Blue Whales & Blue Skies

  • Goal: Protecting endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales from fatal ship strikes, and reducing air pollution at sea and onshore
  • Year Started: 2007
  • Partners: Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District

Just off our coast between the mainland and the Channel Islands, we have a major highway for large cargo ships. Unfortunately, these shipping lanes overlap with prime feeding grounds for the largest seasonal population of the endangered blue whales in the world. In 2007, five blue whales were killed as a result of ship strikes in the Santa Barbara Channel. This number, while large enough to be worthy of attention by itself, served as an indicator of a larger problem. Scientists suggest that up to ten times this number may actually be struck and killed, since most whales are negatively buoyant, and sink, thus going undetected if struck.

If cargo ships would slow down, the whale’s chances of avoiding or surviving a ship strike go way up – and it turns out that we on land would also benefit from breathing less polluted air. Cargo ships are the highest polluter of ozone-forming nitrogen oxide (NOx ) in Santa Barbara County (50%), and account for 25% of NOx in Ventura County. Reducing ship emissions could help both Counties meet state public health standards, with special benefit to children and seniors who are most at risk.

In 2014, EDC and our partners launched a Vessel Speed Reduction pilot project, providing cash incentives to shipping companies to slow down when passing through the Santa Barbara Channel. This successful pilot will now make way for EDC and our partners to bring all the players to the table, including industry, military, federal and regional government, and nonprofits, in search of a permanent solution to protect whales and clean air while still meeting the needs of the shipping industry.

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