Thursday, November 29, 2012

Bulls on the beach

Adult males are surfing onto the beach, ready to intimidate their fellows and make way among the youngsters.
There are still quite a few adolescents on the beach, as well as juveniles. Yesterday's storm tore up the kelp forest and tossed it onto the beach. Apparently, it makes a comfortable bed.
Some really small ones that may be young of the year, pups born last season, are on the beach, too.

A docent reported that a subadult male had landed on the beach at San Simeon, but I couldn't find him there this morning. Maybe he just stopped for a rest and then moved on.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Surrogate otter mother dies

From Monterey Bay Aquarium:
Mae, First Otter to Raise a Pup on Exhibit, Dies
We’re sad to report that Mae, an 11-year-old female sea otter who had been part of our sea otter exhibit since she was eight months old, died over the weekend from a seizure disorder whose cause is still unknown. Her seizures began suddenly just a few days before her death on Saturday afternoon, November 17.
Mae was rescued as a two-day-old pup near Santa Cruz in April 2001, and raised by our Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program team. She joined the sea otter exhibit in December 2001 when  it became clear that she was not acquiring the skills she needed to be returned to the wild. She was the first animal we’d added to the exhibit since 1986 – starting a new generation of exhibit animals as our original sea otters reached the end of their lives.
That wasn’t Mae’s only “first” with us. In 2010, she became the first surrogate mother otter to raise an orphaned pup on exhibit at the aquarium. Her pup, Kit, is now living at SeaWorld San Diego. Mae served as a companion animal to several otters as part of the SORAC program.
Her name – that of a truck-stop waitress with a screeching voice in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – was chosen in another first-ever process. It was selected for her by the public in an online poll.
Mae, nicknamed “Mayhem” by her caretakers, was a vocal and feisty sea otter who would make direct eye contact with and stick her tongue out at trainers when displeased, according to staff who worked with her.  She was also an enthusiastic partner in training sessions, said Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of marine mammals.
“Mae definitely knew the most behaviors of any of our otters and was wonderful to teach new behaviors,” Chris said. “She was one of the first animals that new trainers learned to work with because she was very consistent and good with dealing with ‘trainer errors.’ We’ll all miss her terribly.”
Chris and the sea otter staff also called Mae “the monkey” because she would hold objects like ice molds and toys with her tail, leaving her paws open to accept whatever came next. While none of the other adult otters displayed this behavior, it was picked up by some of the pups Mae raised.
Senior Sea Otter Aquarist Cecelia Azhderian appreciated Mae’s playfulness.
“She loved big buckets,” Cecelia said “She could hardly wait for them to be filled with water before she’d get inside, even though she didn’t like the water hose, which she’d attack it if it came too close.”
Our sea otter exhibit is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in mid-March. Exhibit otters Rosa and Abby and are being housed behind the scenes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Coastal Commission turns PG&E down flat

David Sneed reports for the Tribune:

SANTA MONICA — No high energy seismic surveys will be conducted off the coast of San Luis Obispo County this year, if ever.
In a resounding success for tens of thousands of activists from across the state, the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday unanimously voted to deny Pacific Gas and Electric Co.’s request to use extremely loud blasts of sound to study a network of earthquake faults surrounding Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
Some 200 environmentalists, fishermen, animal rights activists and Native Americans from across the state packed a wing of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Wednesday. All of them were opposed to the seismic testing, and many wore T-shirts emblazoned with statements such as “Stop Ocean Blasting” and “Seismic Matters.”
It is now up to PG&E to decide how to proceed. PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said the utility will study the commission’s decision and the reasons behind the denial to decide what to do next. PG&E asked the commission to make an up-or-down decision and not spend the matter back for more study.
The commissioners repeatedly said PG&E failed to show sufficient evidence that the benefit of the studies would outweigh the harm they would do to the environment. The utility is spending $64 million on various types of onshore and offshore seismic studies.
Several commissioners said the studies will not do anything to make the plant safer or provide an ability to predict earthquakes. They also said it is unlikely that PG&E could ever be successful in getting a permit, and encouraged PG&E to use the information already available to evaluate the seismic safety of the plant.
“Approving the studies would open the door to this type of activity all along the West Coast,” said Commissioner Steven Kinsey. “It’s not a difficult decision to make today that we do not want to be opening the coast to this kind of activity.”
Commissioner Martha McClure said Diablo Canyon cannot be fixed in terms of the danger it faces from earthquakes and should not be studied to death. She said she wants the plant to be shut down.
“The studies were an attempt to push the can down the road,” she said. “I don’t buy the public safety issue at all. I want to see PG&E turn the corner and spend the $64 million on solar power.”

Read more here:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

East Coast contemplates seismic testing

Emma Bryce writes about seismic testing on the East Coast in the NY Times:

Areas that would be opened to seismic testing for oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast.Bureau of Ocean Energy ManagementAreas that would be opened to seismic testing for oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast.
Green: Science
As a federal decision draws near, environmental and commercial fishing groups are marshaling their forces to protest a plan by the Obama administration to allow seismic airgun testing for oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic coast.
The Interior Department has signaled that it would reach a final decision early next year on whether to approve a draft environmental assessment that would help lay the groundwork for such testing along the coasts of seven states, from the northern tip of Delaware to central Florida.
The environmental and fishing groups argue that noise from the seismic blasts could disrupt the lives of marine animals that rely on sound to travel, feed, mate, and communicate and could lead to the beachings and deaths of whales.
So far the department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has received more than 29,000 public comments related to  petitions opposing the seismic tests. “If they receive an environmental impact statement that says ‘go for it,’ they could start in 2013,” warned Matthew Huelsenbeck, a marine scientist for the environmental organization Oceana. “This is coming down to the wire.”

In its draft environmental assessment, the federal bureau predicts that seismic testing would result in some “harassments” of marine animals that could result in injuries or in a few cases, deaths. Still, in accordance with the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act, the  government’s plan calls for mitigation efforts like barring testing in certain areas during critical feeding and breeding periods of the endangered north Atlantic right whale.
Over all, the bureau’s assessment projects that impacts on marine life from the testing would be moderate.
Still, the agency has said that if it determines that the risks to wildlife are too great, the testing will not be carried out. “Protecting the environment is also what we do here, while safeguarding the development of America’s offshore energy,” said John Filostrat, a bureau spokesman.
The testing by geophysical companies would end a moratorium of more than two decades on oil exploration along the Eastern seaboard that President Obama decided to lift in 2010.
The  tests are to be performed by a vessel that trails evenly spaced hydrophones in its wake as compressed air is blasted downward by the vessel’s airgun. The resulting sound waves, as high as 250 decibels, are far greater than the sound emitted by a jet engine upon takeoff, Oceana notes.
Once the sound waves hit the ocean floor, the hydrophones register echoes that reflect the densities of materials like gas and oil within the seabed.
In an e-mail, a representative of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said that  surveying techniques had improved considerably in recent decades. The technology will allow the agency to  update and refine its body of scientific information on the geology of the mid-and South Atlantic regions, informing its decision-making on oil and gas leasing, the agency spokesman said.
Environmentalists and commercial and recreational fishermen are nonetheless concerned about the intensity and frequency of the airgun blasts: they will be fired every few seconds around the clock and can continue for several weeks. The waves “reverberate around the ocean, and they create this massive acoustic footprint”  – loud enough to travel thousands of square miles, said Mr. Huelsenbeck of Oceana.
The intensity and reach of the noise will not only  drive some marine animals away and  disrupt their feeding patterns, Oceana  argues, but could damage or destroy their hearing. This is particularly worrisome for whales, which do not have sharp eyesight and
depend heavily on their hearing. Without it, “they can’t navigate, they can’t function,” Mr. Huelsenbeck said. “They keep contact with others based on their calls.”
Animals like whales decline slowly once their hearing is gone, making it difficult to link a death  directly with the seismic tests, he added.
Oceana also points to seismic testing conducted in 2001 off Sakhalin Island in Russia that was associated with the departure of endangered gray whales from a primary feeding area.
In other cases, the connection between seismic testing and effects on animals is less certain, as with the mass beaching of 900 long-beaked common dolphins and porpoises in Peru this year. The government ruled out the sound waves as a cause, but a marine veterinarian and conservationist who examined many of the corpses found bleeding and fractures in the middle ear — the type of trauma that could result from intense noise.
Beyond environmental concerns, the ocean expanse  also supports an annual $11.8 billion dollar fishing industry. Oceana has helped to mobilize opposition from fishing associations that worry that the sonic blasts could displace commercially valuable fish stocks or damage eggs and larvae.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Coastal Commission staff recommens denial

The Coastal Commission staff report was released Friday, recommending that the commission deny PG&E's permit application. Part of the summary gives the following reasoning:

"The key Coastal Act issue of concern is this project’s significant and unavoidable impacts to marine resources. Seismic surveys are among the very loudest anthropogenic underwater sound sources and can cause disturbance, injury, and loss of a large number of marine species due to air gun noise. Of particular concern are impacts to the harbor porpoise (Morro Bay stock), whose range is limited to the general project area, and the entire population of which is likely to be subject to behavioral harassment. The project would also adversely affect Marine Protected Areas, fish and other invertebrates, involving both physiological impacts as well as economic impacts to commercial and recreational fishing by precluding fishing and potentially affecting fish behavior and biology. While PG&E proposes to fund a monitoring program and implement measures to minimize effects, including cessation of air gun use if marine mammals are near enough to the sound source to be subject to greater than behavioral effects, a number of limitations (including the proposed use of air guns at night time and in potentially high seas and windy conditions that would make it difficult to detect marine mammals) would cause these measures to be ineffective much of the time.
Thus, even with extensive monitoring, and implementation of measures to minimize impacts, the Commission staff believes this project would still result in significant disturbance, injury and loss of marine biological resources and is therefore inconsistent with the Coastal Act’s marine resource protection policies (Sections 30230 and 30231)."

The report continues that the project falls into the category of a "coastal-dependent industrial facility," qualifying it for an "override." On consideration of a number of factors, the staff concludes that PG&E has not presented sufficient evidence for that, either.

This is certainly encouraging. The best part for me was that they give the environment higher consideration than PG&E or political influences. This report is science- and law-based, protecting the coast rather than using it as a bargaining point in negotiating how to exploit it.

None of the county supervisors stood up for the environment or the local fishing and tourism economy, retreating behind a cover story of "public safety" and PG&E's economic power and political influence. If the public isn't safe from Diablo Canyon, provide some leadership that will fortify it so that it is safe or the political will to shut it down.

We are entrusted with a valuable coastline which we hold in trust for the world. It deserves to have the legal protection which has already been enacted to be honored and enforced.