New speed restrictions around San Francisco will save whales

New speed restrictions in and out of San Francisco Bay will reduce the risk of ship strikes to large whales.

In order to help prevent whales from being struck by large ships – one of the leading causes of large whale mortality worldwide – NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries has implemented a voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR),effective from May 1st – November 15th, in the San Francisco Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) within the Cordell Bank, Gulf of the Farallones, and Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuaries!

This means that vessels 300 gross tons or larger will now be requested to travel no more than 10 knots within the designated VSR during this 6 ½ month time period when whales, like the endangered  blue whale, migrate to the area to feed.

It’s like establishing a reduced speed limit within a school zone during the school year; vehicles traveling at slower speeds better safeguard the children in the area.  The concept is similar for whales and ships. 

By traveling at a reduced speed, ship strike occurrence is less likely and if one does occur, it is less likely to be fatal.

Let’s face it, whales and large ships go together just about as well as toothpaste and orange juice – they just don’t mix!

But when and where their paths do inevitably cross, speed reduction measures like this one really help to mitigate potential collisions.  In fact, on the U.S. East Coast there have been no documented ship strikes within Seasonal Management Areas requiring vessels to travel at 10 knots. 

Hopefully we will see the same success on the U.S. West Coast!

This exciting new development with our west coast sanctuary partners is now also shared with mariners transiting these shipping lanes via the Whale Alert app to ensure mariners are receiving the most accurate, up-to-date information available to allow them to plan and respond accordingly.

With this addition, the app will continue to help ease mariner compliance with all of the various regulations out thereand provide the shipping industry and others with an effective tool to aid in whale conservation. 

Pretty amazing, right?

Check out this article to learn more about Whale Alert’s success and effectiveness in protecting whales further down the Pacific coast in shipping lanes headed into Long Beach and LA.Recent sightings of blue whales in the shipping lane off Santa Barbara has triggered a similar notice to mariners and whale advisory zone for the months of May to November.

All-in-all, ship strikes still pose a major threat to whales, especially many endangered whale species like the West Coast’s blue whale and the East Coast’s North Atlantic right whale. 

To combat against this, the implementation of adequate protection measures is essential.

That’s why developments like this VSR are so exciting; and honestly, if I could I would hoist NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries on my shoulders in a celebratory manner and give them a cheerful “hip-hip-hooray” for their valiant efforts in taking a step forward for whale conservation.

Seeing this voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction take effect in the San Francisco TSS is a sign of progress and such progress is always a notable win for whales!

Find out more about the Whale Alert project and download the app for free!

Submit your whale sightings and help us alert ships, rescuers and researchers to whales in their area.


For more on IFAW's work regarding ship strikes, go to our Reducing Injuries to Whales page.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation