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Whale Removal
updated: Oct 24, 2012, 10:00 AM

By Bonnie Freeman, More Mesa Shores Newsletter

IT TAKES A COUNTY The Anatomy of a Beached Whale Removal

Wednesday, October 17, 2012. A call came into Santa Barbara County Animal Services reporting a deceased whale had washed up on the beaches of More Mesa Shores, a private community in the unincorporated area of the county. Due to the Lookout Mountain fire that was consuming all the emergency services, it went into the next day when SB County Animal Services Director Jan E. Glick was able to consult with other county agencies to put a plan together.

There have been very rare cases like this and policy says to contact the Natural History Museum first. Michelle Berman, Associate Curator, did come out and conduct a simple necropsy, but the remains were too decomposed for good samples. The mammal, a juvenile gray whale measuring 22 feet long, was speculated to have died of disease or wasn't feeding well. There were no signs of blunt trauma.

Thursday, October 18. It became clear that the other county departments' hands were tied due to the site not being accessible for large equipment on an extremely remote beach, and without funding for an operation of this size with the added quagmire of a whale straddling State and private property lines along the surf. Jan Glick turned to the Public Health Department where Michael Pennon, Supervisor of Animal Services took a lead in getting some help.

Friday, October 19th. The decision was made that the county must act to remove the carcass and put the community‘s safety ahead of all else. Looking for more direction, Animal Services contacted Peter Howorth, Senior Biologist and founder/Director of the nonprofit Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center, Mr. Howorth graciously stepped forward to assist in any way he could and visited the carcass, along with investigators, and advised on procedures for removal.

Everyone considered it good fortune when they were able to contract with Vessel Assist, a private towing, diving, salvage, spillage operation out of Ventura. On call 24 hours, Captain Paul Amaral was able to put a team together after coordinating with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) on where they could dispose of the carcass. The Coast Guard was notified as a matter of procedure. A plan was in place.

Saturday, October 20th. Captain Paul Amaral, along with Captain Brian Cunningham, worked with the mammal on shore, while Captain Randy Davis was nearby on the Vessel Assist boat, beginning the 2 hour process of getting the whale towed out to sea. First, Captains Amaral and Cunningham dug under the whale to create a swale in the sand, then Captain Davis sent a tow line attached to a "scooter" (designed by Paul Amaral, it's basically a modified boogie board with a motor) that skimmed to the shoreline.

The line was tied to the whale's tail and a touch and go process finally saw the juvenile safely towed out to sea. The direction from NOAA was to drop off the carcass 40 miles out, 6 miles south of Santa Cruz Island. This is to make sure the mammal does not drift back to shore and also left in the protected area around the Channel Islands.

It's important to note:

MARINE MAMMALS are protected under the MARINE MAMMAL PROTECTION ACTO of 1972, and only permit holders are legally allowed to handle or possess any part of a stranded marine mammal.

Back on shore, Captain Paul Amaral said "it's always a sad experience, and it's not that often that you are that close to a whale, some times it's a majestic experience". Vessel Assist, Channel Watch Marine, Inc. is on call 24 Hours, 805/644-2762.o, 805/947-8566.c, info@channelwatchmarine.com

Likewise, back in the County Animal Services office, Director Jan Glick said she "was really relieved that the team work and desire of everyone wanting to provide a service to the community paid off while also being respectful of the deceased whale."

It should also be noted that this cost the county $5,000 in unbudgeted funds so if anyone wants to help out, please consider a donation to the Santa Barbara County Animal Services, 5473 Overpass rd., Santa Barbara, CA 93111. 805/681-5285.

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