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Shipping company changes course around Sri Lanka to protect blue whales

The world’s largest shipping container carrier has changed its route south of Sri Lanka to protect blue whales and other creatures.

The Mediterranean Shipping Company has moved its route 15 nautical miles south of the path designated by the local traffic separation system on the advice of a group of scientists and charities. Modeling suggests this could result in 95% fewer collisions between blue whales and ships.

Blue whales are an endangered species, with between 5,000 and 10,000 worldwide. They can reach over 30 meters in length, weigh up to 150 tons and live for up to 90 years.

Their habitat is in the northern Indian Ocean off Sri Lanka, where they stay year-round, and their presence has spawned a vibrant whale-watching tourist industry.

The biggest threat to animals since the ban on whaling in the 1960s has been ship strikes.

Gehan Wijeratne, a Sri Lankan animal rights activist and researcher, said the topography of the ocean floor, currents and monsoons make the sea south of Sri Lanka rich in nutrients and marine life.

“This rich food web creates an optimal area for fishing,” Wijeratne told AFP. “Unsurprisingly, whales also congregate in this area.”

The whale and dolphin conservation group estimates that whale watching brings in $2.1 billion in total revenue each year, with 13 million people taking whale-watching trips in 120 overseas countries and territories. -sea around the world.

“We believe that the commercial shipping sector has an important role to play in protecting cetaceans, in particular to help reduce the risk of ship-whale collisions,” said Stefania Lallai, Vice President of Development. sustainability at the Mediterranean Shipping Company.

“Raising awareness of these issues and encouraging collaboration between industry, scientific bodies, civil society and governments is essential as we collectively strive to do more to minimize the risk of ship strikes.

The change is a big step in influencing the rest of the shipping world to change its route.

“The MSC is making a meaningful difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die from collisions and this population is at risk,” said Sharon Livermore, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which worked with the Mediterranean Shipping Company to effect the change.

“Ship strikes are both a conservation and welfare issue, and even one dead whale is one too many.”

The company is also ordering its smaller supply vessels in the area to slow to 10 knots in blue whale habitats.

“Redirection is the main hope for reversing the trend of blue whales off Sri Lanka,” said Nicolas Entrup, director of international relations at OceanCare.

“It also shows the Sri Lankan government that now is the time to take the appropriate action and move the shipping lane out of blue whale habitats for all merchant vessels.”

However, blue whales and other wildlife are still in danger from other accidents. Last year a chemical ship fire killed a blue whale, 100 turtles and 12 dolphins when the Singapore flag Pearl X-Press burned for 12 days off Sri Lanka’s main port in the capital Colombo.

Updated: September 09, 2022, 6:01 p.m.