In an effort to better understand the mechanics of ship-whale collision and to reduce the associated mortality of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, a comprehensive biomechanical study has been conducted by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of New Hampshire. The goal of the study is to develop a numerical modeling tool to predict the forces and stresses during impact and thereby the resulting mortality risk to whales from ship strikes.
Based on post-mortem examinations, jaw fracture was chosen as a fatal endpoint for the whales hit by a vessel. In this paper we investigate the overall mechanical behavior of a right whale mandible under transverse loading and develop a finite element analysis model of the bone. The equivalent elastic modulus of the cortical component of right whale mandible is found by comparing full-scale bending tests with the results of numerical modeling. The finite element model of the mandible can be used in conjunction with a vessel-whale collision event model to predict bone fracture for various ship strike scenarios.