Standardised approach needed to reduce ship collisions with whales

The endangered North Atlantic right whale is one species identified in the paper as at risk from vessel collision. Credit: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Three marine experts have published a paper to help reduce collisions between vessels and whales. The paper highlights the need for a holistic approach to whale/vessel collision avoidance, and promotes the use of IMO’s Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) as a framework to achieve this.

Written by the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Oceans lead scientist, Linwood Pendleton; Maxime Sèbe from University of Brest; and Dr Christos Kontovas from Liverpool John Moores University, the authors hope to generate a “more transparent and systematic assessment of the risks related to collisions between ships and whales, and help propose cost-effective measures to reduce the related risks”.

Whilst the number of collisions between whales and vessels is difficult to obtain, the paper notes that such incidents have a high fatality rate for whales – if hit by a ship travelling at 12 knots the whale would have a 50 % probability of survival, increasing to 90% at 18 knots. The increase in ships has resulted in more collisions and, according to the paper, if collisions are not reduced it could result in certain species of whale becoming extinct in the future.

IMO resolutions issued so far have been mainly concerned with collision avoidance or rerouting to avoid certain areas.

But the paper, A decision-making framework to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and whales, published by online by research website, Science Direct, notes that whilst proposals for collision mitigation have been put forward from different governments and organisations to further IMO’s work on the topic, “it is difficult for IMO to evaluate these proposals,” due to their unstandardised format, and lack of attention to the impact on maritime traffic.

The FSA “could be a way to standardise and better assess the potential of proposed solutions to reduce whale collisions,” it says in the paper.

The paper is available online.