Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Marine Mammal Plan’

JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 2010

Tracking gray whales as they migrate past the San Francisco shoreline will help provide key information for a proposed plan to for a wave energy farm.

The mammals — which can grow up to 50 feet long, weigh up to 40 tons and are considered endangered on the West Coast — migrate between the Alaskan coast to the shores off Mexico, where they give birth to their young.

During their travels, the whales pass near Ocean Beach — but there is a lack of information about exactly where.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researchers will partner with San Francisco and track the mammals’ depth and distance from the shoreline using visual surveys and satellite tracking devices. A review of existing scientific literature will also be undertaken.

“There’s a fair amount of data on gray whales down around Monterey,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Randall Smith said. “But there’s a data gap off the San Francisco coastline.”

The study will help city officials decide how and where to safely place an array of potentially-revolutionary underwater devices that might eventually deliver power as cheaply as solar panels.

The farm would capture and convert into electricity the power of arctic storm-generated waves as they pulse toward Ocean Beach.

A wide variety of devices are being developed worldwide that could help capture the wave power: Some bob near the surface, others float midwater like balloons, and a third type undulates like kelp along the seafloor.

Learning about gray whale migration patterns will help officials determine which devices would minimize the risk of whale collisions and decide where they should be located.

Research by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung previously identified Ocean Beach as having strong potential for the nascent form of energy generation.

A wave study completed by San Francisco city contractors in December confirmed the site’s potential, according to Smith.

“Potentially, we could do a 30-megawatt wave farm out there,” Smith said.

The timelines and investment structure of the wave project are unclear, largely because the U.S. Minerals Management Service — which historically managed gas and oil deposits — was recently charged with regulating offshore renewable energy projects.

While the SFPUC waits for the service to finalize its permit application procedures, it’s forging ahead with an environmental review of the project required by California law, which includes the whale study.

Gray whales – the giant mammals are an endangered species.

Annual migration: 10,000 miles
Length: Up to 50 feet
Weight: Up to 80,000 pounds
Lifespan: In excess of 75 years
Maturity: Six to 12 years
Gestation: 12 to 13 months
Newborn calves: 14 to 16 feet long; 2,000 pounds

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

HELON ALTONN, Honolulu Star Bulletin, December 27, 2009

The ocean is becoming a noisier place due to increased greenhouse gas emissions, California and Hawaii scientists report.

Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans not only has increased seawater acidity but has affected its acoustics—making it more transparent to low-frequency sound, the scientists said in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Scientists said seawater sound absorption will drop by up to 70% this century.

“It was surprising to us,” said Richard Zeebe, an associate professor of oceanography at the University of Hawaii School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolved in the oceans increases acidity, or hydrogen ion concentration, and as the acidity rises, it lowers the seawater pH (a measure of acidity), researchers said.

“Certain chemical compounds in the ocean absorb sound and affect sound propagation,” Zeebe said. “Frequencies can get louder and more intense, depending on the chemistry.”

Not all frequencies will be affected, he said, explaining pH changes mostly affect sounds in the lower frequency range.

SOEST researcher Tatiana Ilyina said the pH of surface seawater will drop by 0.6 units by the year 2100 at the current rate of carbon dioxide emissions, with a one-unit drop of pH representing a tenfold increase of acidity.

“As a result, the absorption of 200 Hz sound would decrease by up to 70%,” she said, noting the middle C of the piano is tuned to 261.6 Hz. Sound around that frequency is produced by natural phenomena such as rain, wind and waves, and marine mammals and manmade activities, she said.

Naval, commercial and scientific activities use low-frequency sound and marine mammals rely on low-frequency sound to find food and mates, the scientists said.

“As a result, ocean acidification may not only affect organisms at the bottom of the food chain by reducing calcification in plankton and corals, but also higher tropic-level species, such as marine mammals, by lowering sound absorption in the ocean,” they said.

Zeebe said: “The consequences of these changes on marine mammals is not well known at the moment. There is a lot of background noise in the ocean generated by humans—ship noise, construction, seismic surveys and sonar—and this noise will essentially increase in volume in the ocean in the future.

“If the noise level increases, it can distract species,” he said. “If they’re trying to identify certain sounds in the ocean important for them for reproduction, feeding or something, and if the background noise is increasing, it could essentially cover certain sounds they depend on. This is a possibility.”

Another possibility is that marine mammals may be able to communicate over larger distances in the lower frequency range if sound absorption is decreased because underwater sounds can travel farther than at the surface, he said.

“Also, there are commercial and scientific applications, seismic surveys, that probably will have to take into account that future sound propagation in the ocean will slowly change,” Zeebe said, adding that more study is needed to determine the effects of the ocean acoustics changes.

Read Full Post »

Editor’s Note: In late December 2009, the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco vacated their home on the floating piers. This article may shed some light on what’s happening on the SF coast and the reasons for their leaving.  Like many others, we wonder where they went and for what reasons.

PETER FIMRITE, San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2009

By Bierstadt AlbertA humpback whale that suddenly rose out of the water and splashed down near the Farallon Islands provided a research vessel full of scientists with a surprising bonanza of research data.

“Whale poop!” shouted several researchers in unison, as biologists scrambled to collect the floating reddish specimens Saturday as part of a comprehensive study of the ocean’s ecology off the Northern California coast.

The color of the whale excrement meant that the huge creature had been feeding mostly on a tiny shrimp-like crustacean called krill instead of fish and anchovies, its preferred food in recent decades. It is a change in diet that several bird species at the Farallon National Wildlife Refuge are unable to make, according to researchers in a joint ocean survey by the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary, the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary and PRBO Conservation Science.

As a result, colonies of fish-eating cormorants, seagulls and murres failed to breed this year on the Farallon Islands. Over the past few months, dozens of dead birds and even sea lions have been found on local beaches.

Anchovies have disappeared, and scientists don’t know why. The researchers on the vessel believe that, in their absence, birds and mammals like humpback whales that eat krill are thriving while the ones that are eating only fish are in trouble, and the whale excrement served as evidence.

“We’ve had an extraordinary number of dead animals,” said Jan Roletto, the research coordinator for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. “It seems to be that the animals that suffered the most were the animals that forage on anchovies.”

Brandt’s cormorants, a black bird with white plumes that can dive as deep as 300 feet for its prey, did not produce any chicks this year on the Farallones or on Alcatraz. That’s compared with 15,000 chicks in 2007.

Breeding fails

For the anchovy-loving bird, it was the first complete breeding failure in 40 years during a year without El Niño conditions so far, according to scientists at PRBO, formerly known as the Point Reyes Bird Observatory.

Western gulls and common murres produced about one-seventh of the number of chicks they normally hatch. Researchers on the Farallones reported an increase in predation on the chicks that were produced, mainly because the parents were too far away looking for food.

Beachgoers probably noticed the death toll. Six to eight times the normal number of dead cormorants and sea lions were found on Bay Area beaches in May, June and July, according to researchers. The death toll in each case involves birds and marine mammals that prey on anchovies and other fish.

The deaths and breeding failures are all the more troubling because there appears to be plenty of krill, rockfish and other prey species to feed the seagoing birds and mammals.

Jaime Jahncke, the director of marine ecology for PRBO, said common murres had previous breeding failures in 1982-83 and in 1991-92, but both times the problems were linked to El Niño, a weather condition associated with warmer ocean temperatures and atmospheric conditions that cause heavy storms. Although forecasters say an El Niño is forming in the tropics, it has not yet hit California, Jahncke said.

No explanation

“I don’t know what it means, but it’s not good,” Jahncke said. “There are a lot of changes happening, and none of them have a clear explanation.”

Seagoing birds and mammals near the Farallon Islands depend on krill, anchovies and other prey that are attracted to conditions produced when cold, deep ocean currents bounce off the underwater outcropping called the Cordell Bank, forcing nutrients upward. The nutrients are most abundant during the transition from winter to spring.

Spring arrives an average of 20 days earlier than it did in 1970, Jahncke said. There has also been an increase in the strength of the upwellings over the past two decades, he said.

Apart from the lack of anchovies, that is probably a good thing.

The team of scientists on the boat spotted several blue whales before the humpback put on its show.

The abundance of blue whales, which feed almost exclusively on krill, and the evidence provided by the humpback made it clear that there is plenty of krill in the ocean.

“Whales primarily over the last decade have been feeding on fish,” said Lisa Etherington, the research coordinator for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. “The last couple of years they’ve been feeding on krill. We don’t know why.”

Wild fluctuations

Jahncke said salmon smolt also feed on krill, a fact that may or may not help the beleaguered Central Coast chinook. The Cassin’s auklet, a small, chunky seabird that feeds on krill, had above-average nesting success this year.

But wild fluctuations are now almost normal, according to the researchers, who are concerned that the El Niño predicted for next year will cause a further decline in the numbers of birds.

Read Full Post »

FRANK HARTZELL, Fort Bragg Advocate News, December 24, 2009

Image by Larry R. Wagner

The California State Lands Commission last week found its own regulations designed to protect marine mammals so inconsistent and confusing as to be unenforceable.

That was good news for Fugro Pelagos, owner of the 176-foot survey vessel Pacific Star that reported it fatally struck a female blue whale on Oct. 19.

“On behalf of all of us at Fugro Pelagos, we thank … the California State Lands Commission (SLC) for assessing the facts of the matter and deciding not to revoke our offshore geophysical survey permit. In making such a decision, they recognized that language of the current permit is unclear and could be subject to interpretation,” said Fugro Company President David Millar, in a statement issued after the meeting.

State Lands Commission staff had recommended that the company’s permit be yanked and that Fugro pay $13,000 for staff investigatory expenses.

Instead, the commission hashed out an agreement by which the company now agrees to follow the conditions of the permit — as the commission wrongly believed had been happening all along.

“It is now clear that the California State Lands Commission considers hydrographic surveying using only an echo sounder to be an activity covered by the offshore geophysical survey permit. Fugro Pelagos has agreed to comply with this interpretation on the basis that all other permit holders will receive written notification of the State’s position and that the State will work with Fugro Pelagos and other stakeholders in reviewing and modifying the current permit language so that there can be no future misunderstandings about what activities are and are not covered by the offshore geophysical survey permit,” Millar stated.

The whale bled to death in about half an hour, washing up just south of Fort Bragg.

The entire matter is a gigantic “I told you so” for Steve Sullivan, who has been criticizing these very regulations for being confusing and widely ignored.

Sullivan owns a Fugro rival surveying company. He has harped at state authorities for about five years, saying others should be made to do what his company does, including always having a marine mammal observer on deck and employing a spotter boat.

Sullivan had predicted catastrophe for marine mammals unless regulations became consistent. Prior to the Oct. 19 whale strike, Sullivan not only criticized Fugro, but also state and university agencies for ignoring the regulations designed to protect marine mammals.

At last Thursday’s meeting, the State Lands Commission set out to demand those agencies and Fugro all now follow consistent rules.

Sullivan’s pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears at the State Lands Commission and the Ocean Protection Council. In fact when Sullivan contended following the whale strike that Fugro was operating without a permit, state and federal officials had vociferously refuted Sullivan’s contention.

But technically, Sullivan was right. Fugro never finalized a marine mammal plan required by the permit because they felt it did not apply to any of the work they were doing. Yet, the company kept renewing the incomplete (and thus theoretically invalid) permit, all a demonstration of how meaningless and unintelligible the permit process was.

The marine mammal plan, had it been prepared, would be expected to contain measures that might or might not prevent whale strikes.

Fugro has consistently maintained that the whale killing would likely have happened even if there had been a NOAA-certified marine mammal observer on deck.

“During the hearing, it was noted that State scientists considered this tragic accident unavoidable, and not the result of Fugro Pelagos not following survey permit conditions,” Millar said.

“Nevertheless, we were deeply saddened by it. In the decades that the company has been in existence, no incident of this type has ever occurred and we acknowledge the loss that comes with the death of such a large and precious marine animal,” Millar said.

Fugro will carry a marine wildlife monitor in the future. Perhaps more importantly, State Lands has launched a process designed to standardize all permits and require more measures to protect marine mammals, as the permitting process originally intended.

At one point, state officials were working on a plan for better protections of marine mammals, but that effort collapsed due to the state budget crisis.

“I am very pleased that the State Lands Commission has finally required the multi-billion dollar international firm, Fugro, to abide by the same regulations to protect marine mammals that us small California survey companies have complied with for years,” Sullivan said in a statement after the meeting.

“At their meeting on Dec. 17, the State Lands Commission disclosed that Fugro and a new permit applicant, the California State University at Monterey Bay, have for years been conducting marine surveys without compliance with regulations to protect marine mammals,” Sullivan said.

A community effort stripped the whale of its flesh and buried the skeleton so it can be dug up later and displayed.

Read Full Post »