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Friend of the Sea ranks shipping and cruise lines’ engagement to reduce whale ship strikes.

While part of the maritime industry ramps up efforts to become Whale-Safe, one every two shipping vessels still turns a blind eye.

Friend of the Sea, the international certification of products and services which respect the marine habitat, has just released the results of a study to analyze and rank shipping and cruise lines’ engagement to reduce whale ship strikes. The final ranking results, which will be updated as companies will provide new evidence, is available at https://friendofthesea.org/marine-conservation-projects-and-awareness/save-the-whales-2/

The maritime industry has a positive and direct impact on much of our everyday lives. Think about the oil that powers our cars, many of our vehicles, our electronics, the coffee we drink, foods we eat and the clothes we wear: most of them come from overseas. The volume of shipping traffic continues to rise by around 3% annually. The number of cargo ships, together with their size and the speed they can cruise at, continues to increase.  

Many of the busiest shipping lanes in the world directly overlap with routes whales swim through between feeding and breeding grounds and areas where whales congregate to feed or give birth and nurse their calves. Ships hundreds of meters long, travel at highspeeds, normally three times faster than the speed a whale can swim. Consequently an estimated 20.000 whales are killed or maimed annually as a result of ship strikes. In many cases collisions go unnoticed and whales sink to the seabed.

Collisions with ships are currently a leading cause of mortality of threatened whale species globally, including the North Atlantic Right whale (listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Redlist of threatened species), Blue whale, Humpback whale and Sperm whale (all listed as Endangered).

Besides the threat of collisions, the ships’ engines produce a loud noise underwater that can disrupt whale hearing and communication, as well as their ability to use echolocation to navigate effectively. This can lead to whales becoming disorientated or separated from their pods, and can negatively impact their feeding and breeding behaviour.

Separating shipping lanes from areas of highest whales presence is the optimal solution, but not easy to be implemented, at least in the short term. Slowing down to a speed, normally 10 knots, which would allow whales to avoid the ships, is a measure which can dramatically reduce lethal strikes and also reduce noise pollution. Some countries, such as USA, Canada and New Zealand, request or recommend vessels to slowdown when navigating in areas with a likely higher presence of whales. In other areas of the world, where shipping lanes overlap whales’ habitat, the segiant marine mammals are not protected from ship collisions. Friend of the Sea is urging the maritime industry to expand slowdown mandatory procedures to all these high risk areas and to implement full time observation and reporting systems onboard.

In order to motivate shipping and cruise lines to comply with existing slowdown regulations and rapidly introduce onboard systems to further reduce risk of ship strikes, Friend of the Sea has carried out a study to analyze and rank shipping and cruise lines’ engagement to reduce whale ship strikes. Data has been collected from companies’ websites, sustainability reports and direct contact with the sustainability managers, when available. Companies have been ranked based on: their level of engagement, compliance with slowdown areas, initiatives to reduce noise pollution, onboard full time observation program and appropriate reporting. Scores have been subtracted from those companies for which evidence of whales strikes had been reported in the past.

The top 20 shipping and cruise lines operators have been included in the assessment. However the ranking is open also to other smaller companies, which could be interested to participate. None of the assessed companies seem follow slowdown programs covering all global areas where the risk of whales strikes is highest. Approximately 50% of the shipping and cruise lines operators express a certain level of engagement, while the remaining seem to be not involved at all in slowdown programs, not really concerned about the issue or perhaps looking for direction.

“Many players in the shipping and cruise lines industry already have a comprehensive approach to reducing their environmental impact, having undertaken a number of measures to cut down emissions, waste and water pollution. Several companies are also proactively engaged in sourcing sustainably, supporting local communities and sustainable tourism, treating the crew and all employees in compliance with the strictest social accountability principles” explains Bray, founder and director of Friend of the Sea“We would like to see all shipping and cruise companies to undertake, as soon as possible, measures to reduce also whale ship strikes, in all oceans. Hopefully the Friend of the Sea ranking will motivate companies to further engage in respecting slowdown areas and implementing preventative measures to improve their ranking. Those vessels slowing down in all high risk areas and carrying out full time observation and reporting, will be granted the Whale-Safe certification.”  

The Friend of the Sea ranking of shipping and cruise lines according to Whale-Safe practices is available at https://friendofthesea.org/marine-conservation-projects-and-awareness/save-the-whales-2/ 

Companies interested to be included in the ranking or willing to provide updates on their policies, should write to info@friendofthesea.org.