Vessel strikes are a source of mortality and injury for baleen whales, which can have population-level impacts. Spatial analysis of whale and marine traffic distributions provides a valuable approach for identifying zones with high collision risk. We conducted 34 systematic aerial surveys to estimate humpback Megaptera novaeangliae and fin whale Balaenoptera physalus densities off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Canada, including approaches to major shipping lanes in Juan de Fuca Strait, a gateway to the ports of southern British Columbia and Washington State. To predict whale densities, we fit negative binomial generalized additive models (GAMs) to sightings data, incorporating survey effort as an offset, and depth, slope, and latitude as environmental covariates. Humpbacks were primarily observed on the continental shelf, with highest predicted densities along the shelf edge (~200 m isobath), whereas fin whales were primarily distributed west of the shelf break (>450 m depth). We combined GAM-predicted whale densities with vessel traffic data to estimate the relative risk of ship strikes. Since vessel speed is an important determinant of lethality, we also calculated the relative risk of lethal injuries, given the probability that a collision occurs. Humpbacks were most likely to be struck along the shelf edge, the inshore approaches to Juan de Fuca Strait, and within the strait itself. Fin whales were most likely to be struck in the offshore approaches to Juan de Fuca and inside the western portion of the strait. Our study is the first to assess ship strike risk in this region of high whale density and marine traffic use.
Vessel Traffic and Tracking, Shipping, and Ports
Blue whales Balaenoptera musculus occur seasonally in the St. Lawrence Estuary, Canada, where they spend most of their time foraging. Their recurrent presence has stimulated the development of a large whale-watching industry. Here, we examine the effect of vessel distance on blue whale foraging behaviour by measuring changes in surface and diving patterns. Vessels were within 2000 m of blue whales during 70% of 33 follows, and 59% of total observation time. At vessel distances ≤400 m, surface and dive times were on average 49 and 36% shorter, respectively, and the number of breaths taken by the whales was reduced by 51% compared to control observations without vessel presence within 2000 m of whales. The consequent reduction in foraging time was likely greater than 36%, given that transit time is incompressible and foraging depth is dictated by where krill densities are located. We showed that the relative proportion of lost foraging time from vessel exposure increased exponentially with prey depth. Whales were unable to compensate for lost feeding opportunities by increasing diving rate or swim speed, except when feeding within 10 to 15 m of the surface. Our results indicate that preventing vessels from entering within a 400 m radius around blue whales can help reduce the negative effects of marine recreational activities on blue whale foraging.
- Vessels can have acute and chronic impacts on marine species. The rate of increase in commercial shipping is accelerating, and there is a need to quantify and potentially manage the risk of these impacts.
- Usage maps characterising densities of grey and harbour seals and ships around the British Isles were used to produce risk maps of seal co-occurrence with shipping traffic. Acoustic exposure to individual harbour seals was modelled in a study area using contemporaneous movement data from 28 animals fitted with UHF global positioning satellite telemetry tags and automatic identification system data from all ships during 2014 and 2015. Data from four acoustic recorders were used to validate sound exposure predictions.
- Across the British Isles, rates of co-occurrence were highest within 50 km of the coast, close to seal haul-outs. Areas identified with high risk of exposure included 11 Special Areas of Conservation (SAC; from a possible 25). Risk to harbour seal populations was highest, affecting half of all SACs associated with the species.
- Predicted cumulative sound exposure level, cSELs(Mpw), over all seals was 176·8 dB re 1 μPa2 s (95% CI 163·3–190·4), ranging from 170·2 dB re 1μPa2s (95% CI 168·4–171·9) to 189·3 dB re 1 μPa2 s (95% CI 172·6–206·0) for individuals. This represented an increase in 28·3 dB re 1 μPa2 s over measured ambient noise. For 20 of 28 animals in the study, 95% CI for cSELs(Mpw) had upper bounds above levels known to induce temporary threshold shift. Predictions of broadband received sound pressure levels were underestimated on average by 0·7 dB re 1 μPa (±3·3).
- Synthesis and applications. We present a framework to allow shipping noise, an important marine anthropogenic stressor, to be explicitly incorporated into spatial planning. Potentially sensitive areas are identified through quantifying risk to marine species of exposure to shipping traffic, and individual noise exposure is predicted with associated uncertainty in an area with varying rates of co-occurrence. The detailed approach taken here facilitates spatial planning with regard to underwater noise within areas protected through the Habitats Directive, and could be used to provide evidence for further designations. This framework may have utility in assessing whether underwater noise levels are at Good Environmental Status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
Global trade by merchant ships is a leading mechanism for the unintentional transfer of marine organisms, including non-indigenous species, to bays and estuaries worldwide. To reduce the likelihood of new invasions, ships are increasingly being required to manage their ballast water (BW) prior to discharge in coastal waters. In the United States, most overseas arrivals have been required to manage BW discharge since 2004, primarily through ballast water exchange (BWE), which flushes out ballast tanks in the open ocean (>200 miles from shore). Studies have found BWE to generally reduce the abundance of organisms, and the amount of water exchanged has been estimated at 96–100%. Despite its widespread use, the overall effect of this management strategy on net propagule supply through time has not been explored. Here, temporal changes in zooplankton concentrations and the volume of BW discharged in Chesapeake Bay, U.S. were evaluated, comparing pre-management era and post-management era time periods. Chesapeake Bay is a large port system that receives extensive BW discharge, especially from bulk cargo vessels (bulkers) that export coal overseas. For bulkers arriving from overseas, mean zooplankton concentrations of total and coastal indicator taxa in BW did not decline between pre- (1993–2000) and post management (2012–2013) eras, when controlling for season and sampling method. Moreover, bulkers discharged 21 million tonnes (82% of total for Chesapeake Bay) of overseas BW in 2013, representing a 374% increase in volume when compared to 2005. The combination of BW discharge volume and zooplankton concentration data indicates that (a) net propagule supply by bulkers has increased since BWE began in Chesapeake Bay; and (b) changes in vessel behaviour and trade have contributed strongly to this outcome. Specifically, the coal-driven increase in BW discharge volume from 2005–2013, concurrent with the onset of BWE regulations, worked to counteract intended results from BW management. A long-term analysis of bulker arrivals (1994–2013) reveals a 20-year minimum in arrival numbers in 2000, just when the implementation of BWE began. This study underscores the need to consider shifts in trade patterns, in order to advance and evaluate effective management strategies for biological invasions.
North Atlantic humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Gulf of Maine overlap with both recreational and commercial vessel activity. Vessel strikes are one source of anthropogenic impact that has the potential to inhibit the recovery of this protected species. There are currently no regulations or guidelines specifically devised to reduce the likelihood of collisions for vessels transiting in the vicinity of humpback whales, except for vessels actively engaged in whale watching. To understand interactions between vessels and humpback whales better, we analyzed injuries on 624 individuals photographed in the southern Gulf of Maine from 2004 to 2013. Multiple reviewers evaluated 210,733 photos for five categories of injury consistent with a vessel strike. In total, 14.7% (n = 92) of individuals photographed showed injuries consistent with one or more vessel strikes. These results likely underestimate vessel collision rates and impacts because multiple events, events resulting in mortality, and those that involved only blunt force trauma could not be detected. Nevertheless, our results indicate that vessel strikes are underreported and that healing is dependent on the severity and location of the injury. We recommend that a management strategy be developed for all classes of vessels transiting in the vicinity of whales.
Marine traffic is threatening cetaceans on a local and global scale. The Istanbul Strait is one of the busiest waterways, with up to 2,500 vessels present daily. This is the first study to assess the magnitude of short- and long-term behavioural changes of the endangered Black Sea harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena relicta) in the presence of marine vessels within the Istanbul Strait. Markov chains were used to investigate the effect of vessel presence on the transition probability between behavioural states (diving, surface-feeding and travelling), and to quantify the effect on the behavioural budget and bout length (duration of time spent in a given state) of porpoises. Further, the changes on swimming directions of porpoises in relation to vessel speed and distance was investigated using generalized linear models. In vessel presence, porpoises were less likely to remain in a given behavioural state and instead more likely to switch to another state. Because of this, the bout length of all three behavioural states decreased significantly in the presence of vessels. The vessel effect was sufficiently large to alter the behavioural budget, with surface-feeding decreasing significantly in the presence of vessels. However, when taking into account the proportion of time that porpoises were exposed to vessels (i.e. 50%), the measured effect size was not large enough to significantly alter the animals’ cumulative (diurnal) behavioural budget. Additionally, vessel speed and distance had a significant effect on the probability of porpoises showing a response in their swimming directions. The southern and middle sections of the Istanbul Strait, which have the heaviest marine traffic pressure, had the lowest porpoise sightings throughout the year. Conversely, northern sections that were exposed to a lesser degree of marine traffic hold the highest porpoise sightings. The effect shown in this study in combination with increasing human impacts within the northern sections should be considered carefully and species-specific conservation actions, including establishment of protected areas, should be put in place to prevent the long-term consequences of marine traffic on the Black Sea harbour porpoise population.
Human impacts (e.g., fishing, pollution, and shipping) on pelagic ecosystems are increasing, causing concerns about stresses on marine food webs. Maintaining predator-prey relationships through protection of pelagic hotspots is crucial for conservation and management of living marine resources. Biotic components of pelagic, plankton-based, ecosystems exhibit high variability in abundance in time and space (i.e., extreme patchiness), requiring investigation of persistence of abundance across trophic levels to resolve trophic hotspots. Using a 26-yr record of indicators for primary production, secondary (zooplankton and larval fish), and tertiary (seabirds) consumers, we show distributions of trophic hotspots in the southern California Current Ecosystem result from interactions between a strong upwelling center and a productive retention zone with enhanced nutrients, which concentrate prey and predators across multiple trophic levels. Trophic hotspots also overlap with human impacts, including fisheries extraction of coastal pelagic and groundfish species, as well as intense commercial shipping traffic. Spatial overlap of trophic hotspots with fisheries and shipping increases vulnerability of the ecosystem to localized depletion of forage fish, ship strikes on marine mammals, and pollution. This study represents a critical step toward resolving pelagic areas of high conservation interest for planktonic ecosystems and may serve as a model for other ocean regions where ecosystem-based management and marine spatial planning of pelagic ecosystems is warranted.
Transshipment at sea, the offloading of catch from a fishing vessel to a refrigerated cargo vessel far from port, obscures the actual source of the catch and is a significant pathway for illegally caught fish to enter the legitimate seafood market. Occurring out of sight and over the horizon, the practice enables other nefarious activity, ranging from smuggling to human trafficking. Increasing the transparency of transshipment could improve fisheries management and reduce human rights abuses.
To address this gap in transparency, SkyTruth and Global Fishing Watch analyzed over 21 billion positional Automatic Information System (AIS) messages from ocean-going vessels between 2012 and 2016, and we identified and tracked an estimated 90 percent of the world’s refrigerated cargo ships (reefers). We mapped 86,490 instances in which these reefers exhibited rendezvous behaviors at sea for long enough to receive a transshipment, events that we call “potential transshipments,” and 5,065 instances where we see a fishing vessel rendezvousing with the reefer, events we call “likely transshipments.” We considered only events that occurred at sea, ignoring transshipments at port, which are generally less of a management challenge.
To protect the underwater acoustic environment and the marine mammals that depend upon it, Glacier Bay National Park implements marine vessel quotas, speed regulations, and routing restrictions in biologically important areas. Here, we characterize the underwater acoustic environment to quantify changes in conditions related to vessel management actions. Analysis of hourly 30-second acoustic samples obtained from a seafloor hydrophone included manual (aural and visual) identification of physical, biological, and human-made acoustic sources and measuring received sound pressure levels. A total of 10,659 30-second acoustic samples collected in 2000, 2001, 2007 and 2008 were analyzed. By quantifying the sources, occurrence, and characteristics of underwater sound we gained a new understanding of how the underwater acoustic environment relates to vessel management. For example, the occurrence of noise from large marine vessels (e.g. cruise ships) decreased despite an increase in the vessel quotas and use-days, likely due to changes in the timing of cruise ship entries. Our work documented the occurrence of biologically important humpback whale and harbor seal vocalizations; the frequency of occurrence of these vocalizations gives an indication of Glacier Bay's importance for these species and seasonality of calls documents the times of year at which a pristine acoustic environment would most benefit each species. These first descriptions of acoustic conditions in a protected coastal habitat indicate that both regulations and vessel behavior independent of regulations have discernible effects on the acoustic environment. Quantitatively describing these changes is a crucial first step toward protection of this important underwater habitat.
Only a limited number of studies on the effects of boats on cetaceans have been published, most concentrating on dolphin species (Family Delphinidae), with restricted research findings published regarding harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). From February 2011–May 2013, a count of boats (n = 2153) was conducted from seven land-based sites - Port Talbot deep water harbour, Tutt Head, Mumbles (39% of all vessel traffic occurred here), Pwll Du Head, Southgate, Port Eynon Point, Rhossili and Burry Holms, all located in the Swansea Bay and South Gower area of the UK - to give an analysis of boat traffic volume. A variety of vessel types was observed: large commercial cargo ship, kayak, recreational fishing, commercial fishing, rib, jet-ski, speedboat, cruiser, yacht, cargo or stand-up paddle board (SUP). Interactions between vessels and porpoise were noted during these surveys. During 729 h of survey effort (268 total surveys), 38% (n = 103) of surveys had no corresponding porpoise sightings, while 62% (n = 165) were porpoise positive. With regard to vessel/porpoise interactions, there were 39 occasions when porpoise exhibited only neutral or negative behaviour. Groups of two porpoise were the modal group size, accounting for 61% (n = 24) of porpoise/vessel interactions, with peak interactions documented in May (n = 9) and July (n = 8). Vessel type and speed rather than presence seemed to be the relevant factors; 75% of all negative reactions were in response to high-speed planing-hulled vessels, the remainder being neutral responses.