Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Blue Whales and ships in the SB Channel

A recently released National Geographic film, Kingdom of the Blue Whale, documents the study of these whales in the Santa Barbara Channel and the successful research that led to the discovery of their breeding and calving waters off the coast of Costa Rica. (Also available on Netflix) It also included film and discussion of the whales that washed ashore here almost exactly two years ago.

This weekend I took out-of-town guests on an Island Packers trip to Anacapa Island, 9 miles off the coast of Oxnard. We had the incredible good fortune of seeing a pod of perhaps a dozen blue whales, including at least one mother and calf that were closest to the boat. Our guide said it is rare to see such a concentration in the southern channel.

We expected to see them on the way back, an hour later, but nothing to be seen... The captain said he thought it was because four tanker/container ships had passed through the channel in that hour, and the whales had probably sounded (dived deep) and moved on...

I asked him if they had had any ship strikes since the incidents a couple of years ago, and he didn't seem to think there had been any. At the time there was much speculation that Low Frequency Sonar operated by the navy led to the death of these whales. Seeing how sensitive they are to the presence of large ships and quick they are to move away certainly makes that case...

This Friday the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council will review and hopefully adopt recommendations to reduce the threat of ship strikes on large cetacenas in the Santa Barbara Channel. The subcommittee has been working for over a year to develop a report & recommendations on this topic.

A ship strike plan for the sanctuary should include independent monitoring for sonar activity to detect its use in the Sanctuary.

Sanctuary Advisory Council Meeting
Friday, September 18, 2009 9:00 am – 4:00 pm
Casa Las Palmas
323 E. Cabrillo Blvd · Santa Barbara, CA