21st Century ShippingAvoiding a collision course to save whales
ship strikes driving Mediterranean whales towards extinction
Washington, D.C., United States, 9 December 2021 – A new assessment of whale and dolphin species in the Mediterranean Sea lists 10 subpopulations found there as either "Endangered" or "Critically Endangered". Fin whales have moved onto the ‘Endangered’ list due to a notable decline in numbers. These are the newly released listings on the IUCN Red List (International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species), published today.
"These whales and dolphins are not dying from natural causes—they are being killed," says Sharon Livermore, Director of Marine Conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). "Much has been achieved over the last 25 years to protect these animals, but the big issues that are causing population declines are still clear and present—chemical and ocean noise pollution, overfishing, plastic waste, collisions with vessels and entanglement in fishing gear. More and urgent action is required if extinction is to be avoided in the Mediterranean."
The new IUCN assessment also sees an uplisting of killer whales and long-finned pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar to "Critically Endangered", just one step away from being classified as extinct. Fin whales join both Mediterranean sperm whales and long-finned pilot whales in the inner Mediterranean on the "Endangered" list. The Mediterranean fin whale subpopulation is now estimated to have dropped below 1,800 mature individuals and a continued decline is likely.
Collisions with large vessels, known as ship strikes, are thought to be responsible and are estimated to account for over 20% of Mediterranean fin whale deaths. By comparison, traffic accidents account for less than one percent of human fatalities in most countries.
“Ship strikes are gruesome, deadly and preventable. Governments and the shipping industry need to work hand-in-hand to reduce collision risk and help save these iconic animals,” adds Livermore. “By slowing ships down and managing vessel routes to avoid critical habitats, these unnecessary deaths can be avoided. It isn’t too late for these whales, but action is required now.”
Fin whales are the second largest whale in the world, can grow up to 26 metres in length and are fast swimmers. They are the largest species found in the Mediterranean Sea, where they remain year-round and feed mainly on krill. In addition to ship strikes, plastic waste in the ocean, especially the resulting micro- and nano-plastics, are also suspected to be a major hazard to fin whales because of their tendency to accumulate in these long-lived animals.
About The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW):
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at ifaw.org.
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