The unexpected guest that stayed for a while in the Santa Barbara Harbor – a 25-foot gray whale – finally departed, allowing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin a scheduled semi-annual dredging of the harbor’s entrance channel. The whale, first seen in the harbor three weeks ago and monitored by state, local, and federal agencies, has not been spotted by authorities since the 20th, prompting the Corps’ decision to move forward with the $500,000 dredging project, which was supposed to have started on March 13. “NOAA Fisheries would like to thank everyone involved for the patience, cooperation, and coordination exhibited during our vigil while the whale was in the harbor,” said Joe Cordaro, a NOAA Fisheries Service wildlife biologist.
The design of the harbor’s inlet causes sediment from the littoral current to accrue in the channel, necessitating maintenance dredging twice per year. AIS Construction, the contractor hired by the Corps to perform the dredging operation, fired up cutterhead dredge La Encina Friday afternoon. “It seems as though everything worked out, allowing the public to enjoy the whale’s visit to our harbor and now the Corps can get started with the spring dredging operations,” said John Bridley, the City of Santa Barbara’s Waterfront Director.
“We enjoyed seeing the whale in the harbor like everyone else,” said Colonel Thomas Magness, Corps district commander. “I just want to commend the spirit of coordination and cooperation that helped inform our decision-making. Now we need to get to work.”