The global shipping regulator, the International Maritime

Organization, recently announced it will adjust the economically crucial

shipping lanes leading into the bustling ports of California, thereby reducing

danger to the whales that ply those same waters. The changes will likely take

effect this year.

The heavily trafficked waters west of Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco and Santa Barbara are also the feeding grounds and migration routes of blue, humpback and fin whales. The slow cetaceans are vulnerable to collisions with ships. For example, in 2010, five whales (two blue, one humpback, and two fin) were killed by confirmed or likely ship strikes near San Francisco and central California.

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The changes in shipping lanes will help regulate traffic through three marine sanctuaries. Moving commercial vessels out of biologically rich areas will also make prime fishing locations safer for the top predator of the ocean, humans. Fishing boats also ply the waters of the whales’ homes. Changing shipping routes should reduce the risk of boat collisions and other conflicts.

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The change was a result of collaboration between the International

Maritime Organization, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and

the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The modifications to the traffic lanes balance the safe and efficient flow of commerce within and between our nation's ports, with NOAA's goal of reducing whale strikes from vessels," said Rear Admiral Karl Schultz, Eleventh Coast Guard district commander in a press release.


A blue whale off the coast of California (CREDIT: NOAA)