New effort to protect whales outside Golden Gate

July 24, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is a new effort to protect whales off the coast of San Francisco because an alarming number have been killed by ships. So now, NOAA - The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration -- is asking ships to slow down in the Gulf of the Farallones and the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Whales are increasingly in danger of being struck by ships outside of the Golden Gate Bridge. In fact, NOAA says its spotters saw five humpback whales feeding inside a shipping lane on Tuesday.

On June 21st, an endangered fin whale was found near Point Reyes. An autopsy showed the whale's spine had been cleanly severed in half, most likely by the propeller of a ship.

"Right now we have an abundance of whales just outside the Golden Gate Bridge," said Maria Brown from NOAA.

That's why NOAA is recommending all ships slow down to 10 knots in the shipping lanes.

"Today, our access crews spotted a minimum of 30 whales, primarily humpbacks and their calves, between the Farallon Islands and the Golden Gate Bridge," said Brown.

NOAA says the whales are eating huge amounts of krill that are swarming closer to the coast this year, but they're right in the shipping lanes and the decision to slow down is voluntary.

"Obviously, it's counter to their business interests to slow down. They have schedules to make," said John Berge from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association.

Berge says the industry is making a good faith effort to follow the recommendation.

"The crews on the ships also understand that whales are magnificent animals and nobody wants to hit them, so I think if they can see a real nexus between actions that might be required of them and a benefit to the whale population, then we're hoping for success," said Berge.

If it doesn't work, NOAA says it may enact a mandatory rule that would move the shipping lanes further from the coast, and create a slow lane.

"It would be voluntary at first. And if there wasn't compliance, we would look at doing a regulatory action and making it mandatory for vessels to move to a different lane when there are large aggregations of whales," said Brown.

But the shipping industry is already cooperating. Recently, it agreed to have trained whale spotters who will help send out warnings to other ships.

Both NOAA and the shipping industry agree it's going to require a lot of outreach by both parties.


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