Looking back at our Ship Strike project

24th Jan 2018

A dead whale found draped over the hull of a ship after being struck

The last seven days have seen a flurry of companies making announcements about ways that they are going to try and clean up their operations and work towards minimising their impact on the environment.

In that spirit, we wanted to look back at a 2017 project that perfectly encapsulates the crucial role businesses can play in helping to protect the environment by revisiting our ship strike project with Brittany Ferries.

Long an issue ORCA has campaigned against, ship strike is a reference to any collision between ships and whales, a threat that is rapidly becoming more significant in a world where industrialisation of the oceans grows each day.

One of the species most at risk is the fin whale - it's tendancy to spend time near the surface, particularly at night, means collisions are estimated to account for 20-30% of deaths of a species still recovering from the decimation it suffered during the height of whaling.

The Bay of Biscay is a renowned hot spot for fin whales, and ORCA Wildlife Officers and Sea Safari trips regularly see the second largest animal on the planet in these waters. Working with our partners Brittany Ferries, we wanted to see if there was any way we could minimise the risk of ship strike for these creatures.

So, during summer 2017 Brittany Ferries generously gave Ruth Coxon, an MSc student from Nottingham Trent University and longtime ORCA volunteer, access to the bridge of Pont-Aven, Brittany Ferries flagship which crosses the Bay of Biscay regularly.

Ruth collected a wealth of sightings of fin whales, recording video and taking pictures to try and better understand the animals behaviour during encounters with ships and the key factors they use when they decide how to react to the presence of a large, fast moving ferry.

Based on this research, a paper is being written for publication in scientific journals and a follow up project for 2018 is in the process of being planned. We hope that, eventually, this cutting edge research will lead to new guidance for ships that can be rolled out to the entire sector and the number of these gentle giants killed by ship strike each year can be reduced.