Speed limits for cargo ships transiting to and from the Long Beach-Los Angeles port complex?
- Long Beach Press TelegramOn the WaterfrontWhales' deaths spur call for speed limitArticle Launched: 10/02/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT
A necropsy on the third blue whale - discovered Sept. 21 in Ventura - confirms that the creature was killed after being hit by a cargo ship in the Santa Barbara Channel, where hundreds of whales are now feeding.
"The cranium was essentially smashed and there was extensive damage to the skeleton, such that during the excavation process, broken ribs were falling out," the Center for Biological Diversity reports.
Further examination showed the creature was alive on impact. "Also, there were large dark stains in the muscle and tissue indicating that the whale bled internally and death was instant," the necropsy concludes.
Another blue whale was found floating in the Long Beach Harbor Sept. 8, with a third discovered days later on a Ventura County beach.
Both suffered injuries conclusive with a ship strike.
A few hundred blue whales, the world's largest mammal and one of its most endangered, have been spotted in the channel this year to eat an unusually abundant supply of krill.
Blues weigh up to 200,000 pounds and grow more than 100 feet in length. The local group typically migrates south for the winter about early September but, for reasons unknown, the whales have hung around this year.
Early speculation was that the whales may have been disoriented from domoic acid poisoning or by Navy sonar, although those theories have proved unfounded, said the center's Brendan Cummings.
It now appears the adolescent males were simply unaware of the approaching danger.
"It's like picking flowers on the freeway and a big-rig comes bearing down on you," Cummings said. "They likely just didn't have the life experience to know any better."
On behalf of the center, Cummings filed a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Services requesting temporary rules restricting speed ships to 10 knots or less in the channel.
Research shows 80 percent of whales struck by a cargo ship traveling 10 knots or less survive, but that figure declines to just 20 percent when speed is 17 knots or higher.
So far, the feds have not intervened, although a warning was put out by the Coast Guard last week advising ship captains of the situation.