Fortunately, to date, the majority of collisions have caused only minor damage and after backing off, both parties have been able to carry on to their destinations with only scratches and headaches.
A recent scientific report by Fabian Ritter highlights some of the possible dangers and outcomes and has been summarised on the 'Attainable Adventure Cruising' website by Colin Speedie which I include here for you:
Not that it was all one sided – in 18.3% of the cases blood was seen in the water after the collision, and in a couple of cases the whale was either definitely dead or considered certain to die. And previously published research suggests that this is likely to be an underestimate, due to the difficulty in ascertaining the severity of injury to the animal in the aftermath of a collision.
|Injured whale following collision|
The study identifies a number of factors that may play a part in causing a collision, and unsurprisingly speed is top of the list. As many of the reports came from the racing and regatta world, maybe it’s the case that with fast moving boats the likelihood of the boat or the whale avoiding a collision due to higher speed may be a factor, slower cruising boats may allow whales more time to get out of the way, or have more time to alter course around animals in their path.
What Can Be Done To Minimise The Risks?
Keeping a good look out must help, and should certainly be considered in areas known to be hotspots for whales, as in 48.6% of collisions the animals were not seen beforehand. Many whale species gather in loose aggregations, so seeing one whale may be a sign that there are others around. Obviously, this is a lot easier with a large crew, and it’s also the case that many collisions (17.1%) took place during the hours of darkness where a careful watch might not make much difference. And understanding ways that might help you avoid a collision when in the company of whales, as I outlined in my previous post, should be required knowledge for any offshore sailing crew, especially those about to cross the North Atlantic in the annual migration – like us.
Russell Leaper, a whale researcher with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and himself a keen sailor has been co-ordinating data collection on collision incidents for the IWC. He commented that ‘ we have received no reports of apparently pre-meditated aggressive attacks from whales and most reports of aggressive behaviour towards yachts are likely to be whales that were startled and then thrash around’. He also added that ‘we still don’t really know if making noise like switching on the engine reduces risk but if you know that whales are around the safest thing is to slow down and keep a good lookout. If you do see a whale in the distance remember there may be others much closer.’
It’s unlikely that the full picture emerged during this study, though, and given that the statistics indicate an increasing level of near-misses and collisions, the International Whaling Commission have initiated an online Ship Strike Database with specific reference to yachts. So if you missed out on the original survey and have been involved in a near miss or collision with a whale or dolphin, a report submitted through the IWC Database will help to build a more complete picture of this worrying trend, and help researchers come up with more informed ways to help us, and the whales, sleep more easily.
Extract article courtesy Attainable Adventure Cruising and Colin Speedie. Video and images courtesy YouTube
You can read more about sightings and incidents with whales and dolphins in my ebook 'Sailing Adventures in Paradise' including '101 Dollar Saving Tips for Cruisers' downloadable from my website www.sailboat2advenute.com