RAISING A STINK Burying Beached Whales Means Shark Attacks

Burying whales in the sand close to popular surf spots in the middle of white shark season is not so smart. In landed terms, it is the equivalent of placing a 70 foot pepperoni pizza between a Boy Scout troop and a den of hungry grizzly bears – in the spring…when the bears are hungry.

"Give it to the SeaBees or the Navy SEALs, they love blowing shit up,"

During the first week of September, a 70-foot blue whale washed ashore just to the east of Hobson Park in Ventura County. A hundred tons of rotting blue whale can raise a stink that lasts for years, but instead of taking the whale out to sea, it was towed a few miles east for a necropsy and buried in the sand near the top of Faria/Pitas Point.

Some thought the whale was moved away from the stretch of coast between Hobson and Faria to keep the stink away from the itinerant bands of Bedouin, who park their gas-guzzling recreational vehicles, some of which are 70 feet long and weigh more than 100 tons.

A truer explanation came from Paul Amaral of Channel Watch Marine, who was hired to move the whale: "We moved the whale to a spot where heavy equipment could get onto the beach to bury it. Dolphins die, sharks die, whales die, it's a natural process, what would you have done?"

One of the answers to that was: "Give it to the SeaBees or the Navy SEALs, they love blowing shit up," but Amaral said time and tide and money determined how this whale was disposed of: "We had to get that whale to a place where they could determine the cause of death and get it into the ground, and that is what we did."

They made haste with the waste, and that was not so smart. In August of 2003, the U.S. Marines took helicopter photos of five smaller sharks, and two sharks as large as 15-17 feet between the nuclear plant and Trail One at San Onofre. A photo of a surfer bobbing cluelessly with a big fin lurking in the background made it into the media around the world. The next summer, surfer Kelly French had a close encounter with a white shark at San Onofre, which nudged and bumped but did not bite him.

The sudden and regular appearance of white sharks at San O was a mystery until Ralph Collier of the Shark Research Committee chimed in on the Who the F&* Knows column of www.surfline.com.

"The shark sightings at San Onofre really started in November 2002. That is when several surfers contacted me to report encounters with what they thought were small white sharks while surfing Trail # 1. After several months of sighting and encounter reports and emails…I traveled to San Onofre Trail # 1 and interviewed a number of surfers and lifeguard personnel. It was during this visit that I learned a dead whale had washed ashore in November of 2002 and that it had been buried on the beach. Surfers informed me that at times it was possible to observe an ‘oily slick’ on the water that would be carried out to sea with the outgoing tides. So the original sightings and increased frequency of white sharks at San Onofre could have been the result of the dead whale on the beach leaching decaying material into the water, which then attracted the white sharks from off shore."

A week after the blue whale was buried at Faria Point, Ventura County officials got a little smarter when a second blue whale was found dead in the Santa Barbara Channel. Paul Amaral of Channel Watch Marine towed this whale to Point Mugu, and had a close encounter with a 15-foot great white shark, "I saw the head of a shark on one side and his tail on the other," Amaral was quoted in the LA Times. 'He’d flattened one of my tubes with his teeth before we cut the tow line and I bugged out of there.'"

The internal organs were buried in the sand, while the carcass was towed out to sea.

If you think that 15-foot white shark was snapping, imagine the reaction of surfers who were barred from Point Mugu for six days. Worried about the lingering white sharks, the Navy closed one of the best South swell spots in Southern California, just as one of the best Southern hemisphere swells of the year came to town.

Some have blamed sonar testing by the Navy for the unusual deaths of three blue whales along the southern California coast this summer, while others think domoic acid poisoning is the culprit. The blue whales along the coast are migrating from Alaska to Mexico and a four month Bajamadan fast in which they eat almost nothing. Abnormal populations of krill in the Santa Barbara Channel have lured the blue whales away from their timeworn safe paths close to shore, and out into the path of ships that are much bigger than a blue whale.

If the blue whales don't wise up and start swimming close to shore, or maritime officials don't wise up and reroute shipping around the Channel Islands or at least slow it down, more blue whales are going to get rammed by ships. Hopefully health and safety officials along the coast will reconsider burying whales in the sand. The surfers at Faria are now the meat in Pitas Point and if a surfer gets attacked or killed, the County could be liable, they could get sued for millions and they would have to raise the parking rates for those Bedouin in their mega RVs and charge by the ton – and no one wants that.