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Fireproof killer whales and social capital

Reading SeaDoc Society Regional Director and Chief Scientist Joe Gaydos' keynote address on place-based conservation given in Port Townsend last week brings into focus the situation in the waters around the county. The speech is posted below and is available as a PDF on the organization's website

As you know, the Salish Sea is a defining feature of the region and it is an amazing place. Like other temperate estuaries, this 17,000 sq km inland sea is counted among the most biologically rich marine areas in the world. In fact about a decade ago, the WWF's (World Wildlife Fund) named this area one of its priority conservation ecoregions in the world because of three important factors:

  1. Our highly productive low and mid-level temperate forests
  2. The fact that many of our marine species are unique and genetically different from those on the open ocean
  3. And third because we are at the southern end of the zone that supports the greatest diversity of salmon species; not only do we have all five species of Pacific Salmon, we also have steelhead (sea run rainbow trout) and sea run cutthroat as well as bull trout, which we've recently learned move into the marine waters to forage before returning up rivers.

We are home to over 3000 species of invertebrates, including some of the world's biggest and baddest, like the North Pacific Giant Octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) is the largest octopus in the world.

Or this Plumose Anemone (Metridium senile), the largest Sea Anemone, which can grow to be over ½ a meter long.

We are known for our salmon as I just mentioned, but we also have about 250 other species of marine and anadramous fish species in the area. And interestingly, this region has an unusually high number of fishes that are considered long-lived, which for ichthyologists is about 30 years. In fact, many of the fish species we have can live to be over 100 years old. That means we have spiny dogfish swimming around out there that were born when Woodrow Wilson was president. Or yellow eye rockfish like this one out there that were born when Theodore Roosevelt was president.

A recent study we conducted showed over 172 species of birds that depend on the marine ecosystem ranging in size from the 4,000 gm bald eagle to the 25 gm western sandpiper.

In that same study we identified 37 species of mammals that use the Salish Sea Ecosystem, including a species people don't usually associate with this region such as the northern elephant seal, the Pacific White-sided dolphin and the humpback whale, which by the way were extirpated or hunted out in the last century thanks to a whaling station in BC, but they are now returning.

This is truly an amazing place – a place worth of saving! And unfortunately, this amazing place is indeed in need of saving. So what do we do?

We have a place we all love that had been degraded by and is threatened by overharvest, contaminants, urban conversion of habitat, global climate change, ocean acidification and the cumulative impacts of 7 million people loving this place to death.

Place based conservation depends on knowing about the area, connecting people to the area, and ultimately protecting or restoring the place. My program, the SeaDoc Society, focuses on the first – the
know. We raise and spend millions of dollars on good scientific studies that tell us about the Salish Sea – what species are in decline, why are they in decline, what mitigation efforts might be effective in restoring species or the system and so on...

Such data help managers and policy makers make better
decisions. Here's an example: Are we hunting too many surf scoters? Yes: the data from hunter harvest and data on site fidelity tell us that in 4 counties we have been shooting more scoters than the population can sustain.

This is important because scoters represent the largest decline in marine bird biomass in th Salish Sea over the last 25 years – not because of hunting, but we sure don't want to be adding insult to injury. Because of this science, the daily harvest limit has been changed and a line has been drawn in the sand to stop all hunting if the population sinks to below 55,000 birds.

Another example: Northern abalone are functionally extinct in the Salish Sea – there aren't enough close enough together to reproduce on their own, so recovery will require hatchery rearing and outplanting. Good science has shown us that if we let them grow to 2.5 cm in the hatchery, we'll have 10% survival at 1 year.

This helps us make a plan for hatchery outplanting of the species for recovery. Good science into management. What about this science: protecting fish like lingcod from harvest results in greater density of older fishes that have a higher spawning biomass. What do you do with that? Make Marine Reserves?

We learned from California that just because the science supports doing something like making marine reserves we can't just go and make them if the public does not support them. And here comes the important point of my talk –science without public education and involvement is worthless.

For people to want to make the hard choices needed to save the Salish Sea, people need to know and love and appreciate the system and the resource and to do what it takes to restore or protect that system. The science is the knowing, but you don't get place-based conservation without the connecting and protecting. This is known as social capital – having enough people wanting something to enable society to make that happen.

It is critical for marine conservation! Mark Schwartz, a colleague at UC Davis, published an article in the journal Conservation Biology a few years ago discussing ways to achieve social capitol for conserving biodiversity.

In that paper he wrote, "Social capital for biodiversity begins with embracing a personal responsibility for protecting the diversity of life on Earth. The task of personalizing nature for humanity is large, yet critical to long-term success."

He also pointed out that while people love elephants, pandas, and whales and conservation efforts that feature these creatures are very successful at raising money, "exploiting empathy for endangered animals in remote areas does not engage people in the shared personal responsibility of how our actions are the ones responsible for loss of biodiversity and are creating the need for conservation."

People would much rather think about fighting poachers to save elephants than to think that maybe it is my car or my house or my use of electricity that is responsible for declines in salmon, whales and marine birds in my own backyard. We need people to take personal responsibility for our actions and be willing to do what it takes to restore and steward a resource we all depend upon!

And, this is exactly what the Port Townsend Marine Science Center does. It promotes local stewardship of local resources. It makes people appreciate what we have and make them want to make a difference. It takes the science and information connects people and makes them want to restore and protect!

 

Right now, we are salmon swimming upstream. America and the
world are facing or are going to be facing an energy crisis, a food crisis, a climate crises and an environmental crisis and we live in
an ecosystem under threat. And we all need to ask ourselves what we're going to do about it. Are we asleep or are we going to be part of the solution? And if we are going to rise to the occasion, NGOs are going to play a big role in the solution. In his book Common
Wealth, the economist Jeffry Sachs points out that the need and role for Non Governmental

Organizations is huge, especially where global markets do not adequately allocate resources, such as with our environment.

Let me give you a few examples of where the global environment DOES allocate resources so you can see what we're up against. Note that any of these examples are mutually exclusive of ecological stewardship, but let me give you some numbers to think about: Supporters are working right now to get 50,000 signatures in support of putting a NASCAR track in Washington State. 50,000 people, also, is about how many people fit into SAFECO field to watch a Mariners game and most of those people could tell you the batting average of most of the Mariner's starting line-up. Do you think there are 50,000 people who could tell you the 26 species of rockfish that we have in the region?

They say that 30 million people a week watch American Idol. If we really believe it is important to Save Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, we need to engage the public. How could we engage 30 million people a year?

We need places like the PTMSC; places that will tell stories to the public and make them care and make them want to act. Just having the science isn't enough – we need the education and outreach.

Here's a little example I like to tell about the importance of education: Unlike the Pacific Northwest, people no longer travel to England to catch Salmon. Scotland maybe, but not England. But they were here.

Once upon a time you could catch an Atlantic Salmon in the Thames river. According to David Montgomery, there also were laws on the books saying you could only feed your farm workers salmon 6 days a week. Seven was considered inhumane!

In the early 1700's George the First recognized the need to protect salmon and fish passage. In 1714 he enacted a law to prevent blocking salmon from their spawning grounds in 17 English rivers. Six years later in 1720 the first modern factory, a waterpowered silk mill, was built along a salmon stream in Derby. By 1868, all seventeen rivers "protected" by George I were either blocked or poisoned by pollution.

And this example reminds us that you might know exactly what to do, but if you don't educate the population about it and why it is beneficial, even if you're the king you can't change the world.

As you all know, in January 2002 this female killer whale CA189, now known as Hope, stranded close by. Dr. Pete Schroeder, a suite of others and I necropsied this animal. The PCB and DDT levels measured in the tissues of this animal were some of the highest contaminant concentrations that have been reported in tissues of marine mammals worldwide.

The most surprising finding was that concentrations of organochlorines were comparable to levels that are known to induce chronic toxicity through a narcosis mode of action. This finding suggests that there is a distinct possibility that organochloride accumulation contributed directly to the death of this transient killer whale.

This story would have ended with the final necropsy report, had the PTMSC not stepped up and decided to make this story survive. Now thousands of people will learn the story of this whale and understand that we have left a legacy of contaminants -- a legacy that is beyond our wildest dreams.

Science is not good unless the stories are told and people learn and ultimately, we all change our behavior.

And just to make this relevant, let me remind you that even though we've banned PCBs and DDT in this country, many of these persistent organic pollutants are still used around the world and they still find their way into our region.

We also are faced with another similar chemical – polybrominated diphenyl ether. As you can see from this diagram, structurally they are very similar to PCBs and we believe they also can have similar impacts on us, yet we are still producing them and using them. These are flame-retardants and they are in our carpets, our clothes, and our computers.

Once whale blubber was used to fuel lamps. Now there are so many flame retardants in them that they won't even light. As Peter Ross says, we have fireproof killer whales.

It's hard to get people excited about some small changes in organic chemistry, but if they can be inspired by the story of Hope, they just might be interested enough to think this is intriguing and might just be willing to contact a legislator or support a ban of these chemicals.

If we think about the big picture there are real and meaningful attitude and policy changes that stem from environmental education. It might not be as obvious as counting the people at SAFECO Field or the number of people watching American Idol, but people do love our marine ecosystem and they are hungry for information about it.

There are fisherman, shellfish growers and wildlife watchers that recognize how important the Salish Sea is to our way of life – our economy and our quality of life. Places like the PTMSC are feeding that fire, but I challenge you all.

It doesn't happen because of a government grant. It takes time, energy and money to make places like the Marine Science Center work and if we believe in the need and believe in the mission, we need to support those efforts with our time and money.

Jeffry Sachs also points out that governments are rarely inventive and forward thinking. We need to do that. This is about people taking personal responsibility for what they believe
is important. It is the foundation of stewardship.

Improving the health of the Salish Sea won't happen by accident. It will require a coordinated and concerted effort from people like you who care.

Thank you for inviting me to speak today, thank you for caring – and thank you for giving me hope!For more information or to sign up for free monthly updates visit www.seadocsociety.org

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