Ecologists want urgent action as they highlight whale deaths
Environmentalists in the Canaries are calling for limits on fast ferries and tougher controls over yachts and whale-watching excursions after a number of animals were killed.
They claim the creatures have died over the last few weeks after being hit by boats and say the frequency of fast ferries between the islands is not justified, given a “very low occupation” during the week. Some of the groups claim there are 60 ferry routes in the Canaries every day, 47 of them classified as “fast” journeys.
They also want the creation of a whale and dolphin sanctuary and plan a new information campaign for tourists to show them what is happening.
There are at least 70 whale and dolphin excursion boats in Tenerife alone, attracting 700,000 tourists each year and generating an estimated 26 million euros in revenue.
A spokesman for Ben Magec-Ecologists in Action said: “In recent weeks, there have been strandings of different species of cetaceans in the Canary Islands, the last being a young female sperm whale on April 12th due to the collision of a large boat at high speed.”
“Although the appearance of strandings is common at this time of the year and responds to different conditions, in several of the cases the autopsies point to collisions with large vessels as a cause of death.”
One of the dead whales was washed up on a beach in Fuerteventura and had a deep 5ft long slash in its side from its back to belly and about 6ft wide. Experts say they are pretty sure it was caused by a boat.
Another 21ft long sperm whale was found on a popular beach in El Medano, Tenerife and had a deep cut in its head. Two other incidents happened in Gran Canaria.
The most distressing was the discovery of an injured young whale near the port of the popular tourist resort of Los Cristianos.
Vets had no choice to put it to sleep to avoid further suffering. This was the first euthansia case of its kind in the Canaries.
The environmental and wildlife team with Tenerife Cabildo, who tried to save the whale’s life, say it almost certainly came into contact with the propellors of a boat which virtually severed its entire tail, leaving it dangling by threads.
The ecologists say deaths in this way are higher than the average and fatalities because of collision is one of the main causes of death in the Canary Islands for these marine mammals.
“According to previous research in the Canary Islands and similar in other parts of the world, speed is an essential factor in the risk of collision with cetaceans. Thus, everything points to the fact that the increase of the boats, the increase in the speed of the same and the transit through areas of high density of these animals are the factors that are behind this upturn,” they say.
One of the most affected populations is the sperm whale, a species classified as “vulnerable” in the national document of threatened species.
The ecologists claim ferry companies are competing with one another to provide quicker crossings and say whales and dolphins in the Canary waters are suffering stress due to noise pollution and “the continuous distur-bance of living conditions”.
Ben Magec want a limit on the number of fast ferry lines, pointing out: “They are prohi-bited in other parts of the world with as much or less biodi-versity than ours.”
One of the most sensitive areas is the corridor southwest of Tenerife and La Gomera where the Canary Government is planning a new port.
“Increasing the number of ports in the Canary Islands does not seem the best way to safeguard our marine biodi-versity and, as the organisation has denounced so many times, responds only to speculative interests and not to a real need,” they claim.
About 30 of the more than 80 known species of whales and dolphins live in the Canaries, which makes the island one of the areas of Europe and the world with the greatest biodiversity of ce-taceans.
The ecologists also intend to launch an appeal to tourists and local people about the dangers fast boats are posing to the marine life and to opt for travel between the islands which opt for slower journeys.
Tenerife’s insular govern-ment is backing greater protection measures and has established a Charter for Sustainability for Whale Watching to which licensed whale watching boats are subscribing.
Companies who sign up must comply with all current regulations on environmental, navigation, labour, economic and fiscal matters. They also commit themselves to be transparent and to seek continuous improvement.
The Canary Islands does have stringent rules on whale watching boats and is involved in numerous research an conservation projects but protesters say even more needs to be done and a better balance achieved between tourism and the environment.