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Endangered blue whales lingering in waters west of LB

July 24th, 2008 · No Comments · News

whale-pic.jpgBY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Staff Writer

Blue whales– the largest animals known to have ever existed on Earth– are regular residents of the waters just a few miles west of Long Beach.
On July 17, the Aquarium of the Pacific chartered a boat to take news media representatives to the area where the whales are feeding. The event was designed to publicize the Aquarium’s conservation education efforts and to remind everyone that pollution created by human activities is threatening the existence of entire species throughout the oceans of the world.
Four whales were sighted from the boat operated by Harbor Breeze Cruises. The vessel took the reporters directly above an 800-foot-deep underwater canyon where the blue whales were feeding on krill– very small shrimp.
“The currents push nutrient-rich water along the sides of this canyon and the krill is collected in one area,” said Dan Salas, captain and CEO of Harbor Breeze Cruises. “These whales are able to go down and take in tremendous amounts of food.”
He explained that they consume about 4 tons of krill each day, which amounts to eating roughly 40 million of the tiny animals each day.
“They can reach 110 feet in length and can weigh more than 300,000 pounds. They are absolutely amazing,” said Alicia Archer, biologist and boat programs coordinator for the Aquarium. “They have a tongue that weighs as much as an African elephant, that’s about 6,000 pounds.”
She explained that the whales use that tongue to siphon out the krill.
“They will swallow 17,000 gallons of water at a time and force it through their baleen plates. They are keratinized plates and they can have 300 on each side of their mouth,” she noted. “They swallow the water, and have ventral grooves on their throat that expand like an accordion and force all that water through the keratinized plates.”
She explained that as the water passes through the plates, tiny hairs collect the krill. Then the whale uses its tongue to move the little animals from the plates to its throat before swallowing them.
“They have the largest brain of any animal that has ever lived on the earth,” Salas added. “Their heart is the size of a small automobile, and a small child could literally crawl through the veins that go into their heart.”
Newborn blue whales are about 22 feet long and weigh an average of 2,000 pounds, but some weigh more than 5,000 pounds at birth. The babies drink 100 gallons of milk per day and gain about 200 pounds every 24 hours for the first seven months of their lives.
Archer said biologists are not firmly decided on how long blue whales live, but research indicates 75 to 90 years. There are about 2,000 blue whales off the California Coast and throughout the world there are about 5,000 left. At one time, about 300,000 blue whales lived in the oceans of the earth, but now they are an endangered species.
“It would be very sad to lose this magnificent animal,” Archer said.
She warned that pollution threatens the existence of many marine animals.
“The efforts to clean it up in Southern California are increasing, but it’s still on the rise,” Archer said. “Unfortunately we have more than 60,000 storm drains that have nothing to catch the trash that washes into the Los Angeles River.”
She explained that there are intense efforts underway to clean up the harbor, but still a massive amount of trash washes into it from the river.
She noted that trash entangles whales, porpoises, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles and many other ocean creatures, causing them to drown or preventing them from eating. Trash also impacts plankton by preventing the sunlight from penetrating below the surface.
“If the water is covered with trash, the plankton cannot photosynthesize,” she said. “People do not realize that plankton produces 50 to 70 percent of the air we breathe.”
Archer explained that people who litter do not realize that they are polluting the oceans and endangering many marine species. Trash on the streets is pushed into the storm drains by street sweepers or rains and ends up in the river, which carries it to the ocean.
“There are islands of trash out there that are bigger than small countries,” Archer stressed. “What happens on land impacts the oceans and what happens in the oceans impacts land environments. Even though we are an aquarium, we are starting to bring those two together. We want people to see that everything is interconnected.”
In the waters off Long Beach, boat passengers can sometimes spot grey whales, fin whales, minke whales, orca (killer whales), Pacific white-sided dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, bottle-nosed dolphins and common dolphins.
Harbor Breeze Cruises provides public whale watching, harbor cruises and charter cruises in the ocean waters off of Los Angeles and Orange counties. The Aquarium of the Pacific, located close to downtown Long Beach, is home to more than 12,500 animals and has many award-winning educational exhibits.

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