Today I attended an all-day workshop for local marine naturalists, an annual "gear down" event that's held at the end of the season and provides a series of lectures for naturalists to continue the education. With the recent loss of seven local whales, everyone is especially concerned about the main threats this population faces: salmon, toxins, and vessel activity. All three were addressed in lectures today.
One of the most exciting parts of the workshop was the official launching of the Salish Sea Association of Marine Naturalists (SSAMN - pronounced, of course, "salmon"). I've been on a committee forming this association for the last year, and its goals are to network naturalists, create a unified and professional group representing local naturalists, and share opportunities among the group whether they be news alerts, calls to action, or educational opportunities. The vision is that the group will provide high quality and accurate education to visitors and residents of the San Juans, with the aim of encouraging stewardship and action to protect the local wildlife and the ecosystem in which it lives. If you want to learn more about the association or potentially join, you can contact Cindy, the education curator at The Whale Museum by e-mailing her at cindy at whalemuseum dot org.
Here are a few facts I learned at today's lectures....interesting to me because of their shock value:
- The AT1s, a group of Alaskan transients, numbered 22 animals when the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred. They now number 6, with no calves being born since the oil spill occurred. Like the local residents, they are a group that is not known to associate with other killer whale populations, even other transients. It may be that the social restrictions these whales seemingly put on themselves seriously restricts the ability of their population to recover.
- Local salmon runs are only at 10% of their historical numbers.
- Surfactants, or substances that reduce surface tension, cause problems by gumming up the gills of fish and suffocating them. Even biodegradable soaps have surfactants, something I didn't know....we use biodegradable soaps on the houseboat I live on because our gray water goes straight into the ocean, but maybe this isn't good enough.
- Industry was not the only major source of PCBs (a bioaccumulant toxin) in Puget Sound. Military activity, such as naval ship building and weaprony testing, caused a lot of PCBs to enter the water, as well. Torpedos, for example, were insulated with PCBs, and many detonation tests occurred in the Sound. There are 21 Superfund sites in Puget Sound, and many of the so-called "clean" sites are actually meeting some pretty leniant, shady regulations.