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Slowing down ships brings benefits to the climate, whales and the marine ecosystem


20 Aug 2019


Climate & Environment

20 August 2019 – The findings of a recently published study found that a moderate reduction in the speed of all merchant ships could have a sizable impact in reducing the risk of ships striking whales and underwater noise while also reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

This study, conducted by International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) scientist Russell Leaper, found that the ecological co-benefits of slowing down include both a reduction in underwater noise and a reduced risk of ships colliding with whales (known as ship strikes). Overall, a 10% speed reduction would reduce global underwater sound energy from shipping by around 40% and ship strike risk to whales by 50%. Other studies have found that a 10% speed reduction across the global shipping fleet could result in a 13% reduction in overall GHG emissions from the shipping industry.

Patrick Ramage, Director of Marine Conservation at IFAW, said: “Lower ship speeds help protect whales, the marine environment and the planet. This new research suggests achieving a 10% reduction in ship speeds worldwide could reduce the number of whales killed by ship strikes or affected by shipping noise by half”.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations body that governs international shipping, has recognised the critical need to reduce GHG emissions from shipping as part of global efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change. GHG emissions from global shipping are roughly equivalent to the emissions of Germany.

The IMO has set itself the goal of reducing annual GHG emissions from shipping by 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 emission values. Speed reduction may be the only short-term operational measure that would allow the shipping industry to achieve its own targets.

The research, entitled ‘The role of slower vessel speeds in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, underwater noise and collision risk to whales’, has just been published in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Marine Science and highlights how slowing down to reduce emissions will also benefit marine life. Collisions with ships kill whales around the world and they often suffer horrendous injuries. For endangered and vulnerable populations, deaths through collisions of even a few whales threaten the survival of the entire population. The faster the ship, the greater the risk of collision, and at speeds of above 10 knots the risk of collision increases considerably. Underwater noise is also a pervasive problem for marine life and particularly for animals such as whales. Most of the underwater noise from shipping comes from the propeller. Slowing down and making the propeller work less hard reduces the noise.

About The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW):

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) is a global non-profit helping animals and people thrive together. We are experts and everyday people, working across seas, oceans, and in more than 40 countries around the world. We rescue, rehabilitate, and release animals, and we restore and protect their natural habitats. The problems we’re up against are urgent and complicated. To solve them, we match fresh thinking with bold action. We partner with local communities, governments, non-governmental organisations, and businesses. Together, we pioneer new and innovative ways to help all species flourish. See how at

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