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Whale impaled by cruise ship

Posted Aug. 3, 2009 / Posted by: RConnors

Whale StrikeWe received a big reminder of the threat to whales from large, ocean-going ships this past week as the Sapphire Princess, a cruise ship returning from a voyage to Alaska, impaled a fin whale likely north of Vancouver Island.  Knowledge of the strike was only realized when the cruise ship arrived at the Port of Vancouver with the whale's dead body wedged against the cruise ship's bow.  A test is currently being performed to determine if the whale was alive when it was struck – which is generally the case.  This unfortunate incident occurred despite the cruise line’s assertions that is has "strict whale avoidance procedures in place when our ships are in the vicinity of marine life," and goes to show that more must be done to protect these wondrous creatures.

On a positive note, global bodies such as the International Maritime Organization and International Whaling Commission are presently engaged in efforts to catalog ship strikes of whales worldwide and minimize their occurrence. Along the east coast of the United States and Canada, a number of voluntary and mandatory measures have been enacted, including ship speed restrictions, to protect whales. However, whales along the nations’ west coast are much less protected. Fortunately, some efforts are underway to change this. Friends of the Earth is working with the California Air Board to promote a 12-knot vessel speed measure which would diminish strike risk for whales in State coastal waters. Alaska, Washington State, Oregon and western Canada should follow suit and begin evaluating whether speed restrictions are needed to protect threatened and endangered whales.

The strike in this case involved a fin whale, one of the fastest swimming whales on earth. While slow-moving cetaceans such as right whales are often thought of as the primary victim of strikes, data indicate that fin whales, despite their speed, are often struck. In light of yet another possible whale death due to a ship-strike, more scientific studies concerning whale-ship interactions are needed, as are additional regulations like ship speed limits that better safeguard whales.

Read more about the Sapphire Princess whale strike.  View images of the Sapphire Princess whale strike.

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