Alarm Bells Ring in a Whale Habitat Famed for its Silence

Alarm Bells Ring in a Whale Habitat Famed for its Silence

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: February 3, 2020 SNIP: The fjords that etch out British Columbia’s central coast are deep, cold, and mostly very quiet—the perfect habitat for whales. The territory of the Gitga’at First Nation, situated around Douglas Channel, is home to the country’s highest concentration of humpback and fin whales, two distinct populations of killer whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, and more. “Humpback and fin whales think they have found heaven,” says Janie Wray, CEO of the nonprofit North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS). “It’s one of the quietest places around.” But this oasis of calm is under threat. In 2018, work began on a CAN $40-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Kitimat, at the head of the Douglas Channel. Once operational, the plant will export 18 million tonnes of LNG every year. It’s one of more than a dozen LNG export projects under development in the region as Canada bids to establish itself as a major supplier to Asia. Sixteen Indigenous nations signed off on the Kitimat facility and its pipeline, though not without controversy. Because natural gas evaporates when spilled, it is seen as a less contentious product than oil to transport through their territories. Currently, a large ship passes through Douglas Channel once every two or three days. But a fleet of carriers will be needed to transport the fuel from the facility to markets in Asia. Eric Keen, codirector of science at NCCS,* estimates that the Kitimat facility will add 1,500 transits every year—an average of four extra trips per day. Traffic from small recreational vessels such as fishing boats...
Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?

Will the Extinction of Delta Smelt Be Governor Gavin Newsom’s Environmental Legacy?

SOURCE: CounterPunch DATE: January 24, 2020 SNIP: The Delta smelt, once the most abundant species on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, continues its steep slide towards extinction. For the second year in a row, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in its annual fall midwater trawl survey in 2019 found zero Delta smelt during the months of September, October, November and December. Found only in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, the smelt is an indicator species that shows the health of the ecosystem. Decades of water exports and environmental degradation under the state and federal governments have brought the smelt to the edge of extinction. In spite of portraying their administrations as “green,” Governors Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom have done nothing that reverses the smelt’s path towards extinction. Instead, the Schwarzenegger, Brown and Newsom administrations have overseen massive exports of Delta water to San Joaquin Valley corporate agribusiness operations and Southern California water brokers. Meanwhile, the Trump administration recently finalized a water plan that threatens the Delta smelt, salmon and other fish species even more than they already are by maximizing Delta water exports to agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. The Delta smelt, Longfin smelt, Sacramento splittail, striped bass, American shad and threadfin shad are are all victims of the Pelagic Organism Decline, first coined by federal state and scientists to document the steep decline of pelagic (open water) fish and zooplankton in 2005. Scientists have pointed to Delta water export operations, toxics, invasive species and pollution as the key factors in this decline. “Given the wet year we experienced in 2019, the...
Nearly 20,000 non-native salmon escaped after fire at B.C. fish farm

Nearly 20,000 non-native salmon escaped after fire at B.C. fish farm

SOURCE: BC CTV News DATE: December 22, 2019 SNIP: Most of the 21,000 Atlantic salmon that were in a Vancouver Island fish farm pen damaged by fire have escaped, the company who operates the farm confirmed Sunday. The breach happened on Friday, but on Saturday the company, Mowi, was still inspecting the damage and couldn’t yet confirm the number of fish that had made their way out of the pen and into the ocean near Port Hardy. The news that most of the fish did indeed escape has confirmed the worst fears of wild salmon advocate Tavish Campbell, who flew over the fish farm site on Saturday and took photos and video. “My heart just sank,” Campbell said of the moment when he saw the collapsed pen. Dr. Diane Morrison, managing director of Mowi Canada West, said she and the company are profoundly sorry the incident happened, because the public is so concerned about farmed Atlantic salmon getting into the ocean. But, she said, studies suggest there is a low risk of Atlantic salmon swimming into B.C. rivers to spawning grounds in large numbers, and “an even lower risk of them establishing successful populations.” Scientists and First Nations have become increasingly concerned about the sharp decline in B.C.’s wild salmon populations. This year, DFO forecast 4.7 million salmon would return to the Fraser River; just 600,000 – or 13 per cent of the original forecast – showed up. Campbell said that with wild B.C. salmon struggling with sharply declining populations, the escape of thousands of non-native salmon is a concern. “These are an exotic species that don’t belong in...
Tigers Extinct in Laos

Tigers Extinct in Laos

SOURCE: Scientific American DATE: December 22, 2019 SNIP: Are tigers extinct in Laos? That’s the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country. What researchers did find during a five-year camera survey of the biodiversity-rich Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area was evidence of snares—lots and lots of deadly snares, which are designed to trap and kill any animals that stumble across them. It appears that tigers have now paid the ultimate price for the snaring crisis that plagues Laos and the rest of Southeast Asia. “Snares are simple to make,” says Akchousanh Rasphone, a zoologist with the Wildlife Research Conservation Unit and lead author of the study. “One person can set hundreds or even thousands of snares, which kill indiscriminately and are inhumane for anything that is captured.” Most animals killed in snares are destined for Asia’s bushmeat markets, although tigers themselves are sought by wildlife traffickers for their valuable furs and body parts. The loss of tigers in Laos was an avoidable, if not unexpected, tragedy. The most recent worldwide tiger population estimates, released in April 2016, put the number of tigers remaining in the country at all of two. The observation of those last two Laotian tigers came from the first year of the camera survey; they were never seen again—except, in all likelihood, by the trappers who killed them. “Our team did what we could with our limited resources to conserve the species,” says Rasphone. “We did our best despite being defeated by the high international demand in the illegal wildlife trade for this species.” Their...
Northwest killer whales are shrinking in size — and so are their prey, chinook salmon

Northwest killer whales are shrinking in size — and so are their prey, chinook salmon

SOURCE: Seattle Times DATE: December 16, 2019 SNIP: Hungry young orcas grow up to be stunted orcas, new research shows, revealing that salmon-run downturns can have lifelong effects. The findings, published last month in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Endangered Species Research, were based on aerial photos taken by drone of whales in both the southern and northern resident orca populations. The photos document just how closely the health of resident killer whales is tied to the abundance of their favorite prey: big chinook salmon. Younger whales born since the 1980s in both the northern and southern populations of salmon-eating resident orcas are shorter in length than older whales that grew up when chinook runs were more abundant, the photos revealed. It was a significant difference: The stunted whales growing up in lean times were on average nearly half a meter shorter than older adults, according to the paper published by authors from SR3: Sealife Response, Rehabilitation and Research, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Vancouver Aquarium and Southall Environmental Associates (SEA) Inc., an environmental consulting firm. The findings suggest the effects of hunger not only can be lethal, taking out calves and adults, but also can have long-term consequences for the condition of the whales that survive, said John Durban, author and senior scientist with Southall. “It was shocking; some of these effects are pretty big,” Durban said. “The average difference in size is a couple of feet.” [S]cientists know lack of adequate prey is affecting southern residents’ survival. So are boat noise and pollution. Scientists also are looking at inbreeding and disease as contributors to the decline...