Sci­en­tists call for ‘breach­ing dams’

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

SEAT­TLE:

Re­searchers who track the en­dan­gered pop­u­la­tion of or­cas that fre­quent Wash­ing­ton state waters said that three whales are miss­ing or be­lieved dead since sum­mer. The most re­cent death of a 23-year-old fe­male known as J28 and likely her 10-month-old calf drops the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion to 80, among the low­est in decades, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Whale Re­search on Fri­day Har­bor, which keeps the whale cen­sus for the fed­eral govern­ment.

A 42-year-old fe­male whale was re­ported miss­ing dur­ing the cen­ter’s July 1 cen­sus. Cen­ter se­nior sci­en­tist Ken Bal­comb said or­cas, par­tic­u­larly moth­ers and their ba­bies, are strug­gling be­cause they don’t have enough food, a pri­mary fac­tor in the pop­u­la­tion’s de­cline. He and oth­ers called for four dams on the Lower Snake River to be breached to open up habi­tat for salmon. They said the best op­por­tu­nity to save the or­cas is to re­store runs of salmon eaten by the killer whales.

“We know what we need to do, feed them,” Bal­comb said at a news con­fer­ence on the Seat­tle wa­ter­front sur­rounded by sup­port­ers who held signs call­ing for the dams to come down. Those op­posed to re­mov­ing the Lower Snake dams say they pro­vide low­cost hy­dro­elec­tric power and play a ma­jor role in the re­gion’s econ­omy. J28 was be­lieved to have died in the Strait of Juan de Fuca some­time last week, leav­ing be­hind a 10-month old whale that won’t likely sur­vive with­out her, Bal­comb said. The mother ap­peared ema­ci­ated in re­cent weeks, he said.

The num­ber of south­ern res­i­dent killer whales has fluc­tu­ated in re­cent decades, from more than 100 in 1995 to about 80 in re­cent years, as they have faced threats from pol­lu­tion, lack of prey and dis­tur­bance from boats. They were listed as en­dan­gered in 2005. The whales have a strong pref­er­ence for chi­nook salmon, which are typ­i­cally larger and fat­ter fish, but those runs have been de­clin­ing. “There’s no rea­son these dams couldn’t be breached,” said Jim Wad­dell, a re­tired en­gi­neer with the group DamSense who spoke at the news con­fer­ence.

In May, in a long-run­ning law­suit, US Dis­trict Judge Michael H Si­mon in Port­land re­jected the fed­eral govern­ment’s lat­est plan for off­set­ting the dam­age that dams in the Columbia River Basin pose to salmon. The judge or­dered the govern­ment to come up with a new plan by March 2018. He said he would not dic­tate what op­tions the govern­ment must con­sider in the new plan, but he noted that a proper anal­y­sis un­der fed­eral law “may well re­quire con­sid­er­a­tion of the rea­son­able al­ter­na­tive of breach­ing, by­pass­ing, or re­mov­ing one or more of the four Lower Snake River Dams.”—AP

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