Large Whale Entanglement Mitigation

Photo: Jerry Conway. Organization: Campobello Whale Rescue Team.

The North Atlantic right whale, a species restricted to the coastal northwest Atlantic, numbers fewer than 440 individuals and has been declining since 2010 (Pace et al. 2017; Pettis et al. 2017). Entanglement in fishing gear, especially in fixed gear like pots and gillnets, is the leading cause of human-induced mortality and serious injury, occurring at a rate that is not sustainable for maintaining a viable population. Entanglement mortalities and serious injuries consistently exceed the regulatory limits of Potential Biological Removal rate set under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (presently set at 1 whale per year allowed to be taken by human activities; see NOAA’s 2016 Stock Assessment Report for North Atlantic right whales). In 2017, 17 North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) were found dead in the U.S. and Canada, compared with an annual average of 3.8 per year. As of June, 2018, there has been one entanglement mortality and one serious injury observed, both entanglement related. As a result of this elevated mortality rate, NOAA Fisheries declared an Unusual Mortality Event for this species. Just as worrisome, the rate at which calves are being born has fallen to historic lows, with just five calves observed in 2017 and none in 2018. In short, to avert the near-term possibility of extinction of this species, we urgently need to eliminate the threat to these whales from entanglements in fishing ropes.

Also see


Project PI(s): 

Scott Kraus, Tim Werner, Amy Knowlton
Research Program: 
Fishery Animal Interactions