The German Shipowners’ Association, VDR (Verband Deutscher Reeder), is the first national association of its kind to recommend that shipping companies with more than 150 members reorient their ships to reduce the risk of whaling. The decision came after a coalition of environmental NGOs reached out to the VDR with scientific information and urged them to take urgent action by making minor deviations to reroute their shipping routes and keep them away from the critical habitat of endangered sperm whales in the Greek Trench, in the east of the country. Mediterranean, blue whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean.
IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare), OceanCare and WWF Greece in partnership with the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, identified the Hellenic Trench, west and south of the Peloponnese and southwest of Crete, as critical habitat for the last 200 to 300 sperm whales still living in this area. This is where sperm whales feed, breed and give birth, and the area is also currently in the direct path of busy shipping lanes, making the risk of these whales injuring ships extremely high.
In the Indian Ocean, a small population of critically endangered blue whales is found all year round off the southern tip of Sri Lanka, near the coast. The presence of these whales also fuels the thriving local whale safari business, and these waters support inshore fisheries with rich fishing grounds. However, the current position of the official Traffic Separation System (TSS) directs international shipping directly through this important blue whale habitat, at great risk of hitting and killing the whales. In addition, international shipping on the current route poses a significant risk to whale-watching boats and fishing vessels.
Dr. said. Martin Krueger, Managing Director of VDR. “The answer was clear: To protect the whales, we are all willing to take a small detour.”
VDR members are now required that their ships follow a modified route to avoid these critical whale habitats and help reduce ship collision risks with these whales.
“Whales in both Greece and Sri Lanka have been found dead on the coast with fan marks and rips, but these animals are just the tip of the iceberg. Scientists estimate that up to 20 times more animals die offshore and are never recorded,” explains the Alliance of Organizations non-governmental. “Without urgent action, we fear that deaths from ship impacts will wipe out these already small populations very soon.
“We are pleased to recommend VDR to its members and hope that shipping companies operating in these risk areas will implement the proposed rerouting measures very soon. We also urge all shipping companies and other shipping associations to follow the VDR model to continue,” the NGO Alliance continues.
More than half of the sperm whales stranded on the Greek coast show signs of collision with ships known as “ship collision”. This is one of the highest ship collision rates known to any whale in the world. Most collisions are fatal, but some live animals bear scars from ship propeller collisions. Data from other regions shows that a very small percentage of ship collisions are detected and reported. In many cases, sailors on large ships are not aware that they have hit a whale.
In Sri Lanka, the reported deaths are only a fraction of the number of blue whales killed. There, too, most large ships are not aware that they have hit a whale and that the prevailing winds and currents off the coast of Sri Lanka will carry many dead bodies off the coast. As part of a broad scientific collaboration, studies have been carried out on the distribution of blue whales off the southern coast of Sri Lanka in existing shipping lanes and abroad. The results show that if ships were to sail 15 nm south (offshore) from existing routes, the risk of a blue whale impact from ships would be reduced by 95%.