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Whale deaths, ships, and LNG

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  • Paul Jenkin
    John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research / Courtesy photo A blue A blue whale surfaces in the Santa
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2007

       John Calambokidis, Cascadia Research / Courtesy photo
A blue 

      A blue whale surfaces in the Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes. As research biologist John Calambokidis was monitoring the whale, a massive cargo ship headed straight for his 18-foot skiff and the whale.


      And as concerns over the recent blue whale deaths continue, the next LNG proposal hearing application will be heard Wednesday, October 3rd at 5:30 PM. Oxnard Performing Arts Center 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard.

      Recent news article is below, but first this message from the Sierra Club:

      Three Blue Whales killed by freighters in a month. Two Whales in two weeks in our Santa Barbara/Channel Islands Channel. These whales are feeding in the Channel. Now NorthernStar Energy Company is bidding to refurbish Platform Grace, [which was supposed to be decommissioned] to create their spin name “Clearwater LNG Port.”

      NorthernStar claims only 2 or 3 ships [each longer than 3 football fields] a week are scheduled to pump in Liquid Natural Gas shipped from around the world, using toxic polluting bunker fuel. This LNG will be re-gassified, pumped to Oxnard and routed around the U.S.

      According to Star Reporter, Zeke Barlow’s article, more than 7,000 freighters take a short cut through the Santa Barbara/Channel Islands Channel each year, many speeding along at 25 and 30 miles per hour. No quick stopping, no quick turns, just huge machines plowing through our channel. No wonder we have so much pollution in the channel, not to mention what they send out in our coastline air.

      It’s high time we reroute those freighter around the outside of the islands to protect and restore our channel. And we certainly do not need to add 2, 3, or more LNG tankers to the mix. SAY NO TO SHIPPING IN THE CHANNEL, SAY NO TO LNG PORTS.

      NorthernStar LNG hearing application will be heard Wednesday, October 3rd at 5:30 PM. Oxnard Performing Arts Center 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard. Please join the Sierra Club and NO LNG Alliance to protest LNG Projects.
      Feel free to contact me for more information;

      JIM HENSLEY, President
      Greater Oxnard Organization of Democrats "GOOD CLUB"
      Deputy District Director, League of United Latin American Citizens [LULAC]
      Activist, Sierra Club/NO LNG Alliance
      PO BOX 128
      VENTURA, CA 93035
      [h] 805-382-7659
      [c] 805-794-0517


      Whales' deaths spur questions on ship speed
      By Zeke Barlow
      Sunday, September 30, 2007

      John Calambokidis was tracking a blue whale through the Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes two weeks ago when he experienced a problem similar to one the world's largest creatures are facing.

      As the research biologist was monitoring the whale, a massive cargo ship headed straight for Calambokidis, his 18-foot skiff and the whale.

      "We had to move because we were on a collision course with the ship," he said, mindful that he had to give right of way.

      He wonders about what happened to the whale he was watching, as well as all the others in the channel this time of year.

      "These animals have not evolved with this kind of a threat present, so they are not adapted to dealing with ships going this fast," said Calambokidis, who has been studying blue whales for more than 20 years.

      Since three blue whales have died off the Southern California coast this month, including two off Ventura County ­ all of which were either confirmed or greatly suspected to be killed by ship strikes ­ biologists are scrambling to see what, if anything, can or should be done to protect the endangered species swimming through one of the country's busiest shipping lanes. Some want changes in the channel immediately, while others say it is premature to alter policies based on three whales.

      Likely hit by a ship

      When the third whale was spotted floating off oil Platform Gail last week, the death prompted the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an "unusual mortality event," triggering a wave of scientists to start examining what is happening in the channel.

      Midway through a necropsy on a whale that was towed to Naval Base Ventura County at Point Mugu, a biologist reached into the carcass and pulled out two 12-inch sections of ribs that had been shattered after it was likely hit by a ship. Blood and tissue samples were sent to Seattle, South Carolina, Tennessee and Maine to see if the whale was somehow otherwise sick, which may have led to the collision.

      Any reaction to Navy sonar testing has been ruled out, and it had no signs of poisoning from domoic acid, said Michelle Berman, assistant curator for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History who is coordinating the research efforts.

      While everyone is waiting to see what the other tests show, the reality is that there is an abundance of whales in an area that has more than 7,000 massive cargo ships passing through it every year on the way to ports in Long Beach, Los Angeles and Port Hueneme. Blue whales move through the channel every year, but many tour boats this year have reported an unusually high number feeding on abundant krill.

      "I think they are just feeding in the shipping lanes, and they are focused on eating and not paying attention and not hearing the ships," Berman said.

      Krill close to surface

      Some whales are essentially roadkill on an ocean highway.

      Baleen whales like blues do not have echolocation organs that let them use sonar to detect far-away objects. When they are frightened, they will sometimes go to the surface, where strikes are more likely. All of the whales killed were sub-adults ­ essentially teenagers ­ and may not be used to living in areas with heavy boat traffic.

      When Calambokidis was doing census counts recently, he found the krill the whales feed on was relatively close to the surface, which could be a factor. During two different periods, he spotted more than 150 whales feeding in the shipping lanes.

      While blue whales can swim as fast as 20 knots, they are usually skimming the surface at 3 to 5 knots. Ships in the channel have been seen going as fast as 30 knots, he said.

      There are no speed limits in the channel, and in response to the deaths the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the federal government to establish some.

      "The single most effective thing we can do to protect blue whales is to slow down large ships," Brendan Cummings, oceans program director with the group, said in a prepared statement.

      Calambokidis, who works with Cascadia Research, also said a restriction on speeds could potentially be effective.

      Flyovers of channel

      However, Berman said it's too soon to jump to any larger conclusions about what needs to happen in the channel. To make any regulatory changes based on three instances when all the facts aren't yet known might be premature, she said.

      Dick McKenna, deputy executive director of the Marine Exchange, which works with the state and the U.S. Coast Guard to monitor traffic in parts of the channel, said there is a voluntary speed reduction to 12 knots in the channel to limit air pollution, but that is not enforced. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Coast Guard sent messages that are being relayed to all ships in the channel to be extra vigilant for whales this time of year. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is coordinating flyovers of the channel to better monitor whale interactions with ships.

      Other considerations are being made, such as a possible buffer zone, although nothing is certain, said Joe Cordaro, a Fisheries Service wildlife biologist. Passing any kind of meaningful regulations is hard because so many national and international groups are involved in the shipping issue. The Fisheries Service would have the ultimate power to establish limits because they revolve around an endangered species issue.

      'Time to start discussions'

      After four fin whales were killed by ship strikes off Washington in 2002, there was a lot of discussion about what could be done but little action, said Calambokidis.

      "How many blue whales hit by ships is too many?" Cordaro said. "If we go another month without another incident, it will fall back down on the meter, but we have to start thinking about what to do if we have a fourth in the next few weeks."

      Of the 21 blue whales found dead in Southern California since 1980, only about five were due to ship strikes, Cordaro said.

      And while the deaths of three whales doesn't dramatically damage a population estimated to be around 2,000, Calambokidis wonders how many whales could have been hit that were never seen.

      "There are probably many more that go undocumented," he said.

      He's planning to add a new component to his research on whales in the channel: where they feed in relation to the ships and how the whales act when they see ships.

      Whatever other factors feed into the deaths of the whales, the one constant is they are in an area that has lots of ship traffic.

      "With the whale concentration in Santa Barbara Channel on a fairly regular basis and it being one of the busiest shipping lanes, it would make sense to do something here," Calambokidis said. "It's a good time to start discussions."

      Paul Jenkin
      Environmental Director
      Surfrider Foundation Ventura County Chapter
      Coordinator, Matilija Coalition
      (805) 648-4005   pjenkin@...

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