North Atlantic right whales are magnificent creatures. Weighing in at approximately 79 tonnes, and measuring 15 metres in length, North Atlantic right whales have a natural life expectancy of 50 to 70 years. Females give birth for the first time around age 10. Gestation lasts a year, and newborn calves measure 4 metres in length. An endangered species, scientists estimate there are about 500 left in the world. And during the summer of 2017 – so far – 10 of them have been found dead in the Gulf of St. Lawrence along the eastern coast of Canada. They tend to dive deep to feed and resurface 20 minutes later. And this characteristic may be the reason for the most recent slew of deaths. Preliminary findings in the investigation suggest that, even if not cause of death, at least 2 of the whales likely collided with a ship at some point.
Many species of whales and dolphins are vulnerable to collisions with vessels that can sustain serious damage to the ship and also injure or kill the animal. There is no universal solution to the problem of ship strikes but clearly the most effective way to reduce collision risk is to keep whales and ships apart. And that's exactly what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is trying to do.
I recently presented on the basics of AIS (both terrestrial and satellite) to a group at the 19th Biennial Conference Society for Marine Mammalogy. The workshop was on using AIS for the protection of the environment and in particular whale species.