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Scientists Study Ship Strikes On Blue Whales In Channel Islands

In lectures on Tuesday and Wednesday, zoologists will discuss how they diagnosed the cause of death.

The August “From Shore to Sea” lectures will feature Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History vertebrate zoologists Paul Collins and Michelle Berman and their investigations of several blue whale deaths caused by ship strikes that occurred off the Channel Islands in the fall of 2007.

The deaths of the four blue whales and one fetus was an unusually high number for a single year — there were only five mortalities off the entire coast of California from 1980 to 1987. Collins and Berman will explain how they diagnosed the cause of death using collected tissue samples and measurements from the stranded blue whales. They will also describe their examination of a blue whale fetus on San Miguel Island, believed to be first fetus examined since the whaling era.

Blue whales are an endangered species that frequent the Santa Barbara Channel during the summer months to feed on krill, their primary food source. The estimated 2,000 Eastern Pacific blue whales represent 10 percent of the world population and are the only known recovering population.

Although the population has grown since protection began in 1966, additional conservation efforts are needed to ensure their continued recovery. Collins and Berman are collaborating with other organizations to develop plans to prevent further loss of whales from ship strikes.

Since 1973, Collins has been working as a curator in the Vertebrate Zoology Department at SBMNH. He earned his bachelor of science degree and master of arts degree in zoology from the UCSB. Berman is the associate curator of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the SBNHM. She received her bachelor or science degree from Colorado State University and her master of arts degree from the University of Central Florida.

The “From Shore to Sea” lecture series is jointly sponsored by Channel Islands National Park and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary with generous support from Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.

The purpose of the series is to further the understanding of research on the Channel Islands and surrounding waters. The lectures will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Santa Barbara Maritime Museum, 113 Harbor Way in the Santa Barbara Harbor, and Wednesday at the Channel Islands National Park Robert J. Lagomarsino Visitor Center, 1901 Spinnaker Drive in the Ventura Harbor. The programs are free and open to the public.

Julie Bursek is education and outreach coordinator for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Ventura County Field Office.

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