Archive for May, 2010

Privilege: The U.S. Vegan Movement, Whiteness, and Race Relations (part 3)

Friday, May 28th, 2010

IntroductionIn the last post, I described some of the reasons how and why the animal and veg*n movement(s) are alienating to people of color. In summary, U.S. vegans present themselves as middle-class, single-issue activists who think they have the one truth which all others should accept, yet, dismiss other humans’ struggle against their own oppression as marginal. Not only do they avoid race by

Source: H.E.A.L.T.H.

Dyes Inlet scientist starts ‘Naked Whale Research’

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Our old friend Jodi Smith has started a nonprofit research organization in Eureka, Calif., where she hopes to specialize in observing killer whales along the West Coast.

Jodi could use our help in getting some funding from Pepsi, which I’ll explain in a moment.

Longtime Kitsap County residents and others may remember Jodi from her time in Dyes Inlet in 1997, when she made exhausting observations about 19 L-pod orcas that showed up suddenly and stayed a full month just before Thanksgiving. (See the Kitsap Sun project on the 10th anniversary of that event.)

Jodi, who received a degree in cetology (whale and dolphin studies) from Evergreen State College in Olympia, had trained herself to recognize every Southern Resident killer whale on sight. I remember her precise observations about the movements of the orcas among boats in Dyes Inlet as they seriously crowded the whales at times.

Later, she conducted studies for boat-whale interactions in the San Juan Islands before spending nearly three years in New Zealand. There, she added vessel interactions with Australian humpbacks to earn a master’s degree in conservation biology from Massey University.

Jodi hopes to help document information about the endangered orcas that depart from Puget Sound in the winter and travel down the coast of Oregon and California. Infrequent sightings have been made as far as south as Monterey Bay, but there is a serious lack of information about where the whales go and what they eat during winter months.

She is also prepared to involve volunteers and offer public education and school programs about whales and other conservation issues as needs present themselves.

Jodi has named her new organization Naked Whale Research. So, I wondered, does that mean the researchers are studying only whales that have no clothes, or do the researchers conduct their investigations au naturel.

“I did not want to use the word ‘orca,’ and I wanted to distinguish this from other types of whales,” Jodi told me. “It’s just plain old research.”

Conveniently, the shortened nickname “Na-Wa-Re” has its own special meaning, she said.

“Na is a Haida word that means ‘to exist or dwell,’” she explained. “Whare is a Maori word for ‘place of dwelling along a beach.’” Haida are a group of native people in the Pacific Northwest, and Maori are natives of New Zealand.

Naked Whale Research has a newly appointed board of directors and has received a nonprofit certification from the state of California.

Jodi could our votes to obtain startup funding through Pepsi’s Great Ideas Program. She is seeking $250,000 in grants. To advance for further consideration, her program must get into the top 100 by the end of the month. The proposal, which is explained on a special website, has climbed rapidly but now stands at 122 with just three days left to vote. If you’re interested in helping, go to the link above. You can vote once a day for each e-mail address you have.

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

It’s the year of the T’s — transient orcas

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I’ve been hearing about transient killer whales in Puget Sound all year. Dozens of these seal-eating orcas have been sighted in small groups here and there throughout the region. Check out Orca Network’s Archives for reports made to that organization.

Transients have come and gone quickly from Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton a few times this year. But, as far as I know, yesterday was the first time since 2004 that they made it all the way into Dyes Inlet.

It was a good chance for me to talk a little about transients with the help of Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research and Howard Garrett of Orca Network, as you can see in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun.

By the way, the last report we had last night was at 7:30 in Ostrich Bay, but an observer reported them at 9:20 p.m. on the west side of Dyes Inlet and posted a comment on the story. (Appreciation goes to “rgdimages#217099.”)

Howie informed me this morning that a group of four transients was seen coming out of Liberty Bay near Poulsbo at 6:45 a.m. We’ll try to report whether those are the same animals as the ones in Dyes Inlet and where they go next. To report to Orca Network, one can send an e-mail, info@orcanetwork.org, or call (866) ORCANET.

It seems to be a big year for the transients. Why this is happening is open to speculation, which is always risky, but I appreciate Ken’s willingness to think out loud sometimes and kick a few ideas around. I mean, if scientists are unable to come up with hypotheses, there is nothing to test for.

So one possible explanation is that transients are here because residents are somewhere else. Residents may be somewhere else because there aren’t many salmon here right now. On the other hand, maybe seals and/or sea lions are finding enough to eat, and transients are finding success in hunting the smaller marine mammals.

This whole notion raises all kinds of questions for me, and I’ll try to explore these ideas in future stories. For example, if there are fish for seals and sea lions, why aren’t the resident killer whales eating them? Maybe the smaller marine mammals are concentrating on smaller fish? If fish are in short supply, will the population of seals and sea lions crash, or will these animals go somewhere else, too? And, given the cyclic nature of salmon populations, what is happening to the entire food chain — from the forage fish that salmon and seals eat up to the largest predators, the killer whales?

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

No end in sight for Gulf oil-spill problems

Friday, May 28th, 2010

As the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history unfolds in the Gulf of Mexico, emotions are boiling over along the Gulf Coast.

An oil-covered pelican flaps its wings on an island in Barataria Bay off the coast of Louisiana on Sunday. The island, home to hundreds of brown pelican and other birds, is being hit by oil washing ashore.
AP photo by Patrick Semansky

Sitting here in the Pacific Northwest, I am still dazed by the realization that an oil well, nearly a mile under water, has gone out of control, spewing millions of gallons of crude and creating an underwater mess bigger than what we see on the surface.

I cannot fathom that we are experiencing a disaster likely to be many times worse than Alaska’s Exxon Valdez. Until somebody figures out how to turn off the flow of oil, we can’t begin to estimate the size of this catastrophe or imagine that things will get better.

BP is hoping that a process, never used underwater, will stop the flow of oil. The technique, called a “top kill” and performed on above-ground wells in the Middle East, involves shooting heavy mud and cement into the well. The first shot could come tomorrow. Chances of success are estimated at 60-70 percent by BP, but the company’s track record for estimates has not been good so far.

Oily dead birds and other sea life, predicted weeks ago, are washing up on shore. Sensitive marsh lands, impossible to clean without destroying them, have been touched. Longtime fishermen and fishing communities are shut down.

“Once it gets in the marsh, it’s impossible to get out,” Charles Collins, 68, a veteran crew boat captain told reporters for the Los Angeles Times. “All your shrimp are born in the marsh. All your plankton. The marsh is like the beginning of life in the sea. And it’s in the marshes. Bad.”

Yesterday, I joined a telephone press conference with Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She was doing her best to calmly cope with the enormity of the disaster. She had just come off a boat after witnessing oil piling up on shore. Joining her was Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry, who is in charge of the National Response Team.

Jackson said the federal government has ordered BP to cut back on the use of dispersants, which break up the oil but may have some toxic effects. No formal studies have ever been conducted on the effects of applying huge quantities of dispersants underwater, but limited studies in recent days suggest that this approach may be the least harmful method to keep the oil from coming ashore.

Without such treatment, the oil itself is highly toxic and a much greater concern, she said. BP has been ordered to look for less toxic alternatives than the dispersant currently being used, but safer alternatives may not be available in the quantities needed. Meanwhile, Jackson said her staff believes the treatment can be equally effective by using half or less the amount of chemical applied until now.

Keeping as much oil off the shorelines as possible seems to be the top priority. That starts by keeping some of the oil immersed as tiny droplets underwater. Oil that reaches the surface is attacked by skimmers and burned if necessary. Fighting the oil with absorbent booms and pads along the shore is the last step.

I hope this strategy is not one of “out of sight, out of mind,” because the oil immersed in the water becomes a problem of its own. It’s been compared to a bottle of oil-and-vinegar salad dressing that you shake up, breaking the oil into tiny globules that float around. Smaller globules are believed to degrade faster in the environment.

Still, with this oil starting 5,000 feet below the surface, it could take months or years to coalesce, rise to the surface and come ashore, where cleanup crews could be facing oil damage for an undetermined amount of time.

“I’m afraid we’re just seeing the beginning of what is going to be a long, ugly summer,” Ed Overton, who has consulted on oil spills for three decades, told Bob Marshall, a reporter with the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “I hope and pray I’m wrong, but I think what we’re in for is seeing a little bit come in each day at different places for a long, long time — months and months. That’s not what I said in the beginning of this. But events have made me amend my thoughts.”

Some constituents of the oil will never come ashore but will drop to the bottom of the Gulf in various locations. As specialized bacteria move in to break down the oily compounds, they will consume oxygen, potentially adding to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.

If this were an earthquake, I would be reporting on damage assessments and offering hope for a renewed community. If this were an oil spill from a ship, I would be talking about worse-case scenarios and long-term effects. But, frankly, it is hard to know what to say when the spill goes on and on with no certainty at all.

To view a live video feed of the oil spill, go to BP’s web cam mounted on a remotely operated vehicle.

Official sources of information:

Deepwater Horizon Unified Command

NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration

NOAA Fishery Closure Information

EPA Response to BP Oil Spill

Other valuable links can be found on a website for Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant Programs

Last, but not least, I am learning a good deal from bloggers who are part of the UC Davis Oiled Wildlife Care Network. They are working in the Gulf and providing an insider’s view about their work with affected wildlife.

Pelicans fly past a nest of eggs on an island off the the coast of Louisiana on Saturday. The island, home to hundreds of brown pelican nests, is being impacted by oil coming ashore.
AP Photo by Gerald Herbert

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Journalism awards: A chance to offer thanks

Friday, May 28th, 2010

I would like to extend my congratulations to all the winners of the Northwest Excellence in Journalism Contest. I’d like to say thanks for the award given to Watching Our Water Ways. And, while I’m at it, I’d like to chronicle a statistically rare event that occurred Saturday night for the Kitsap Sun.

This competition is considered an important contest for most news organizations in our region. In some years, it is the only contest I enter.

Those who submit reporting projects are informed that they have won something — but winners are not told whether they are getting a first-, second- or third-place award until winners are announced at a banquet. This year, the banquet was Saturday night at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue.

It’s always a bit of a crapshoot, which allows me to make a statistical calculation. Of course, it’s an honor to win at any level, because somewhere around 2,000 entries in various categories are not recognized at all. But one can never be sure what will happen. One year, an entry that won a Pulitzer Prize for the Seattle Times came in third in the SPJ regional contest.

So here’s the deal. On Saturday night, four front-line journalists for the Kitsap Sun attended the banquet, and all four walked away with first-place awards. That’s Angela Dice, Chris Henry, Nathan Joyce and myself. (Check Sunday’s Kitsap Sun for details.) As I calculate the odds, the chance of that happening is one in 81, based on equal odds of getting any of the awards.

Three of the Sun’s awards went to people who did not attend: Josh Farley received a first place award, Adam Kispert received a second-place, and a team of folks won a third-place. If Josh would have attended the dinner without knowing that he had won, the odds would have been one in 243.

Speaking of the dinner, I would like to express appreciation to our editors for going and supporting us. That’s Editor David Nelson, local news editor Kim Rubenstein, and assistant news editor Vince Dice. In past years, editors have not always found the time.

As I write about these statistics, I realize it seems that I may be giving this honor less weight than it deserves. In truth, I can’t remember Sun staff getting this many first-place awards in one year, so it is a rare accomplishment.

As for myself, I am pleased that this blog was officially recognized with an SPJ Award for “Best Site — Specialized Subject.” I am proud to be in the company of Doug Ramsey (second place), who writes a wonderful blog on Jazz called Rifftides, and a team from Idaho Public Television (third place), that maintains an informative website and blog called D4K — Dialog for Kids.

But I have to say that I am also honored by the favorable comments and support I receive from you — the readers of this blog — whether they come via the blog itself, e-mails, or in person. So this is a chance for me to pause and tip my hat to everyone who subscribes to or reads Water Ways, offers comments or helps me with ideas.

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Amusing Monday: When kids control the flow

Friday, May 28th, 2010

If you wish to see an impishness rise up in a young child, hand him or her a running water hose, offer a simple instruction and stand back.

Dozens of parents have tried this, as you find out if you go to YouTube and search the site for “kids” and “water hose.”

Before choosing these specific videos for your amusement, I watched dozens of clips showing wet kids holding a hose. My wife Sue, who suggested the idea, helped me pick the finalists.

Now, Sue is looking forward to when the weather turns warm enough for us to hand our 2-year-old granddaughter a water hose in our backyard and videotape the results.

By the way, the Kitsap Sun has a great community gallery for people to upload photos and videos and share them with the Kitsap community.

Here are a few of the videos showing kids with a hose, with an extra surprise thrown in at the end.

His first drink from a hose

Her steady hand

He’s a fine little helper

Firefighters get in on the fun

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Studies examine effects of drugs on ecosystems

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Investigations are under way throughout the world to determine if drugs that people take for various medical conditions are getting into the environment and affecting other species.

So far, the answers are not entirely clear, but studies have shown that pharmaceutical compounds are getting into the water through sewers and septic systems. A story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun involves water samples taken in Poulsbo’s Liberty Bay, where extremely low levels of several compounds were found.

Despite intensive studies, effects on the environment remain uncertain. Part of the problem is the vast number of pharmaceutical compounds being consumed by people, while the compounds themselves are often found in very low levels in our waterways.

A good number of studies are focusing on the effects of synthetic estrogen, because there is growing evidence that the sex ratios of fish are being altered near some sewage-treatment plants by constant exposure to such compounds. Elsewhere, laboratory studies are exposing fish and other organisms to a wide array of medical compounds at various levels to see if effects can be observed.

It is a complex field of inquiry, according to researchers I’ve interviewed. Sometimes effects are not observed in fish exposed to the chemicals, but show up in their offspring. Some changes may be too slight to notice at first but may be observed after several generations.

The Environmental Protection Agency is investigating pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Check out the main page for general information or review the various areas of investigation.

The U.S. Geological Survey also is focusing studies on environmental effects of pharmaceuticals.

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Work ready for summer, as Skok studies go on

Friday, May 28th, 2010

The work of ecosystem restoration is not easy, but does it have to be this hard?

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spending $4.4 million to study the Skokomish River and its ecosystem in enough detail to understand the workings of this complex river system. What was it that turned this river — once narrow, deep and swift — into a river wide, shallow and slow much of the time?

Nobody expects a simple answer for a river that is long and branching with many streams flowing in, as the waters drop out of the mountains and emerge into a flat valley. But the Army Corps of Engineers and many assisting agencies have tackled the job of trying to understand the river in mathematical terms.

The wait for answers is frustrating for many people, particularly farmers in the Skokomish Valley, as I point out in a story I wrote for today’s Kitsap Sun. It’s not the first story I’ve written about this frustration, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Corps has completed some work along the way, and we should start to see some of those studies soon. I’m not sure how many people will be able to understand them, but it would be nice to know for certain that something is getting accomplished. Even those with the most optimism and faith in this process are beginning to wonder what this “general investigation” is all about.

Meanwhile, as the floods continue, an amazing amount of restoration work is scheduled for this summer. As I mentioned in today’s story, there are three sections of the river where people are taking significant steps to improve the natural functions:

— In the upper Skokomish watershed, the U.S. Forest Service continues to decommission old logging roads and replace culverts to reduce sediment loads getting into the river. This summer, more than 30 miles of roads are scheduled to be taken out with other improvements planned along the popular Brown Creek Road.

— In the South Fork of the Skokomish, about 25 engineered logjams will be installed this summer to improve salmon habitat, including spawning riffles, resting pools and hiding areas. The project, a joint effort of the Forest Service and Skokomish Tribe, is expected to cost about $650,000.

— In the Skokomish estuary at Hood Canal, a $3-million restoration of Nalley Island is planned, including the removal of 2.5 miles of dikes and 2 miles of interior roads. Tide channels will be restored through the property, connecting with Hood Canal. The project is expected to improve habitat for all species of salmon and shellfish, reduce flooding upstream and possibly improve the low-oxygen problem plaguing Lower Hood Canal.

I will provide more details on these projects when they get under way. If you haven’t read my series on the Skokomish River, you can find it on its own web page.

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Blowout survivor’s dramatic tale offers new details

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” program revealed a lot to me about the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

On the technical side, survivor Mike Williams describes a series of human errors in operation and judgment that may have caused the blowout. On the human side, Williams’ dramatic account of his narrow escape from death is riveting.

If you haven’t seen the program, I suggest you go to the website for “Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster” and play the video segments along the left side of the page. If you have seen the program, the “extras” may interest you. I know I was wondering what happened to the young woman who Williams told to jump from the rig as fire enveloped them. Her fate was not described on television, but her rescue is explained in the “extras.”

I would not be surprised if a movie producer is already scrambling for the right to tell Williams’ story, but that’s another matter.

The imbedded video here is Part 2, which begins with Williams’ escape from the oil rig, then launches into a discussion about the possible cause of the blowout. Reporter Scott Pelley’s explanation, with graphics, puts things in simple terms — including how the blowout preventer may have become damaged during operations, how backup control equipment went unrepaired, and how decisions about managing well pressure during shutdown may have led to the fiery gusher.

I have to remind myself that we have not seen a report of the investigation, though one is under way by the Coast Guard and Mineral Management Service. Over the weekend, President Obama apparently decided to create a commission to look into the incident as well, according to ABC News. and the Associated Press.

At this point, we don’t even have a complete response or description from BP managers who operated the drilling rig. So I will be cautious in drawing conclusions, but it is becoming clear that company personnel made not one but a series of fatal errors likely to be described in detail before this incident is put to rest.

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

Amusing Monday: Outrageous underwater sex acts

Friday, May 28th, 2010

“Planet 100″ on Discovery.com, with host Sarah Backhouse, features a series of short videos called “Top 5.” They’re mostly fun and informative, including the one shown here on YouTube called “The Top 5 Outrageous Underwater Sex Acts.”

I’m sure the producers of the program realize that the title alone will attract viewers, and these marine organisms really do have some odd mating behaviors. But this was not the most watched of the “Top 5″ videos on YouTube. That honor goes to — wouldn’t you know it? — the Top 5 Superhero Animals, about animals taking unusual steps to save people from peril. One of the animals was a beluga whale in an aquarium, who helped a paralyzed diver get to the surface.

The following are some other “Top 5″ that you may wish to watch. These and more are rounded up on the YouTube site as well as Discovery’s Planet Green site, which includes a text description.

Except for the “Celebrity Websites,” I guess these are fairly serious — especially the top 5 oil spill disasters of all time:

Top 5 Green Celebrity Websites: YouTube, Planet Green

Top 5 Worst Oil Catastrophes: You Tube, Planet Green

Top 5 Fortune Green Predictions for 2010: YouTube

Top 5 Disappearing Glaciers: You Tube, Planet Green

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Source: Watching Our Water Ways

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