Four environmental groups filed a petition earlier this month to request speed limits be imposed on ships passing through national marine sanctuaries off California’s coastline in order to protect endangered blue, humpback and fin whales from deadly collisions with ships and underwater noise pollution.
The petition was filed by Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center, Pacific Environment and Friends of the Earth, and asks the U.S. Department of Commerce that ships lower their speeds to 10 knots when passing through California’s four national sanctuaries, which serve as feeding grounds for migrating whales.
Massive tankers, as well as cargo and cruise ships pass through the sanctuaries going as fast as 20 knots an hour, posing a threat of fatal collisions with marine life in the area. Slower ship speeds would give whales a chance to avoid ships, and cause less harm if a ship strike does occur, environmentalists say.
In a statement, the Center for Biological Diversity claims that ship strikes are now one of the leading threats to whales migrating through California’s waters. An estimated 50 whales have been hit by ships off the California coast in the last decade, though experts believe the number is higher as many accidents go unreported.
Environmentalists also say a reduction in speed would reduce underwater noise pollution, which can interfere with whale communication sounds and drown out ocean sounds.
A mandatory 10 knot speed limit is already in place in areas off the U.S. East Coast to protect endangered North Atlantic right whales.
The proposal has been criticized by the shipping industry as expensive and unnecessary.