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Environmentalists want slower ship speeds to protect whales off California coast

June 7, 2011 |  6:57 pm

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the Obama administration to establish a 10-knot speed limit for ships traveling through California’s marine sanctuaries to avoid fatal collisions with whales, a problem they say has climbed to “unsustainable levels.”

In a petition filed Monday, four environmental groups asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish a 10-knot limit for large commercial vessels in California's four National Marine Sanctuaries in the Channel Islands, Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank. Some freighters travel through those waters at more than twice that speed.

The petition is meant to prod the federal government to take steps to deal with the growing concern. Some of the most heavily used shipping lanes in and out of ports in Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Francisco Bay run through the migratory paths and feeding areas of endangered whales.

Nearly 50 whales have been hit by ships off the California coast in the last decade, according to experts, who believe the number is probably much higher because many accidents go unreported.

Shipping groups oppose a speed limit, saying it would more than double the time it takes the fastest vessels to travel through the sanctuaries.

Read the full story: Whale advocates want slower ships

--Tony Barboza

Photo: Lifeguards in Sunset Beach in 2009 prepare to tow out to sea the carcass of a gray whale calf believed to have been hit by a ship. Credit: Ken Hively/Los Angeles Times