GWC Press Releases

Congresswomen Capps and Brownley Assist GWC Effort to Move
California Shipping Lanes to Protect Endangered Blue Whales

For immediate release: October 22, 2013

Every year between July and October, the world’s largest subpopulation of Blue Whales feeds on massive krill blooms along the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco, an area that directly overlaps with one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.  Thousands of cargo ships, oil tankers, and cruise ships traverse the same waters as the whales for hundreds of miles, which has led to numerous fatal collisions with blue, finback and humpback whales in recent years.  One of the most dangerous areas for the whales lies directly off the coasts of Santa Barbara and Ventura, where shipping lanes cut between the northern Channel Islands and the shore. 

More than a decade of discussions between scientists, regulators, and the shipping industry have failed to adequately address the issue for which a simple solution exists: move the shipping lanes further from the coastline and in particular, outside the northern Channel Islands by ~15-20 miles into international waters for the months of July through October when the whales are present in the Santa Barbara Channel in their greatest numbers.  A major stumbling block to adopting this solution has been the U.S. Navy’s unwillingness to support rerouting the ships because from time to time the Navy conducts exercises in those international waters. 

According to Gershon Cohen PhD, co-Director of the GWC: “shipping industry representatives have told us they would be willing to consider moving further from shore if they were confident the Navy wouldn’t object to their presence on short notice, which would disrupt their shipping schedules.  Some ships have already been ignoring the Navy’s objections and sailing through these waters since California required the use of cleaner fuels when traveling near-shore.  But the Navy’s opposition remains a deterrent for some companies, so we asked Representatives Capps and Brownley, who have been working on the issue for some time, for their help.  They submitted a letter today formally asking the Navy to sit down with the industry to discuss how they can meet their needs while increasing the safety of these intelligent, beautiful whales, the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth.  We applaud Representative’s Capps’ and Brownley’s leadership and hope the Navy responds quickly and positively – every day the move is delayed increases the risk to the whales’ survival.”  The GWC has long advocated for establishing an alternate shipping lane outside of critical Blue Whale habitat from July-October, which would have no significant impact on the cost of goods or the Navy’s ability to ensure national security. 

Blue whale populations have failed to rebound despite a near-fifty year ban on commercial hunting: only ~10,000 remain.  Collisions with ships in a few critical feeding areas around the world continue to have a significant impact on their numbers.  To see recent photos of Blue Whales in harm’s way in California waters, and for more information on GWC’s work, please contact us through our website or at the email addresses or phone numbers listed below.

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michael@greatwhaleconservancy.org
828-675-0562

gershon@greatwhaleconservancy.org
907-766-3005

First Steps Proposed to Protect Blue Whales near San Francisco    

For immediate release: July 16, 2012

Increased protections for blue whales along the coast of California are long overdue, and true protection remains a long way off, but initial, voluntary steps were proposed this week by NOAA with support from the Coast Guard, whale scientists, and the shipping industry.

Blue whales are killed by ship strikes every year while feeding along the coast of California. Massive cargo ships, oil tankers and cruise ships collide with the whales as they transit between the ports of San Francisco and Los Angeles/Long Beach. The current transit lanes are directly aligned with where the whales feed on krill in the mid to late summer months. According to Gershon Cohen PhD, co-­‐director of the Great Whale Conservancy (GWC); “There are about 10,000 blue whales left on the planet – losing any significant number of the remaining population leaves the entire species vulnerable to extinction.”

The Great Whale Conservancy is advocating for moving all of the shipping lanes out of critical feeding habitat for the months of August, September and October.

The cost of rerouting the ships further from the coast is estimated to be a few dollars per container. According to GWC co-­‐director Michael Fishbach; “It’s a travesty to kill these magnificent beings when saving them would cost pennies for each item in those containers.”  Federal regulators and the shipping industry have long been aware of the problem. The ships are so large they fail to see the whales, cannot maneuver out of the way in time when they do see them, and are often unaware they have collided with the whales despite being the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. As many as five lethal whale strikes have been confirmed in recent seasons, and the real number of deaths may be ten times that number because whales are negatively buoyant and often sink when they die.

Under the new proposal, the ships can opt to place observers on deck to help spot whales near the traffic lanes. The goal is to have the ships use different approaches when large numbers of whales are present near any one approach. It remains to be seen how successful these effort will be because the whales feed throughout the area, many will not be spotted, and changing each ship’s approach may take a day or more to coordinate. Even then, avoiding a high-­‐density whale area will be completely voluntary. The most promising part of the proposal, which still needs by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), is to extend the north, west, and lanes further from the coast to reduce the time spent by the ships over the continenwhere huge clouds of krill attract feeding whales.

Plans were also recently forwarded to the IMO to extend one-mile transit lane adjustments to the Channel Islands near Santa Barbara, where many strikes have occurred in recent years. The GWC believe a greater shift, of perhaps 10-­‐15 miles will likely be necessary to significantly reduce the number of strikes in that area.

For more information, please contact the Great Whale Conservancy.

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