Orcas in decline thanks to sea kayakers

Discussion in 'General Paddling Discussions' started by jamonte, Jan 12, 2018.

  1. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Here's an article that ran in the Seattle Times a couple days ago:

    https://www.seattletimes.com/seattl...r-orcas-and-getting-away-with-it-study-finds/

    I have a couple of thoughts on this topic: 1) The steady decline in resident orca populations in the Salish Sea has more to do with declining wild salmon stocks than any other factor, though pollution (bioaccumulation of toxins in their bodies) is probably also a significant factor. 2) Better enforcement of the Marine Mammal Act is definitely needed, including hefty fines for aggressive boaters (including kayakers) who come too close to the whales. If you've paddled off San Juan Island in the summer much, you'll know what I'm talking about. Unfortunately, this article argues that kayakers are the main reason that resident pods no longer spend much time in their regular summer hunting grounds and I'm not buying it. If salmon were still running there in large numbers, the orcas would surely follow.
     
  2. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    Yeah, it's bull. Orcas can get away easily from kayakers and know you are there, thanks to echolocation, a mile away. Big boats? Sure. Damming? Absolutely.
     
  3. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    Well, I think it's a little more complicated than that. Orcas can certainly swim away from kayakers, but if kayakers are affecting the whales' behavior, such as chasing them out of their hunting grounds or separating the pod, then that's a big problem which needs to stop. The two things that I've seen kayakers routinely do is: 1) Paddle out from shore and park their kayaks right in the path of the pod, and 2) try to paddle alongside of the pod. Both of these practices are illegal, per WA state regs: https://wdfw.wa.gov/conservation/orca/

    More detailed guidelines are available from the Whale Museum:
    https://www.visitsanjuans.com/sites/default/files/media/kelp_brochure_2011r.pdf

    My beef with the Seattle Times article is that it seems to blame kayakers for the decline of our resident orcas while ignoring the decimation of wild salmon stocks, which are the primary food source for our local pods. (Transient orcas hunt seals, baleen whales, and salmon while our Southern resident pods just eat salmon.) If you want to save these whales, then save wild salmon. You could ban every kayak from the Salish Sea and it's not going to have much effect on these whales' survival.
     
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  4. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    jamonte wrote: My beef with the Seattle Times article is that it seems to blame kayakers for thedecline of our resident orcas while ignoring the decimation of wild salmon stocks, which are the primary food source for our local pods. (Transient orcas hunt seals, baleen whales, and salmon while our Southern resident pods just eat salmon.) If you want to save these whales, then save wild salmon. You could ban every kayak from the Salish Sea and it's not going to have much effect on these whales' survival.

    Well said. The effect of the loss of salmon stocks on orcas is just one example of how much of the marine and aquatic ecosphere hereabouts is dependent on anadromous fish. Dead salmon in spawning streams represent a major nutrient resource for hundreds of aquatic species in rivers and streams. Without salmon returns, our streams and rivers would be biologically degraded to barren areas unable to support a diverse population of healthy critters.

    Orca populations in the Salish Sea, and those up and down the coast of North America are heavily dependent on salmonoids. Orcas are highly intelligent, very adaptable creatures. But, take away their main food source, and they will suffer.

    Or, perhaps they will branch out and search for protein packets conveniently delivered in fiberglass enclosures? ;)
     
  5. kayakwriter

    kayakwriter Paddler

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    This made me laugh, reminding me of a passage from an 1980s era guidebook to Sea Kayaking Canada's West Coast I have kicking around somewhere at home. There's a passage in it to the effect of "There are no recorded instances of killer whales attacking sea kayakers." Reassuring until you think about it. There wouldn't be - there would just be recorded instances of sea kayakers not coming back...
     
  6. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    I normally enjoy the writing of Lynda Mapes, the Seattle Times journalist who wrote the kayakers versus orcas article, but unfortunately, this is not the first time she has presented accurate facts in a misleading way. This time, she accurately reports that kayakers have negative effects on orcas, but she misleadingly underplays the seriousness of the salmon depletion issue, presenting salmon depletion as a problem that "to some" is a "much bigger problem," as if there were room for debate. In reality, the UW's Center for Conservation Biology has demonstrated that "[p]hysiological correlations with prey overshadowed any impacts of vessels, since [stress hormones] were lowest during the peak in vessel abundance, which also coincided with the peak in salmon availability."

    In a previous article, Mapes pulled a similar trick regarding hydropower: She accurately stated that hydropower reservoirs are sources of methane, but she trumpeted this fact in a way that made it appear dams might be as climatologically unfriendly as fossil fuels. She lead her article with the provocative, "Think hydropower is carbon neutral? You have another think coming." However, a more accurate summation, not revealed until later in the article, is that dams contribute about 1.3% of total human greenhouse gas emissions, a number which is 25% higher than previously believed (previously, the number was thought to be 1.04% of total emissions). Totally undisclosed in the article is the fact that hydroelectric power emits less than a tenth of the greenhouse gases per unit for electricity over its lifecycle when compared with natural gas, and less than a twentieth when compared with coal, per this policymakers' summary from the IPCC, at pg. 19. A fairer presentation by Mapes might have been, "A very clean source of power is slightly less clean than previously believed but still much cleaner than any alternative."

    It is disappointing that Mapes's desire to surprise readers into rethinking their environmental positions sometimes leads her to miscontextualize the issues. Intrusive kayakers aren't doing the orcas any favors, but what's actually killing them is the decimation of the salmon, with pollution likely also playing a less well-understood role. Mapes should have laid this out more fairly.

    Alex
     
    Last edited: Jan 14, 2018
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  7. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Update:
    The Victoria Times Colonist reprinted that article by Mapes this weekend.

    Even if the article had been more 'balanced' a.k.a. accurate, it wouldn't make a great deal of difference.
    A quick search finds research showing that 40-60% of people form an opinion (and may comment on 'social media') after reading only the headline, not bothering to read the text of the article.
    And, more and more (it seems to me) headlines are 'click-bait', not indicators of the article content.
     
  8. designer

    designer Paddler

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    If anyone has seen the activity on the west side of the San Juan Island, it is clear that the commercial boats overwhelmingly "influence" the Orcas. They have some code system where the Whale Watching services communicate to each other that a pod is passing by and all these power boats - and remember all those engine sounds - not only start trailing the Orcas, they also position themselves in front of the pod so they can say, "The pod came to us". For someone to suggest that a kayak paddler could keep up with the moving pod - well, maybe if they had a fast Epic :) but probably not.
     
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  9. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Usually it's a case of paddlers not being able to move out of the way of orcas and other marine mammals, in my experience. For most of my friends, it's definitely not a matter of 'lying in wait' hoping that a 'substantial' (!) size animal will surface near the kayak!
     
  10. Astoriadave

    Astoriadave Paddler

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    In Barkley Sound one misty June day, two of us headed out alongside the SE flank of Edward King, and noted a smallish humpback exploring a small cove. Respecting the whale's territory, we passed well off the horns of the cove. He or she appeared to make no changes of course, etc., in response to our presence.

    On the return two hours later, we carefully snuck along the shoreline, in water too shallow for an animal of its size, unsure where it might be, but saw no sign of it ... until it surfaced between us, and rolled, giving me the stink eye and my companion a bath! Separation? 20 meters maximum between our boats, which the humpback split cleanly. We heard what certainly were humpback chuckles ... ample compensation for an early underwear change when we hit camp.
     
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  11. jamonte

    jamonte Paddler

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    The speed at which you paddle is irrelevant. Per the law, if you find yourself within 200 yards of the whales you must stop paddling. Here's the exact wording:

    "If kayakers have taken all measures to maintain a 200 yard distance and stay out of the path from whales and still unexpectedly find themselves out of compliance with the laws they shall: • Paddle out of the on-coming path of whales 400-200 yards from whales; • Immediately stop paddling within 200 yards until the whales have passed."
     
  12. JohnAbercrombie

    JohnAbercrombie Paddler

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    Two thoughts:
    -this is the regulation/law in the US only, in Canada it's only a guideline and the distance is 100 m IIRC
    -the quoted US law/regulation indicates that if whales are heading straight for kayakers, the kayakers should stop paddling (backwards, presumably) once the whales get within 200 yards. That's not going to happen, I think.

    This whole focus on kayakers is a bit silly in my opinion. In the Victoria area, any time there have been whales near me, there have been multiple power boats converging at high speed, and moving under power around the whales, following them, etc...Humans can hear those boats from miles away, for whales......
    It isn't kayakers disturbing the whales that's the problem.
    It's complex; without whale watching businesses doing the publicity and 'education', would people be even less concerned about the real issues?
     
  13. jefffski

    jefffski Paddler

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    Can I paddle along the shore parallel to the path of the Orcas if they are 100m+ away and not moving towards me?
     
  14. alexsidles

    alexsidles Paddler

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    No. If you are within 200 yards of a killer whale in Washington State, you must either paddle away or else sit still.

    Under Washington law, it is unlawful to "cause a vessel or other object to approach, in any manner, within 200 yards." Citation: RCW 77.15.740. Paralleling the killer whales' course at 100 meters' distance would "cause your vessel to approach within 200 yards" for a longer period of time than if you either paddled away or remained still. You would no longer be able to "blame the whales" for approaching you; you would be approaching them.

    In 2008, the original killer whale bubble in Washington State was set at 300 feet (100 yards / ~100 meters). Citation: 2008 Wash. Sess. Laws 1163-1164. But the original 100 yard Washington rule was changed to its current 200 yards in 2012 to comport with a then-newly created 2011 federal rule that imposed a 200-yard limit. Citation: 50 C.F.R. § 224.103(e).

    Be aware, too, that biologists have demonstrated possible negative effects on whale feeding behavior from kayakers. Citation: 76 Fed. Reg. 20884 ("While kayaks are small and quiet, they have the potential to disturb whales as obstacles on the surface. Kayaks may startle marine mammals by approaching them without being heard...In the presence of only kayaks, the probability that the whales will shift to travel behavior from other behavior states (including feeding) significantly increased compared to no-boat conditions, which indicates an avoidance tactic.") Just because your behavior is lawful does not necessarily make it right.

    As one of the other commenters noted, in Canada, the approach distances are closer, and the "rules" are currently guidelines, not law. The government of Canada is considering tightening these protections.

    Alex
     
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2018
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  15. pikabike

    pikabike Paddler

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    Dave, your experience with that humpback whale reminds me of one highlight from when I paddled part of the Inside Passage in AK. Our group of four was making its way north one day when a humpie appeared right next to my kayak, swimming parallel with me at the same speed, maybe 25-20 ft to my left. He or she just kept swimming alongside us, almost as if joining our group. We were delighted, of course. This went on for a long time—a mile?

    And then a commercial whalewatching boat far away must have spotted all of us and powered diagonally in a beeline for us. I was ticked. Before it got even halfway to us, the whale dove deep and disappeared from view. The frking boat drove up close, people frantically looking all around as if we were hiding a treasure. We avoided all eye and voice contact and just kept paddling our course. After a few minutes the boat left.

    I felt bad for the whale and figured we would not see it again. But, lo and behold, like a dream come back, after another mile or so of paddling (and the idiot boatload GONE from sight), the whale surfaced with a little pfft of mist next to me—in the same relative position and distance! At that moment, I was convinced that they really do use echolocation very well. We continued paddling side by side for quite a bit longer before the whale veered off and went its own way. So sue me, we were too close, but that whale clearly chose to swim next to us, clearly disliked and avoided the powerboat, and clearly had no trouble knowing where we were later yet still came close.
     
  16. Kayak Jim

    Kayak Jim Paddler

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    Relatively new to the coast and this whole whales thing so forgive me but I thought the deal with humpbacks (vs. orcas) was that they weren't boat aware hence the safe distance requirement to avoid prop strikes, kayak capsizises, etc. Seems to me that was the message from MERS presentations I've attended. No?
     
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  17. pawsplus

    pawsplus Paddler

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    I actually think it's probably a bigger issue for humpbacks, who do not echolocate, than for orcas, who do. Orcas are echolocating constantly and they know you're there a LONG way back. If they wanted to avoid a kayak, it would be simple to do. The humpback, however, may not know where the kayak is. Humpbacks hit cruise ships for the same reason--they just did not evolve to expect there to be big, hard things on the surface of their water.
     
  18. Peter-CKM

    Peter-CKM Paddler

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    Humpbacks definitely seem to know where boats are, but you are right that it is visual (though there is some research saying that the knobs on their snouts do have some sort of prey detecting ability we don't understand, which may also be useful for detecting non-prey like us). But I have seen many instances of whales acting like they knew a kayak was there - either in avoiding the kayak, or in changing directions to come over and check out the kayak.

    Something t keep in mind - in the US (Canadian laws likely are different), Humpbacks don't have the special protection that the Salish Seas orcas get. Humpbacks fall just under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. There are guidelines on distance that many organizations quote, but not hard distances required listed in the law. The act just says you can't "harass" them, and the current definition of harassing is to change their behavior.
     
  19. pikabike

    pikabike Paddler

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