About Strikes

Federal agencies are resisting actions designed to protect whales from collisions with ships. As a result, fatal ship strikes on whales are becoming a leading threat to survival.

The single biggest known source of whale strikes is the U.S. Navy. When combined with the Coast Guard, federal vessels account for nearly one-quarter of reported ship strikes of whales on the planet.

Due to a combination of increasing coastal ship traffic, smaller crew size, bigger vessels and faster speeds, fatal collisions between ships and whales are on the rise. Deafening underwater noise levels also prevent whales from hearing approaching propellers:

  • Between 20 and 35% of all whales found dead show cuts and blunt trauma consistent with a ship strike;
  • Ship strikes are the largest known cause of death for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, and particularly calves who have undeveloped diving capability. The risk of ship collision is now the biggest threat facing the blue whale, the largest mammal on earth; and
  • The vast majority of ship strikes are not reported. In fact, 42 of 292 incidents were logged only because whale carcasses were pinned to the prow of ships entering harbors.

One case PEER and Bluewater Network are reviewing involves a pregnant humpback whose skull was crushed in Alaska’s Glacier Bay in July 2001, shortly after Alaska’s congressional delegation overruled restrictions on the number of big cruise ships in the Bay. National Park Service investigators linked the fatality to a cruise ship and referred the matter for prosecution. The U.S. Attorney has yet to act on the case, contributing to the almost complete absence of any civil or criminal prosecution under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. In May 2003, the Park Service finally imposed speed limits and required mid-channel courses for cruise ships in Glacier Bay.

In 2002, PEER revealed that the Navy was conducting aerial bombing exercises off the coast of Maine directly in the migratory path of right whales {see PEEReview Summer ‘02}. Shortly thereafter, the decapitated carcass of a calf was found but was too decomposed to establish cause.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is in the process of developing a “Ship Strike Reduction Strategy” but has not received political permission from the Bush Administration to go forward with it. The strategy centers on restricting vessel speeds in designated areas during mating seasons and other critical times.

PEER and Bluewater Network are undertaking an employee-directed campaign to unearth the NMFS Ship Strike Strategy and pursue its implementation. At the heart of this effort is the reinvigoration of the forgotten safeguards within the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Read more:

Recommended Measures To Reduce Ship Strikes of North Atlantic Right Whales

Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) for Right Whale Ship Strike Reduction