(M/V Tillikum with Seahawks-fan flags in September 2013; photo by Paul Brannan)
Just like last year, Washington State Ferries is giving its vessels honorary temporary names on Sunday, as a show of support for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl. Here are the three that sail out of Fauntleroy:
M/V Issaquah: “M/V Russell Okung”
M/V Tillikum: “M/V Kevin Williams”
M/V Evergreen State: “M/V Byron Maxwell”
11:07 AM: Thanks to Trileigh for sounding the alert that Orca Network tipsters are reporting orcas headed north in Colvos Passage on the west side of Vashon – which means they might be visible from here at some point soon. The fog is of course complicating things, and even without fog, the whales might stay along the western shore of the sound, but we wanted to make sure you knew.
2:11 PM: The whales have gone into Rich Passage, which leads to Bremerton, as of the newest comments on the same Orca Network post we’ve linked above.
Some Puget Sound seabird species ‘may be turning the corner’ in a good way, 7-year analysis suggestsJanuary 20, 2015 at 4:38 pm | In Environment, Seen at sea, West Seattle news, Wildlife | 5 Comments
(All photos in this story are by Mark Wangerin. Above, rhinoceros auklet)
A glimmer of good news about the health of Puget Sound and some of its wildlife. This news release arrived via NOAA, but much of the work was done by volunteers:
A new analysis of seven years of bird sightings by volunteer birdwatchers from the Seattle Audubon Society has found positive trends in several Puget Sound seabird species that had been in historic decline.
The study tracked the occurrence of 18 seabird species at 62 sites around Puget Sound and found increased presence of 14 species, including cormorants, loons, rhinoceros auklets, and harlequin ducks. It also documented local hotspots for certain species, which may reflect especially important habitat or prey the birds depend on.
“This means that all other things being equal, if someone goes out now they’re more likely to see these birds than they would have been seven years ago,” said Eric Ward, an ecologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and lead author of the research.
Many seabird species are thought to have declined around Puget Sound since the 1960s and 1970s but the new results suggest the trends have turned up for many species.
(WSB photo, August 8, 2014, from Seattle/Sunset viewpoint in North Admiral)
In this week that’s already had two aircraft-carrier sightings off West Seattle – USS John C. Stennis heading out for training, USS Nimitz moving from Everett to Bremerton for maintenance – we have one more carrier note. Remember the coverage last August as the USS Constellation was towed out, headed down the Pacific Coast, around Cape Horn, up through the Caribbean and to Brownsville, Texas, to be scrapped? Oceangoing tug Corbin Foss, with the “Connie” in tow, is now arriving after five months – the timeline projected back last summer – and expected to finish the journey by tomorrow. The Foss website has kept up its “tow blog” with periodic data entries.
Arctic-drilling support at West Seattle’s Terminal 5? After intense debate, Port Commission supports proposed Foss lease, but…January 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm | In Seen at sea, West Seattle news | 28 Comments
(UPDATED 9:54 PM with chronicle of how the discussion unfolded)
(October 2014 photo by Peter West Carey, shared via Twitter)
The issue of whether to pursue a lease with Foss Maritime, temporarily taking part of closed-for-modernization Terminal 5 to support Shell‘s Arctic drilling operations (here’s our previous report), wasn’t supposed to be up for a vote; on this afternoon’s Seattle Port Commission agenda, it was just a briefing.
But after more than 20 public commenters at the meeting, held at Sea-Tac Airport, and intense discussion between commissioners, Commissioner Courtney Gregoire said she believed they had to give staff direction – and so they did, not via an actual vote, but via opinions: Three commissioners (Stephanie Bowman, John Creighton, and Bill Bryant) said basically, they’re not in favor of Arctic drilling, but not allowing this lease to go forward wouldn’t make a difference, so they feel they have to support it, given the hundreds of jobs and ~$28 million revenue it would bring. Two (Gregoire and Tom Albro) said they felt the port, with its “green gateway” mission, should not become the “homeport of Shell Arctic drilling support.”
But beyond a decision on this matter, commissioners did voice support for coming up with a port “energy policy” that could set guidelines for any future decisions along these lines, and possibly other actions that the port could take to support a clean-energy future, beyond policies and procedures it’s already implemented.
We’ve been monitoring the entire discussion, held at Sea-Tac Airport, via live video, and live tweeting at @westseattleblog. If you don’t use Twitter, you can see our three hours of tweets (interspersed with a few other stories) in the box below – reverse-chronological order, just scroll through:
And we’re writing up notes in a more-conventional manner to add here as soon as we can.
ADDED 9:54 PM: Scroll or click ahead for our narrative:
(WSB photo by Patrick Sand, substituted for tweeted version shown here earlier)
9:43 AM: Thanks to the texter (206-293-6302) who called our attention to the Kitsap Sun‘s report that the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) is en route from Everett to Bremerton right now, for 16 months of maintenance. Naval Base Kitsap says via Facebook that it’s expected to arrive around 11:30, so if you can’t see it from West Seattle shores yet, it can’t be far. It’ll be the second consecutive day of aircraft-carrier sightings – the USS John C. Stennis headed northbound yesterday, leaving Bremerton for more training.
10:29 AM: Looking north from the Alki promenade, we’re seeing it in the distance now, passing West Point.
11:08 AM: Back from watching until it turned into Rich Passage.
(Update: Photos added, including Greg Snyder‘s view of the turn, above.)
The view from the deck of the Stennis, by photog Meegan M. Reid. Carrier is headed out for training. pic.twitter.com/RCTrmxt5ks
— KitsapSun (@KitsapSun) January 12, 2015
Aaron texted us about an aircraft carrier passing Alki Point right now and at first we thought it had to be the USS Nimitz, expected to be Bremerton-bound sometime this week, postponed from last week. But no, it’s the USS John C. Stennis, headed out for training again, per the Kitsap Sun (whose photo tweet you see above).
ADDED: Thanks to Lynn Shimamoto for catching a good look at the Stennis and sharing the photo:
No exact date yet for the Nimitz’s trip from Everett to Bremerton, by the way.
(Photo courtesy Center for Whale Research: Mom J16 and newborn J50)
One week after announcing the birth of baby orca J50, the Center for Whale Research says J50 is female – especially good news provided she beats the odds and survives, since that pod in particular has been short on breeding-age females. In a release on its website, the center also says it hasn’t quite sorted out the questions about which orca is J50′s mom – you’ve probably heard that while she was originally believed to be the calf of 43-year-old J16, experts have reasons to suspect that J16 might actually be J50′s grandmother. Whoever her mom is, ~2-week-old J50 was seen with her family, doing well, today in the northern Strait of Georgia in British Columbia
(December 2010: USS Nimitz and Vashon Water Taxi, photographed from West Seattle by Gary Jones)
If you notice a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier southbound in the distance sometime in the next few days, that’ll be the USS Nimitz (CVN 68). It’s heading back to Bremerton for 16 months of maintenance, which means that Naval Base Kitsap will be home for a while to two carriers, including the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74). As for when to watch for the Nimitz making the relatively short trip to Bremerton, though it was announced at one point for today, the Everett Herald now reports it’ll be tomorrow.
The orcas seen off West Seattle on Saturday weren’t the “transients” who spent so much time recently in the South Sound. Instead, expert whale-watchers identified them as members of J Pod, one of the three groups of endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Federal researchers hoping to help save the SRKW from extinction are trying to find out more about where J-Pod orcas, in particular, goes when they are not here at “home,” so once again this year, they have tagged a member of the pod. According to this report on the Northwest Fisheries Science Center website, researchers tagged J27 yesterday, while J Pod was northbound through north Puget Sound. What little they know from previous tries suggests that, more than the other two SRKW pods, this one stays closer to home. Finding out more, they say, can help them identify “critical habitat” among other things. They promise to update the page from which we got the map you see above – follow it here.
— Andrew Malinak (@AndrewSwims) December 27, 2014
(Added: The every-Saturday-morning Alki swim included an orca sighting!)
9:33 AM: When last we heard of whales in the area, it was late Friday, and some were reported to be heading northbound in this direction, off the east side of Vashon. Don’t know if they are the same ones, but we have multiple reports of orcas off the 1500 block of Alki right now, for starters, plus an Orca Network Facebook report of orcas off Alki Point a short time ago, possibly visible off West Seattle. We’re off to look; let us know of any sightings!
10:02 AM: Very choppy water on the west-facing shore; followed up a text about orcas at Emma Schmitz Overlook but no luck.
10:47 AM: Just saw two southbound from Brace Point!
Orcas are headed this way, northbound, most recently seen off Vashon Island, roughly parallel with Burien’s Seahurst Park, according to commenters on the Orca Network Facebook page; we’ve also received general tips via Facebook and Twitter. They apparently are the “transient” orcas that have spent a lot of time in the South Sound lately. We’re off to look; please let us know if you see them off our shores – we have barely an hour of light left!
'King tide' scene: At Seacrest, floating Water Taxi dock almost level with non-floating fishing pier pic.twitter.com/l1ra1WNrwh
— West Seattle Blog (@westseattleblog) December 26, 2014
As noted here last night, we’re in the midst of three days at which the morning high tides are part of this year’s “king tides.” So we went out today to see what that might bring. The photo above, from Seacrest, was about as dramatic as it got. (added) At nearby Don Armeni, the water was almost up to parking lot/drive-path level:
We checked Alki a few minutes later, and the water wasn’t even over the seawall – see for yourself in this video shared by Joe Szilagyi, who was also out investigating:
Nothing at all like the wind-fueled post-Thanksgiving sights on Alki (and no doubt waterfront residents are relieved!). Tomorrow morning’s high tide, just after 9 am, will also be 13 feet, and that’s it for the official “king tides” until a stretch in January.
(Photo by Gary Jones)
Yes, that was the USS John C. Stennis again, visible from West Seattle on its way back to Bremerton, two weeks after it left for flight-operations testing following its quarter-billion-dollar overhaul. The Kitsap Sun reported on Monday that the Stennis got its flight-operations certification during the testing off California, following 160 launches and recoveries. Other training’s been under way on board, too, as shown on the Stennis’s Facebook page.
(Lowman Beach photos by Trileigh Tucker)
A night of lights and song on two West Seattle beaches. First – it was barely dark enough to see the star shine on the Christmas Ship as it arrived at Lowman Beach around 4:20 pm. Despite the massive Murray CSO Control Project construction setup across the street and in part of the beach park, a sizable crowd made its way to the beach just north of Lincoln Park:
While the Dickens Carolers were serenading the Lowman spectators from the Christmas Ship, Alki visitors were getting ready for the ship’s next stop. Just inland from West Seattle’s biggest beach, the Log House Museum (61st/Stevens) extended its hours to welcome visitors for “Cookies and Cider on the Porch”:
The museum also showed off gift ideas from its gift shop (open during the museum’s Thursday-Sunday hours, noon-4 pm), including the recently published “Apron Strings” cookbook:
From there, it was on to the beach, to await the Christmas Ship and the decorated boats accompanying it – some official, some unofficial. Seattle Parks and Recreation staffers and volunteers from around the department’s Southwest division organized entertainment and treats at Alki Bathhouse, for a party that started before and continued after the ship’s visit. That included bonus entertainment:
And then, just after 5 pm, the Christmas Ship came into view, rounding Alki Point.
Lots of families among the spectators who lined the beach and seawall in the Bathhouse vicinity to hear the Dickens Carolers – the lineup rotates, as the Christmas Ship schedule shows – perform Christmas classics from the ship, amplified toward the shore.
(Hear a bit of the music via Instagram.) After 20 minutes, with the announcer’s cheery “Ahoy to the world!”, the boats headed off toward a downtown marina for a break (and new passengers) before the night’s next two stops. The Christmas Ship will be back in West Seattle for an encore on Monday night (December 15th), 9:15-9:35 pm, just outside Salty’s on Alki (WSB sponsor).
(Possibly the last photo of J32 – at right – by Melisa Pinnow, provided by Orca Network)
11:45 PM: Another death reported tonight among the endangered orcas whose home is Puget Sound and adjacent waters. The orca found dead in British Columbia is identified as a member of J Pod, J32, known as “Rhapsody,” an 18-year-old female. According to reports including this one published by the Vancouver Sun, she might have been pregnant – a necropsy will reveal whether that’s true. J32′s death comes less than two months after the death of baby L120 was reported. The Southern Resident Killer Whales’ total number is now down to 77, much lower than the triple-digit population the official “recovery plan” had envisioned by now, as discussed at this recent talk presented by The Whale Trail.
11:53 PM: We have the full Orca Network news release about J32′s death – click ahead:
Monday afternoon, we showed you the USS John C. Stennis heading past West Seattle, going out for training after the carrier’s quarter-billion-dollar maintenance project.
(Photo by Guy Smith)
Today, we received a photo from Lt. Cmdr. Sarah Higgins in public affairs for the Stennis’s group. She wrote, “Thanks for covering USS Stennis’ departure from Bremerton yesterday! Attached is what our view looked like. Absolutely gorgeous day in the PacNW.”
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Ignacio D. Perez)
Click either photo for a larger view.
1:19 PM: Thanks to Joseph for the tip – he just asked about an aircraft carrier seen heading out from Bremerton; according to our friends at the Kitsap Sun, it’s the USS John C. Stennis, headed out for training after 16 months and $240 million of maintenance work at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
2:07 PM: Thanks also to those who’ve sent photos! First one added (top photo) is ours – it was still in view from Alki, looking north, by the time we headed downhill, but moving fast. Others got even better views:
(Photo by James Bratsanos)
Adding a few more. The Kitsap Sun reports the Stennis will be back before Christmas.
11:34 AM: Orcas are back in Puget Sound today, and might be visible off West Seattle soon. After tips to a sighting off Kingston at midmorning – thanks to our friends at Killer Whale Tales and The Whale Trail for early alerts – we’re seeing mentions via Orca Network FB commenters that they’ve been seen from Discovery Park, still “trending southbound.” Expert advice for today includes using binoculars to watch from bluffs, rather than on the surface. Please let us know if you see them – comment here, or text/voice 206-293-6302; we’ll be looking too.
1:08 PM UPDATE: By multiple reports, including Gary‘s comment here, they’ve turned back northward just as they got close to our area … for now.
12:58 PM: Early alert this time – text reports orcas are “south of Vashon” and headed northbound. No research boat this time because conditions and weather are less than optimal. If you missed the weekend sightings – photos and updates from Saturday are here, video by “Diver Laura” James is here. As always, we appreciate your updates if/when you see them – comment and/or text/call our 24/7 hotline, 206-293-6302!
1:23 PM: And … guess that’s the potential risk with early alerts. They’ve now turned to head through the Tacoma Narrows, southbound. But if that changes later, we’ll update here again.
3:51 PM: According to the Orca Network’s Facebook page, whales are now passing Olalla in Kitsap County, along the passage west of Vashon, northbound. It’s misty/murky looking west from Beach Drive (where we’re working right now) but you never know, they might be in view before nightfall.
No West Seattle sightings today that we’ve heard of, but Saturday, Southern Resident orcas passed our area headed southbound in the morning, and then back northbound in the afternoon (as reported here – thanks again to everyone who shared location updates!). “Diver Laura” James was watching from the Brace Point area during the northbound pass, and shares the video above (we mentioned it briefly in last night’s sea-star report but you might have gone right past the link). Note that the boat with the orcas in the last two minutes was carrying researchers.
(Photo by Trileigh Tucker)
8:53 AM: Southbound orcas were seen from the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry about half an hour ago, according to a thread on the Orca Network Facebook page. That could place them off our shores now or soon. Still blustery out there, so you’ll almost certainly need binoculars (also, sounds like they’re closer to the east side of the Sound). Let us know if you see them!
9:38 AM: In comments, Gary noted them passing Alki Point, and we’ve since received Jeff Hogan (Killer Whale Tales)’s text report of a Lincoln Park-area sighting, still southbound. This time of year, they are chasing the chum salmon run – same one that has brought net fishers into view in the past few weeks – so here’s hoping they are finding the food they need for survival.
(Photo by Paul B)
2:27 PM: See comments for the orcas’ travels since then. Donna Sandstrom from The Whale Trail has just posted on Facebook that they’ve turned back northbound and could be passing south West Seattle shores again by 3 pm if they continue their current path. We’ve also added photos from earlier.
3:37 PM: Donna just called – the whales are visible from Lincoln Park, with the blows visible from this side, and she’s off to the South Alki area in about 10 minutes – look for a pod of people watching from shore (she brings excellent binoculars).
That’s a recent photo of the King County Sheriff’s Office helicopter Guardian One; today, KCSO sends an alert that you might spot it flying along the West Seattle coastline next Tuesday, and that’ll be part of a drill:
Notice of Joint Maritime Training Exercise
On Tuesday November 25th the King County Sheriff’s Office TAC 30 team (our department’s tactical unit) will be hosting a multi-agency maritime operations exercise in the area of the Des Moines waterfront. Citizens may see our helicopter flying from the Alki Point area south to Dumas Bay. Hours of the exercise will be from approximately 8 AM until 5 PM.
The main landing zone for the helicopter will be the Des Moines Marina. Agencies participating in the exercise include the Washington State Patrol, Seattle Police, Bainbridge Island Police, the U.S. Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection and King County Medic One.
There will be numerous law enforcement boats involved in the exercise, along with one boat from Argosy Cruises. The main landing zone for the helicopter will be the Des Moines Marina. During the exercise there will be no public access to the pier.
We’ll remind you again when it gets closer, but for now, just so you know; the law-enforcement boats might be noticed as they head that way, too.
(File photo courtesy Laura James)
Thanks to “Diver Laura” James, who long has worked on the sea-star die-off mystery as a “citizen scientist,” for the tip on this: New scientific research says a virus is the likely culprit in the deaths of so many of what are commonly known as starfish. The Seattle Times (WSB partner) published a report this afternoon, pointing to the research paper itself (read it here), which concludes, “Based on our observations, the densovirus, SSaDV, is the most likely virus involved in this disease.” However, the researchers note, this isn’t a new virus, so they still don’t have the big picture of what’s happening and what it might lead to.
P.S. It’s been a year since Diver Laura first pointed out die-off evidence on West Seattle shores/in West Seattle waters, and she’s continuing to follow up on what’s happening now.
Following up on the West Coast port backup noted here on Monday (the union and terminal operators, still in contract talks, disagree on its cause): The number of cargo ships at anchor in this area has increased tonight. One of the ships that had been off Manchester for a few days, the Hyundai Force, moved on to Tacoma (as shown in Cheryl’s photo above) this afternoon. Two more arrived in that area, so tonight, MarineTraffic.com shows three ships off Manchester, two in Elliott Bay off northeast West Seattle/Harbor Island (the OOCL London, shown here Monday, and the YM March), and two off Magnolia.
(Added: Photo taken tonight by Don Brubeck)
Seattle’s terminals were closed today for the Veterans Day holiday.
While sizable ships anchor off Don Armeni from time to time, seldom have we seen a loaded-with-containers cargo ship there, appearing almost close enough to touch, as did the OOCL London this morning. Over the weekend, Beach Drive Blog pointed out the two cargo ships visible at anchor across the Sound, off Manchester; from West Seattle, you can see two more ships anchored off Magnolia.
It’s a visible effect of an alleged “slowdown” that comes six months into West Coast contract talks between the ILWU, which says it’s “congestion,” and the terminal operators of the Pacific Maritime Association, which accuses the ILWU of “orchestrated job actions.” According to this online schedule, OOCL London was to dock at Terminal 18 yesterday; one of the ships waiting off Manchester, the Hyundai Force, was to dock at T-18 Saturday.
The pace of work is reported to have picked up at both ports today – at the Port of Seattle per its seaport division managing director Linda Stryk in a phone conversation with WSB, and Tacoma per this an updated “operation status” online. Styrk calls the increase in ships at anchor a “snowballing effect” of last week’s “very low productivity,” while adding, “productivity improved over the weekend” but warning “it will take some time to catch up with the snowball effect.” Since the Port’s only role in this is as a “landlord,” as Styrk put it, the best they can do is engage in “advocacy and raising concerns up the flagpole, encouraging both parties to come to terms.” That advocacy, she added, includes making note of the effects the slowdown is having on exports. “People recognize that low productivity is not good for jobs; hopefully the advocacy of impacts will help them keep moving in a more-positive direction.”
TUESDAY AFTERNOON NOTE: The Hyundai Force left Manchester today for Tacoma.
— Wade Harper (@Wade_68) November 5, 2014
1:27 PM: Thanks to two tipsters who have mentioned a lone whale – believed to be a humpback – headed northbound, fairly close to West Seattle’s shore. By Me-Kwa-Mooks on Beach Drive, according to the phone call we just received. Let us know if you see it!
4:43 PM: As commenters noted, it traveled into Elliott Bay. Wade tweeted the photo we’ve added above.
THURSDAY MORNING: 7:30 am sighting near Seahurst in Burien, according to the Orca Network FB page.
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