Where Are the Whales?

People are hungry to see the orcas!

Despite being situated in the Salish Sea for the past six months, it’s been difficult to keep track of the whales this year! I thought that since I was an official docent at the Friday Harbor Whale Museum, I’d be more up-to-date…this has not happened. Reports from the Center for Whale Research, however, have been super informative, but being in the right place at the right time to actually see a whale is infrequent.

However, that being said, there are still whales around! In fact, we were excited to see a small pod of orcas pass by the Anacortes Ferry terminal yesterday when we returned from an outing to Friday Harbor. Unfortunately, whale watching boats were NOT keep the required distance from the whales. Bottom line: People are hungry to see the orcas! A small pod swam along and you’d have thought that a miracle had occurred by the reaction of the onlookers…and perhaps it was a miracle.

There have been a number of sightings of the Biggs Transient Orcas, but the Southern Resident Pod (the northwest fave) has been a bit more secretive. J-pod has recent been seen in the area, but K and L pods have pretty much stayed on the west side of Vancouver Island. Smart move, really: more fish and fewer boaters there by far. What pod was seen by the ferry terminal, I have no idea. I love the whales and worry greatly about their well-being, but I do not have the wherewithal to memorize their dorsal fins, saddles, scars or other markings to recognize individuals.

However, both my husband and I were thrilled upon seeing two orcas just a short distance north of the Columbia River Bar as we headed north from Astoria, Oregon. In fact, I even forgot how majorly queasy I was felling when I sighted the two. The next day we saw a small group, probably Minkes, about three miles off the Washington shoreline north of West Port. I wasn’t seasick that day…the ocean was like a lake, and the whales were happily spouting as they likely gobbled silver salmon which seemed to be plentiful in the area judging by the number of fishing vessels. Honestly, we’d never seen so many whales in our sojourns up and down the west coast. It made me feel hopeful for these amazing fellow mammals.

We’ve now been in the Northwest for six months and on our newest vessel for three months. The rains have started…that means a lot of boaters have retired their boats for the year and anchorages will be far less busy. This could also very likely mean that more whales will be around. Perhaps we’ll get lucky more often!

I encourage you to join the Center for Whale Research located in Friday Harbor, Washington. It is also a 501c3, so your donations and membership are tax deductible, and you can be kept completely up-to-date on the whales. Also, check out the Friday Harbor Whale Museum gift shop for unique gifts. This is one way to support the only whale museum in the United States!

Time to Call it Quits?

It’s time for a new adventure, and I want to go home.

It seems like ages ago we moved to Arizona – actually it’s now been 16 years. I’ve enjoyed it here in many ways…but I don’t think I’ve ever really been happy-happy here. 

What do I like about Arizona? 

1. Winter weather here can’t be beat. Maybe Florida’s, come to think about it. 

2. Our properties have been large enough that I’ve had chickens, horses, mules and dogs during this period. (I had the same in Oregon though.)

3.  I started a small, traditional publishing company and published a number of award-winning titles and terrific westerns.         

 J.R. Sanders’ two books, Some Gave All and The Littlest Wrangler, both won awards;   

Lee Anderson’s equine books, Developing the Art of Equine Communication and The  View from My Old Saddle, were both award winners;                                                                                    

Rusty Richards biography of Casey Tibbs  has been a best-selling title and won an award;    

Historian Robert Walton’s civil war book, Dawn Drums,  won a total of 5 awards;   

Three of my own publications have won awards: Life Was a Cabaret, Sam’s Desert Adventure, and Northern Escape.                                                      

There were other books that often out-sold the award-winners, such as Jere D. James Jake Silver Series.

During this time I also learned some hard lessons: 

  1.  Insufficient funds for marketing pretty much killed me.
  2.  Often I worked far harder at personally selling authors’ books than some of them did.
  3.  Selling books is the hardest part of the whole publishing business.

We are now at a crossroads, and some of our frustration may indeed be due to Covid, but perhaps most is just due to the fact that my husband and I can no longer ignore that we are fish out of water in the desert, something we’ve both known for a long time but never discussed much. So, we’ve listed our home for sale, even though we just moved to this new location a year ago. Since our mules are now gone, we’ve come to realize even more that we don’t “fit in” here (our license plates even say “We Row”) and we never have been very good members of the cowboy-horse culture here in Wickenburg. We tried, but…

Moving is not easy, but I came to the conclusion that going back to the northwest is what we needed to do after I read an article that asked readers to think of where they’d been most happy in their life…and if they weren’t there now, why weren’t they? As retirees, we don’t have jobs that hold us down; our children are both approaching 40 and are well-established here, so no kids to fuss over. My husband is particularly not happy, and neither is my dog Holly (a Chesapeake Bay Retriever). We instantly realized that where we’ve been our happiest is in coastal environments: Newport Oregon, Wrangell Alaska, and cruising on our sailboat decades ago. I know the winter weather will be a shocker…but we lived in the northwest for decades before we moved and it never seemed to bother us then. I miss snow-shoeing, Nordic skiing, ice skating, the beautiful smell and sight of fir trees, and fall and spring weather (you don’t get much where we now are). We’re homesick.

So what do I do about Moonlight Mesa Associates, Inc., my little S-Corporation? I think it’s time I dissolved my corporation and became a sole-proprietor again. I’ll certainly keep an account with the printing company so authors can still get their books and the books will still be available online or with vendors, but I just feel like throwing in the towel, going back to free-lance writing, getting my Marine Naturalist Certification, and focusing on sea life, whales in particular – especially orcas. I might even become a radical about plastic pollution and protecting our oceans, and saving our wild salmon! I can spend more time on JUST ONE THING. That would be fun. What I’m doing now no longer is.

I’ll keep my website…I think…maybe. And I’ll be blogging less about books, and more about LIFE. I’m ready. It’s time for a new adventure, and I want to go home.

Time for an About-Face for Shirking

The main interest I’ve (we’ve) maintained throughout all the covid stress and election drama has been a continual attention to the health of the ocean, nature, and especially whales. There are some bright spots here:

I declare I do think some people have minds like traps…something gets in it and it doesn’t go away. Once again I’ve been caught.

Here’s some facts I’ve been called on:

In September I declared I would row 500 miles before the end of the year. Didn’t quite get there – actually I was a long way from 500 miles. Try 189. Well, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak! Besides, the north ramp at Lake Pleasant was closed and that is the BEST, most scenic area for rowing, kayaking, and swimming.

And I’ve been asked where JOT has disappeared to and what’s going on with it…It’s been so long since I’ve talked about JOT (Just One Thing) that I’m embarrassed to say I’ve done little to nothing in recent months. I think the pandemic wore me out. I was too busy reading Fox News and the New York Times email articles to pay attention to much else.

For those with short memories, JOT (Just One Thing) is a grassroots alliance encouraging people to forego one single-use plastic item to help with plastic pollution and wastage. There are a number of people who have signed up to participate in the JOT movement, however, but I’ve failed to do much communication since I failed to keep their email addresses. Again…likely a pandemic fault. However, JOT is alive and well and will be energized again…Care to join? Send me your name and I’ll add you to our list. No fees or dues or donations ever. Just a commitment on your part to yourself.

The main interest I’ve (we’ve) maintained throughout all the covid stress and election drama has been a continual attention to the health of the ocean, nature, and especially whales. There are some bright spots here:

A new pod of Blue Whales has been discovered in the Indian Ocean. In addition, Blue Whales are once again being detected in the Georgia Island area (north of Antarctica) after 50-years of absence. These whales were hunted almost to the very brink of extinction by money-driven cretins. (Please don’t tell the Japanese or the Norwegians since they have a penchant for slaughtering whales.)

And, there have been numerous sightings of the northwest’s Southern Resident pod of orcas this fall and winter…likely this is because there are far fewer boaters plowing through the waters disturbing them.

So…I’m seriously back to work even though I don’t plan to publish anything this year. Despite having become a bit of a hermit, I aim to live with gratitude and enthusiasm. No more shirking, procrastinating, and negativity. I’m tired of that.

 Besides promoting JOT and trying to sell books, I’ll  be blogging about the NRDC and their successes in sustaining the environment (like helping defeat the Pebble  mine in Bristol Bay), along with the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and their efforts to revive wild salmon stocks (yes, more bridges are now being torn down), as well as other marine and nature organizations issues (like closing Marine World and getting those poor whales out of swimming pools!). I’ll be heading to Washington State in February for a month of resuscitation. I know I’ll come back fired up – and probably be yearning to move north…again. 

Check out Saving Our Oceans or any of our other scintillating titles!

Major Changes to Publishing House

Three primary areas have become the publisher’s center of attention: The Ocean; Whales; and the Rights of Nature.

Becky on her mule, Reba Peru.

It’s become apparent to many of Moonlight Mesa’s blog followers and customers, that the publishing house is no longer the same company that used to avidly only promote western books and authors. “There is no question that we’re on a different path,” admitted publisher Becky Coffield. “The change is a difficult, time-consuming, uphill struggle, and one we’ve been trying to win using emotional appeal – not tactics. It hasn’t been as easy as I thought it’d be. Somehow that’s got to change.”

It’s tempting to say that the biggest cause of struggle is Moonlight Mesa’s rural location – being housed on the borderline of a dinky seasonal community and a small cowboy town. This hurts, but it’s not the only issue. Not being a coastal state, Arizonans generally tend to be indifferent to the issues that Moonlight Mesa’s publisher finds to be a priority. “This is to be expected, I suppose. Arizona has issues and problems of its own to deal with that are troublesome: drought and potential water shortage; rapid growth due to a massive influx of newcomers; and border issues to name a few. Expected, but disappointing,” Coffield said.

So, what is the pubisher’s focus? Three primary areas have become the publisher’s center of attention: the Ocean; Whales; and The Rights of Nature. That is, of course, a simplification, but it generally sums it up.  Coffield is also a supporter of NRDC, CELDEF, and GARN.*

For starters, as chairperson of the JUST ONE THING Alliance, Coffield decided to house the small, grass-roots movement on Moonlight Mesa’s website as its own domain. (www.justonething.life) She has also recently added Moonlight Mesa’s publication, Saving Our Oceans. (www.saving-our-oceans.com) as a domain on the website.

“Though the addition of these two domains to Moonlight Mesa’s website does not in any way help book sales or the company, the fact is it’s a step in going where I have to go,” Coffield said.

Coffield became an ocean/whale devotee after spending six years blue-water sailing on a Cal 2-34, traveling around 25,000 miles, then living on the Oregon Coast for many years. Originally from the Northwest, Coffield has spent years boating in the San Juan Islands and traveling the Inside Passage to the Broughton Islands and S.E. Alaska. “I’ve had fantastic whale encounters in S.E. Alaska,” Coffield recalled. “And, of course, a person can’t help but love the Southern Resident Pod that hangs out in the San Juans.” Coffield is currently endeavoring to complete a Marine Naturalist Certification.

It’s become apparent to all who know the publisher that she (and her husband) are  fish out of water living in Arizona – The big question is “for how much longer?” She’s choosing not say at this time –

Meanwhile, look for the saving-our-oceans.blog in the very near future.

*CELDEF: Community Environmental Defense Fund

NRDC – Nature Resource Defense Council

GARN – Global Alliance for Rights of Nature

Blog submitted by Renee Witty

Where Are the Whales? Where are the Salmon?

It’s painfully simple: between dams, climate change,  an over abundance of seals, and the fishing industry, there are basically no Chinook Salmon this year for the Southern Resident Pod of Orcas.

1d0cc-orca2bphoto   The highly-loved Southern Resident Pod of Orcas apparently may not be calling the Salish Sea (specifically the Puget Sound area) home anymore it seems. Their lack of prompt appearance last summer couldn’t be denied and caused some consternation. The whales showed up late and left quickly, spending most of their time on the outer coast of Vancouver Island. Instead, transient orcas from the northern reaches of the Inside Passage were more often seen. The transient pod dines more on seals which are plentiful in the area.

So what gives? It’s painfully simple: between dams, climate change,  an over abundance of seals, and the fishing industry, there are basically no Chinook Salmon this year, and Chinook are the Southern Resident Pod’s main, preferred, and greatly needed food.

If one wants to play the blame game, point first to the Lower Snake River dams  and Governor Inslee’s inability, and unwillingness, to take affirmative action in removing these dams despite that action being the most voted on as high priority by concerned citizens. The Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition, spearheaded by Joseph Bogaard, puts the removal of dams as an extremely high priority for saving wild salmon runs.

Indeed, even Oregon’s Bonneville Dam is a disaster for the salmon runs, which use to number in the thousands. Allowing a bit of extra water spill to “cool” the river doesn’t cut it.

Besides blaming the dams, there is no doubt that climate change has taken its toll on the Chinook, and no matter how one feels about it, climate change can no longer be denied. The Fraser River is very low (due to water withdrawal for agriculture) and it’s now too warm. The test fishery didn’t catch any Chinook in May, and only three in June. Hundreds used to be caught.

Finally, and not often considered, is the massive number of fish (including salmon) that seals and sea lions eat. Since these pinnipeds became “protected” some years ago, their numbers have exploded, and they all have healthy appetites.

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Of course there is the never-ending issue of plastic and chemical pollution and sewage spills that can sicken and kill all aquatic life, including whales.

Do not overlook the impact of sport and commercial fishing ventures. Ship strikes and a plethora of boaters may also be contributing factors to the whales’ demise.

The Southern Resident Pod has lived in the Puget Sound area for thousands of years. Their numbers diminished greatly decades ago, however, because of the rampant brutal  capture and sale of these magnificent creatures by uncaring, greedy, self-serving owners of  aquatic parks that tragically decimated their numbers. (Obviously, they did not believe in the Rights of Nature.) Few captured whales live beyond 30 years of age due to abuse and the stress of being held captive in a swimming pool. In their natural habitat these whales can live as long as 90 years.

One can only hope, and pray, that these much-loved whales, in their quest for food, will avoid the rapacious Japanese and Norwegian whale hunters.

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Wanton slaughter of whales

Whale Captivity is Criminal

PHOTO-Type-D-killer-whales-showing-their-blunt-heads-and-tiny-eyepatches-in-2011-Credit-J.P.-Sylvestre-South-Georgia-1125x534-Landscape-1000x477    There is simply one reason why the United States of America permits orcas to be treated in the most inhumane, cruel, despicable way. Of course, money is the reason.

For starters, it’s important to remember that whales are mammals. They are like us in that respect. Whales, chimpanzees and humans are placental carriers – that is each carries its unborn young in a placental sack.  It’s believed that whales, sloths, bats and humans share a common ancestor, which is a topic for a blog from a geneticist, I suppose. My concern is why we allow mammals, whales in particular, to be treated worse than the criminally insane.

No other nation, with possibly the exception of China, now allows orcas and belugas to be captured in the wild and held in swimming pools solely for personal enrichment and human entertainment. Only the United States allows this criminal behavior of imprisonment to continue – specifically Sea World and their “Shamu” shows.

Finally, word recently escaped about how cruelly the whales are treated in captivity, often being deprived of food if they fail to do as ordered. Almost every whale in captivity has died decades before its time. Out of sheer frustration and boredom, the orcas bang their heads against the sides of the pool. Their teeth are ground to nubs from grinding and chewing on cement. They deeply mourn the loss of their pod. But the show goes on.

Orcas are extremely intelligent. They have language skills and communicate with each other. They have very strong familial ties and are highly social animals. They also have a sense of self. They mentally KNOW they exist. Fortunately, the capture of whales has been outlawed in most all countries – with the exception of renegades in Russia who illegally imprisoned orcas and beluga whales last winter for sale to China. Under Putin’s direction the whales were released. Orcas also are no longer allowed to be bred in captivity since the offspring die. When the babies die, the mothers grieve for long periods of time.

Orcas are designed by nature to swim a hundred miles a day, give or take, and dive to deep depths in pursuit of food. Yet knowing this and all the inhumane treatment the whales endure in captivity, Sea World continues to hold them as prisoners in swimming pools not much bigger than the whales themselves. There’s absolutely no heart, humanity, or morality here – it’s clearly about the money earned by the captivity.

Unfortunately, we have a president who is not particularly environmentally friendly. With a stroke of his pen I think he could end the captivity of orcas and order  them to be released to ocean sanctuaries now ready to help them return to their natural habitat, just as Putin did. Perhaps Sea World executives are big supporters of Trump?

Sea World says it will stop their whale shows by the end of 2019. That remains to be seen. Perhaps they plan on imprisoning more dolphins (perhaps the smartest animal in the ocean and possibly smarter than humans) and porpoises to display. Or how about another walrus?

The captivity and imprisonment of any wild animal is cruel beyond measure. It must be stopped, just as the imprisonment and captivity of people in this country was stopped.

Whales, dolphins, chimpanzees, people – we are all mammals. We share DNA and a common ancestor. Possibly humans are the smartest living “creature” on the planet, but that’s debatable as the dolphin is a contender for first place when it comes to intelligence, and orcas are members of the dolphin family. Unfortunately, we have the dishonor of being the cruelest creature on the planet.

Enacting a Rights of Nature would put an end to this wild animal captivity nonsense. We don’t own these animals – we share the world with them.

To read more about the exploitation and massacre of whales and orcas read Saving Our Oceans, by R.L. Coffield.

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What’s Wrong with These People?

There are many Japanese citizens who disapprove of Japan’s whaling industry and the brutal slaying and sale of dolphins that is sanctioned by their government, but when it comes to oceanic mammal slaughter and abuse, few countries can outdo Japan. Their inhumane, barbaric slaughtering and treatment of whales and dolphins is a stunning, murderous orgy. It’s bad enough that this nation continued whale hunts for years after signing the International Whaling Commission’s agreement not to do so. They killed thousands of whales under the guise of “scientific research.” Australians frequently accused the Japanese of hunting in whale preserves in Antarctica. Of course, the “scientifically researched” slaughtered whales appeared on restaurant menus in Japan.

In December of 2018, the Japanese announced they would no longer remain members of the IWC (were they ever?) and would resume commercial whaling in July 2019. The London based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) estimates that the Japanese have killed over 1,000,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises in the last 70 years. One million.

The dolphin hunts in Taigi Bay are equally as disgraceful, cruel, and vicious as harpooning whales. The Japanese fishermen conduct huge roundups of schools of dolphin, driving them into Taigi Bay where they are brutally and painfully slaughtered or set aside for sale to aquariums. The bay literally turns red with blood. This behavior is simply aberrant and abnormal. According to the EIA, “The hunts in Japan’s coastal waters specifically target nine small cetacean species, eight of them with government-set catch limits which are clearly unsustainable.”

Most ocean advocates know that dolphins (and likely orcas) are the most intelligent mammals in the world – second only to humans, but obviously well beyond the intelligence of the people who hunt, murder, and sell them.

Despite international disapproval, I suspect that Japanese pride and ego keep them from bowing to world condemnation and pressure to desist in these moribund activities.

They slaughter whales because it’s a “cultural heritage” activity, so they say.                                     (Photo by Blue Planet Society)

The Japanese are not the only ones with a penchant for murdering non-aggressive mammals. This year the Faroe Islanders have also been on a rampage. 2019 is proving to be a bloody year. The Faroe Islanders have killed over 688 whales, with 50 whales being slaughtered yesterday alone. The reason? They claim it’s part of their history and culture. When will this madness end?

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So what can be done about this? Boycotting products from those countries is a good start. Support the efforts of groups working to combat these atrocities. Stop visiting and supporting aquariums, especially those (like SeaWorld) who hold orcas and dolphins in swimming pools for people’s entertainment and owners’ profit. Their abusive training methods have finally been exposed, so they should absolutely not be allowed to keep ANY whale or dolphin in captivity. Yet they do. Demand that orcas, dolphins and porpoises be set free. Swimming pools are not an appropriate place for these ocean traveling mammals.

Saving Our Oceans covers in detail the topic discussed here. Get free shipping with your order, and know that the proceeds from the sale of Saving Our Oceans is earmarked for the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and the Friday Harbor Whale Museum. Click here to contact us to place your order.

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Too Many Predators

Between net fisheries, sports fishermen, and seals and sea lions, the

dwindling number of Southern Resident Pod of orcas wavers on the brink of extinction.

There are simply too many Chinook salmon predators for the orcas to compete with, and the Chinook is the primary food source for the Southern Resident pod. Add ship strikes, whale watching intrusiveness and toxins and the odds against another two decades of survival for the pod is a safe bet.

Net fisheries need to be abolished for the benefit and sustainability of all ocean species. These nets can be up to two miles long and collect every life form in the net’s path as it’s towed along. Most of the by-catch is thrown away – it’s already dead.

Even gill netting is catastrophic. The Columbia River, a massive river between Oregon and Washington, is a prime example. This river used to have a magnificent salmon run until a crowd of gill netters and a series of dams along with a booming population of seals has all but decimated the runs.

40 years ago seals were deemed an endangered species due to fishermen shooting them for stealing salmon. In the past 40 years the population of seals has greatly expanded. Seals can now be seen snagging salmon with insolent ease as the salmon struggle to climb the stupid fish ladders at the dam to return to their spawning grounds. If they manage to make it up the Bonneville dam ladder, they have four Snake River dams still to go.

Sports fishermen have taken their fair share of Chinook also, although both Washington State and Canada curtailed the salmon sport fishing season this year (2019). It should have been suspended for several years.

This year San Juan Islanders were bemoaning the fact that the orcas had only showed up twice. News came that the whales were staying on the outside of Vancouver Island where it was reported that there were more salmon and a lot less boat traffic to contend with.

The orcas need to stay there. If they return to Puget Sound and the Salish Sea they will only be starved and pestered to death.

Governor Inslee has apparently given up his quest for the White House. He needs to get back to his job. If the orcas die off on his watch it will be the end of his political life for certain. A sad, inexcusable legacy.

Day 3: Spotting Whales

After two long days of lectures we will now be out in the field for the next 3 days!

Today’s outing was to Lime Kiln State Park to look for whales passing by, take a hike, and two more classes…two outside and one inside.

It’s interesting that the Southern Resident pod is finally finding its preferred food on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and not so much here in the Salish Sea. Reports from the coast are that the whales are looking fatter and happier! Meanwhile, a transient group of orcas, Biggs transient pod, is now in this area more. The Southern Resident pod prefers to dine on Chinook, and the transients like seals, sea lions, etc. And there are plenty of those around here. Their population has exploded in the last 40 years since they were listed as an endangered species…so no more shooting them for stealing fish off your hook! The Southern Resident pod is still around some though, but this year they even hit up Monterey Bay for food. It’s been a spell since the Southern Resident pod has traveled that far for Chinook.

The day, incidentally, was great! Weather was accommodating, the speakers were knowledgeable and interesting.

The question is growing in my mind, though, can I be a Marine Naturalist in Arizona? How’s that going to work? I will have to give this A LOT of thought. I signed up for this course thinking we’d be relocating back to the Pacific Northwest. This may not come true if our house in AZ doesn’t sell. Bummer.

Could I be a naturalist in Arizona? I just don’t see the culture there embracing this. We’ll find out soon enough.

Oh…we saw no whales.

Another Day in Paradise

Mmm…Maybe not paradise, but a far site better than broiling in Arizona.

Somehow I’ve managed to load the boat with too many pairs of shoes, socks, shirts, shorts and food, and we actually still have a waterline showing.

Add to this a case of Saving Our Oceans, another box of books I plan to read, and a well-stocked bar, and I rarely even drink.

I have beautiful new wooden scoop oars this year for rowing and a paddle board tied to the top of my shade gizmo.

In July I’ll be in Friday Harbor for my Marine Naturalist Training Program and also house hunting, but I need enough acreage for our two mules also. All this on a budget…it could be tough.

Currently we’re still dock bound in Anacortes getting the boat ready for its summer travels. I’m more than a bit concerned about the number of dead whales showing up on beaches along the West coast, but it seems that the Southern Resident pod of orcas is maintaining its status quo and hopefully things will improve since Canada put the brakes on sport and commercial salmon fishing this year. Washington also cut salmon fishing back and also made stringent rules regarding tour boats’ proximity to whales. ABOUT TIME!!

My goal this summer is to hike 200 miles and to row 200 miles. Oh…and sell my box of books.