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Wednesday June 19th, 2024

Strike Zone: Sri Lanka is a leading place for whales getting hit by ships

Sri Lanka is one of the best places in the world to glimpse large whales, especially charismatic sperm and blues. Unfortunately, it may also be one of the leading places for large whales getting maimed or killed by big, fast-moving ships.

In spring 2012, for example, a container ship steered into Colombo harbour bearing a blue whale carcass across its bow. Around the same time, another blue carcass was spotted floating just off the south coast.

A WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) web site reports five deadly ship strikes on blues and two on sperm whales in Lankan waters during 2011. The high danger lies in the fact that both ships and whales for their different reasons cruise at the continental shelf edge a few miles offshore.

In the name of reducing ship strike on whales, blues in particular, marine biologists have been studying factors that may lead to high blue concentrations in particular spots.

They are concentrated over ocean floor canyons—remnants of ancient river valleys when sea levels were lower—extending out from Lankan shores.

Down-drifting nutrients from decomposed plants, animals and animal waste continuously settle in these depths but sometimes come gushing to the surface through cold water ‘upwellings’ from down there.

These nutrient upwellings—just add sunlight—fuel phytoplankton blooms, which in turn feed outbreaks of krill and other pinkie-size crustaceans that blue whales specialize in gulping down.

Mapping is valuable as pure science of course, but one hopes also that identifying blue high-density zones could reduce ship strike by showing where shipping lanes could be re-routed or ships required to slow down.

Ship strike risk stems both from a collision/blunt trauma as with the 2012 Colombo harbour whale and from propeller laceration as with the one found floating in the south a few days later: whales too shallow beneath a passing ship may actually get sucked into the gouging blades.

Marine biologists speculate that for every blue whale ship strike recorded another ten go unrecorded because the carcasses sink or drift into the untraveled ocean.

Ship strikes are the most serious threat facing endangered blue whale numbers. Other experts downplay the ship strike threat, especially in light of other dangers blues confront. Even sceptics might concede, however, that high strike levels could undermine the viability of a blue population resident in Lankan waters.

It is more than a little puzzling why whales get hit rather than moving out of harm’s way. Large ships emit deafening engine and propeller noise. Sound carries better through water than through air.

Whale hearing is exceptionally acute, though their ears are hydrodynamically buried beneath a layer of skin. Whales may exhibit startle-flight responses even to the click of an underwater camera. Why don’t they hear ships coming and evade? It would seem that even the slowest swimmers should have plenty of warning and time.

We know very little at the moment but there are a number of possible explanations for this apparent heedlessness. All of them may be true at various times and places and some may also interact with one another.

Large adult whales have for millions of years had little to fear from loud noises or anything else. If it doesn’t sound like orcas (killer whales), great whites or colossal squid, any of which might rip into you or snag your juveniles, you probably don’t need to worry about it.

Evolution proceeds not only by developing body structures and behaviours with survival value but also by forgoing those with none. It disfavours wasting energy on absent dangers, energy that can be used instead for developing useful structures and behaviours.

For aeons until very recently, large whales have had no reason to maintain habits of avoiding noisy things, which might just as plausibly draw their curiosity. Unlike sudden noises that startle, approaching ships begin with a scarcely noticeable sound and build to a roar gradually.

The era of large fast-moving ships is little more than a hundred years old: a small handful of generations at most for whales. This is scant time for avoidance to emerge even as a learned behaviour, much less as an instinct.

Some suggest that whales could often be sleeping when struck, though this explanation stumbles over the fact that one whale brain hemisphere stays awake while the other sleeps: to maintain breathing, which in whales is not automatic as it is with us.

Whales may often simply be too preoccupied with what they are otherwise doing–feeding, playing, communicating, courting, mating, nursing–to notice ships bearing down on them.

In some places, moreover, there may be so many ships and so much ambient noise—some of it echoing off the seafloor and other objects both natural and human-made—that whales fail to isolate the source, proximity and direction of impending danger, accurately.

Especially chilling is the possibility that whales don’t hear approaching ships at all, despite the glaring racket. There may be at least three reasons for this. First is a possible ‘bow-null’ effect: the ship’s hull itself blocking engine and propeller noise, thereby creating an acoustic shadow directly ahead of the proceeding vessel.

Second is a possible refraction effect. Sound waves starting horizontally near the surface get bent and pulled downward by colder, denser water just below, where they propagate more efficiently. Noise, therefore, passes beneath whales at the surface until just before the ship is upon them.

Third, is a possible reflection effect sometimes called ‘Lloyd’s mirror.’ Sound waves generated slightly underwater may reach whales in a ship’s course by two different routes: directly and by reflection off the water/air boundary at the surface.

Until the ship is quite close, direct and reflected sound waves will reach the whale’s ear almost simultaneously because the distance travelled by the reflected wave up to the surface and back down to the whale will be small compared with the horizontal distance travelled.

Arriving simultaneously, direct and reflected sound waves are, however, 180 degrees out of phase with each other as they reach the whale’s ear. This is due to the fact that the reflected wave has bounced off the surface en route. In this opposite phasing, the trough of the reflected wave cancels the crest of the direct wave and vice versa.

The result: silence. As the ship gets closer, the up/down distance travelled by the reflected sound wave will grow in proportion to the horizontal distance travelled. Travelling proportionately further, the reflected wave will reach the whale more and more belatedly compared with the direct wave.

The crest/wave cancellation due to simultaneous arrival will dissipate and the whale will begin to hear the oncoming ship. Too late.

The terrible irony if whales sometimes surface precisely to escape infernal ship racket below and find best relief smack in the path of onrushing behemoths. Peace and quiet, so lovely….

(From the archives of Echelon Magazine; first published in July 2015)

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Central banks expect to increase gold reserves after buying 1,037 tonnes in 2023: Survey

ECONOMYNEXT – About 29 percent of central banks in the world intended to increase their gold reserves in 2023, up from 24 percent in 2023 and just 8 percent in 2019, a survey by the World Gold Council showed.

“The planned purchases are chiefly motivated by a desire to rebalance to a more preferred strategic level of gold holdings, domestic gold production, and financial market concerns including higher crisis risks and rising inflation,” the WGC said.

About 81 percent of 70 central banks that responded to the survey expected global central bank holdings of gold to go up, from 71 percent in 2023.

While in prior years, gold’s “historical position” was the top reason for central banks to hold gold, this factor dropped significantly to number five this year.

This year, the top reason for central banks to hold gold is “long-term store of value / inflation hedge” (88%), followed by “performance during times of crisis” (82%), “effective portfolio diversifier” (75%) and “no default risk” (72%).

Concerns about sanctions were listed as by 23 percent of emerging market central banks (0 advanced).

De-dollarization as a reason to hold gold gained ground, but was not among the main reasons.

About 13 percent of emerging market central banks listed de-dollarization as one of the reasons to buy gold up from 11 percent last year and 6 advanced nations said the same from zero last year.

Around 49 percent of central banks expected gold reserves to be moderately lower five year from now in the 2024 survey, against 49 percent in 2023 and 38 percent in 2022.

About 13 percent of central banks surveyed said US dollar reserves would be significantly lower in the 2024 survey, up from 5 percent in 2023 and 4 percent in 2022. (Colombo/June18/2024)

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Sri Lanka rupee closes weaker at 304.75/305.40 to US dollar

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s rupee closed weaker at 304.75/305.40 to the US dollar Tuesday, down from 304.15 to the US dollar Friday, dealer said, while some bond yields edged up.

Sri Lanka’s rupee has weakened amid unsterilized excess liquidity from earlier dollar purchases.

Excess liquidity fell from as high as 200 billion rupees, helped by some sales of maturing bills and also allowing some term contracts to run out.

However the central bank has started to inject liquidity again below its policy rate to suppress interest rates.

On Tuesday 30 billion rupees was printed overnight at an average yield of only 8.73 percent.

Separately another 25 billion rupees was printed till June 25 at 8.09 percent to 9.05 percent, which was still below overnight the policy rate of 9.5 percent.

Nobody has so far taken the central bank to court for printing money beyond overnight at rates lower than the overnight rate.

Sri Lanka operates an ad hoc exchange rate regime called ‘flexible exchange rate’ which triggers panic among market participants, as the central bank stays away when spikes in credit either creates import demand or unsterilized credit is used up.

“If large volumes of unsterilized liquidity is left, the exchange rate has to be closely defended to prevent speculation involving early covering of import bills and late selling of exports proceeds,” EN’s economic columnist Bellwether says.

“Just as an appreciating or stable exchange rate leads to late covering of import bills, a falling rates leads to immediate covering of import bills.

“Keeping exchange rates stable is a relatively simple exercise but it is difficult to do so if short term rates are also closely targeted with printed money, as liquidity runs out, as if the country had a free float and no reserve target.”

“When there is a large volume of excess liquidity remaining (except those voluntary deposited for long periods by risk averse banks) the the interest rates structure is under-stated compared to the reported reserves.

“Interest rates would be a little higher than seen in the market if the liquidity was mopped up and domestic credit and imports were blocked to prevent the reserves from being used up.”

In East Asia there is greater knowledge of central bank operational frameworks, though International Monetary Fund driven flawed doctrine are also threatening the monetary stability of those countries, critics say.

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Vietnam selling SBV bills to stabilize the Dong, as Sri Lanka rupee also weakens

Sri Lanka’s rupee started to collapse steeply after the IMF’s Second Amendment in 1978 along with many other countries as flawed operational frameworks gained ground without a credible anchor.

A bond maturing on 15.12.2026 closed at 10.10/30 percent up from 10.05/30 percent Friday.

A bond maturing on 15.10.2027 closed at 10.60/57 flat from 10.60/80 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.07.2028 closed at 11.15/35 percent, up from 11.05/20 percent.

A bond maturing on 15.09.2029 closed at 11.80/90 percent unchanged.

A bond maturing on 15.10.2030 closed at 11.90/12.00 percent.

A maturing on 10.12.2031 closed at 11.95/12.10 percent.

A bond maturing on 01.10.2032 closed at down at 11.95/12.10 percent, down from 12.00/10 percent. (Colombo/Jun14/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Ceylon Chamber links up with Gujarat Chamber

ECONOMYNEXT – The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce has signed an agreement with the Southern Gujarat Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SGCCI) to increase trade cooperation between India and Sri Lanka.

The MOU was signed by CCC CEO Buwanekabahu Perera, SGCCI President Ramesh Vaghasia, in the presence of Dr Valsan Vethody, Consul General for Sri Lanka in Mumbai, India.

“With the signing of the MoU, … the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and SGCCI aim to facilitate trade between the two countries via initiatives such as trade fairs and delegations, business networking events, training programmes,” the Ceylon Chamber said in a statement.

“This partnership will open doors for Sri Lankan businesses to explore opportunities in Surat’s dynamic market and enable the sharing of expertise and resources between the two regions.”

Established in 1940, SGCCI engages with over 12,000 members and indirect ties with more than 2,00,000 members via 150 associations. It promotes trade, commerce, and industry in South Gujarat.

The region’s commercial and economic centre Surat has risen to prominence as the global epicenter for diamond cutting and as India’s textile hub, and is ranked the world’s 4th fastest growing city with a GDP growth rate of 11.5%

Surat’s economic landscape is vibrant and diverse. As India’s 8th largest and Gujarat’s 2nd largest city, it boasts the highest average annual household income in the country.

The nearby Hazira Industrial Area hosts major corporations like Reliance, ESSAR, SHELL, and L&T. (Colombo/Jun18/2024)

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