Crowds of people squeezed into the Ty Warner Sea Center on Sunday for Blues in the Channel, a lecture event presented in partnership with the Environmental Defense Center, in an effort to promote blue whale conservation in the Santa Barbara Channel.
It started off with the public excitedly venturing throughout the Sea Center’s many interactive exhibits on sea life, while sipping red wine, and learning about the Santa Barbara Channel.
The director of the Ty Warner Sea Center, Amanda Hendrickson, rounded the crowd up to listen to three different lectures presented by Paul Collins from the Museum of Natural History, Brian Segee from the Environmental Defense Center, and the famous John Calamokidis, a leading expert on blue whale behavior and cofounder of Cascadia Research Organization. They were all there to speak about the reasons why blue whales are attracted to the Santa Barbara Channel, and what factors are directly affecting their populations off the coast.
Collins, head curator of the Vertebrate Zoology Department at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, began by talking about the blue whale skeleton restoration project at the museum, and the events that led to procuring a new skeleton to replace the old one. “In 2007 we had a series of blue whales get hit by ships in the channel,” Collins said, “which was very unfortunate. The museum recovered the bones of one of these stranded blue whales to restore the old skeleton in front of the museum, and use the new model to educate the public further about these species.”
Next, Collins introduced Brian Segee, from the Environmental Defense Center, who highlighted some of the major threats that shipping lanes and noise levels in the channel pose to blue whale populations. He also talked about how the endangered species is truly a success story in Santa Barbara, and how fortunate we all are to have them here. “Blue whales being here is an incredible success story,” Segee exclaimed. “Thirty years ago, these whales were not here, so it’s a true testament to the modern environmental laws like the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the role organizations like the Environmental Defense Center and individuals in Santa Barbara have on this species.”
Segee then displayed his great appreciation for one of the world’s leading biologists in blue whale conservation and research, John Calambokidis. Calambokidis, who was visibly moved by the public’s applause, opened his presentation with, “The blue whale, quite literally the largest species on earth, depends exclusively on krill, one of the smallest species on earth.” He captured the audience with the concept of how dependent the huge mammal is on such a small organism, and the role krill populations have on where blues migrate. He then stated, “Now it is interesting to reflect where we were 25 years ago. I remember in the ‘60s, when scientists were speculating if blue whale populations would ever recover, as populations worldwide went from 300,000 animals to less than 2,000.”
As Calambokidis continued to talk about the great numbers of blue whales in the Santa Barbara Channel, and was greeted by cheers and applause from the crowd. “There is a higher concentration of blue whales here in Santa Barbara than any other place in the world,” he said. “In fact, your best chance to see a blue whale is right here in the channel! However, populations here still have major threats. Ships colliding into whales that are feeding in areas heavily occupied by boat traffic has proved to be a major issue off the coast.”
There were also many experts in the crowd who shared their knowledge of the subject. Peggy Oki, director and founder of the Origami Whales Project, passionately stated, “Considering the millions of years that cetaceans have lived in the oceans, so much wisdom could be imparted from them to us. If only we would stop the path of destruction, and listen.”
We left with an enhanced understanding of the threats affecting blues in the channel, and a deep appreciation for their presence off the Santa Barbara Coast.