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Ships move for whales

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Ship traffic off the coast of California will be re-routed under new rules designed to protect whales. The International Maritime Organization has approved lane changes on approaches to San Francisco Bay and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as in the Santa Barbara Channel. The modifications will take effect next year, after the Coast Guard completes its rulemaking process.

Endangered blue whales, fin whales and humpback whales are vulnerable to ship strikes since they are attracted to the California shoreline by the abundance of krill. There are believed to be about 2,000 blue whales, 2,000 fin whales and 2,500 humpbacks in the northeast Pacific.

In 2010, five whales died in ship accidents in the area outside San Francisco Bay. Under the lane modifications, three lanes on the approach to San Francisco Bay will be extended, a change that will limit the risk of collisions within the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries.

In the Santa Barbara Channel, where four blue whales were killed in 2007, a southbound lane will be shifted a mile north, steering ships away from feeding grounds used by blue whales and humpback whales. Other lanes will be narrowed. Lane changes are also planned for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

NOAA helped craft the latest shipping lane changes. The agency said that the lane changes that went into effect off the coast of Massachusetts five years ago have reduced the risk of whale strikes from ships.

Reported in a recent edition of Wheelhouse Weekly, a newsletter of the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots. It has been reprinted with permission.

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