National Guard Deployed to Sort Through Flood Rubble – The Santa Barbara Independent

The California National Guard has deployed 150 personnel to Montecito to clear out the rubble from the Randall Road debris basin, by far the largest in Montecito. About 85 members of the National Guard are expected to begin work on the effort Thursday night; meals were served by the Miramar Hotel.

The National Guard members will be separating out boulders and rocks, placing them in one pile; dirt, mud, and silt in another; and organic materials — tree branches and logs — into a third. The silt and mud will be tested for environmental contaminants; assuming it passes, it will be deposited on Goleta Beach as part of a “beach nourishment” program.

The Randall Road debris basin — the scooped-out remains of eight Montecito properties destroyed by the 2018 Debris Flow — is reportedly 50 percent full. The rains of this past week marked its maiden voyage.

The National Guard will be camping out at the Earl Warren Showgrounds for a few weeks, and debris basin operations are continuing around the clock, as long as the weather is good.

The rocks and boulders deposited in the Randall basin — as well as Montecito’s two other smaller basins — were about twice the size of basketballs or smaller, said Scott McGolpin, the County of Santa Barbara’s Public Works director. He said there was very little wood in the basins.

Three creeks had been blocked with steel safety nets designed to prevent large boulders from gathering steam down the creek channels and wreaking havoc on the properties below. It remains uncertain how much material — and what kind — they have blocked and captured during the recent rains. The trails leading up the creeks have reportedly been decimated by the storms and access by foot has been rendered all but impossible. Any initial assessment of the steel nets’ impact will have to rely on drone video.

Anecdotally, McGolpin said that he’d heard that a helicopter survey conducted earlier this week by the Sheriff’s Office indicated that much of the material trapped by the steel nets appeared to be wood.

Aerial view of the Randall Road debris basin in Montecito | Credit: County of Santa Barbara

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Video: Check Out Crazy-Big Sinkhole Shuts Down State Route 92 Near Half Moon Bay

More sinkhole trouble, this time on State Route 92, which is currently closed both directions in a stretch near Half Moon Bay. Fortunately no one was hurt, but there is eye-popping video and wild photos from Caltrans and CHP.

We mentioned Thursday morning that Caltrans had closed a stretch of State Route 92 in San Mateo County, because there was a dip in the road, which was very much at risk of collapsing onto a sinkhole. Boy did that decision prove wise! Because shortly before noon on Thursday, Caltrans acknowledged that sinkholed had indeed caved in, according to SFGate, and the aftermath is seen in the Caltrans District 4 video below.  The transit agency added that “Caltrans has closed State Route-92 in both directions from upper SR-35 to Pilarcitos Creek Road,” and that “Currently, we have no estimated time of reopening.”

As of press time for this post, more than 24 hours later, that roughly one-mile stretch is still closed. Last we heard of this was a 9 a.m. Friday morning report from KPIX, which noted that “CA-92 is currently shut down in both directions at Upper Skyline Boulevard in San Mateo County due to ‘unsafe conditions.’”  

The area that is closed is detailed in the map below from Caltrans District 4. The closure extends from about 1,000 feet west of the Half Moon Bay Nursery, covering the area between  Pilarcitos Creek Road and Highway 35, should you be familiar with pastoral roadways in San Mateo County.

Image: @CaltransD4 via Twitter

There is a fairly easy though somewhat time-consuming detour using Highway 1, as the San Mateo Daily Journal explains. “For the time being, people living on the coast must go either north through Pacifica or around Sharp Park Road to reach the Peninsula,” that paper reports. “However, people can also go south, where law enforcement is controlling roads and one-lane options that are passable but slow.”

The Journal adds that “Most people living on State Route 92 have access to their homes because it is below where Caltrans crews are working to fix the sinkhole.”

This is not the only sinkhole the region has encountered over these two stormy weeks. On New Year’s Eve, Santa Cruz saw a similar size sinkhole burst open on Glenwood Drive. And this past Sunday, a sinkhole destroyed the entrance road to the Oakland Zoo that will render the zoo closed for weeks. But while a number of lives have been tragically taken by these storms, no people (or Oakland Zoo animals) have been harmed thus far by these sinkhole incidents.

Related: Oakland Zoo Likely Closed For Weeks Due to Sinkhole Near Entrance [SFist]

Image: @CHP_RedwoodCity via Twitter

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Opinion: Sunbreak Ranch Is the Answer to San Diego–and America’s–Homeless Crisis

Proposed Sunbreak Ranch location in Miramar
The proposed site for Sunbreak Ranch on federal land at the Miramar Way exit on Interstate 15. Photo by George Mullen

Americans who live in or near an urban population center are facing a series of homeless crises that have become the number one issue of our day. 

We can either rise to the occasion and tackle this challenge, or we can let the destructive, cruel, and inhumane downward spiral continue.  We have a choice.

Most of us can no longer walk or bicycle our downtown city streets, sidewalks, and parks without facing an obstacle course of tents, bodies, human excrement, needles, trash, and a slew of walking-zombies who are impossible to distinguish between those just down on their luck and others who are out-of-control substance abusers about to attack us.

We, the civilized taxpayers of our society, are being forced to cede our cities and parks to lawlessness. And that just cycles ever-downward into only more lawlessness.  

The social compact of our once great civilized society is disappearing before our eyes — American cities en masse are nose-diving.

In San Diego we have had enough. We are no longer going to follow other once-great American cities into the abyss of homelessness, lawlessness, and roadside shantytowns.  

San Diegans are coming together in a grassroots effort to propose an innovative program of what should be the homeless solution for America. It’s called Sunbreak Ranch.

A Sunbreak is defined as “a breaking forth of the sun at sunrise; a new beginning.”

Ranch evokes a large open space environment with fresh air to foster revival and rejuvenation.

The Sunbreak Ranch motto is “New Beginnings for Homeless People in Transition.”

There are more than 580,000 persons currently living and sleeping on the streets and canyons of the United States today. 

In San Diego, the true (unreported) homeless numbers are likely significantly more than 20,000 in the city proper, and 45,000 countywide.  

Too many of us have been numbed into thinking this carnage is a fait accompli. 

It is not. 

The vast majority of cities around the world are not committing city-suicide via homelessness like we are. This includes cities rich and poor, large and small.   

Homelessness is a serious and catastrophic problem.

It certainly can, and must, be managed humanely, compassionately, and within the context of a civilized, law-abiding society. 

Sunbreak Ranch has three straightforward and achievable goals:

First, provide real help to our homeless brothers and sisters (and stop pretending that allowing them to sleep, urinate, and defecate on our city streets is helpful or humane to anyone).

Second, clean up our cities. 

Third, return our cities to the Rule of Law, which is the key component of our social compact and all great civilized and sustainable societies.

Sunbreak Ranch is designed to be a large-scale temporary ranch in the layout of the old California ranchos.

It will be a creative, one-of-a-kind location featuring 35-plus amenities and benefits that strive to make the ranch the best possible temporary home for our homeless fellow citizens.

Sunbreak Ranch will maintain a “clean, healthy, safe and secure environment” for everyone at all times.

To put Sunbreak in motion, we are proposing a bold new strategy called “Federal Leadership, Local Control.” 

We need the federal government to partner with us in the launch of Sunbreak. 

Once launched though, the role of the federal government ends. From this point onward, the locals (who always best understand their communities) take full operational control and responsibility of Sunbreak.

The best location in San Diego for this beta test is on the unused empty federal lands just east of Interstate 15 on the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. 

This location is at the geographic and population heart of San Diego County and easily accessible to everyone. From Interstate 15, exit Miramar Way, head east, and you are there. 

Sunbreak Ranch will be the location and solution center for homelessness.

It is designed to welcome all homeless persons, each of whom may come and go as they please.

Individuals can reside in a community tent, or camp on their own in a series of designated and protected areas for families, single mothers, elderly people, veterans, those with dogs, and others as needed.

Sunbreak Ranch will span 2,000 acres with vast open space surrounding it. 

There will be portable toilets and portable showers, mess halls, medical tents, storage facilities and onsite service providers including dedicated teams of mental health professionals, substance abuse rehabilitation specialists and vocational trainers.

There will be free daily shuttle service going to and from downtown San Diego — only 12 miles away. 

Sunbreak will have private security as well as a permanent 24/7 public police station in order to maintain a “clean, healthy, safe and secure environment” for everyone at all times.

Sunbreak’s approach will be focused on diagnosing each person’s unique situation. And then will assist every able person back to work and independent living.

For those unable, Sunbreak will get them the services that will best help them. 

With a safe Sunbreak housing option available to all homeless persons in need, public loitering, camping, littering, defecating, urinating, illicit substance use and criminal activity on our streets, parks, canyons, and river basins will no longer be permitted, and strictly enforced.

San Diego has the nation’s best year-round weather and ample adjacent federal lands, making it the perfect site for the start of a national solution to homelessness. Sunbreak would soon prove successful in San Diego and could then be quickly replicated up the West Coast and across America.

We need help in three ways to launch the Sunbreak initiative:

1. We need our President and federal government to lease 2,000 acres of MCAS Miramar land to Sunbreak Ranch at $1 per year, and to designate this land as a temporary “federal emergency homeless help zone.”  This will eliminate local red tape and opposition.

2. We need our President to deploy the military and security services to build a tent city for Sunbreak Ranch on this site with surplus equipment from the Afghan and Iraq deployments. Our military and security services have the manpower, expertise, and equipment to build out this entire tent city within weeks. 

3.  The cost of this Sunbreak experiment is minimal compared to the untold tens of billions of dollars currently being spent (to no avail) on homelessness annually. 

To prove the viability of Sunbreak, we need significant individual philanthropists or organizations to step up and seed-fund this three-year Sunbreak initiative with up to $275 million.

This funding would include the proviso that when the first Sunbreak Ranch succeeds, the federal government will step in and begin fully funding a ranch outside of every major U.S. metropolitan center that agrees to return to the Rule of Law on their streets. 

Homelessness is ultimately a public sector responsibility, but we first need the private sector and philanthropists to illuminate the pathway forward.

The potential upside here is beyond comparison to any other issue facing America. 

The successful implementation of Sunbreak Ranch will save hundreds of thousands of lives, alleviate widespread suffering, unlock unfathomable human potential, and clean up America’s cities for all of us. 

Sunbreak is a unique program where everyone wins. A “clean, healthy, safe and secure environment” will be provided for those who desperately need it; our homeless brothers and sisters will have the opportunity to turn their lives around; and our cities will be returned to civilized normalcy.

We invite everyone to join our Sunbreak effort. Let’s get to work.

George Mullen is chairman of Sunbreak Ranch and Bill Walton is an NBA basketball Hall of Famer.  Both are natives of San Diego.  Please reach out to them at [email protected].

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Peruvian beaches remain closed off a year after Repsol oil spill

Peruvian beaches remain closed off a year after Repsol oil spill

By Pablo Fernández Cermeño

Ancón, Peru, Jan 14 (EFE).- A stretch of beaches to the north of Peru’s capital Lima remain closed off to the public while the local fishing port is functioning at half throttle due to a drop in fish numbers a year after a crude oil spill from a refinery operated by Spanish company Repsol.

The spill on January 15, 2022, sent 11,900 barrels of oil into the waters of the coast of Ancón and the effects are still felt to this day.

“Beaches closed. Highly contaminated due to the presence of oil in the sea and sand,” a warning sign reads.

Nearby, a team of workers from a company that specializes in industrial waste and biocontamination use hoes to clean the sand.

“Repsol will say ‘no, the sea is fine,’ but every time you go out in the water, catch a fish, and cook it, you can taste oil,” 27-year-old Simón, who has fished from the local dock since he was 15, tells Efe. Since the spill, he has been forced to spend weeks away from home fishing in more distant waters.

Dozens of other local fishers are in the same situation.

“I used to fish during the day, arrive at night, I was able to sleep at night, have dinner with my children or go for a walk. Not anymore,” Simón adds.

His daily life was turned upside down on January 15, 2022 when the Mare Doricum tanker spilled nearly 12,000 barrels of crude oil into the sea, according to figures published by Peru’s environment ministry.

Older fishermen and local line fishermen, who fished from dry land, have had to turn to other jobs to make money.

The lack of work is palpable from the Ancón boardwalk, where dozens of small boats wait moored and idle.

Isabelita, owner of a small restaurant on Ancón’s dock, says Repsol “ruined their lives” and that they are now forced to work just to put food on their table.

“We are in a state of disgrace, my friend. Now look at the stalls, all empty,” she tells Efe, adding that their only customers now are deep-sea fishermen. “Last year, the beaches had just opened after Covid. In the first week of January there were already a lot of people. Now, the oil came and they closed the beach again.”

Ancón officials tell Efe that all the beaches remain closed to bathing out of caution and due to an administrative contradiction.

Peru’s General Directorate of Environmental Health (Digesa) says that three of the beaches are open despite not saying they are fit for bathing. Those same beaches still lack a certificate of health from the Agency for Environmental Evaluation and Control (OEFA).

Repsol’s director of communications Luis Vásquez told Efe that studies carried out by the oil company showed the beaches and the sea were “free of hydrocarbons.”

“We have the technical evidence (…) with a sampling from October where all the results are satisfactory for the potential return of fishing activities and commercial activities,” Vásquez said, calling for an updated report from the OEFA on the marine situation to put an end to administrative uncertainty.

This lack of certainty over the state of the marine environment has cost the local community over $9 million due to drop in fishing, tourism and other economic activities, according to Ancón’s mayor Samuel Daza.

He has called on Repsol to compensate Ancón locals and urged residents to stage a sit-in on the local beach on the anniversary of the spill..EFE


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Coastal Georgia shores up beach conservation for shorebirds impacted by climate change

Georgia’s coast draws in tourists year-round, but some of the state beaches’ biggest fans are the migrating shorebirds that make Georgia their go-to rest stop each year.

Scientists and advocates argue that keeping Georgia’s beaches preserved and in good shape is key to maintaining shorebird populations and ensuring their health for the future in the face of climate change.

Far-flung travelers visit the Hostess City

Ray Chandler, an ornithologist and professor of biology at Georgia Southern University, has been researching a few of these travelers with his students on Cumberland Island. He works most closely with two types of shorebirds: the Wilson’s plover and the piping plover.

The two birds show different sides of how migrating shorebirds utilize Cumberland and other beaches along the Georgia coast. Chandler said the piping plover is a winter resident hailing from the Northeast and Great Lakes region, but can be seen really from July through April, spending a large swathe of their year on the coast. On the other hand, the Wilson’s plover breeds in Georgia during the summer on the less disturbed barrier islands.

Recent bird news: Georgia bird and poultry experts work to prevent spread of deadly avian flu

More on coastal conservation: Brunswick Harbor dredging: Environmental group sues over alleged wildlife threat from process

“Georgia has done a pretty good job of protecting barrier islands, so we have a lot of coastal beaches and therefore good habitat for those birds,” Chandler said.

Undisturbed beaches, meaning those without development or too much human and pet activities, and their adjoining mudflats are prime shorebird territory. After flying hundreds to thousands of miles, they use the beaches and mudflats to find food like small ocean invertebrates and lay their nests on the sandy shores.

To see where birds have migrated through coastal Georgia, visit the National Audubon Society’s interactive Bird Migration Explorer.

Climate change squeezes habitats

Like most wildlife, the most immediate threats to shorebirds include habitat loss, beach development and habitat degradation — meaning the space is less useful or bird-friendly due to human use, pollution or dogs.

But on a larger level, Chandler said climate change is also a real threat to shorebirds in the long run. Sea-level rise and increasingly common flooding are changing the landscape of the coastal areas that shorebirds depend on, disrupting how and where they get their food as well as causing beach erosion. Beyond that, Chandler said that sea-level rise and flooding can be devastating for breeding.

It doesn’t take much to wash away a shorebird nest. Many of these birds don’t build the intricate woven baskets we are used to seeing in trees. Instead, Chandler’s shorebirds tend to take a minimalist approach: a little indentation in the sand, and maybe a couple of sticks added that do more for vibe than they do structure.

On Cumberland, Chandler and his students looked at nesting success and found that on this high-quality beach territory, plovers were holding their own against some of the regular threats. It’s not common to lose eggs: Shorebirds, like other beach-nesting creatures, are used to dangers like flooding and predators snacking on their offspring and surprisingly re-nest in the same locations despite repeated failures.

“But the key is if those floods begin to become more regular, then you lose nesting attempts more often,” Chandler said. “That’s when it starts to become an issue.”

Keeping undisturbed beach fronts as hospitable as possible for the birds is important, Chandler said. They undertake long, energetically demanding migrations and when they arrive they have young to feed, cold winter days to endure and must rest up for the next leg of their journeys.

For him, stopping the decline is important not only ecologically, but economically for tourism: “These are amazing, fascinating creatures with incredible life cycles, mind-boggling migrations.” Chandler said. “They’re attractive. They’re interesting. They’re fun to watch. They’re just valuable fellow travelers, and it just doesn’t make sense to not have them around in our world.”

Conservation efforts in the works

Conserving Georgia’s beaches is a complex task that the coast has innumerable groups working on. But Manomet, a nonprofit finding scientific solutions to improve ecosystem health and human communities, has been focusing on shorebirds specifically since 2018 with its Georgia Bight Shorebird Conservation Initiative.

Abby Sterling, the initiative’s director, said that Georgia’s coast supports up to 400,000 shorebirds each year, an internationally recognized landscape for its importance in the hemisphere-crossing journeys the birds make. To understand the interaction between Georgia’s coasts and shorebirds, Sterling said Manomet is helping shore up cooperation with groups like the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to help with monitoring and research efforts.

One of the ways Sterling said Manomet is working to help shorebirds is by focusing its efforts on alleviating recreational disturbance. With areas that get lots of human visitors, Sterling said her organization is working on education and outreach with communities to raise awareness about what areas are important for shorebirds during different times of year depending on migration cycles and the birds’ needs.

“With increased sea level, increased storm events and unprecedented high tides that we’ve been seeing more and more of, shorebird habitat is frequently lost or inundated,” Sterling said. Given these challenges, she said reducing other obstacles is key, and since Georgia already has significant undeveloped and quality shorelines the state is positioned to tackle that challenge.

To get involved in Manomet’s stewardship or outreach projects, contact Abby Sterling at [email protected]

Marisa Mecke is an environmental journalist. She can be reached by phone at (912) 328-4411 or at [email protected]

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State Route 92 closed indefinitely; Half Moon Bay seeing increased traffic

State Route 92 remains closed indefinitely from Highway 35 west to Pilarcitos Creek Road in both directions due to a sinkhole, cutting off Half Moon Bay from the Peninsula and forcing drivers to use Highway 1.

Half Moon Bay City Manager Matthew Chidester said there is no time estimate for when crews will finish repairs and reopen the road. For the time being, people living on the coast must go either north through Pacifica or around Sharp Park Road to reach the Peninsula. However, people can also go south, where law enforcement is controlling roads and one-lane options that are passable but slow.

“This morning, there was a significant increase in cars heading northbound on Highway 1 beyond normal,” Chidester said. “I haven’t heard of any significant holdups, but the longer this goes, the more cars are going to be on the road.”

Most people living on State Route 92 have access to their homes because it is below where Caltrans crews are working to fix the sinkhole. Chidester said crews are letting local traffic in for people who live or work in the area before the sinkhole. Vehicles, however, must come from Half Moon Bay to access their homes and businesses. Chidester said the sinkhole is just east of where Pilarcitos Creek Road connects to State Route 92, with it big enough to cause safety issues on both sides of the road. The initial closure occurred on Jan. 11, with some controlled traffic still allowed. However, around 7 a.m. Jan. 12, the hard closure of the area occurred.

Chidester’s biggest concerns are emergency access vehicles getting through as quickly as possible and people trying to get to doctor’s appointments.

Chidester said most closures on State Route 92 are for trees that fall or a traffic accident. He noted the road is generally in good condition and is the first time he can remember it being closed for problems. Significant improvements occurred more than 10 years ago to improve the containment walls and widening.

“For the most part, Highway 92 is in really great shape,” Chidester said.

Councilmember Harvey Rarback said the State Route 92 closure would affect traffic and cause issues for many residents, given the lack of access to the Peninsula.

“It’s a big problem on the coast being isolated,” Rarback said.

Chidester said the city was in a good place with the storm overall and was monitoring any future issues or if any further action needed to be taken. Hard-hit areas on the coast include the Moonridge farmworker housing community, residents on Oak Avenue and Pescadero residents. Many in those areas have had to evacuate, with some in Pescadero without power for days.

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Sean Michael Arbige

Sean passed suddenly on the afternoon of Jan. 4, 2023, at California Pacific Medical Center on Van Ness, after suffering a brain hemorrhage on New Year’s Eve. He was held tightly by his immediate family as he left us.

He loved San Francisco, his place of birth. Sean grew up in the Coastside town of Montara and attended local schools, including Half Moon Bay High. He worked in various jobs until he finally settled into a career in construction, which he enjoyed, particularly demolition! He excelled in soccer, baseball, surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding. Sean loved fishing, clamming, and beaching with his extended family during the summers in Rhode Island. He made tight, close friends wherever he went, which was evident from the outpouring of support he received when he was in the hospital during his final days.

Sean is survived by his beloved daughter, Adrianna (Adi) Arbige-Proctor, his parents, Drs. Susan Stuart and Michael Arbige, sister Katie Arbige, and his extended family including aunties, uncles and cousins who are too many to name.

“Family Foreve” was meaningfully tattooed on his right forearm. The Arbige name is unique, a gift following immigration to the U.S. from Europe by way of Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century. Sean Michael Arbige, you are, and your spirit will always be, as unique as your name.

There will be a private funeral service for family on Friday, Jan. 13, at the Miller Dutra Coastside Chapel in Half Moon Bay, Calif., followed by a celebration of Sean’s life from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the Mavericks House, 107 Broadway, in Half Moon Bay. In lieu of flowers, because Sean loved shoes and kids, please make donations in his memory to Kicks for Kids (

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Half Moon Bay fans don’t pause to say ‘Cougie’ remains crowd favorite, win or lose

Anyone who has attended one of Half Moon Bay High School’s football or basketball games will be familiar with the cougar mascot, Cougie. But though many people may know and love the mascot, they may not be so familiar with the person behind the costume.

Victoria Delaney is a senior at Half Moon Bay High School. Her journey with Cougie began when she was an eighth-grader and tried out for the cheerleading team. Though she did not make the cut, she was given the chance to become the high school’s mascot. It was an opportunity that Delaney couldn’t miss.

With Delaney in the costume, Cougie has become a widely loved representation of HMBHS’s school spirit. Delaney’s bright, joyful personality and endless energy make her perfect for the job, students say. You can spot her at every football game waving to the crowd, taking selfies with children who are thrilled to meet her, and dancing.

“I love dancing as Cougie,” she said. She would later demonstrate one of her favorite dance routines. One of her favorite songs to dance to is “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars.

Delaney also attends all the cheer practices and has learned all the cheers that the team does. “The ones with the complicated hand movements, she can do them all with those huge paws,” Denise Delaney, Victoria’s mom, said proudly.

Delaney is interested in continuing to be a mascot in the future.

Delaney was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder when she was 3 years old. Though she is finishing her senior year this year, she plans to continue to attend HMBHS for the next four years before possibly moving on to College of San Mateo. Both Delaney and her mom hope that she will be able to continue to play the part of Cougie for the high school and maybe even become a college mascot in the future. Beyond that, “I want to be a Disney cast member,” Delaney said, referring to the employees that work at Disneyland and dress up as Disney characters for visitors. 

Delaney’s talent doesn’t end with the costume. She is a part of the HMBHS Chorale and even sang a solo in the chorale’s fall concert. She has also taken part in the high school’s musical productions, most recently playing a dentist’s patient and pizza chef in last year’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” Delaney will also be in the ensemble for the high school’s upcoming musical production of “Urinetown.”

When she isn’t singing, Delaney can be found swimming at Petite Baleen or creating videos with her mom for her popular TikTok account. With a following of over 60,000 people, she keeps viewers entertained with videos featuring Cougie, her many talents, and her life as a high schooler. Alongside her dream of working at Disneyland, Delaney also hopes to be a social media influencer. She is already regularly recognized by people across the Bay Area and is often stopped and asked for photos.  

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How rare was the orca stranding on a Florida beach? It’s the first on record.

When Blair Mase arrived at the Palm Coast beach around 9 a.m. Wednesday, she was in disbelief.

In front of her, a 6,000-pound female killer whale was stranded on the shoreline — a sight never before recorded in Florida. The whale had been beached there for at least three hours by the time Mase had arrived, and curious beachgoers had gathered in droves to take a look.

“It was highly, highly unusual,” said Mase, the Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we have never had a record of a killer whale stranding in Florida — or in the Southeast U.S.,” she said.

The public typically associates orcas with the chillier waters of the Pacific Northwest, where the animals are documented regularly near shore. But there are actually two stocks, or identified populations, found around Florida’s warmer waters, according to Mase. There’s the Western North Atlantic Stock and the Northern Gulf of Mexico Stock, named after the regions where the animals are known to roam.

Orcas have even been observed in the Bahamas and the broader Caribbean, according to Mase.

“We do get sightings of healthy killer whales and killer whale pods from fishermen offshore,” Mase told the Tampa Bay Times over the phone Thursday morning. “But the real rarity is having one actually washed up on the beach.”

This photo provided by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office shows a stranded killer whale in Palm Coast on Wednesday. According to authorities, the 21-foot killer whale died after beaching itself. (Flagler County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press)
This photo provided by Flagler County Sheriff’s Office shows a stranded killer whale in Palm Coast on Wednesday. According to authorities, the 21-foot killer whale died after beaching itself. (Flagler County Sheriff’s Office via Associated Press)

What killed the orca?

The 21-foot female orca had worn-out teeth, a signal to scientists that she was old. Her body was brought to SeaWorld, where a team of pathologists and biologists from several organizations, including the University of Florida and Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, worked feverishly overnight to necropsy the animal and take samples.

By Thursday morning, they were able to rule out human interaction as a cause of death, like trauma or plastic ingestion, Mase said. There were also no signs of trauma from military sonar operations, which may be linked to whale beaching deaths.

Instead, early test results showed signs of disease. While the specific illness is still unknown, scientists are shipping samples to a lab, where more information will become available in the coming weeks, Mase said.

Over her three decades of experience collecting animals, Mase said sick and injured marine mammals will often come to the beach to die. When she first got the call about 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, there was speculation the whale was still alive. But biologists are still unable to confirm that detail, she said.

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The rare sighting drew so many people to the beach before noon that the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office had to shut down Jungle Hut Road to all traffic, next to the park where the whale was found, the agency posted on social media.

A busy year for whales offshore of Florida

Federal ocean scientists consider the orca to be “the ocean’s top predator.” They’re found in every ocean in the world, and are the most widely distributed whale or dolphin species, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The animals were once targeted by hunters and fishers, and threats included commercial hunting and culling to protect angler fish crops, according to the agency. The Southern Resident killer whales, which range from California to southeast Alaska, are the only endangered population of killer whales in the United States.

News of the stranded orca in Flagler County emerged the same morning that hundreds of beachgoers about 200 miles to the south were watching in awe as an endangered North Atlantic right whale mother and calf swam together just offshore of Palm Beach County. The new whale mom, Pilgrim, and her calf were swimming south along Florida’s Atlantic coast.

“We’ve had a busy year so far, honestly, with right whale sightings and stranded large whales. So lots of people are seeing them in the water,” Mase said. Right whales are considered one of the world’s most endangered whale species, and the peak calving season runs from December through March.

Mase said she couldn’t help but feel a wave of different emotions when she first saw the dead orca.

“It does tug at your heartstrings to see any stranded marine mammal. But killer whales specifically are just such beautiful creatures,” Mase said.

“But there’s also a lot of curiosity: You want to know why it’s there, and you want to know what killed it. And I was also like, ‘Wow! We have a killer whale on a Florida beach!’ So there’s just a lot of different feelings going on.”

You can help with whale sightings: The public is encouraged to report stranded or injured marine mammals by contacting the Southeast Regional Marine Mammal Stranding hotline at 877-942-5343.

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Sinkhole closes both directions of Highway 92 near Half Moon Bay, CHP says

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Thursday, January 12, 2023 9:13PM

CHP: Sinkhole closes both directions of Highway 92 near Half Moon Bay

HALF MOON BAY, Calif. (KGO) — Highway 92 in San Mateo County has been shut down again in both directions due to a sinkhole that formed overnight, CHP says.

The highway shut down at 3 a.m. from upper SR-35 to Pilarcitos Creek Road.

SKY7 image of a sinkhole on Highway 92 near Half Moon Bay that has shut down the road in both directions.

SKY7 image of a sinkhole on Highway 92 near Half Moon Bay that has shut down the road in both directions.

MORE: Sinkhole temporarily closes Oakland Zoo until at least Jan. 17

The sinkhole formed at a spot where there was a dip that caused the road to close on Thursday, before reopening.

CHP says it is unknown when the highway will reopen. Currently, anyone going to Half Moon Bay will have to drive on Highway 1.

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