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Coast Guard: Shipping lanes need to be moved to protect whales

November 1, 2011 |  6:26 pm

Photo: A blue whale feeding on krill outside Los Angeles Harbor in October surfaces near a shipping lane. Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles TimesThe U.S. Coast Guard has recommended shifting the shipping lanes in the Santa Barbara Channel to move cargo ships out of the way of whales feeding in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

A proposal published Tuesday would narrow the lanes and move one of them north of a steep, underwater drop-off near Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands where endangered blue, fin and humpback whales have been congregating to feed on krill, saying it would “help in preserving the marine environment.”

Federal wildlife officials and environmental groups have been alarmed by the presence of whales in shipping lanes, which they worry puts the giant marine mammals at greater risk of being struck and killed by the hulking vessels that ferry goods in and out of the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex.

Four blue whales were struck and killed by vessels near the Channel Islands sanctuary in 2007, prompting authorities to start issuing notices asking large vessels to slow down when whales are in the area.

The threat of collisions also has been of growing concern outside Los Angeles Harbor, where blue whales have been gathering to feed in dense concentrations in the path of a major shipping lane.

The Coast Guard proposal also calls for establishing new shipping lanes south of the Channel Islands, where some freighters have been navigating to avoid the state's strict air pollution curbs, prompting complaints from the Navy that they were getting too close to military testing ranges.

Unbounded ship traffic, the Coast Guard says, is a safety concern and a defined route would ensure more predictability.

Environmental groups, who have petitioned the Obama administration to establish a ship speed limit through California's four national marine sanctuaries to protect whales, praised the idea to move the lanes away from feeding areas. But they expressed disappointment that the Coast Guard’s proposal did not include speed restrictions.

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--Tony Barboza

Photo: A blue whale feeding on krill outside Los Angeles Harbor in October surfaces near a shipping lane. Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times

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