Protecting whales from ship strikes

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Becoming “Whale Aware” to protect whales, dolphins, and porpoises from ship strikes.

Collisions with vessels, also known as ‘ship strikes’, are one of the greatest known threats to whales, dolphins, and porpoises (cetaceans).

The Issue

Up to 30,000 whales a year are killed or injured by vessel collisions!

Whether it’s fishing fleets, cargo ships, cruise liners or whale watching vessels, ship strikes pose a significant threat, especially to large whale species, many of which are endangered.

The amount of vessel traffic in our oceans is increasing and with it, the risk of whales, dolphins and porpoises coming into conflict with these vessels. The implications are not just for the conservation and welfare of cetaceans, but for human safety as well.

Commercial vessels often pass through areas where whales and dolphins feed, mate, give birth or travel, with potentially disastrous consequences for the animals. Large vessels in particular are unable to make manoeuvres to avoid whales in their path.

Slow moving whale species are particularly vulnerable to collision. Specifically, species and populations that have low numbers of individuals, are particularly at risk of population decline even if only a small number of ship strikes occur per year.

© Fabien Vivier Murdoch University Australia under research permit

What the WCA is doing?

The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), with the support of Noble Caledonia Charitable Trust, has developed the “Becoming Whale Aware” online training course for commercial vessels, including cruise ships, as well as whale watching boats, as part of our efforts to progressively ensure the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins and their environment.

We will be actively working with a range of industries to ensure the uptake of this new training course to enhance the ability of vessel crews in avoiding collisions with whales and dolphins.

Environmental benefits

Reducing vessel speed means that operators are cutting their emissions of carbon and other environmental pollutants. A report by Seas at Risk found that a modest (10-20%) reduction in vessel speed could reduce a fleet’s emissions of CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and black carbon by around 13-24%. 

Reducing vessel speed also helps to significantly decrease underwater noise pollution, a growing issue that is having a negative impact on the health of ocean animals as marine traffic around the world increases. 

One of the key elements for avoiding ship strikes that is covered in the training course is the reduction of vessel speed. As well as minimising the risk of collision with whales, reducing vessel speed has several additional benefits for the climate and marine environment. 

    What are the training outcomes? 

    Completing this 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 cetacean species and behaviours at sea. 

    Course participants will also play a vital role in our collective efforts to ensure the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins, and the marine environment, as well as the safety of vessels, crew, and passengers. 

    At the end of this course, participants will: 

    1. Understand how to reduce the likelihood of injuring or killing a whale. 

    2. Understand the importance of being ‘Whale Aware’ for crew and customer safety. 

    3. Know how to reduce the risk of collisions by planning in advance of sailing. 

    4. Understand and be able to identify which species and behaviours are more likely to result in disturbance, avoidance, and collisions. 

    5. Prioritise and undertake avoidance measures to ensure collisions are avoided when cetaceans are observed at sea. 

    6. Clearly understand how to navigate when whale watching (for zodiac drivers and commercial whale watching operators focused on whale watching tourism). 


    On World Oceans Day 2013 the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) launched as a fledgling partnership made up of a group of dedicated grass roots NGOs, passionate individuals, and commercial whale watching businesses desperate to make a positive difference for whales and dolphins.

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