National marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers closed to the public; waters remain open

NOAA's national marine sanctuary offices and visitor centers are closed to the public while the waters remain open for responsible use in accordance with CDC guidance and local regulations. More information on the response from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries can be found on

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 June through November, should exercise caution and reduce speed. These areas contain populations of endangered blue, humpback and fin whales that are federally 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.).

NOAA strongly recommends that vessels 300 gross registered tons or larger transiting the Santa Barbara Channel Traffic Separation Scheme between Carrington Point, Santa Rosa Island and Diablo Point, Santa Cruz Island, do so at speeds not in excess of 10 kts due to endangered whales in the 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

You can also report whales through WhaleAlert, a free application available at

For more details please contact Sean Hastings at


    A. Schulman

Hot Topics


map showing the location of the reduced speed zone near channel islands

In 2014, in partnership with local agencies and non-government organizations, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary launched a trial incentive program to slow ships down in the Santa Barbara Channel to reduce air emissions and reduce the likelihood of fatality from a ship strike to endangered whales in the region. Seven global shipping companies participated in 2014 and agreed to slow 27 transits to 12kts or less from July through November in the Traffic Separation Scheme. This 2014 trial program not only demonstrated the willingness of shipping companies to participate in a voluntary, non-regulatory, non-port program, but also set the stage for a larger-scale program in 2016. Currently underway, this year's vessel speed reduction program is largely modeled of off the 2014 trial, but has been expanded spatially to include a whale-safer transit zone south of the islands as well as scaled-up fiscally to provide financial incentives for more than 65 transits to-date. For more information on the 2016 Vessel Speed Reduction Zone, please contact Sean Hastings at

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.

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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