A deal to save the whales in the Santa Barbara Channel

So hard to keep up with even of a fraction of what is going on! But here for once is some maybe-semi-kind-of good news from the world of science and the environment.

Research published this june has shown that over a period of fifteen years whales traveling with the California current along the coast have been killed at a steady rate by cargo shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel.

I know that doesn't sound like great news, but wait! There's more. From Oregon State University:  

NEWPORT, Ore. — A comprehensive 15-year analysis of the movements of satellite-tagged blue whales off the West Coast of the United States found that their favored feeding areas are bisected by heavily used shipping lanes, increasing the threat of injury and mortality.

Just this week a fin whale floated dead into the harbor area near Pt. Hueneme. Killed by a marine form of blunt trauma. A ship strike?


At the same time, researchers have proposed plans they believe would markedly reduce the death rate. 

The researchers note that moving the shipping lanes off Los Angeles and San Francisco to slightly different areas – at least, during summer and fall when blue whales are most abundant – could significantly decrease the probability of ships striking the whales. A similar relocation of shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy off eastern Canada lowered the likelihood of vessels striking endangered right whales an estimated 80 percent.

Well that sounds like a good idea. But today from Cheri Carlson at the VC Star news comes of a pilot program, funded by a foundation, working with the shipping industry, to bribe, er, incentivize firms to reduce speeds with payments of $2500 per passage. 

It's a different way to accomplish the same goal — to reduce the number of shipping-related fatalies, which could be as high as thirty whales a year, the experts say. 

So — a plan to reduce the number of fatalies, without costing the taxpayer anything?

Yes  please. 

Ships moving through the Santa Barbara Channel will slow down over the next few months as part of a trial program to help reduce air pollution and protect whales.

Shipping companies can receive a small financial incentive for reducing shipping speeds to 12 knots or less, in the trial modeled after similar programs at Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the Environmental Defense Center have worked together to develop a program for this area.

"It's wonderful," said Dave Van Mullem, director of the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District. "We have ships out there right now that are in the channel that are participating in this program."

The groups were able to launch the pilot program with a $20,000 grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation, and a matching grant from the air pollution control board.

But without interest from the shipping industry, the pilot program would have stalled.

Officials, however, got more interest than they could initially fund and are now seeking money to expand the trial.

Six shipping companies — COSCO, Hapag Lloyd, K Line, Maersk Line, Matson and United Arab Shipping Co. — are participating in the pilot program, which runs from July through October.

Selected ships will reduce their speed between Point Conception and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Companies will receive $2,500 per vessel that passes through the channel at the reduced speed, which is monitored with transmitters along the coast.

Along with reducing air pollution, slowing down reduces the likelihood that a whale involved in a collision will be killed, officials said. Several species of whales, including those considered endangered, can be found in the area.


 Additional note: Tyler Hayden in the Santa Barbara Independent fills in some details today:

In a fortuitous stroke of good timing, a coalition of government, nonprofit, and environmental groups made a joint announcement on Monday that a trial incentive program has kicked off to slow ships in the channel. Reducing boat speeds from 14-18 knots to 12 knots or less, explained Sean Hastings with the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, will not only better protect whales but also cut back on the massive amounts of pollution tankers spew into the air. The Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District has frequently noted that 50 percent of the area’s smog-forming pollution comes from the smokestacks of big ships passing through.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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