Shipping routes through core habitat of endangered sperm whales along the Hellenic Trench, Greece: Can we reduce collision risks?
The Mediterranean sperm whale population is listed as ‘Endangered”. The Hellenic Trench is the core habitat of the eastern Mediterranean sperm whale sub-population that numbers two to three hundred individuals. Major shipping routes running on or very close to the 1000 m depth contour along the Hellenic Trench are causing an unsustainable number of ship-strikes with sperm whales reviewed in this paper. Sperm whale sighting and density data were combined with specific information on the vessel traffic in the area (e.g., types of vessels, traffic patterns, speed and traffic density), in order to estimate the risk of a whale/ship interaction. Routing options to significantly reduce ship strike risk by a small offshore shift in shipping routes were identified. The overall collision risk for sperm whales in the study area would be reduced by around 70%, while a maximum of 11 nautical miles would be added to major routes and only around 5 nautical miles for the majority of ships. No negative impacts were associated with re-routing by shipping away from sperm whale habitat and there would be additional shipping safety and environmental benefits. A significant contribution to the overall conservation status of the marine Natura2000 sites in the area and very important population units of threatened species such as Cuvier’s beaked whales, monk seals and loggerhead turtles would be achieved, by the reduction of shipping noise and reduced risk of any oil spills reaching the coasts, which are also important touristic destinations in Greece.
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