NORTHERN KRILL – PHOTO BY OYSTEIN PAULSEN
Comparing the waterways around the Channel Islands to a freeway (shades of Carmageddon!), scientists are surveying the oceanscape in small research planes with the aim of providing data that will keep whales and ships far, far apart.
The Los Angeles Times reports on efforts by NOAA scientists who are watching how fin, humpback and blue whales traverse the waters especially around the Santa Barbara Channel. Only a few years ago, these waters were, for the most part, whale-free zones which left cargo ships, barges, fishing boats with a free range ticket territory. Then something strange happened. For whatever reason, the whales have come back into these waters, tempted by the krill (shrimp-like critters) that breeds in the area. Now record numbers of whales are slurping up krill in shipping and boating lanes. What to do?
It’s estimated that six whales die a year from colliding with a ship – and with blue whales on the endangered list, nobody wants to see that kind of accident at sea.
Mariners share the concern of wildlife officials and environmental groups, said Dick McKenna, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California, which monitors all vessel traffic in and out of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports. “Nobody wants to hit a whale,” he said.
“The whales are the kids that run out in traffic; that’s a way to look at it,” said McKenna, a retired U.S. Navy captain who is also a member of the Channel Islands sanctuary’s advisory council. “You try to tell kids not to jump out there, but of course, we have no control over the whales.”
While NOAA recently asked large vessels to slow down in the shipping lane about half speed, most ships are still going full blast. Environmental groups are asking the federal government to establish speed limits in California national marine sanctuaries.