(The Hague, The Netherlands, 31 July 2021) – A dead fin whale has been discovered lodged across the bow of a cargo ship when entering the port of Terneuzen in the Netherlands earlier this week. The necropsy conducted by the University of Utrecht has now revealed that the 15-metre long juvenile whale was still alive when it was hit by the ship.
Experts at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) analysed the voyage of the ship, which travelled from Turkey to the Netherlands. This suggests that, in conjunction with the necropsy data, it is most likely the whale was struck and killed in the Bay of Biscay.
“Sadly, ship strikes that come to our attention are merely the tip of the iceberg”, explains Sharon Livermore, Director of Marine Conservation at IFAW. “Since January, we have seen reports in the media of at least eleven whales killed, now 12. However, most whales that fall victim to ship strike go unnoticed. Experts estimate that for every whale struck by a vessel, 20 whales with the same fate go undetected. This means that ship strikes may have killed at least 240 whales this year already.”
The Bay of Biscay between France and Spain is a known hotspot for fin whales, beaked whales and several dolphin species that are vulnerable to heavy shipping traffic. Most often, the bodies of struck whales are carried away by currents and sink to the bottom of the sea. Only a few are washed up on beaches or are carried into ports by the ships that struck them.
“These unnecessary and horrific whale deaths can be prevented”, Livermore continues. “Reduced ship speeds and steering clear of habitats important for whales can help avoid such fatalities. Lower ship speeds help protect whales, the marine environment and the planet. In fact, research suggests that a 10% reduction in ship speeds worldwide could reduce ship strike risk and shipping noise by approximately half”.
Fin whales are classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List and are the second biggest whale species after the blue whale. They grow up to 27 metres in length, are fast swimmers and feed on plankton, krill and small fish.
Collisions with ships kill whales around the world and if they do not die instantly, they often suffer horrendous injuries. For endangered and vulnerable populations like the North Atlantic right whale and Mediterranean sperm whale, the death of even a few whales through collisions threatens the survival of the entire population. The faster the ship, the greater the risk of collision, and at speeds of above 10 knots (about 18 km/h) the risk of a deadly collision increases considerably.