The Great Whale Conservancy pledges to work with all stakeholders to find efficient and acceptable solutions to the world’s ship strike problems one location at a time. As we remedy the situation in each problem area we will strive to minimize the impact and burden on the business community, while always keeping in mind what is required to keep the majority of the great whales safe in their critical use habitats.


Tony Wu

7 whale watch boats and tanker – Sri Lanka


M Fishbach

GWC’s life sized inflatable blue whale – Florida


Paul Chinn – S.F.Chronicle

Dead Fin Whale on cargo ship bow


M Fishbach


M Fishbach

GWC ambassador Galen Fishbach-Waters – Washington DC

The Great Whale Conservancy Announces its “Responsible Shipping” position paper.

Ship strikes are a critical problem for most species of great whales, and for some species in some places it appears to be getting worse. The Great Whale Conservancy (GWC) strives to make the global shipping industry attentive to the needs and conservation of the great whales.


M Fishbach

Lunge feeding blue whale and oil tanker – California

Collision with massive oceanic vessels – fast-transiting cargo ships and oil tankers – is one of the most serious threats to the survival of several great whale species. For some whale species, for example the endangered blue whale in the shipping lanes off Sri Lanka and California, the ship strike problem appears to be growing worse. The Great Whale Conservancy (GWC) is committed to making sure that global shipping does everything possible to reduce the number of whales injured and killed in shipping lanes.

“Responsible Shipping” means that companies do everything possible to reduce the risk of striking a whale. When global shipping lanes were put into place, almost nothing was known about the world’s great whales and the habitat they use for feeding, mating, birthing and socializing. Now that many of these critical areas have been identified, it is clear that some of them have important shipping lanes running right through them. Separation of the ships from the whales is the surest way to eliminate the risk of a large number of whales being struck by massive cargo ships, oil tankers and other large vessels. For some whales, such as the blue and right, the loss of even a few adults is a serious impairment to their post-whaling recovery. Adjusting the shipping lane routes to take into account the whales’ presence is the best way to accomplish this.

The GWC acknowledges that there are instances where critical whale habitat is immediately outside of a large port complex, hence moving the lanes is not feasible. Here, other actions such as mandatory ship slowdowns or limitations on vessel passage during the hours of highest whale surface-feeding times are the best solutions.

Below is a list of actions the GWC promotes as solutions to address the conservation issue of ships colliding with whales. We do not imply that this will be an easy problem to solve, nor that the solutions will be cost-free. However, it is clear that sensible change on the part of global shipping – within shipping companies as well as from firms that entrust their products to shippers – must happen soon, or else our already endangered great whales will continue to dwindle in numbers.

  • Seasonally or permanently shift shipping lanes away from all identified “Critical Great Whale Habitat.” The shipping lanes should be moved to the nearest areas best suited as alternative routes for the shipping industry, with attention to minimizing distance and time that are added to ship transits. These new lane locations must be clearly identified as free of use or of very minimal use by any of the great whales. In areas demarcated as high-risk – for example, where whales are to be found feeding in large numbers (such as along upwelling zones along the continental shelves) – but where for reasons of port location ships cannot be re-routed, the lanes should be adjusted so that ships and feeding whales are co-located for the least amount of time possible.
  • Stop traffic in the hours the whales are more apt to be surface feeding. When whales are near to the surface for extended periods of time, they are more susceptible to ship strikes. When the food of the great whales (which differs across species) is at or near to the surface, the whales naturally tend to spend their time at or near the surface. To compound the problem, this can often occur at night when the food source is present near the surface. If the evidence shows this to be the case, then minimizing ship strikes may be achieved simply by stopping ship movements during the hours of darkness. This remedy is especially effective in areas where it is impossible to move the shipping lanes, such as those areas just outside of major ports where great whales are also present.
  • Reduce shipspeeds. This will help some – but not all – of the great whale species to avoid collisions. Some species, such as the right and blue whales, are not well-adapted to avoid ships. Others may be well-adapted in general, but if on the surface recovering from a dive, or if focused on immense patches of their prey are often physiologically impaired from moving to avoid collision. In these instances, slowing the ships down can actually increase the chance of a strike, as the ships would then spend more time in the whale’s critical habitat. For this reason separation of the ships from the whale’s critical habitat is always the best choice.

Actions the GWC cannot approve

  • Placing observers on the ships or in aircraft in order to inform the ships where the whales are. Although this has been positive for the North Atlantic Right Whale, this action requires a huge effort, and in most locations with most species is almost impossible to accomplish with any real effectiveness. Therefore the GWC does not approve of this as a solution to the problem of ship strikes. The whales are not always seen, the massive ships cannot turn quickly enough, and in any case warning the ships to divert from course does not ensure the whales won’t swim the same way and be struck anyway. Without question, observers are even less effective during the hours of darkness or in deep fog.

M Fishbach

Spouting blue whale and loaded cargo ship – California

  • Warning the whales of the oncoming ships with sound. These sounds can confuse the whales especially when more than one ship is in the area. Loud sounds are known to interfere with the great whales’ foraging and socializing capabilities. No effort of this kind has ever proven to be effective with all whale species in all conditions. The GWC does not approve of this method as a remedy for ship strikes.

Below is a list of the Great Whales in descending order of how endangered they are. Greater priority should be given to the species higher on the list when multiple species are found in any one region. The GWC recognizes that the below list should be used as a guide only, as some sub-populations of globally less-endangered whales are highly endangered locally. This needs to be taken into account in decision making where applicable.

  1. North Atlantic and North Pacific Right Whale
  2. Bowhead Whale
  3. Blue Whale
  4. Southern Right Whale
  5. Gray Whale
  6. Sei Whale
  7. Fin Whale
  8. Humpback Whale
  9. Bryde’s Whale
  10. Sperm Whale
  11. Minke Whale