Ship strikes are a significant threat to large whales. In the U.S., vessel collisions are one of the leading human-caused sources of mortality for the endangered North Atlantic right whale. To address this threat, NOAA has developed regulatory and non-regulatory measures to reduce ship strikes, including modification of vessel operations, education and outreach programs, and research and monitoring activities. Stranded large whales are examined externally and internally whenever logistically feasible to assist in diagnosis and appropriate quantification of ship strikes.
Current threats to cetacean conservation and management measures taken/proposed
Anthropogenic underwater sound has the potential to cause adverse effects on cetaceans and cetacean populations. To better assess these potential impacts, NMFS recently finalized technical guidance for assessing acoustic effects of anthropogenic sound on marine mammal hearing. More information is available online at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm.
Marine debris is one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the global ocean today with millions of tons of debris entering the ocean annually. Marine debris can injure and kill cetaceans through entanglement in, and ingestion of, debris. In a study of marine debris ingestion it was found that 26 species of cetaceans are confirmed to ingest marine debris. A similar study, found that, in the U.S., nine species of cetaceans are confirmed to entangle in marine debris.
Interaction with fishing gear can incidentally injure and kill cetaceans and is a leading human-related cause of mortality and serious injury for multiple cetacean species (including North Atlantic right whales and harbor porpoise in the Atlantic Ocean, bottlenose dolphins in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, humpback whales in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, and false killer whales in the Pacific Ocean). NMFS works with the fishing industry and other experts to develop or modify fishing gear and practices to minimize bycatch.
The two main species affected by fishing in UK waters are the harbour porpoise and the shortbeaked common dolphin. All Reports to the European Commission on activities conducted by the UK under Regulation 812/2004, and under Article 12(4) of the Habitats Directive, provide details of the monitoring work undertaken and estimates of bycatch.
Hector’s and Māui dolphins
In 2008, the Department of Conservation and Ministry for Primary Industries put in place a Hector’s and Māui dolphin Threat Management Plan (TMP) that identifies human induced threats to Hector’s and Māui dolphin populations and outlines strategies to mitigate those threats.6 This plan provides a platform in which to guide research, engagement, management and review processes.
Australia has an excellent response capacity to assist individuals and groups of whales in distress, in cases where assistance is physically and logistically possible.