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Study: Boats hit whales more often than previously thought

What are the chances of your boat hitting a whale? New research suggests the odds might be higher than you think.

Vessels have hit about 15 percent of the humpback whales feeding in the Gulf of Maine, according to a new study. And researchers believe this estimate is probably lower than the actual number of humpbacks who have been hit by boats, since the study only looked at injuries to living whales, not whales that have been killed by vessels.

A team of researchers analyzed injuries based on more than 200,000 photographs of 624 different whales taken between 2004 and 2013, according to USA Today. The reviewers found than almost 15 percent of the whales had at least one injury or wound caused by a vessel strike.

How could they tell? The photographs showed scars and gashes that researchers can link to boat hulls and propellers, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Although humpback numbers have been increasing in recent years, the new data suggests the population may need more protection than scientist had thought.

Of course, these collisions aren’t only dangerous for whales. Boaters in smaller vessels are particularly vulnerable – a collision with a 40-foot whale could cause a small boat to capsize.

It’s unclear yet whether this study will lead to any new regulations for boaters, but it’s a good reminder that anyone sharing waters with whales should keep a close watch for whales. You can’t control a whale’s course, but you can certainly give them a wide berth if they surface nearby.

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