Fishing Gear Threatens Whales to Brink of Extinction
Deadly encounters with fishing gear have led to the near extinction of North Atlantic right whales. However, simple diet changes and modifications to this cruel equipment can help prevent these whales, and other marine animals, from disappearing altogether.
Although the North Atlantic right whale population has exhibited signs of recovery in recent years, the death of 17 whales in 2017 marked a significant loss for the population of fewer than 450 individuals. Researchers are confident that the number one threat is fishing gear entanglements, as evidenced by approximately 83 percent of the whales bearing scars from entanglements in 2015.
Fishing industries use long, vertical ropes to connect buoys at the surface of the water to pots on the ocean floor. When whales run into these ropes, they tend to roll, which increases the severity of the entanglement. Whales either get trapped and drown or, in most cases, break the pots from their moorings and escape with the gear still wrapped around their body. According to Clay George of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, "the rope can cut through their bodies and keep them from being able to feed. It creates drag, and they basically just waste away.”
If people were to witness a land animal trapped in gear, they would most likely work to untangle them or call officials or experts to help.
The best solutions to this problem are to stop fishing altogether - something that would be beneficial for both whales and fish. Wealthy nations like Canada and the United States do not need to rely upon fish and other marine animals for nutrition, so this is an ideal solution.
A partial solution could be to modify fishing gear to protect this disappearing species from deadly entanglements. Scientists, and policymakers are currently working to develop creative solutions with the fishing industry, including the implementation of rope-less fishing.