More whale deaths inevitable as ships and whales increase in the Great Barrier Reef

More whale deaths inevitable as ships and whales increase in the Great Barrier R
Wednesday, 9 September, 2015
Sydney, AU

More whale deaths from collisions with ships are inevitable unless the government improves its management of shipping in the Great Barrier Reef, warned the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), following reports today of a humpback whale calf being killed by a coal tugboat at Hay Point, Queensland.

IFAW’s report, Collision Course, released last year, highlighted the growing risk of vessel collisions with whales, or ‘ship strikes’ as these are known. This growing risk is a result of the continued recovery of humpback whale populations, which use the Reef as a nursery for their calves, and the projected increase in shipping traffic due to industrial port expansions.

The report found the waters off Hay Point to be one of the highest risk areas in the Reef due to the high density of shipping traffic in an area which is preferred by whales to give birth to and nurse their young.

“The continued recovery of humpback whales in Australia following the ban on whaling is one of the few Australian conservation success stories; however, as numbers increase these whales are exposed to new risks such as ship strikes,” said Matthew Collis, Policy and Campaigns Manager at IFAW and co-author of the Collision Course report.

“We need to see the government develop a ship strike strategy as a priority, to deal with the increase we will see in incidents like this in the Reef and around the Australian coast as shipping and whale numbers continue to grow.

IFAW’s Collision Course report recommended the creation of ‘whale zones’ in the highest risk areas, which would include speed limits for shipping to reduce the chance of fatal ship strikes.

“Just like children hit by cars on our roads, we know speed is the critical factor when it comes to the chances of a whale surviving a collision with a ship. That’s why IFAW is calling for ‘whale zones’ in areas of highest risk which would work like school zones on our roads,” said Mr Collis.

The report also recommended improved education and awareness for mariners about the risks of ship strikes and where the highest concentrations of whales are likely to be found; assessing whether it is possible to move shipping lanes to avoid important whale habitat; and the prioritisation of the Australian Government’s proposed ship strike strategy. The report can be found at: https://www.ifaw.org/australia/resource-centre/collision-course-increasing-risk-ship-strikes-whales-great-barrier-reef

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Matt Collis (IFAW AU)
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Experts

Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation