The Harbor Column -- Mike Whitehead

Ahoy.

Once again it's time for whale watching in our part of the Pacific,

and we'll see this year if a young gray whale decides to alter course to

enter Newport Harbor. I have had some of my best whale watching

experiences inside the harbor. Remember whales are warmblooded,

air-breathing mammals that swim in a pod, not a school, so do not call

them, ouch, fish.

The gray whales are the most abundant species you will see off our

coast, but you might be lucky enough to spot orcas, too. Everyone should

take a boat trip out to see the whales on their migrating route, but

remember there are regulations to protect the whales from over-excited or

disrespectful boaters.

The federal agency responsible for protecting gray whales is the

National Marine Fisheries Service, which falls under the 1972 Marine

Mammal Protection Act. The regulations are necessary to protect the

whales from harassment, and for safe, non-disruptive whale watching. I

hope every boater follows the general rules. You can report someone you

see blatantly disregarding the regulations.

When paralleling whales within 100 yards, boaters should not operate

at speeds faster than a whale or group of whales, and boaters should

maintain a constant speed while paralleling or following whales within

100 yards. Also, boaters should do nothing to cause a whale to change

direction. In addition, for those aircraft pilots, you cannot fly lower

than 1,000 feet when within a 100-yard horizontal distance from a whale.

Swimmers and divers cannot approach whales either, and never attempt

to feed whales. The distance to right whales is increased to maintain at

least 500 yards since they are under a different category of the law.

Every boater must be considerate to the mammals because remember we are

playing in their home -- the ocean.

***

The deadline to submit applications to serve on the Newport Beach

Harbor Commission has passed, and on Feb. 7, seven commissioners will

take the helm of this new harbor commission. All harbors have a

commission that oversees their waterways, so it is a logical, however

late, step for Newport to create the commission.

The members will have to be residents of Newport Beach and I hope

that the applicants will have to prove qualifications for the position

rather than having a council member appoint them.

The commissioners must know the intricacies involved with managing the

multifaceted issues of this harbor and understand how to interact with

the county, state and federal governments. If the commissioners are just

political appointees, the goal of starting the commission will have

failed.

It was the exceptional knowledge of the harbor committee members that

proved so valuable when discussing issues, and that knowledge must be

present on this commission to make the correct decisions and have the

foresight for our harbor's future. I hope that former harbor committee

members are given an extra point in the selection process as they have

been serving for more than three years.

The harbor commission will have an important role in the harbor

activities such as eelgrass, dredging, charter boat permits, guest

facilities, water quality and, hopefully, a water transportation system.

I think the first order of the commission should be to establish a list

of items ranked by priority to address initially. Such a list will give

the general public time to give their input and for the commissioners to

begin the proper research into each item.

At the final meeting of the harbor committee, a list of items was read

into the final minutes for the new commission to consider. The Harbor

Element was developed by the now former Harbor Committee that outlines

our harbor and the direction that the commissioners and City Council

needs to steer toward for the benefit of the public and our most vital

resource.

I will support the commission and the decisions that the commissioners

will have to make on some very tough issues. However, I may not agree

with every decision or commissioner's individual viewpoint, but this is a

fair democratic process that, as I mentioned, was long overdue.

This will also give the public an excellent forum for addressing

issues to one city body. In the past, one may have not known which city

committee was the proper forum and may have had to address two or three

committees.

Unfortunately, I will not be serving on the commission as I live in

Costa Mesa, but see you at the meetings.

Safe voyages.

* MIKE WHITEHEAD is the Pilot's boating and harbor columnist. Send him

your harbor and marine-related thoughts and story suggestions via e-mail

to o7 Mike@BoathouseTV.comf7 or o7 http://www.BoathouseTV.comf7 .

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