New routes for ships off California may help endangered whales

LOS ANGELES, Dec 28 (Reuters) - Several endangered whale

species may get a new lease on life when some cargo shipping

lanes off the California coast are shifted next year.

Routes due to be changed by June 2013 are used by

ocean-going cargo vessels, tugboats and automobile carriers near

San Francisco Bay, the Channel Islands in central California and

the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, environmental officials

said on Friday.

The shipping channels overlap with whale feeding and

migration areas, and several blue whales and fin whales have

been killed by ships, they said.

"The issue really struck home for us" with those deaths,

said Michael Carver, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric

Administration (NOAA) deputy superintendent of Cordell Bank

National Marine Sanctuary in northern California.

The changes will not reduce the risk to zero, said Sean

Hastings, a resource protection coordination with NOAA's Channel

Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

Financial incentives to get vessels to slow down on their

approach to the California coast are also being considered,

Hastings said, adding that boats are now asked to voluntarily

slow down but they are not doing it.

The Cordell sanctuary and other protected patches of ocean

near San Francisco and the Channel Islands are habitats for

blue, humpback and fin whales, which are protected by the U.S.

Endangered Species Act.

In 2007, four blue whales were believed to have been killed

by ships near the Channel Islands, according to NOAA, and five

whales were killed off the coast of San Francisco and in nearby

areas in 2010.

This year, a fin whale was struck by a ship and died off the

coast of San Francisco and a vessel is believed to have killed

another fin whale that washed ashore in Malibu, near Los

Angeles, N OA A said.

In November, the International Maritime Organization, which

governs shipping worldwide, said it had adopted changes to lanes

off the coast of California to reduce whale strikes by ships.

One of the proposals, for example, involves moving a shipping

lane near the Channel Islands north by one mile to avoid a whale

feeding area, Hastings said.

Carver said the U.S. Coast Guard would consult with the

shipping industry and the public before the lane adjustments

take effect.

(Additional reporting by Dana Feldman; Editing by Tim Gaynor)

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