Greece has launched an underwater whale detection system to give early warning of a ship strike.

The system is being rolled out in the Kythira Strait, north-west of Crete.

The government has signed an agreement with Green Tank and OceanCare to use novel underwater technology to detect the presence of sperm whales and to alert nearby shipping of any collision risks.

Ship strikes are a leading cause of fatalities to marine cetaceans, and global efforts have included advice to vessels to slow down and rerouting from areas known to attract whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The new Greek system is known as the System for the Avoidance of Ship Strikes with Endangered Whales, or SAvE Whales.

It comprises underwater hydrophones — powered by solar panels on three buoys about 3 km apart — which can detect the clicks of sperm whales, process them and send data ashore for analysis and triangulation to ascertain a whale’s location and direction of travel.

Shore systems can quickly determine nearby traffic using vessel tracking services and send positions to ships in real time to enable crews to take avoidance action.

Switzerland-based ocean conservancy group OceanCare has been leading the development of the SAvE Whales system, in conjunction with FORTH, the Greek Institute of Applied & Computational Mathematics and the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute.

The group said there are about 200 sperm whales — an endangered species — in the eastern Mediterranean and ship strikes are a common cause of fatalities in the region.