One of the greatest threats to many endangered species of whale is being run down by ships or getting entangled in fishing nets. This week, federal maritime officials have approved a plan to protect whales in and around San Francisco Bay that features rerouting ship traffic and finding better ways to track whale locations. The new rules, which were developed working with the shipping industry, are in response to a dramatic increase in the number of deaths of migrating blue, fin and humpback whales due to being struck by ships. The whale species are all endangered and are believed to have been drawn closer to shore and into shipping lanes by an abundance of krill, the shrimp-like organisms that the whales eat.
Ship routing to attempt to protect the highly endangered North-Atlantic right whale has been in place in Cape Cod and the approaches to Boston harbor since 2006. With a population of only 400, the North Atlantic right whale is one of the most endangered whales in the world. Between 1970 and 2007, collisions with ships killed at least 24 of the 67 right whales reported dead. An unknown number more are struck but never reported. NOAA is continually updating their national Ship Strike Reduction Strategy.
Scientists are also very concerned about the number of ship strikes which have been killing blue whales off Sri Lanka.
This has also been a bad year for whales becoming entangled in fishing nets. Last February, a young right whale died after being caught in nets off Florida. Also in February, Cabo Expeditions, an adventure travel organization, saved an entangled humpback whale. Over the last few years the group has save ten whales entangled in nets. In April, we posted about two gray whales caught in nets in one week off Southern California. Likewise, in April, a humpback was reported caught in nets off Virginia. In June, an entangled humpback whale died off Vancouver. The problem is widespread. Between 1979 and 2008, 1,209 large whale entanglements were recorded in Newfoundland and Labrador waters, alone.
While hunting of endangered species has largely stopped around the world, ship strikes and nets are proving as deadly as harpoons.
Thanks to Irwin Bryan for contributing to the post.