Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Saving Endangered Pacific Northwest Whales and Salmon: It Starts with You

While locals and tourists thrill at seeing our resident orca whales in Puget Sound, many of you might not know how precarious are their chances for long-term survival.

Our endangered Southern Resident Killer Whale population here in the southern Salish Sea is declining, down 20 percent since the 1990s to only 80 whales. Many of our Chinook salmon runs, the food of choice for these orcas, are endangered and declining.  The forage fish that the Chinook and other salmon eat are declining. 

It's all interconnected, and we humans are largely to blame for these declines. 

We've dumped toxic contaminants into our seas and oceans, logged and trashed pristine watersheds that support salmon, altered the landscape in harmful ways, and the list just goes on. Shame on us!

But there are good people working hard to help our whales and salmon.

Southern Resident orcas in Puget Sound. Photo by Alisa Lemire Brooks.

 Last weekend I was lucky to attend part of the Orca Network-sponsored Way of Whales event on Whidbey Island. This year the place was packed as never before, and several hundred people gathered to listen to experts discuss scientific research on things such as orca food preferences, their poop that yields a wealth of information, and the struggle for Columbia River Basin salmon, an important orca food source, to survive.

Panel of biologists, activists, and government researchers discuss local orca issues.

We saw a lovely short film about our Southern Residents produced by a European filmmaker that featured 80-year-old J8 (Speiden), the second-oldest orca of the J pod who disappeared and is presumed deceased as of September 2013.  The Southern Resident orcas spend their whole lives with their extended families.

Still out there wild and surviving is J2 (Granny), presumed born in 1911. It breaks my heart that she has seen all of her children and grandchildren be born and die, but she's still looking after her pod.

So here's my takeaway from the event. The panelists were asked what one thing they would recommend to help our orcas survive.

  • Don't eat farmed salmon (they contaminate wild stocks).
  • Learn more about what you can do and share that information.
  • Think about linkages to marine health of your everyday actions (e.g., don't use weed killer in your yard that could end up in Puget Sound through groundwater transport).
  • Join and support organizations such as Save Our Wild Salmon  that are engaged in policy issues to support changes we need to help salmon, such as demolishing some key Snake River dams.
  • Learn about your watershed where you live.
  • Plant more trees.
  • Pay more attention to what you're eating and how its production affects our environment (eat more organic).
  • Pay more attention to the world around you, become a well-informed citizen and...

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Go Hawks!

Just a little pause from the usual nature and adventure posts to congratulate our own Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks on their NFC championship.  What a season so far!

Lots of whooping and cheering in Seattle tonight, and many 12th Man flags and signs all over the city.  

Hey, even the vendors at our farmers markets got into the spirit.

So how about this:  if you're a Hawks fan and excited for their upcoming Super Bowl matchup, select Cool under the Reactions below or even share the love by leaving a comment.

Let's spread the city and regional pride!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Seattle Sunsets: Many Shades of Awe

Yesterday, I gasped at the sunset
in a newness of awe
I never before experienced;
that which seemingly occurred
the day before, the yesterday,
reiterated the today in such a special way
I gasped

-From "Gasp" by Gillena Cox

Do you ever stop to watch the sunset?  

While we don't see so many here in western Washington during winter, when we do it's often a spectacular display. (For you early birds, same can be said for the sunrise.)

Throughout the year I'm drawn to Puget Sound beaches to witness the sun slipping behind the jagged spine of the Olympic Mountains.  Like a serrated knife facing skyward, these mountains slice the western horizon and provide a dramatic backdrop for day's end.

I can't get enough.


Most often I'm down at Carkeek Park near my home, where I also regularly walk in the woods. The big  lawn with a panoramic view of the Sound is where I start, then cross over a pedestrian bridge spanning railroad tracks and down the stairs to the beach. (Passing trains always toot their horn to waving people clustered on the bridge above the tracks.)

Some evenings the beach is packed (usually nice weekend days), and sometimes I almost have the beach to myself.  But there are always a few others there to witness the show.

One thing is consistent:  I never tire of being there, never tire of hearing the gentle lap or rush of waves on the beach, never tire of seeing the sky change hues and clouds shift to shades of gold, pink, orange, and, sometimes, crimson red. 

And I never tire of gulping in the visual feast of the Olympics cresting the horizon across the Sound.

When the sky darkens to early twilight, it's hard to tear myself away.  Usually the evening chill finally drives me back to my car and on home.

Others come regularly.  An older, wiry man can often be seen on the beach at Carkeek year-round, stripped down to bare chest and shorts, flailing his arms then plunging into the Sound for a few minutes of swimming in the cold water.

And I used to see an elderly couple parked above the beach every night silently watching the sunset. Haven't seen them for a few years now, but I still think of them and their evening ritual, grasping the remains of the day.

Where is your favorite spot to watch a sunset?

Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons. I hope I inspire you to get out more and explore and protect this special corner of the world. Or even just appreciate your own slice of paradise, wherever you live.

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Happy trails!