COLLISION COURSE: New online training could help save endangered whales!

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Last month, one of just four endangered North Atlantic right whale calves known to exist was discovered to have suffered deep boat propeller wounds to both sides of its head. The injured calf was photographed by an aerial survey team from the National Marine Fisheries Service about 8 miles off the coast of the state of Georgia, USA, while swimming with its mother on 8th January.

Ship strikes are one of the greatest known threats to all whales, dolphins, and porpoises (cetaceans) and are hampering the recovery of several endangered whale species worldwide. Now, the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), with support from Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust (NCCT), is launching the first ever online training course to reduce the likelihood of ship strikes on whales.

Credit Fabien Vivier – Murdoch University, Australia, under research permit.

The ‘Becoming Whale Aware’ course is relevant to operators of all commercial vessels, including cargo ships, fishing vessels, cruise ships, and whale watching boats. The course is voluntary but whale conservation experts at WCA are hoping to see widespread uptake across the industry.

Said WCA Whale Collisions Programme Manager Eli Cuevas: “We believe this course comes at a critical moment for several whale species. We need to encourage the shipping industry to train staff and implement whale avoidance procedures, particularly for high risk species and areas of high whale density such as breeding grounds.” 

The launch of the ‘Becoming Whale Aware’ course comes at a time when the magnitude of the collision threat has increased as cargo and tourism have expanded to meet demand.  This has not been good news for right whales, the North Atlantic population of which has been on the decline since 2010, due almost entirely to the impacts of collisions with ships and entanglement in fishing gear. Only 450 North Atlantic right whales survive today, with deaths outpacing births in recent years.

Said Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust Trustee Sally McColgan: “With the recent surge in the size and number of cruise ships being built, a greater understanding of species identification and behaviours by crew are imperative to ensure we know how to operate large vessels around cetaceans whilst cruising. The NCCT are proud to have facilitated the creation of the first course in the world available to skippers and crew wishing to become proficient in vessel safety around large whales, both for commercial shipping and for dedicated whale watching tourism.”

The new course is designed to help everybody with the ability to observe whales and dolphins whilst sailing; including skippers, bridge crew, guides and other onboard staff. It is hoped that staff of companies undertaking the course will enable vessel crew to assess the risk of collisions occurring, understand how to plan ahead to reduce that risk, and learn how to spot high risk species and behaviours at sea.

Said WCA CEO Dylan Walker: “Whales support tourism livelihoods and play a vital role in ensuring the health of ocean ecosystems. We believe that taking this course represents a simple, fun, and vitally important commitment as part of our collective efforts to ensure the conservation and protection of whales and their environment, and the safety of vessels, crew, and passengers.

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