NOAA: 2017 whale entanglements worse than average, improvement over 2016

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report on Thursday, 6 December that indicates 2017 was a worse than average year for the entanglement of large whales, but an improvement over numbers in recent years. 

That news was of a worse-than-average year was also tempered by the fact that of the large whales entangled, right whales had fewer entanglements in the U.S. Northeast than in previous periods. The most frequently entangled large whale species in 2017 was the humpback, which accounted for 49 of the 76 entanglements, according to NOAA.

Right whales accounted for only two of the 76 entanglements, according to NOAA.

“North Atlantic right whale entanglements in U.S. waters were lower in 2017 than the 10-year average,” the NOAA report said. While entanglements in U.S. waters were lower, overall entanglements may still be a problem. “Although the U.S. confirmed entanglements were lower, the overall entanglement of this species remains high and of concern.”

Of the 76 entanglements, approximately 70 percent of the confirmed cases in 2017 were entangled in fishing gear, either line and buoys, traps, monofilament line, or nets. The largest amount of entanglements was caused by line and buoys, with 21, followed by line from an unknown source, which caused 18 entanglements. 

Also of concern is the entanglement of blue whales, of which three were confirmed in 2017.

“Confirmed cases from the past three years suggest that entanglements may now represent an emerging threat to this species,” NOAA wrote.

The majority of the entanglements occurred off the coast of two states: California and Massachusetts. Most of the whales caught off the coast of Massachusetts were concentrated along Cape Cod and Stellwagen Bank, and primarily involved humpback whales, according to the report. 

Protections for right whales has been at the forefront of the agenda for a lot of environmental agencies and fishing organizations. Entanglements with gear by right whales have pushed regulators toward potentially requiring roped lobster gear be removed from certain areas. Snow crab fishermen in Canada have already been required to use less rope

In April, Maine was awarded a NOAA grant in order to gather data on the rigging of lobster gear in efforts to find a way to avoid entanglement of whales. 

Photo courtesy of Bryant Anderson, NOAA Fisheries


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