Orca Whale J50 'Missing and Now Presumed Dead'
The ailing orca whale J50 was declared "missing and now presumed dead" by the Center for Whale Research Thursday, after a three-day search by the organization in the waters between Washington state and Canada failed to locate her.
She would be the third Southern Resident killer whale to die since June, bringing their numbers down to 74.
"Watching J50 during the past three months is what extinction looks like when survival is threatened for all by food deprivation and lack of reproduction," Center for Whale Research Founding Director Ken Balcomb wrote in a press release. "Not only are the Southern Resident killer whales dying and unable to reproduce sufficiently, but also their scarce presence in the Salish Sea is an indication that adequate food is no longer available for them here, or along the coast."
J50 had been growing weaker since 2017, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had decided this week to take her into captivity in order to treat and potentially rehabilitate her, The Seattle Times reported.
But a massive search Thursday conducted by NOAA, the West Coast Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Soundwatch, whale-watching boats and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter in Washington and the Marine Mammal Rescue vessel, the M Charles midwater patrol vessel, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Straitwatch and a Coast Guard helicopter in Canada did not result in any sightings.
She was last seen one week ago, Sept. 7, and was absent from a gathering of around 60 whales from her own J pod, as well as K and L pods, on Thursday.
NOAA spokesperson Michael Milstein told The Seattle Times his agency had not given up entirely, despite Thursday's declaration.
"We have had a huge amount of help today, and it is really important that if she is there that we find her," Milstein told The Seattle Times. "We certainly have not determined at this point that we are giving up. And we are determining that day by day, we are not setting a timeline."
The capture effort was the last in a series of increasingly dramatic attempts to save J50, who had gotten so emaciated that she had trouble swimming and keeping her head above water.
Veterinarians and biologists in the U.S. and Canada working with NOAA sampled her breath, injected her with antibiotics and fed her Chinook salmon off the back of a boat.
Wildlife advocates emphasized the importance of restoring the population of Chinook salmon, the orcas' primary food-source, in the Salish Sea.
'It is a heartbreaking reminder that we cannot save these whales on a case-by-case individual basis. What J50 needed, and what her family continues to need, is healthy and abundant Chinook salmon, which these orcas depend upon for survival," Defenders of Wildlife Northwest Representative Robb Krehbiel said in a statement. "If we are unable to restore the salmon that these orcas need, more whales will starve to death."
The Center for Whale Research agreed with this diagnosis.
It called for the restoration of the natural Chinook salmon runs throughout their historic range and recommended the breaching of the Lower Snake River Dams in Washington, which the center said kill millions of salmon.Salmon populations in Canada's Fraser River have been harmed by overfishing and pollution from mining, chemical spills and industrial and agricultural development, the Center for Whale Research said.
Orca Whale 'Crewser' Presumed Dead as Population Reaches Its Lowest Point Since 1984 https://t.co/DnswjvwhXG… https://t.co/1apBKA0gF5— Sea Shepherd SSCS (@Sea Shepherd SSCS)1529448773.0
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By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
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Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.