Second Failing Right Whale Spotted Off Mass Coast Entangled In Fishing Gear

Injured Right Whale Dragon Photo: Northeast Fisheries Science Center

USA Today reported late Friday that government scientists have spotted off 45 miles off the coast of Nantucket a 19-year-old female right whale named “Dragon” appears to be in poor health because of a fishing buoy lodged in one corner of her mouth.  She is the second entangled right whale seen in the area south of Nantucket, where around 60 of these endangered animals are now gathered — the previous one was a 15-year-old male right whale was seen with three lines trailing from his mouth.  North Atlantic Right Whales are highly endangered and only approximately 400 remain.

Why This Matters:  It’s not just one or two whales — the fate of the species hangs in the balance.  If this whale dies, we will lose another breeding female that was heading into her prime.  We can and must do better by these magnificent creatures.  An ocean without whales is like a savannah without lions.  Our government spends money on so many things that are so much less impactful than saving an entire species.  The technology exists to solve this problem (read on) — and it’s not that expensive.  All we lack is the will to do it. This week the Boston Globe said it best in an editorial entitled “It’s the government’s duty to save right whales — and us.”  Yep.  C’mon Congress and NOAA.  It is time to get this done.

Fishing Gear Is Extremely Hazardous to Whales

According to scientists at the New England Aquarium, “fewer than one right whale a year can be killed by humans” or the species will not be able to recover.  Each successfully breeding female who dies is even more of a problem their low numbers relative to males.  The aquarium said it has documented more than 1,500 entanglements of whales in line and gear since 1980. This whale has given birth three times, with one of her calves, a female, now reaching breeding age, according to the Aquarium and she had been spotted in good health back in April in Cape Cod Bay.  Entanglements (along with being hit by passing ships) have caused huge losses for whale populations — indeed, more than 86% of right whales have been entangled at least once, more than 50% twice, and some up to eight times during their lifetime — and 82% of whale deaths are caused by entanglements.  A team is standing by to try to save Dragon, but the location, weather and the infrequent sightings have kept them back.

What It Will Take To Save Them

The Globe outlined the steps needed to protect right whales — and they are all achievable.

  • “The first step is to fund North Atlantic right whale researchers to track the whales’ new swimming routes, believed to be caused by climate change. Such tracking would encompass local, national, and international waters, and the cooperation of governments, industries, boaters, and nongovernmental organizations to see where the whales go and establish safe boating routes.”
  •  The second step is to require new high tech fishing gear.  “A better solution is ropeless technology being studied right here in Boston at the New England Aquarium. A startup company with a local presence, Ashored, is among several companies developing ropeless gear.”
  • Finally, the government and perhaps philanthropic organizations should provide funding.  “Funding — for both the research and retrofitting of the lobster industry’s gear. The first few generations of this essential technologically advanced gear will be cost-prohibitive for the men and women who have already been hard hit by federal fishing regulations (made necessary by human threats) that are destroying their livelihoods.”

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