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Thursday, 01 February 2007 02:17

Killer Whales Off Course, Why?

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thumb_slide19 A group of killer whales has been caught on camera cruising up and down the Northern California coast, traveling unusually far from their feeding grounds, scientists said. Photos taken last week show about a dozen killer whales in two family-group pods swimming off Half Moon Bay. It's a rare sight off the Central California coast -- but why they're here is even more unusual. Killer whales, or orcas, have been seen in this area less than a half dozen times in the past seven years. And when they were here, they were seen feeding on elephant seals. This time, they're after another prey. "These killer whales may actually have followed the Sacramento run of Chinook salmon from the Pacific Northwest down here," said Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations. The killer whales in prior visits were just passing through. Biologists said these whales have been positively identified as ones that normally make their home in Washington's Puget Sound.

slide20 The whales are looking for other sources of salmon after the collapse of the Klamath River salmon fishery, Grader said. "The fishery collapsed not because of fishing or even sea lions or killer whales but because of bad water policy that created the situation where a parasite took over and killed off most of the salmon," he added. The Klamath die-off led to the cancellation of the 2006 commercial salmon season all along the West Coast, even though there were plenty of fish coming from the Sacramento River. The intent was to protect the few remaining fish from the Klamath stock that mingled with their Sacramento cousins.

slide22 Tuesday, federal officials announced a plan that could result in the removal of Klamath River dams. Salmon would once again be free to swim upstream and spawn, but the dam removal process could take 8 to 10 years. "Unlike what we did in Iraq -- where we could send in a B-1 (bomber) and take out eight dams on the Tigris and Euphrates River in one day -- we can't just order in a B-1 strike on this river," Grader said. Fishermen said restoration of the Klamath stock is good news for the long term, but that's not going to help them this year. "I think realistically we're looking at another bad year only because the runs in the Klamath look very bad," Grader said. And it isn't just Klamath salmon that are threatened. Fishermen said new diversions of water from the Delta could cause the whole salmon system to collapse.

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CBS contributed to this story
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