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California shipping lanes shifted for whales

December 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
In an effort to protect slow-moving endangered whales from ship collisions, vessel lane changes have been approved at California ports, including at Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The southbound traffic lane in Southern California will shift 1 mile nautical mile north to make more room for migrating whales.

Earlier this month a 40,000-pound fin whale washed ashore and began decomposing under the bluffs in Malibu. Experts suspect he was hit by a boat. The 40-foot-long creature is among at least 90 whales on the West Coast struck by ships over the past 14 years. Many of them are endangered species.

"They're coming in looking for their food source, krill. And they're using that as a place to aggregate," said Penny Ruvelas, Southern California Office Supervisor, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Unfortunately that also happens to be in the same areas where a lot of the container ships are coming through. In 2007, we started to see an increase in the number of whales that were reported or washing up as having been struck by a vessel."

That raised concerns for NOAA. It started working with the Coast Guard, and shipping industry to recommend shifting the shipping lanes on approaches to San Francisco Bay and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The International Maritime Organization has just given its approval, shifting the southbound traffic lane over by one nautical mile in Southern California.

"They tried to sort of bring the inbound and outbound lanes a little closer together to essentially shift them closer to shore because that would avoid an area down here where we've seen a lot of blue whale feeding aggregations going on. Hopefully help a lot of the whales that we see off of the West Coast here, the gray whale, the humpback whale, fin whales and blue whales."

The changes will take effect in 2013.