Researchers have identified areas off southern California with high numbers of whales and assessed their risk from potentially deadly collisions with commercial ship traffic in a new study. (Credit: John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research) Enlarge

Mar. 25, 2013 — Researchers have identified areas off southern California with high numbers of whales and assessed their risk from potentially deadly collisions with commercial ship traffic in a study released today in the scientific journalConservation Biology.

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries, the Marine Mammal Commission and Cascadia Research Collective analyzed data collected over seven years by NOAA on marine mammal and ecosystem research surveys in the Southern California Bight. Maps predicting the density of endangered humpback, fin and blue whales were developed by merging the observed whale sightings with oceanographic conditions to identify the habitat preferred by the different whale species.

"We know several endangered species of whales occur in the waters off southern California," said Jessica Redfern, a NOAA Fisheries marine mammal biologist and lead author of the paper. "What we didn't know, and what this study helps provide, is an understanding of the areas with the highest numbers of whales."

Knowing where whales are more likely to be found in the ocean environment is vitally important to reduce human impacts. Although this information could be used to assess any number of human impacts, the study specifically looked at current and alternative shipping routes to and from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and the risk to humpback, fin and blue whales from ship strikes.

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