Ashley Ahearn

Few people know the orcas of Puget Sound as well as Ken Balcomb.

A researcher with the Center for Whale Research on Washington state's San Juan Island, Balcomb has been studying the whales for more than 30 years.

It takes Balcomb only a few seconds of listening to the squeaks and whistles of underwater whale recordings to recognize the different pods of orcas.

In one recording, Balcomb identifies the group known as the L Pod — the family many people in the area are talking about right now.

Cascadia Research

Scientists are still trying to pinpoint the cause of death for a young female orca that washed up near Long Beach, Washington in February.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report today with details from the whale’s necropsy.

Right now scientists still aren’t sure what caused the death of orca L112, also known as “Victoria”.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

All this warm weather is making for a lot of shiny happy people in Western Washington. Turns out the algae in the waters of Puget Sound are feeling the same way. Ashley Ahearn reports that algal blooms are making one scientist take note.

In the early part of the 20th century, when many Northwestern rivers were dammed, fish hatcheries provided a way to keep salmon in rivers. But now an estimated 5 billion hatchery fish are released into the Pacific every year. A collection of research released Monday highlights possible concerns about how all those hatchery fish might be impacting wild stocks. Ashley Ahearn reports.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

Honeybees have run into some trouble. Diseases, funguses and pesticides are just some of the factors scientists believe may be contributing to the decline of these insects nation-wide. But honeybees play a critical role in pollinating everything from the Washington apple crop to the flowers in your back yard. Ashley Ahearn reports on one booming business that’s bringing bees back to the urban environment. Care to borrow a bee?

Twelve years ago, BP built a second dock at its Cherry Point refinery north of Bellingham, WA. But they didn’t do an assessment of what that added dock capacity would mean for tanker traffic in Washington waters. Now the Army Corps of Engineers has released a long-awaited study that does just that. Ashley Ahearn reports.

As the weather warms up, cruise ships will begin arriving at the Port of Seattle. More than 200 ships are scheduled to visit the port this year, bringing millions of dollars in tourist revenue. In the past those ships have also brought wastewater into Puget Sound. But this year, the regulations are a little bit stricter. Ashley Ahearn reports.

Jellyfish populations are on the rise, globally. That’s according to a new study from the University of British Columbia. But, as Ashley Ahearn reports, it’s too soon to say if that’s the case in the Northwest.

Photo credit: Ashley Ahearn / KUOW

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Canadian pipeline operators are considering expanding the line that brings oil from the Alberta Oil Sands to western British Columbia. Environmentalists and others say that raises the potential for oil spills in Northwest waters and, it involves a different type of oil.

Right now the Trans Mountain pipeline moves 300,000 barrels of oil per day to an export terminal near Vancouver, B.C. If the Canadian government approves the expansion that amount could almost triple. More oil in the pipeline means more oil loaded onto large tanker ships. Those ships will eventually head out the Strait of Juan De Fuca to the Pacific.

Photo credit: Wikimedia user Kalev Kevad / Wikimedia Commons

Officials have launched an investigation into the death of a young female orca from a pod of the endangered marine mammals in Puget Sound. The orca washed up near Washington’s Long Beach in February. The cause of her death is controversial.

Ashley Ahearn / N3

Six ports in the Northwest are now considering building export terminals to bring American coal to Asian markets. One of those ports is Grays Harbor – west of Olympia. 5 million tons of coal could move through that port each year. If that coal is burned in places like China that would be the same as putting about two and a half million new cars on the road. But the new terminal represents much-needed jobs in this county – and that has people talking.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA -- Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has introduced a bill to get one thousand acres of the San Juan Islands declared a National Conservation Area. Ashley Ahearn reports.

Public health officials have their hands full keeping your clam chowder and raw oysters safe. That's due, in part, to red tides.

Red tides happen nearly every year as coastal waters warm, killing fish and poisoning shellfish along U.S. coasts. They're not actually tides; they're huge blooms of naturally occurring toxic algae.

Photo by Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network

BELLINGHAM, Wash. -- There are now six new export terminals proposed to be built along the Northwest coast. The goal? To bring American coal to Asia, via train and ship.

If these terminals are approved that could mean more than 100 million tons of coal traveling by rail across Idaho, Washington and Oregon every year.

The potential for more train traffic has public health experts concerned. EarthFix reporters Ashley Ahearn and Courtney Flatt have the story.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

BELLINGHAM -- SSA Marine has submitted a permit application to build a bulk export terminal in Bellingham.

If approved, the terminal will be large enough to handle up to 54 million metric tons per year.

That could include wheat and grains but the majority will be coal. It will be delivered by train from mines in Wyoming and Montana – and then shipped out of Washington to Asian markets.

Ashley

Photo courtesy of US Navy 2008

Right now the Navy is allowed to use sonar for testing and training exercises off the Northwest coast and down to Northern California. There is evidence that using sonar may interfere with marine mammal behavior – and even damage hearing and cause stranding. But the Navy’s use of sonar could change if it doesn’t get its permits renewed by 2015.

Photo credit: Katie Campbell / Photo courtesy Northwest News Network

SEATTLE, Wash. -- Here’s some trivia – name the natural resource that provided 28 million dollars to the state of Washington last year. Nope, not timber.

Think shellfish… but not just any shellfish. Geoducks. These huge, funny-looking clams are harvested wild from below the surface of Puget Sound - and they’re fetching high prices in Asia. Ashley Ahearn reports.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

COLUMBIA RIVER, Wash. -- There are hundreds of abandoned or sunken ships in Northwest waters. These vessels can threaten navigation, human safety and the environment. But state agencies in the region are only equipped to handle part of the problem. Ashley Ahearn reports.

Photo by Ashley Ahearn / Northwest News Network

SKYKOMISH RIVER, Wash. -- The Skykomish is one of the only major rivers in Washington that has not been dammed for hydropower. The river runs from the Cascade Mountains and empties into Northern Puget Sound. It’s a hot spot for wildlife and outdoor recreation. It could also be a hotspot for hydropower. Ashley Ahearn reports.

SEATTLE - Washington’s King County has released a detailed report that tallies up the total amount of Greenhouse Gases it emitted in 2008.

These emissions come from homes, industry, transportation – and our personal shopping decisions. And they are changing the global climate.

Photo credit US Geological Survey

There are more mountain goats in Olympic National Park than there have been for the past 20 years. That’s according to a new report released today by the US Geological Survey. Ashley Ahearn reports.

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