Portal Opens to Northern California's Three Marine Sanctuaries

SAN FRANCISCO, California, April 29, 2008 (ENS) – The latest scientific research conducted within three West Coast national marine sanctuaries is now displayed on a new website hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA and enriched by nearly 100 contributing partners.

The site, sanctuarysimon.org, integrates scientific monitoring data from Gulf of the Farallones, Cordell Bank and Monterey Bay national marine sanctuaries – three continuous, federally protected marine areas off California’s northcentral coast.

From the waters off Bodega Head south to Cambria near San Luis Obispo, the three sanctuaries encompass 7,130 square miles of ocean and estuarine waters.

Developed by the Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network, or SIMoN, the site makes a wealth of information about the region’s marine ecosystem easily accessible for effective management and a better understanding of the sanctuary and its resources, says NOAA, which has jurisdiction over the nation’s marine sanctuaries.

Pacific white-sided dolphins play in the waves
off the California coast. (Photo
courtesy NOAA)

“This new SIMoN Web site is a dynamic portal that provides the public and decisionmakers with valuable information about one of the planet’s richest and most diverse marine ecosystems,” said William Douros, the sanctuary system’s west coast regional director.

“This innovative resource will greatly enhance our ability to identify natural and human-induced changes in the marine and coastal ecosystems that our sanctuaries protect,” he said.

The site’s photo gallery also offers users access to more than 2,800 free, high-quality still and video images, sounds and graphics. Visitors can view the sanctuaries’ diversity of marine life, including fishes, seabirds and marine mammals, and explore a wide variety of habitats ranging from kelp forests to submarine canyons.

Other sections of the site examine the physical characteristics of the area, including geology, oceanography and water quality.

SIMoN was created in partnership with the regional science and management community to integrate scientific research and long-term monitoring data.

Collaborators include the U.S. Geological Survey, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, California Department of Fish and Game, Pt. Reyes Bird Observatory and Cascadia Research Collective.

The website will be continuously updated and enriched as additional partners in science and education join the project. Researchers from all over the world can contribute information, which will be authenticated and incorporated into the site’s verified pages.

One important message NOAA wants to convey to boaters in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary is to steer clear of whales.

From March through May, thousands of migrating gray whales make their way north from breeding grounds off Mexico to feeding grounds off Alaska. Many of these whales travel directly through the busy shipping lanes off San Francisco in the Gulf of the Farallones sanctuary.

While they also migrate south through the sanctuary in the winter, gray whales, including mothers with newborn calves, swim closest to shore in the spring.

Cow-calf pairs can sometimes be seen from shore, and may even pause in the surf zone for the calf to nurse or rest.

Endangered humpback and blue whales are also at risk.

Boaters should watch for the gray whale’s blow, which looks like a puff of smoke about 10 to 15 feet high, since very little of the whale is visible at the surface. A whale may surface and blow several times before a prolonged dive, typically lasting from three to six minutes.

Boaters should not approach within 300 feet – the length of a football field – of any whale, cut across a whale’s path or make sudden speed or directional changes.

Most important, boaters should avoid getting between a whale cow and her calf. If separated from its mother, a calf may starve, NOAA warns.

Each year, thousands of ships and smaller vessels pass through the Golden Gate. Even small craft collisions with a whale can have disastrous results for both whale and vessel.

All whales are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, NOAA points out, adding that some local species, such as humpback and blue whales, are also protected by the Endangered Species Act.

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