Ship Strike Fells Mother and Calf Fin Whales

In May, two dead fin whales, believed to be a mother and calf, were discovered after they dislodged from the hull of a Royal Australian Navy vessel. The destroyer, HMAS Sydney, had been conducting exercises with the US Navy and was berthing in San Diego when the 65-foot-long larger whale floated to the surface. The smaller animal, measuring 25 feet, was found shortly after. Both navies and the US National Marine Fisheries Service are investigating the incident as a ship strike. Fin whales—especially a mother–calf pair—are relatively slow moving, and it is hard for them to avoid a large, fast moving ship.

Sadly, this was not an isolated incident. Strikes by ships—particularly large cargo ships—are one of the main human causes of death for large whales. In April, four gray whales washed ashore over an eight-day period in the San Francisco Bay area. Two were determined to be victims of ship strikes; the cause of the remaining two deaths are under investigation. And in Chile in April, ship strikes caused the deaths of a Brydes, humpback, and blue whale, prompting scientists there to raise the alarm. 

This global problem has the attention of several international bodies, including the International Whaling Commission, which has an active ship-strike working group that is quantifying incidents and working with the International Maritime Organization and other entities to reduce them.

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