blue whales California Santa Barbara Channel

Vessels off California Coast to Slow Down     Photo: Kenny Ross14/flickr

How Capitalism Can Save Whales

Barges offered compensation for easing up on the throttle

A voluntary initiative by federal wildlife officials and environmentalists will start paying cargo ships to slow down when they travel through the Santa Barbara Channel in an effort to help protect migrating blue whales and reduce coastal air pollution.

"It's a very simple but clever solution: When you slow ships down, you provide whale conservation and cleaner air for us to breathe here on shore,” Kristi Birney, a marine conservation analyst for the Santa Barbara–based Environmental Defense Center, told the Los Angeles Times.

The Times cited a study from scientists at UC Riverside that found carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions dropped by more than 50 percent when ships reduced their speed to 12 knots. Slower-moving vessels would also give feeding whales more time to get out of the way and avoid fatal collisions. The year 2007 was particularly grim for the world's largest animal: Four blue whales were killed within only a few weeks of each other after run-ins with ships in the Santa Barbara Channel.

To mitigate the risk of such strikes, commercial shippers will be paid $2,500 for reducing their speed to 12 knots or slower when passing through a 130-mile stretch from Point Conception to the Los Angeles–Long Beach port complex. The normal cruising speed for vessels traversing this area is 14 to 18 knots.

Although $2,500 might seem like a drop in the ocean for large shipping companies, whose revenues are dependent on timely delivery, the initiative has found some takers. Six global shipping companies will take part in the trial program, which runs from July through October.

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