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Petition to protect whales off California coasts

June 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
There's a new effort to save the whales.

Four environmental groups have filed a petition in hopes of avoiding ship collisions with the marine mammals.

The groups want to limit the speed of ships traveling through California's marine sanctuaries, such as the one around Channel Islands. The lanes around Channel Islands run from near Long Beach to just off Santa Barbara County.

They're blaming speed for 50 deadly collisions between whales and ships over the past decade.

"It's a step in the right direction if the byproduct is to improve whale survivorship," said Aquarium of the Pacific Assistant Curator Steve Blair. "That's the key, that's the goal, and I think everybody would like to see that happen."

But others say there are too many questions to answer before enacting federal regulations that they say could economically cripple the shipping industry.

The petition seeks to slow the ships to 10 knots, in some cases cutting their speed in half.

"I think it's very premature," said Pacific Merchant Shipping Association Vice President T.L Garrett.

Whale experts say more research still needs to be done. Some of that research is starting at the Aquarium of the Pacific, where researchers are working to gather information on how many whales there are in the area and what impact the ships have on their population.

"It's hard to tell how many ship strikes there are," said Blair. "How many whales get hit by a ship that may actually die? Are they going to end up on a beach? They could just sink into the ocean or be lost or drift out to sea."

There are other proposals to keep the whales safe, such as re-aligning the shipping lanes to some of the most heavily used ports like Los Angeles, Long Beach and the San Francisco.

"Whales aren't going away, ships aren't going away," said Garrett. "We need to find a way to peacefully coexist out there."

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