Humpback whale likely to be killed by ship strike

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Humpback whale likely to be killed by ship strike
ORCA stock image of a humpback whale

A humpback whale found dead in the Thames this week was likely to have been killed by ship strike according to a report from experts investigating the incident.

The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) have carried out a necropsy on the humpback whale that was found dead on Tuesday 8th October. The necropsy revealed that the animal was an 8.37 metre juvenile female and was significantly malnourished, showing no signs of having eaten recently. There were also a large number of parasites found in the intestine, but no evidence of plastic ingestion. However, there was indication of contact with human activity with scars on the dorsal fin and tail fluke suggesting the animal had been entangled previously.

The animal also had severe injuries including a large wound on the underside of the head that, based on clotting and haemorrhaging, are likely to have been inflicted before the animal died.

The whale was first seen last weekend (5th October 2019) with multiple sightings reported between Rainham and Greenhite, and on Monday 7th near the Ford Factory in Dagenham. When it was first spotted there were no initial signs of distress, but as the days went on and more photos surfaced it started to become apparent that the whale was not in the best health.

Crucially, the CSIP report suggested the likely cause of death was “a result of ship strike”. Further investigations on the samples taken during the necropsy will be conducted and hope to shed light on whether the whale was hit before entering the Thames at the beginning of the week.

ORCA Director Sally Hamilton said:

‘This news is yet further evidence that ship strike represents a clear and present danger to large whales, and to have one die so close to home makes the news that much sadder. ORCA’s research studying the way whales interact with ships is hoping to take a step towards better understanding this threat, but so much more needs to be done to address the devastating impact it is having on whales around the world.’

Large whales are hit by ships globally and ship strike is one of the most widespread threats facing large whales today. This is underreported and little understood with an unknown number of cetaceans dying from collisions each year.

Since 2017, ORCA have been working on an innovative project with Brittany Ferries studying fin whale interactions with large ships in the Bay of Biscay, in the hope of gathering more information on the issue. ORCA hope the results of this research will mean that more effective guidance can be given to ships to help protect large whales from the impact of ship strike.