Illustration by Louise Leong.

The whales are dying.

The number killed along the coast has spiked in recent months. Whales — an already endangered species — follow krill, their primary source of food, into shipping traffic. The ships then slam into the whales, damaging them fatally.

Reports by the San Francisco Chronicle and Associated Press have falsely blamed the whales’ food, krill, for the rise in whale deaths. It’s not an increase in krill that causes whales to die, nor is it the fault of whales for following their food. The real culprit is human shipping. Huge metal cargo ships, with dangerous propellors, can easily kill a whale.

It’s people who send ships into whales’ ecosystem, the bays and surrounding ocean, where they collide with the whales. It’s people who set up a transport system that only takes whales into consideration when the animals obstruct shipping traffic.

At least five whales have been killed since late July, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That’s not even three months. Some of the whale carcasses have washed onto shore, which has raised awareness of the issue.

It shouldn’t take a rotting carcass on the beach to realize that human activity has been destroying the whale population, but it’s a good reminder. Every year, 2,800 blue whales, 2,600 fin whales and 1,400 humpback whales — all endangered species — swim along the coast of California, Oregon and Washington. Before the 20th century, whales were abundant. Since then, humans have decimated the population through hunting and shipping.

We need to take responsibility for human actions. Shipping companies cannot treat the bays and oceans as empty shipping lanes. These waters are the homes of whales and their fellow sea creatures, and anyone trespassing in someone else’s home, at the very least, needs to avoid incurring death and destruction.

There are technological tools that the shipping industry can use to prevent running into whales, such as using monitors to watch out for whales in areas with heavy shipping traffic, and applying sound systems to warn whales of a ship’s approach. There is no reason shipping companies shouldn’t be using all possible methods, all the time.

But while technological fixes can mitigate damage, they will not resolve the issue at the core of whale deaths.

Ships are not an essential part of the ocean. Whales are.

It’s imperative that we get our priorities straight.