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CAN - Slowing Down Big Ships Not Enough to Protect Right Whales From Fatal Strikes: Study

Researcher says 80 per cent chance a ship strike would be fatal, even under current speed restrictions

Current speed restrictions for ships moving through Canadian waters will not prevent North Atlantic right whales from being killed if struck, according to new research that also determined smaller vessels are capable of deadly impacts.

Sean Brillant, a conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation and a co-author of the study out of Dalhousie University in Halifax, said researchers wanted to determine at what speed a ship has a high likelihood of killing a whale.

"Slowing big ships down does not reduce the death rate as much as we hoped it would," said Brillant, adding that larger ships obeying current speed restrictions in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where many right whales feed in the summer, still have an 80 per cent chance of killing a whale if one is struck.

"Although the speed restrictions ... are probably helping to reduce the chance of killing whales, it's not going to solve the problem. It's not enough."

It's estimated there are just over 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world, but researchers say at least three new calves have been born in December.

Fishing gear entanglements and ship strikes are listed as the two most frequent causes of death for right whales. Between 2017 and 2020, there have been 45 observed right whale deaths in U.S. and Canadian waters, but scientists believe the actual number is likely much higher.

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