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Protecting Endangered Whales

Spectators watch whales off the California coast.

Busy shipping lanes off the California coast will be adjusted.

Busy shipping lanes off the California coast, including routes that cross three national marine sanctuaries, will be adjusted to protect endangered whales from ship strikes. The adjustment follows on research prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard, which was presented to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the international organization responsible for shipping routes.

Protecting Endangered Whales
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As a result of U.S. proposals to the IMO, three measures were adopted in November to improve navigational safety and to reduce ship strikes on the approach to San Francisco Bay, the Santa Barbara Channel and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Vessels in these areas also travel through NOAA's Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries where blue, humpback and fin whales feed and congregate.

"This is a win-win situation, backed by NOAA research, that allows for enhanced protection of endangered whales and natural resources while at the same time increasing maritime safety," said William J. Douros, west coast regional director of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Slow-moving whales are highly vulnerable to ship strikes, since many of their feeding and migration areas overlap with shipping lanes. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by confirmed or likely ship strikes in and around the Santa Barbara Channel. In 2010, five whales (two blue, one humpback, and two fin whales) were killed by confirmed or likely ship strikes in the San Francisco area and elsewhere along the north-central California coast.

Extending the three shipping lanes in the approach to San Francisco Bay is expected to reduce interactions between ships and whales within Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuaries by keeping shipping on a dedicated route through prime fishing grounds.

In the Santa Barbara Channel and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the changes will narrow the overall width of the existing lanes and shift the southbound lane one nautical mile north. This change will move vessels away from an area used by feeding blue and humpback whales.

These changes take effect in on 1 June 2013. All whales are protected under United States law by the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

The United States remains committed to protecting marine mammals and other endangered species and the habitats that support them.