Don’t let the sun go down on the ship strike rule

A gill net entanglement wound on a North Atlantic right whale in the Bay of Fundy. The wound was fatal.Ever seen a North Atlantic right whale? 

No? 

Well, they look like that guy on the left...

Still nothing? 

Well that’s not surprising, because there are only three to four hundred North Atlantic right whales left on earth; they are critically endangered! 

What’s more, their numbers are declining, and with no natural predators, we are the usual suspects.

A recent study published in the scientific journal, Conservation Biology, notes that ship strikes are the leading cause of death for North Atlantic right whales, and the third leading cause of death (after entanglement and natural causes) for all large whales in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean.  

From cruise ships to fishing boats and yachts to merchant ships - all have collided with whales.

While it is impossible to determine the cause of all whale deaths, the study does show that the cause of death could be determined for almost half of the roughly 1800 known whale mortalities tallied by the study between1970 and 2009.  Over two-thirds of those were attributable to “human interactions” and a third of those “human interactions” were ship strikes. Again, in the case of the North Atlantic right whale, vessel strike was the leading cause of death, above both entanglement and natural mortality.

In December 2008, the U.S. introduced the Ship Strike rule intended to reduce the risk of ship collisions with right whales.  The rule requires ships to travel at ten knots or less in areas where the whales migrate, breed, and feed.  By reducing speeds to 10 knots, the chances of lethal injury to a whale upon being struck drop below 50%. This speed reduction regulation extends over the right whales’ entire migratory route, but is in effect during different times of the year in whatever area the whales are primarily inhabiting at that time.

Now here’s the rub! 

In 2013, the Ship Strike rule “sunsets,” meaning it will automatically end unless the US takes action to protect it. 

Over the next few months, the International Fund for Animal Welfare will work with the government to make sure that the Ship Strike Rule remains in effect.

Given that it has only been four years since its introduction, it is premature to determine the rule's effectiveness.  However, when it comes to right whales, preventing the death of just two females per year has the potential to increase population growth to replacement levels.  

Now that would be a sight worth seeing. Stay tuned to find out ways you can help IFAW make sure that the sun continues to shine on the right whales.

--MC

Sources:

Vanderlaan & Taggart (January 2007). "Vessel collisions with whales: the probability of lethal injury based on vessel speed". Mar Mam. Sci. 23(1): 144-156

Fujiwara, M.; Caswell, H. (29 November 2001). "Demography of the endangered North Atlantic right whale". Nature 414 (6863): 537–541

 

Post a comment

Experts

Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Dr. Ralf (Perry) Sonntag, Country Director, Germany
Country Director, Germany
Isabel McCrea, Regional Director, Oceania
Regional Director, Oceania
IFAW Japan Representative
IFAW Japan Representative
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Whales