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Quebec Bulletin
October - November 2014/Volume 17/Number 5

Reduction in Risk of Collisions with Whales Deemed Encouraging

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Whale Center of New England  K. Sardi

Voluntary measures applicable to commercial vessels and cruise ships navigating the St. Lawrence Estuary were implemented in 2013 in an effort to reduce the risk of collisions with whales. The results after the first year have been highly encouraging. These voluntary measures aimed to reduce speeds at the head of the Laurentian Channel off Tadoussac and identify an area to avoid downstream of Les Escoumins. The data show that in 2013, a considerable number of vessels reduced their cruising speed in the whales' feeding areas, thereby significantly reducing the risk of collisions.

A significant decrease was noted between August 2012 and August 2013 in average speeds, which were down from 12.3 knots to 10.3 knots in the speed reduction zone, or only slightly above the recommended speed of 10 knots. This speed reduction resulted in a nearly 40% decrease in the risk of collisions, which is very close to the maximum potential target of 55% (see table). On a species-by-species basis, the resulting benefits for the Blue Whale were less notable. Additional measures will likely be required in the future for that species.

Average reduction in risk of fatal collisions in the speed reduction zone (10 knots) in 2013 (red non-cross-hatched area on map).

Average reduction in risk of fatal collisions in the speed reduction zone (10 knots) in 2013 (red non-cross-hatched area on map).
Blue Whale Fin Whale Humpback Whale Minke Whale
1) Effective risk reduction in 2013 (%) -36% -38% -39% -38%
2) Theoretical maximum risk reduction (%) -48% -55% -54% -54%
  1. Effective risk reduction in 2013
  2. Maximum potential reduction in risk of collisions due to measures, presuming 100% compliance. The risk of whale-ship collisions is calculated taking into account historical whale distributions, the known relationship between vessel speed and probability of whale fatality in the event of a collision, and observed vessel positions and speeds in 2013 based on AIS (Automatic Identification System) data.

In light of the positive outcomes in 2013, the Working Group on Marine Traffic and Protection of Marine Mammals extended the voluntary measures from May 1 through October 31, 2014 (see figure). The Working Group will continue to monitor implementation of measures to reduce the risk of collisions and adapt them as required to improve performance from year to year.


Map of St. Lawrence Estuary for voluntary protective measures to reduce risk of collisions with rorquals and minimize the impact of noise on belugas.
Source: Notices to Mariners, Eastern Edition - 08/2014, Vol. 38 - Canadian Coast Guard

 

Working Group on Marine Traffic and Protection of Marine Mammals

The co-existence of whales and ships in the St. Lawrence Estuary leads to a risk of collisions causing injuries to or, occasionally, the death of animals that are hit. Given the precarious state of the Blue Whale and the St. Lawrence Beluga, the loss of even a few individuals due to collisions each year poses a serious threat to their recovery. This situation called for partners from the marine industry and the various organizations involved to come together to identify solutions to reduce the risk.

The Working Group on Marine Traffic and Protection of Marine Mammals was created in spring 2011 to identify possible solutions to reduce the risks experienced by marine mammals in the St. Lawrence Estuary, without interfering with shipping activities or compromising vessel safety.

Co-chaired by Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Parks Canada Agency, the Working Group is made up of representatives from St. Lawrence Shipoperators, the Corporation of Lower St. Lawrence Pilots, the Shipping Federation of Canada, the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, the St. Lawrence Economic Development Council, the University of British Columbia, the Université du Québec en Outaouais, the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada.

For further information on these voluntary measures, please consult section 801 of the Notices to Mariners Publication Eastern Edition, 08/2014.

Solid Collaboration to Protect Marine Mammals in the St. Lawrence Estuary
Infoceans - June-July 2013

Guy Cantin
Ecosystems Management

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