Weighing up to 330,000 pounds and 110 feet long, the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is taller than even the biggest dinosaurs, although it feeds on a tiny organism called krill (in huge quantities). They are currently the largest animal on Earth and one of the largest animals to have ever lived on our planet in all of history. Yet the magnificent creatures have been on the list of endangered species since 1970. They remain threatened due to collisions with ships, the risk of entanglement and a sharp decline in their main food source, krill, which may be linked to ocean acidification and climate change.
In an effort to protect a unique population of these endangered gentle giants from the threat of ship strikes, the largest shipping and logistics conglomerate in the world, Mediterranean shipping company (MSC), diverted its shipping lanes near the Indian Ocean coast of Sri Lanka. Blue whales here are not migratory and have distinct vocalizations. Ships will now travel approximately 15 nautical miles (approximately 17 miles) south of the previous shipping route.
“MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken a major step to help protect blue whales and other cetaceans living and feeding in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka by modifying sailing advice in line with advice from scientists and other stakeholders. keys to the maritime sector, ” MSC said in a statement provided to Insider.
[Related: Whale ‘roadkill’ is on the rise off California. A new detection system could help.]
This decision follows a request from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and OceanCare. According to IFAW, Sri Lankan blue whales are in these waters all year round. Current international shipping lanes disabled Dondra’s head bring ships through the area with the most whales and whale watching activities.
“By ensuring these small changes, the MSC is making a significant difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die as a result of collisions and this population is at risk. Ship strikes are both a conservation issue and well-being, and even one dead whale is one too many,” said Sharon Livermore, director of marine conservation at IFAW, in a Press release.
This voluntary rerouting of MSC does not impact other shipping carriers in the region (such as Hapag-Lloyd Where Maersk), but conservationists hope it could lead to a chain reaction of permanent changes to the official shipping lane that would affect all container ships. According to the IFWA, research shows that adjusting the shipping lane reduce the chance of a ship hitting a whale by 95 percent.
“Redirection is the main hope for reversing the trend of blue whales off Sri Lanka. It also shows the Sri Lankan government that now is the time to take appropriate action and move the shipping lane out of blue whale habitat for all merchant vessels,” said Nicolas Entrup, Director of International Relations at OceanCare, in a press release.
[Related: Whale-monitoring robots are oceanic eavesdroppers with a mission.]
While commercial whaling is banned worldwide, blue whales were on the on the verge of extinction as recently as the 1960s. Banning whaling helped the demographic rebound, but populations are still below pre-hunting numbers. It is estimated that there may have been approximately 200,000–300,000 whales in the Southern Hemisphere before commercial whaling, down from 2,300 in 1998. Populations are increasing by about 7% per year.
Collisions with ships are a major problem for a number of whale species, not just blue whales. Critically Endangered People North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) particularly suffers—NOAA Fisheries has documented four deaths (deaths and serious injuries) collisions with right whales in US waters over the past two and a half years.
There are less than 350 right whales in the wild and they are not reproducing fast enough to maintain their numbers. In JulyNOAA Fisheries announced proposed changes vessel speed rules to “further reduce the likelihood of mortality and serious injury to endangered right whales from vessel strikes”. Proposed changes would expand the spatial boundaries and timing of seasonal speed restriction zones along the U.S. East Coast and expand mandatory speed restrictions of 10 knots or less to include most vessels between 35 and 65 feet length.