The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, and Seattle together service more than 50% of all container ship traffic coming to and from the United States. In order to access the ports these large ships routinely travel through west coast sanctuaries. In addition to generating noise, these cargo vessels can lose shipping containers, strike whales, collide with other vessels and leak fuel and oil, run aground, or sink.
Between July and October 2010, two blue whales (one pregnant female that resulted in the loss of the fetus), one humpback, and two fin whales were found dead in and around Monterey Bay, Gulf of the Farallones, and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries, all possible victims of a ship strike. Accordingly, mortality from ship strikes has been identified as a threat to population recovery of these vulnerable whale species. Their distribution often coincides with ship traffic and in certain areas also overlaps with shipping traffic lanes. Large whales are vulnerable to collisions with all vessel types, sizes, and classes throughout the world's oceans. In California, ship strikes of gray whales are the most commonly reported followed by fin, blue, humpback, and sperm whales. When large vessels such as container ships are involved, the ships crew may be unaware a strike has occurred. As such, the number of ship strikes to whales is likely under reported. Between 1988 and 2012, there were 100 documented large whale ship strikes along the California coast.
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Monthly distribution of shipping vessels within MBNMS
Christopher Miller (Naval Postgraduate School)
- How do whales use the water column and how can this information inform policies to mitigate collisions between whales and shipping?
- How do whales react to the approach of vessels and how can this information inform policies to mitigate collisions between whales and shipping?
- How much diel, annual and inter-annual variability exists in the underwater behavior of endangered whales and how can this information inform policies to mitigate the risk of ship strikes to whales?
- How many shipping containers are lost in the sanctuary annually?
- How does shipping container paint alter benthic communities?
- What colonizes on lost shipping containers?
Education and Outreach Material
Two apps are available with the intent to prevent ship trikes and help save whales. Whale Alert is an app aimed for use by the general public and the Spotter Pro app is intended for use by researchers, commercial ship operators, charter fishing boat operators, whale watching naturalists, and recreational and commercial fishers. Both apps document whale sightings in real-time. Data collected through these apps helps NOAA fill in the formation gap needed to request the U.S. Coast Guard’s Vessel Traffic Service to ask ship operators to slow down or change course as they approach areas where whales are present.
Miller, C.W. 2011. Monthly distribution of shipping vessels within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, January-December 2010. Naval Postgraduate School Report prepared for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, 43pp. http://montereybay.noaa.gov/research/techreports/NPS-OC-11-007_sm.pdf