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Orca Researchers Call for Dam Removal

by Christopher Dunagan
Kitsap Sun, November 20, 2007

(Fred Felleman) Vanishing view? A female killer whale swam in Puget Sound near Seattle in 2002. Six killer whale researchers say removing dams on the Snake River would benefit not only endangered salmon but also the killer whales of Puget Sound.

Writing to the regional administrator for NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, the six scientists say measures proposed to restore salmon without removing the dams won't do enough for the salmon - or the orcas that eat them.

"We cannot hope to restore the killer whale population without also restoring the abundant salmon upon which these whales have depended for thousands of years," they stated in the letter.

The letter to administrator Bob Lohn, was signed by Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research; Robin Baird of Cascadia Research; David Bain of Friday Harbor Labs; Rich Osborne of The Whale Museum; Val Veirs of Colorado College and president of The Whale Museum; and Dr. Pete Schroeder, a marine mammal veterinarian in Sequim.

Research over the last few years shows that many of Puget Sound's orcas, also called Southern Residents, move out of inland waters in winter and travel along the coast, stopping at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Biologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have endorsed measures they say will ensure salmon survival "with an adequate potential for recovery" without removing dams. On the Upper Snake, several measures are proposed to augment flow to more natural conditions.

Scott Simms, spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the dams, said there is no "silver bullet" for restoring salmon. It's important to take a "holistic approach" dealing with harvest, hatcheries and habitat as well as improving the dams, he said.

"These dams are an enormous amount of emissions-free power," Simms said. Considering climate change, "it would be an enormous step backward if any of those dams were taken out." (bluefish estimates: Replacing 22 million traditional bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs would replace the energy output of the four Lower Snake dams.)

The Columbia and Snake watersheds were once the most productive salmon habitat in the world, the orca researchers said. Today, returns are only about 1 percent of their historic levels.

"The science is clear that removing four federal dams on the lower Snake River is needed to avert extinction of the Snake's four unique salmon populations..." they said. "The recovery of Southern Resident killer whales depends on abundant food, which will be difficult if not impossible to provide without restoring productivity from the Snake River components of Columbia Basin salmon runs."

Related Pages:
Clean Energy vs. Whales: How to Choose? by Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, 11/28/7
Eternal Dam Nation by Daniel Jack Chasan, Crosscut, 11/26/7

Christopher Dunagan
Orca Researchers Call for Dam Removal
Kitsap Sun, November 20, 2007

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