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Hellas: Major Danish shipping company strives for a brighter future for endangered sperm whales

One of the largest shipping companies in Europe, DFDS, will alter their routes and slow down to reduce the risk of collisions with endangered sperm whales in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The planned changes should halve the risk of DFDS ships colliding with sperm whales in the areas west of the Peloponnese.

The Danish-based company has taken this action in response to scientific advice from a coalition comprising the research and conservation groups IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) OceanCare, the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute and WWF Greece. Long-term data gathered by the coalition show that if all ships avoided the areas of highest risk, the overall risk of sperm whale collisions would be reduced by 70%.

The company will with immediate effect make changes to a number of its shipping routes and will also travel at slower speeds when crossing through core sperm whale habitat in the Hellenic Trench, off the coast of Greece.

It is estimated that there are now only around 200 sperm whales remaining in this area, with the population now classified as endangered. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whale species, and the most serious threat to their survival in these waters is the risk of being struck by large and fast-moving ships.

“Sperm whale numbers have been on a worrying decline for some time. By making these small but important changes, a brighter future for them lies ahead. Much like people trying to cross a busy road, whales are faced with crossing high traffic routes with fast moving ships – many are killed as a result,” the coalition said. “There have been significant challenges for the company to overcome and while certain restraints remain, their commitment and dedication to act has been impressive. The measures taken will significantly reduce the risk of their ships colliding with sperm whales”.

“This is important progress, bringing hope against the dire projections that sperm whales will vanish from the area in coming years,” the coalition continued. “But the risk is by no means gone, and urgent action is still needed. We have the collective power to save these whales from extinction and we urge other ship operators to also make science-based decisions to re-route, and help secure the future of sperm whales in the Eastern Mediterranean”.

DFDS is the largest operator of some of the fastest- moving vessels in the Hellenic Trench area – an area starting from the Greek Ionian islands to the southwest of Crete which is a critical habitat for protected and endangered species of cetaceans. DFDS’ ships cross the main sperm whale habitat more than 1,600 times a year, and almost 70% of these journeys pass through the main area of concern. The risk of collisions with whales increases rapidly with increasing ship speed. Currently, DFDS vessels are some of the fastest in the area and comprise 48% of the ship traffic travelling at speeds greater than 17 knots.

The commitment by DFDS, coupled with the re-routing measures implemented by other shipping companies working with the coalition, result in the total collision risk to sperm whales in the Hellenic Trench being cut by an estimated 27%.
Source: OceanCare

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