Whale Campaigners Call for 'Speed Limits' on Australian Waters to Stop Mutilation of Humpbacks

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By Reissa Su | July 3, 2014 6:21 PM EST

Whales are being sliced or cut open in Australia's waters because of passing ships. According to reports, images of graphically scarred whales surfaced which were taken by a whale tour operator and whale researchers.

One humpback whale was photographed off the coast of NSW, showing deep cuts on its skin due to a ship's propellers. Another image showed a whale with its flesh torn open to the backbone. The image was captured by researchers in Queensland's Whitsunday Islands.

The International Whaling Commission said many other whales may have died unnoticed. It believes if there are reported incidents, there might be others left unseen.

The number of incidents involving whales being struck by ships is feared to be escalating as more ships pass through Australian waters. Reports said whales have grown in numbers specifically in the eastern states.

University of Queensland's Joshua Smith said humpback whales that are migrating up the east coast to their breeding grounds in the Great Barrier Reef are at risk. He identified traffic zones like areas east of Mackay, including the Bunker and Capricorn islands off Gladstone.

Due to the heightened risk, the International Fund for Animal Welfare is calling for the protection of humpback whales in these areas and to declare them as the country's first shipping "whale zones." In the U.S., incidents of whale collisions were reduced to lower speeds in tight shipping passageways.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the annual deaths of the endangered North Atlantic right whale dropped to zero since ships were required to observe speed limits of 10 knots or less.

An international analysis of shipping traffic through the Great Barrier Reef whale habitats revealed majority of the ships move at speeds that can kill any whale they hit.

Collision Course author Sharon Livermore, who is also a fund marine campaigner, said people may assume that whales can be easily seen in the water since they are large creatures.

She said most of the ships passing through reef waters are cargo vessels that can measure 300 metres long. The captain of the ship may not notice the impact if the vessel bumps an 18-metre whale.

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