William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review
Slow and Steady Saves the Whales: Preventing Vessel Strikes on Whales in the Santa Barbara Channel
“While in the life the great whale’s body may have been a real terror to his foes, in his death his ghost becomes a powerless panic to a world.” In the past, whales and humans (in boats) fought on the high seas. The humans fought for precious whale oil while the whales fought for their rights not to be murdered and turned into oil. While those days are mostly long gone, whales still face a serious threat of harm from humans in the form of vessel strikes, which is when a whale is struck by a vessel. Vessel strikes are an issue of particular concern off the coast of Central and Southern California, in an area known as the Santa Barbara Channel.
The Santa Barbara Channel is a key natural corridor for commercial shipping and whale migration. Unfortunately, whales and commercial vessels come into contact too often and the results of these contacts are typically collisions resulting in the death of the whale. This Note will look at the background of vessel strikes in the Santa Barbara Channel, the current measures taken to prevent them, and how additional steps can be taken to protect whale populations in the area. Although action has recently been taken by the United States government to reduce the frequency of vessel strikes on whales in the Santa Barbara Channel, more action is necessary in order to protect whales. A new plan centered around a mandatory vessel speed restriction zone will help reduce the frequency of vessel strikes on whales in the Santa Barbara Channel.
This Note will begin in Part I with a discussion of the background of the Santa Barbara Channel and vessel strikes in the Channel. This section will address the geography of the Santa Barbara Channel and why it is a heavy traffic corridor for ships and marine life. Then, in Part II, this Note will discuss the North Atlantic right whales and what has been done to protect them from vessel strikes on the East Coast. The North Atlantic right whales face similar issues with vessel strikes and there has been a more concentrated effort to reduce the frequency of those vessel strikes than in other areas of the country. This Note will look at the efforts made to protect the North Atlantic right whales as a key corollary for protections that should be applied to the Santa Barbara Channel. Then, in Part III, this Note will discuss the methods currently in place in the Santa Barbara Channel and why those methods are insufficient to properly address the issue of vessel strikes. In Part IV, this Note will discuss a new plan for reducing the frequency of vessel strikes in the Channel. The heart of the proposed plan is a permanent, mandatory vessel speed restriction zone in the Santa Barbara Channel. As part of the discussion of the new plan, this Note will address jurisdiction over the Santa Barbra Channel, enforcement issues, and potential penalties.