Vessel collisions with small cetaceans worldwide and with large whales in the Southern Hemisphere, an initial assessment

K. Van Waerebeek, A. N. Baker, F. Félix, J. Gedamke, M. Iñiguez, G. P. Sanino, E. Secchi, D. Sutaria, A. van Helden, Y. Wang

Abstract


Collisions with vessels are a well-documented conservation problem for some populations of large whales (LW) in the Northern Hemisphere. Less attention has been given to incidents in the Southern Hemisphere or to small cetaceans (SC) worldwide, therefore an experimental database was compiled (N=256; 119 LW, 137 SC) to allow a rapid assessment. Confirmed collision records were identified for 25 species (7 LW, 18 SC) and unconfirmed but probable records for 10 other species (2 LW, 8 SC). Among LW, ship-caused mortality and traumatic injuries seem to affect primarily southern right (56 reported cases), humpback (15) and Bryde's whales (13), but also sperm (8), blue (5), sei (4) and fin whales (2) are involved, and probably Antarctic minke and dwarf minke whales. Southern right whale populations off South Africa and off eastern South America (Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina) suffer significant mortality. Incidence and potential population impact vary widely among the 26 small cetacean species for which collision records exist. Vessel strikes in at least two populations each of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin (Xiamen and Hong Kong/Pearl River, possibly western Taiwan), Irrawaddy dolphin (Mahakam River, Chilika Lagoon, possibly Laos) and finless porpoise (Yangtze River, Hong Kong) may directly compromise long-term survival. Annual vessel-caused mortality (min. 2.9% of population) for Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mahakam River may not be sustainable. The quasi-extinction of the baiji warns for a potential similar fate for the Yangtze River finless porpoise and Ganges river dolphin. Two calves of the endangered Hector's dolphin are known killed by boats. All highly impacted species have a neritic, estuarine or fluviatile habitat, areas where vessel traffic is concentrated. Species that may receive a moderate impact from collisions but which may be sustainable at species level (because many strikes are nonlethal), include common bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, short-finned pilot whales and pygmy sperm whales. Almost 2% of common bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Guayaquil showed propeller-inflicted injuries and scars. Propeller guards should be made compulsory for all boat-based cetacean tourism, as habituation to boat traffic seems a contributing factor in accidents. Low impact occurs in 15 small cetacean species with only few reported vessel strikes. However, vast underreporting is thought to be the norm and there is a need for a global, standardised database.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5597/lajam00109

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