Can't something be done to prevent yachts injuring and killing marine creatures?


I’ve had lots of emails from readers about collisions between yachts and whales. These are some of them:

From Dave Howorth: ‘There’s one very simple possibility that should be given a try – run the echo sounder so the animals can hear the boats coming. Maybe it would need some modification – forward facing and different frequencies perhaps.’

From Lucas Schroder: ‘I raced in the Transat 6.50 last year (NED 633 T-Mobile One). On the Les Sables-Azores leg of the race in 2006 two open 6.50s hit a whale. I figured, a 800 kilo boat can’t do that much damage to a large mammal like that. But a keel fin and bulb travelling at speeds over 10 knots can – I guess – do a lot of damage. Isn’t there a solution to this horrible problem of collisions, one that keeps the sport more in balance with the environment it is in?’

And from Barrett Carr: ‘Having just witnessed a baby deer laying in the middle of the road last night, bloody and desperately trying to get up after being hit by a car, I find myself particularly troubled by the tragic encounters with marine animals during the Transat. It bothers me that the tone of the reporting is more indicative of these creatures being a hindrance and causing damage to boats, rather than their being the victims of an increasingly competitive sport.

‘It would be interesting if someone could develop a means of alerting marine life of the danger of a keel and bulb approaching at 25 knots. Would a sonar pulse or a strobe light pulsing from the keel of a boat warn of a boat’s approach?’

I would be really interested to hear from anyone who knows more about this. I doubt the use of echo sounders is much of a deterrent, though. The solo sailors, like most of us, don’t ever switch them off, so I guess we have to conclude that they don’t work as a foolproof warning.

I also wonder how a sonar device would work. I can see it being effective at very slow speeds or in the tranquillity under the water, but you have to be on board one of these boats to appreciate just how much noise they make bounding across the sea surface. Could something work despite the noise and cavitation of water? As I say, I don’t know – what do you think?

What I think is really shocking, though, is that the number of collisions between yachts and whales on this race is probably the only clue we will ever have to the scale of destruction being wrought every day by ships. This is the price sea creatures are paying for globalisation: all those ships bringing you and I cheap goods from sweat shops in the developing world, which we’ll use and then chuck away into landfill.

There are around half a million ships worldwide over 1,000 gross tons. If even 1% of these were to run into a whale each year, that is terrible carnage, and ship owners have no incentive at all to research a deterrent. It doesn’t cause damage to ships or knock even a fraction of a knot off the speed.

So don’t castigate the poor sailors for being the ones to notice and report and care: surely it is to the shipping industry that we should be looking for proper research.

By the way, the photo above was taken by Sam Davies aboard the IMOCA 60 Roxy earlier this week. She reported: ‘I was on deck yesterday evening to photograph another beautiful sunset when a huge whale popped up right in front of Roxy! Luckily (for the whale) we were only doing four knots at the time and it had time to see me.’