When eight endangered North Atlantic right whales turned up dead in the ocean off Nova Scotia this past June, scientists scrambled to find out why. Early data shows several of the whales had blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike, with data still pending on others.
Ship strikes are a major cause of injury or death for whales. But why do they happen at all? The ocean is vast, and huge ships don’t exactly travel at freeway speeds—there should be enough noise, movement, and warning for a whale to get out of the way, right? Why whales may remain in dangerous proximity to ships is tough to study, but over the years, some clues have begun to emerge.
One reason is that whales may not know ships are dangerous. After all, as the biggest animals in the ocean, whales may not understand that there are things in the ocean larger and more powerful than they are.
Photo: A. Weith/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)