Ship Strikes

aerial view of a container ship in open water
Container ship heads to the Port of Los Angeles using the southbound shipping lane that passes through Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Jess Morten

Goal: Reduce the Risk of Fatal Ship Strikes on Endangered Whales

Voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with support from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) annually issues voluntary Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) requests that go into effect May 1 to December 15 off San Francisco and Southern California. The goal of these seasonal voluntary VSR zones is to reduce the risk of fatal ship strikes to endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales, reduce ocean noise and protect public health within and near Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries. These species are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1538 et seq.), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 1361 et seq.), and the National Marine Sanctuaries Act (16 U.S.C. 1431 et seq.). Any unauthorized take of whales, even if unintentional, by vessels transiting in U.S. waters violates federal statutes.

NOAA, USCG and EPA request that all vessels 300 gross tons (GT) or larger reduce speeds to 10 knots when transiting within the designated VSR zones. We request your cooperation with the voluntary VSR to protect the health of communities living near these zones, and whales that annually migrate to and through these zones. All transits by vessels 300 GRT or larger are analyzed by NOAA via Automatic Information System (AIS) data provided by USCG to assess the industry's cooperation.

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map depicting the Voluntary vessel speed reduction zone around the channel islands
Voluntary vessel speed reduction zone southern California Image: NOAA
map depicting the Voluntary vessel speed reduction zone in the San Francisco Bay Region
Voluntary vessel speed reduction zone San Francisco Bay Region Image: NOAA

We encourage vessel crews to report whale sightings through the Whale Alert App.

Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Incentive-Based Vessel Speed Reduction Program

map showing voluntary speed reduction zone around the channel islands
map showing voluntary speed reduction zone in the San Francisco Bay Region

Maps of incentive-based vessel speed reduction zone. Container and tanker vessels over 300 gross tons are asked to slow down to 10 knots or less in these zones. Images: Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies Incentive Program

The incentive-based Vessel Speed Reduction program - Protecting Blue Whales and Blues Skies - is a collaboration of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and shipping industry stakeholders working together to reduce air pollution, ocean noise and shipstrikes on endangered whales in Southern California and in the San Francisco Bay region. Container, car carrier and bulk carrier companies slow down their vessels to a speed of 10 knots or less from May 1 to December 15. Shipping companies that cooperate at a high level are acknowledged with financial and public relation incentives.

table showing the Participation, cooperation, and benefits of the 2021 incentive VSR program
Participation, cooperation, and benefits of the 2021 incentive VSR program. The metrics for reductions in air pollution, noise, and fatal ship strike risk are modeled results and represent benefits from only the enrolled companies operating during the incentive VSR time period within specified zones.

For more information please visit Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies and Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District's Marine Shipping Initiative's websites for additional program details.

Please also visit the Benioff Ocean Institute's Whale Safe web platform  for near real-time whale and ship data for the Santa Barbara Channel.

collage of Vessel Speed Reduction partner logos

Sanctuary Advisory Council Reports