Ken Balcomb the biologist is sick of watching the iconic orcas of the Northwest die, especially mothers and their calves. On Friday (10/28/2016) he became Ken Balcomb the activist, asking us all (the public!) to participate in saving the salmon-eating killer whales he has studied for almost 50 years.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research leads a press conference.
Call to action:
SUPPORT EXECUTIVE ACTION TO BREACH THE FOUR LOWER SNAKE RIVER DAMS
In an unprecedented move, his organization the Center for Whale Research held a press conference today in Seattle. Sadly, the purpose was to announce their conclusion that J-28 (aka Polaris) has gone missing and is now declared dead — a tragic loss of a breeding female (in a population that has declined to 80 individuals this summer) which probably also dooms her youngest calf, J-54 (aka Clipper), who was born in late 2015. J-54 was part of the “baby boom” of 9 orcas that was heralded as good news in 2015 for the population which is failing to grow at the rate NOAA has specified in the recovery plan for the species.
Declaring that he doesn’t like reading the “obituaries” of killer whale mothers and their children, and citing a pre- and post-natal mortality rate of more than 75%, Ken and the other speakers today reiterated the clear need for bolstering the supply of southern resident killer whales’ their favorite food, Chinook salmon. He explained that the failure of fetal and newborn orcas to survive is derived from examination of ovary morphology (which can indicate ovulations, as well as failed and successful pregnancies) in deceased whales and attributed to insufficient food supplies for the mother before and during pregnancy, as well as during lactation.
Their call to action was specific — the removal of the lower 4 dams on the Snake river. Ken contextualized this with a request that we recover wild salmon populations throughout the range of the southern residents — from California to SE Alaska. He was joined by Jim Waddel, retired Army Corp of Engineers, who posited that the Corp could begin breaching the earthen portion of the dams as soon as this December (!) — in part because a long history of studies and judge opinions have made it clear that dam removal is the only remaining option that is viable — both economically and ecologically.
Setting up cameras
The crowd gathers…
The rooftop deck where the press conference was held.
Ken before the start
Preparing for the start.
Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research backed by Elliott Bay.
Ken Balcomb and ?
David and Howie
Debbie Giles, Research Director of the CWR.
Howard Garrett of Orca Network
Ken Balcomb speaking
Background information and more ways to help save the salmon and the orcas:
12:09 Starts with introduction of the science panel members
12:12 We were charged with evaluating the BiOp’s “chain of logic linking Chinook salmon fisheries to population dynamics of SRKW”
Population decline in both NRKW and SRKW was coordinated in late 1990s.
We were blown away by the quality of SRKW demographic data. This is probably one of the best-studied wildlife populations in the world.
Eric Ward estimated growth rate (lambda) as 0.99-1.04 (mean ~1.017, or ~1.7% exponential growth) for J/K pods and 0.985-1.035 (mean ~1.01, or ~1% exponential growth). The overall SRKW rate of 0.71% per year might increase to ~1%), but fisheries management changes are unlikely to raise the growth rate to the recovery goal.
There are 1000s of papers about Chinook salmon, but less is know about Chinook topics relevant to SRKWs. Listed 3 shortcomings.
Kope and Parken summarized Chinook trends for specific stocks important to SRKW. Coastwide there has been a modest decrease in recent pre-harvest Chinook abundance. There isn’t much room to lower commercial fishing in a meaningful way (e.g. decrease harvest of 20%).
Correlations between SRKW vital rates and Chinook abundance depends on abundance measure chosen. Mortality of SRKW should scale non-linearly with salmon abundance, but the existing correlations are linear.
Bain: Why weren’t acoustics impacts of fishing vessels considered? A: I don’t know. Perhaps because available data did not include fishing boats.
Felleman: Were analyses done using only Columbia Chinook? A: No, but you should email Eric Ward about that. You should also be careful about interpreting correlations as causal relationships. If you look for correlations from 50 different salmon populations, you’ll find strong ones just through random chance.
Elizabeth Babcock, NOAA
The intersection of salmon and orca recovery
Focus is on Puget Sound stocks. Locally-developed recovery plans for Puget Sound Evolutionary Significant Unit (14 watersheds from Neah Bay to Point Roberts; 22 populations) reviewed in 2005, then adopted plan in 2007, and are now implementing with partners.
70% of our estuary habitat area in Puget Sound have been lost…
Ward looked at all available Chinook time series and found many correlations, including between runs, but the strongest correlations were not with the Fraser nor the Columbia.
Interesting population projection figure from Ward (2013)
Post-workshops we have been looking at trends in other marine mammals: AK and NR KWs increasing, CA sea lions now ~6x 1975 levels, harbor seals 6-8x…
Overview of salmon status
Historic Chinook salmon abundance figure (compiled Jim Myers, NWFSC): Biggest reductions were in Columbia (~-3-5x) and Central Valley (~-3-4x)
Bonneville time series (1938-2014) shows abundance declines happened a long time ago (pre-dams!). 2014 levels approaching 1888 average levels!
A lot of the historical losses are due to extirpations (Gustafson et al., 2007): biggest extinct populations were in Columbia above Grand Coulee and Snake
Run timing changes: Columbia example — ~10x reduction in interior run (above Bonneville) from ~2.5 million to ~200k.
Hatchery production rose from 1950 to peak in mid-80s and in 2000 was near 1970s levels (Naish et al. 2007)
Puget Sound historical abundance is ~700k (based on cannery pack in 1908); current wild escapement is ~50k; hatcheries add ~300k.
Habitat: 31,000 projects completed at 51,000 locations throughout Pac NW. Over $1 billion spent on restoration to date.
Hatcheries: overall reductions in hatchery releases in last few decades, and limiting genetic impacts on wild fish. One example of reductions to near zero is on OR coast…
Harvest: easiest to change and responsive; examples of successful catch reductions are Hood Canal summer chum. Coastwide harvest % has decreased by ~factor of 2 over last 30 years
Hydro: improved fish passage, predator control, spill, barging; dam removal on Elwha, Condit, Rogue, Sandy, Hood River
Heat: potential effects of climate change mostly not great for salmon; summarized by Stoute et al. 2010 and Wainwright and Weitkamp in prep
Orca recovery spending: FY12 1.2M on science/research; ~300k on management/conservation
Orca salmon spending: FY12 600M!! Columbia only is 450M!
David Troutt, Director of Nisqually Natural Resources (for 35 years) and Chair of SRC (=Salmon Recovery Counci)
WA State salmon recovery — How we work together
State broken into regions, each with their own recovery plans (developed through the “WA way” involving many stakeholders, endorsed by Feds). Go to RCO web site for more information.
Study completed in March 2011 estimated costs of all planned regional plans is ~$5.5 billion. Funds dispersed through Salmon Recovery Funding Boards established in 1999. Funds come from PCSRF and others… Note: it is a LOT cheaper to protect than to restore…
10% of Federal grants must be used for monitoring. Example: About 80% of Nisqually outgoing smolts remain in estuary; 20% seek pocket estuaries elsewhere, but we see almost no returns of fish using the latter strategy.
There is a problem with marine survival in Puget Sound. We see 95% mortality of tagged out-going smolts between the Nisqually and Port Angeles. We’re confident that the estuary is in much better shape and 77% of the mainstem is in permanent stewardship, but we’re not seeing any result in the numbers of returning adults!
2:15 Tribal perspectives
Story: a generation of Nisqually fishers have never caught a steelhead. Annual catches of ~2k by tribes and ~2k by recreational fisheries collapsed (in 1990s?) to total run of ~500, a condition which persists. The treaties have not been withheld (and the tribes have not “shot at y’all in a long time”).
We need to work together towards ecosystem restoration. The tribes are interested in actions related to all H’s. The tribes have been working with the State to adapt how we run hatcheries to support harvest, but also be consistent with recovery goals. The North of Falcon process is part art, part science, but it is transparent and it works.
Rich Osborne, North Pacific Coast Lead Entity Coordinator (WRIA 20)
WA Sustainable Salmon Partnership — Salmon recovery on the WA coast
What’s unique about the outer coast in terms of salmon restoration?
All 5 salmon species and steel head; none are listed except Ozette sockeye.
Large areas are encompassed within tribal lands, which allows alternative restoration strategies.
Almost no people! Only 7000 people on coast with no residential areas
Large portions of watersheds in National Park, other large areas in National Forests.
Formed a non-profit to raise money beyond the SRFB: the WA Coast Sustainable Salmon Foundation. WRIA 21 = Quinalt; WRIA 22&23 Grays Harbor; WRIA 24 Pacific County.
Goodman Creek road decommissioning (4 miles of road and fill removed)
Quinalt: old logging road and fish passage blockage removal — facilitated by ability for tribe to control local decisions.
Grays Harbor: huge estuary Chehalis has spectrum of impacts (industrial, logging, headwaters in National Park), but again not many people
Pacific County (Willapa Bay): huge estuary w/few people; mostly Weyerhauser timber operations between pristine upper watersheds and the ocean.
28 Chinook stocks returning only 30-40,000, but could be 100s of 1000s…
An additional 12 million hatchery fish released from coastal watersheds per year
Salmon stronghold study areas (circa 2006)
Jeannette Dormer, Puget Sound Partnership
Salmon Recovery in Puget Sound
In contrast, there are 4.1 million people in the Puget Sound region: 12 counties, 20 large cities, 100 cities total, 17 treaty tribes, many NGOs; 15 lead entities; Puget Sound Salmon Recovery Council (not the Partnership) is policy body to oversee implementation of the PS salmon recovery plan.
6 salmonid species, 3 listed under ESA (PS Chinook threatened in 1999, Hood Canal summer chum threatened in 1999, 2007 Puget Sound steelhead).
Salmon recovery success example: Puget Sound Acquisition & Restoration (PSAR) Fund. Regional priority list; increased from $15 million to $70 million appropriated for 2013-2015 biennium
100s of acres of estuary restoration in Snohomish and Skagit rivers
Elwha dry lake bed reforesting
3+ acres eel grass on Bainbridge
Seahurst seawall removal and restoration
Intersection with orca…
Jacque White, Exec. Director of Long Live the Kings (used to work at P4PS and Nature Conservancy)
Salish Sea marine survival project
Many partners supporting the coordinating organizations — Long Live the Kings in U.S. and Pacific Salmon Foundation in Canada
“Puget Sound salmon are sick and we don’t know why…”
Coho marine survival declined sharply in 1980s from ~3% to <~0.5% and has persisted, while during the same period (1974-2007) WA/BC coastal survival has been fluctuating around a mean of ~0.5%. There are similar trends for steelhead and Chinook.
Rises in Harbor seals, lags, temperatures, and human population
Little effort to integrate research efforts
Now seeing economic impacts on humans (sports fishing, tribes, First Nations)
2007 State of the Salmon in 2007 focused on interactions of wild and hatchery salmon
2012 fall workshop led to idea of a transboundary project to increase survival in the Salish Sea, improve accuracy of adult return forecasting, and assess success (or failure) of existing salmon recovery efforts.
2014 Comprehensive planning
2015+ Implementation of research
Hypotheses (trying to identify factors that control salmon and steelhead survival that can be managed)
Bottom-up processes (PDO, environment, forage fish changes to which salmonids haven’t been able to compensate)
Other factors (toxics, disease…)
Focus on juvenile fish
Predation of seals on steelhead
Panel discussion (audio recording: .ogg [~68 Mb] | .mp3 [~34 Mb]; responses are hard to hear for some panelists who did not use microphones)
5:14 Final comments and next steps (also included in audio recordings)
Isn’t it great having it warmer longer and being able to soak up the sun longer once summer is over?! Maybe you know the reasons from various classes or the news. Besides hearing how high CO2 levels are do you actually know how CO2 levels are affecting organisms physically? CO2 is like a fish drug that is affecting their olfactory systems and desensitizing fish to instinctive behaviors.
A brief background – Ocean inhabitants, especially coral reef inhabitants, are sensitive to changes whether it is temperature, CO2 concentrations, or pH. If CO2 levels continue to increase as they are, by the end of the century, there would be about 1,020ppm of atmospheric CO2 (more than enough to dramatically affect multiple marine organisms). Atmospheric and dissolved CO2 levels are linearly correlated. If atmospheric CO2 increases, dissolved CO2 in the ocean increases simultaneously. CO2 and pH levels are indirectly correlated. If dissolved CO2 increases, pH decreases. If maintaining down the current path, oceanic pH would decline up to 0.4 units, making the ocean even more acidic.
Munday et al. conducted a study to see the effects CO2 levels have on fish populations. This study was looking at clownfish and damsel fish larvae and how they respond to three different levels of CO2. The control was current CO2 levels (390ppm), 550ppm, 700ppm, and 850ppm. Behavioral responses and olfactory cues from predators were noted and it was noticed how drastic the effects of CO2 levels really were. With each increasing dosage the results were more significant. Natural and instinctive behaviors are thrown off due to the destructive influences CO2 has on the olfactory system. Instead of smelling predator cues and hiding, the increased CO2 levels cause clownfish and damsel fish to be less sensitized and alert. The fish participated in increasingly risky behavior such as spending more time where predator cues were present, swimming farther from the protections of the reef, and being more active but less alert to predator cues.
The longer a fish is exposed the worse the symptoms. Age also increased the severity of the symptoms. Noting the same change in behaviors another experiment was conducted with predator encounters. The more frequent, careless, and risky behaviors became the higher mortality rate climbed.
Not only do rising CO2 levels cause concern for species, but trying to sustain the species at risk becomes more complex. Protecting an ecosystem may no longer be enough if fish are being easily preyed upon due to the severe behavioral effects of increasing CO2 levels. Assuming other marine species will exhibit similar responses, the effects of rising CO2 on biodiversity of marine ecosystems could be significant and the effects irreversible.
Chinook salmon are already endangered and, if the hypothesis is correct, the increasing dissolved CO2 levels could be an additional threat. Chinook, being the Southern Residents primary food source, may have a crucial impact on the killer whales if they cannot handle the added stress from rising CO2 levels. Will the Southern Residents adapt to the CO2 levels or will they suffer as much as the Chinook and other marine organisms?
The 4 students in the Fall 2011 session, along with past and future students, will study the environment and see how different factors affect the killer whales. Students are looking at relationships between the whales and salmon, human influences, and natural influences. We all start our first expedition Sunday (18th) to start collecting data for our final projects. Watch for our final projects as time moves forward!