The Associated Students Coastal Fund and Bren School of Environmental Science and Management will host a free educational workshop on the migration and well-being of whales in the Santa Barbara Channel today in Room 1414 of Bren Hall from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The event will include a panel discussion with speakers from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S. Navy/AIR Sustainability Office, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District and the Environmental Defense Center. The panel will be followed by a Q&A session as well as a social mixer in the Bren Hall courtyard.

Attendees will learn about the migratory patterns of the Channel’s expansive whale population as well as pertinent issues the marine mammals face such as feeding and ship collisions.

Kristi Birney, a marine conservation analyst at the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, said scientists have identified ship strikes as a primary threat to recovering whale populations.

“We’re bringing together a variety of different panelists who’ve been working on this issue, trying to come up with management strategies and solutions to better protect whales from ship strikes,” Birney said. “It’s an educational forum; we want people to be aware of the issue and what’s being done.”

The Santa Barbara Channel contains a variety of whale species including fin whales, grey whales, humpback whales and blue whales and is also host to the Traffic Separation Scheme, a shipping route which sees up to 6,000 to 7,000 vessels per year.

According to Birney, the high volume of shipping traffic resulted in the deaths of four blue whales in 2007 when large container ships struck the endangered mammals.

“In the wake of these deaths, it has gotten the public’s attention and people have started to work on strategies that will work to reduce the risk of collisions between whales and ships,” Birney said.

Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District representative Brian Shafritz, who will speak at today’s workshop, said he wants students to gain a sense of awareness and knowledge about local marine issues from the event.

“I hope that students acquire knowledge of the significance of air quality impacts from marine shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel as well as strategies to minimize those impacts,” Shafritz said.

Fourth-year environmental studies and political science major Juanita Block said the workshop will present a unique opportunity for students to learn about environmental issues they may not otherwise hear about.

“The workshop will grant environmental awareness for people who are not involved in this area of study,” Block said. “Plus, it’s free — anyone can attend and learn about this stuff.”