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Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

CINMS: Current Whale Sightings

National Marine Sanctuaries

Sanctuary Staff Work to Keep Whales, Ships Apart

A ship nearly collides with a blue whale in the Santa Barbara Channel

If you look closely, you can see a blue whale off the bow of this ship. This image was shot in the Santa Barbara Channel during an aerial survey conducted by staff of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

In fall 2007, four blue whales died after being struck by vessels in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California.

Compared to just five recorded mortalities off of the entire coast of California between 1980 and 2007, this was an unusual number of whale deaths in one year.

This year, NOAA’s Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA Fisheries, the National Weather Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard are working closely with the shipping industry to keep this from happening again.

To prevent further collisions in the busy Santa Barbara Channel shipping lanes, NOAA and the Coast Guard are now advising reduction in ship speeds when high numbers of whales are present. In addition, Sanctuary staff now conduct weekly aerial surveys and coordinate volunteer observations of whales from whale watch vessels. These data are used to develop and distribute education and outreach products to the shipping industry.

Map of whale sightings in the Santa Barbara Channel

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary now produces a map of whale sightings for use by pilots in the busy shipping lanes off the Santa Barbara Channel.

In collaboration with Channel Islands Sanctuary staff, scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography are also monitoring commercial shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel to better understand the relationship between blue whale distribution and ship traffic in the area.

Blue whales off the California coast are slowly recovering from historical whaling, with the Eastern Pacific population estimated at nearly 2,000 animals.

Although the population of blue whales has grown since protection efforts began in 1966, additional conservation measures are needed to ensure their recovery is not hampered by human impacts like ship strikes and entanglement in marine debris. NOAA and partner agencies continue to work on long-term management solutions.