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ESR 51:31-58 (2023)  -  DOI:

Ship-strike forecast and mitigation for whales in Gitga’at First Nation territory

Eric M. Keen1,2,*, Éadin O’Mahony1,3, Linda M. Nichol4, Brianna M. Wright4, Chenoah Shine1,5, Benjamin Hendricks6, Hermann Meuter7, Hussein M. Alidina8, Janie Wray1,9

1North Coast Cetacean Society, Alert Bay, British Columbia V0N 0C3, Canada
2Earth and Environmental Systems, Sewanee: The University of the South, Sewanee, TN 37375, USA
3Scottish Oceans Institute, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews KY16 9AJ, UK
4Pacific Biological Station, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Nanaimo, British Columbia V9T 6N7, Canada
5Department of Geography, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia V8P 5C2, Canada
6SoundSpace Analytics, Cumberland, British Columbia V0R 1S0, Canada
7Pacific Whale Society, Hartley Bay, British Columbia V0V 1A0, Canada
8WWF-Canada, Victoria, British Columbia V8W 3C6, Canada
9Pacific Orca Society, Alert Bay, British Columbia V0N 0C3, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: As marine traffic increases globally, ship strikes have emerged as a primary threat to many baleen whale populations. Here we predict ship-strike rates for fin whales Balaenoptera physalus and humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae in the central territorial waters of the Gitga’at First Nation (British Columbia, Canada), which face increases in existing marine traffic as well as new liquified natural gas (LNG) shipping in the next decade. To do so, we utilized Automatic Identification System (AIS) databases, line-transect surveys, shore-based monitoring, whale-borne tags, aerial drone-based focal follows, and iterative simulations. We predict that by 2030, whale encounters will triple for most vessel types, but the change is most extreme for large ships (length >180 m) in prime whale habitat, in which co-occurrences will increase 30-fold. Ship-strike mortalities are projected to increase in the next decade by 2.3× for fin whales and 3.9× for humpback whales, to 2 and 18 deaths yr-1, respectively. These unsustainable losses will likely deplete both species in the coastal region of BC. Models indicate that the largest single source of mortality risk in 2030 will be from the LNG Canada project. Of the mitigation options we evaluated, a 10 knot speed ceiling for all large ships is potentially effective, but the best measure for guaranteed mitigation would be seasonal restrictions on LNG traffic. While certain data gaps remain, particularly with respect to humpback whales, our predictions indicate that shipping trends within Gitga’at waters will impact whale populations at regional levels. We provide our analysis in the R package ‘shipstrike’.

KEY WORDS: Ship strike · Fin whale · Humpback whale · Kitimat Fjord System · Liquified natural gas · LNG · Gitga’at First Nation · Marine traffic

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Cite this article as: Keen EM, O’Mahony É, Nichol LM, Wright BM and others (2023) Ship-strike forecast and mitigation for whales in Gitga’at First Nation territory. Endang Species Res 51:31-58.

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