Ports of Auckland reports today that ship speeds in the Hauraki Gulf are down 25 percent and there have been no whale deaths in the last two years, following the introduction of an initiative to reduce ship speed.
Previously, an average of two whales a year died from being hit by ships. The last whale death from ship strike was reported in September 2014.
"Operating sustainably and minimising our impact on the environment is very important to us," said Tony Gibson, Ports of Auckland Chief Executive. The Hauraki Gulf / Tikapa Moana is not just an important shipping route, it is a home for wildlife and a precious taonga. We take very seriously our responsibility to preserve the Gulf for future generations, which includes helping to protect our local population of Bryde's whales."
In September 2013, Ports of Auckland, in collaboration with the shipping industry, developed a voluntary protocol aimed at reducing the number of collisions between whales and ships.
The voluntary protocol has four key elements. Ships are asked to:
- Travel as close to 10 knots as their schedule allows
- Use the recommended approach route to the Ports of Auckland
- Keep watch for whales and take avoiding action if whales are sighted
- Report whale sightings to Ports of Auckland Harbour Control
The protocol is founded upon scientific evidence showing that 10 knots is a safer travelling speed around whales, but it is also designed to allow flexibility when schedules are affected by weather, for example.
Before the protocol was introduced, more than half of the ships calling at Ports of Auckland travelled faster than 14 knots. Now over 95 percent of ships travel under 14 knots. The average ship speed in the Gulf has dropped from 14.2 knots to around 10.5 knots.
Dr Rochelle Constantine from the University of Auckland said "the development of an inclusive, multi-agency process supported by good science allowed a rapid response to protect our resident whales. The mortality rate of this small population of whales was probably unsustainable prior to the shipping industry's commitment to slow down, but now these whales have a more certain future and I am pleased we achieved this result" said Dr Constantine.
"It's heartening for all those involved in spearheading this initiative to see such a high level of participation from our shipping partners and the positive impact that this has had in reducing the danger to local wildlife," added Mr Gibson.
AUT scientists' drone footage of Bryde's whales feeding.
Note on pronunciation: The correct pronunciation of Bryde's is 'brewdus'. This whale is named after Johan Bryde, the Norwegian consul to South Africa who built the first whaling stations in Durban.