Featured Image Credit: David Laist via IWC
By Sarah Sharkey
This year has not been a great year for humpback whales off the coast of Virginia. Four humpbacks washed up in February alone, and all seemed to have been struck by large ships.
A recent surge in whale deaths off the coast of Virginia has many experts in a state of confusion. These deaths all happened very close together and scientists have no idea why this is happening. But the string of deaths has left the community of scientists that are working to preserve these gentle giants with an unsettled feeling.
Alexander Costidis, stranding response program director for the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, said this number of victims is “quite unusual.” Costidis explained, “mortalities are typically spread out more across our humpback whale season.”
According to the aquarium’s marine mammal stranding program, Virginia averaged 2.3 large whale death per year in the last decade. But so far this year there have been 4 fatal stranding. Apparently vessel strikes were a part of all of these incidents. This does not bode well because shipping traffic is unlikely to decrease in the near future.
Dan Engelhaupt, an engineer, has been contracted by the U.S. Navy to try to understand whale mortality through ship strikes. He explains that it is very difficult to prevent whale and ship collisions. Whales normally rely on their excellent underwater hearing for navigation, but underwater background noise can affect their ability to hear things such as an oncoming ship.
This problem is not easily solved, but researchers are working on ways to make sure that the whales are safe in their own home. Hopefully there are able to provide some positive solutions soon.