An endangered male fin whale was struck and killed by a container ship on its way into the Port of Los Angeles, officials said Wednesday.
The whale was splayed belly-up on the bow of Ever Dainty, an Evergreen container ship from Coco Solo, Panama. It appeared to have been freshly killed when it was discovered stuck on the ship's bow Tuesday evening.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service spokesman Jim Milbury said his office will investigate where along the ship's route the whale may have been struck.
"It looked like there was an indentation down toward the tail," Milbury said. "It looked like it was a recent death. There wasn't much of a smell. It's fairly apparent it was hit by the ship."
The carcass will be towed back out to sea this week, he said.
Fin whales are the second largest whale species on Earth, and they have been sighted on a near-daily basis in waters off of the South Bay and Long Beach this winter. Like their larger cousins, blue whales, fins feed mostly on small, shrimp-like crustaceans called krill. They can grow to be 85 feet long and weigh up to 80 tons.
The dead whale found on the bow of the Ever Dainty appeared to be 50 to 60 feet long, Milbury said.
On Wednesday, the carcass was towed out of the main channel area, into a maintenance yard, and covered with a black plastic tarp.
"It was very fresh," National Marine Fisheries biologist Christina Fahy said. "It was just starting to bloat and fill with gas, which is what happens when it's decomposing. There was a definite indentation with hemorrhaging, which means the whale was likely hit with blunt force trauma while it was alive."
Ship strikes are a major concern of whale protection organizations. In 2007, four blue whales were hit and killed by ships in the Santa Barbara Channel. In 2010, two blue, one humpback and two fin whales were killed off the coast of Northern and Central California.
This year, shipping lanes are set to be altered to avoid three national marine sanctuaries off the California coast. The International Maritime Organization adopted the changes because of concerns about ships hitting whales that are in shipping lanes feeding. The changes include shifting a two-mile buffer area around shipping lanes to one mile, and shifting the outside lane a mile inland. This reroutes ships further from identified whale feeding areas.
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