Dead baby killer whale was blown up

By Ken Balcomb, Center for Whale Research | Mar 28, 2012
Ken Balcomb

The body a 3-year-old killer whale, which I named "Victoria" when I first saw her, was recently found on a beach just north of Long Beach, Wash. Her body was battered, bloodied and bruised, and she had likely been dead for several days.

She was a member of the Southern resident killer whales, which make their seasonal home in the San Juans and were declared endangered under federal law in 2005. The whales have been spotted around the Strait of Juan de Fuca, southern Georgia Strait, and the inland waterways of Puget Sound, including near the Naval Station Everett.

A team of biologists performed a necropsy on Victoria’s carcass immediately after it was discovered on Feb 11. Tissues samples were taken and her head removed so that a CT scan could be conducted on her skull.

Victoria, designated L112, was one of the most darling and affectionate little whales in this endangered population, and she will be sorely missed by humans and by the whale population.

The final results of analysis of her skull may take some time, but it is important to note that ALL of the expert observations of her bloody and bruised carcass, and her head, concluded that there is strong evidence of near instantaneous lethal destruction of tissues, mostly on one side, consistent with blast trauma.

Her death was undoubtedly caused by humans – we now have to look for the source of the blast.

I have asked the Law Enforcement division of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to investigate so that there will be a clear set of rules concerning withholding, filtering or losing evidence in this case.

As an "endangered" population under the federal Endangered Species Act, the killer whales’ protective management is under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NMFS.

Any federal agency that conducts activities that may impact this population is required to undergo a Section 7 consultation with NMFS, resulting in a biological opinion (BIOP) following which may be issued a Letter of Authorization (LOA) for non-lethal "takes." No killing is allowable.

The U.S. Navy entered into consultations with NMFS concerning possible takes of marine mammals in the Northwest Training Range Complex (NWTRC) that extends in patches along the Pacific Coast from about Neah Bay to California out to a distance 250 nautical miles offshore.

The proposed (and authorized) training activities currently involve, among other things, dropping 110 bombs (10 of which are MK 82 500 pound equivalent of TNT explosive) with a 100 percent kill efficiency for any living thing within 37.8 meters in air.

Underwater the kill distance is much greater, by a factor of 10 or so, at least. Hearing loss and recuperable lung damage will occur at an even greater distance! The Navy request was for only 96 bomb drops last year (eight live MK 82's), and that was said to be the approximate annual number for the previous decade, or so.

I apologize to the whales for only last week finding that out. NMFS headquarters has prepared a BIOP which says that it is unlikely that these activities have any significant deleterious effect on marine mammals, and they have issued an LOA for incidental takes resulting from these activities, PROVIDED the Navy report them for correlation with the marine mammal stranding record, particularly with unusual mortality events (UME's).

You can search for these reports along with the other stuff I've mentioned on the NMFS website and/or Google, but there is only one Navy annual report from last July and its tabular information is CLASSIFIED!

Even if it were UNCLASSIFIED, a tabular report would be useless for temporally correlating with any strandings, much less UME's, in any meaningful way.

UME's are designated by NMFS and evaluated by a panel of experts selected by the secretary of commerce and the secretary of interior on a rotating basis. Sorry, I do not yet know what security clearances the panel members have, or whether they can request more than tabular data, but I doubt that they had such information for review in the nine days between the Navy report of July 1, 2011 and issuance of a 2011/12 LOA on July 10, 2011.

I am going to request of NMFS that little Victoria, aka L112, among others, be designated an UME in my next call; and, this summer if her mom and brother, and aunts and cousins do not return to the San Juans, and I do not find them anywhere, I'll request that they be designated UME's, too.

This is really a tragic bureaucratic jungle situation for the whales and other marine life in the Olympic Coast National Marine "Sanctuary," and I fear it is even more tragic for our wonderful notion of honest and transparent governance.

Yeah, this is a complicated issue; but, at this rate the easiest and most forthright way out is to rename the sanctuary: Olympic Coast National Marine Bombing Range (OCNMBR), and say "bye-bye" to the whales.

Citizens have until April 27 to provide public comment on the expansion of, and the activities within, the NWTRC; and, I suppose it would be OK to suggest changing the name if that is our collective wish. It is absurd to call it a sanctuary.

Ken Balcomb is the executive director and chief scientist of the Center for Whale Research, based on San Juan Island.

Comments (1)
Posted by: Nancy Hamilton Chilton | Apr 05, 2012 20:45

This is absolutely horrible.  Really.  I am completely horrified that this is happening.  How can this happen?  Can somebody tell me?  What the hell country do we live in?  Somebody answer.


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