Ship-Strike Forecast and Mitigation for Whales in Gitga’at First Nation Territory
May 25, 2023

Article published May 2023 by Inter-Research Science Publisher

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Abstract: As marine traffic increases globally, ship strikes have emerged as a primary threat to many baleen whale populations. Here we predict ship-strike rates for fin whales Balaenoptera physalus and humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the central territorial waters of the Gitga’at First Nation (British Columbia, Canada), which face increases in existing marine traffic as well as new liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping in the next decade. To do so, we utilized Auto-matic Identification System (AIS) databases, line-transect surveys, shore-based monitoring, whale-borne tags, aerial drone-based focal follows, and iterative simulations. We predict that by 2030, whale encounters will triple for most vessel types, but the change is most extreme for large ships (length >180 m) in prime whale habitat, in which co-occurrences will increase 30-fold. Ship-strike mortalities are projected to increase in the next decade by 2.3× for fin whales and 3.9× for humpback whales, to 2 and 18 deaths yr−1, respectively. These unsustainable losses will likely deplete both species in the coastal region of BC. Models indicate that the largest single source of mortality risk in 2030 will be from the LNG Canada project. Of the mitigation options we evalu-ated, a 10 knot speed ceiling for all large ships is potentially effective, but the best measure for guaranteed mitigation would be seasonal restrictions on LNG traffic. While certain data gaps remain, particularly with respect to humpback whales, our predictions indicate that shipping trends within Gitga’at waters will impact whale populations at regional levels. We provide our analysis in the R package ‘shipstrike’.

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