The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is excited to announce that the Santa Barbara Channel has been designated as a Whale Heritage Area! The Santa Barbara Channel is now the USA’s second Whale Heritage Area, joining Dana Point in California.
Whale Heritage Areas are part of the wider Wildlife Heritage Areas programme, co-founded by the WCA and World Animal Protection, which recognises outstanding wildlife-friendly tourism destinations around the world.
The Santa Barbara Channel Whale Heritage Area is a pristine and productive ecological region, encompassing the waters of the Channel Islands National Park and the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. The Channel is protected by a network of 19 Marine Protected Areas and is uniquely located in a transition zone where many ocean currents converge, providing a rich and attractive food source for cetaceans. Species that can be seen here include gray whales, humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, and one of the world’s healthiest populations of blue whales.
The Santa Barbara Channel is also an important living laboratory, with ongoing research and conservation projects to protect its natural treasures. A number of initiatives have been put in place to reduce the threat of ship strikes in the Channel, such as the Whale Safe mapping and analysis tool and the ‘Blue Whales and Blue Skies’ vessel speed reduction programme.
Education and community engagement programmes aim to raise awareness of residents and visitors alike about the importance of whale conservation, including citizen science opportunities, interactive lessons for local school children, public talks, and whale-themed art exhibitions.
The Chumash, Indigenous peoples who are native to the area surrounding the Santa Barbara Channel, have a rich cultural heritage deeply rooted in their connection with wildlife, including cetaceans. Dolphins feature in the Chumash creation myth, which says that they are the spirits of Chumash brothers and sisters who fell from the rainbow bridge as they were crossing to the mainland and were transformed by Hutash, the Earth Mother.
The WCA congratulates the steering committee and community of the Santa Barbara Channel Whale Heritage Area on this incredible achievement and their continuing commitment to protect cetaceans and the marine environment!
Header photo of a humpback whale in Santa Barbara Channel by Adam Ernster.