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Whale Struck by Mapping Vessel

Statement date: October 28, 2009
For more information, contact: Dawn Forsythe, 301-713-2780 x146, dawn.forsythe@noaa.gov

Whale struck by vessel mapping California’s ocean bottom

On October 19, a vessel mapping the ocean floor struck a blue whale about 1.3 miles off the coast of California. A few hours later, the 70-foot female whale washed ashore near Fort Bragg, about seven miles down the coast.

The following is a statement by Captain Steven R. Barnum, director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey.

We were saddened to learn of the unfortunate whale death, and we are committed to learning as much as we can. To that end, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement in Santa Rosa is conducting an investigation into the circumstances regarding this incident. In the meantime, this is what we know now.

The hydrographic survey vessel was mapping the ocean floor off the California coast, under a contract managed by NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. The survey is contributing to an essential multi-year cooperative effort between NOAA and the State of California. The data acquired in support of the California Seafloor Mapping Project will enhance efforts to manage marine ecosystems and coastal resources, identify obstructions to navigation, and better understand the California coast’s unique natural hazards.

Fugro Pelagos, a private survey company headquartered in San Diego, chartered the vessel. The Pacific Star, operated by Ocean Services of Seattle, reports that it was traveling on a straight course in the vicinity of Ft. Bragg, Calif., approximately 1.3 nautical miles offshore at the time of the incident. The water depth was about 90 meters. In an official report to NOAA, Fugro’s operation manager reports that the vessel was traveling at a speed of 5.5 knots, or about 6 miles per hour, and that the crew did not see the whale prior to the strike.

This is the first documented whale strike in any Fugro survey operation, worldwide.

Every whale loss is a sad event. It is especially sad to lose such a magnificent creature while mapping ocean floors as a step in protecting marine life. At the same time, we are reminded of the ocean challenges we face. With increasing maritime traffic, and multiplying uses of ocean habitat, we must work together to increase our understanding of coastal areas.

This ship was collecting data that contributes to a wide range of conservation activities. It supports monitoring of marine reserves and marine protected areas. It helps federal, state and local officials manage marine fisheries and regulate coastal development. It helps us understand coastal erosion and update nautical charts. And, with the data, scientists can significantly improve assessments of earthquake and tsunami hazards, and help prepare for sea-level rise.

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NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey
IUCN Red List (of endangered species)

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