RoRo vessel whale fluke

In California, ship strikes of gray whales are the most commonly reported followed by fin, blue, humpback, and sperm whales. Credit: John Calambokidis/Cascadia Reseach Via NOAA

New Protections for Endangered Whales Along the California Coast Coming this Summer

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 1002
January 5, 2023

Global shipping regulator the UN International Maritime Organization has adopted a U.S. proposal to increase protections for endangered whales from deadly ship strikes off the California coast.

The proposal, adopted in November, takes effect this coming summer and expands areas that vessels should avoid to give whales more space, and extends vessel traffic lanes west of, in and around NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council’s Marine Shipping Working Group originally recommended the modifications in 2015. NOAA partnered with the U.S. Coast Guard to submit the proposal to the IMO in 2022.

“The IMO’s decision will enhance navigation safety and improve protection of whales,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “These adjustments demonstrate a successful collaboration between the United States, the IMO and the global shipping community.”

The International Maritime Organization recently approved changes to vessel traffic lanes in and around NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The changes take effect summer 2023. Credit: NOAA

The U.S.-recommended adjustments will enhance navigation safety and protect whale species, particularly blue, fin and humpback, from ship strikes in an area containing some of the highest densities of commercial maritime traffic in the world.

A 13-nautical-mile extension of vessel traffic lanes, known as the “traffic separation scheme,” will result in vessels lining up for port entry farther west and away from the continental shelf, in deeper waters where there are lower concentrations of whales. The area to be avoided by vessels is expanding by more than 2,000 square nautical miles, and will cover, in total, approximately 4,476 square nautical miles of important whale feeding habitat off Point Conception and Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County, California.

Blue, fin and humpback whales are protected by the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

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