March 3, 2014
ROCKPORT, Maine - Preventing endangered northern right whales from becoming entangled in lobster gear could be as simple as changing the color of rope, a whale researcher says.
If the whales can see the fishing gear more clearly, then they are better able to avoid it, said Scott Kraus, a leading researcher on northern right whales.
"We know they can see the ropes. We thought by making them more visible they might be like traffic cones" by steering whales away from danger, Kraus said at the Maine Fishermen's Forum, an annual fishing industry event that draws together fishermen, regulators, researchers and other industry officials.
North Atlantic right whales, whose large eyes are adapted to the low light of the ocean, may be more sensitive to certain colors, the New England Aquarium scientist said.
Kraus and other researchers set out three years ago to determine whether the whales respond to some colors more than others. Intercepting feeding whales in Cape Cod Bay, off the shore of Massachusetts, they placed in the water lengths of colored PVC pipe, representing pieces of rope that attach traps to buoys.
When the whales approached, the scientists measured the distance from the whales' eyes at the moment when they reacted to the suspended "rope."
Not all colors evoked the same reaction.