20 Aug 2014
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Ship Traffic Threatens Blue Whales

Shipping lanes off Long Beach/L.A., busiest in the U.S., run through the feeding grounds.

An abundance of krill in the ocean off Long Beach and the Los Angeles port area continues to attract blue whales, putting them at risk of fatal ship strikes due to the heavy shipping traffic.

While the largest number of blue whale deaths attributed to ship strikes was four in 2007, the true number could be much higher as some strikes go unreported and many whales sink after being fatally struck.

Dr. John Calambokidis, an expert on blue whales from the  Cascadia Research Center, is working with  Harbor Breeze Cruises and the  Aquarium of the Pacific to find ways to reduce ship strikes. Tags are put on the mammoth animals in order to gather dive data, the positions of whales, and whales' reactions to approaching ships.

Early research suggests blue whales do little to get out of the way of approaching ships, Calambokidis said.

"Blue whales have not adapted or evolved to deal with this new threat," he said.

So far, it appears that blue whales do little to avoid an approaching ship—they generally do not turn away, and in some cases, they actually move closer to approaching ships. In addition, they have a penchant for surfacing when ships are near, placing them in even greater danger.

Private boaters on smaller crafts should also be careful in places where blue whales feed. Calambokidis said boaters should slow down when they come across a blue whale, adding that many times there are others nearby.

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