You may have read in the local news that we recently had a deceased fin whale wash ashore near the port of LA in San Pedro on Friday, April 10th. With the response from the NOAA West Coast Stranding Network and some initial observations, it looks like the whale died from blunt force trauma and suffered internal injuries. The researchers concluded that this was the result of a ship strike and the whale may have been struck, and then dragged into the harbor. The whale was on the shore near the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium where it was recently being necropsied, a kind of animal ‘autopsy’, and studied.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. One of the major reasons is the close proximity between the ports, the shipping lanes, and the animals’ feeding areas; the urban ocean. Because these incidents are not just happening in our own backyard (four blue whales were killed in the Santa Barbara channel back in 2007, and five more whales in 2010), researchers have come together to study these ship strikes. This is where the Aquarium of the Pacific comes into the picture! We have collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective which is where all of our photo processing, GPS coordinates and behavior data the whale photo ID interns collect all year round goes. With these data and other data collected by researchers, it was proposed to move the shipping lanes away from the trajectory of the whales back in June 2013. One of the leading Cascadia Researchers that we work with, John Calambokidis, thinks this is a good first step in saving these endangered whales. Though these ship strikes make our hearts ache, there is good coming from it: we can study large baleen whales more closely and tissue samples may help us correlate their health and our local ocean’ health, more awareness is made for these whales, and more cases are reported for the potential movement of more shipping lanes.
Locally, the whales that are reported to be struck the most are fin whales. Fin whales are found year round off of our coast and will often be feeding on krill and small fish near the shipping lanes, and other deep water area, during our whale watch trips. We have actually been seeing tons of them! I was lucky enough to be out on the boat a few days ago while the fin whales were feeding among other marine animals. When we spot these frenzies from afar, we first see LOTS of splashing from marine birds ‘dive bombing’ for the fish, then we usually see small dorsal fins of dolphins, brown bodies of sea lions, and sometimes even sharks and whales feeding all in the same place!
Along with the fin whales, we have been seeing a lot of northbound gray whales with new calves in tow! We have also been seeing humpback whales, a few more blues, and lots of dolphins! We have some great photos featured this week by the always talented Harbor Breeze staff, Tim Hammond and Erik Combs, along with our Aquarium photo ID interns. We would love to have you on board if it is your first time, or your tenth, so come on out and have an adventure with us out on the ocean blue!