RTL Today – Animal rights: Shipping giant changes course to save Sri Lanka’s whales

On Friday, animal rights activists applauded a shipping giant’s decision to alter its route through Sri Lankan waters to avoid collisions with blue whales, the world’s largest mammals.

The south coast of the island has an unusually high density of blue whales, listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and is one of the busiest international shipping lanes in the world.

Activists believe more than a dozen gigantic animals – the largest to ever live on Earth at up to 30 meters long and 150 tonnes – have been killed in collisions with commercial ships over the past decade .

There have also been occasional reports of fishermen dying when their boats were overturned by container ships in the area, a rich fishing area.

International activists and local environmentalists have for years pressed authorities to move east-west shipping routes 15 nautical miles further offshore.

The Geneva-based Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), one of the world’s largest container carriers, announced on Thursday that it had voluntarily adjusted its routes around Sri Lanka to this distance to reduce the risk of accidents involving whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The move could reduce strike risk by up to 95%, the company said.

It also orders its smaller supply vessels in the area to slow to 10 knots in blue whale habitats.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare welcomed the announcement, calling it “good news for blue whales and for people.”

The presence of the mammals has spawned a lucrative whale watching tourism industry.

Gehan Wijeratne, a Sri Lankan animal rights activist and researcher, said the topography of the ocean floor, currents and monsoons make the sea south of Sri Lanka rich in nutrients and marine life.

“This rich food web creates an optimal area for fishing,” Wijeratne said. “It’s no surprise that whales also congregate in this area.”

Any measure to improve the safety of fishermen and navigation will automatically have a positive impact on whales and whale watching, he added.

Prominent Sri Lankan environmentalist Jagath Gunawardena told AFP that the MSC’s unilateral action revealed Colombo’s failure to protect marine life and fishermen.

“We should be embarrassed that we failed, but an international shipping company had to take the initiative,” he said.

Comments are closed.