Feds to Reroute SF Bay Ships to Protect Whales

Byline: Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — After a two-year effort spurred by an uptick in ship collisions with whales, federal maritime officials have approved a plan to protect whales in and around San Francisco Bay that includes rerouting shipping traffic and establishing better ways to track whale locations.

The plan, which will likely take effect next year, includes establishing a real-time whale monitoring network that would use trained sailors aboard commercial vessels to report when and where they see whales. Once a whale is sighted, a warning would be sent to other ship captains, giving them the option to slow down or take a different route.

Captains now must rely on historical data on whale locations. That means ships may slow down unnecessarily in certain areas, delaying delivery of goods.

Though the new plan is voluntary, industry groups believe shippers will support the concept because it could save them money.
“(The) cost of additional training of the bridge crew pales in comparison to the additional cost associated with lost time if you take ships that normally travel at 20 knots and slow them down to 10 knots over a 70-nautical-mile vessel traffic lane,” said Kathy Metcalf, director of maritime affairs for the Chamber of Shipping of America, which took part in the study.

How many whales die from collisions each year isn’t known, because most accidents go undocumented and whales that are hit often sink.

In 2010, there were just five confirmed fatal collisions recorded in the area outside San Francisco Bay. But the number of actual strikes of all whale species is likely 10 times higher, according to scientists.

There currently are three shipping lanes coming in and out of San Francisco Bay.

The existing westbound shipping lane ends at the relatively shallow continental shelf, where ships disperse. The new westbound lane would extend 3 miles past the continental shelf and contain traffic to a defined area over the whale feeding grounds.

The new northbound lane would also be extended miles beyond the shelf, keeping vessels sailing in a straight line for a longer time, rather than allowing them to disperse where the whales congregate.

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