Written by Adrianne Madden
Thursday, 23 April 2009
It's amazing how so few northern right whales can find so much trouble.
The endangered northern right whale population is numbered at around 300. And given how few right whales there are and how vast the Atlantic Ocean is, you'd think they'd be able to steer well clear of potential problems. But their migratory patterns lead them to run afoul of ships and fishing gear.
Sunday afternoon, as it was returning to port, the 50-foot NOAA research vessel Auk, working for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, accidentally collided with a right whale outside the sanctuary, about 7 miles east of Scituate, Mass.
Reportedly, three crew members served as lookouts outside the bridge, but the whale, floating beneath the surface, escaped detection until the vessel was about 10 feet from hitting it. A propeller lacerated the whale's left fluke, but the whale didn't appear to be in distress.
If so, then the whale cheated the Grim Reaper. A 2008 NOAA report on reducing right whale ship strikes says 89 percent of serious injuries and whale mortalities that occur from collisions involve vessels traveling in excess of 16 mph; the Auk reportedly was running at 22 mph when Sunday's collision occurred. Moreover, ship strikes account for the majority of right whale fatalities.
Yet it's hard to fault the Auk for the incident, which genuinely upset the crew. And the NOAA report suggests right whales have a knack for putting themselves in harm's way.
"Presumably, right whales are either unable to detect approaching vessels or they ignore them when involved in important activities such as feeding, nursing, or mating," the NOAA study notes. "Additionally, right whales are very buoyant and slow swimmers, which may make it difficult for them to avoid an oncoming vessel even if they are aware of its approach. Finally, given the density of ship traffic and the distribution of right whales, overlap is nearly inevitable, thereby increasing the probability of a collision even if either the whale or the vessel actively tries to avoid it."
Officials map out new shipping routes, order Northeast lobstermen to undertake a costly swap of floating rope for sinking rope, and decree when fishing gear can and cannot be deployed in certain areas, all in an effort to save the struggling right whale stock. One can only hope the whales are equally interested in saving themselves.
The following was released by the Maine Department of Marine Resources on Jan. 22:
The Maine Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency regulation that will support the continued rebuilding effort in Maine’s scallop fishery. The rule, effective January 23, 2016, will close the Muscle Ridge Area near South Thomaston and the Western Penobscot Bay Area.Read more...
Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, which governs commercial and recreational fishing in the state, got a new boss in January. Charlie Melancon, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislator, was appointed to the job by the state’s new governor, John Bel Edwards.
Although much of his non-political work in the past has centered on the state’s sugar cane industry, Melancon said he is confident that other experience, including working closely with fishermen when in Congress, has prepared him well for this new challenge.Read more...