LOS ANGELES, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Several endangered whale
species may get a new lease on life when some cargo shipping
lanes off the California coast are shifted next year.
Routes due to be changed by June 2013 are used by
ocean-going cargo vessels, tugboats and automobile carriers near
San Francisco Bay, the Channel Islands in central California and
the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, environmental officials
said on Friday.
The shipping channels overlap with whale feeding and
migration areas, and several blue whales and fin whales have
been killed by ships, they said.
"The issue really struck home for us" with those deaths,
said Michael Carver, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) deputy superintendent of Cordell Bank
National Marine Sanctuary in northern California.
The changes will not reduce the risk to zero, said Sean
Hastings, a resource protection coordination with NOAA's Channel
Islands National Marine Sanctuary.
Financial incentives to get vessels to slow down on their
approach to the California coast are also being considered,
Hastings said, adding that boats are now asked to voluntarily
slow down but they are not doing it.
The Cordell sanctuary and other protected patches of ocean
near San Francisco and the Channel Islands are habitats for
blue, humpback and fin whales, which are protected by the U.S.
Endangered Species Act.
In 2007, four blue whales were believed to have been killed
by ships near the Channel Islands, according to NOAA, and five
whales were killed off the coast of San Francisco and in nearby
areas in 2010.
This year, a fin whale was struck by a ship and died off the
coast of San Francisco and a vessel is believed to have killed
another fin whale that washed ashore in Malibu, near Los
Angeles, N OA A said.
In November, the International Maritime Organization, which
governs shipping worldwide, said it had adopted changes to lanes
off the coast of California to reduce whale strikes by ships.
One of the proposals, for example, involves moving a shipping
lane near the Channel Islands north by one mile to avoid a whale
feeding area, Hastings said.
Carver said the U.S. Coast Guard would consult with the
shipping industry and the public before the lane adjustments
(Additional reporting by Dana Feldman; Editing by Tim Gaynor)