Point Residents Cut Through Red Tape to Find Solution to Whale Problem
• City Council Member Calls for Plan to Deal with Any Future Incidents Involving Disposal
BY BILL KOENEKER
The remains of a young male fin whale that washed ashore at the eastern end of Little Dume Cove last week, were towed back out to sea on Sunday by a privately hired vessel assist boat.
A group of Point Dume residents and business owners, tired of the red tape that residents say left the dead and decomposing marine mammal in bureaucratic limbo, arranged for the removal and burial at sea.
“This is an object lesson,” said Councilmember John Sibert, who lives on Point Dume, closest to the location where a fin whale washed up at the eastern end of Little Dume Cove last week. Sibert discussed the incident at this week’s Malibu City Council meeting.
“We have so many jurisdictions. When it came down to the problem, no one knew who [was responsible for taking action],” he said.
“We have to find a way to make decisions more quickly,” he added.
Sibert said it was a matter of protocol. Others have described it as how community activism can easily and quickly achieve what glacial governments cannot.
Still others have called on a renewed drive for self-reliance. “Don’t depend on the government to help you.”
Sibert said there should be a jurisdictional process in place to remove whales.
“It was not on private land. The State Lands Commission said they would do a survey to determine that, but it would have taken seven to 10 days,” Sibert said.
The council member said it was a resident who got on the Internet and “found a perfectly reliable way to do this at a cost of $8000.”
Sibert said the county insisted it was not responsible. “We raised the money locally, including Bob Morris. It was totally legal. We had a NOA permit.”
The do-it-yourself contingent had found an operator in Ventura that had done nearly a dozen tow outs.
“They hooked up to the tail, put tension on it and they floated the whale off. They sailed 25 miles offshore to a designated GIS location approved by the feds and by permit,” Sibert said.
He said there are real issues involved, first for the residents, the issue of odor. Another issue is water quality. “Would the city get zinged for the poor water quality?” Sibert asked.
A number of area surfers have also raised the concern that the “chum line” of scent generated by the decomposing marine mammal could potentially attract sharks, although sharks are not known to prey on fin whales, they could be attracted by the smell.
“The tow operator said it was the first time private citizens had paid for the tow,” Sibert said.
The California Wildlife Center and Santa Barbara Natural History Museum conducted a necropsy on the remains and determined that the cause of death was a ship strike that reportedly broke the young male fin whale’s back.
Many area residents and visitors had harsh words for the biologists who conducted the dissection because the large quantities of entrails and other organs that were left strewn on the beach following the necropsy.
While the biologists had authorization to remove portions of the whale, souvenir seekers, including local residents, reportedly observed carrying away vertebrae and other bones did not and were violating state and federal law. They could potentially face fines.
The whale was towed into deep water where it is unlikely to wash ashore again.
Fin whales can reach a length of 80 feet and live for an estimated 80-90 years. The fin whale that washed up at Little Dume Cove was around 40 feet in length.
Fin whales are an endangered species that is frequently observed migrating along the California coast.
While dead sea lions are a frequent occurrence, this is only the second incident involving a dead whale in the Point Dume area in the past 35 years, according to longtime residents.
A young gray whale washed ashore in almost the same location during the winter of 1978. Its cause of death was not determined.