Whale experts call for rethink of global shipping routes to stop marine giants becoming 'roadkill'

December 13, 2018, Macquarie University
Credit: Vanessa Pirotta

In a new report, researchers from Macquarie University are calling for a rethink of global shipping routes, to protect whales and sharks from becoming marine 'roadkill'.

More than 10 billion metric tons of goods travel by sea each year, making up 80 per cent of the world's merchandise trade.

The continual growth of the shipping trade and rebounding of some whale populations post-whaling is leading to increasing clashes between and marine giants. Melting sea ice has opened up new shipping routes through previously untouched whale habitats.

Marine megafauna like Great Whales, whale sharks and basking sharks are particularly vulnerable to ships because of their size, migration routes and the whales' need to travel close to the surface for air.

Deadly ship strikes are not the only threat to the animals, with vessel noise disrupting ' delicate communication, and chemical pollution and heavily used routes fragmenting habitats.

Whale researcher Vanessa Pirotta from Macquarie University's Department of Biological Sciences said lessons from the wildlife impacts of roads could be applied to the ocean, to prevent marine giants becoming 'roadkill'.

"New shipping routes through whale habitat put at risk, and this study provides a new understanding of how to mitigate shipping traffic impacts on these marine giants," Ms Pirotta said.

The report's authors propose limiting the creation of new shipping routes in areas such as the Arctic and broadening shipping exclusion zones to take into account the impact of ships beyond the marine roads themselves, such as noise pollution and chemical contamination.

Designing cleaner and quieter ships would reduce the risk of oil spills and chemical pollution and reduce underwater noise. In addition, implementing and detours around whale habitats at certain times of year would mitigate some of the negative consequences.

Ms Pirotta said: "New technologies can accurately monitor and behaviour, and if combined with data about shipping routes and intensity, could provide a clearer picture of their interaction.

"Looking at the impacts of roads on wildlife populations can then help predict what might happen if the continues to expand, and this can inform better management plans to protect our marine giants."

Explore further: How to reduce the impact of shipping vessel noise on fish? Slow them down

More information: Vanessa Pirotta et al. Consequences of global shipping traffic for marine giants, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment (2018). DOI: 10.1002/fee.1987

Related Stories

'Whale Spotting' app seeks to reduce ship strikes (Update)

September 18, 2013

U.S. federal officials trying to reduce the number of whales that are struck and killed by ships sailing in and out of San Francisco Bay are testing a new smartphone application that could help locate the mammals more accurately.

Are these humpback whales too close for comfort?

September 3, 2018

As many as six humpback whales were spotted in Boston Harbor on Wednesday, a rare sight in the congested shipping port. But the whales probably weren't lost, according to Joseph Ayers, a professor at Northeastern's Marine ...

Recommended for you

Coffee-based colloids for direct solar absorption

March 22, 2019

Solar energy is one of the most promising resources to help reduce fossil fuel consumption and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to power a sustainable future. Devices presently in use to convert solar energy into thermal ...

Paleontologists report world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex

March 22, 2019

University of Alberta paleontologists have just reported the world's biggest Tyrannosaurus rex and the largest dinosaur skeleton ever found in Canada. The 13-metre-long T. rex, nicknamed "Scotty," lived in prehistoric Saskatchewan ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.