Ocean Action Hub

7 Nov 2019 - Marc Palombo has been fishing lobster for 41 years, and he wants fishermen who come after him to be able to do the same. That’s why he’s testing a new type of fishing gear that, along with other efforts in New England and Canada, is being designed to avoid harming North Atlantic right whales.

The number of North Atlantic right whales, one of the world’s most endangered large whale species, has declined from about 500 in 2010 to about 400 in 2019. This year, about 10 have been found dead, but that number is uncertain.

Not one of the nearly 30 right whale deaths in the last three years has been attributed to natural causes, said Philip Hamilton, a research scientist with the New England Aquarium, which maintains a catalog of North Atlantic right whales. Mr. Hamilton blames climate change, which has driven the whales northward in search of food.

Over the last decade, warming in the Gulf of Maine has driven zooplankton, which the whales feed on, northward into Canada’s waters. As the whales follow, they are swimming across fishing and shipping lanes in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where they are vulnerable to being struck by ships or entangled in fishing lines — often long lines of rope connecting buoys at the surface with traps at the bottom.

“The only way to save the right whale is to have all stakeholders, including industry, at the table collaborating on proactive solutions that will protect them while ensuring the future of the lobstering industry,” Patrick Ramage, director of Marine Conservation, for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said in a statement.

Fishermen, like Mr. Palombo, and others have been testing new equipment, like ropeless gear, to protect the passing whales, and their fishing livelihood.

In September, the body of a male right whale, named Snake Eyes, was found floating off Long Island. The whale, which had two white scars on the front of its head that looked like eyes, had been tracked since 1979, although his exact age was unknown. He most likely got tangled in fishing gear, according to the necropsy results released this week.

“We know that entanglements in fishing gear and collisions with ships are killing these ocean giants,” Megan Jordan, spokeswoman for Oceana, an international advocacy and conservation organization, said via email. “Reducing the amount of vertical lines from fishing gear in the water and requiring ships to slow down can help save North Atlantic right whales from extinction.”

A bipartisan bill, the SAVE Right Whales Act, is making its way through Congress. The bill would create a grant program to promote collaborations that aim to reduce human impacts on right whales. It also requires government surveys of plankton to better understand changes to the whales’ food supply.

CONTINUE READING: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/science/right-whales-decline.html

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Publication date: 
Publication Organisation: 
The New York Times
Publication Author: 
Karen Weintraub
Thematic Area: 
Marine ecosystems