An emerging threat to whales lurks in the oceans7 min readReading Time: 5 minutes
No, it is not the Loch Ness Monster, Godzilla, Medusa, or bloodthirsty pirates but unassuming vessels ferrying people and orders across continents. Between 2016 and 2020, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identified at least 112 beached or dead whales as sustaining injuries that could be driven by vessel collisions.
Vessel collisions are described as high-impact contact between a watercraft and a marine animal. It leads to physical trauma or fatality for the animal, and possible devastation to the vessel and people on board.
Before we go any further, let’s see if you are whale-informed?
Earlier this year, images of a Royal Australian Ship pulling into its naval base with two dead fin whales stuck under the vessel shook the world. The whales, possibly a mother (65 metre) and a calf (25 metre), were either struck by the vessel. In December 2019, a 17-metre-long whale was struck by Cote d’Ivoirian Star on its way from Senegal. The whale was spotted by a pilot boat. The whale was young and showed signs of recent feeding. It was in good nutritional condition so it is easy to deduce that the strike happened while it was still alive.
It was also in 2019, that a Japanese ferry struck a 15-metre-long marine object injuring eighty passengers onboard. Considering that Minke and Humpback whales migrate through the Sea of Japan around the time of the collision, such a strike was one of the possible conclusions.
The last decade has seen an increase of cargo and cruise boat traffic leading to more such painful encounters for whales. The last decade has also seen a staggering decline in the population of gray whales.Gray whales and humpbacks make 70% of the reported ship strikes. Though the reason for this decline has not been ascertained, some attribute it to global warming, and others to nature’s corrective action to control population.
Whether it’s the vessels or the climate, what remains worrisome is that whales continue to circuit danger or swim directly in its current.
For endangered whales like the North Atlantic right whales and the Pacific blues, each strike could lead to possible extinction. There are only close to 400 right whales, and 20,000 blue whales alive in the world, today. This makes doing something about vessel collision all the more urgent.
Whales cover great distances in a short period of time. But is there a way to track their path to avoid collisions?
Pause, think, and flip to page 2!