MARE-Madeira will lead a project that aims to reduce collisions between whales and ships

MARE, in partner with ARDITI from the Autonomous Region of Madeira, will lead the Atlantic Whale Deal project. The project, which aims to test technologies to reduce the incidence of collisions between whales and ships, a widespread issue in the Atlantic, will involve 15 partners from four countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland). It will begin in December under the leadership of MARE researchers Filipe Alves (principal investigator) and Marc Fernandez.

This project, part of the Interreg Atlantic Area program, will have a total funding of 3.4 million euros. Researchers will do pilot tests in the European Atlantic space. The technology pilots (visual and acoustic sensors) will be tested in the Canary Islands, Azores, and Ireland. "At the same time, collision risk maps and statistical models will be used to infer the probability of whale collisions with various types of vessels in all the Atlantic regions involved in the project."

All of these systems will provide relevant data to governments and to the industry for the implementation of measures that reduce collision risks and establish navigation routes. Among the various benefits, this project will also contribute to increasing carbon sequestration, in which whales have a significant role.

Note that ship-whale collisions are a "widespread problem" in many areas. In the Canary Islands, there were 71 collisions reported between 1991 and 2020. In Galicia, ten collisions reported between 1999 and 2018. There was also a collision in the Azores in 2015. The researcher further notes that there may not be a concrete record of the number of collisions. "A recent study estimates a total of 583 collisions reported in the Atlantic from 1820 to 2019. However, it is important to consider that many of these incidents may be underestimated due to the lack of studies and because these events occur in open seas," adds Marc Fernandez.

"Large whales are creatures that undertake vast migrations, so what happens in specific areas of the Atlantic will have an impact on a much larger area. For this reason, this project was conceived as an Atlantic project that seeks to test solutions in specific areas to address a global problem," concludes the researcher.