Endangered blue whales killed by commercial ship strikes

by Jackie Dragon

January 10, 2013

A blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) swims underwater off the coast of Sri Lanka.

© Greenpeace / Paul Hilton

Todays whales are in need of protection from more than the few remaining countries that continue the barbaric and unnecessary practice of industrial whaling. Today there is a 21stcentury sized danger ship strikes that threatens the survival of endangered whale species like the iconic blue whale, our planets largest mammal. With populations that are just now beginning to rebound from the slaughter in earlier centuries, blue whales need our protection now to ensure their survival.

Our globalized world economy has built a fleet of more than 100,000 ships to carry goods around the planet. As large as the great whales are they are no match for a 1,201-foot super container shiplike the MSC Fabiola that sailed into San Francisco Bay just last year. Ship strikes are a leading cause of whale deathsaround the world today. And scientists say many more whales than we know of are being killed this way maybe 20 to 30 times more – because most of the time they sink at sea, unnoticed.

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Off the coast of California where nutrient-rich waters draw blue whales in the biggest numbers of late they are actually in the greatest danger of being struck and killed while they are at the dinner table. Californias vibrant marine waters host four of our nations thirteen National Marine Sanctuaries which seem like perfectly safe spots for whales to swim, right? Unfortunately, all these marine protected areas have shipping lanes running through them and slow moving, feeding whales may not even know what hit them. The problem can be even worse at night since scientists have recently discovered that blue whales hover near the surface in a resting state at night, putting them right in harms way.

The good news is that scientists, conservation groups, government agencies and the shipping industry have all come together to find solutions Experts agree that reducing the co-occurrence of ships and whales gives whales the best chance of avoiding a ship strike. Weve made some great strides recently in Northern California where NOAA has just announcedthat busy shipping lanes into the ports of Oakland and San Francisco, and running through the Gulf of the Farallonesand Cordell BankNational Marine Sanctuaries, will be adjusted to protect whales.

Now its time to give the blue whales a break when they are swimming a bit further south. Shipping lanes are in need of adjusting down by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary where they are filled with traffic in and out of Los Angeles and Long Beach, our nations busiest ports. A record number of blue whales have been struckand killed in these bustling lanes, prompting much of the successful collaboration on the issue. But, proposals to move the Southern shipping lanes to protect whales, as we have done in Northern waters, have been blocked by the U.S. Navy. The safer route around the Channel Islands proposed by the U.S. Coast Guard is one that oil tankers routinely follow and many container ships began using in 2008 when cleaner fuel rules went into force closer to shore. The U.S. Navy could adjust their training activities to protect whales and support lane changes, at least during the major feeding season from July-October. Join us in signing a petition calling on President Obama to make this reasonable compromise to protect our magnificent blue whales from this modern day menace.

Jackie Dragon

By Jackie Dragon

Jackie Dragon formerly served as a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. Jackie has been campaigning to protect important places in the ocean since 2008. Her current focus is on the Bering Sea, where she fights to conserve the largest submarine canyons in the world from destructive industrial fishing practices.

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