The Protocol on Environmental Protection of the Antarctic Treaty stipulates that the protection of the Antarctic environment and associated ecosystems be fundamentally considered in the planning and conducting of all activities in the Antarctic Treaty area. One of the key pollutants created by human activities in the Antarctic is noise, which is primarily caused by ship traffic (from tourism, fisheries, and research), but also by geophysical research (e.g., seismic surveys) and by research station support activities (including construction). Arguably, amongst the species most vulnerable to noise are marine mammals since they specialize in using sound for communication, navigation and foraging, and therefore have evolved the highest auditory sensitivity among marine organisms. Reported effects of noise on marine mammals in lower-latitude oceans include stress, behavioral changes such as avoidance, auditory masking, hearing threshold shifts, and—in extreme cases—death. Eight mysticete species, 10 odontocete species, and six pinniped species occur south of 60°S (i.e., in the Southern or Antarctic Ocean). For many of these, the Southern Ocean is a key area for foraging and reproduction. Yet, little is known about how these species are affected by noise. We review the current prevalence of anthropogenic noise and the distribution of marine mammals in the Southern Ocean, and the current research gaps that prevent us from accurately assessing noise impacts on Antarctic marine mammals. A questionnaire given to 29 international experts on marine mammals revealed a variety of research needs. Those that received the highest rankings were (1) improved data on abundance and distribution of Antarctic marine mammals, (2) hearing data for Antarctic marine mammals, in particular a mysticete audiogram, and (3) an assessment of the effectiveness of various noise mitigation options. The management need with the highest score was a refinement of noise exposure criteria. Environmental evaluations are a requirement before conducting activities in the Antarctic. Because of a lack of scientific data on impacts, requirements and noise thresholds often vary between countries that conduct these evaluations, leading to different standards across countries. Addressing the identified research needs will help to implement informed and reasonable thresholds for noise production in the Antarctic and help to protect the Antarctic environment.
Vessel Traffic and Tracking, Shipping, and Ports
Ship strikes are one of the main human-induced threats to whale survival. A variety of measures have been used or proposed to reduce collisions and subsequent mortality of whales. These include operational measures, such as mandatory speed reduction, or technical ones, such as detection tools. There is, however, a lack of a systematic approach to assessing the various measures that can mitigate the risk of ship collisions with whales. In this paper, a holistic approach is proposed to evaluate mitigation measures based on a risk assessment framework that has been adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), namely the Formal Safety Assessment (FSA). Formal Safety Assessment (FSA) is “a rational and systematic process for assessing the risk related to maritime safety and the protection of the marine environment and for evaluating the costs and benefits of IMO's options for reducing these risks”. The paper conceptualizes the use of a systematic risk assessment methodology, namely the FSA, to assess measures to reduce the risk of collisions between ships and whales.
The recurrence of lethal ship-whale collisions (‘ship strikes’) has prompted management entities across the globe to seek effective ways for reducing collision risk. Here we describe ‘active whale avoidance’ defined as a mariner making operational decisions to reduce the chance of a collision with a sighted whale. We generated a conceptual model of active whale avoidance and, as a proof of concept, apply data to the model based on observations of humpback whales surfacing in the proximity of large cruise ships, and simulations run in a full-mission bridge simulator and commonly used pilotage software. Application of the model demonstrated that (1) the opportunities for detecting a surfacing whale are often limited and temporary, (2) the cumulative probability of detecting one of the available ‘cues’ of whale’s presence (and direction of travel) decreases with increased ship-to-whale distances, and (3) following detection time delays occur related to avoidance operations. These delays were attributed to the mariner evaluating competing risks (e.g., risk of whale collision vs. risk to human life, the ship, or other aspects of the marine environment), deciding upon an appropriate avoidance action, and achieving a new operational state by the ship once a maneuver is commanded. We thus identify several options for enhancing whale avoidance including training Lookouts to focus search efforts on a ‘Cone of Concern,’ defined here as the area forward of the ship where whales are at risk of collision based on the whale and ship’s transit/swimming speed and direction of travel. Standardizing protocols for rapid communication of relevant sighting information among bridge team members can also increase avoidance by sharing information on the whale that is of sufficient quality to be actionable. We also found that, for marine pilots in Alaska, a slight change in course tends to be preferable to slowing the ship in response to a single sighted whale, owing, in part, to the substantial distance required to achieve an effective speed reduction in a safe manner. However, planned, temporary speed reductions in known areas of whale aggregations, particularly in navigationally constrained areas, provide a greater range of options for avoidance, highlighting the value of real-time sharing of whale sighting data by mariners. Development and application of these concepts in modules in full mission ship simulators can be of significant value in training inexperienced mariners by replicating situations and effective avoidance maneuvers (reducing the need to ‘learn on the water’), helping regulators understand the feasibility of avoidance options, and, identifying priority research threads. We conclude that application of active whale avoidance techniques by large ships is a feasible yet underdeveloped tool for reducing collision risk globally, and highlight the value of local collaboration and integration of ideas across disciplines to finding solutions to mutually desired conservation outcomes.
We examine the dive and movement behavior of blue, fin, and humpback whales along the US West Coast in regions with high ship traffic where ship strikes have been identified as a major concern. All three species are known to feed in coastal waters near areas of high ship traffic. We analyzed data from 33 archival tag deployments representing over 3,000 h of data that were attached with suction-cups or short darts for periods >20 h and recorded depth (≥ 1 Hz), fast-lock GPS positions and other sensors. There were clear differences among the three species but all showed a distinct diurnal difference in diving behavior. While dive depth varied among animals based on where prey was located, whales spent a high proportion of their time closer to the surface where they would be more vulnerable to ship strikes at night than in the day. This was most pronounced for blue whales where vulnerability was twice as high at night compared to the day. We also found differences in movement patterns of whales between day and night. Movements were more localized to specific areas in the day near prey resources while at night these movements often involved directional movements (though sometimes returning to the same area). We show how in several specific areas like the Santa Barbara Channel, these differences in movements and locations translate to a very different overlap with shipping lanes at night compared to the daytime locations, which is the basis for most sighting data.
Marine habitats are nowadays strongly affected by human activities, while for many species the consequences of these impacts are still unclear. The red-throated diver (Gavia stellata) has been reported to be sensitive to ship traffic and other anthropogenic pressures and is consequently of high conservation concern. We studied red-throated divers in the German Bight (North Sea) using satellite telemetry and digital aerial surveys with the aim of assessing effects of ship traffic on the distribution and movements of this species during the non-breeding season. Data from the automatic identification system of ships (AIS) were intersected with bird data and allowed detailed spatial and temporal analyses. During the study period, ship traffic was present throughout the main distribution area of divers. Depending on impact radius, only small areas existed in which ship traffic was present on less than 20% of the days. Ship traffic was dominated by fishing vessels and cargo ships, but also wind farm-related ships were frequently recorded. Red-throated divers were more abundant in areas with no or little concurrent ship traffic. Analysis of aerial survey data revealed strong effects of ship speed on divers: in areas with vessels sailing at high speed only a slow resettlement of the area was observed after the disturbance, while in areas with vessels sailing at medium speed the resettlement was more rapid during the observed time period of 7 hours. Data from satellite-tracking of divers suggest that large relocation distances of individuals are related to disturbance by ships which often trigger birds to take flight. Effective measures to reduce disturbance could include channeled traffic in sensitive areas, as well as speed limits for ships traveling within the protected marine area.
Ship strikes of whales are a growing concern around the world and especially along the U.S. West Coast, home to some of busiest ports in the world and where ship strikes on a number of species including blue, fin, and humpback whales have been documented. This trial program examined the feasibility, logistics, industry cooperation, and effectiveness of placing an observer on board a commercial ship. An experienced marine mammal observer went on five voyages, spanning over 8 days on ships operating between U.S. West Coast ports. Daylight observations were conducted over 68 h and covered over 1300 nm as ships transited between three ports [Seattle, Oakland, and LA/Long Beach (LA/LB)]. Sightings of large whales were reported on all (n = 42), totaling an estimated 57 individuals that included humpback, blue, fin, and beaked whales. Close encounters of large whales occurred (on one occasion a near miss, estimated at 40 m, of two humpbacks), and on another, a ship chose to alter course to avoid whale sightings in its path identified by the observer. All ships personnel cooperated and voluntarily aided in the observations even after initial skepticism by some crew about the program. While most effort on mitigating ship strikes along the U.S. West Coast has focused on shipping lanes, the vast majority of these sightings occurred outside these lanes and on the transit routes, emphasizing the need for added attention to these areas. This experiment demonstrates the effectiveness and promise of observations from ships providing critical information on whale locations at risk to ship strikes.
The incidence of marine traffic has risen in recent decades and is expected to continue rising as maritime traffic, vessel speed, and engine power all continue to increase. Although long considered anecdotal, ship strikes are now recognized as a major threat to cetaceans. However, estimation of ship strike rates is still challenging notably because such events occurred generally far offshore and collision between large ships and whales go often unnoticed by ship crew. The monitoring of marine mammal strandings remain one the most efficient ways to evaluate the problem. In France, a national coordinated network collected data and samples on stranded marine mammals since 1972 along the Mediterranean and Atlantic French coasts. We examined stranding data, including photography and necropsy reports, collected between 1972 and 2017 with the aim to provide a comprehensive review of confirmed collision records of large whales in France. During this period, a total of 51 ship strike incidents were identified which represents the 1st identified causes of mortality for large whale in France. It has increased since 1972 with seven records during the 1st decade to reach 22 stranded animals observed between 2005 and 2017. This issue appears particularly critical in the Mediterranean Sea where one in five stranded whales showed evidence of ship strike. This review of collision records highlights the risk of a negative impact of this anthropogenic pressure on the dynamic of whale populations in Europe, suggesting that ship strike rates could not allow achieving the Good Environmental Status of marine mammal populations required by the European Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
There are several environmental and ecological effects of shipping. However, these are rarely assessed in total in the scientific literature. Thus, the aim of this study was to summarize the different impacts of water-based transport on aquatic and nearshore ecosystems and to identify knowledge gaps and areas for future research. The review identified several environmental and ecological consequences within the main impact categories of water discharges, physical impacts, and air emissions. However, although quantitative data on these consequences are generally scarce the shipping contribution to acidification by SOx- and NOx-emissions has been quantified to some extent. There are several knowledge gaps regarding the ecological consequences of, for example, the increasing amount of chemicals transported on water, the spread of non-indigenous species coupled with climate change, and physical impacts such as shipping noise and artificial light. The whole plethora of environmental consequences, as well as potential synergistic effects, should be seriously considered in transport planning.
The accumulation of aquatic organisms on the wetted surfaces of vessels (i.e., vessel biofouling) negatively impacts world-wide shipping through reductions in vessel performance and fuel efficiency, and increases in emissions. Vessel biofouling is also a potent mechanism for the introduction and spread of marine non-indigenous species. Guidance and regulations from the International Maritime Organization, New Zealand, and California have recently been adopted to address biosecurity risks, primarily through preventive management. However, appropriate reactive management measures may be necessary for some vessels. Vessel in-water cleaning or treatment (VICT) has been identified as an important tool to improve operating efficiency and to reduce biosecurity risks. VICT can be applied proactively [i.e., to prevent the occurrence of, or to remove, microfouling (i.e., slime) or prevent the occurrence of macrofouling organisms – large, distinct multicellular organisms visible to the human eye], or reactively (i.e., to remove macrofouling organisms). However, unmanaged VICT includes its own set of biosecurity and water quality risks. Regulatory policies and technical advice from California and New Zealand have been developed to manage these risks, but there are still knowledge gaps related to the efficacy of available technologies. Research efforts are underway to address these gaps in order to inform the regulatory and non-regulatory application of VICT.
Sustainable management of coastal and inland water areas requires knowledge of how tourism and recreation affects the ecosystems. Here, we present the first systematic review and meta-analysis to quantify to what extent recreational boat traffic and infrastructure for mooring affect the abundance of submerged vegetation on soft bottoms. Our systematic search yielded 25 studies containing data on effects of boat traffic, docks and mooring buoys on vegetation abundance. The abundance below docks was on average 18% of that in controls, and areas with boat traffic had on average 42% of the abundance in control areas. Mooring buoys often created scour areas without vegetation. However, the effects were variable and there were too few studies to test the reasons for this variability. We conclude that boating can cause significant declines in submerged vegetation but that informed management of boat traffic and improved design of docks and buoys can reduce negative impacts.