Effects of Variability in Ship Traffic and Whale Distributions on the Risk of Ships Striking Whales
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Effects of Variability in Ship Traffic and Whale Distributions on the Risk of Ships Striking Whales

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  • Journal Title:
    Frontiers in Marine Science
  • Description:
    Assessments of ship-strike risk for large whales typically use a single year of ship traffic data and averaged predictions of species distributions. Consequently, they do not account for variability in ship traffic or species distributions. Variability could reduce the effectiveness of static management measures designed to mitigate ship-strike risk. We explore the consequences of interannual variability on ship-strike risk using multiple years of both ship traffic data and predicted fin, humpback, and blue whale distributions off California. Specifically, risk was estimated in four regions that are important for ship-strike risk management. We estimated risk by multiplying the predicted number of whales by the distance traveled by ships. To overcome the temporal mismatch between the available ship traffic and whale data, we classified the ship traffic data into nearshore and offshore traffic scenarios using the percentage of ship traffic traveling more than 24 nmi from the mainland coast, which was the boundary of a clean fuel rule implemented in 2009 that altered ship traffic patterns. We found that risk for fin and humpback whale populations off California increased as these species recovered from whaling. We also found that broad-scale, northward shifts in blue whale distributions throughout the North Pacific, likely in response to changes in oceanographic conditions, were associated with increased ship-strike risk off northern California. The magnitude of ship-strike risk for fin, humpback, and blue whales was influenced by the ship traffic scenarios. Interannual variability in predicted whale distributions also influenced the magnitude of ship-strike risk, but generally did not change whether the nearshore or offshore traffic scenario had higher risk. The consistency in the highest risk from the traffic scenarios likely occurred because areas containing the highest predicted number of whales were generally the same across years. The consistency in risk from the traffic scenarios suggests that static spatial management measures (e.g., changing shipping lanes, creating areas to be avoided, and seasonal speed reductions) can provide an effective means of mitigating risk resulting from ship traffic variability off California.
  • Source:
    Front. Mar. Sci. 6:793
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  • Rights Information:
    CC BY
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