Is Online Shopping Contributing to Whale Deaths?

The latest theory on whale deaths is that the creatures are being driven further into open waters due to climate change and that they’re inadvertently ending up in the path of cargo ships carrying merchandise for online shoppers.

Since December 2022, nearly two dozen whales have washed up along the east coast of the U.S., as reported by The New York Times.

A sharp increase in online shopping has resulted in more cargo ships churning through shipping lanes around the world. According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), 23 whales have washed up dead along the coastline in a matter of months.

cargo ship
Photo: Pixabay/WikimediaImages

Boat Strikes & Whale Deaths

Lauren Gaches, of NOAA Fisheries, noted: “We’re seeing populations of many marine species adapting by moving into new areas where conditions are more favorable. Changing distributions of prey impact larger marine species that depend on them. This can lead to increased interactions with humans as some whales move closer to near-shore habitats.”

As an example of the uptick, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has seen a rise in shipping traffic by as much as 27 percent as compared to 2019. It’s believed that a good part of that increase is the result of rising levels of online shopping.

“Since 2017, at least 95 critically endangered right whales have been killed or injured by preventable human causes,” noted Erica Fuller of the Conservation Law Foundation. “Yet nothing has been done to reduce deadly vessel strikes. Right whales have been on this planet for millions of years, and we are at risk of losing this entire species because of bureaucratic red tape. That cannot be allowed to continue.”

humpback whale
Photo: Pixabay/12019

Microplastics & Marinelife

And disasterous run-ins with ships aren’t the only problem they face. Recent studies point to whales also falling victim to microplastic pollution, with blue whales estimated to be consuming up to 10 million pieces of microplastics daily.

Researchers found that whales predominantly feed between 165-800 feet below the water’s surface. This depth bracket reportedly coincides with the largest concentrations of microplastics in the open ocean. The study — published in the journal Nature Communications — focused on the blue, fin, and humpback whales.

The study’s authors combined measurements of microplastic concentrations along the waters off the California coast with detailed logs taken from whales equipped with tracking devices that foraged for food in the area between 2010 and 2019.

Between the two problems, things are not looking all that bright for whales right now. Unfortunately, the common denominator on both fronts is human behavior. The question is will we learn from our past mistakes or remain poor stewards of our wildlife populations indefinitely?

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