-reusable-shopping-p-450.html). You can also get them at our local San Juan Food Coop if you’ve forgotten yours, or just need extras.
The Great Island Clean-Up was a second successful year of volunteers gathering for a concerted effort to rid the island of litter. This year, even more people participated, swelling the number of volunteers to over 250, while the amount of trash collected was down – just under 2,000 pounds. Last year’s haul of over 5,000 pounds of litter can be attributed to the lack of a clean-up effort for several years, so we’re all hoping for an even smaller weight at the Transfer Station next year. The island stayed relatively litter free for several weeks, though now we are beginning to see tell-tale droppings of litterbugs again. We believe that a tidy environment sends a message that we DO care, and perhaps encourages a few more people to save their trash for the waste cans. If you would like to start a Great Community Clean-Up in your neighborhood and want to know how we did it, contact Stephanie, our Director of Content and Internal Operations, Stephanie@TuckerHouse.com
GMO-Free San Juan County petition is making its way across the islands. There is an important distinction: cross-breeding is when similar species are breed together – white corn with yellow corn for example. Genetic modification is when genes from an entirely different organism are introduced to the permanent genetic makeup of another, let’s say genes from a pig mixed with human genes, or flounder genes mixed with tomato genes. The Center for Food Safety reports “a number of studies over the past decade have revealed that genetically engineered foods can pose serious risks to humans, domesticated animals, wildlife and the environment. Human health effects can include higher risks of toxicity, allergenicity, antibiotic resistance, immune-suppression and cancer. As for environmental impacts, the use of genetic engineering in agriculture will lead to uncontrolled biological pollution, threatening numerous microbial, plant and animal species with extinction, and the potential contamination of all non-genetically engineered life forms with novel and possibly hazardous genetic material.”
The petition’s founder, Ken Akopiantz of Horse Drawn Farms on Lopez Island, explains “when GMOs are released into the environment, they cannot be controlled, they are not sustainable, create chemically dependent farmers and promote energy intensive farming practices.” Farmers using GMO seeds must depend on costly herbicides and fertilizers and can no longer save their own seeds. Since the GMO products carry a patent, any farmer who has the unlucky fate of wind-blown GMO seeds on the property stands to be prosecuted by the patent owners.
The proposed measure would make it unlawful to propagate, cultivate, raise or grow plants, animals and other organisms that have been genetically modified, and provides for penalties and destruction of such organisms. “Given the San Juan Islands’ isolation from the mainland we are in an excellent position to truly be GMO-free. In protecting our island from the genetic pollution of GMOs we would be supporting our local farmers.”
A Coal Export Terminal is being proposed in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve near Bellingham, WA. Exporting 48 million tons of coal as proposed requires 974 transits of giant bulk carriers every year. These ships, twice the size of the oil tankers currently allowed to call on Washington ports, have the worst safety records of any commercial vessels. They would significantly add to oil spill risks in the region since they carry up to two million gallons of bunker fuel, suffer from poor maneuverability, are not required to have tug escorts, and would join the increasingly congested waterways of Rosario and Haro straits. Ferries crossing Rosario and Haro straits will experience increased delays. Oil spill or collision becomes much more likely as congestion increases. Whale and dolphin communications will be increasingly disrupted by the high-intensity low-frequency noise from the carriers.
During construction of terminal, the marine life would experience sea-floor disturbance and increased turbidity, noise from pile driving and seismic surveys, and lighting – an attractive nuisance. But during operations after construction, shading from the pier and wharf, toxics from the terminal’s outfall pipes, night lighting, and noise from vessel operations would impact species at Cherry Point year after year. Of particular concern is coal dust in the marine environment.
And if those aren’t enough problems, consider what will be coming into the region: invasive species and air pollution. The largest ships bring up to 17,000,000 gallons of ballast water infested with non-native, invasive aquatic species from the western Pacific. These ships can also bring Chinese mitten crabs, Asian tunicates, Japanese eelgrass, and other invasive species that have the ability to severely disrupt the Salish Sea’s ecosystem. With minimal inspection for ballast exchange and exemptions for bad weather, it is guaranteed that millions of gallons of foreign ballast water will be discharged into the Salish Sea every year.
This spells trouble for the San Juan Islands and neighboring regions. And it’s not only here: the coal will be strip-mined in Montana and Wyoming, then transported on long trains through MT, ID, OR and WA, spewing toxic coal dust and diesel exhaust along the length of the route. See www.powerpastcoal.org to learn more about this appalling proposal, how it will affect YOU, and what you can do about it.
IOSA volunteers recently spent another day practicing oil spill recovery methods, this time in Westcott Bay on San Juan Island. It was the group’s first opportunity to work with large boom donated by BP Oil. With numerous volunteer boats, the crews set anchors at both ends and center of the boom, creating a series of v-shaped oil collection points. “Boom” looks like long yellow floats on the water, but underneath is a sea curtain that prevents –hopefully – most of the oil from traveling further into the bay. It is heavy and awkward to work with, and volunteers are always worn out at the end of a day of hoisting it in place.
The remote location of the island means it will take hours for professional oil spill crews to arrive on scene and assess the situation – precious time that is critical in mitigating damage to the region. Islands Oil Spill Association is the only non-profit, community-supported organization of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, and dedicated volunteers train regularly to provide prompt assessment and clean-up as well as oiled wildlife search and rescue. For more information see www.iosaonline.org.
Japanese Tsunami Debris may be the source of recent litter that washed ashore on South Beach. The Stewardship Network of the San Juans is calling for Japanese translators to help with marine debris identification, and offered a free lecture to educate beach combers on how to report and handle possibly dangerous debris.
Most current models predict that the major impact of debris from the tsunami will be to the outer coast; what does arrive in the San Juans will most likely be in the southern areas of San Juan, Lopez, and Shaw islands. Anyone who finds suspected tsunami debris is asked to contact the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.
For more information call 360 378-2319 or go to http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/info/japanfaqs.html