Fewer than 300 endangered sperm whales of the eastern Mediterranean sub-population exist, and they live predominantly in the Hellenic Trench, to the west and south of the Peloponnese and southwest of Crete, and directly in the path of busy shipping routes.
This week, the biggest shipping container company in the world, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company and its cruise division, MSC Cruises, became the first major shipping company to re-route their ships to reduce the risk of collision with endangered sperm whales along the west coast of Greece.
These small shifts will make a substantial difference for these endangered whales, and we congratulate MSC Group for taking the lead amongst the shipping industry to actively contribute to whale protection.
Collisions with commercial vessels are a major cause of death for these animals and threaten population survival. Scientific studies show that the deaths of over 50% of stranded whales here can be attributed directly to collisions with large ships. Research in other areas also indicates that for every whale we see that has been fatally injured by a strike, there may be 20 whales with the same fate that go undetected.
IFAW, OceanCare and WWF Greece have been working in collaboration with the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute, which has been studying the eastern Mediterranean sperm whale population since 1998, to encourage major shipping companies to make small adjustments to their routes in this area to avoid striking these whales.
Now we need other shipping companies to show similar leadership – if all ship traffic using this area made these minor adjustments, the ship strike risk to sperm whales here would be reduced by a staggering 75 percent.
We welcome other shipping companies to join this movement, and are ready to help with any technical or other assistance required to make these changes on the water.
This population is at risk and even one ship strike is one too many.