Fishing gear in Maine contributed to the death of a right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard

Fishing gear in Maine contributed to the death of a right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard

Animal advocates are demanding action after federal officials determined that entanglement in fishing gear in Maine contributed to the death of an endangered North Atlantic right whale that washed up on Martha’s Vineyard last month.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the rope recovered from dead right whale catalog No. 5120 is from a lobster fishery in Maine, the New England Aquarium said in a statement.

Right whale No. 5120 was beached on Martha’s Vineyard on January 28. The whale was first seen with a wound on its tail and gear behind it in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on August 20, 2022. This whale was spotted on four subsequent voyages. Officials said on occasions. At all times, the whale was entangled and in poor health.

Preliminary results of the whale’s necropsy showed chronic entanglement, with a rope deeply embedded in the whale’s tail and a tender body condition, officials said. The cause of death is pending further testing.

“Although marked fishing gear can provide valuable information about what areas and type of gear pose a risk to whales, the North Atlantic right whale is a highly mobile species and does not recognize state or federal boundaries,” says Philip Hamilton, a senior scientist. . at the Anderson Cabot Ocean Life Center at the New England Aquarium, in a statement.

“The case of Catalog No. 5120, which remained entangled for at least 17 months as the equipment became more embedded in its perforations as it grew, is another example of why entanglement prevention must be a priority,” Hamilton said. “Without implementing custom-made fishing gear throughout the range of right whales in U.S. and Canadian waters in an expedited manner and with significant financial support, entanglements will continue to threaten the survival of this critically endangered species.”

Meanwhile, in more promising news, the Center for Coastal Studies’ aerial survey team observed 16 right whales in Cape Cod Bay during its voyage on Monday.

“The weather was great and there were lots of whales to see! … The next few hours entailed a lot of circling as we continued to see whales appear around the eastern side of the bay. We witnessed a variety of different behaviors,” the Center for Coastal Studies said in a statement. .

There are only about 350 North Atlantic right whales left on the planet, according to the Conservation Law Foundation.

The dead whale was a three-year-old female, which is “a huge loss for a species that desperately needs more female whales to give birth to its calves,” the foundation said in a statement.

“Congress has blocked regulations to limit entanglement in lobster gear between now and 2029, but right whales cannot wait,” the Conservation Law Foundation said in its statement. “We must continue to provide training and funding for ropeless fishing gear to encourage anglers to adopt this safer alternative, when necessary.”

Entanglements “pose a continuing threat to right whales, shorten their lives and paint a dismal future for the species,” Erika Fuller, senior counsel for the Conservation Law Foundation, said in a statement.

“There have been concerns about the threat posed by fishing gear in Maine to right whales for years,” Fuller said. “It is time to move forward with new hunting practices to give these endangered whales a chance to survive.”

The Animal Welfare Institute echoed her comments.

“North Atlantic right whales are at a turning point, and the loss of this young whale, known as Whale No. 5120, is a tragic reminder of the risks that certain types of fishing gear pose to this critically endangered species,” Kate O. Connell, senior policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute’s Marine Life Program, said in a statement. “Not only does their death bring this species closer to extinction, but it also highlights how marine mammals cruelly and needlessly suffer from entanglement in fishing gear.”

“This little whale struggled to survive for months until it finally died near Martha’s Vineyard, wrapped in rope tied to pots and traps used by Maine fisheries,” O’Connell said. “The Animal Welfare Institute hopes that this die-off will spur the fishing industry to quickly move to ropeless (or ‘custom’) fishing systems, which can virtually eliminate the risk of entanglement.

Last year, the Gulf of Maine lobster fishery abandoned its bid for sustainable certification under the Blue Ecolabel, a program of the Marine Stewardship Council, according to the institute. The fishery’s MSC certification, responsible for more than two-thirds of U.S. lobster catches, was temporarily suspended in 2020 after a federal judge ruled that the U.S. government violated the ESA when it allowed the fishery. A second suspension was issued in November 2022, after a second federal court ruling that the fishery had not complied with the MMPA and ESA.

New England fishermen have gone to great lengths to protect the endangered North Atlantic right whale, Dustin Delano, chief operating officer of the New England Fishermen’s Welfare Association and a fourth-generation lobster fisherman, said in a statement.

“As true stewards of the ocean, we have compassion for these magnificent species,” Delano said. “Most importantly, this death is the first documented incident linked to our fisheries since 2004.”

“The New England Hunters Welfare Association will continue to monitor the situation as it arises and share new information as it becomes available,” Delano said. “This incident has caused significant concern among commercial fishermen about retaliatory actions that NOAA may take.”

Earlier this month, marine wildlife officials shared promising news about the number of North Atlantic right whales born this season, as they continue to monitor the number of whales being injured or killed by entanglements and ship collisions at sea.

The number of North Atlantic right whales born this season has already surpassed last year’s, with 17 new calves spotted with their mothers along the coast from Florida to South Carolina, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod said in early February.

In August, a stunning video showed a pod of humpback whales, including one of New England’s most famous whales, spotted “bubble feeding” in the waters off Massachusetts.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates when more information is available.

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