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Whale of a tale: Protecting Panama’s humpbacks from ship collisions

08 / 02 / 2018, Mongabaycom News

Areas rich in wildlife and human vehicle traffic rarely make for good news — think of the number of rare and endangered species killed on highways every year. But when it comes to protecting whales and other cetaceans from being struck by ships, the problem gets even more difficult — how do you watch out for a creature underneath the waves? The key to alleviating this problem ended up being inspired by a solution used on land — and led to a years-long struggle for a Panama Canal pilot and a whale biologist to help reduce whale strikes in the Gulf of Panama, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Similar to how roads are now sometimes built to curve around the natural habitats of land creatures, Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS) create shipping lanes that restrict marine traffic to certain areas. But in order to get all shipping to abide by this system, countries need the approval of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body that regulates shipping safety and navigation around the world. Rocky Start Captain Fernando Jaen tells Mongabay of the early challenges: “Due to my experience as a deck officer at sea in the 1990’s, I proposed six [TSS] in the Panamanian waters around the Canal in 2001,” he said. “The proposal was endorsed by both the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), but ultimately was not sent to the IMO for approval.” To make for a stronger proposal, Captain Jaen needed…

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