Urban Whales? Ocean Sprawl? Really?!

Image credit: The Nature Conservancy

Every now and then you come across a term that spins your mind. And the idea of an "urban whale" did just that for me - I mean I've seen foxes, raccoons and deer in my town, and bears are even occasionally reported around here - but never a whale. It turns out the term is nowhere near as crazy as you'd think. We've already seen one whale wander into Brooklyn, and the problem is only likely to get worse.
It's all related to the issue, which Jaymi covered over at Planet Green, of ocean sprawl. Our oceans are under such strain from a variety of users (and abusers) - shipping, recreation, electricity generation, fishing, waste disposal - that they are quite literally filling up. The Nature Conservancy just published a neat little article and slide show about Ocean Sprawl, in which Sally Yozell, a marine conservation director for the organization, introduces the idea of the urban whale:

"That humpback probably came here from Florida or the Caribbean, on its yearly trek to New England to feed. She had to travel through thousands of miles of shipping lanes dodging giant freighters, navy vessels, fishing boats and tankers and skirt the endless web of fishing nets along the way. These are urban whales; their migratory routes are as busy as major highways."

So The Nature Conservancy is arguing that the same kind of planning that goes into towns needs to be applied to oceans - rather than separate and often conflicting processes for different users, we need to integrate and co-operate between different agencies.

But is anyone up to the task? Obama has already launched a US Ocean Protection Plan, and a handful of states are beginning to "zone the ocean" for oil rigs, wind farms and the like.

Now Massachusetts has stepped up to the plate with its Massachusetts Ocean Plan - a scheme which Yozell calls "an excellent framework with solid data and an inclusive process." Perhaps best of all, the plan makes viable and sustainable renewable energy generation a real possibility in the ocean (sealife doesn't like climate change much either), while avoiding ecologically sensitive areas.

There's hope for the urban whale after all.

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