Group calls for reduced vessel speeds to protect blue whales
The Center for Biological Diversity, a Tucson, Ariz.-based environmental group, formally petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Wednesday to set speed limits for ships near the Southern California ports to prevent possible ship strikes of endangered blue whales.
The move comes following the discovery of three dead blue whales along the Southern California Coast in the past two weeks. Experts from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, which conducted analyses of the dead whales, determined that collisions with ocean going vessels caused all three deaths.
Observations in the Santa Barbara Channel, a main shipping lane leading to and from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, have revealed about 100 blue whales and a high concentration of krill, the whales' primary food source. While blue whales are common in the channel, they typically move on by the end of August. Several thousand containerships, as well as other large cargo vessels, transit the channel annually with numbers typically higher in the later part of the year as the peak shipping season moves into full swing.
The center’s petition asks the NMFS, the U.S. agency charged with enforcing the Endangered Species and Marine Mammal Protection acts, to limit vessels 65 feet or larger transiting the Santa Barbara Channel to 10 nautical miles per hour until the whales have left for the season. The request is not without precedent as the NMFS has proposed similar vessel speed regulations on the East Coast to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The blue whale is the largest living animal on earth, ranging up to 100 feet long and weighing in at 200 tons. Discounting fragmentary evidence of mega-sized dinosaurs, the blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived on the planet. Commercial whaling in the 20th century reduced their numbers from around 300,000 to a current worldwide population of about 10,000. A population of about 1,200 frequent the coast of Southern California each year.