According to research carried out by non-profit Friend of the Sea, ship strikes kill more than 20,000 whales every year. This an alarming number, especially considering how close to extinction some species (such as the North Atlantic right whale) already are.
The problem of whale ship collisions is a worldwide phenomenon, but Friend of the Sea has identified eleven key spots where strikes are especially common. These are areas where shipping lanes cross prime feeding and breeding areas for whales.
The key areas and endangered whale species that are threatened by ship strikes include: blue whales in Sri Lanka, sperm whales in the Canary Islands, and humpback whales in Panama.
There are additional locations that play lesser or greater roles in the lives of different whale species scattered all over the world. In the Mediterranean alone, 220,000 ships cross the sea annually and 30 percent of the world’s marine traffic departs from or arrives in the Mediterranean Basin.
The main causes of collisions are shipping companies, cruise lines and speed boats. Because the problem is primarily a commercial one, part of the solution should come from industry.
The International Whaling Commision (IWC) is currently collaborating with other agencies to find a solution to the problem, producing a pamphlet designed to help reduce whale collisions.
Despite this small step in the right direction, it is difficult to evaluate whether the work has had any impact on collisions, much less on whale populations. Friend of the Sea is seeking to work with shipping companies to become part of the solution for whales.
Friend of the Sea recommends that all ships have a full time marine mammal observation program on board, covering a minimum of 120 degrees in front of the vessel. Ships could also use online systems to report and be informed of mammal sightings nearby. It is also essential that a plan is established for how to react to nearby whales and avoid ship strikes.
If companies follow these procedures, and allow Friend of the Sea access to their data in real time, the organization awards them with a “whale safe” label. In this way, consumers can make better choices in their purchases to help support whales.