Whales are unable to move away from container ships, passenger ferries and other fast-moving vessels.
“The noise created by a ship comes from the propeller at the rear of the ship. And ships travel fast. So when a sperm whale, for example, is exhausted after an hour-long deep dive, there is very little likely to make it through,” Nicolas Entrup, of marine conservation organization Ocean Care, told The Telegraph.
Experts say the number of dead whales that wash up on beaches with propeller marks or other signs of collision with shipping is only a fraction of the total number of whales killed by collisions. Most simply sink to the bottom of the sea.
Conservation groups have welcomed the move by the German Shipowners Association and hope other shipping organizations will follow suit.
“I think it’s very important – the German container fleet is the second largest in the world. I hope it’s a trigger. We would like shipowner associations in other countries to do the same,” Mr. Entrup said.
Experts say that in addition to avoiding certain whale habitats, reducing the speed of commercial vessels on existing routes would also increase the chances of cetacean survival.
One study estimated that if ships reduced their speed by just 10%, the risk of hitting whales would decrease by 50%.
Ocean Care and other conservation groups want the speed at which ships travel to be reduced in areas such as the western Mediterranean between Italy, France and Spain, a key habitat for fin whales and sperm whales .