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Fin whale, apparent victim of a ship strike, no sight for sore eyes

April 10, 2009 |  5:38 pm


Last Sunday a young juvenile gray whale was found off an Orange County beach with lacerations believed caused by a ship. Early Friday morning, a 62-foot adult male fin whale was spotted inside Los Angeles Harbor, draped across the bow of a large cargo ship arriving from Korea.

I was in the area Friday afternoon when a biologist friend called from Monterey and told me about the incident, so I diverted to Berth 194 and arrived minutes before workers covered the dead whale--fin whales are endangered--with an enormous tarp. I spoke to Sarah Wilkin, a biologist with NOAA Fisheries, and she said the ship came in at 5:30 a.m., and the whale became dislodged as the vessel docked.

It had broken bones in the shoulder region and perhaps a severed artery. Scientists performed a partial necropsy, which accounts for the large flesh wound you see in the photo. It remains unclear whether the whale was alive when it was struck but scientists might be able to determine that in the lab.

Jim Morgan, an operations executive with the Port of Los Angeles, said the whale will be towed "beyond Catalina Island" on Saturday and set adrift. Hopefully, this will be the last of the ship strikes for a while. Two known ship-strike deaths in one year is above the norm locally. Two in one week is frightening.

--Pete Thomas

 Photo by Pete Thomas  / Los Angeles Times