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Brake for whales: New program offers incentives for ships to slow in blue whale habitat

by Take Two®

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A blue whale takes a deep dive off of the Long Beach coast. While the blue whale is commonly seen off of the California coast until October, warmer water is bringing marine life into the area that is normally seen farther south near Mexico. Benjamin Brayfield/KPCC

Responding to recent research on the threat to blue whales by shipping off California, a new program will offer cash to ships that slow in the Santa Barbara Channel.

Decades of monitoring blue whale migration patterns showed that the giant mammals congregate near the Farallon Islands in Northern California and the Channel Islands in Southern California, in the middle of busy shipping lanes.

Death by ship strike has become a threat to this endangered species, which was hunted to near-extinction in previous centuries.

Now a coalition of businesses and government agencies have launched a pilot program to offer a cash incentive to shipping companies that slow down in the Santa Barbara Channel where the whales feed.

Tyler Hayden, news editor at the Santa Barbara Independent, has been reporting this issue. He said the program will likely expand if it proves effective. 

"I think they're going to have to look at all the data, and see how well it works before they talk about collecting more funds and reaching out to more shipping companies," he said. "Though I know that NOAA and other groups in town were encouraged by the participation they've seen so far. There are six shipping companies that have signed on to the program."

A similar program to this was tried earlier, but with little success.

"It didn't go so well. I think one percent or even maybe less of the ship that passed through the channel actually slowed down," Hayden said. "This is sort of the next step in actually trying to make that happen. I think the money incentive will certainly help."


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