Re-Routing Ships to Avoid Collisions with Blue Whales

The Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are becoming more and more “crowded”, as they are not only swimming channels for blue whales, but they are also crossing points for more and more ships. For blue whales migrating off the coast of Long Beach, traffic from this port gets in their way and can pose a great threat. This is because the growing number of ships means potential collisions and injuries to the endangered whales.


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This also led authorities to re-route ships across the west coast around feeding areas and migration routes, staring this June. Hopefully, this preventative measure will help prevent these massive creatures from getting injured.

As more and more ships pass through this bustling port complex, fin whales and humpbacks are being killed or severely hurt by collisions with barges and boats. These run-ins happen especially during the whale migration season in Southern California, meaning from late December to mid May.

There are about 200 blue whales (which represent 10% of the entire Pacific Ocean population) passing through Catalina Island and the mainland every year on their way to the Santa Barbara Channel, where they feed on krill before migrating to summer feeding grounds farther north.

Even though whale deaths are not an annual occurrence, such cases have been reported in previous years, as current shipping lanes go directly over their feeding grounds. In 2007, for instance, it was reported that an unprecedented 5 blue whales were struck and killed in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Fortunately, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has joined forces with the Coast Guard starting this year and came up with the plan that is expected to take effect that will significantly reduce (if not eliminate) these numbers. Ships such as ocean-going cargo vessels, automobile carriers and tugboats near the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles will be slightly re-routed in order to avoid collisions with blue whales.


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Ships will also be re-routed in the San Francisco Bay and the Channel Islands, which will create a one-mile buffer between the ships and the migration routes of the massive sea creatures. Even though these changes will not reduce all risks concerning blue whales, they will surely drop them in a drastic way.

The US Coast Guard acknowledged the need to move shipping lanes in order to protect whales ever since 2011, but the US Navy objected to the shift. However, the changes were adopted by the International Maritime Organization back in November.

According to Dick McKenna of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, “though approved this past year, there is a comment period that is now required”. He added that “this will be conducted by the Coast Guard shortly, and unofficially there appears to be no opposition to the move. However, things don’t go into effect until the process is officially completed”.

The changes are expected to be implemented and the end of this June. These include reducing the space between the north and southbound pathways from 2 miles to 1 mile and moving the northbound lane 1 mile closer to the mainland. The new shipping lanes are expected to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and the migrating blue whales, which do not need any more threats, as they are already endangered species.