Humans are Still Killing Substantial Numbers of Whales, New Analysis Finds

By Ashley P. Taylor | October 9, 2012 9:23 am

whale

Though the slogan “Save the Whales” has, these days, something of a sepia-toned sound to it, we aren’t doing a terribly good job of it, a new study suggests. In the last 40 years, the study says, humans were implicated in the majority of whale deaths with known causes.

Researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution looked at government reports of whale strandings, fatalities, and necropsies along the Eastern coast of the US and Canada from 1970 to 2009. Their sample included 1762 deaths involving eight species of whales. Of all those deaths, 502, or 28 percent were attributable to “human interaction,” with 323 whales mortally entangled in fishing gear and 171 whales hit by boats. 248 whales died of natural causes. The cause of death was only known in under half the cases (43 percent).  (A cause of death would be unknown if, for example, a whale was spotted floating dead in the water but was not examined.) Of the 750 deaths with known causes, humans were responsible for 67 percent.

There are laws to protect whales from these fates. In particular, the researchers point to a 2008 US law, the Ship Strike Rule, that restricts boat speeds in certain coastal areas and certain times of year in order to protect whales. The researchers mention that after the first year of the law, only 20 percent of boats were respecting the speed limits,  according to the Marine Mammal Commission’s 2010 annual report. The researchers also mention a 2011 paper showing that there was little evidence that the law had any effect over the course of its first two years.

The Woods Hole analysis itself, however, only goes through 2009, and thus says little about how the 2008 law is working to protect whales. In order to examine that with greater clarity, the researchers recommend that next year, when the Ship Strike Rule is due to expire or be renewed, their analysis be updated with as much new data as are available so that it will be possible to compare whale deaths before and after passage of the law.

Whale photo via by Evadb; Edited by jjron/Wikimedia Commons

 

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
  • Ray

    I wish the US would issue sanctions on the Japs. This is unacceptable.

  • BertNye

    “issue sanctions on the Japs” In those five words, you’ve managed to be incredibly stupid twice. Good work.

  • Austin

    How’s that, Bert?

    Your comment was pretty worthless itself.

    Japan kills hundreds of whales a year under the guise of “research.”

  • psweet

    I think the first paragraph needs some editing, to make it immediately clear that they’re talking just about the western North Atlantic. Somehow I doubt that humans are having quite the same impact in, say, Antarctic waters.

  • Chris

    There are several reasons why we would never issue economic sanctions on Japan.
    1) they are a truly massive economy, and a good portion of American trade and debt is with Japan.
    2) Their research whaling is technically legal under international law, and as such they are committing no crime to encourage sanctions.
    3) Japan is a close ally in the pacific theatre, we have an air base there, and they would be essential in the case of a showdown with china or north korea.

    All of those reasons are far more important than a couple of whales to the government. besides, the fatalities due to human activities in this article describe accidents with fishing gear and collisions with boats.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

80beats

80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.
ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT
Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »