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Death of Whale Probed : Marine life: U.S. is trying to ascertain whether cargo ship, which hit the 50-ton finback, violated law.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The National Marine Fisheries Service is investigating whether a U.S. cargo ship violated the Endangered Species Act when it struck a 50-ton finback whale that was discovered dead outside the breakwater of Los Angeles Harbor.

A marine biologist who examined the carcass of the 45-foot whale before it was towed offshore and sunk with weights said it appears that an American President Line cargo ship bound from Japan hit the animal Monday, possibly as far away as central California.

The ship, the President Monroe, made it into the harbor with the whale pressed against its bow. The whale, which appeared to have died within 12 hours of the ship’s arrival at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, slid off the bow as the vessel slowed to enter the breakwater, officials said.

“The thing that needs to be determined is whether or not the ship struck the whale or basically picked up a dead whale and pushed it into the harbor,” said Ray Sautter, a National Marine Fisheries Service investigator.

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Authorities will attempt to determine why the ship struck the whale, a male less than 6 years old, and whether the ship’s captain was negligent.

Shipping company spokesman Gil Roeder said the captain of the 35,000-ton, 900-foot ship did not notice anything amiss until he turned into the harbor’s main channel.

The finback, the second-largest whale species, is considered more endangered than the gray whale, but not as imperiled as the blue or humpback. An estimated 8,500 finback whales live along the Pacific Coast between Alaska and Baja California. Before they were hunted earlier this century, there were about 27,000 finbacks in the area.

Under the Endangered Species Act, the killing of any protected animal, whether by accident or intention, is punishable by fines up to $25,000. If investigators determine the killing accidental, however, it is unlikely the shipping line would be fined, officials said.

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The Marine Fisheries Service reported that at least nine whales have been struck and killed by ships off California since 1987.

Marine biologists say whales cannot easily detect a fast-moving ship coming straight at them because the noisiest part of the vessel is several hundred feet behind the bow.


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