Study: Blue Whales ‘Play Dead;’ Unable to Avoid Ships

A Stanford study reveals that blue whales may not have evolved to avoid ships. Their behavioral response? To “play dead,” which makes them even more vulnerable to deadly collisions. Kemplon Engineering takes a closer look at this insightful discovery.

Blue Whales are the biggest of the ocean’s creatures. Their imposing size have kept them from becoming prey for millions of years, sparing them from predatory attacks. Though this helped them survive for a long time, a new study suggests they did not evolve to have defensive behaviors or evasive responses, which would protect them, say, from deadly collisions with the cargo ships now traversing their ocean territory.

In a study directly observing blue whale behaviors with cargo ships – the first of its kind – it appears they have not yet developed an evasive response to this particularly modern threat. Scientists used GPS and dive-logging equipment attached to blue whales to track them, and cross-referenced the information with ship traffic. Their findings indicate blue whales resort to a “startle response;’” essentially, ‘playing dead.’ This reaction makes them vulnerable to getting struck, as it keeps them from diving quickly enough away to avoid collision.

The study is set for a second round of tests, and will be expanded to other species of whales. It is hoped that the information gleaned from the study can improve existing methods of protecting whales from collisions. Currently, methods being employed include the re-routing of ships away from breeding or feeding fields, and setting speed limits.

We at Kemplon Engineering, have been providing engineering services to the maritime community for over a decade. Like many clients we’ve served throughout the years, we have a great respect for our world’s majestic waters and the wonderful and mysterious creatures living within it. While it’s admirable that humanity’s great vessels allow us to take to the high seas, unfortunately, some of our encounters with marine life end poorly for these creatures. We hope that by sharing studies like those mentioned above, we can help disseminate information that would be useful in promoting practices that would allow the sea to be a safe place for everybody.

Learn more about Kemplon and our marine and industrial engineering services here: http://kemplon.com/about-us/. You may also reach us at info@kemplon.com, or by phone at (877) 522-6526.

References:
^ Carey, Bjorn. “Blue whales lack the ability to avoid cargo ships, says Stanford biologist.” Stanford News, 04 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/may/whales-ships-collisions-050415.html
^Cuthbert, Lori. “Blue Whales Not Equipped to Avoid Ships: Study.” News.Discovery.com, 05 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. http://news.discovery.com/animals/whales-dolphins/blue-whales-not-equipped-to-avoid-ships-study-150505.htm
^Laursen, Wendy. “Blue Whales “Play Dead” for Ships.” The Maritime Executive, 07 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/blue-whales-play-dead-for-ships
^Stallard, Brian. “Massive Whales Lack Caution, Explains for Ship Collisions, Say Experts.” Nature World News, 05 May 2015. Web. 16 May 2015. http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/14523/20150505/massive-whales-lack-caution-explains-ship-collisions-experts.htm