LOS ANGELES — Shipping lanes along the California coast — the oceanic superhighways for Asian goods coming to America — are poised to be rerouted to protect endangered whales from collisions.
The International Maritime Organization, which governs global shipping, has approved three proposals that would shift one lane through the Santa Barbara Channel and the approaches to the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex and ports in San Francisco Bay.
The route adjustments were recommended by the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration after four blue whales were thought to have been killed by ship strikes in the Santa Barbara Channel in 2007 and an additional five whales were suspected ship-strike victims off the Central and Northern California coast in 2010.
The shipping industry has supported the modest lane changes, which shift the southbound lane 1.2 miles away from Santa Cruz and Santa Rosa islands. The current route traverses a steep underwater drop-off just north of these islands — an area where blue whales congregate to feast on krill.
"We all agreed if we could move the lane a little bit away from the islands, it could reduce the risk to the blue whales," Chris Mobley, superintendent of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, said in announcing the changes.
The whales tend to follow the krill, which move with ocean currents. But on average, the whales spend more of their time near the north slope of the islands, he said. "It doesn't eliminate the risks, but hopefully mitigates it."
The changes in navigational charts are not expected to go into effect until late this year.