The years 1950 and 1970 saw an increase in the amount of fatal collisions between ships and large whales (i.e. whale greater than 10 m in length). However, the effects of marine vessels on marine life with particular regard to collisions are largely unknown in South Africa. There is no compulsory reporting to any authority. Whilst collisions might be regularly encountered few of these are ever reported or the outcome investigated. These can have negative impacts on marine life which include direct effects, such as physical injury, stress, perceptual interference, behavioral changes, and chronic responses, and indirect effects on predator species as a consequence of a change in prey distribution or abundance due to direct effects of marine vessels on the prey.
In recent years, concerns have been raised about the health and status of a range of marine species in South African waters. Disturbance and harassment from increasing inshore leisure traffic and a fascinated public have been identified as potential threats to these large marine species. This concern is coupled with a legislative framework that is perceived to be less effective in protecting key species than it could be, and difficult to enforce.
Many species of whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks and pinnipeds may be vulnerable to collisions with vessels. Most reports of collisions involve large whales but collisions with smaller species also occur. Especially with large vessels, collisions often either go unnoticed or unreported, particularly for the smaller species. Not only the animals can be injured or killed but reports have also been made of serious damage to vessels and injury and even death to crew members.
We commissioned a study into the scope and extent of collisions between marine vessels (cargo ships, cruise liners, and recreational vehicles) and marine species, such as whales, sharks, dolphins, marine turtles, penguins and seals. Our first draft was completed in February and subsequently been reviewed by an external reviewer. We are extremely excited to announce that, whilst the final publication of the draft has been delayed, this is due to the report now being converted into a scientific paper for international publication in a peer-reviewed journal. We will keep you updated on its progress.