The largest container line in the world has rerouted its ships passing near the coast of Sri Lanka in order to avoid potential collisions with endangered blue whales.
“MSC Mediterranean Shipping Company has taken a major step to help protect blue whales and other cetaceans living and feeding in the waters off the coast of Sri Lanka by modifying navigation guidance in line with the advice of scientists and other key actors in the maritime sector,” MSC said in a statement provided to Insider.
MSC said the action was taken in response to research conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) along with other groups and universities. The vessels passing through Sri Lanka’s coastal waters will now travel about 15 nautical miles to the south from the previous route.
Blue whales can be found year-round off the southern tip of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean, resulting in a high risk of collisions as the usual international shipping lanes pass right through the area where most of the whales congregate, the IFAW said in a statementpraising MSC’s rerouting.
“By ensuring these small changes, MSC is making a significant difference for these endangered whales. Whales often die as a result of collisions and this population is at risk. Ship strikes are both a conservation and a welfare problem, and even one whale death is one too many,” Sharon Livermore, the director of marine conservation at IFAW, said.
MSC’s voluntary rerouting does not impact other shipping carriers, but advocates hope their decision could help lead to permanent changes to the official shipping lane that would impact all vessels. Research conducted on the area’s blue whale population found that adjusting the shipping lane would reduce the risk of a ship striking a whale by 95%, according to IFWA.
“Re-routeing is the key hope to turn the tide for blue whales off Sri Lanka. It also demonstrates to the Sri Lankan government that now is the time to take appropriate action and move the shipping lane out of blue whale habitat for all merchant vessels,” Nicolas Entrup, the director of International Relations at OceanCare, said.
Blue whales are the largest living animals on earth. They can reach 80 to 100 feet in length and live for 70 to 80 years. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists blue whales as endangered, noting the species was hunted to the brink of extinction by the 1960s, at which time it was given international protections.
While hunting blue whales is prohibited, the species continues to be threatened, primarily due to declines in its primary food source, krill. The decline in krill has been linked to the climate crisis, ocean acidification, and other factors.
MSC became the largest container line in the world earlier this year, with a fleet capable of carrying 4.3 million standard 20-foot containers.