Dozens of sperm males flock to the Strait of Gibraltar to eat squid. It is also the habitat of about 260 pilot whales. However, the route remains the world’s busiest maritime lanes and every year several whales are hit by ships that do not see them or fail to change course.
The result is that six pilot whales have been found dead on Andalusian beaches since November. In the first initiative of this kind the government has asked ships to avoid whales.
Mr De Stephanis, at the Cadiz-based Centre for Conservation, Information and Research on Cetaceans said:
If they’re not going to slow down, at least they may go a little bit to the right, a little bit to the left
The navy issued the recommendation this month, urging ships to go no faster than 13 knots and sail “in a maximum state of vigilance” so as not to collide with the mammals.
Sailing speeds in the strait separating Europe from Africa vary greatly but can reach 30 knots in the case of high-speed ferries. A knot is 1.15 mph (1.85 kph).
During the feeding season, the strait is home to 20-30 sperm whales, which measure up to 18 meters long (60 feet) and year-round there is a population of about 300 smaller pilot whales.