A variety of whale species return to the Santa Barbara Channel in the summer; thus, the threat of ship striking them increases dramatically during these months. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) intervened on the whales’ behalf recently and requested large ships reduce speeds in an effort to conserve the populations of endangered species. The U.S. Coast Guard is helping get the word out to mariners by broadcasting the following message on the marine band radio:
“Mariners are advised to keep a sharp lookout for blue, humpback, and fin whales around the Channel Islands. NOAA strongly recommends that vessels 300 gross registered tons or larger transiting the traffic separation scheme in the area between Sandy Point, Santa Rosa Island and Point Hueneme do so at speeds not in excess of 10 knots due to whales in this area.”
All of the west coast ports together service 50 percent of container traffic into and out of the United States. The large vessels coming in and out of Long Beach and Los Angeles pose a risk to whales—migrating toward our coast to feed on krill, a small shrimp-like animal—and have been known to kill wildlife in their paths.
“We are asking the captains of these large vessels and the companies that own and operate them to take action to reduce the risk of a ship strike with endangered whales,” said Christina Fahy, from NOAA Fisheries southwest region protected resources division, in a prepared statement.
Peak fatalities occurred in in 2007, when four blue whale fatalities in the Santa Barbara Channel region were confirmed to be caused by ship strike.All whales are protected under Marine Mammal Protection Act, while blue, fin, and humpback are on the Endangered Species Act. Whales in a national marine sanctuary, such as the one surrounding the Channel Islands, are protected under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.
NOAA asks mariners to report any collisions with whales or any observed injured or dead whales to NOAA at 877-SOS-WHALE (877-767-9425) or to the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF-FM Channel 16.