For Immediate Release, September 25, 2007
Contact: Brendan Cummings, (760) 366-2232 x 304
Petition Seeks Emergency Rule Limiting Ship Speed in
Santa Barbara Channel to Protect Blue Whales;
Three Blue Whales Likely Killed by Ships in Past Two Weeks
SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned the federal government to set speed limits for ships in the Santa Barbara Channel off southern California to protect endangered blue whales. At least three dead blue whales have been documented in southern California over the past two weeks; ship strikes have been identified as the cause of death for two of the whales and the most likely cause of death for the third.
While blue whales are regularly seen in the Santa Barbara Channel, the whales generally leave the channel by the end of August. But this year, likely due to abnormal ocean conditions, large numbers of blue whales have stayed to feed in the channel, which puts them in the path of vessels using some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. Scientists have speculated that the whales may also be suffering from domoic acid poisoning, the result of toxic algae blooms, disorienting them and making them more susceptible to being hit by ships. The frequency and intensity of domoic acid outbreaks has increased in recent years with warming waters.
“Whether the blue whales are being disoriented by military sonar, toxic algae or something else entirely, what is actually killing them is speeding ships,” said Brendan Cummings, oceans program director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The single most effective thing we can do to protect blue whales is to slow down large ships.”
Ship strikes are one of the leading causes of death of large whales worldwide. Research on the U.S.’s east coast has identified ship speed limits as the most effective method to reduce whale mortality.
The Center’s petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. agency in charge of enforcing the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to set a speed limit of 10 nautical miles per hour in the Santa Barbara Channel for all vessels 65 feet or larger until the whales have left the channel. The Fisheries Service has proposed similar speed limits on the east coast to protect the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Most large vessels plying the Santa Barbara Channel are heading to or from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Several thousand container ships transit the channel each year and are a major source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Because vessel fuel consumption increases dramatically with speed, speed restrictions on large vessels will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.
The blue whale is the largest animal known to have ever lived on earth. Once numbering over 300,000, the global blue whale population has been reduced by commercial whaling to likely fewer than 10,000 individuals. Blue whales off California are part of a population comprised of about 1,200 animals; scientists estimate that more than one human-caused death each year will impede the recovery of the California population.
“We are incredibly lucky to have one of the most incredible animals that has ever existed right off our coast,” said Cummings. “But we also have the responsibility to manage our oceans to ensure that our rich waters are not a death trap for endangered species.”
A copy of the petition and additional information is available at www.biologicaldiversity.org .
The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.