Wädenswil, 3 June 2020: The United Nations celebrate “World Oceans Day” on the 8th of June. This year’s theme is “Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean”. On this occasion, the international marine conservation organisation OceanCare introduces the interdisciplinary project “SAvE Whales” to highlight the potential of technical innovation. SAvE Whales is a high-tech project to protect the last sperm whales of the eastern Mediterranean from collisions with vessels. At the same time, however, OceanCare stresses that innovative technologies and research are not enough for securing the oceans as functioning and healthy ecosystems. Efforts are need from all sides: UN fora, governments, science, NGOs, private sector, and every individual.

More than 80% of global freight traffic happens on waterways. Thus, the future of the ocean is closely tied to the future of marine transport. Over the next five years, the UN predict for the international maritime trade to expand at an annual growth rate of 3.4%. On the other hand, the 174 member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) decided to a least halve CO2 emissions by 2050 (base year 2008). The current trend, however, points towards further increases in both greenhouse gas emissions of the shipping sector and in its share of global emissions. CO2 emissions of this sector already increased by 70% since 1990 and are expected to increase by another 50% to 250% in the coming 30 years – depending on whether action will be taken or not.

The shipping sector’s ecological footprint is worrying in other parameters, too. It emits large amounts of polluting and noxious sulphur oxides (13% of global emissions) and nitrogen oxides (15% of global emissions), as well as noise which is a massive stress factor and threat for marine wildlife. Further, highly frequented shipping lanes pass through crucial habitats of rare and endangered marine mammal species, which entails frequent and mostly lethal collisions.

Such regions include the habitat of the last northern right whales along the east coast of the US, the waters south of Sri Lanka (blue whales), the western Mediterranean (fin and sperm whales), and the Hellenic Trench south of Crete, which is home to the last remaining 200 sperm whales of the eastern Mediterranean.

Together with experts from several European research institutes, OceanCare started the interdisciplinary pioneering project “SAvE Whales” (“System for the Avoidance of ship-strikes with Endangered Whales”). This warning system, lead by the Greek sperm whale expert Dr. Alexandros Frantzis, is the first to be able to locate large toothed whales (sperm and beaked whales) from their calls by means of buoys. Data are transferred to a server in real time and from there transmitted to the coast guard and captains via a special radio channel, so that measures can be taken in time to avoid collisions with sperm whales.

A first series of tests was completed successfully and the project is proceeding as planned despite restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The solar-powered high-tech buoys and the data transmission software will pass the first tests in the open marine environment over several weeks during summer 2020.

The project partners are optimistic that this pioneering effort will be replicable and be used as an important instrument in animal and species protection. The warning system can, in principle, also be employed within other toothed whale habitats, such as the Balearic Islands. However, OceanCare also stresses that technical innovation alone is not enough. Reducing vessel speed, particularly of cargo ships, is a crucial, long overdue measure whose positive effects are manifold: Reducing vessel speed by only 10% would already cut noise pollution by 40%, save 13% of CO2 emissions and lower the risk of colliding with whales or sea turtles by about 50%.

“Reducing vessel speed in cargo shipping is a win-win situation for the whole planet. It’s downright negligent to abdicate from immediately implementing such an effective measure”, says Nicolas Entrup, Co-Director International Relations with OceanCare.

Media contact
Nicolas Entrup, Co-Director International Relations OceanCare: M: (+43) 660 211 9963, nentrup@oceancare.org

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About OceanCare

OceanCare is a Swiss non-profit organisation. It was founded in 1989 and has a strong commitment to realistic and cooperative initiatives. The organisation works at national and international level in the areas of marine pollution, environmental changes, fisheries, whaling, sealing, captivity of marine mammals and public education.

OceanCare holds Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and is partner of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), the UNEP/CMS Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS) and UNEP/MAP. OceanCare has also been accredited as a Major Group to the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA), which is the governing body of UNEP and is a part of the UNEP Global Partnership on Marine Litter.