An Italian NGO has launched a new eco-label that will be awarded to freight and cruise companies that take steps to prevent their ships from colliding with whales. The World Sustainability Organization has launched the new Whale-Safe label via Friends of the Sea, a project that certifies fisheries as well as aquaculture and tourism efforts toward a more sustainable world.

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The initiative has been necessitated by increasing instances of collisions between whales and ships. It is estimated that 80 whales die annually on the western U.S. coast alone due to collisions. Further, researchers have established that one in every five stranded whales in the Mediterranean have ship collision marks.

Related: New app could save Puget Sound whales from boat strikes

The data compiled by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has captured records of global ship strikes, but the commission recognizes the inaccuracy of the data based on the fact that the crew on some large ships do not even recognize when the collisions happens, and many collisions go unreported..

Whale-Safe has been inspired by the “dolphin-safe” program. In the 1980s, it was established that dolphins were dying in fishing nets meant to trap tuna fish. As a result, there was an outcry to protect dolphins from reckless fishing programs. The success of the program is seen as something that can be replicated in other areas.

In the proposed program, ships will undergo scrutiny to meet the required standards and earn the Whale-Safe label. The criteria will require for ships to have whale observation systems, which will be operating 24/7.

While the initiative has been widely welcomed, it has also drawn criticism.

“Their suggested solution seems almost completely focused on the idea of sighting and avoiding whales to reduce ship strikes, which has generally not been considered a particularly effective strategy,” said John Calambokidis, a research biologist at Cascadia Research Collective in Washington, as reported by Mongabay.

The program will also require vessels to comply with local regulations, such as speed requirements, and to take specific navigation routes to avoid collisions. The program will track compliance by collaborating with local organizations. Even so, there is still the challenge of assessing the effectiveness of the program. Critics say that even if volunteers work with the program, it will be challenging to track compliance.

Via Mongabay

Image via Ray Harrington