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Children Horrified as Vessel Rams Whale

March 8, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ More than 500 elementary school children and whale watchers stared in horror as a container ship hit a 35-foot gray whale as it swam four miles off shore, witnesses said.

The 30-ton mother whale, which was escorting its calf along with another cow and calf pair, was hit Saturday while migrating north toward the Arctic.

″The children were just devastated. One little boy wanted to swim out and help the whale,″ said Nancy Pavlich, a first grade teacher at Deer Canyon Elementary School in suburban Alta Loma.

Robert Yoshitomi, a lawyer for Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), Japanese owners of the container ship Hakusan II, said company officials were looking into the case.

″We’re still checking,″ he said. ″We’re sorry for any difficulty that was caused. As far as we know, it was unintentional.″

Pavlich said many of the children were still somber about the incident Monday morning and some students are writing letters about the whales and sending them to the Coast Guard.

The whale slid along the side of the ship, broke free from the ship’s current, swam helplessly for a minute than made a final blow of air before sinking, witnesses said.

″Kids were screaming and crying as they were watching this,″ said Bill Samaras, a marine biology teacher at Carson High School who was aboard the children’s boat.

″We had been following the whales for about 15 minutes when we noticed the container ship coming from the southwest. It then very drastically turned and crossed our path.

″I thought, ‘They’re going to hit the whales,’ and we tried to contact the ship on the emergency radio but I guess they weren’t monitoring the line.″

″At this point we can’t confirm its death, but there is a good chance that it died, we just can’t say for sure,″ said Tom Lewis, biologist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and president of the American Cetacean Society.

The Hakusan II, 209 feet long and with a dead weight of 20,934 tons, arrived at the Port of Los Angeles on Saturday and left Sunday evening headed to Taiwan, officials said.

Samaras, a research associate with the county museum, said he was certain the ship’s navigators didn’t see the swimming mammals.

″To them it was like a road kill,″ he said. ″Like killing a chipmunk with your car,″ he said. ″I’m sure it was nothing intentional. They didn’t know they hit it.″

Samaras said he plans to file a complaint with the Coast Guard about the ship, which he said changed course and came about 150 yards in front of the whale watching charters.

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