Shipping company redirects ships to protect whales

Weighing up to 330,000 pounds and 110 feet long, blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) is larger than even the largest dinosaurs, despite subsisting on a tiny organism called krill (in large quantities). They are the largest animal on Earth currently, and one of the largest animals to have ever lived on our planet in all of history. However, the majestic creatures have been on the endangered species list since 1970. They remain at risk due to ship strikes, the risk of entanglement and a major decline in their main food source, krill, which can be linked again with ocean acidification and climate change.

In an effort to protect a unique population of these endangered gentle giants from the threat of ship strikes, the world’s largest shipping and logistics conglomerate, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), has rerouted their shipping lanes near the coast of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. The blue whales here are non-migratory and have distinctive vocalizations. Ships will now travel about 15 nautical miles (approximately 17 miles) south of the former shipping route.

“MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken a major step to help protect blue whales and other cetaceans that live and feed in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka by modifying sailing guidelines in line with advice from scientists and other key stakeholders in the maritime sector. “, MSC said in a statement provided to Insider.

[Related: Whale ‘roadkill’ is on the rise off California. A new detection system could help.]

The move comes in response to a request from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and OceanCare. According to IFAW, Sri Lankan blue whales are in these waters year-round. Current international shipping lanes off Dondra Head bring ships directly through the area of ​​greatest whaling and whale watching activity.

“By ensuring these small changes, the MSC is making a significant difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die as a result of collisions and this population is at risk. Ship strikes are both a conservation and welfare problem, and even one whale death is too big,” said Sharon Livermore, Director of Marine Conservation at IFAW, in a press release.

This voluntary change by MSC does not affect other ship carriers in the area (such as Hapag-Lloyd or Maersk), but environmentalists hope it could lead to a chain reaction of permanent changes to the official shipping lane that will affected all container ships. According to the IFWA, research shows that adjusting the shipping lane would reduce the risk of a ship hitting a whale by 95 percent.

“Running the route is the main hope to turn the tide for blue whales from Sri Lanka. It also tells the Sri Lankan government that now is the time to take appropriate action and shift the shipping lane away from blue whale habitat for all commercial vessels,” said Nicolas Entrup, Director of International Relations at OceanCare, in a Press conference.

[Related: Whale-monitoring robots are oceanic eavesdroppers with a mission.]

While commercial whaling is banned worldwide, blue whales have been on the brink of extinction since the 1960s. The ban on whaling helped the population recover, but the population is still lower than pre-whaling numbers. It is estimated that there may have been as many as 200,000 to 300,000 whales in the Southern Hemisphere before commercial whaling, compared to 2,300 in 1998. The population is growing at about 7 percent a year.

Ship strikes are a major issue for a number of whale species, not just blue whales. The critically endangered North Atlantic right whale (Glacial Eubalaena) is particularly suffering—NOAA Fisheries has documented four fatal (death and serious injury) right whale strike events in U.S. waters over the past two and a half years.

There are fewer than 350 right whales in the wild, and they are not reproducing fast enough to maintain their numbers. In July, NOAA Fisheries announced proposed changes to vessel speed regulations to “further reduce the likelihood of mortality and serious injury to right whales at risk from vessel collisions.” The proposed changes would expand the spatial and temporal boundaries of seasonal speed restriction zones along the East Coast of the United States and expand mandatory speed limits of 10 knots or less to include most vessels 35-65 feet in length.

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