Ship risks to whales in S. Calif. studied

March 25, 2013 at 9:04 PM
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LOS ANGELES, March 25 (UPI) -- Researchers say they've identified areas off Southern California where whales face risks from potentially deadly collisions with commercial ship traffic.

Scientists from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration have created maps predicting the density of endangered humpback, fin and blue whales by merging observed whale sightings with oceanographic conditions to identify the habitat preferred by the different whale species, a NOAA release reported Monday.

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries, the Marine Mammal Commission and Cascadia Research Collective analyzed data collected over seven years by NOAA during marine mammal surveys in the region.

"We know several endangered species of whales occur in the waters off southern California," NOAA Fisheries marine mammal biologist Jessica Redfern said. "What we didn't know, and what this study helps provide, is an understanding of the areas with the highest numbers of whales."

The study focused on current and alternative shipping routes to and from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the risk they presented to humpback, fin and blue whales from ship strikes.

Knowing exactly where whales are most likely to be found in the ocean environment known as the Southern California Bight can help reduce human impacts, the researchers said.

"The [area] is an incredibly complex system with a diverse set of users, including the military, shipping industry and fishing industry," Redfern said in a paper published in the journal Conservation Biology. "All users have specific needs and their input is necessary to plan the best and safest uses of these waters.

"This paper helps to incorporate whale habitat use in the planning process so that their needs can be considered as well."

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