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North Atlantic Right Whales Under Serious Threat From Entanglement in Industrial Fishing Gear

Source: The Guardian/Robin McKie - December 5, 2017 in Environment

North Atlantic Right Whales Under Serious Threat From Entanglement in Industrial Fishing Gear
Photo: Moira Brown/New England Aquarium/Wikimedia Commons

One of the more hopeful ecological stories of recent years – the slow restoration of numbers of the North Atlantic right whale – has taken a disastrous turn for the worse. Marine biologists have found their population has plunged abruptly in the past few years and that there may now only be around 100 reproductively mature females left in the sea. Many scientists fear the species could soon become the first great whale to become extinct in modern times.

The principal cause for the North Atlantic right whale’s precipitous decline has been the use of increasingly heavy commercial fishing gear dropped on to the sea bed to catch lobsters, snow crabs and hogfish off the east coast of North America. Whales swim into the rope lines attached to these sea-bed traps and their buoys and become entangled. In some cases hundreds of metres of heavy rope, tied to traps weighing more than 60kg, have been found wrapped around whales. “We have records of animals carrying these huge loads – which they cannot shake off – for months and months,” said Julie van der Hoop, of Aarhus University in Denmark.

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