MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) — Whales have showing up in Bay Area waters in record numbers this summer and marine researchers are hoping new technology might help the sea mammals from being hurt or killed by ship strikes.
While they are wonderful to watch, the endangered humpback whale is often in danger when swimming through San Francisco Bay.
“The likelihood of ship strike mortality for humpback whales is extremely high,” said Mary Jane Schramm, spokesperson for the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
That’s why for the first time, researchers are tagged whales inside the Golden Gate.
The Cascadia Research Collective recently tagged three whales with suction cup recorders to track their depth, range and timing.
“So there’s a lot of three-dimensional information that they can gather from these tags, which is extremely important when you’re are fitting large whales in the same confined space as a lot of large vessels,” said Schramm.
Researchers say that information is concerning.
Bay waters under the bridge are approximately 400 feet deep. But whales only dive a maximum of 100 feet. The big cargo ships have a depth of anywhere from 10 to 35 feet.
With up to 9,000 ships coming through the Golden Gate each year, it makes for a tight squeeze.
“So there’s not much clearance between whale and ship. So that means there is a high probability of collision and mortality ensuing from that.”
One whale strike victim from this year was a blue whale that washed ashore in Bolinas. Its head traumatized, its vertebrae broken and ribs shattered.
The more scientific information researchers have, they say the more they can apply it to the Marine Sanctuary’s efforts to reduce ship strikes and potentially craft new regulations.
The Sanctuary has an optional slowdown for ships coming into San Francisco Bay, requesting that vessels slow down to 10 knots, but there has only been limited success with that suggestion.