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Groups push to protect whales by reducing ship speeds

Posted Jun. 6, 2011 / Posted by: Kelly Trout

Legal Petition Filed to Limit Ship Speeds, Protect Whales in California’s Marine Sanctuaries

Deadly Collisions Between Ships and Whales Have Sharply Increased

SAN FRANCISCO – Conservation groups filed a legal petition today seeking a mandatory speed limit for large ships traveling through California’s marine sanctuaries. In recent years there has been a dramatic rise in whale deaths attributable to collisions with vessels. Ship strikes are now one of the leading threats to whales migrating through California’s waters. Today’s petition, from the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Center, Pacific Environment and Friends of the Earth, seeks a 10-knots-per-hour limit for ships in marine sanctuaries. 
 
“Our marine sanctuaries should be a safe harbor for marine life, but instead whales in California are at constant risk of being run over by big ships,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Mandatory speed limits for ships traveling through our marine sanctuaries will save whales and clean our air.”  
 
California’s national marine sanctuaries have some of the nation’s richest marine wildlife habitat as well as some of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the country. More than 9,300 square miles of sanctuary waters host many endangered species, including the largest animal on the planet: the blue whale. 
 
“Reducing ship speed is a simple, reasonable way to protect whales and other aquatic life, as well as public health, from risks posed by large vessels that travel through California’s waters. As our petition details, ship speed limits aren’t just common sense, they’re also necessary to protect our valuable ocean resources,” said Marcie Keever, director of the Oceans and Vessels Project at Friends of the Earth.
 
With unprecedented numbers of blue, humpback and gray whales found off the California coast in recent years, there has been a corresponding increase in the number of whales killed by ship strikes. At least six whales were killed by collisions with vessels in 2010 and more than 50 large whales have died off the California coast in the past decade. In September 2007 five blue whales died as a result of ship strikes near the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. 
 
“Our goal is to avoid a repeat of the whale strikes that occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel in 2007,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center. “Filing this petition close to World Oceans Day reminds us of the need to ensure proper protection for whales, such as endangered blue whales, that rely on our national marine sanctuaries for feeding and migration.”
 
Conservation groups are urging the federal government to set speed limits in the Channel Islands, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay and Gulf of the Farallones national marine sanctuaries off the California coast.
 
“We are gravely concerned about the level of frequency of whale mortalities in our national marine sanctuary waters,” said Leah Zimmerman, interim executive director of Pacific Environment. “A 10-knot speed limit seems to be the best practical solution offering the most benefits — such as reducing climate change emissions, air pollution and ever-increasing ocean noise pollution.”
 
As shown on the East Coast where ship speed limits are already in place, reducing ship speed can protect whales by decreasing the risk and ultimate harm of a collision and reducing underwater noise pollution. Slower ships reduce harm to human health because the ships emit less air pollution and greenhouse gases, thereby reducing the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. 
 
The ship speed limit will also help the shipping industry at the same time, by reducing fuel costs.
 
The groups filed their petition just before World Oceans Day on June 8, a UN-recognized day of observance to raise global awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in managing the world’s oceans. 
 
Contact:
Miyoko Sakashita, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 658-5308, miyoko@biologicaldiversity.org
Linda Krop, Environmental Defense Center, (805) 963-1622 x 106, lkrop@edcnet.org
Kelly Trout, Friends of the Earth, (202) 222-0722, ktrout@foe.org
Nicole Catalano, Pacific Environment, (415) 399-8850 x 316, ncatalano@pacificenvironment.org
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The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
 
Friends of the Earth fights to create a more healthy, just world. Our current campaigns focus on clean energy and solutions to climate change, keeping toxic and risky technologies out of the food we eat and products we use, and protecting marine ecosystems and the people who live and work near them.
 
The Environmental Defense Center protects and enhances the environment through education, advocacy, and legal action and works primarily within Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties. Since 1977, EDC has empowered community based organizations to advance environmental protection of our coast and oceans, open space and wildlife, and human and environmental health. See www.EnvironmentalDefenseCenter.org
 
Pacific Environment is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities, and reforming international policies. For nearly two decades, we have partnered with local communities around the Pacific Rim to protect and preserve the ecological treasures of this vital region. www.pacificenvironment.org 
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