LOS ANGELES -- Cargo ships will be paid to slow down to avoid hitting whales and cut air pollution, under a new voluntary program being launched off Southern California.
Shipping firms will receive $2,500 incentives for each low-speed trip they complete through the Santa Barbara Channel, a prime feeding area for migrating blue whales, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday (http://lat.ms/1svykAM ).
The speed reduction initiative was developed by federal wildlife officials, environmentalists and air regulators. The incentive currently applies only to vessels in the Santa Barbara Channel.
It is the latest effort to address longstanding concerns over ship strikes that have killed dozens of endangered blue, humpback and fin whales over the last 10 to 15 years and threaten their recovery.
Shippers will be paid $2,500 for each trip completed at 12 knots or slower through a 130-mile stretch from Point Conception to the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. Normal cruising speed is between 14 and 18 knots.
Lower speeds are expected to reduce the risk of ship strikes that are fatal to whales and could give the giant marine mammals more time to swim away from approaching ships. When ships travel more slowly, there's an added benefit: Their enormous engines emit less air pollution.
"It's a very simple but clever solution: When you slow ships down you provide whale conservation and cleaner air for us to breathe here on shore," said Kristi Birney, marine conservation analyst for the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense Center, one of the backers of the initiative.
Six global shipping companies are participating in the trial program, which will pay for 16 low-speed trips through the Santa Barbara Channel from July through the end of October.
The season coincides with the peak of blue whale feeding in the channel and the time of year when Southern California sees its highest concentrations of ozone, the lung-damaging ingredient of smog, the Times said.
Last June, large vessels traveling to ports on the California coast began using new traffic lanes developed to move ships away from whales. The new lanes changed the routes of ships using San Francisco Bay, the Santa Barbara Channel and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com