Whale-watching endangered

Ships ‘run over’ whales on busy sea routes

Whale-watching has begun to figure as a key element in Sri Lanka’s new Tourism strategy. However, during the last month, at least seven whales hit by ships, have been killed off the shores here, a top marine expert revealed.

Their carcasses were found ‘beached’ on the southern and western shores by prevailing winds and currents. One of the world busiest sea routes, the East-West mainline container shipping route is estimated to carry anywhere from 10 to 15,000 voyages a year. The route passes south of Sri Lanka, funnelled through the International Traffic Separation at Dondra, which lies between Singapore and Suez .

Carcass of Bryde’s Whale hauled ashore at Colombo Port

However, in the past month-and-a-half, over seven great whales have come to grief off the southern and western coasts. Pictures obtained, show evidence of fatal propeller cuts on specimens examined by scientists from the Centre for Research on Indian Ocean Marine Mammals (CRIOMM), which works in conjunction with NARA - National Aquatic Resources (Research & Development) Agency, and Indian Ocean Marine Affairs Cooperation (IOMAC) Secretariat, and other agencies.

According to Dr Hiran Jayewardene, who has returned to head NARA, and is also Convenor- CRIOMM, established in 1982, said that, there has been growing evidence of whales being struck by passing ships, with some even being brought into Colombo harbour by vessels entering the port.

He said many others not killed instantly will be maimed or left to a lingering death. Overall, prospects for marine mammals in our waters was bleak, if the present trend continued.

He said the concern is that, at this rate of casualties, there many not be many whales left in our waters. This is of serious concern, as there is a view, yet to be fully proven scientifically, that some of the whales around Sri Lanka may represent a resident or localised population. Whereas in other countries offering whale watching; literally hundreds of whales figure in annual migration.

According to Dr Jayewardene, the present legal regime was meagre and did not provide adequately for effective management of marine mammals. A new legal framework was being drafted to strengthen management efforts.

CRIOMM has resumed activities with the cessation of hostilities, monitoring marine mammals on a regular basis, with support from the Sri Lanka Navy. In 2006, on an initiative by Dr Sarath Amunugama, Parliament, for the first time voted a sum of Rs 100 million for Marine Mammal Management. However, the funds did not materialise. Dr Jayewardene said it’s important that decision-makers, sensitive to marine mammal conservation and their economic value, lend substantial support to long-term management based on scientific information.

Whale watching has proven to be one of the fastest growing areas of Tourism. There was the danger that Sri Lanka, rated one the world’s hot spots, may soon slip from that rating and lose prospective earnings for the Tourism industry.

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