Shipping company reroutes ships to save endangered whale

·Environment Editor
·2-min read

Shipping traffic is on the rise and it's having a devastating impact on marine species like whales and dolphins.

Between 1992 and 2013, the world recorded a 300 per cent increase in shipping traffic, and it could surge by up to 1,209 per cent by 2050, according to one estimate.

Acting to reduce its impact on whales, the world’s largest container shipping company is rerouting its ships to prevent collisions.

Shipping company MSC will reroute ships to avoid hitting blue whales. Source: IFAW/Christian Loader
Shipping company MSC will reroute ships to avoid hitting blue whales. Source: IFAW/Christian Loader

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) announced the move to help a cluster of endangered blue whales living year-round in the Indian Ocean, south of Sri Lanka.

The decision follows discussions with scientists and environment non-profit groups including International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

How effective will the shipping route change be?

By shifting the shipping lane 15 nautical miles south, it’s hoped blue whale strikes could be reduced by 95 per cent.

“We believe that the commercial shipping sector has an important role to play in protecting cetaceans, specifically in helping to reduce the risk of ship collisions with whales,” MSC’s Stefania Lallai told American Journal of Transportation.

IFAW's Sharon Livermore has congratulated MSC for its decision, predicting it will make a "significant difference".

This isn’t the first time the company has altered its route to protect a whale species after consulting with conservationists and scientists.

In January, the company opted to reroute its ships on Greece’s west coast to reduce the chance of hitting the region’s 200 to 300 remaining endangered sperm whales.

How shipping affects world's whales

Blue whales can live up to 80 years and are the largest known animals living on Earth today.

Sri Lanka’s blue whales make distinct vocal sounds that are not heard in other parts of the world.

Sri Lanka's blue whales are known to make unique vocalisations. Source: Getty
Sri Lanka's blue whales are known to make unique vocalisations. Source: Getty

Shipping traffic has also had a significant impact on North Atlantic right whales which remain on the brink of extinction due to hunting last century

In 2021, an Australian Navy vessel hit and killed a mother whale and her calf, with the incident only discovered after it docked at Naval Base San Diego in California.

Responding to the incident at the time IFAW’s Patrick Ramage said whales are tiny compared to ships, which he described as “floating skyscrapers”.

“Speed kills almost irrespective of size of vessel, but when large vessels are moving through critical habitat areas… it can be a lethal combination,” he said.

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