Whale Worries – Ship Strikes

by Amelie Laute

Concept: “Whale worries & people’s possibilities of prevention”

Obviously, we can’t read a whale’s mind and it’s daring to pretend to do so. Still, by trying to understand the threats whales are facing from their perspective, even if it includes projecting our emotions onto an animal, we hopefully might remember more easily and more often what we can do every day to prevent them from dying because of our mistakes. Once a month, we want to show you one of the many worries a whale has to face and give you tips on how you can avoid contributing to their suffering. We will give you a little challenge to implement in your daily routine to start your action.

Right whale, wrong place

Imagine you are 16 meters long and you weigh about 100 tons. Maybe even more, as for quite a few years the barnacles on your forehead have reached another level.

You are a North Atlantic Right Whale along the east coast of the United States, one of the heaviest whales on the planet.

While logging on the surface your black skin absorbs the sun light. Combined with the huge amount of fat you’ve accumulated in the past years, you’ve forgotten how it feels to be freezing. Here, at the surface, is the most comfortable place. Ideal for breathing regularly, staying here doesn’t require much effort as your fat is carrying your weight. Speed isn’t exactly your specialty; you prefer the slow way of life. That’s probably why your grandparents grew so old. Eating plankton, resting at the surface and travelling a little from time to time… a perfect life.

It is a blue afternoon, the clouds of the last days have disappeared. You are on your way south along the coast from an exploration in the morning. Checking out the females that arrived yesterday, some of them quite nice indeed. Maybe, you will meet them again, you think. Slowly, just how you like it best, you make your way down to find a comfortable place for the night now. In your head you’re imagining your date the next day, one of them had an exceptionally beautiful and big belly. Will she like you as well?

Lost in your thoughts, you ignore the increasing sound for quite a while. Louder and louder the roaring grows, and soon you realize it is only 50 meters away. You peer above the surface and within a second you recognize this huge floating object; you’ve seen it quite a lot here along the coast. It’s massive, probably 100 times as big as you, and so far, you’ve kept your distance. But now what? It’s approaching fast, you’re so slow, what to do? You don’t have much time to think about it, the moment you rise again to take a breath and make a decision, it’s less than five meters away.  You try to speed up, but it is too late. The massive object hits your right side hard. You can feel the pain flowing through your whole body. You gasp for a breath and you see the huge thing gliding past you in a speed you couldn’t even dream of. The pain overwhelms you, you tip over to your side.You think, what about the girls? Then you don’t think anymore.

[This story is completely fictional. By imagining what our actions, like whale watching, MIGHT cause to the whales, we can learn respect and try to avoid further impacts even without knowing exactly how they feel.]

Problem: SHIP STRIKES

  • Between the years 1988 and 2012, over 100 large whales were reported to be struck by a ship along the coast of California*. This is an example, but those incidents happen all over the world, most of them unreported and undocumented. Most of them are large vessels like container ships, but incidents with all kinds of boats are reported. Any species can be affected.
  • Right whales are especially endangered as they swim close to the surface, close to the coast, and often along the same routes as high traffic shipping lanes**
  • There are only about 400 North Atlantic Right Whales left. Every year, several collisions lead to a decline of the population, and taking their slow reproduction rate into account, they are threatened with extinction***

 

Whilst large ships pose the greatest risk, every boat has the potential to injure whales, including our own research vessel.

 

What you can do:

  • Vote for parties that support marine conservation areas, especially whale protection zones
  • Buy locally, so that as few ships as possible have to cross the ocean for you
  • If you have a boat, make sure you don’t contribute to the damage by driving slowly and carefully. Keep your eyes open, not just to avoid the whale, but also to see it if you can, it’s a pleasure!

 

CHALLENGE:

Are you living close to a coast? Check out if you have any marine protected areas in place and which politicians are supporting them.

Sources and interesting articles

* https://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/protect/shipstrike/welcome.html

** https://www.seaturtlecamp.com/right-whale-wrong-place/

***https://science.sciencemag.org/content/309/5734/561?hwshib2=authn%3A1571940961%3A20191023%253A40dd9567-7f0c-4835-89c0-f40020bdb34b%3A0%3A0%3A0%3ARUsCVGm%2BeBRGbm0JVtGsUg%3D%3D

A good overview by the IWC: https://iwc.int/ship-strikes

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