There is a growing awareness of the worldwide problem of collisions between ships and whales. In some incidents there has been serious damage to the vessel and in most collisions a whale struck by a ship is killed or left severely injured. For some populations ship strikes are not only a welfare problem but also a conservation concern.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has identified the need to address the effects of ship strikes on cetaceans, and especially large whale populations, as a conservation concern worldwide. The IWC now has a ship strike strategy (https://iwc.int/ship-strikes) and works with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) which developed guidance for reducing the risk of ship strikes with cetaceans in 2009 (MEPC.1/Circ.674). The IMO has recognised that that minor routeing changes in high risk areas could lead to substantial reduction in strikes and was possibly the best measure of reducing ship strikes (MEPC 69).
Currently, the only proven, effective mitigation measures to reduce ship strike risk are to avoid areas with known concentrations of whales, and in instances where this proves to be unfeasible, to reduce speed while transiting those areas. Such measures require the identification of high risk areas through detailed studies of patterns of whale and vessel distribution.
The IWC ship strike strategy contains a multi-stage process for addressing high ship strike risk areas. A number of high risk areas have already been identified. Some are at the stage where routeing options can be evaluated. In others, further research is needed to establish patterns of whale distribution to enable risk analyses for different routeing options or alternative risk reduction options, such as speed restrictions. In less well studied regions there are likely additional high risk areas that have not yet been identified.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and partners, working through the IWCs Scientific Committee, Conservation Committee and Ship Strikes Working Group, in partnership with other relevant international organizations, non-governmental organisations, industry and the scientific community, will advance the implementation of the IWCs ship strike strategy, with a particular focus on identifying high risk areas, and routeing options or other measures (such as speed restrictions) within these, that reduce collision risk in a way that causes minimum disruption to shipping.
Input to the IWC Scientific Committee, Conservation Committee and Ship Strike Working Group on recommended courses of action for each high risk area described in the IWC Ship Strike Strateg, including actions to advance each situation forward at least one stage within a year (stages are outlined in the strategy).
Engagement with relevant international organisations (including IMO) to support the implementation of IWC recommendations, the delivery of the strategy and to respond to emerging ship strike issues.
Engagement with shipping industry to build support for ship strike mitigation measures and their implementation in specific high risk areas.