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Expert assessment of the impact of ship-strikes on cetacean welfare using the Welfare Assessment Tool for Wild Cetaceans

Rae, Frankie; Nicol, Christine; Simmonds, Mark


Frankie Rae

Christine Nicol

Mark Simmonds


Human activities are increasingly impacting our oceans and the focus of attention tends to be on their environmental impacts, rather than consequences for animal welfare. Global shipping density has quadrupled since 1992. Unsurprisingly, increased levels of vessel collisions with cetaceans have followed this global expansion of shipping. This paper is the first to attempt to consider the severity of ship-strike on individual whale welfare. The methodology of the ‘Welfare Assessment Tool for Wild Cetaceans’ (WATWC) was used. Expert opinion was sought on six hypothetical but realistic case studies involving humpback whales struck by ships. Twenty-nine experts in the cetacean and welfare sector took part. They were split into two groups; Group 1 asked to assess first assessed a case we judged to be the least severe and Group 2 first assessed the most severe. Both groups then assessed the same four further cases. This was to investigate whether the severity of the first case influenced judgements about subsequent cases (i.e. expert judgements were relative) or not (i.e. judgements were absolute). No significant difference between the two groups of assessors was found; therefore, the hypothesis of relative scoring was rejected. Experts judged whales may suffer some level of overall (Domain 5) harm (>1) for the rest of their lives following a ship-strike incident. Experts considered ship strikes to have most effect on the Health domain of whale welfare. Overall, the WATWC shows a robust potential to aid decision-making on wild cetacean welfare.


Rae, F., Nicol, C., & Simmonds, M. (2023). Expert assessment of the impact of ship-strikes on cetacean welfare using the Welfare Assessment Tool for Wild Cetaceans. Animal Welfare Journal, 32, Article e18.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 25, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 23, 2023
Publication Date Feb 23, 2023
Deposit Date Mar 7, 2023
Publicly Available Date Mar 7, 2023
Print ISSN 0962-7286
Publisher Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Article Number e18
Keywords animal welfare; humpback whale; ship-strike; WATWC; five domains model;


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