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David Middlecamp: Scientists harpooned orca off Morro Bay

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service came to Morro Bay to study the Alaskan fur seal. Using true 1960s logic, the work involved killing seals and harpooning an orca.

At the time, GPS tracking devices could only be imagined, and research techniques were decidedly more destructive.

An unbylined story and photo by Jack Wilson on Feb. 12, 1966, documented the event:

“Killer whale harpooned outside Morro’s Harbor”

“MORRO BAY — A 21⁄2-ton killer whale was harpooned outside the harbor here Saturday afternoon, a violent episode in the preparation of a U.S. ‘Kinsey Report’ on the sex life of the Alaskan fur seal.

“The whale was one of a pod (pack) of these vicious, though strikingly beautiful predators ranging at the time not far offshore between Point Buchon and Morro Rock.

“The sleek, black and white specimen and his bully buddies had the misfortune of sharing the course of the whaling ship Lynann on its way into port for the weekend to escape rough weather at sea ...

“... These whales prey on warm blooded sea animals, other whales, the Alaskan fur seal and the sea otter. While not generally regarded as man-eaters, Stroud doubts that a swimmer would find one of these fellows very friendly.

“This one measured 20 feet and 8 inches, a bull with a heavily worn, though fully serviceable set of interlocking peg teeth ...

“... Stroud and his fellow biologists aboard planned to butcher their killer whale Sunday while far out at sea. They will take note of the stomach content, possibly a number of fur seals, though Stroud believes these whales have been pursuing the gray whales presently migrating south off the Central Coast.

“The skull and other vital organs of this whale will go into the freezer of the sister whaling ship for eventual delivery to the laboratory in Seattle.

“Stroud says the mission being conducted offshore is under terms of the international treaty drawn up in 1911 and revised in 1957 between the U.S., Russia, Japan and Canada to protect the Alaskan fur seal facing extinction at the time.

“This treaty banned the practice of ‘pelagic sealing’ (taking seals at sea).

“As revised in 1957, pelagic sealing for research purposes is allowed with the findings of this research to be shared by all treaty parties ...

“... A member of the porpoise family, the killer whale hunts in packs, exercising fully his keen sense of hearing, sight and possibly an ability to communicate, Stroud says.”

We now know whales and dolphins communicate and are intelligent.

The first captive killer whales were taken in the 1960s, but until humans figured out how to care for them they survived only a few days to a few months.

Normally males live into their 30s and females into their 50s, though they can live longer.

In other news on the same page, LSD is about to be outlawed and smash-and-grab robbers made off with more than $3,000 of camera equipment from Cal Photo.

They were not smart bandits, however. They took the cheap stuff and left the more expensive lenses.

Visit David Middlecamp’s blog at http://sloblogs.thetribunenews.com/slovault

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