The feeding grounds of blue whales along the U.S. West Coast overlap dangerously with shipping lanes, placing the behemoths in danger of collisions with ships, researchers say.
This finding could help prevent human threats to these endangered titans, scientists added.
Blue whales are the largest animals that have ever lived on Earth, weighing in at 330,000 lbs. and reaching up to 108 feet long. They are gentle giants, grazing the oceans for tiny bits of food in seawater, with mouths large enough to hold 100 people.
Blue whales, along with many other whales, became endangered due to commercial whaling. Their numbers have been slow to grow, despite rules protecting them established by the International Whaling Commission in 1966, and scientists have suggested that one reason for this slow recovery may be collisions with ships that injure, or even kill, the whales. [See Photos of Blue Whales & Shipping Lanes]
For instance, in 2008, five dead blue whales were discovered in the Pacific Ocean in a seven-week period, and three of them were confirmed to have been hit by ships. “That made everyone step back and say, ‘Whoa, this may potentially be a big problem,'” said lead study author Ladd Irvine, a marine mammal ecologist at Oregon State University.