Practicum Project | 2022

Protecting the Northern Indian Ocean blue whale through shifting shipping lanes off the coast of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s coastal waters are home to a unique population of non-migratory blue whales. Unfortunately, these waters are also home to one of the most heavily trafficked shipping lanes in the world posing a tremendous threat to the endangered whale colony.

Blue whales play an essential role in local ecosystems and regional economies, and can even influence global climate change through carbon sequestration. The Northern Indian Ocean blue whale is non-migratory, and is smaller in size, exhibits a different time for its breeding season, communication dialect, and feeding behavior from other blue whale subspecies. Blue whale populations around the globe are only beginning to recover after being driven nearly extinct in the 20th Century, and Sri Lanka’s blue whales face an ongoing threat from frequent and sometime fatal ship strikes.

Whale watching tourism is a growing international industry for Sri Lanka that would benefit from the protection of these blue whales. Our client is Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation and education organization. Oceanswell and the shipping industry itself want the Sri Lankan government to move the region’s shipping lanes a distance of 15 nautical miles further to the south of their current location – a change that would potentially reduce blue whale mortality by 80% (Oceanswell). Our team is conducting both a spatial analysis and cost- benefit analysis to examine the effects of this possible change on the endangered blue whale population, on safety for small-scale fishers and whale watch operators in these navigable waters, on ship-based pollution for coastal populations, and on the potential effects on oil spills and ship-based disasters in nearshore waters.

View our Final Report

Student Team: Bella Alvarado, Ruth Glauber, Qin Yi He, Coltyn Steinheimer, Aiden Metzner, Matthew St. Germain

Client: Oceanswell

Advisor: Oscar Neyra