We received news last Friday from the Center for Coastal Studies that a right whale has been spotted some 35 miles south of Nantucket entangled in multiple lengths of rope. Although the rope is in the whale’s mouth, it does not appear to be an immediate threat to the animal. But it is likely ropes are impeding the whale’s ability to feed. It is a matter of time before the whale’s health will be impacted.
It is not a good situation. A team from the Center for Coastal studies will attempt to get to the whale, but it will be difficult with the whale being so far offshore.
With only about 400 right whales left, each death is a significant loss.
Rope from fishing gear, especially lobster and crab pots, has been an ongoing problem with whale entanglements.
Technology might provide a solution. The Pew Charitable Trusts published an item recently that describes ropeless fishing systems.
Fisheries managers have been testing systems that, instead of running a rope from a chain of lobster or crab traps to a buoy on the surface, attach the pots to a submerged inflatable buoy. Fishermen can inflate the buoy with a digital signal to retrieve their gear.
The system would not only reduce vertical ropes that can entangle whales but might also reduce equipment loss from surface storms.
The logic of this seems obvious, a win-win for both fishermen and whales.
But it might also require a leap of faith for fishermen; there will be some risk in dropping a lot of gear to the ocean floor without a lifeline to the surface.
Right whales are endangered. A leap of faith does not seem to be a lot to ask to protect them.