Ship Strikes


Los Angeles and Long Beach are home to two of the busiest ports in the world, with over 6,500 vessels arriving and departing each year. Many of these commercial ships pass through the Santa Barbara Channel and sanctuary, which may pose a collision threat to large species of whales. In the fall of 2007, five blue whale fatalities were confirmed in the Santa Barbara Channel, with the cause assumed to be from commercial vessel strikes. Although this was an unusually high number, the incident was a serious concern for the sanctuary. To address this issue, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary has continuously engaged in projects that involve collaboration with the shipping industry, governmental agencies, non-profits, and other key stakeholders with the goal of protecting whales while ensuring vibrant maritime commerce.

whale in shipping channel photo
     A. Lombardi

Whale species and abundance varies seasonally in the Santa Barbara Channel, so mariners should exercise caution accordingly. From November to May, approximately 19,000 gray whales migrate along the coast both nearshore and offshore. Endangered humpback, blue, and fin whales are present in their greatest numbers from June through November. In addition, several other species such as sperm whales and orcas are also occasionally seen in the Channel at various times throughout the year.



Vessels transiting the area between Point Arguello and Dana Point, including the Traffic Separation Schemes in the Santa Barbara Channel and San Pedro Channel, from May through November, should exercise caution and reduce speed. These areas contain populations of endangered blue, humpback and fin whales which are federally protected under the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1538 et seq.), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (16 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.).

whale advisory zone
Map depicting the Whale Advisory Zone and Voluntary Vessel. Click on the map for a larger view. Speed Reduction zone as of May 2015.

NOAA strongly recommends that vessels 300 gross registered tons or larger transiting the Santa Barbara Channel traffic separation scheme in the area between Point Conception and San Pedro Point, Santa Cruz Island do so at speeds not in excess of 10 knots due to endangered whales in this area.

Please report any collisions with whales or any observed injured or dead whales to NOAA at 877-SOS-WHALe (877-767-9425) or to the U.S. Coast Guard on VHF Channel 16.

NOAA is asking for the public's help in tracking whales. If you see whales, please record the date and location, the number of whales, the species (if known) and a description of the animals. Please email

Check the District Eleven Local Notice to Mariners for the most recent whale advisory information.


    A. Schulman

Hot Topics

Marine Shipping Working Group

The Sanctuary Advisory Council has established the Marine Shipping Working Group to bring together stakeholders, agencies, experts and industry representatives to develop recommendations on:
  1) Reducing the risk of ship strikes on endangered whales
  2) Decreasing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions
  3) Improving navigational safety and promoting
     efficient maritime shipping throughout the region
  4) Reducing conflicts with other ocean users
     (e.g. naval operations)
With support from partners, the Marine Shipping Working Group will meet five times in 2015. For more information, please visit the working group meetings page.

Mobile Apps Improve Collection of Real-Time Whale Data

Two innovative mobile applications (apps), Spotter Pro and Whale Alert, empower the public to contribute to the protection of West Coast whales. The apps can be downloaded on smartphones and tablets, and allow users to report whale sightings in real time. Spotter Pro has been designed for specially trained observers, and Whale Alert is for all users. Download the app and find out more information at Whale Alert - West Coast. Learn more about the sanctuary's electronic data collection programs here. Contact Shauna Bingham to find out more about becoming a trained whale observer.

Many partners assisted with app development and procurement of hardware, including: Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Cordell Marine Sanctuary Foundation, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, Point Blue Conservation Science, Conserve.IO, Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and U.S. Coast Guard.

Vessel Speed Reduction Trial Program

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, and the Environmental Defense Center launched a trial incentive program to slow ships down in the Santa Barbara Channel in an effort to reduce air pollution and increase protection of endangered whales. Selected ships reduced their speed to 12 knots or less (reduced from typical speeds of 14-18 knots) as they traveled between Point Conception and the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach from July through November 2014 and received $2,500 per transit. The trial program was modeled after similar, successful programs at the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, where 90 percent of shipping lines participate. Slowing ships down reduces the likelihood a ship strike on a whale will be fatal and reduces fuel consumption, substantially lowering the amount of emitted air pollution. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation managed the incentive payments with funding from the Santa Barbara Foundation, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District, and the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District. Payments were provided upon verification of the ships' speeds through the Channel, using Automatic Identification System monitors that receive speed and location data from transponders on ships as they transit.

Seven global shipping companies participated in the effort and slowed 27 transits to 12 knots or less in the reduced speed zone, with most of the transits occurring between July and October. This time period coincides with the busiest whale season and the prime period for high levels of ozone air pollution. The program achieved more than 16 tons of ozone-forming nitrogen oxides emissions reductions from the participating ships, a more than 50 percent reduction from baseline emissions; also, the program achieved approximately 500 metric tons of regional greenhouse gas emission reductions, a more than 50 percent reduction.

The trial demonstrated the willingness of shipping companies to participate in a voluntary, non-regulatory, non-port program, and the feasibility of implementing such a vessel speed reduction program in the Santa Barbara Channel. The success of the trial also provides a solid foundation for a future larger-scale program.

For more information, refer to:
Press Release
Final Results Report


Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme Amendment

On June 1, 2013, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended the Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) and the approach to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The TSS amendment reduced the width of the separation zone from 2 nautical miles (nm) to 1 nm by shifting the inbound south lane shoreward and away from known whale concentrations. The outbound north lane remained unchanged. Narrowing the separation zone is expected to reduce co-occurrence of ships and whales while maintaining navigational safety.

For the official USCG Local Notice to Mariners (LNM) please click here. For the IMO approved coordinates and graphics depicting the TSS amendments go to the enclosures section.

NOAA chart showing the Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme adjustments.
NOAA chart showing the Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme adjustments. Click on the map for a larger view.


Sean Hastings
NOAA Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary
University of California Santa Barbara
Ocean Science Education Building 514, MC 6155
Santa Barbara, CA, 93106-6155
(805) 893-6424

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