Saving Large Whales

ORCA is working to prevent one of the main threats to large whales in the North East Atlantic – the risk of being hit by ships.

Fin Whale

The Problem

Unfortunately, large whales are hit and killed by ships in the Bay of Biscay, in the North East Atlantic.  One of the busiest shipping routes in the world lies on the western edge of Biscay; container vessels, tankers and bulk carriers all move goods from northern Europe to the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa.  Couple this with high densities of large whales, the risks of whale strike is inevitably going to be high.

No one knows how many whales are killed each year in the Bay of Biscay.  The Bay is a very large expanse of deep water and very few carcasses are washed up on shore.  We are reliant on ships reporting a strike or near miss.  Many large ships are unaware that they have hit a whale and only discover this when they arrive in port with it draped over their bulbous bow.

Shipping density in the Bay of Biscay is as high if not higher than in the Mediterranean, therefore it can be inferred that there will be at least a comparable risk of ship strikes in these areas.  This suggestion is supported by further scientific research, which identified the Bay of Biscay and Southwest Approaches as areas of high risk of fatal ship strike.

Blue Whale

What ORCA is doing

In November 2011, ORCA and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) came together to collaborate on a 6 month project focusing on reducing ship strikes of large whales in the Bay of Biscay.  With WSPA’s funding and understanding of animal welfare and ORCA’s scientific knowledge of the Bay of Biscay, a great partnership was created to develop an innovative solutions based workshop in April 2012.  We invited representatives from industry, academia and charities to work together to identify pragmatic and creative solutions to a long-standing issue.

WSPA is now funding ORCA to drive forward the recommendations arising from the workshop. This work engaging with politicians, academia and industry with the long-term view of helping shipping companies reduce the risk of ship strike in the Bay of Biscay.

Related resources

Ship Strike Tool Kit

Ship Strike Project Report