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Quantitative assessment of the relative risk of ship strike to humpback whales in the Great Barrier Reef

Peel, D., Kelly, N., Smith, J.N.ORCID: 0000-0001-9912-422X, Childerhouse, S., Moore, T.J. and Redfern, J.V. (2015) Quantitative assessment of the relative risk of ship strike to humpback whales in the Great Barrier Reef.

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There is global recognition that ship strike represents a significant risk to some populations of whales around the world. Analysis of ship strike records worldwide demonstrates that humpback whales are the second most frequently reported whale species to be struck by a ship. In Australia, both the east and west coast populations of humpback whales are strongly recovering from commercial whaling during the mid-20th century which resulted in populations nearing extinction. On the east coast of Australia the main breeding ground for humpback whales is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area (GBRWHA). Both the east and west coast of Australia have also in the past decade experienced considerable coastal and port development associated with an increase in natural resource projects. It is due to substantial coastal development and port expansions related to the mining industry that UNESCO were considering listing the GBRWHA on the 'List of World Heritage in Danger' and are currently monitoring Australia's commitment to its sustainability. Along with considerable port expansion along the GBRWHA coastline to meet increasing global demands for coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG), there is projected to be substantial increases in shipping traffic. Conservative estimates are predicting a doubling of shipping traffic by 2025, albeit not for all Queensland ports. Considering the rapid rate of increase of the east Australian population of humpback whales (approximately 10.9% increase per annum), there is potential for increased interaction between humpback whales and shipping traffic and increased risk of ship strikes to the whales on their breeding ground. To understand the risk of ship strike to humpbacks in the GBRWHA, it is necessary to understand the distribution and densities for both whales and shipping. This report uses current knowledge on the distribution of humpback whales within the GBRWHA from aerial survey data from 2012 and 2014 and contemporary (2012-2014) shipping traffic data of ships travelling within the GBR to provide estimates of relative risk of ship strike to humpback whales within the GBR.

Item Type: Report
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Environmental and Conservation Sciences
United Nations SDGs: Goal 14: Life Below Water
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