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U.S. Coast Guard Fights for Endangered Whales, Proposes Moving Major Shipping Lanes

By The Maritime Executive 11-02-2011 02:41:26

At the beginning of the summer, MarEx reported on a speed limit battle brewing between shippers and environmentalists concerning high traffic sea lanes infringing upon a national marine sanctuary for endangered whales.  With the escalation of threat to the dwindling marine mammals, the U.S. Coast Guard has taken the plight to protect the whales even further by recommending that the shipping lanes in the Santa Barbara Channel be shifted out of harm’s way.

On Tuesday, the USCG published a proposal that would narrow the lanes in the channel and move one of them north of an underwater drop-off close to the Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands where blue, fin, and humpback whales have been gathering for krill feeding.  The proposal emphasizes that this shift will help to preserve the marine environment of the endangered whales that are at great risk of being struck in the major lanes. Another suggestion in the proposal is the establishment of new shipping lanes that would lie south of the Channel Islands.

PHOTO:  A Blue Whale breeching, the most vulnerable time for whales to come into contact with shipping vessels.

Since 2007, four blue whales have died as a result of vessel collisions and began to alarm authorities about the speed limit while ships are travelling through the area.  Speed limit reductions, however, do not quell the concerns from federal wildlife officials and environmental groups as the blue whale feeding presence outside of the Los Angeles Harbor is growing right in the path of a major lane.

The proposed shipping lane changes, and creations, would create a more defined route for ship traffic which currently isn’t available to many freighters.  Unbounded ship traffic creates more predictability of traffic, and more security towards the sensitive marine ecosystem that must be preserved off of California’s coasts. 

Environmental activists have praised the idea of moving the shipping lanes out of the feeding zones for the endangered sea mammals, but remain disappointed that speed restrictions were not added as part of the proposal from the USCG.

To read more about the situation off of California, click here.