The International Maritime Organization recently approved a proposal by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that will adjust shipping lanes leading into the bustling ports of California, to make way for whales that occupy those same waters. The heavily trafficked waters west of Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco and Santa Barbara are economically crucial to trade, but this change is crucially needed.
Migrating blue, fin and humpback whales are frequently hit by ships in California’s coastal waters, but blue whales, the largest animals on the planet, are of prime concern. The slow-moving and endangered marine mammals are highly vulnerable to ship strikes. Their vulnerability is heightened by their tendency to surface in response to stress, bringing them into fatal collision range of large vessels. Five whales were killed by ship strikes in the San Francisco area in 2010, and scientists say the mortality rate may be much higher because most dead whales sink.
This is a win-win situation because moving shipping routes out of whale feeding and migration areas will not only help save whales but also improve safety of humans by reducing fatal boat collisions.
Marine Conservation groups have noted that the next step is to establish real-time monitoring of whales and to actively direct vessel traffic away from them.