Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dancing with the Frye, or more like standing with the Frye

Today was my second day at the Glenwood Springs Salmon Hatchery. We are Tagging and clipping Baby Chinook as part of the Salmon Recovery Plan in the San Juans. I never would of thought that this would be one of the hardest jobs I have ever done. Admittedly, I had no idea what to expect, and yesterday my sheer exhaustion tested me to my limits.

We are clipping and tagging the 8 month old Baby Chinook and I am one of the clippers, which means standing in one place and clipping the Adipose Fins of the young Salmon. Although tedious and monotonous, I know in my heart that I am doing a good thing to help restore the extremely depleted Salmon Population here in Washington. Chinook, also known as King Salmon, are the most endangered of the Salmon Stocks here. Long Live the Kings is a non-profit that has been involved in helping with the recovery plan. I really hope in a a few years that these young salmon grow healthy and strong in order to feed the Endangered Orca population. The resident pods that spend a good part of the year in the San Juans, eat 98.5 % Chinook. They do not touch Coho or Sockeye, and they need around 300 pounds in order to sustain and be healthy. So, I really hope our efforts pay off, and these fish will help support a future healthy Orca population to rebound.

As mentioned the work is hard, and yesterday my body was so sore. I tried a stool, yet that didn't prove much better. I found that in the early hours I did better and actually gained speed today, however by the afternoon I was beat and slowing down. The goal is to tag 100,000 fish, then the Fish and Wildlife Fish Biologist can go back to Olympia, and we will only have to clip. Tagging is much harder, since you have to hold the fish by its tail, and carefully place its head under the little section to tag it. They put an anaesthetiser in the water, so the fish do not feel what you are doing to them. Anyway, this experience is all new to me, and I hope my body holds out. I am a walker, not a stander. This is a very dedicated project and I sincerely hope that all of our hard work pays off.

check out more on the Glenwood Springs Hatchery

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indian Island, Sea Stars and little Porcelain Crabs and all the little Tide Creatures

Well, I have said this before, it looks as though spring has finally sprung. Spring excites me in more ways than one. It not only marks the time of deciduous trees coming out of their long slumber, and birds actively feeding at feeders, it also marks the time of new beginnings. April for me has always been a time when I let the old fizzle away, which in turn brings new and exciting opportunities. I simply relish in all the glory and rebirth of this time of year. Over the course of winter, I have allowed myself to retreat to my cave, and find time to reflect on the past, and focus on the new. It is a time of quieting the mind and chatter, and allowing whatever creativity is to harvest, and simply surrender it does just what it needs to do. It seems after many months of stillness and low activity that all sorts of new opportunities knock at your door and I begin to get excited about all the possibilities. For the past two years I have been blessed with living in an Island Community that is surrounded by beauty, everywhere you look. Evergreens that reach up to the sky, little brown bunnies playing in the grass, and graceful Deer that graze everywhere you turn. communities also have their challenges. Even with all the beauty everywhere, Living in an Island community can still have it's pitfalls.

Being involved in various projects and volunteer work is always very rewarding for me and I enjoy being able to help the environment in my own way. Here on Orcas I became involved with Washington State Universities Beachwatcher Program. Offered as an extension course they provide you with 100 hours of comprehensive Conservation Education taught at University Level and then upon graduating you contribute 100 hours of volunteer commitment to pay back. The San Juan Islands offer multiple opportunities involving stewardship, and other ways of contributing. This year along with BLM and Kwiath (a Salish Indian term for Sense of Place) The organization is also known as Center for Historical Ecology of the Salish Sea, which is involved with several research projects throughout the San Juan Islands. Russel Barsh who heads the programs is amazing, and this summer we are monitoring Indian Island a small intertidal Island facing the town of Eastsound. The island is easily accessible at Low tides and in the high season visitors walk out to the Island which has a footpath from town. With regards to the fragile intertidal life that inhabits the Island, We are doing a long term project which will be looking at the impact of an urban town and its effects on the island environmentally. Today we set up buoys, and markers in the eelgrass habitat to determine types of sediment and any changes in the eelgrass throughout the summer. Also, large boxes which will catch sediment and intertidal creatures which we will examine to see how they are effected by any tidal changes and so forth. Later in the summer there will also be water testing to see the level of various toxins in the water. When walking out there, I feel rather invasive in regards to walking on such fragile life. Today, there was an abundant amount of Sea Stars, Ochre Stars, which are brightly colored oranges to purples and even some smaller Blood stars with their crimson shade of red. Sea Cucumbers and small Porcelain crabs also inhabit the Island. At low tide everything becomes so visible, so walking out there I am very aware of where I am walking. The Island is also perfect habitat for nesting Black Oystercatchers, although when I did my monitor walk I did not locate a nest. They are very sensitive Birds and do their best I am sure to nest far from the people and the Canada Geese. All in all I hope for this project to be very worthwhile and reveal the impact that we are or are not creating on this ecosystem. I encourage everyone in their communities to get involved in similar projects. Not only does it give you a sense of giving back, it is also a wonderful learning experience. I learn better hands on, as opposed to book study, so this for me was very worthwhile. Eelgrass is important for the Marine Ecosystem for many reasons. Not only does it provide a home for the many creatures that live within it, it is also an Important nutrient for various sealife as well. The eelgrass communities of the Pacific Northwest are a concern for Conservationists as their numbers are declining. The effects of Urban developement, and people building private docks can effect them greatly. This is one of the reasons are group is looking at the overall health of the Eelgrass communities and can come up with some positive ways we can help it.

Overall I feel as a concerned environmentalist that anyway I can contribute that will help is a good thing. We can all make a diffference simply by changing our own personal habits. Those habits can be small things, such as elevating plastic, using stainless steel for our water bottles and coffee mugs, pick up debris when you walk on the beach, use less power and water. Change some of your eating habits and switch to Organic. All these things can get into the system by runoffs and our own personal usage. Cleaning products that we use which are toxic to the environment and not only effects us, yet also all the life in the ocean. Simple household things such as Baking Soda, Vinegar are easy alternatives to the products that we use.

So for yourself and the health of our oceans and planet, make a simple change today.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Angels of Cook Inlet

I call them the Mysteries of the Sea.. Sea Canaries, because of their Chirping voices, Yet their official name is Beluga Whale... Russian for White Whale. These gracious animals are whales of the far north. In Canada, the Arctic Variety inhabit rivers near Montreal Canada and their population is more stable than their smaller cousin, the Cook Inlet Beluga Whale who inhabit the Coastal Inlet waters outside of Anchorage, Alaska.. Once hunted by Native Peoples for their meat as well as their oil, Sustenance hunting was halted. At one time their population numbered in the thousands, today they are just slightly over 300. Back in 2007, NOAA issued a petition to get votes to place the imperiled Cook Inlet Beluga on the Endangered List. They received over 150,000 votes which was enough to have them placed on the list. Unfortunately the state overturned the vote, and the Belugas lost. Several months ago after intense effort and a lawsuit issued by several Environmental groups, The Belugas finally won what they rightfully deserved, and placed on the ESA. Then back in January Governor Sarah Palin, threaten to counter sue. Her idea to do oil and gas exploration in the Cook Inlet... Following no advice of the sound science and studies by experts, once again she attempted to side with the special interest groups and attempt to do great harm to an Endangered Species. I found this beautiful video which is breathtaking of these amazing beings. I hope and pray that humans step away from their arrogance in attempting to completely destroy this planet and begin to have some real sense.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Orcas Widllife

Springtime for me is when everything comes into bloom. Deciduous trees come out of their winter's nap, Flowers start to bloom, Eagles Nesting and the other wonderful sounds of Nature coming alive. I love listening to all the amazing sounds in nature, and when you allow yourself to quiet your mind and slow down, it is amazing at what you can hear. For the last week on the Island spring has been an illusion. It plays spring one day, and then the next day it is winter again. Yet, the last couple of days; I am finally starting to believe that spring is here. The reason I know, is because I am sneezing more. I think it is the pine spores beginning to open that are making me sneeze. Yet I really do not mind, since I love spring in all its glory. For a small Island in the Pacific Northwest, I am amazed at the diversity of wildlife on the Island. I feel very blessed to come home, and hear Bald Eagles cackling away, and the honking of Canada Geese on their way home. Even noisy Stellar Jays make me smile. I have a new favorite shorebird, the Black Oyster catchers. These stylish clowns are very sensitive and like to nest on rocky shores and Islands without Trees. In the middle of Fisherman's Bay in Eastsound is a small Island that is affectionately called Indian Island. Named in honor of the Salish People who are the original inhabitants of the area. These birds are very sensitive, and because this island is so easily accessible by low tide, it is a concern that their nesting will be interrupted. This summer myself and other San Juan County Beachwatchers are going to be part of a study monitoring the Island. I hope to educate others so that they learn to respect the wildlife out there. I have yet to see my first Hummingbird of the spring, yet I have heard rumors that they are buzzing about. Pretty soon the Swallows will return, and I adore watching them, fluttering about catching bugs and hopefully devouring every mosquito they can get their little beaks on. Some of the other wonderful Flighted friends I have seen lately are, Pileated Woodpeckers, a passing Migrating Rough Legged Hawk and quite a few Stellar Jays as well. I never tire of seeing Majestic Bald Eagles collecting their nest material and their love stories in the air. For me it is really an honor to be able to be so close to the diversity we have. This is why I want to do everything to protect our environment, so many generations to come, we can all still enjoy this abundance. We also have abundant Deer on the Island, and since they have no predators, they are starting to display patterns that show they are breeding themselves out. There are many Deer on this Island that have White patches all over them and are starting to look almost like fawns with spots spreading. I have heard this could be from inbreeding. In any case, I always love seeing their gentle and sweet eyes that are so endearing. Another favorite of mine are the River Otters. The River Otters here are Marine foraging river otters who spend a great deal of time in the sea. At first when I saw them, I mistook them for Sea Otters, which are slowly making a comeback to these inland waters, yet by no means common. I have often seen River Otters playing down by some of the beaches which is a joy to watch.. A few times I have mistaken their smaller cousins, the minks for one of them. Yet Minks are smaller and a deeper shade of brown. The Islands most favorite resident of course is the Orcas, or to some still Killer Whales. The name is to me a misnomer as back before they really knew about them, they were believed to be vicious killers for their predation on Marine Mammals. However over the course of the last 30 years, having been studied more, they have discovered that these highly intelligent creatures have very intricate family structures, and the term Killer Whale does not entirely fit them. In fact they are not even whales. They are the largest member of the Dolphin family. Biologists have now classified Orcas into three different sub cultures so to say. Residents, who live in large family groups and stay close together, primarily stay in the same areas most of the year. They are fish eaters, and their preferred dietary choice is Chinook Salmon. Unfortunately the Chinook stalks are endangered, and the food supply for the Orcas is very threatened. They have to travel further now for food, and this is causing them to use up to much energy to travel so far for food. Many of the studies are revealing that their thyroid hormone levels are severely compromised, and they are living off the fat which means essentially they are starving. Also too, their levels of PCB's and PBDE's are very high, which again compromising their immune systems. Males are more susceptible to this since they do not have anyway of releasing these toxins as the females who release by giving birth and passing it on to the newborn calves through their milk. Obviously this is not good either, as the Calves thus have a very high mortality rate, especially firstborns. Transient Orcas, the second type are Marine Mammal Eaters. They live in smaller pods, and their behavior is more unpredictable. They can change direciton at any time, and leave the general area. Another noteable difference is in size. Transients are larger, and have curved Dorsal fins, where as Residents are smaller and have straighter dorsal fins. The third type is the Offshores which are believed to be fish eaters as well, anything from Shark to even Octopus. They also travel in larger groups and live in the open ocean. Little is known about them, due to the fact they live further out at sea. The waters of the Salish Sea are also home to a Healthy population of harbor Seals, somewhere in the numbers of 6,000, also Harbor Porpoise which is less common, and they are very shy and Leary of boats, and then the Dalls Porpoise who resemble small Orcas with their striking Black and White Patterns. Dalls are really fun to watch. They love to Bow ride and sometimes will follow boats for hours. They are the fastest Cetacean on the planet, traveling at speeds up to 35mph. The Islands are a haven for many types of Seabirds, from Cormorants to Pigeon Guillemots with their bright red boots , Grebes, Rhino Aucklets, Murres and other wonderful members or the Alcid family of Birds, the closest thing we have to penguins. For me it is a true gift when you get to live in a place of incredible nature and beauty, and learn to share the magic of mother earth with all her children.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Transboundary Naturalist Conference

Monday and Tuesday, I attended the Transboundary Naturalist Conference in Port Townsend, focusing on our Resident Killer Whales ... I am still recovering from Information Overload, and attempting to compile the information I have learned from all the great speakers that were represented there. The Conference took place in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, and was held at Historic Fort Worden. I shared my journey there with the Crew and Owners of the M.V. Pacific Catalyst, a beautiful old Motor Cruiser that spends her summers cruising along Alaska's Inside Passage and conducting Eco-Tours of the Southeast...... Shannon and Bill, the proprietors were incredible hosts and more than gracious to four very lucky passengers. Three of us from Orcas Island, and one woman from Kirkland spent five wonderful hours on Sunday, enjoying relatively calm waters, sunshine and an array of abundant Seabirds. I like to refer to it as Bird Day afternoon. Mostly we saw Rhinoceros Aucklets, a beautiful member of the Alcid family group of Sea Birds which include, Puffins, Guillemots, Murres and more famously Penguins. We also viewed a rookery of Stellar Sea Lions, who are working there way back to their summer homes further north of here in Alaska and Canada.

Five hours later, we anchored in the harbor of Port Townsend and begin to get settled in for the evening prior to the start of the conference. Shannon had prepared a wonderful dinner of Enchiladas and Salad, and we proceeded pig out on the yummies. I drank a fair amount of Red wine, so later I had some heartburn and had trouble falling asleep. In any case, I am ever so grateful for our gracious hosts and the wonderful ride over to Port Townsend.

Monday morning we awoke and had a delicious breakfast of Eggs and bagels before the shuttle picked us up to head over to Fort Worden for the start of the conference. I was actually quite surprised at the huge turnout of Whale Watch Operators, Aquarium employees, Naturalists from both sides of the Border and many leading experts in the study of Whales. It was bound to be an information packed experience. I admit a great deal of the information I was already aware of, yet there were some additional information's that was very valuable and offered some conclusive facts to previous theories. I will add a few little tidbits at the end of the blog.

I was also impressed with the amazing meals that were included, along with our accommodations which proved to be an adventure in itself finding our rooms. For $75.00 we received dorm style accommodations for one night, lunch and dinner on Monday, Breakfast and lunch on Tuesday as well as snacks on our breaks. Amazing deal to me for everything we learned..

I also networked with some new folks as well as running into some fellow Naturalists that I already knew. Since I am still rather new to the field as well as the Islands, this was a an excellent experience for me. Although I have been a Naturalist and avid Nature lover for a very long time, these last two years I have gained so much from the Marine Naturalist Training I have done, as well as being a San Juan County Beachwatcher. I hope it starts to really pay off, and I can get out and share more of my passions as time goes on. It is a competitive field here, and there are just so many jobs to go around, so I hope to keep expanding on this.

After the first day was over, many of the attendees went into Port Townsend to enjoy the nightlife. I am not a huge socialite anymore, so even though it would of been good for me, I ended up kicking back and going to bed early.

Tuesday I awoke early to try an get online for a few minutes before the conference began. I really did not sleep all that much since it was fairly noisy in the dorms. Tuesday was also packed in with speakers, and later we found out the weather conditions were pretty rough, and since those of us who came over on boats, some had decided to try to head back early. Well, that changed quickly. The shuttle came to pick us up, and when we saw the white caps in the water, we all decided that it was better to wait until Wednesday morning to return, so we ended up going back to the conference to see the remaining speakers of the afternoon. When the conference concluded, we returned back to the dock and had a short meeting with Captain Bill to decide collectively if we wanted to stay anoth
er night or face the 12 foot swells and 30mph knots. We made the decision not to face the conditions, as some of the other boats went ahead anyway. As it turned out, we made the right decision. Apparently it was a very wild ride for them, and there was a great deal of sea sickness and upchucking their remains to the fish at hand. Boy, was I happy we did not attempt the conditions, and we were much better off leaving this morning, which turned out to be moderately calm and better conditions.

So, we made it back safely, although the wind kicked up when we started pulling into the harbor and slip which posed a challenge for the crew to tie up. All in all it was great, and I am so happy that a month ago I decided to attend.

A few worthy notes from the conference:

Over the past year they have been conducting Scat studies of the Residents utilizing Tucker, the scent Smelling dog. Tucker has been of great value to this study, and if it wasn't for the fact he really loves balls, the study might not have gone as well. At some point I will hopefully post a photo of this marvelous feat. According to previous theories and thoughts on the preferred food choice of the Resident Orcas, it has been concluded that 98.5 % of their diet is Chinook salmon, leaving 2% to other. This had been presumed, however thanks to this study ti is confirmed.

Another obvious conclusion that was pretty much known, is Northern Residents are less Toxic than Southern Residents..... which to me is pretty obvious with the Northern Residents being further away from Urban Centers as opposed to the Southern Residents.

J-pod has higher levels of PCB's and PBDE's which are more Prevalent in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Ecosystem.

K and L-pod have higher levels of DDt, which is linked to the fact they go south to California in the winter, and the Salmon from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers are higher in DDT .

I will have more once I began to process all my notes and regain my Sea Legs back.