Tribal members rally in Sacramento to stop Klamath River fish kill

800_crowd_shotby Dan Bacher

Over 200 Tribal members and their allies from the Trinity and Klamath river watersheds held a four-hour protest at the Bureau of Reclamation offices in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 19 to urge them to release more water from upriver dams to stop a massive fish kill.

Members of the Yurok, Klamath and Karuk tribes, as well as leaders of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, displayed an array of signs and banners with slogans including “Fish Need Water,” “Let The River Flow,” “Give Us Our Water, ” “Save The Salmon,” “Tribal Rights Are Non Negotiable,” “Release The Dam Water,” “Undam the Klamath – Free the Trinity,” “Fish Can’t Swim In Money,” and “Westlands Sucks The Trinity Dry.”

They demanded increased water releases, known as preventative flows, from Lewiston Dam into the Trinity River, the largest tributaryof the Klamath River, to prevent a fish kill from taking place in the currently warm and low water conditions. They also asked federal officials to release more water from Iron Gate Dam on the Klamath.

Participants ranging from young children to elders protested Reclamation’s recent decision to withhold these emergency releases until large numbers – approximately 50 adult dead salmon per mile of river – are documented.

They urged the Bureau to increase water releases from the dams so that a fish kill on the lower Klamath, like the one of September 2002 when over 68,000 fish perished, doesn’t occur again.

“We need 25 to keep the fish alive,” they chanted, referring to their demand that the federal agency release 2500 cfs to the river. After holding signs and banners and chanting slogans in front of the federal building complex, they marched to the back to try to meet with Bureau officials.

The federal officials allowed six people to meet with David Murillo, Mid-Pacific Regional Director of the Bureau of Reclamation, about releasing the flows. Murillo didn’t commit to increased flows, but said he would make a decision the following day, August 20 after a meeting of state, federal and Tribal scientists about the flows in Eureka Tuesday.

Lois Moore, Bureau spokesman, said that no decision had been made at press time.

“The biologists from the different federal and state agencies and tribes had a discussion today to produce information for Murrillo to make a decision. Everybody understands how important this water flow is, not only to the fish and the environment but to the tribes,” Moore stated Tuesday.

After the Tuesday meeting at the BOR offices, Danielle Vigil-Masten, Chair of the Hoopa Valley Tribe, said she was “very disappointed.”

“It still feels like they gave us the run around,” said Vigil-Masten. “Scientists have said that the fish need water. Hundreds of people came here today to get an answer. David Murrillo said he would have an answer tomorrow. Prevention of a fish kill is the answer and it seems like nobody cares.”

Frankie Joe Myers of the Yurok Tribe Watershed Restoration Program said he was “cautiously optimistic” after the meeting.

“He listened to us as for as long as we wanted to talk, although we were originally scheduled for just 30 minutes. We told him we wouldn’t leave the office until we got a response. He said we could stay in the office as long as we wanted and we wouldn’t get arrested,” said Myers.

Chook Chook Hillman, Karuk tribal member, said, “He heard us. We asked him if irrigators are willing to die for water like the rest of us are. He listened, but there were no guarantees. We didn’t want to leave without getting an answer.”

“The tribes asked for bare bones to prevent a fish kill,” he said, “just flows of 2500 cfs.”

“I told Murillo that if there is a fish kill, he is responsible for genocide,” said Annelia Hillman, a member of the Klamath Justice Coalition and Yurok Tribe.

Emergency flow releases from Lewiston Dam would take four days to reach the struggling Klamath River salmon, according to a statement from the Klamath Justice Coalition. Fisheries biologists commonly agree that by the time the emergency flows are triggered and the water has traveled from the dam, it would be too late to prevent a large-scale fish die-off. Tribal members say Reclamation is ignoring the beginning stages of a disaster.

“Fish are pooled up at cold water tributaries because the water in the river is so warm and polluted,” said Hoopa Valley Tribal member, Kayla Brown. “These fish are diseased and dying. Once the disease starts to spread, it can’t be stopped and we will have a fish kill on our hands, courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.”

The protesters said five times more water is diverted to the Sacramento Basin for Central Valley irrigators than is released into the Trinity River.

Rally organizers and participants also said they support Klamath River fisheries biologists’ assertion that a minimum of 2,500 cubic feet per second be maintained near the mouth of the Klamath River. This can be achieved if the Bureau of Reclamation approves preventative releases from Lewiston Reservoir on the Trinity.

Nat Pennington, Fisheries Biologist for the Salmon River Restoration Council, emphasized, “Klamath River flows are lower than they were during the 2002 fish kill. River temperatures are consistently higher than the acute stress level for Chinook salmon at seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit. If this trend continues, a large-scale fish kill is likely and the Klamath could loose the entire run.”

Karuk tribal member Molli White said, “Reclamation says they need the water for Sacramento River salmon, but our rivers are actually being exported to meet the demands of corporate agriculture like the Westland’s Water district.”

White noted that California’s almond growers are projecting an eight percent increase in the 2014 harvest while the rest of California experiences a devastating drought year.

Recent USDA data reveals that California almond growers, one of the major recipients of exported Trinity River and Delta water, will harvest a record 2.1 billion pounds this year. The National Agricultural Statistics Service’s estimate is up 5 percent from last year’s crop and 8 percent from the initial 2014 forecast on May 1. If this figure hold ups as the harvest proceeds, it would exceed the record of 2.03 billion pounds in 2011. (

“The argument that the Bureau makes that they need flows for endangered salmon in the Sacramento is totally bogus,” said Zeke Grader, Executive Director of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), who attended the protest in solidarity with the Tribes. “The water from the Trinity is shipped south not for endangered salmon, but for ‘endangered’ almonds.”

When the dams and diversion tunnels were built on the Trinity, laws were set up to protect the river and fish before exporting water to the Central Valley, according to the Klamath Justice Coalition. These laws established that fish, and the tribes that depend on them, are the top priority for the Trinity River flows.

Klamath Justice Coalition members have made it clear that Tribal people and traditional fishermen will not give up until Reclamation releases water.

“We’re fighting so my son, Sregon, doesn’t have to worry about water being in the river,” Frankie Joe Myers explained. “The Klamath fish kill of 2002 was devastating for our tribal communities and to the West Coast Fisheries. Previously, Tribes, fisheries scientists, and the Department of the Interior have worked together to avert fish kills by releasing preventative flows during drought years. We need these releases now more then ever.”

Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, concluded, “It is all about showing up, standing up, and speaking up for SALMON! Salmon is water and water is salmon….we are nothing without both!”

Follow the Klamath Justice Coalition on twitter at #releasethewater #savethesalmon #stopafishkill #neveragain

For information about current river conditions and fisheries health visit:

For more information visit

Video b-roll and photos are available at:
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Big Oil has spent $63 million on lobbying in Sacramento since 2009!

Only in the oil-soaked politics of “Green California” would an oil lobbyist charged with the task of creating “marine protected areas” go on record against protecting a “state marine reserve” from oil drilling!


by Dan Bacher

While there are many powerful industries based in California, ranging from the computer and high tech industry to corporate agribusiness, no industry has more influence over the state’s environmental policies than Big Oil.

An ongoing analysis of reports filed with the California Secretary of State shows that the oil industry, the largest and most powerful corporate lobby in Sacramento, collectively spent $63,947,616 lobbying California policymakers between January 1, 2009 and June 30, 2014.

The Western States Petroleum Association, led by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California, topped the oil industry lobby spending with $26,969,861.

“The oil industry is spending over $1 million per month lobbying Sacramento, with the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) as the second overall leading spender so far in 2014 with almost $3 million spent in the past six months,” according to Stop Fooling California (, an online and social media public education and awareness campaign that highlights oil companies efforts to mislead and confuse Californians. “Chevron, with $1.3 million spent so far in 2014, is also among the top five. If money speaks, Big Oil has the loudest voice in politics.”

WSPA was California’s second overall leading lobbyist spender, with $1.5 million spent in the second quarter of 2014. This is the second largest quarter going back to January 2009.

WSPA is on pace to exceed the previous annual (2012) total in 2014. So far this session, WSPA has paid over $2 million to KP Public Affairs, the state’s highest paid lobbying firm, during the current (2013-14) legislative session, according to the group. WSPA spent $4,670,010 on lobbying in 2013 and $5,698,917 in 2012.

Chevron is the fifth overall spender in California through the second quarter of 2014, having spent $784,757 over the past quarter, an increase of nearly $300,000 over the prior quarter.

Since 2009, WSPA ($27 million) and Chevron ($14.7 million) accounted for $42 million, two-thirds of the industry total.

The other “Dirty Dozen” spenders in the oil industry since 2009 were:
• BP – $3,407,467
• AERA Energy – $2,678,910
• Occidental – $2,678,910
• ConocoPhillips – $2,352,767
• Exxon – $2,297,452
• Shell – $2,258,610
• CIPA – $1,916,231
• Phillips66 – $1,715,416
• Fueling CA – $669,049
• CIOMA – $523,069

The money that the Western States Petroleum Association and other members of the oil lobby spend is well spent, since it has allowed Big Oil to sabotage state and federal laws protecting the air, water and environment. In 2013, the oil industry added poison pill amendments to gut an already weak fracking bill, Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, in order to clear the path to the expansion of fracking operations in California.

WSPA and other oil industry interests also were able to defeat a bill, sponsored by Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, to impose a moratorium on fracking in the state. In fact, the Legislators who voted against the bill received 14 times the amount of money from Big Oil that those who voted yes received from the industry. (

But oil industry influence extends behind the money it spends on lobbying and political campaigns. Oil industry officials have also sat on key panels crafting environmental regulations in California and the U.S.

For example, WSPA President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, in one of the biggest conflicts of interest in California history, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged marine protected areas in Southern California. (

She also served on the task forces for the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast, as well as on a federal NOAA marine protected areas committee.

The “marine protected areas” that she and other task force members helped to create fail to protect the ocean from fracking, offshore oil drilling, pollution, military testing, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

While Reheis-Boyd served on the task forces to “protect” the ocean, the same oil industry that the “marine guardian” represents was conducting environmentally destructive hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations off the Southern California coast. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and media investigations by Associated Press and reveal that the ocean has been fracked at least 203 times in the past 20 years, including the period from 2004 to 2012 that Reheis-Boyd served as a “marine guardian.”

Stop Fooling California recently pointed out that the former Chair of the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force opposes a ban on offshore drilling in the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve.

“Big Oil, we know you’re no stranger to conflicts of interest. But you have outdone yourself this time!” the group stated.

The campaign was referring to WSPA’s opposition to Senate Bill 1096, a bill to ban offshore oil drilling in state waters in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge. (

You can’t make this stuff up. Only in the oil-soaked politics of “Green California” would an oil lobbyist charged with the task of creating “marine protected areas” go on record against protecting a “state marine reserve” from oil drilling!

However, the money Big Oil spends on lobbying and campaign contributions is just chump change for them, since the oil companies continue to post mind-boggling profits every year. The top five oil companies made over $93 billion in profits in 2013 and have made over $58 billion in profits this year to date. (

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My Letter to the Navy

1972391_629774337095129_635233175_nYou still have until Wednesday, April 16th at 1:59 AM CST to submit your public comments regarding the U.S. Navy’s “Northwest Training and Testing” Environmental Impact Statement.  My letter to the Navy appears below.


U.S. Naval Command, Northwest
1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203
Silverdale, WA  98315 -1101 

April 11, 2014

Dear United States Navy, 

I am writing to say that I think your EIS claiming zero (0) mortalities for marine mammals and other species of birds and fish from proposed Naval Training and Testing activities in the Pacific Northwest region is not only inaccurate, but also extremely dishonest.  It is disheartening that the U.S. Navy so disrespects both the public and the natural world, they would produce such a short-sighted and deceitful report.  As you are well aware, the Navy has more honestly predicted huge destruction and harm to all forms of marine life resulting from similar activities in other regions.  Whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other marine mammals are particularly vulnerable.

Though I know it probably seems outside the realm of possibility for the self-interest of the Navy, I want to propose the idea of establishing an international treaty banning submarine warfare entirely.

It has become plainly evident that the first beings to suffer from mankind’s madness for constant naval warfare will be the whales, dolphins and marine mammals.  They simply are not able to withstand this constant onslaught of underwater noise and shock waves in an arms race of stealth submarines, with the super high-powered sonar and other weapons that are used to detect and destroy them.

We either continue on the course towards the annihilation and extinction of the whales, or we come to our senses and ban submarine warfare entirely.

The Navy could take a pro-active role in enforcing such a treaty, by making sure no nation continues on the path of using submarines to patrol the oceans in the name of war.

I hope you will seriously consider this idea, and that such a treaty will be enacted while there are still whales and dolphins to share our oceans.


David R. Gurney


Please write your own comments and mail them to this address:

Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Northwest
Attention: Ms. Kimberly Kler – NWTT EIS/OEIS Project Manager
1101 Tautog Circle, Suite 203
Silverdale, WA 98315-1101

Or, you can electronically submit your public comments on the Navy’s proposed Training and Testing in the Pacific Northwest, by going to their website:



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Oil Lobby spending in California increases by 400 percent

The rise of oil industry spending documented in the report corresponds directly with the increase in fracking in Monterey Shale deposits in Kern County, coastal areas and Southern California ocean waters – and the creation of so-called “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution, military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

Oil companies have fracked offshore wells at least 203 times over the past 20 years in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and last year.bil_oil_floods_the_capitol_4.1.14v2.pdf_600_

Oil Lobby spending in California increases by 400 percent

by Dan Bacher

A ground breaking report released on April 1, 2014 by the ACCE Institute and Common Cause reveals that Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby elected officials in California over the past 15 years, an increase of over 400 percent since the 1999-2000 legislative session, when the industry spent $4.8 million.

The report, “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds Into the Legislature,” highlights the growing influence of the Oil and Gas Lobby in Sacramento, including the increasing power of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA). The analysis examines the broad and expanding scope of the oil and gas industry’s spending in Sacramento as the industry gears up to expand fracking (hydraulic fracturing) operations in California facilitated by the passage of Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4 last September.

The report also examines historical campaign contributions by the largest firms in the oil and gas industry. Over the last fifteen years, Big Oil has spent $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns – nearly $10 million per year and more than any other corporate lobby.

The report also exposes how the oil and gas lobby has spent nearly $15 million to influence Sacramento lawmakers halfway through the 2014-15 legislative session. The record is $25.5 million, set in 2011-12.

As one of the few journalists willing to expose the power of the oil industry in California in recent years, I am very pleased that Common Cause and ACCE have put together this invaluable report that confirms what I’ve been saying all along – that the oil industry has overwhelmed and corrupted the political process, including hijacking what passes for “marine protection” and “environmental protection” in California.

The report was unveiled as the arrests of three State Senators on criminal charges in recent months have put the spotlight on corruption and influence peddling at the State Capitol.

On March 29, the State Senate voted to suspend Senators Leland Yee, Ron Calderon and Rod Wright, who are being prosecuted in separate criminal cases, after Yee refused to resign. Yee was arrested on federal charges of accepting bribes and coordinating an international gun-running operation,revealed in an affidavit that read like a bizarre crime novel. (

One of the three Senators, Rod Wright, received more oil industry money, $83,100, than any other legislator during the 15-year period, according to the report.

“On the heels of 3 California Senators facing separate accusations of influence peddling and unethical behavior, it has never been more important to shine a light on the money that industries like Big Oil spend to advance their agenda,” said Vivian Richardson, community leader and Board Chair of ACCE, in a news release announcing the publication of the report. “We’ve had enough of this ‘pay to play’ system in which money talks – it’s time for our elected officials to listen to the people of this state, and make Big Oil pay their fair share.”

“This report highlights a growing problem in Sacramento – the millions of dollars of campaign contributions and lobby spending by special interests in Sacramento, and the possible influence that goes along with it,” summed up Sarah Swanbeck, coauthor of the report and policy advocate for California Common Cause. “It is time for lawmakers to consider how these types of legal spending by special interests drown out the voice of average Californians and what legislative action can be taken to correct this imbalance.”

Chevron tops campaign contributions with $71.2 million

The report explains how key members of Big Oil. including Chevron, Exxon, Aera Energy and Occidental Petroleum, are some of the largest corporations in California. “And these big corporations spend big time,” Richardson and Swanbeck note.

The top five oil and gas industry campaign contributors from 1999 to 2013 were Chevron, $71.2 million; Aera Energy, $33.8 million; Occidental, $14.5 million; ConocoPhillips, $6.4 million; and Tesoro $3.4 million. Big Oil spent a whopping $143.3 million on political candidates and campaigns, nearly $10 million per year, over the past 15 years.

“Companies like Chevron and Aera have gone to great lengths to influence candidates and initiative campaigns in California elections,” the report states.

Environmental justice and indigenous groups accuse the San Ramon based-Chevron of environmental racism, ranging from the adverse health impacts of the pollution caused by the operation of its refinery in Richmond, California to its dumping of toxic waste in indigenous communities in the the Amazon River Basin in Ecuador.

The report also documents how individual legislators have received tens of thousands from Big Oil over their careers. Over the last 15 years, the top five currently serving legislative recipients are: (1) Senator Rod Wright ($83,100), (2) Assemblymember Isadore Hall, III ($80,600), (3) Senator Jean Fuller ($76,850), (4) Assemblymember Henry Perea ($73,050), and (5) Senator Bob Huff ($69,400).

This report profiles the top recipients, as well as those legislators who are facing a vote on the Oil and Gas Extraction Tax (Senate Bill 1017) this April.

But direct contributions are not the only way Big Oil dominates politics in Sacramento – the industry also spends millions on lobbying those same politicians every year.

Price tag for lobbying totalled $123.6 million

“In addition to its political contributions,” the report continues, “Big Oil exerts considerable influence lobbying in Sacramento. Big Oil employs high profile, high powered lobbyists to ensure their interests are represented.”

In the past 15 years, the price tag for these lobbyists has totaled $123.6 million. In 2013-2014 alone, the top lobbyist employer, the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), headed by President Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the former chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create fake “marine protected areas” in Southern California, spent $4.7 million.

To make things worse, the oil lobby presence in Sacramento is growing, as evidenced by the industry’s successful campaign last year to defeat all fracking bills except one, Senator Fran Pavley’s Senate Bill 4, an oil industry-friendly bill that gives the green light to increased fracking in California. The legislation was opposed by the vast majority of conservation and environmental justice groups in California – but supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund and the California League of Conservation Voters until the the last minute, when they withdrew their support after amendments were added.

“So far during the 2013-2014 session, the Oil and Gas lobby has spent nearly $15 million in Sacramento,” the report revealed. “Only halfway through the session, and with expenditure rates typically increasing late in the legislative season when more bills are up for a final vote, California is on track to surpass the roughly $25.5 million spent on lobbying in the 2011-2012 legislative session.”

Similarly, the number of oil and gas industry lobbyists in Sacramento has gone from 22 lobbyist employer organizations registered with the FPPC in 1999-2000 to 32 registered sector for the current legislative session (2013-2014), according to the report.

Yet for the oil industry this money is mere chump change, the cost of doing business. Big Oil’s estimated profits in 2014 to date are $24,978,007,900, based on information from the Center for American Progress.

The 2013 profit totals for the big five oil companies combined – BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell – were $93 billion, or $177,000 per minute. (

As Big Oil spending rises, fracking increases

The rise of the oil industry spending documented in the report corresponds directly with the increase in fracking in Monterey Shale deposits in Kern County, coastal areas and Southern California ocean waters – and the creation of so-called “marine protected areas” that fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil drilling, pollution military testing and all human impacts other than fishing and gathering.

Oil companies have fracked offshore wells at least 203 times over the past 20 years in the ocean near California’s coast, from Seal Beach to the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a Freedom of Information Act Request and media investigation by the Associated Press and last year. ( Much of the fracking took place while WSPA President Reheis-Boyd was chairing the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force and serving on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast Task Forces.

The Common Cause/ACCE Institute report’s data and charts also make it perfectly clear that the oil industry spending on campaigns and lobbying correlates directly with the rise to power and influence by Reheis-Boyd and her service as a “marine guardian”on federal and state marine protected area panels, as revealed by the chart on page 12 of the document.

Mainstream media outlets have failed to cover one of biggest environmental scandals in California history, Reheis-Boyd’s chairing of the MLPA Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create alleged “marine protected areas” in Southern California from 2009 to 2012, as well as her “service” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast task forces from 2004 to 2012. MLPA Initiative advocates falsely portrayed the process as “open and transparent” and based on “science” when it was anything but. (

The report also counteracts the attempts of state officials and corporate “environmental” NGOs to portray a false image of a “Green California” where no one single interest dominates. David Helvarg, in a recent article on the National Geographic website praising the so-called “marine protected areas” created under the privately-funded MLPA Initiative, claims:

“With its ports, the U.S. Navy, fishermen, surfers and the coastal tourism industry, marine science centers and more no single special interest can dominate ocean policy. And it is where you have single interests dictating policy in places like Louisiana with oil and gas or Florida with real-estate developers that you see coastal seas in decline,” said Helvarg. (

This statement avoids addressing the fact that the oil industry is the largest corporate lobby in California, one that dominates environmental politics like no other industry does – and that California is much closer to Louisiana and Florida in its domination by corporate interests than some California politicians and corporate “environmentalists” would like to think.

You can read the full report at;

Brown’s tunnels will provide water for fracking

As the oil industry plans the expansion of fracking under Senate Bill 4, Governor Jerry Brown is fast tracking the widely-contested Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels.The proposed tunnels would divert Sacramento River water for use by corporate agribusiness interests, Southern California water privateers and oil companies expanding fracking and steam injection operations. The construction of the twin tunnels would hasten the extinction of Central Valley salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperil salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

Restore the Delta and Food and Water Watch revealed on March 4 that much of the area that the oil industry could frack for oil and natural gas in California is located in and near toxic, drainage-impaired land farmed by corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. (

The same Governor promoting the peripheral tunnels and the expansion of hydraulic fracturing recently declared a drought emergency in California. A broad coalition of environmentalists, fishermen and Tribal leaders is demanding immediate halt to water-intensive fracking.

According to Oil Change International, “This drought is already devastating farmers livelihoods, causing an increased risk of wildfires, and threatening our water supplies. So why is the Governor still allowing fracking to take place? Fracking wells can consume between 2 and 10 MILLION gallons of water in their lifetime.”

In spite of false claims by the mainstream media and state officials that California is a “green state” and an “environmental leader,” the Golden State has become an “oilogarchy.”

If you want to take action and help fight the flood of dirty energy money in California, go to:


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Diving Deep

Beaked whale dives nearly 2 miles beneath the ocean – a record

NAVY WHALESAn adult female beaked whale off the Kona coast, Hawaii.  Photo courtesy Robin W. Baird, AP

By Deborah Netburn, LA Times
March 27, 2014

Scientists have found a 20-foot whale that can dive an astonishing 1.8 miles beneath the ocean – a record for a mammal. The record was reported this week in the journal Plos One.

The miraculous, extreme-diving whale is known as Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris). Members of this species can be found in most oceans throughout the world, except for in the coldest arctic regions.

To survive the immense pressure changes it faces as it moves down the water column, Cuvier’s beaked whales have evolved lungs and a trachea that collapse completely in the depths of the ocean and then pop back open as the whale moves to the surface to breathe.

To help the whale go for as much as two hours without breathing, it has so much of the oxygen-binding protein myoglobin in its muscle tissue that its muscles look dark purple, almost black.

“It is a really exciting species,” said Erin Falcone, a biologist at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Wash., and an author of the study. “They have the same basic needs that we do, but they function in this totally alien environment.”

Although Cuvier’s beaked whales have a wide distribution, they are still a bit of a mystery to scientists. They live far from shore, and spend most of their time deep beneath the ocean, making them difficult to observe.

For this study, Falcone and her coauthors tracked eight whales over the course of three months off the coast of Southern California, not far from San Clemente Island. Using modified tranquilizer guns, the researchers shot satellite-linked tags on the dorsal fin of the whales. The tags transmitted information about where the whales went, as well as how far beneath the ocean they swam.

The deepest dive recorded was to a depth of 1.8 miles. The longest dive (made by a different whale) was two hours and 17 minutes. The average depth of all the dives recorded was .87 miles. The average length of all the dives was 67.4 minutes.

“We were pretty surprised when we saw the data,” Falcone said. “The previous dive record of these whales was 1,188 meters (.7 miles), which was plenty deep. We spent a little time making sure the tag was functioning properly just to be sure the data was right.”

She added that its possible that the whales may be able to go even deeper than what her team observed.

“In the area where our animals are, the bottom depth isn’t much deeper than 1.8 miles,” she said. “In deeper water, they may go well beyond that.”

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