Collisions between cetaceans and vessels – known as ‘ship strikes’ or ‘vessel strikes’ – are a significant cause of death and traumatic injury for cetaceans.
And these accidents are likely to become more common in the future due to the increasing amount of traffic on our seas, and the increasing size and speed of today’s ships.
Tackling this threat to the world’s cetaceans is hampered by the fact that under- or non-reporting of ship strikes is still the norm around the globe. To counter this, the International Whaling Commission established a ship strikes working group, which has developed a global ship strike database, where anyone can report collisions.
Since its creation in 2009, more than 1,200 incidents have been registered.
Meanwhile, the International Maritime Organization, which is in charge of regulating shipping around the world, issued a guidance document in 2009 for minimising the risk of collisions between ships and whales.
Finding solutions to the problem requires collaboration between government, industry, scientists, and civil society. Ideally, alternative shipping routes can be found to avoid critical cetacean habitats. When this is not possible, travelling at slower speeds can reduce chances of collision.
What WWF is doing
In 2014 WWF joined the Swedish Government, UNESCO-IOC, and the Volvo Group to help raise the profile of ocean conservation through the Volvo Ocean Race. The IWC Ship Strike coordinators helped WWF provide the race organisers with guidelines on what to look out for, a whale identification guide, critical cetacean habitats on the race route where extra precautions are needed, and how to report any interactions.
WWF also developed a project with SECAC (Sociedad para el Estudio de los Cetáceos en el Archipiélago Canario) on the impact of ship strikes on Sperm whales in the Canary Islands that ran from 2009 until 2012, which confirmed two areas of particular vulnerability for cetaceans – Gran Canaria-Tenerife and to the west of the Lanzarote and Fuerteventura islands – as well as the risk collisions pose to young individuals.
This work ended with a proposal to reduce the risk of collisions that we are working to implement in 2015.
The carcass of a female Northern right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) killed by a ship collision, Nova Scotia, Canada.