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May 31 2006

Status & Field Report - Spring 2006

As we headed out of Newport Harbor, the sky was completely obscured by the coastal fog that enveloped the area. This was our first time out since December 2005, and we were all glad to be out on the water again.

We had done 2 scattering of ashes on April 9th and 16th with Jared Rubin and Bernadette Leeuwangh (who was visiting from Holland). But this was going to be a special day, our first ODA dives of the year. The crew on this day was Jared (first mate) with Chris Aultman, Erik Burrows and myself as the dive team.

We were greeted to flat seas and the boat ran great at 22 mph as we headed to Crescent Beach in Laguna Beach. It took us a few minutes but thanks to the depthfinder we found Deadman's Reef about 11am. This is a spectacular dive site and the reef sits in 60 feet of water with spires reaching up to about 15 feet deep. I had received a report of some abandoned traps at the west end of the reef, but we were not able to locate them. We did find and remove some weight bars, about 80 feet of 3/8 diameter nylon line and some trap remnants.

By now the sun was coming out in full force and we put up the newly installed Bimini Top. Thank you Chris for doing all the research to locate a reasonably priced top, and for installing it!

After that we headed to Reef Point, just off of Crystal Cove State Beach. This is a site we dive frequently due to the enormous amount of traps that are set here during the lobster killing season. We found a series of rock formations about 200 yards west of Reef Point and dropped down to about 40 feet. As we checked the anchor, we immediately found 50 feet of nylon line that had wrapped itself around a reef and was entangled in several gorgonians. We delicately removed it and tied it to the anchor line.

We proceeded to head west and cruised along the bottom where we saw a couple of large sheepscrab, 2 small flounders and one rock that rose to within 15 feet of the surface with hundreds of orange and strawberry colored club anemones on it. There were a lot of fish and benthic life around this site, but we were focused on man-made objects. At one very nice rock formation we found a huge pile of trap debris that had been collected by somebody and tied into a massive heap. In this collection were 2 weight bars, lots of wire mesh and over 100 feet of nylon trap lines. With a lot of manipulation, we put a float bag on it and sent it to the surface. While it ascended to the surface, I looked at Chris and Erik I could see big smiles in their eyes. Thank you to whoever collected that!

We continued along the reef and found more trap debris, a fishing pole and more nylon line. All in all, we hauled out about 200 pounds of junk and over 200 feet of nylon line.

As we headed back to the harbor and were reflecting on the work we had just done, we were treated to a small pod of dolphins heading in the opposite direction as us, about 100 yards away. We slowed down to enjoy the view. They were a lot more animated than usual, porpoising fully out of the water and doing tail flaps. It was a wonderful scene that turned ugly quickly. There was a Vessel Assist boat going in the same direction as us, but when he saw the dolphins he quickly turned around and chased the pod. It wasn't long until he was right on top of them - it appeared that his intent was to run them over. The dolphins took one dive and we didn't see them again.

When we returned to land I called the Sheriffs Department and reported the incident. I was told that what we had seen was a violation of the law. Dolphins are a threatened species and are afforded the same protections as whales. Boaters must stay at least 100 yards away from them and follow them at the same speed as they are traveling. In addition you cannot cause them to change direction or alter their behavior in any way. Well, this "captain" violated every aspect of this law.

When I called the Vessel Assist company to complain about it, I was told by their dispatcher that indeed, the captain had indeed done what we reported, but that he was only playing with the dolphins and trying to get them to bow ride. After several calls and voice mails to the VA, they have yet to return a call or email me with an explanation on what actions they plan to take to make sure this never happens again. So much for diplomacy, next time we will immediately call the Newport Beach Harbor Patrol and report the violation. I encourage you to do the same. If you see any boat or jet ski harassing whales or dolphins immediately call the Harbor Patrol at 949-723-1002.

So, other than this incident, it was a fantastic day. Great diving, good haul and exhausted divers. The first of many trap hunting dives to come!

Kurt Lieber
Founder & President
Ocean Defenders Alliance

 
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