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!

ENOUGH DOOM AND GLOOM

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.” Chief Seattle

I don’t know about you, but I’ve about had it with the doom and gloom that Covid has gifted us, and I’m more than ready to move on despite the escalation of the pandemic.

I think we all need a dose of good news! Here it is…

GOOD NEWS #1

For those who are environmentally aware – or involved – or interested, hang on to your hats. The Army Corps of Engineers has at long last denied the application for a permit to operate the Pebble Mine, located in the pristine Bristol Bay of Alaska.

Exquisite Bristol Bay Saved

Earlier in 2020 the Corps denied the project as it was then planned and required a new mitigation plan. Most opponents to the dam worried that the Corps might buckle to the big money group wanting to create an open pit copper-magnesium mine. Most locals were gravely concerned about the impact of such a disastrous enterprise on the salmon run in the area, the world’s largest run. But salmon weren’t all that was at stake – other fisheries and numerous wildlife and the health of people in the area were also at extreme risk. The Corps finally agreed that “the mine would cause significant degradation and significant adverse effects to the waters and fisheries of Bristol Bay.” The icing on the cake for this decision may have come with the release of “The Pebble Tapes,” secretly recorded in a meeting and released to the Corps.

Over the years, literally thousands of people have petitioned and donated money to organizations fighting this catastrophic proposal. Ultimately it became clear that the Corps did not have confidence in the Pebble Mine plan to mitigate the damage that would be done to nearly 200 miles of streams, 4500 acres of impacted waters and wetlands. 

I think an important take-away of this decision is the fact that for once money  did not prevail and influence the final decision. Anymore this is breathtakingly rare.

GOOD NEWS #2

Dam Removal showing success already!

Another win for the environment is the removal of the dam on the Pilchuck River. The dam was removed in August, and already an increased number of salmon have been seen in the river. According to Matt Puley, a project coordinator, they’ve even seen chinook salmon navigating the river. 

Earlier in 2020 a dam was removed from the Nooksak River, and the Nelson Dam is scheduled to be removed in 2021. Other dams are being considered for removal too.

Elwha River Dam Removal. Photo by Seattle Times

Washington State is certainly not new to dam removal.The Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were built in the early 1900s. Of course, the dams blocked salmon from migrating upstream to spawn and disrupted the flow of sediment. It also flooded homes and cultural sites. However, in 1992 Congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act, authorizing the removal of the Elwha Dam and then the Glines Canyon Dam.  The removal of the Elwha started in 2011 and was followed by the Glines Dam in 2014. Once again, the Elwha is a free-flowing river!

GOOD NEWS #3

And, not to be overlooked, according to the Capital Press, “Plans to remove four hydroelectric dams along the lower Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California are back on track, with possible demolition happening in 2023. The removal of these dams will open about 400 miles of stream habitat for coho and steelhead, both threatened species. AND, if successful, “…it would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in U.S. History.

The agreement was negotiated and signed by the states of California and Oregon, PacifiCorp, KRRC and the Yirok and Karuk tribes. According to Governor Kate Brown, “We are taking an incredibly important step forward toward restorative justice for people of the Klamath River. The agreement is about far more than the removal of four dams. It is a stop toward righting historic injustices.

More importantly, Joseph James of the Yurok Trive said the project “is about healing and restoration for the river, for the salmon, and for our people…we want to emphasize that the Yurok Tribe will never rest until the dams are out and the river is healed.”

GOOD NEWS #4

The Southern Resident Pod has two new babies that have joined their dwindling numbers. Perhaps there is yet hope for this REMARKABLE species to survive.

Why is all of this so important?

In the words of Chief Seattle:

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to man. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth.”

It Shouldn’t Take a Rocket Scientist…

00dca-orca2Bphoto“In response to its criticism of its treatment of killer whales, Sea World said it will build them a larger habitat. When asked for comment, killer whales said, “Hey, you know what’s a larger habitat? The ocean.”    Conan O’Brien.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why orcas die in captivity at a relatively young age. It only takes people suffering from money-addiction to ignore the facts and not care one whit for the mammal they are tormenting and degrading.

According to National Geographic’s “Orcas don’t do well in captivity. Here’s why,” of the 70 orcas born in captivity around the world since 1977, 37 of them are dead. This number does not include the 30 that were stillborn or died in utero. Tragically, only a small handful of wild-caught orcas live past 30-years-of age. Not one captive born orca yet has lived that long. In the wild these mammals sometimes can live to 80 and beyond.

But this fact seems to escape the jailers – that they are cutting the animals’ lives short by about 50 years. It’s all about the money.

There’s plenty of evidence, and proof, that whales, dolphins, and porpoises are highly intelligent, social animals. Orcas are meant to swim great distances – often up to 40 miles a day – where they frequently dive to great depths to feed several times a day, every day. A super-sized swimming pool just doesn’t cut it. And even though some orcas are born into captivity, they are still genetically driven to do the same things that wild orcas do.

According to Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, “a primary indicator for whether a mammal will do well in captivity is how wide their range is in the wild. The broader their natural range, the less likely they are to thrive in confinement. This is the same reason some zoos have been phasing out elephant exhibits.”

An orca’s life in captivity could not have been devised to be more horrific. Orcas’ brains are highly developed when it comes to social intelligence, language (yes, language) and self-awareness. In the wild, they live most of their lives in tight-knit groups (pods). Often the males stay with their mothers for their entire lives. In captivity this social bond is ripped apart. In captivity they don’t have the opportunity to escape conflict with others or to engage in natural swimming behaviors. The animals are kept in captivity simply for people’s entertainment and other people’s bank accounts. This is wrong on so many fronts.

There’s hope that things are beginning to change, but certainly not fast enough. In 2017 California made it illegal to breed orcas. Shortly after this, Sea World announced it would be ending its captive orca breeding program. Unfortunately, a number of these animals are still kept for entertainment and continue to be treated like their personal lives have no value.

“At the federal level, Congressman Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California, has repeatedly introduced a bill to phase out captive orca displays across the U.S.” I urge people to support this effort, whether Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Socialist or Independent.

Hopefully, and it’s a wild hope, the whales remaining in captivity will be released (before they die prematurely) to a whale sanctuary project. Of course, Sea World opposes this effort, and considers the sanctuaries to be nothing but “sea cages,” as if their over-sized swimming pools were preferential. If the whales do not survive or make it in a whale sanctuary, at least they’ll have had a chance – more than Sea World can offer them.

(An even worse thought is these poor creatures being sold by Russia, who is currently holding 100 orcas and beluga whales in a “whale jail” for sale to the Chinese for their aquariums. Likely the freezing temperatures in Siberia will end up killing the mammals who are kept in tanks so small they can hardly move. It had been hoped that Vladimir Putin would have the mammals released, but this has not yet happened. It may be too late.)

Material from:

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Coffield, R.L. Saving Our Oceans. Wickenburg: Moonlight Mesa Associates, Inc. May 2019. Print

Daly, Natasha. “Orcas don’t do well in captivity. Here’s why.” National Geographic,  25, March, 2019, https://www.natgeo.com/animals/2019/03/orcas-captivity-welfare/

 

Grouping Westerns, Whales and Oceans Together is not Weird!

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Release date: May 2019

We are fervently hoping that Saving Our Oceans is close to the final editing stages. Due to our involvement with the annual mule ride we sponsor, we’re grossly behind schedule, but we  plan to pull some long days…and nights…very soon.

There are those who say that our new direction (grouping westerns, whales and oceans together)  isn’t going to work. That’s it’s weird. Makes no sense. I’m too busy to argue with them and will let time be the determiner of that. I admit that the new website (westernswhalesandoceans.com) isn’t yet exactly brimming with visitors and that we closed down our new blog temporarily due to lack of visitors, but our sales have picked up and are ahead of sales a year ago – thank goodness.

This decision to add “whales and oceans” to our “western culture” is not a business decision. It’s a moral decision. We are now part of the Ocean Foundation and have been formally accepted to the Plastic Pollution Coalition. We strongly support the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition and the Orca Conservancy. We also love westerns, but westerns are mostly a greatly romanticized history of the past. Whales and oceans are a predictor of the future, which looks pretty grim right now.

I won’t get on my soapbox about the immorality of mercilessly harpooning intelligent, social mammals at this time because I’ve been on that soapbox most of the winter.

As for our western situation…an amazing number of people have been asking if our popular, reclusive author Jere D. James is ever going to write another western. We didn’t hold out much hope for quite a spell, but it looks very promising that Jere will be making a return. Whew. We need that since we’ve decided to keep our main operations in Arizona. Despite our intense interest in orcas and oceans, westerns still rate pretty high with us and most of our readers.

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Dwight Beard – A Western Icon

 

 

Westerns, Whales and Oceans Welcome You.

This website is sponsored by and aligned with Moonlight Mesa Associates, a small publishing house  located in Wickenburg, Arizona. We’ve been a western book publisher for over 10 years, although we have published other genres also.

We are going through growing, and aging, pains right now as we broaden our horizons and our publishing interests.

We’re moving from fiction to nonfiction, and you will find new and forthcoming nonfiction titles here – but only “watery” titles. The profit from every “watery” book we sell is being donated to either the Ocean Foundation, the Ocean Conservancy, or the  Orca Conservancy.

 

We’re also dedicated to ending the cataclysmic catastrophe of plastic pollution in our oceans. These materials kill 1,000,000 seabirds a year, and over 100,000 marine mammals. We are passionate about whales, particularly orcas and humpbacks. We are dedicated to helping save the Southern Resident Pod of Orcas and keeping them from extinction.

You will find our westerns, water-related books and other genres featured on this website. We don’t have many water titles yet, but we’re in the process now of preparing for the publication of Saving Our Oceans, by award-winning writer, R.L. Coffield.

Here is one “watery” book we’ve published. Since the Moonlight Mesa Associates had an unexpected death, and who knows for how long, you’ll need to order from Amazon, or contact us directly via this blog. Once our website here is set up, you can do mail orders here also.

Learn how to build your own boat and take up rowing. You’re never too old to enjoy this sport!

The Old Folks in the Boat  is a great primer for beginners and older rowers.