IMO Extends West Coast Vessel Lanes, Adopts Whale Protections

Image: International Maritime Organization

Commercial vessels along the California coast are to begin lining up for port entry farther west and away from the continental shelf in an effort to protect endangered whales beginning this summer, NOAA announced Jan. 5.

The International Maritime Organization has adopted a proposal by the U.S. to expand the area that ships should avoid to allow more protected space for endangered blue, fin and humpback whales. The proposal is expected to go into effect after the spring.

The 13-nautical-mile vessel traffic lane extension means that ships would line up for port entry farther west. It also means that the area vessels need to avoid grows by over 2,000 square nautical miles for a total area of avoidance of about 4,476 square nautical miles off Point Conception and Point Arguello in Santa Barbara County, Calif., a significant area for whale feeding, according to NOAA.

“The IMO’s decision will enhance navigation safety and improve protection of whales,” John Armor, director of NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, said. “These adjustments demonstrate a successful collaboration between the United States, the IMO and the global shipping community.”

This has been in the works since at least 2015, when the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council’s Marine Shipping Working Group first recommended the adjustments. Last year, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard submitted the changes to the IMO.