Preventing vessel strikes on humpback whales

WDC is undertaking a review of vessel strike impacts on endangered humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine. This involves an evaluation of non-lethal collision rates of humpback whales from scar-based photographic data collected over numerous years.

Gulf of Maine humpback whales feed in the waters off New England from the spring through late fall (autumn in the northern hemisphere). 

These whales share their feeding habitat with both recreational and commercial activities and, as a result, are at risk from entanglements in fishing gear and vessel strikes.  

Until now, there has been little data available to quantify the risk of non-lethal vessel strikes on these whales and the potential for the long-term impacts that may result. Using non-invasive research techniques, WDC analysed photographic images of humpback whales from the southern Gulf of Maine to evaluate the proportion of humpback whales bearing scars consistent with sharp force trauma such as injuries resulting from propellers.

Our data show that vessel strikes are highly underreported and that at least one in ten humpback whales in this population has been struck by a vessel.

It is important to remember that this is a minimum estimate as cases of blunt force trauma, injuries resulting from the vessel hull for example were not considered. While whale watching guidelines in the northeast region of the US include speed parameters to reduce the risk of collision for vessels engaged in whale watching, similar guidance is not currently applied to other vessels transiting in the vicinity of whales.

We are using our findings to support the need for the development of operational guidelines applicable to all vessels transiting in the vicinity of whales.

You can see more about the project in this WDC video below...

... and don't assume you're alone!