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Washington, DC, March 9, 2021 – After over four months of suffering severe entanglement in heavy fishing gear, an 11-year old male North Atlantic right whale nicknamed Cottontail by researchers has died off the coast of South Carolina.
Since October, disentanglement attempts were made by both the Center for Coastal Studies and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Unsuccessful due largely to weather conditions, Cottontail’s chances of survival remained grim.
“These whales must maneuver through an industrialized waterway dense with intense shipping traffic and an estimated one million commercial vertical fishing lines in the water column. This journey to their feeding grounds, which the species has taken for centuries, is becoming a journey of no return,” said Brian Sharp, IFAW’s Director of Marine Mammal Rescue & Research.
Once numbering in the tens of thousands, fewer than 356 of these whales are now estimated to survive today. Driven toward extinction by human causes including entanglement and vessel collisions, the population has a limited number of reproductive females, low birth rates, and only 16 calves born this calving season. One was already the victim of a fatal vessel strike just last month.
The fishing gear was wrapped tightly around Cottontail’s head, protruding from both sides of his mouth and dragging beyond his tail. Emaciated from being unable to feed properly and with severe resulting wounds, he joins a long and growing list of whales that have succumbed to their entanglements.
IFAW leads a campaign across the US and Canada to protect this once thriving species. The group advocates for key changes including the adoption of ropeless fishing gear technology to reduce entanglement risk; passage of critical legislation including the SAVE Right Whales Act; and increasing maritime regulations that includes stricter vessel speed restrictions.According to IFAW Marine Campaigner CT Harry, “Cottontail’s demise is a perfect illustration of what we are trying to stop. No species can survive these types of injuries day after day. We can attempt disentanglements and the like, but that does not solve the issue. We need collective action. We need 21st century technology to remove the threat of entanglement. We need an unwavering commitment to turn this situation around.”
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