Whales Face a New Threat

There's a reason why ship strikes are on the rise, scientists say
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 28, 2020 1:00 PM CDT
Whales Face a New Threat
In this March 11, 2006 photo provided by the New England Aquarium, a whale swims off the coast of Georgia with fresh propeller cuts on its back.   (Brenna Kraus/The New England Aquarium via AP)

Climate change is imperiling the world's largest animals by increasing the likelihood of fatal collisions between whales and big ships that ply the same waters, the AP reports. Warming ocean temperatures are causing some species of whales in pursuit of food to stray more frequently into shipping lanes, scientists say. The phenomenon already has increased ship strikes involving rare North Atlantic right whales on the East Coast and giant blue whales on the West Coast, researchers say. The number of strikes off California increased threefold in 2018—to at least 10—compared to previous years. When whales are killed in a ship collision, they often sink and don't always wash ashore. So scientists and conservationists say fatal ship strikes are dramatically under-reported.

Vessels strikes are among the most frequent causes of accidental death in large whales, along with entanglement in fishing gear. Conservationists, scientists, and animals lovers have pushed for the International Maritime Organization to step up to protect the whales, but it won't happen without cooperation from the worldwide shipping industry. For the right whales, which number only about 400 and have lost more than 10% of their population in just a few years, the death toll is driving them closer to extinction, said Nick Record, senior research scientist at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay, Maine. At least three right whales died from ship strikes in 2019—a small number, but still dangerously high for so small a population.

(Read more whales stories.)

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