Ships warned to slow down to protect whales

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is asking ships to slow down while passing outside the Golden Gate to avoid hitting migrating whales in the area, officials said Wednesday.

NOAA asks that all ships of 300 gross registered tons or larger reduce their speeds to a maximum of 10 knots per hour, or around 11.5 mph, while passing through the Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries from May to November 15, officials said today.

An estimated 7,500 to 9,000 large ships pass in and out of the Bay Area each year in the Golden Gate shipping lanes, which go through the Cordell, Greater Farallones and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries, NOAA officials said.

The speed restrictions are intended to protect endangered blue, humpback and fin whales, which can be killed or seriously injured in a ship strike.

Maria Brown, superintendent of the Greater Farallones sanctuary, said in a statement that “By working with the maritime shipping industry, conservation groups and others, we hope to minimize the outcomes of impacts from vessel-whale interactions.” “At lower ship speeds whales are more likely to survive collision,” Brown said.

The U.S. Coast Guard is broadcasting the speed reduction request to ships in the area, and NOAA is monitoring both whales and vessel traffic.

Mariners are asked to report any collisions with whales and any sightings of injured or dead whales to NOAA at (877) SOS-WHALE (767-9425) or to the Coast Guard on VHF-FM Channel 16.

Whale sightings can also be reported to whales@noaa.gov or through the free Whale Alert App at www.whalealert.org.