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Boat-whale collisions studied

MAY 12 Researchers and environmentalists are saying that incidents of boats colliding with humpback whales off Hawaii are increasing, but that a rise in the endangered species’ population could be an explanation.

“It’s some combination of increasing number of whales, and just boats and whales in the same area at the same time,” says Jeff Walters, a co-manager of the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, in a news report.

Boaters are navigating around 1,000 or so whale calves born off Hawaii every year, according to the report. There are about 50 whale-watching vessels operating in Hawaii, the report says, which carry 300,000 people. The north Pacific humpback population, estimated at 10,000, is said to have been growing at a rate of about 7 percent per year since the mid-1990s. Since December there have been 35 reported cases of whale entanglements and seven confirmed collisions, many of which were fatal to the whale.

While boats have been the greatest threat to whale calves because they surface more often, researchers say that whale mothers are becoming more accustomed to the boats and are at serious risk, too, the report says.

“It’s kind of like driving in a school zone,” NOAA marine biologist David Schofield says in the report.

— Jason Fell