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Jun 19 2015
Sizable Fin Whale Die-Off Around Kodiak a Mystery PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 19 June 2015
A dead fin whale calf photographed in late May floating near Afognak Island is thought to be one of a group that mysteriously died around that time in Kodiak Archipelago waters. Photo by Zoya Saltonstall 
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Jay Barrett/KMXT
At least 10 Fin whales are dead, having fallen victim to a mysterious affliction that seems to have killed them all near Kodiak Island. Kate Wynn, marine mammal specialist with the University of Alaska in Kodiak, said all the whales seemed to have met their fate at the same time and place.

“The evidence suggests that all of these whales that we've found died at about the same time, which is like the third week of May, around the 20th, in a short period of time in a fairly localized area, and that's about all we know right now. So it rules out a couple of things. And the fact that the carcass are intact, it rules out killer whale predation," Wynn said. "But other than that, we're at a loss.”

The area the whales were found were all south of Afognak Island, the second largest in the Kodiak Archipelago, just north of Kodiak Island.

“Some have been on the Shelikof side, some have been on the east side. But they're all pretty much south of say, Marmot Strait, straight across Afognak," she said. "And so it could be somewhere in there they were feeding together. But it seems to be there and everything is downstream of that.”

All the dead whales spotted have been adults, except one calf and a couple of sub-adults, with a mix of genders. It's the feeding that Wynn thinks may be the most likely culprit in their death.

“It suggests that there's something, a feeding group of fin whales ran into a toxin, or bio-toxin, human caused, induced, toxin, something that they were exposed to together in a short period of time," Wynn said. "So we're looking at water temperature, harmful algae bloom possibilities. But there's a lot of things that don't add up with that theory. Mainly that we don't find the prey species dead on the beach or other species that would be eating the same prey, dying.”

Fin whales, the second-largest species after Blue Whales, are filter-feeders, meaning they strain tiny sea life in its baleen to eat. They do not eat larger seafood such as salmon or halibut.

Wynn said that a colleague at the Marine Advisory Program in Kodiak is checking for evidence of paralytic shellfish poisoning. 

“Right now Julie Matweyou, who's our local PSP and domoic acid expert is working with us," she said. "We're taking water samples and trying to keep track of what's going on with the phytoplankton all the way up through the food web to see if we see another sign of this happening.”

At least four of the whales have beached, Wynn said, but she doesn't think bears already feeding on them are in danger.

She added that the public's help has been especially helpful in keeping track of all the fatalities.

“They're coming in from pilots, from enforcement people, Coast Guard ship people, the ferry pilots have turned in reports and photos, hikers, yachtsmen," Wynn said. "All sorts of people are turning in photos with latitude and longitude and dates, and so we've been able to track some of these carcasses and not double count the whales that way. So it's been incredibly helpful.”

Blubber and muscle samples, and an eyeball, recovered from one whale has been sent for laboratory examination, and Wynn says results might be available next week. 
Jun 19 2015
Borough Assembly Discusses The Subsistence Access Management Act of 2015 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 19 June 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT
A bill that could affect communities’ rural status and their subsistence rights turned out to be a controversial item at last night’s Kodiak Island Borough Assembly regular meeting.

Senator Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young introduced the bill, titled “The Subsistence Access Management Act of 2015”, which would disallow changing a community to an urban designation unless authorized by Congress. Losing rural status could remove qualification for subsistence rights in communities like Kodiak, which is labeled as legally rural despite being a city.

The ordinance on the agenda moved to support the act, but several audience members stepped up to speak against it.

Coral Chernoff serves on the regional advisory committee for the Kodiak Aleutians area and says the bill seems to be sidestepping the system Alaskans already have in place.

“There’s lots of people around this state who are involved in subsistence, who are involved in boards, who are involved in U.S. fish and wildlife services that already look at all these issues very, very closely,” says Chernoff. “I’d like to see that remain so. Just from talking and emailing around, it seems like the regional advisory councils didn’t even know this was happening.”

Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner says she also serves on the Kodiak Aleutians regional advisory council and recently met with members. She says having these status decisions made by people as far removed as Washington D.C. is not a good idea.

“The focus is on having local control, so having really the local RACs having kinda the say to determine if the community is rural or not because they’re the people in the community, they know the characteristics of the community, and there was a lot of concern with having those determinations made by people that don’t live in the communities,” says Skinner.
Borough Manger Bud Cassidy recommended the assembly postpone the decision on the ordinance.        

“I have to agree, it sounds good on its face, but having done a little more investigation, there’s a lot of issues here and, with the people I’ve talked with, [it] doesn’t like the regional advisory council really has complete knowledge about this,” says Cassidy. “And I think I’m gonna call our DC lobbyist tomorrow really explaining some of the testimony we had tonight, some of the concern about implementing this.”

Assemblywoman Chris Lynch supported dedicating more time to consider the bill’s consequences and any possible alternatives.

“At the very least, I would like to move to this postponement, so that we can see if we need to develop another approach and if we do in fact need to make a recommendation for some other action, then at least we can have a discussion and do that at a work session,” says Lynch.

The assembly agreed to postpone the ordinance to its next regular meeting on July 2.
Jun 18 2015
The Alaska Fisheries Report PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 June 2015

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Coming up this week, fishermen all across Bristol Bay are gearing up for what is appearing to be a big run, a Valdez cannery has agreed to a small fine for discharge violations, and some relief for small-boat fishermen when it comes to carrying observers – maybe in three years. We had help from KCHU's Marcia Lynn in Valdez, KDLG's Matt Martin and Molly Dischner scattered about Bristol Bay, and KCAW's Robert Woolsey firmly ensconced in Sitka. 

Jun 18 2015
Assembly Meeting Preview: Subsistence Status and Garbage Fees PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 June 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak’s subsistence rights and its garbage fees will be on the table for the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly’s regular meeting tonight. Borough Manager Bud Cassidy says the Assembly will discuss a subsistence access resolution that supports a bill Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced. He says Kodiak gears up every decade to defend its rural nature.

“There’s always a tendency to try to put Kodiak in an urban category which means we wouldn’t be able to perform subsistence use of fish and game, so her bill really discusses how an act of congress is required before there is a change from rural to urban.”

Cassidy says the bill will have lasting consequences for Kodiak, and adds the decision on the resolution will probably be postponed until the next regular meeting because a regional advisory committee wants to discuss it at more length.   

He says the Assembly will also vote to reestablish borough fees, which will include a minor increase to garbage charges.

“And it depends on what size roll cart you have, but it’s pretty modest and it really is a reflection of all the work that we’ve done out there at the landfill,” says Cassidy. “We’ve put in a 32 million dollar wastewater treatment plant that has to do with treating all liquids that come from garbage. We have to treat it to State of Alaska drinking water standards, and that was obviously a pretty expensive project.”

Cassidy also wants the public to know that they can deliver their garbage directly to the landfill even in large quantities.

“If you have 500 pounds of garbage or construction debris, you’re allowed to take it to the landfill for free on a daily basis,” says Cassidy. “We have people who drive past the landfill and dump it in places where they shouldn’t be dumping it, and in fact it’s free if you take it to the landfill.”

According to the resolution on the agenda, 501 pounds or greater will now be $215 per ton. You can tune into the assembly’s regular meeting at 7:30 tonight on KMXT, 100.1 FM or streaming live at kmxt.org.
Jun 18 2015
City Council Settles on Budget PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 18 June 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

Kodiak City Manager Aimée Kniaziowski read aloud from a memo during last week’s Kodiak City Council regular meeting and announced that the city’s expenses and revenue will balance out to the same number for the coming year’s budget.

“The FY2016 Budget projects combined revenues from all funds excluding capital projects to be $38,034,750, which is a decrease of 8 percent from FY2015’s combined budget revenues of $41,471,414,” she says.

Kniaziowski nodded to the challenge of compiling this year’s budget, but praised the staff’s achievement in maintaining the same departments and community assistance Kodiak has enjoyed in the past.

“I will say that we’ve managed to provide the city, the community with another lean budget and minimal staffing without affecting the services,” says Kniaziowski. We continue to be able to provide the services per both years’ budget goals and I think the staff’s commitment to the city.”

She says one of the barriers has been the loss of state aid even as costs increase.

“We’re all concerned about that,” says Kniaziowski. “Kodiak hasn’t been hit as hard as some communities, but we certainly are expecting some major reductions in intergovernmental transfers.”

The city council voted to adopt the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The city council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.
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