Whales Spotlight: Protocol has slowed ships in New Zealand

A Bryde’s whale © Tony Wu. A small, critically endangered population of Bryde’s whales live in the Hauraki Gulf in New Zealand, where they are at risk of collisions with ships.Back in 2012 the Ports of Auckland introduced a voluntary protocol for ships coming in and out of Auckland. The purpose was to protect whales from ship strikes, which had taken a heavy toll on this population. The protocol included reducing ship speeds to reduce risks to whales. Much like accidents involving pedestrians on our roads, the speed at which a ship is travelling greatly affects the likelihood of a whale surviving a collision.

Since the protocol was introduced, IFAW has been working with the shipping industry and other interested groups in New Zealand to encourage ships to slow down to protect whales. Over that time, we’ve been monitoring ship speeds to measure compliance with the protocol.

As of last month, average speeds (of ships over 70m long – those of greater risk to whales) have reduced to 10.6 knots, from 14.2 knots before the protocol was introduced.

Scientific evidence shows that 10 knots is a safer travelling speed around whales, while still practical for shipping, with whales having about 70 percent chance of surviving a collision at that speed. By contrast, only 30 percent of whales hit at 14 knots or more will survive.

It will take a few years to be sure that the protocol has led to a definitive reduction in ship strikes in Hauraki Gulf but these early signs are very encouraging. IFAW welcomes the responsible approach of the Ports of Auckland and shipping industry and we look forward to working with them to sustain the progress achieved so far.

--MC

You too can help us with our monitoring of ship speeds in the Hauraki Gulf by reporting any ships you see going above 10 knots. Click here for a handy guide on how to do it.

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