Vessel Strikes and Acoustic Impacts Report

group photo of the joint working group members
Joint working group members

Protecting endangered species and sanctuary resources is a priority issue for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS). In June of 2011, Greater Farallones (GF) and Cordell Bank (CB) Sanctuary Advisory Councils formed a Joint Working Group (JWG) on Vessel Strikes and Acoustic Impacts, including representatives from conservation groups, the shipping industry, and the scientific community. Additional technical expertise was provided by staff from government agencies, conservation groups and scientists, who were not formal members of the JWG but contributed to the process. The JWG recommended actions to the Advisory Council to reduce ship strike and ocean noise impacts in the two sanctuaries, which resulted in the Vessel Strikes and Acoustic Impacts Report.

This report contains several specific recommendations for policy and management, education and outreach, and research and monitoring within Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank sanctuaries. The majority of these actions – which are discussed in greater detail in the report – would be implemented through partnerships between NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).


  • NOAA and USCG should pursue the modification of shipping lanes to avoid areas of whale concentration, such as extension of the proposed western approach lane beyond the continental shelf edge.
  • The sanctuaries and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), working with external partners, should establish dynamic management areas (DMAs) at the entrance to San Francisco Bay. DMAs should be implemented in areas with high whale concentrations for at least one week or longer as the whale spatial and temporal distribution warrants. The implementation response should be that vessels slow down within the DMA, or preferably, choose alternate lanes where there would be no active DMA.
  • The sanctuaries and NMFS, working with external partners, should implement a real-time whale sighting and monitoring network with participation from commercial ships, to provide data on whale occurrence and inform the designation of the onset, duration and location of DMAs.
  • The sanctuaries should consult with other federal agencies on activities that would affect vessel traffic or vessel noise within sanctuary boundaries. This authority derives from the National Marine Sanctuaries Act § 304(d), under which sanctuaries are entitled to consult over federal agency actions, including licensing or approving private activities, that are likely to injure a sanctuary resource.
  • The sanctuaries, together with NMFS and external partners, should work with the port authorities in San Francisco Bay, other west coast ports and industry to establish portbased incentives for the reduction of underwater shipping noise.
  • The sanctuaries, together with NMFS and external partners, should implement a passive acoustic monitoring program within GF and CB sanctuary waters to better understand the abundance and distribution of marine mammal species in the sanctuaries, as well as the potential noise impacts from shipping on sanctuary resources.
  • The West Coast Region sanctuaries should draft an Education and Outreach Strategic Plan, with measurable outputs and an implementation schedule that will seek to inform all stakeholders on the issues as well as possible solutions. Education and outreach materials should first be focused on engaging and informing the commercial maritime industry.
  • The West Coast Region sanctuaries and NMFS should develop a regional education and outreach program to leverage scarce resources, avoid duplication of efforts in areas already addressed by other NMS (e.g. CINMS, Stellwagen Bank NMS), and recognize that commercial vessels often call or transit close to any one of the NMS on many voyages.

Read the report at:

2014 Sanctuary Update on Recommendations

At the August 2014 Greater Farallones Advisory Council Meeting in Half Moon Bay, Superintedent Maria Brown presented the Advisory Council with an update cataloguing all that the sanctuary, along with their partners, have done in the last 2 years since the Advisory Council report (above).

Read the Sanctuary Update at: