Container Ships Versus Whales & Whale-watchers

Whale-watching tourism is lucrative for Sri Lanka but even the small boats are at risk from the huge tankers and container ships that use the route. Photograph: IFAW/Christian Loader

It seems a minor request, asking the companies whose ships pass through Sri Lanka’s waters to be considerate of the whales who live in those waters:

‘Giant obstacle course’: call to reroute major shipping lanes to protect blue whales

Unique colony of blue whales increasingly at risk from tankers and container ships, say marine campaigners

Scientists and conservation groups are calling for one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes to be rerouted in an effort to protect the world’s largest animal.

Since 2008, researchers have been painstakingly piecing together clues about a little-known, endangered population of blue whales that live off the southern tip of Sri Lanka. What they have discovered so far hints at one group of cetaceans or even a sub-species. Rather than migrating vast distances like most blue whales, the Sri Lankan population is thought to live in the region year-round, grazing on tiny shrimps and communicating via distinctive vocalisations.

What has also become clear is the immense threat they face. The whales’ habitat overlaps with a major shipping artery that connects east Asia to the Suez Canal, leaving them vulnerable to ship strikes and noise pollution.

On an average day the whales face off against a relentless barrage of about 200 ships, many of them container ships or oil tankers that stretch up to 300 metres in length.

“The problem for these whales is that they live in a giant obstacle course that we have created,” said Asha de Vos, a marine biologist who launched the first long-term study of the region’s whales in 2008.

It is a clash playing out in increasing intensity around the world. Between 1992 and 2013, the shipping traffic swelled 300%, as maritime transport became a fixture in roughly 90% of world trade.

In Sri Lanka, the push is now on to tackle what De Vos describes as a “uniquely resolvable issue”, after research suggested that a small shift in the shipping lane could make a big difference to the whales…

Read the whole article here.

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