Credit: / Wikimedia Commons

The Santa Barbara Channel is now under consideration to be named a Whale Heritage Site (WHS) by the World Cetacean Alliance, a designation that would formally accredit it as an ocean environment where whales, dolphins, and porpoises are respected, celebrated, and protected.

The WHS program, run in partnership with World Animal Protection, currently recognizes just five sites around the planet ― two in South Africa, one in Australia, one in Spain, and one in the United States at Dana Point. The Santa Barbara Channel is on a shortlist of eight more candidates, with a decision expected in the next year.

“These sites highlight the most sustainable platforms for engaging with marine life through responsible whale-watching and community participation,” said Holly Lohuis, a marine biologist and educator with Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society. “There is a long, deep history of connection to the cetaceans in this area through the Chumash people, and we want to encourage everyone to reconnect with nature through these amazing mammals in their natural habitat.”

Lohuis explained a WHS badge would help support the conservation-minded companies that host Channel tours, including the Condor Express, Double Dolphin, and Island Packers, as well as the local organizations that promote the region’s rich ecological heritage, like the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

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Cousteau also emphasized how it would align with the way many people now explore the world. “I believe more and more people are placing learning and discovery at the heart of their travels,” he said. “They want to understand how their trips and excursions contribute to the conservation of the places they visit.”

In the last two months alone, there have been more than 50 sightings of blue, fin, gray, humpback, and killer whales cruising through the Santa Barbara Channel, said Lohuis. Now is a particularly good time to spot humpbacks, who make it a point to come our way every year and hunt for tasty bait balls of anchovy. “It’s like going to your favorite restaurant,” she said. The Channel is also blessed with a particularly healthy population of blue whales, which are still clawing their way back from near-extinction.

Lohuis encouraged watchers to log their observations on, a citizen science tool that helps track individual whales throughout the world’s oceans. Lohuis will also speak during a free April 21 webinar hosted by the Maritime Museum about how whales act as “ecosystem engineers.” They play an important role in the process of carbon sequestration, and their frequent trips down to the depths and up to the surface act as a “nutrient pump” that helps sustain the sea’s living systems.

To learn more about the Santa Barbara Channel’s pending WHS accreditation, visit

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