Blue whales are at an elevated risk of being seriously injured or killed within the Santa Barbara Channel due to boats accidentally striking them, recent studies show.
The Environmental Defense Center and California Coast Guard met last week in Oxnard for a public meeting to discuss ways of preventing the increasing number of local blue whale strikes. Members of the EDC organized the meeting to request the Coast Guard’s full cooperation aiding marine researchers to decrease the number of strikes in the channel by lowering speed limits within the channel or perhaps moving shipping lanes.
According to EDC Staff Attorney Brian Segee, the Santa Barbara Channel Islands are along the blue whale’s natural migration path and are a vital part of their natural habitat.
At times, he said, Santa Barbara holds the highest density of blue whales in the world and is a focal point in the migration of other whale species from around the globe.
Recently, more whales have been harmed by passing boats, locally and abroad.
In the past month, Segee said, there have been five recorded whale strikes in California, even some within the Channel.
“There was a confirmed account of a blue whale that washed ashore on San Miguel,” Segee said. “There was evidence of blunt force trauma. Researchers think if you move the shipping lanes slightly to the north, you will not completely eliminate the problem, but it will significantly impact the negative effects. The same goes for the outward trade routes.”
However, Zoologist Michelle Berman, said that moving shipping lanes and reducing speed limits will not properly protect whales traveling through the channel.
“It’s not a black and white issue,” Berman said. “I don’t believe that moving the lanes will solve the problem; we don’t want to move the lanes somewhere that could be more populated. The reason why [research is] focused on the Channel is because that’s where the whale watching boats go so that’s where people think the whales are.”
In reality, she said, these whales and many other species of marine life follow their food sources and don’t always congregate in one area.
While the open meeting was sparsely attended — he estimated around eight people attended for the public comment period — Segee said he remains optimistic.
“There are some really great people working the California Coast Guard who have a deep love for marine animals,” Segee said. “It’s becoming an issue all over the world.”