Saving the North Atlantic right whale - North AmericaDon't fail our whale
What is on-demand fishing gear? What is considered whale-safe lobster? Here are some of the common terms used by IFAW when discussing our campaign to save North Atlantic right whales from extinction—and their definitions. Since different organizations and stakeholders may use terms that differ from what we use at IFAW, we want to help clarify exactly what we mean.
Entanglement describes when whales or other marine animals—including seals, dolphins, sharks, manatees, and sea turtles—become entangled in fishing gear. Ropes, lines, and chains can also cause entanglement. Oftentimes, these animals are not the target of fishermen, but they become victims of bycatching (unintentional catching when fishermen are targeting other marine animals).
Entanglement in New England, Canadian, and southeastern US fisheries is one of the leading causes of injury and death for North Atlantic right whales and other marine animals. IFAW’s Marine Mammal Rescue team performs rapid field health assessments and treatments to improve the likelihood of these animals’ survival after their release.
on-demand fishing gear
Currently, most lobster and snow crab fishing use trap/pot fishing gear. Trap/pot fishing gear consists of traps placed on the sea floor, connected to a vertical line attached to a buoy at the surface. An estimate of over one million of these vertical lines are used in areas where right whales migrate, calve, and feed, which is why entanglement is so common.
On-demand fishing gear—also known as ropeless, pop-up, or rope on-demand—is an alternative fishing gear system that isn’t attached to a buoy at the water’s surface, thereby greatly reducing the risk of entanglement. There are several models of on-demand fishing gear, including a pop-up buoy, inflatable lift bag, or buoyant spool.
IFAW has worked to secure government funding for on-demand lobster and snow crab fishing gear. We also work directly with fishermen, gear manufacturers, and state and federal regulatory officials. As a founding member of the Northeast Fisheries Science Center gear library, we enable field testing of on-demand fishing gear to move forward. The adoption of on-demand fishing gear would greatly reduce the risk of entanglement to the North Atlantic right whale while also sustaining the livelihoods of fishermen.
Also known as ship strikes, vessel strikes are collisions between any type of boat and marine animal, including whales, dolphins, sea turtles, fish, seals, and sea lions. These collisions occur with recreational and industrial vessels of all sizes, not just large ships.
Vessel strikes are one of the leading causes of injury and death for North Atlantic right whales, other marine mammals, and sea turtles. To protect right whales, stronger regulations must be enacted, as a vessel’s speed at the time of the strike directly correlates to the risk of mortality for the animal being struck. Management areas need to be expanded, vessels need to maintain a 10-knot speed limit during peaks seasons in key areas, and compliance rates of existing speed rules needs to increase – specifically in the critical birthing grounds of the southeast. Slowing down can significantly reduce the risk of vessel strikes as well as underwater noise pollution and emissions.
“whale-safe” lobster and crab
Whale-safe lobster and crab refers to lobster and crab that is caught using on-demand fishing gear. Whale-safe lobster is also known as on-demand caught or ropeless caught seafood.
A successful transition to on-demand fishing gear requires exploring the marketplace for sustainable, on-demand-caught seafood. IFAW recently partnered with FishWise, a sustainable seafood consultancy, to understand purchasers’ needs and demonstrate market viability of on-demand seafood. Research has revealed interest in sustainable seafood from lobster buyers, including retailers and restauranteurs.
unusual mortality event
Defined under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an unusual mortality event (UME) is a stranding of a marine mammal that is unexpected, involves a significant die-off of the species’ population, and demands immediate response. UMEs are declared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Recently, due in part to the efforts of IFAW experts, the definition was updated to include serious injuries and morbidities (sublethal injuries and illnesses) in addition to mortalities. This change allows UME statistics to more accurately represent the dire nature of these events. In 2017 a UME was officially declared for North Atlantic right whales.
Bioacoustics is the science of sounds produced by or affecting living organisms. Studying bioacoustics involves listening to wildlife vocalizations.
Aboard IFAW’s Song of the Whale vessel, researchers use bioacoustics to detect vocalizations of North Atlantic right whales to become better informed of the whales’ locations. To hear the whales’ sounds, the researchers use hydrophones, which are very sensitive underwater microphones. Gaining insight into where the whales are allows for more effective protective measures to be put in place.
Critically endangered is a listing given by the IUCN to species facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
The North Atlantic right whale has been listed as critically endangered since 2020 and is one of the world’s most endangered marine mammals. Critically endangered is the last stage before becoming extinct in the wild followed by extinction. Since no right whales are kept in captivity, the North Atlantic right whale is on the brink of extinction.
Callosities are white patches of rough skin that are colonized by whale lice (cyamids). Because they form unique patterns, callosities are used to identify and name whales, like a fingerprint. Identifying individual whales is vital for tracking the health of both the individuals and the entire population.