Sources: Cornell University Lab of Ornithology; Hal Mueller/Sailwx.info; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; OBIS-SEAMAP; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
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When a container ship strikes a 60-ton right whale, no one on board usually notices. The whale, however, may die from massive trauma, hemorrhage, and broken bones. Ship propellers slice whales up “like a loaf of bread,” says Michael Moore of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
North Atlantic right whales—one of the world’s most endangered species, with only about 400 living in the wild—are particularly vulnerable. They feed, breed, and migrate along the Eastern Seaboard, where, as the map at right shows, they encounter increasingly heavy ship traffic. In 2008, eastern U.S. ports saw 23,362 calls from large oceangoing vessels, and that number is expected to roughly double by 2023.
In response, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are testing a range of creative ideas to reduce ship strikes, including aerial surveys, whale-sighting hotlines, acoustic buoys that detect whale calls, and new shipping lanes that direct heavy traffic away from whale habitats.