Study: Collisions With Slow-Moving Boats Can Kill Right Whales

Worrying news for an endangered species

Whale and calf
A right whale, with calf.

It’s been a worrying time for North Atlantic right whales and the humans concerned about the future of these aquatic mammals. Their population, already alarmingly low, seems to be dwindling even more. And a new report from The Guardian explores another threat to the whales: their vulnerability to a collision with slow-moving vessels.

Writing at The Guardian, Leyland Cecco explores a new paper published in the journal Marine Mammal Science. Cecco neatly summarizes its conclusions: that “biologists found that collisions between large vessels and whales at a speed of just 10 knots had an 80% chance of producing a fatality.”

As The Guardian‘s article points out, this suggests that the regulations on vehicle speed enacted by the Canadian government are insufficient to protect right whales.

The scientists behind the study suggest that boats opt for an even slower speed — 5 knots — to minimize the threat to the whales’ health. However, Cecco points out that reducing the speed of a boat to that degree can make navigation more difficult.

Conservation biologist Sean Brillant, the study’s primary author, recommends creating early warning systems to prevent collisions, and also believes that changes to boat design and construction could also be helpful. It’s a situation with few easy answers, even as the right whale population continues to alarm experts.

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