Archive for April 8th, 2011

Adventuring on the Salish Sea!

On Sunday Robin took us on a kayaking excursion along the coastline. We got up bright and early to meet her and then we all drove to the San Juan County Park to launch our kayaks into Smallpox Bay. We got a brief introduction to kayaking and then put on our “spray skirts” and headed out. We were in tandem kayaks, Mandy and I were in one, and Emalie and Kelsey in the other. Mandy, sitting in the back, was in charge of steering and did a great job in steering us close (but not too close) to the rocks to see the interesting organisms. We saw many purple pisaster starfish. Robin even found a gumboot chiton and gently plucked it from the rocks to show us. It looked like a giant red slug with a hard shell. As we made our way along the coast the wind began to pick up. We also saw some juvenile bald eagles fighting over the remains of a crab. Being from San Diego, I haven’t seen many bald eagles, and boy, are they huge. After seeing an eagle,  I was inspired to learn a bit more about these majestic birds.



Robin also arranged for us to go help her friend, Doug Mcutchen of the San Juan County Land Bank, restore the Beaverton Valley Marsh. Presently, the wetland is overrun by non-native reed canarygrass which outcompetes the natural plant species. Earlier volunteers planted native plants such as gooseberry, willow, and black hawthorn along the margins of the wetlands. By planting natural species, they hoped to improve the wetlands diversity and enhance its habitat value for birds and other animals. Our goal was to aid the pre-planted natural species, black hawthorn, gooseberry, and willow, in hopes that they would grow to be healthy and shade out the invasive grass. It was a beautiful sunny day so we were all thrilled to be outside helping the environment.

Shoveling mulch

We began our restoration by putting white plastic tubes around the important native plants to shelter and protect them from foraging deer and voles. We then put cardboard around the base and mulch on top to give the plants nutrients and a stable start. I thoroughly enjoyed being outside in the sun all day. We even saw some spring peepers, which are cute little green frogs.
There is an abundance of wildlife living in this area. I have seen black and red foxes running all over, and they are adorable. Mandy was quick enough to get some photos of the black one.

Neighborhood fox

On Saturday before we went on the boat, we made a trip out to Lopez Island for the day. Since downtown Lopez is small, we had time to go into every store . While Kelsey  interviewed for a summer job, we got ice-cream and ate it on the beach.

Lopez downtown

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NOAA doubles orca viewing distance

Beam Reach observes whale wisely

Beam Reach observes whale wisely (by M. Weiland)

Today NOAA finally issued a new rule that will govern how boats interact with endangered southern resident killer whales in 2011, starting in early May.  The big news is that the legal approach distance has been doubled from 100 yards to 200 yards and the proposed “no-go” zone along the west side of San Juan Island will not be implemented.

The rule will go into affect 30 days after the date of the official Federal Register notice.  The NOAA web site suggests the notice publication date is not yet known, but will presumably be today or within the next couple days:

Apr. 8, 2011: The Northwest Region announced final regulations to protect killer whales in Washington State from the effects of various vessel activities. There may be minor changes once the rule officially files.

Here’s what the Q&A document says about how and why the final rule differed from the proposed rule and suggested conservation actions:

The proposed rule included a no-go zone along the west side of San Juan Island that boats would not be allowed to enter from May through September. The no-go zone was not adopted as part of the final rule. During the public comment period, we received a large number of comments specific to the no-go zone including new speed zone alternatives, different exceptions, and questions about the economic impacts of a no-go zone. We’ve decided to gather additional information and conduct further analysis and public outreach on the concept of a no-go zone, which may be part of a future rulemaking.

The “Be Whale Wise” guidelines have not yet been updated to reflect the new rule at That will presumably be rectified shortly, as the management, whale watching, research, and stewardship communities rally around the vast educational outreach that will be necessary to promulgate the new rules efficiently during the 2011 boating season.

A key issue this season will be how many resources can be mobilized for both education and enforcement.  NOAA is forecasting a gloomy funding environment generally for their 2011-2012 fiscal year.  Does the cancellation of the normally-annual survey for southern resident killer whales along the outer Washington coast by NWFSC suggest there will be even fewer NOAA enforcement agents trained and monitoring boat-orca interactions this summer?  Will Soundwatch and Straitwatch be adequately funded?  Given the state of the WA State budget, it seems highly unlikely that WDFW or the San Juan County Sheriff will increase their training or monitoring presence…

Thanks to Jenny Atkinson of The Whale Museum for the notice of the announcement today.

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