The effort to save whales from ship strikes off our coast is escalating. A petition has been filed by a coalition of organizations seeking a mandatory reduction in ship speed through the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. It is nice to see a concerted effort.
Will it work? My experience and knowledge suggest that it will clean up the problem about as well as a leaf blower cleans up problems. Most leaf-blower operators just move the problem to another domain than the one they are responsible for. A reduction in ship speed will result in moving ships — and ship strikes — outside of the Channel Islands and the sanctuary, to where the ships can blast around at high speeds to save time without running afoul of any law.
Does that save whales? Probably not. Sure, it may save whales in the channel between the mainland and the Channel Islands, as ships vacate the area, but it poses a much higher threat to the lives of whales who roam those outside waters.
See, we know much about where whales hang out inside the sanctuary because that’s where whale-watch boats ply their trade. But we have reason to believe there is a robust population of whales foraging in the water outside of the sanctuary to the south as well. So a mandatory reduction in ship speed in the sanctuary just moves the ship-strike risk to their area.
A majority of ships have already made the move outside where they can burn cheaper fuels loaded with pollutants while maintaining high speeds in order to hold to their tight schedules. The skippers of the big ships might slow down if their schedules (which are dictated to them) were relaxed to allow slower transit speeds. Most of them are caring professionals, so they do often post extra lookouts, but the poor maneuverability of these big ships makes it unlikely they could avoid a whale at close quarters.
Good solutions are expensive; keeping shipping in the shipping lanes but slowing the speed to 10 knots, or moving ships outside the sanctuary (where they can burn cheap, high-pollution fuel) but slow the speed to 10 knots. That’s about the list of options other than eliminating the ships. Both solutions come with higher costs, which ultimately we consumers must cover.
Yeah, I’d pay a higher price for goods if I knew that doing so was actually saving whales. Would you?
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.