Ship operators in the Protecting Blue Whales and Blue Skies program voluntarily reduce their speed while transiting through critical whale feeding areas and near vulnerable coastal and port communities in California.
Ship strikes are a major threat to whales globally and to the recovery of endangered blue, fin, and humpback whales in California waters. From 2007-2022, observed and documented deaths totalled 52 endangered whales, likely representing a small fraction of the annual total number of ship strikes.
The voluntary incentive program ran from May 1, 2022 through December 15, 2022, with twenty-three shipping companies participating. The 10-knot target allowed ships to travel at an efficient operating load using less fuel and producing less pollution.
Ocean-going vessels transiting the California coast generate nitrogen oxides (NOx, a precursor to smog), sulfur oxides (SOx), particle pollution, and greenhouse gases (GHGs).
Recognition and financial awards were allocated to companies based on the percent of distance travelled by their vessels through the Vessel Speed Reduction (VSR) zones at 10 knots or less and with an average speed of 12 knots or less.
The three award tiers are Sapphire (85-100% of fleet total distance in VSR zones traveled at ten knots or less), Gold (60-84%), and Blue Sky (35-59%).
Speed and location are transmitted by Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders aboard each vessel. AIS data was analyzed for each fleet and the company’s performance was classified by tier.
The VSR incentive program has expanded in scope and environmental benefits each year. Fourteen companies generously declined all or part of their financial incentive payments. Those funds will be used for additional public recognition efforts and reinvested in the program.
The 2023 program runs from May 1 through December 15, 2023. This will be the biggest season yet for whale protection and clean air, with tanker operators invited to join.