Whale entanglements drop, but remain major threat, feds say
The number of whales entangled in fishing gear has declined in recent times, but the entanglements remain a critical threat to rare species, the federal government said in a report released Tuesday.
There were 53 confirmed cases of large whales entangled in fishing gear in the US in 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Tuesday. That was a 25% drop from the previous year and lower than the 13-year average, the agency said.
Entanglement in fishing gear is one of the two biggest threats to declining whale species, especially North Atlantic right whales, of which there are fewer than 340 in the world. The other threat is collisions with ships.
Every coastal region except Alaska saw a decrease in whale entanglements, NOAA said. The agency said more research will be needed to determine the cause of the decline in entanglements, and it’s possible the disruption to both fishing activities and data reporting from the COVID-19 pandemic could have played a role.
It is also possible that factors unrelated to the pandemic have played a role, as “some regions have reported large-scale environmental changes, such as heat waves at sea, which could also affect the large numbers of whales being entangled and reporting,” it said. the desk in the report.
More than half of the entangled whales were humpback whales, which are popular with whale watchers and have a relatively stable global population. However, four of the whales were North Atlantic right whales, which are in the midst of a population decline due to high mortality and poor reproduction in recent years.
The right whales give birth off Florida and Georgia and migrate north to New England and Canada waters to feed. Scientists and conservationists have been sounding the alarm in recent years that warming waters are making the whales seem to be wandering from protected areas of the ocean in search of food.
The current level of entanglements is more than whales can tolerate, said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, a conservation group. The group and others have pushed for stricter restrictions on commercial fishing to prevent the whales from becoming entangled.
“These reports show that far too many endangered whales are caught in fishing gear, especially as reported entanglements are just the tip of the iceberg,” Monsell said.
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