Members of IAATO (International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators) unanimously voted in mandatory measures in order to prevent whale strikes in cetacean-rich Antarctic waters.
During the annual meeting in Cape Town (South Africa), IAATO members approved new measures which would instruct member operators to commit to either a 10-knots (18,5 kph/11,5 mph) speed limit within Antarctic Peninsula's specific geo-fenced time-area or, for member operators who offer a whale strike mitigation training program, one extra watchman on the navigation bridge to record and monitor sightings within the geofenced time-area.
These compulsory measures formally take effect on July 1, 2019, in readiness for 2019-2020 Antarctic season, which starts in October.
Since the commercial whaling ban back in 1982, nearly all the southern hemisphere's humpback whale populations are recovering, some at rates close to their biological maximum. With the increasingly whale-rich waters comes the increased risk of whale strikes in regions of high aggregation like those used for feeding, breeding, raising offspring, socializing and migrating, essential for survival. By committing to the mandatory measures, IAATO memberships are supporting the return of the charismatic species.
During 2018-2019 Antarctic travel season, an initiative that tracks individual whales throughout the oceans, called Happywhale, has recorded more than 900 humpback whale sightings in Antarctica, 333 as known individuals, in comparison with just 700 sightings during the same period a year ago.