Ship Strikes

aerial view of a container ship in open water
Container ship heads to the Port of Los Angeles using the southbound shipping lane that passes through Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Jess Morten

Goal: Reduce the Risk of Fatal Ship Strikes on Endangered Whales

Voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction

map showing voluntary speed reduction zones
Voluntary speed reduction zones near the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were set up to reduce impacts of shipstrikes to whales. Image: NOAA

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) annually issues voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) requests that go into effect May 1 off of San Francisco and May 15 off of Southern California. The goal of these seasonal voluntary VSR zones is to reduce the risk of fatal ship strikes to endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales within and near Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries. These species are protected under the Federal 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.). Any unauthorized take of whales, even if unintentional, by vessels transiting in U.S. waters violates federal statutes.

NOAA and the USCG request that all vessels 300 gross registered tons (GRT) or larger reduce speeds to 10-knots when transiting within the designated VSR zones. We request your cooperation with the voluntary VSR zones to protect whales that annually migrate to these areas in summer and fall to feed. NOAA analyzes all transits by vessels 300 GRT or larger via Automated Information System (AIS) data provided by USCG to assess the industry's cooperation.

We encourage vessel crews to report whale sightings through the Whale Alert App.

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Incentive-Based Vessel Speed Reduction Program

map showing voluntary speed reduction zones
Map of voluntary speed reduction zone around Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Speeds for container and tanker vessels over 300 gross tons are asked to slow down to 10 knots or less in these zones. Image: Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Incentive Program

The Vessel Speed Reduction incentive program Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies is a collaboration of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and shipping industry stakeholders working together to reduce air pollution, ocean noise and shipstrikes on endangered whales in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay region. Sanctuary staff and partners request that container and car carrier companies slow down their vessels to a speed of 10 knots or less from May 15 to November 15. Shipping companies that cooperate at a high level are acknowledged with financial and public relation incentives.

chart showing speed reduction program stats
An incentive program was established to encourage shipping companies to enforce voluntary speed reductions through sensitive whale habitats near the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and San Francisco. Image: NOAA

Please visit the Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District's Marine Shipping Initiative's website for full program details and results.

Please also visit the Benioff Ocean Institute's Whale Safe web platform, a mapping and analysis tool displaying near real-time whale and ship data for the Santa Barbara Channel.


Sanctuary Advisory Council Reports