Identifying priority sites for whale shark ship collision management globally

Womersley, F, Rohner, CA, Abrantes, K, Alfonso, P, Arunrugstichai, S, Bach, SS, Bar, S and Barash, A 2024 Identifying priority sites for whale shark ship collision management globally. Science of the Total Environment.

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The expansion of the world's merchant fleet poses a great threat to the ocean's biodiversity. Collisions between ships and marine megafauna can have population-level consequences for vulnerable species. The Endangered whale shark (Rhincodon typus), shares a circumglobal distribution with this expanding fleet and tracking of movement pathways has shown that large vessel collisions pose a major threat to the species. However, it is not yet known whether they are also at risk within aggregation sites, where up to 400 individuals can gather to feed on seasonal bursts of planktonic productivity. These “constellation” sites are of significant ecological, socio-economic and cultural value. Here, through expert elicitation, we gathered information from most known constellation sites for this species across the world (>50 constellations and >13,000 individual whale sharks). We defined the spatial boundaries of these sites and their overlap with shipping traffic. Sites were then ranked based on relative levels of potential collision danger posed to whale sharks in the area. Our results showed that researchers and resource managers may underestimate the threat posed by large ship collisions due to a lack of direct evidence, such as injuries or witness accounts, which are available for other, sub-lethal threat categories. We found that constellations in the Arabian Sea and adjacent waters, the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of California, and Southeast and East Asia, had the greatest level of vessel collision threat. We also identified 39 sites where peaks in shipping activity coincided with peak seasonal occurrences of whale sharks, sometimes across several months. Simulated potential collision mitigation options estimated a minimal impact to industry, as most whale shark core habitat areas were relatively small. Given the threat posed by vessel collisions, a coordinated, multi-national approach to collision mitigation is needed within priority whale shark habitats to ensure collision protection for the species

Item Type: Publication - Article
Additional Keywords: marine megafauna, endangered species, collision threat, spatial management, socio-economic conflict
Subjects: Conservation
Ecology and Environment
Marine Sciences
Divisions: Marine Biological Association of the UK > Ocean Biology
Depositing User: Ms Kristina Hixon
Date made live: 31 May 2024 13:48
Last Modified: 31 May 2024 13:48

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