By Dan Bacher, IndyBay
October 24, 2009
Environmentalists and fishermen on California’s North Coast are calling for an independent investigation into the killing of an endangered blue whale off Fort Bragg by a mapping survey boat contracted by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
The 72-foot female blue whale, a new mother, perished on Monday, October 19, after being hit by the 78-foot Pacific Star, under contract to NOAA to update maps of the ocean floor
Jim Milbury, spokesman for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, said the boat was doing multi-beam echo sounder surveys to update marine charts and to determine the habitat to be used in state and federal marine protected area designations.
“We know that the whale’s death was caused by the collision with the boat because the boat crew called us to report the collision,” said Milbury. “After the collision, the dead whale washed up on the beach off Fort Bragg.”
Multibeam echo sounders (MBES), like other sonar systems, transmit sound energy and analyze the return signal (echo) that has bounced off the seafloor or other objects, according to NOAA's Office of Coast Survey. Multibeam sonars emit sound waves from directly beneath a ship's hull to produce fan-shaped coverage of the seafloor.
Collisions with boats are relatively infrequent, but the Fort Bragg blue whale was the second to perish from a collision with a boat this fall and the fifth to die off the California coast this fall. On October 12, a 50-foot blue whale was found floating in a kelp bed off Big Sur along the Monterey County coast after an undetermined vessel hit it.
Three other whales washed up on southern California beaches in September. As biologists investigate the deaths, ocean advocates blame the U.S. Navy for conducting tests of high-powered sonar devices believed to cause unbearable pain to whales and other ocean mammals.
The National Geographic and other media outlets gushed that the Fort Bragg blue whale’s death provided a unique opportunity for scientists to study a whale.
“Though unable to move the blue whale, scientists and students are leaping at the research opportunity, scrambling down rock faces to take tissue samples and eventually one of the 11-foot-long (3.5-meter-long) flippers,” according to “Blue Whale Beached – Flipper to Be Amputated by Ted Chamberlain (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/10/091022-blue-whale-washed-ashore-picture-california.html).
However, fishermen, environmentalists and seaweed harvesters are outraged that the vessel, conducting surveys designed to designate habitat to be included in no-fishing zones that will kick Indian Tribes, fishermen and seaweed harvesters off their traditional areas, was negligent in trying to avoid a collision with the whale. Many believe that the sonar beams coming from the boat may have disoriented the whale, causing it to collide with the boat.
Beth Mitchell, Fort Bragg resident and the FERC coordinator of Fishermen Interested in Safe Hydrokinetics (FISH), said the recent collision by the NOAA contract boat was “almost unbelievable to me.”
“The whale was essentially the same size as the boat,” she stated. “Whales are pretty easy to see when you're out on the water, and even much smaller ones are easily seen. This one was huge.”
Blue whales are the largest mammals on Earth and possibly the largest animals ever, according to the American Cetacean Society Web site, http://www.acsonline.org.
Fearing the endangered animals could soon become extinct, the International Whaling Commission banned all hunting of blue whales in 1966. There are now an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 blue whales in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest known blue whale measured 106 feet long and 200 tons. Whales are an average life span of 80 to 90 years.
David Gurney, in his article on the Ocean Protection Coalition website (http://www.oceanprotection.org), demanded a full and independent investigation of the incident.
“Only the captain and crew of the Pacific Star know the truth of what they were doing out there that day,” said Gurney. “But according to Joe Cordaro of NOAA, the chartered vessel for the MLPA will be investigated by the Enforcement Division of, you guessed it, NOAA. Unless the public demands a full inquiry and investigation, we may never know.”
Local environmentalists and fishermen have decided to name the dead whale "Jane" after Jane Lubchenko, the NOAA administrator who is running the federal fishery “management” scheme that resulted in the whale's death.
“The NOAA vessel was mapping both federal and state waters, and part of that data will be used in the MLPA process,” said Jim Martin, West Coast Regional Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance. “I guarantee you she wants to have a federal MPA process to close large chunks of the ocean out to 200 miles. The state MLPA process is just the beginning.”
The RFA, Ocean Protection Coalition and other conservation groups have asked for a suspension of Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's fast-track MLPA process, due to lack of dedicated funding, numerous conflicts of interests by MLPA decision makers and the lack of clarity about what type of activities are allowed in reserves. This tragic incident only highlights the urgent need to suspend the corrupt and out-of-control MLPA corporate greenwashing process that is opposed by the vast majority of North Coast residents.
“How many blue whales must be killed in the name of so-called ‘ocean protection,’” asked Martin. “How many of these beautiful and magnificent animals must be sacrificed at the altar of corporate-funded marine 'protection'?”
Martin emphasized, “The whale is a metaphor for North Coast communities who have been run over by NOAA, an agency on auto pilot. The Department of Fish and Game is riding their coattails using this habitat data in the MLPA process.”
Among the communities of the North Coast dramatically impacted by the corrupt MLPA process is the Kashia Pomo Tribe, who have sustainably harvested seaweed, mussels and abalone off Stewarts Point for centuries. However, the California Fish and Game Commission in August, under orders from Governor Arnold Schwarzeneger, banned the Kashia Tribe, seaweed harvesters, fishermen and abalone divers from their traditional harvesting areas in Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
As Lester Pinola, past chairman of the Kashia Rancheria, said in a public hearing prior to the Commission August 5 vote, “What you are doing to us is taking the food out of our mouths. When the first settlers came to the coast, they didn’t how to feed themselves. Our people showed them how to eat out of the ocean. In my opinion, this was a big mistake.”
Everybody who cares about the health of our oceans and coastal communities should support a full, independent and impartial investigation of the killing of "Jane " the whale by a NOAA contract boat. At the same time, the MLPA process, rife with conflict of interests, mission creep and corruption of the democratic process, should be immediately suspended.
"How ironic it is that a rare blue whale was killed by the people who say they want to 'protect marine life,'" concluded Martin.