Ship that hit whale will carry marine monitoring device

An ocean surveying company whose ship struck and killed a blue whale off the Mendocino Coast in October will carry a marine wildlife monitor on future ventures as part of an agreement reached this week with the state Lands Commission.

The 72-foot whale was fatally wounded Oct. 19 when it surfaced under the rear of the 176-foot Pacific Star, a vessel leased by Fugro Pelagos to conduct ocean floor surveys for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The whale suffered deep gashes, apparently from the ship's propellers and its massive body ended up beached just south of Ft. Bragg.

Thursday's hearing by the State Lands Commission, which has jurisdiction over state land and waterways, was to decide whether to revoke Fugro Pelagos' offshore geophysical permit because it was conducting hydrographic surveys without a marine wildlife monitor.

Instead, the commission determined the regulations need to be rewritten to make clear that hydrographic surveys fall under geophysical survey regulations, Fugro Pelagos officials said Friday.

Company officials said they did not believe they were required to have a marine wildlife monitor while conducting the hydrographic surveys, according to James Hailstones, the San Diego-based company's operations manager.

Hydrographic surveys utilize weaker sonar that do not penetrate the ocean's floor the way geophysical surveys do, Hailstones said. It's the same type of sonar used by fishing and crabbing vessels.

"They're similar to fish finder equipment" which do not fall under geophysical permit regulations, said company spokesman David Oates.

But he said the company will adhere to the Lands Commission's interpretation of the rules.

The Pacific Star was traveling at about 5.5 knots, or about 6.5 mph and was about 1.5 miles off the Mendocino Coast when its crew felt the boat shudder and noted one of its engines had stalled, according to a Fugro Pelagos report.

The whale, bleeding profusely, was then spotted at the back of the ship, according to the report.

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