The sun rose over the Mississippi Gulf Coast on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina to flooded and deserted streets and sporadic power outages.
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The bodies of hundreds of pelicans have been found in Peru on the same beaches where almost 900 dead dolphins have washed up over the last month.
The government said they will investigate the deaths of almost 600 birds found along a 70km stretch of northern coastline - the majority of which are pelicans, but also include gannets.
A 200-pound man in a kayak has nothing on a 40-ton humpback whale hunting for breakfast, but that's not stopping dozens of sightseers from getting cozy with a pod that has strayed unusually close to shore near Santa Cruz.
So far, no one's been hurt, but at least one sailboat was damaged this week when it struck a whale in the warm waters of Monterey Bay, according to the National Marine Sanctuary there.
Both the sanctuary and the U.S. Coast Guard issued warnings Tuesday advising the public to stay at least 100 yards away from the animals or risk a hefty fine - minimum $2,500 - for whale harassment. The Coast Guard plans to have vessels in the area today to keep people a safe distance from the whales.
"The sheer number of folks crowding around the whales is not only an issue for the whales themselves, but also public safety," said Paul Michel, superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, who estimated that 100 people, most of them on kayaks or paddleboards, were in the waters last weekend.
The pod in question is on its annual migration down to Mexico, where the whales will start breeding during the winter months. The whales typically stop along the California coast to bulk up on anchovies, sardines and krill, but their feeding grounds are usually several miles from the shore.
Following the fish
This year, biologists believe, weather conditions drove the anchovies closer to shore and the whales followed the food, leading them to feed just a mile from land. The whales got national attention last week when a photographer with the Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council got a lucky shot of a kayaker surprised by a pair of them breaching just a few feet away.
Aside from the fact that the humpback whales are wild animals and really, really big - they're about as long as a school bus - biologists said it's especially important that people stay away from them now, while they're engaged in what's known as "lunge feeding." That's when the whales drop their lower jaw 90 degrees and fly through the water just below the surface, catching huge mouthfuls of fish and whatever else gets in their way.
"Whales are pretty darn good at knowing where people are, even while they're feeding," said biologist Don Croll, a professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz. "But that doesn't mean a kayaker couldn't get wrapped up in the commotion. You could get yourself really hurt if you've got several tons of an animal on top of you."
Good time to watch
Still, it's not like people need to avoid the water altogether. In fact, whale enthusiasts said now is a particularly good time for whale-watching - as long as it's at least 100 yards away.
Michel said he's worried that, aside from the potential danger to humans, all of the people crowding the whales might interrupt their feeding patterns, depriving them of the energy they need to continue to Mexico. He said most of the whales were suspiciously absent on Sunday, and he wondered if they hadn't grown wary of the people.
But Croll said he doubts all of the human attention will cause any physical or psychological damage to the whales. He's gotten close to hungry humpbacks while researching them, and "once whales lock into food, there's not much that can persuade them from eating," he said.
He hasn't gone out to watch them recently, although during an interview from his office overlooking Monterey Bay on Tuesday, he mentioned he could see them outside his window. Sounding a bit sheepish, and careful to warn that people should keep their distance, Croll said amateur whale-watchers have a pretty rare opportunity right now - and one that won't last long, since the whales will almost certainly be gone in a few weeks.
"Lunge feeding is probably one of the largest biomechanical events on the planet. It's a really, really great thing for people to see," he said. "They could get hurt if they get too close. They also could have the thrill of a lifetime."
Evacuations began on a tiny barrier island off North Carolina as Hurricane Irene strengthened to a major Category 3 storm over the Bahamas on Wednesday with the East Coast in its sights.
A new kind of highly absorbent material called Oilskill protects beaches from oil spills, say its Swiss and German developers. Manoush Zomorodi reports.