New protections for endangered whales along the California coast adopted

Some positive news for large whales to start 2023.

The International Maritime Organisation has adopted a U.S. proposal to increase protections for endangered blue, fin and humpback whales off the California coast in and around the NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Blue, fin and humpback whales are protected by the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act.

This area is a key part of the whales migratory route between their summer feeding grounds and winter breeding grounds, as well as an important feeding area. It also has some of the highest densities of commercial maritime traffic in the world, which can result in serious injury or death to whales.

The accepted proposal includes:

– A 13 nautical mile extension of traffic lanes, known as the “traffic separation scheme” which will result in vessels lining up for port entry farther west and away from the continental shelf, in deeper waters where there are lower concentrations of whales.
– The area to be avoided by vessels is expanding by more than 2,000 square nautical miles, and will cover, in total, approximately 4,476 square nautical miles of important whale feeding habitat off Point Conception and Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County, California.

“The IMO’s decision will enhance navigation safety and improve protection of whales,” said John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. “These adjustments demonstrate a successful collaboration between the United States, the IMO and the global shipping community.”

The proposal will take effect in the summer of 2023 and follows many years of dedication and hard work by a number of organisations and actors who have raised awareness of this issue, encouraged ships to slow down voluntarily and continued to lobby for increased protections for whales.

We are looking forward to reading more about the success of this adjustment over the coming years and to seeing further protections for whales from ship strikes in other areas containing high levels of commercial traffic.