Shipping Lanes May Move to Protect Blue Whales

By , July 25th, 2014 | Science | 0 Comments

The publication of a recent study tracking blue whales off the West Coast of America suggests that some shipping lanes need to be altered in order to protect this endangered species.

A research group tagged 170 blue whales off the California coast and tracked them via satellite for 15 years. They found that they regions where the blue whales feed intersect with shipping lanes, increasing the risk of injury or death should the whales collide with ships.

The research team, based at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, aimed to identify habitats critical to the survival of blue whales. The blue whale is the largest animal on Earth, growing up to 100 feet in length and weighing up to 150 tons. They are endangered due to shrinking habitat because of commercial fishing. They eat mainly krill, and gather in areas where krill are found, particularly in summer months before they migrate south.

The ship traffic to and from Los Angeles and San Francisco ports intersect with the feeding areas of the blue whales. This places the blue whales, around a quarter of the world’s population, at risk. The argument for moving shipping lanes was supported by the decrease in whale collisions by 80% when Canada relocated shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy.

Moving shipping lanes is not easy, and meets resistance from shipping companies. Longer trips mean more fuel and increased labor costs, something shipping companies are not quick to take on board. However, the risk of damage to ships can be costly too, and often leads to lengthy dry dock time. This could help convince the companies that it is in their interest to support a shift in their routes.

The area is also however, used extensively by the US Navy, who would have to be consulted. Moving the shipping lanes would take the ships closer to the Navy’s training ranges.

Rerouting shipping lanes has worked in other areas of the ocean, helping to protect marine life in the past. Blue whales, already endangered, and under serious threat from ships travelling through their feeding areas. While it seems like a small ask, it remains to be seen whether the International Maritime Organisation will help protect these massive creatures and move the lanes to safer areas.

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