California Superstar Killed in Ship Strike Amid Collision Fears


Researchers learned this week that a humpback whale who made yearly trips to Monterey Bay become California’s most well-known marine mammal had perished in a ship collision, drawing new attention to a hazard that has dogged whales even as their populations have been recovering.

Key facts

  • The 49-foot-long humpback whale was discovered on a beach near Half Moon Bay, California, on Sunday. The Marine Mammal Center conducted a necropsy on the whale and discovered that one of her vertebrae was cracked and her skull was dislocated, indicating that she was likely killed by a ship.
  • Within a few days, experts recognised the beached whale as “Fran,” a 17-year-old humpback who was well-known to both whale lovers and local marine biologists.
  • With more than 250 sightings since 2005 from Monterey Bay in California (where humpback whales eat in the warm months) to the Pacific coast of Mexico, Fran was the most regularly sighted whale in California according to Happywhale, a website that lets people follow the enormous marine mammals (where they tend to breed).
  • According to interviews with the San Jose Mercury News, NBC’s San Francisco affiliate, and SFGATE, Fran’s personality also helped her become somewhat of a local celebrity in Monterey Bay, where scientists and whale watchers frequently observed her dramatically breaching above the ocean’s surface or gregariously swimming up to boats.
  • According to the Marine Mammal Center and Happywhale, Fran brought a healthy female calf to California for the first time this season, and the mother and daughter were both sighted swimming in Monterey Bay last month.
  • According to the Marine Mammal Center, at least four whales, including Fran, have washed up on the shore in the San Francisco area this year as a result of ship crashes.

Key background

When ships plied the ocean in search of the 40-ton creatures’ oil-producing blubber during the heyday of whaling, humpback whales were slaughtered in large numbers. Researchers believe that thousands of humpback whales now feed off the coast of California and spend their winters in Mexico and Central or South America as the whaling industry fell and governments implemented conservation efforts in the 20th century. According to Karen Grimmer, a resource conservation coordinator with the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the enormous animals still suffer a few artificial risks, like getting tangled in fishing gear and colliding with container ships and oil tankers. The precise number of whales killed by boats is difficult to determine, but Grimmer claimed “there is a very significant risk” because mega-ships frequently pass through whale-populated areas. Ships should slow down to less than 10 knots (11.5 miles per hour) during prime whale season, according to Grimmer. Grimmer observes that many shipping firms have voluntarily decided to slow down off the coast of California, especially in designated channels, but she added, “we would want to see them slow down throughout sanctuaries” as opposed to only in shipping lanes.

Crucial quote

“We are very concerned about ship strikes,” Grimmer said. “Hundreds of large container ships are transiting through the [Monterey Bay] sanctuary every year.”

Surprising fact

Every year, according to Grimmer, humpback whales spend more time eating off the coast of California. The population recovery is partly to blame for this trend, but it’s also related to climate change, which has prolonged the growing season and increased access to food.


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Source: Forbes 


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