Endangered whales survive
Measures to lower the number of whales killed by ships using the Hauraki Gulf are ’’making solid progress’’ - with no recorded whale deaths in the last two years.
Previously, an average of two whales died annually from being hit by ships motoring into and out of the gulf, but the last whale death from ship strike was reported in September 2014.
The voluntary initiative was brought in three years ago by the Ports of Auckland and the shipping industry.
It included measures to lower shipping speeds, stick to defined approach routes, better vigilance for whales and reporting of whale sightings.
It is expected to have a positive effect on the local population of critically threatened Bryde’s 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,’’ Rochelle Constantine, of the University of Auckland, said.
About 50 Bryde’s whales are estimated to live year-round within the Gulf; gorging on schools of bait fish and krill and mixing with another 150 seasonal visitors.
But a collision between the 12m long, 12 tonne whale and a large ship has an 80 per cent chance of being fatal.
Slowing down to 10 knots reduces the chance drastically, to 20 per cent.
’’Operating sustainably and minimising our impact on the environment is very important to us,’’ Ports of Auckland chief executive Tony Gibson said.
‘‘The Hauraki Gulf is not just an important shipping route, it is a home for wildlife and 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.’’
Before the protocol was introduced, more than half of the ships calling at Ports of Auckland travelled faster than 14 knots.
Now the average ship speed has dropped from 14.2 knots to around 10.5 knots.
‘‘It’s heartening for all those involved in spearheading this initiative to see such a high level of participation from our shipping partners,’’ said Gibson.