Shipping companies recognized for helping protect migrating whales along NorCal coast

ByTim Didion & Dan Ashley KGO logo
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
Shipping companies recognized for helping protect migrating whales
Groups working to protect whales off the California coast are offering a big thank you to shipping companies for taking action to prevent deadly collisions with whales.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- If they could do it in their own language, thousands of migrating whales would probably want to say thank you. So now, a group of marine scientists is saying it for them.

They're awarding several whale tail trophies to commercial shipping companies, thanking them for slowing down to help protect the whales from deadly collisions.

"And I think it's something that's well deserved because we have a number of shipping lines, who have drastically changed their operations and drastically changed their scheduling, to ensure that they're slowing down to ten knots for hundreds of miles off of our coastline to protect whales," says Jess Morten, with the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Morten explains that the awards are part of their Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program, which asks shipping companies to reduce the speed of their vessels voluntarily. It's traditionally included financial incentives, until now.

"And so actually, this year, for the first time in 2023, this has become an incentive program that's just based on positive progress and recognition," says Morten.

The top-tier award winners include eight major shipping companies that achieved close to full compliance. One winner, Mediterranean Shipping Company, told ABC7 News in a statement: "We are committed to making sustainable shipping a reality by doing everything in our power to protect marine life."

"Which is really exciting to see," adds Morten.

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And while the list of shipping companies participating in the program is growing, so is the technology behind it.

A partnership, led by Benioff Ocean Science Laboratory, helped place special eavesdropping buoys outside San Francisco Bay.

The devices essentially hear the presence of whales in the area and relay the information to managers.

Callie Leiphardt is a project scientist with Benioff and UC Santa Barbara and says the system is multi-tiered.

"So that includes a dynamic whale habitat model, sightings data, and the buoy data," she explains. "So real-time acoustic data and all three of these complement each other to try to fill in some of the data gaps that we're seeing. Whales aren't always calling, we don't always have boats out on the water, looking for whales. So the ocean can tell us a lot about the likelihood of whales."

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This gray whale is one of eight that's believed to have come through the Golden Gate Strait this year, which scientists say is unusual and concerning.

Organizers are also reaching out to corporations that rely on shipping to move their products, to help them use the data to assure their customers that their supply chain is working to become whale-safe. They say it's all part of an evolving system, to protect some of the most magnificent creatures on earth.

The eight participating shipping companies receiving the top tier awards are: Orient Overseas Container Line, Mediterranean Shipping Company, Swire Shipping, Yang Ming, COSCO Shipping, NYK Ro_Ro, Wallenius Wilhelmsen, and CSL Group.

There's another benefit to the program. Organizers say the ships slowing down in Bay Area waters are also generating less pollution. Hence the name "Blue Whales, Blue Skies."

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