Whales face of number of threats when it comes to massive ships in the oceans. A number of issues arise when ships and whales mix, including ship strikes, damage from sonar used by ships and entanglement in nets used by ships, just to name a few. Ship strikes are particularly concerning, especially around feeding and calving grounds of whale populations.
Ship strikes are thought to be contributing to already depleted whale population declines globally, including in U.S. waters. It is difficult for experts to estimate the number of whales which perish due to ship strikes each year due to it not being known unless ships report known strikes or if the whales in question end up beached.
Ship strikes concerns have become a topic of discussion globally, especially after the recent International Whaling Commission annual meeting. Panama, which hosted the meeting, announced plans to alter shipping lanes in order to accommodate whale populations near the Panama Canal due to concerns of ship strikes and general stress placed on the whales. Now another major port in the world is planning to do the same: San Francisco Bay.
A two-year study was performed to assess the shipping routes and whale populations near the bay, which attracts a number of endangered whales including blue, humpback and fin whales. Recently a plan was approved to not only alter shipping lanes but to include other means of avoiding whale populations in the region. A number of organizations were involved in the project, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard, representatives from shipping industry itself and of course, whale experts.
The three shipping lanes into and out of the San Francisco Bay will all be lengthened and their courses slightly redirected in at least one case. The lanes will be lengthened in order to require ships to stay within the lanes for a longer time period prior to dispersing to their destinations. This will allow for a single course through highly popular whale waters thereby reducing contact with whales.
In addition, sailors will be placed on ships in order to watch for whales. This will allow for not only the ship in question to alter it’s route but for the ship to notify other ships in the region of the presence of whales. This notification network has the potential to become required by the United Nations International Maritime Organization. The International Maritime Organization also needs to review the overall plans for San Francisco Bay altered routes but the plan is expected to be in place by 2013.