Sadly, large whales are hit by ships (‘ship strike’) globally, but this threat is poorly understood and under-reported.
Ship strike is when whales are involved in collisions with ships, and is an issue ORCA have been working on since 2011. It can injure or kill whales and dolphins and is a particular threat to large whales in busy shipping areas.
Photos have emerged of a dead whale hanging limply on the bow of a tanker that sailed into Mizushima harbour in Japan last month. These photos highlight just how devastating this threat is to the largest animals on earth.
It was later confirmed that the whale was an 11metre male Bryde’s whale which weighed five tonnes. Bryde’s whales are a large species growing to lengths of 15.5 metres long. They have a large slender body and distinctive parallel ridges on the top of the head, which is a key identification feature. When surfacing, they rarely show more than the top of their head and can often be confused with sei whales due to their size and shape. Unlike most baleen whales, Bryde’s spend the whole year in tropical and subtropical waters preferring temperatures over 20 degrees. They only make short migrations or none at all and rarely visit temperate or cold waters.
The tanker's crew were reportedly unaware they had been carrying the whale as they sailed through the Pacific, with shocked locals catching sight of the whale draped across the bow as they pulled into the harbour.
No one knows how many whales are killed each year by ship strike. In large expanses of deep water, very few carcases are washed up onshore. Many large ships are unaware that they have hit a whale and only discover this once when they arrive in port with it draped across their bulbous bow. Many whales are also hit and not caught on the bow, with many hit and left with horrific injuries which they later die from.
ORCA is working to prevent the threat of ship strike to large whales in the North East Atlantic. With the hope of understanding how bad the problem is and to provide a solution to ships crews and policy makers to implement solutions.