Whales and air quality both benefit from a program that rewards ships for slowing along the California coast.

John Calambokidis

Whales and air quality both benefit from a program that rewards ships for slowing along the California coast.

California’s Whale Protection Program Expands

Slower Tanker Traffic Also Means Less Pollution

The slowing of shipping traffic through the Santa Barbara Channel – an initiative to lower death rates from ships hitting whales and also to decrease pollution – expanded to the Bay Area in 2017. A ceremony near the Port of Los Angeles on March 1 recognized the 11 companies that participated; they reduced speeds to less than 12 or 10 knots along California’s coast during 140 trips in exchange for $1,000-$2,750 in compensation. The program prevented the release of 83.5 tons of nitrogen oxides and 2,630 metric tons of greenhouse gases this past year.

In response to the expansion of the program to include the San Francisco Bay Area and three more marine sanctuaries, three-quarters of the participating ships kept their speed low in between the zones that paid benefits for doing so. The participating companies were France’s CMA CGM; Evergreen and Yang Ming, headquartered in Taiwan; Hamburg Süd and Hapag Lloyd of Germany; Hyundai (South Korea); K Line and NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) Ro-Ro Division (Japan); Maersk (Denmark); Matson (Honolulu); and MSC (Mediterranean Shipping Company) (Switzerland).

Courtesy Photo

Representatives of 10 of the 11 participating shipping companies — all but NYK — received awards at the March 1 Voluntary Speed Reduction event at Bannings Landing Community Center.

The program runs from July 1 through November 15, which is a “sweet spot” for both the whale migration season and higher pollution potential, explained Mary Byrd, of the APCD. The trial program involved six shipping firms and 16 transits in 2014, when APCD started the program with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and Environmental Defense Center, with additional funding from the Santa Barbara Foundation. As well as adding the Bay Area air pollution district this year — Ventura County’s district was added later in 2014 — the National Marine Sanctuaries at Cordell Bank, Greater Farallones, and Monterey Bay also took part this year. The funding is through the districts and two foundations: the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the Volgenau Foundation.

While air pollution results are readily visible and measurable, whales tend to sink out of sight when hit by ships, Byrd said, and the number of whales saved would be an estimate. On the West Coast, blue, humpback, and fin whales are the most common victims. The decreased injury and mortality when ships travel more slowly — as well as relocating shipping lanes and creating protection zones — led to a mandatory speed of 10 knots or less along the East Coast to protect the endangered right whale. Santa Barbara County and the Channel Islands sanctuary started the program after numerous studies indicated that slowed shipping traffic — whales do not swim out of a ship’s way — give whales a better chance at survival.

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