• vessel strike;
  • vessel speed;
  • lethal injury;
  • whales;
  • right whale;
  • probability;
  • logistic regression;
  • bootstrap


Historical records demonstrate that the most numerous, per capita, ocean-going-vessel strikes recorded among large-whale species accrue to the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis). As vessel speed restrictions are being considered to reduce the likelihood and severity of vessel collisions with right whales, we present an analysis of the published historical records of vessels striking large whales. We examine the influence of vessel speed in contributing to either a lethal injury (defined as killed or severely injured) or a nonlethal injury (defined as minor or no apparent injury) to a large whale when struck. A logistic regression model fitted to the observations, and consistent with a bootstrap model, demonstrates that the greatest rate of change in the probability of a lethal injury (Plethal) to a large whale occurs between vessel speeds of 8.6 and 15 knots where Plethal increases from 0.21 to 0.79. The probability of a lethal injury drops below 0.5 at 11.8 knots. Above 15 knots, Plethal asymptotically approaches 1. The uncertainties in the logistic regression estimates are relatively large at relatively low speeds (e.g., at 8 knots the probability is 0.17 with a 95% CI of 0.03–0.6). The results we provide can be used to assess the utility of vessel speed limits that are being considered to reduce the lethality of vessels striking the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other large whales that are frequent victims of vessel strikes.