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Serving Orcas, Lopez and San Juan County

WEDNESDAY, June 11, 2014  VOL. 47, NO. 24  75¢ 

NEWS | Draft of Eastsound Subarea Plan is finalized [3] COMMENTARY | How do you know when you’re old? [6] ARTS | One World Concert presents jazz [9] COMMUNITY | Increase in ferry traffic over Memorial Day weekend [10]

Are harbor porpoises struggling to survive? by SCOTT RASMUSSEN Journal editor

An uptick in harbor porpoise strandings has local biologists scratching their heads, looking for clues and wary that mid-May’s unusually high death toll may signal something other than the natural die-off of a population on the rise. Although, that fact just might be the case. “We’ve also heard there’s been an increase in the number of strandings in the [British Columbia] area,” said The Whale Museum’s Jennifer Olsen, coordinator of the San Juan County Marine Mammal Stranding Network. “But we’re not sure of what the total is or exactly where they were found. We didn’t have a single stranding a year ago in May.” A total of eight harbor porpoise bodies were recovered from beaches on the westside of San Juan Island between May 19 and May 29. All are similar in length, 4-6 feet, suggesting they were adults, and a series of necropsies are slated to be conducted on three bodies that were not picked apart by scavengers, beginning June 5, Olsen said. The term “stranding” applies to dead animals and to live ones that for some reason are

stranded on a beach or rocks and cannot get back into the water. Although it stands as the second-highest stranding total in the month of May, since 2006, eight is not necessarily cause for alarm, not by itself (12 strandings were recorded in May 2012, the highest total for the month in the last eight years). In fact, according to Dr. Joe Gaydos of the Orcas Island-based SeaDoc Society, spring is the time of year when harbor porpoises typically migrate en masse from the mouth of Juan de Fuca Strait into the heart of the Salish Sea, and strandings are not uncommon at that time. Still, Gaydos, who will perform the early June necropsies, said the spate of strandings warrant examination to find out if an infectious disease or virus, such as pneumonia, may be responsible or contributed to the deaths. “Right now we really don’t know what’s going on,” he said. The smallest of marine mammals, the harbor porpoise generally stays close to coastal waters or river estuaries, tend to be solitary foragers and feed primarily on small schooling fish, such as herring, pollock, hake, as well as squid and other cephalopods. Adults typically measure 4-6 feet

Florian Graner/Contributed photo

There has been an increase in local harbor porpoise strandings. Scientists are looking for clues as to why. in length, average between 135170 pounds (females tend to be heavier) and have an average lifespan of about 24 years. The harbor porpoise shares the name but is an entirely different species than the somewhat larger

and vastly heavier harbor seal, a pinniped, a far more abundant animal worldwide, and common as well in the Salish Sea. However, the population of harbor porpoises appears to be on the rise in greater Puget Sound and

School board welcomes Greg White by CALI BAGBY Assistant editor

Greg White is a knitter, a father, a coach, a surveyor and now a school board member. He did not set out to be on the Orcas Island School Board, but when the vacancy was announced he suddenly thought he might be a good candidate. Having three children who attend the public school has helped him understand elements of education. Greg, shown right, describes his kids as representing a wide spectrum of the student body. One is a high achiever, another has autism and the oldest is heavily involved in sports. “They are involved in a lot of parts of the of the school,” said Greg. “Having that understanding of the school can be helpful.” Board member Janet Brownell said she couldn’t speak for the entire board, but she did say that there were two qualified candidates who applied.

“It was a tough choice,” she said. “But Greg has had extensive involvement in the schools, and his background professionally will be immensely useful in the next few years of school construction. I look forward to working with him.  He will be a huge asset to the school board and the district.”

For the last 10 years he has volunteered in a variety of roles. For several years he coached little league, served as commissioner of little league and started a lunch time knitting club that ran for three years. More than 20 kids would show up for the club and even some boys showed up – much to Greg’s happy surprise. “It’s still pretty uncommon,”said Greg about male knitters. His love of knitting came to light after raising Shetland sheep. “The sheep led to spinning wool,” said Greg. “And then I just started to knit.” He also enjoys working in his wood shop and hopes to someday build spinning wheels. Greg and his wife Tess have lived on Orcas for 18 years. Like so many residents, they came here for a weekend getaway and decided they had to make the island their home. Just six weeks after their trip, Greg secured a survey-


the Salish Sea. In fact, according to Gaydos, the cause of an exceptionally large number of harbor porpoise strandings and deaths in 2006 turned out to be largely the result


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Islands' Sounder, June 11, 2014  

June 11, 2014 edition of the Islands' Sounder

Islands' Sounder, June 11, 2014  

June 11, 2014 edition of the Islands' Sounder